Tierra de mujeres (Land of Women) and the Myth of an “Empty Spain”

Somehow I only managed to write 4 blog posts in 2019; and with all the “end-of-the-year” reflections and round-ups going around, I started to feel like I hadn’t really accomplished much. But when I sat down to think about Jan-Dec 2019, I realized that, although I felt especially busy and at times a bit behind, I was in fact very productive during this crazy-busy year. The accomplishment of which I am most proud is that I took a group of 10 students to Spain for nearly 5 weeks, on a program that I developed with the Instituto de Lengua y Cultura Españolas (ILCE) at Pamplona’s Universidad de Navarra and Kansas State’s Education Abroad offices. Taking students to Spain for a study abroad program had always been one of my main long-terms goals as a Spanish professor, and the fact that I designed and directed what will now be an annual program at my university is even more satisfying. You can read about this new Pamplona-based program here, and see a daily recap on the @KStateSpanish Instagram account (follow us!) via the hashtag #KSUSummerSpain2019 — scroll to the bottom to start at day 1.


With a group of K-State students in San Sebastian, after hiking up the paths to Monte Igueldo.

In any case, between May-July I spent 9 total weeks in Spain; 2 prior to the program, 5 leading the program, and 2 final weeks after the program ended. This extra time allowed me to work on a few research projects and acquire new materials for use in my courses. I spent a lot of time in a lot of bookstores, and I came home with an extra bag that was pretty much all books. Below are four of my favorites from my summer reading — all published in 2019. I purchased 2 or 3 of them from two of my favorite bookstores in Madrid, “Librería Mujeres,” just off the Plaza Mayor on c/San Cristobal, and “Mujeres & Companía, la Librería” near Ópera on c/Unión. I’ve included publisher information and Amazon links to each book at the end of this post, and I’ll discuss each of them at some point on the blog in 2020.


For now, I want to use this post to highlight what was my favorite read of 2019 — the book on the far right in my picture above — Tierra de mujeres: Una mirada íntima y familiar al mundo rural / Land of Women: An Intimate and Familiar Portrait of the Rural Community (Seix Barral 2019), by María Sánchez. Sánchez is a Spanish veterinarian and writer who grew up in a family of (male) veterinarians on a farm in rural Andalucía (Córdoba). She was born in 1989, which makes her a strong new voice within the younger, millennial generation. While there is not yet an English translation of her book, I found a general description here, which I’ll excerpt below:

Interweaving family stories with reflections on science and literature, and some of the conflicts that plague the countryside (depopulation and the erasure of entire villages, exploitation of natural resources, inadequate environmental policies and poor working conditions), Land of Women arrives to fill a gap in the debate on feminism and rural literature. It also seeks to offer a realistic vision of country life, away from the bucolic postcards created in the big cities, and to underline the danger of losing knowledge passed down through generations.

Below is a sort of “Trailer” for the book, created by the publisher, Seix Barral:

Starting at the video’s 22-second mark, Sánchez’s words highlight the differences between rural men and women that the book explores. But her essay is not limited to simply defining or reflecting on rural men’s and women’s respective responsibilities or labors. Instead, she focuses on the differences in how others perceive, understand, and value men’s vs. women’s contributions. This includes her own perception, as a child and now as an adult — a rural veterinarian and the first woman in her family to practice the profession. Her words in the video (roughly translated to English) state: “As a young girl, I admired the men in my family. They were the voice (voz) and the arm (brazo) of the home. I wanted to be like them” (22-28 sec); “The women were a bit like ghosts that wandered through the house, doing and undoing. They were invisible” (29-34 sec). Early in Tierra de mujeres she explores this contradiction, asking herself why the women in her home did not have an important place among her role models or guides… Why, as a child, did she never (actively) aspire to be like the women in her family? (pp. 35-36). Her book delves into this question and the various cultural forces that prompt both her unequal valuation of “gendered” labor and her current questioning of traditional practices and mindsets that lead to this inequality, or imbalance, admitting that she does so with a mix of anger and guilt (“la rabia y la culpa”) (p. 36).

Tierra de mujeres_Seix barrel

Image via Seix Barral.

Though a young voice in Spanish literature, Sánchez has written several recent editorials for or given interviews to various online Spanish newspapers and journals/revistas. The Objective provides an excellent overview of her latest book, mixing the review with excerpts of a conversational interview with the author (full Spanish article here). A key idea the article presents — and that occupies Chapter 4 of Tierra de mujeres — is Sánchez’s distinction between “La España vacía” [empty] and “vaciada” [emptied]. For Sánchez, the first, now quite common phrase used to describe the dwindling rural population — “La España vacía, Empty Spain” — implies that there is nothing there in these spaces, in these pueblos, in these rural communities. A better phrase, she believes, is “La España vaciada, Emptied Spain,” which implies that there was something that is no longer there and, despite its absence, one can recognize that it did indeed exist, that it was an occupied, full, and lived-in space, and that it is not entirely gone. It was — and still could be — not only filled with people, but of a culture, a heritage, and an intense relationship between the environment, the territory, and the individual.


A scene from rural Navarra, Spain (in the north). Sánchez is from the south, which is quite different geographically. Image mine (2019).

I paraphrased the interview above, but Chapter 4 of Tierra de mujeres, “La España vaciada,” (pp. 83-100) delves into this issue in detail.  Here, Sánchez takes issue with how the media tends to portray this “Emptied Spain” in either a negative light — as a vacant land of ghost towns — or as a romanticized, nostalgic fantasy; a fiction. As she states, in some sense, today “el medio rural está de moda” (rural spaces are trendy right now) (p. 94). But they are portrayed as an idyllic escape or a restful oasis to which overworked city dwellers may flee for rest and recuperation. Rarely do we hear the real stories of those (young) individuals who have chosen to stay and make their living on the ranch or with their craftsmanship. Correspondingly, rarely are appropriate means of assistance or acceptable services provided to these communities that would help them flourish. Instead, rural spaces are treated paternalistically, as if they need to be rescued or saved institutions or individuals who are outsiders. But, Sánchez argues, they do not need saved, but rather recognized — their voices heard, their stories told, and their spaces occupied by those who live there, by those who come from there; not by those who come from cities or elsewhere. She discusses this issue further in a 2019 interview, “Llevar las instituciones a los pueblos sería solo una tirita” (Taking institutions to rural towns would simply be a band-aid), lamenting the fact that the notion of “Empty Spain” has become so prevalent, that even rural families encourage their children to leave for the cities because “no hay nada” (there is nothing) in their small, rural communities.


A rural landscape outside of Pamplona, northern Spain. Image mine.

What I appreciate about Sánchez’s writing and perspective is her ability to advocate for recognition of women’s traditional roles in a rural environment, both of which have fallen outside the purview of so-called progressive modernity and 20th- and 21st-century feminism, while never rejecting feminism for purportedly overlooking these rural women and their contributions. As she points out, it was precisely feminism that led her question the “narratives” she had learned, and it was feminism that led her to write this book, a text that ultimately reclaims the lives and stories of the women in her family and rural community (p. 39). In today’s world (and media landscape) where “traditional” and “progressive” ideas are becoming increasingly polarized in public discourse, and in which one viewpoint tends to demonize or reject the other, this is a refreshing and necessary approach to breaching such a divide through a single, particular issue (el medio rural). The second half of Tierra de mujeres contains chapters dedicated to Sánchez’s great-grandmother, her grandmother, and her mother. As such, it tells their stories and foregrounds these women’s “invisible narratives“, all of which form, for Sánchez, “Mi narrativa invisible. Las mujeres de mi casa” (My invisible story. The women of my home) (p. 41). Sánchez also discussed this idea late in 2018, prior to the publication of her book, in El Diario: Mujeres y medio rural: otra narrativa es posible.

I perceived numerous parallels in Sánchez’s essay to my goals in writing about Spanish motherhood (a “traditional” role) in the context of “progressive” first-wave feminist activity — similarities that I’m still trying to work through. So those will come up in a few future posts, as I use the blog to synthesize the content and share my thoughts on some of the newest books I’m reading… and to feel productive while I have such a heavy teaching load this year by writing informally and featuring some of my favorite pictures from summer in Spain.  OK, one 2020 post down! Time to finish my Spring syllabuses for Tuesday!

What were your favorite books from 2019?



RESOURCES (listed below as they appear in the above image from left to right):

Sanz, Marta (ed). Tsunami: Miradas Feministas. Sexto Piso, 2019.

Labari, Nuria. La mujer madre del mundo. Penguin Random House, 2019.

Vivas, Esther. Mamá desobediente. Una mirada feminista a la maternidad. Capitán Swing, 2019.

Sánchez, María. Tierra de mujeres: Una mirada íntima y familiar al mundo rural. Seix Barral, 2019.

Posted in Feminism, Literature, Spain, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

María Victoria de la Fuente Alonso’s Scenes of Sleep in Galicia

When I was in Spain in the summer of 2018, one of my friends welcomed me to her home in Pontevedra, where I stayed for a few days to explore this region of Galicia for the first time. She was eager to show me her city’s museum, El Museo de Pontevedra, and I was especially impressed with the art collection. Comprised of largely Galician (Gallego) artists, I discovered several new Spanish/Galician painters whose works I had not seen or read about before. One of my favorite paintings (below) was by María Victoria de la Fuente Alonso (1927-2009), who was born in Vigo. I was struck by the contrasting dark-neutral shades of grays and browns used for the background and the child’s carriage with the bright white, impressionist-style representation of the child sleeping. I found the painting both beautiful and disturbing, as the dark shades and stark barren, somewhat foggy landscape give it an extremely somber, almost eerie appearance. In fact, when I first saw it, my reflex was to turn away, as I thought the child was dead (!).


“Maria dorme / Maria sleeps” (1965), Maria Victoria de la Fuente Alonso. Image mine taken at Museo de Pontevedra.

A similar aesthetic can be seen below in the painting of Fuente Alonso’s mother — the vaguely sketched features marked with heavy brush strokes, the almost excessive use of white paint for the skin, and the gray-brown, almost hollow eyes make this another painting that screams at the viewer to give it a second look. Evocative expressionist details, which were a key feature of Fuente Alonso’s paintings, are especially evident in this portrait. But at the same time, the neutral palette of grays, browns, and whites both tones down the painting’s potential to communicate any extreme emotion and quells the emotional response of the viewer.


“Retrato da miña nai / Portrait of my mother” (1967?), Maria Victoria de la Fuente Alonso. Image mine taken at Museo de Pontevedra.

It’s taken me over a year to get to posting these images, and in my search for more information on María Victoria de la Fuente Alonso I was surprised to find very little. In fact, very few of her paintings are even available online — only a few still-lifes and landscape paintings are featured on the website of the Galician institution, Afundación: Obra Social ABANCA, and its galleries. I was unable to find any additional details or information regarding these four paintings, and I could not even find higher quality images than these four photos I took at the Museo de Pontevedra in July, 2018. I’m grateful that the museum allowed photography, as I left there with a wealth of new ideas and resources to incorporate into my courses on Spanish Culture or Literature, and also with beautiful images of Fuente Alonso’s impressive work that I can share here on the blog. The above paintings of “sleep”, both from the 1960s, would pair nicely with a course on postwar literature (literatura de la posguerra), especially with women’s literature (Carmen Martin Gaite and Carmen Laforet, for example). Below, I especially love the contrast of muted greens and violets, the balance of the objects and open space, and the somewhat Victorian style evoked by, “The Cat in the Armchair”, which is much less eerie that the first two portraits above.


“O gato na cadeira de brazos / The Cat in the Armchair” (1986), Maria Victoria de la Fuente Alonso. Image mine taken at Museo de Pontevedra.

Finally, the below photograph I took of one of Fuente Alonso’s later works (2003), and the meta-artistic element is what caught my attention. I’ve been teaching a course at K-State on AP Spanish Literature for the past four years (which prepares grad students and undergrad Spanish/Education majors to teach high school AP Spanish Literature), and one of the six key themes of the AP Exam is “Literary Creation,” or “Metaficción“. This concept is visible in many traditional texts, like Don Quijote and Lazarillo de Tormes, but it is especially highlighted with the Latin American Boom of the 20th century — Borges, Cortazar, Fuentes, etc. The AP Exam also encourages and requires text-image comparisons — which I think is fantastic — and the below painting offers a new take on some of the more recognizable masterpieces I have seen appear on the exam preparation materials (Velazquez, Dali, M.C. Escher, etc.). It’s also a work by a woman, and female-authored texts are still sadly underrepresented on the AP Literature list, even in 2019. For example, Fuente Alonso’s “Tribute to Leonardo. Painting is a mental thing” (below) would pair nicely with Julia de Burgos’ poem, “A Julia de Burgos,” which also deals with women’s literary creation.


“Homenaxe a Leonardo. La pintura es cosa mental / Tribute a Leonardo. Painting is a mental thing” (2003), Maria Victoria de la Fuente Alonso. Image mine, taken at Museo de Pontevedra.

After spending time searching internet blogs, Google scholar, and my library’s databases, the most “extensive” information I could find on Fuente Alonso was still just the short biography from the Afundación website, which is only available in Spanish and Galician/Gallego. I’m translating (adapting) excerpts below so that there is at least SOME information about this unique painter available in English… I also really appreciate the detailed, almost literary descriptions of Fuente Alonso’s painting style. I do, however, plan to check out a few REAL BOOKS from my library or Interlibrary loan in the next few weeks — likely not until winter break — as the Afundación website does provide a bibliography that includes books on Galician painting that I have not consulted.

BIOGRAPHY: “[Born in Vigo, the] Daughter and granddaughter of great architects, Maria de la Fuente Alonso lived in an artistic environment from her infancy, which undoubtedly influenced her personality an interests. From 1945, she would spend long periods of time in Madrid, where she worked in the studio of the painter Julio Moises, which was an excellent learning experience for in terms of her working with color and precise lines in drawing. In 1953 she began to participate in art collectives, traveling to Paris in 1955 to discover masters of cubism like Picasso, Bracque, and Gris. She expanded her traveling to the Netherlands, studying Rembrandt and Verner, and then through Italy to learn about Sironi and Morandi. Her interest in mural painting led her to complete some important large-scale works that helped her discover her own personal artistic expression, largely through expressionism. In 1961 she won the Critics Prize (premio de la Crítica) for her individual exhibition in Madrid’s Ateneo, which confirmed her as one of the greatest female Spanish painters of her era. She continued her travels and in 1964 she married the painter Máximo de Pablo, and she won several national prizes in the following years. In the late 1960s she left Madrid and moved to Levante, a small town of salt lakes and fisherman, although she continued periodically visiting Madrid and her native city of Vigo, where she would exhibit her work. [continued below…]

Fuente Alonso_Afundacion_landscape

“El ocaso / The sunset” (1989), Maria Victoria de la Fuente Alonso. Image via Afundación.

[continued… ] ARTISTIC PRODUCTION: [Maria Victoria Fuente Alonso’s] work appears in numerous museums in Galicia and Spain, Europe and the Americas. She created effervescent scenes, with objects that were both concretely determined, yet also so interconnected that they appear almost gelatinous. Atmosphere… objects… everything is fused and confused in an ambiance of golds, ochres [dark yellows], and softened carmines. Her inventive portraits demonstrate a formidably disciplined drawing (clear lines), yet at the same time a great deal of freedom. This technique of hers is vital, exquisite, and truly masterful. Perhaps the most outstanding of her works are the Still Lifes, which have been elevated to the category of “imagined landscapes.” There is nothing more transparent than her glass windows, almost immaterial; yet also nothing more authentic that her fruits, which almost seem to dissolve themselves in their own juices. Despite all this, softness never really appears. On the contrary, in Maria Victoria de la Fuente’s paintings everything is energetic, firm, and expansive, even the expressionist moods. This painter from Vigo is, without a doubt, one of the greatest of contemporary Spanish painters.”

[The above translation/adaptation from Spanish to English is mine].

Fuente Alonso_La nevada_1972 via Afundacion

“La nevada” / The snowfall” (1972), Maria Victoria de la Fuente Alonso. Image via Afundación.

What other little-known (Spanish) painters have you come across in museums? What are some of the smaller, more local museums (in Spain) that have most impressed you? I’m always looking for new places to visit!


Bibliografia de pintura gallega / Bibliography of Galician Painting


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1900s Madrid, in Narrative and a High-Resolution Map

This fall semester I’m teaching three literature classes at K-State, one of which is a seminar I based on a few of my past and current research projects related to early 20th-century Spanish literature. The texts are attentive to the representation of gender and sexuality in urban spaces, and the course is titled Gender & the City in 20th-century Spain. It is anchored by three main novels: La rampa (1917) (The Ramp) by Carmen de Burgos; La trampa del arenal (1923) (The Sandtrap) by Margarita Nelken; and La Venus mecánica (1929) (The Mechanical Venus) by José Díaz Fernández. As we approach midterm, my students just finished La rampa. While we have been discussing  specific representations of gender and urban spaces within the text, I have also been encouraging them to seek out images (photos, sketches, art) that capture the city and its appearance at the height of Spanish modernity, roughly the 1890s-1930s. Of course finding and studying images from this era is important for anyone, it is especially essential for students born in the late 1990s and early 2000s (yikes!). Given that they are reading lengthier narratives full of complex, uncommon, or even antiquated vocabulary in what, for nearly every one of my students in Kansas is their second language, images become fundamental to the mental processing and visualization of a city without motor vehicles, paved roads, or electronic signage.

1930_Madrid_Puerta del sol

Puerta del sol – Madrid, 1930

I am always seeking out new images as I prepare for each class, and in my search last week I found one of my favorite things – A NEW MAP! If you’ve followed blog over the past year or two, you’ll know how much I love traditional, interpretative, creative, and vintage maps. The map I discovered this past week is a high-resolution image of 1902 Madrid, and it’s available free online via the Bibliotheque Nacional de France. The Plano de Madrid y pueblos colindantes al empezar el siglo xx (Map of Madrid and adjacent towns at the beginning of the 20th century), by Facundo Cañada Lopez, is not only a fantastic resource to use in a course like the one I’m currently teaching on urban novels set in 1900s Madrid, but would be useful for courses or research on Spanish Culture or History more generally. This post will be relatively short, as I’m really only writing it as another excuse to spend time playing with the map and put off writing an exam… (!) Although I’m sure I have a few readers who will appreciate a new cartographic resource.

Behold, THE MAP:

Plano de Madrid_Canada Lopez 1902_BNF

The quality of this map is exceptional, particularly if you take time to zoom in on specific regions or places, although at times it may be a bit slow to load all details clearly. But it’s worth the wait! For example, below is an example (screenshot) of the detailed depiction of Madrid’s central zone, between the Royal Palace and Puerta del Sol. You can see the irregular shape of Puerta del Sol to the right; the large hexagonal appearance of the Teatro Real just to the right of the Royal Palace and Plaza de Oriente (top left); and the Plaza Mayor appears to be drawn with its former green central space included.

Plano de Madrid_Palacio-PlazaMayor-PuertaSol

Details of the 1902 map, from the Royal Palace (left/west) to Puerta del Sol (right/east)… with the Plaza Mayor in the center. Screencap of central Madrid, image mine, via BNF.

One of the references in La rampa that led me to find this map was when the characters are taking a carriage ride during Carnaval along the Paseo de la Castellana (the main boulevard connecting north and south Madrid). To indicate the direction in which they are traveling, Burgos’ narrator makes reference to the Hipódromo (Racetrack). I began searching for an image and a bit of the history regarding this location — the Hipódromo de la Castellana — as I had a hard time imagining precisely where it would have been located and what it may have looked like… especially because the novel’s description implies it was on the outskirts of the city; and the “outskirts” of Madrid during the 1920s are very different than those of the 2010s. Below is the description in the novel, followed by the image of the Hipódromo at the “top” of the Paseo de la Castellana:

“El coche… avanzaba hacia el Hipódromo por una avenida amplia y silenciosa, casi sin urbanizar, que tenía algo del aspecto de las carreteras que se abren a la entrada de los pueblos muy lejanos de Madrid.” (Burgos, La rampa, 85)

[The carriage… advanced towards the Racetrack on a wide and silent boulevard, almost without urban development, that seemed a bit like the main roads that open up into the entrance of small towns very faraway from Madrid.]

Plano de Madrid_Hipodromo-Castellana

Details of the 1902 map, from the old Hipodromo (Racetrack) near what is today the Nuevos Ministerios zone; the Paseo de la Castellana runs north/south, connecting this northern part of the city to the central locations south of it, like the Prado Museum and Atocha Station. Screencap of northen 1920s Madrid, image mine, via BNF.

According to Susan Larson, in the footnotes she provides as editor of La rampa, The Paseo de la Castellana, unlike the chaotic and narrow streets of Madrid’s traditional and historic city center, was a wide, open boulevard that passed by more modern, organized city blocks. In the late 19th- and early 20th centuries, it became Madrid’s main societal artery, crossing the north and south of the city and serving as a symbol of scientific progress and rationality (in La rampa, p. 90).  The Hipódromo, built in 1887, and its surrounding spaces, were frequented by the high aristocracy of the early 20th century, until 1932 when the structure was demolished to construct los Nuevos Ministerios, a complex of new Government Buildings and a rail station that would link (via the underground track) Atocha and this new station to facilitate the city’s expansion to the North.

Hipodromo de la Castellana, Madrid 1902

Upper class madrileños enjoying an afternoon outside the Racetrack in the 1910-20s..

The second image and piece of urban history (below) I found after a student had asked about references in the text to the capitalized words “Humanidad” and “Agencia”. In the novel, these terms refer to issues surrounding health, hygiene, and illness, and are juxtaposed with reference to a “Clínica”, which was beyond the economic means and capabilities of the characters in this chapter. In my search for additional information, I came upon the Real Sanatorio de Guardarrama, which opened in 1917 – the same year in which La rampa was published. Below is one of the advertisements. Through both image and text, it boasts a rural, peaceful, and natural location to would improve patients’ health with this new institution, “the first and only of its kind in Spain”: “1700 meters above sea level; great dryness in the atmosphere; many hours of sun.” This is, of course, precisely the antithesis of rapidly modernizing urban spaces like Madrid, full of crowded neighborhoods, constant construction and development projects, and high rates of illness and mortality (infant, maternal, and illness-related).

Real Sanatorio del Guadarrama_1917

Image via Historia Urbana de Madrid (blogspot).

The information I found on this second health-related topic has been of particular interest to me because of its connection to medical history, and (quasi)medical institutions, which have been central and recurring themes in my research on early 20th-century pregnancy and motherhood. It also reminded me of when I visited the purportedly haunted Sanatorio Duran, a Tuberculosis clinic built at about the same time in the early 20th-century (1915-18), high in the mountains of Costa Rica, with a group of K-State students on a study abroad trip in January 2018. It was one of the students’ favorite sites (mostly for the photo opportunities, the “ghost-hunting” excitement, and the possibility of capturing a ghost with their cameras!), and mine (for the beautiful tiles and old medical equipment, sadly decaying).

I’ll be writing more about my Gender & the City seminar in the next few months, especially because my class is working on an exciting Digital Humanities project that combines mapping, storytelling, and Snapchat(!), as an alternative to the traditional “literature term paper.” I’m excited to see how these #DH projects will turn out, though it has definitely been a lot of work to organize for the first time. We’re using Northwestern University’s Knightlab storytelling tools, which makes the organization and production of the project run smoothly, even for those with limited tech abilities. My forthcoming article with Hispania is based on my Snapchat-experiment when I taught our Don Quijote seminar here at K-State, and I argue for a re-structuring and re-imagining of second-language (L2) Literature courses and assessments in mid- and upper-level literature courses, which tend to remain core components of most university foreign language curricula. I’ll be blogging about that project in the next few weeks as I learn more details about its forthcoming publication date.

What are some “urban novels” that you recommend, in either Spanish or English? What are some other Madrid-based novels – or short stories – from the early 20th-century that could fit into a future iteration of my Gender & the City course? 


Burgos, Carmen de. La rampa. 1917. Stockcero. 2006.

Larson, Susan. “Introducción.”. La rampa, by Carmen de Burgos (1917). Stockcero, 2006, pp. vii-xxvi.


Posted in History, Literature, Modernity, Spain | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Century of Gastronomic Maps: From Ramón to Barcelona’s Feria to Iberica

As I’ve mentioned several times before, I’m very much a map nerd — I LOVE reading maps, finding creative interpretations of cities and spaces to display in my office (like my literary map of Madrid and my caricatured map of Mexico), and exploring how the geography and physicality of a space relates to its appearance or representation in art and literature. This past summer (2018) I found an over-sized color copy of the 1656 Teixeira map of Madrid, and I finally re-organized my office over winter break to display it behind my desk. I bought it for only about 8 euros at a kiosk in the Plaza Santa Barbara, if I recall correctly, and with my Madrid and Mexico maps, it really ties the room together…!


My beloved trio of maps #OfficeDecor

Over a year ago now, as I was researching silver age illustrations and kiosk literature cover designs for a project on Carmen de Burgos, I came across a “gastronomic map” created by Ramón Gomez de la Serna that was featured in one of Burgos’ cookbooks, Nueva cocina práctica (1925). The map, below, carries the title, “Mapa gastronómico-humorístico,” or “Humorous gastronomic map,” and it instantly set me on a quest for more information.

Ramón’s map as it appears on the pages of Burgos’ 1925 Nueva cocina practica. Image mine (screenshot), via the Biblioteca Nacional de Espana. Ingram’s article (p. 80) contains a cleaner image courtesy of Madrid’s Hemeroteca Municipal

First, I found Rebecca Ingram’s article, “Mapping and Mocking: Spanish Cuisine and Ramón Gómez de la Serna’s “El primer mapa gastronómico de España” (pdf), which explores the map and Ramon’s somewhat ironic commentary on it within the social and historical context of 1920s Spain. As it turns out, the map that I had “discovered” in Burgos’ cookbook was not the first iteration, nor was it the first time Ramon’s cartographic artwork had appeared in print. Ingram explains that it had been published a year before, in 1924, when Ramón penned a column for the satirical weekly journal Buen humor, which ran for a decade between 1921-31. Below is the “original” version of the map, which is very similar to the clear copy that appeared in Burgos’ cookbook (above). While the map reflects regional specialties that in some cases are still popular today — Madrid’s traditional stew, el cocido madrileño; Galicia’s traditional soup, el pote gallego; Segovia’s chorizo de Cantimpalo; cheese from Burgos; and Avila’s pastries, las yemas de Santa Teresa — their placement and inclusion on the map does not necessarily indicate that they were the most popular or commonly consumed dishes or delicacies of their day.

RGS_mapa gastronomico humoristico_1924_periodico

Ramon’s original “Gastronomic map” and editorial, published in “Buen Humor,” 1924. Image via El español.

While maps purport to offer a reflection of a geographical area with as much scientific and technical accuracy as possible, Ingram observes that Ramón’s humorous creation points out the inherent subjectivity of maps as authoritative, official documents (84). In her article, she analyzes the short narrative text that Ramon penned to accompany his map, in which he creates a fictional, traveling mapmaker and several local Spanish interlocutors. Through his comic tale of an ill-informed mapmaker’s trip through Spain, together with his abstract and arbitrary depiction of Spanish geography (poor scale; selection of cities and towns; inclusion of Portugal), Ingram interprets Ramon’s project as a critique not only of “official” or “authoritative” cartography — and gastronomy — but of the legitimacy of the skills and qualifications of those who create such images and narratives (88-89). She even links this critique to the Spanish national project, arguing that the map (visual) and the vignette (text) together communicate that “Spain’s attempt to disguise itself as a nation sufficiently modernized that a national gastronomy can be meaningful is unmasked by Ramón’s description of the bumbling cartógrafo [mapmaker] (94). Ingram’s article is an exceptional close-reading of Ramón’s text and his cartographic creation, and in fact would be useful to use in an advanced seminar on Spanish culture or literature. It may also serve as a model for students as to how maps, or other official displays (museums, exhibitions, monuments) may be examined and analyzed precisely for the narratives that they convey — either directly or implicitly — and how these narratives may be interpreted by different viewers. In fact, I’m now considering using a few excerpts of the article in my pre-departure readings for my study abroad program in Spain this summer.

I’ll conclude this post with a few more “mapas gastronomicos” that I found during my light research for this blog post… one of which merits a bit more research in the future, and others that are mostly for fun! The first is a map that appeared as part of a fold-able pamphlet created for the 12th Official International Trade Fair in Barcelona, June 10-25, 1944:

Mapa gastronomico_Feria Barcelona-1944

Image via Vivanco

According to the Museo Fundación Vivanco, where the map and the entire booklet are displayed, the back of this colored map-booklet contains 20 blue-framed text boxes, each of which highlights a recipe from the “various ancient regions of Spain, from Asturias to Navarra.” In the center is the map title, Mapa Gastronómico de España. Platos de sus regiones” (Gastronomic Map of Spain. Dishes from its regions), accompanied by the logo of Barcelona’s Trade Fair and the crest of the old Franco Regime (el escudo del Antiguo Régimen Franquista). I’ve included a few extra images below, taken from Vivanco’s Museum page dedicated to the map:

mapa gastronomico_title_1944 Feria

mapa gastronomico_recetas_1944 Feria

The “fun” maps below show the continued popular appeal of both national gastronomy and creative cartography, and I found the following selections via Twitter and a simple Google Image search for “mapa gastronomico.” In this era of Instagram, Twitter, and other forms of (social) media that aim to communicate information in the fastest, most visually appealing or digestible (pun intended!) way possible, the gastronomic map is extremely relevant for promoting national and local economies in terms of tourism. For example, Iberica’s advertisement for Spanish Foods in the UK is visually appealing and also loosely based on the gastronomy-geography connection: Pulpo (squid, octopus) covers Galicia; Queso manchego (Manchego cheese) appears over the La Mancha region; and aceitunas (olives) make up Andalucia:

food map Spain_Iberica 2016

Similarly, an interactive map can be found over at CartoVision, a blog dedicated to “viewing the world through the perspective of maps,” that places specialty dishes over the region to which they are most closely associated. The screenshot is below, but you can visit the interactive map here to click on each part, prompting a pop-up box containing the name of the region and the dish.

map_interactive gastronomy

Image via CartoVision.es

And for the last example, you can watch this “relaxing” YouTube video that assembles beautiful regional foods into colorful culinary map-sculptures — including Spain, Italy, and Greece. But I wouldn’t watch on an empty stomach… you’ll surely want to pour a glass of wine and make a tapas platter right away!

What are some creative or unique MAPS that you’ve seen lately? Have you used MAPS in a literature or culture course for purposes other than to illustrate geography? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Ingram, Rebecca. “Mapping and Mocking: Spanish Cuisine and Ramón Gómez de la Serna’s “El primer mapa gastronómico de España”. Cincinnati Romance Review, vol. 33, 2012. Link to PDF.

El Espanol‘s Spanish post (2017) about Ingram’s article, Ramon’s map, and Spanish gastronomy: “El primer mapa gastronomico de Espana: Los hitos culinarios segun el gusto de 1924“.

Posted in History, Literature, Spain | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Body, Blood, and Soul of Spanish Modernity: review of Life Embodied

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve been able to find the time to put up a new post! Aside from a few weeks during my summer trip to Spain where I managed to write about two fantastic new books (A New History of Iberian Feminisms and a collection of essays on Carmen de Burgos) and the amazing exhibitions on Fashion and Sorolla’s paintings in Madrid, essentially the entirety of 2018 was defined by extensive teaching responsibilities and “pedagogical experiments” — and not only in Kansas, but in Costa Rica, Canada, and Pamplona! I taught seven classes, including a 2-week service-learning trip to Costa Rica, our program’s advanced Don Quijote seminar (yikes!), and a graduate class on teaching AP Spanish Literature and Culture. I also designed a new 5-week summer study abroad program for K-State students, “Spain Today: Madrid, Pamplona, Barcelona,” which was approved for its first year this May-June, 2019. So while I haven’t been able to keep up with my blogging or academic reading as much as I wanted to, I had a very productive year and I’m excited to return to Spain this summer… with students!


That being said, I’m ALSO looking forward to having a bit more time to work on my own research, and especially to reading some of the fantastic new books that have been published over the past year. I’m particularly excited to have finally been able to make time to begin reading the book I’ll discuss here, written by Dr. Nicolás Fernández-Medina who, full disclosure, was my dedicated advisor during my PhD studies at Penn State University. His new book, Life Embodied: The Promise of Vital Force in Spanish Modernity, was published in 2018 with McGill-Queen’s University Press. This meticulously researched, innovative examination of Spanish modernity offers an intellectually stimulating look at many of the themes that most fascinate me in terms of my own research on maternidad (pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood): medical history; the physicality of the body’s blood, organs, and flesh; the uncertain boundaries between life and death; and the complexities of the substance and forces that comprise the “lived body”. Below, I’ll excerpt a few of my favorite parts of this book to add to my collection of somewhat informal and (hopefully) visually appealing, accessible academic book reviews (see others here, here, and here).


Image via McGill-Queen’s University Press

Although the premise of this book — the exploration of vital force throughout Spanish modernity — is extremely complex, rooted in or informed by both philosophical discourses and scientific theories, Fernández-Medina makes the terms very clear in his preface. “Vital force, he states, is “the immanent energy that promotes the processes of life and growth in the body and in nature” (xiii). It is “what makes life life,” as he succinctly describes it on his website. In the book’s thorough Introduction (3-40), Fernández-Medina first positions Spain within broader European historiography, reminding readers that previous notions of Early Modern or Enlightenment-era Spanish science and culture as intolerant, too religiously conservative, or even ignorant have been debunked; instead, “the assimilation of scientific knowledge and the resistance to authority” was diverse and often mutually dependent (4-5). He presents vital force as a “transnational phenomenon” in Europe from roughly 1770-1830 as the sciences expended, particularly because “the enigma of vital force disclosed new relations between the creative and analytical” (28). Finally, drawing on Foucault, Fernández-Medina connects vital force to the modern subject, and especially to the “elusive and compelling” concept of modernity (34), itself fraught with “paradoxical tensions” (35) and the “impossibility of truth” (40). Rather that attempt to elaborate “a theory of (Spanish) modernity through the lens of vital force,” Fernández-Medina instead specifies one of the inquiries that frames his book: To what extent can the question of vital force in Spain… shed new light on the practices of self-constitution that were part and parcel of modernity? (34). By examining literature that imagined or theorized the locus of vital force within the body, Fernández-Medina ultimately argues that in Spain, examining the limits of vital force “proved to be a most formidable mode of critique in that it forced reason to reflect upon itself… [and] afforded momentary, yet profound, glimpses of the concrete, living body that transgressed the normative margins of authority and power” (40).

Anatomy of human body_Juan Valverde de Amusco_Rome-1559_via US National Library of Medicina

“Anatomia del corpo humano” (1559, Rome), Juan Valverde de Amusco. A flayed cadaver holds his skin in one hand and a dissecting knife in the other. The skin’s distorted face has the appearance of a ghost or a cloud, suggesting that spirit has been separated from, or peeled off of, the fleshy inner man. Image via US National Library of Medicine.

After the Introduction, Life Embodied is divided into three sections:

  • Part I: Blood, Circulation, and the Soul, containing Chapters 1-2, focuses primarily on the 17th-century, the point of departure for the book given the “marked expansion of theories of vital force” that were both “notoriously inconsistent” and characterized by their fusion of ancient and modern thought (3).
  • Part II: Political Reform and the Order of Nature, containing Chapter 3-4,  examines vital force in the 18th century, especially in terms of Spain’s “medical revolution”  in the early 1770s (121-22) and as a proposed bridge between Enlightenment and Romantic thought (194).
  •  Part III: From Neo-Hippocratism to the Avant-Garde, containing Chapters 5-6, traces the question of vital force through the late 19th-century spread of “romantic science, industrial development, technological progress, and the emergence of positivism and evolutionism” (199) to early 20th-century rise of the modernist movement and its “disenchantment with science and intellectual culture” (234).

The first chapter I want to discuss is Chapter 1, “The Heart of the Matter: Remapping the Body Economy in Juan de Cabriada’s Philosophical Medico-Chemical Letter (43-79), which begins in the 17th century with Cabriada’s “Carta filosofica-medico-chymica” (1687). Astoundingly, this letter was written when the physician was a mere 22 years old! For Fernández-Medina, this letter represents one of the most significant medical treatises on vital force, which also “boldly announced ‘modern medicine’ in the court” of late 17th-century Madrid (11).  The central claim is the bold assertion that “the body, in all its wondrous complexity and mystery, is not vitalized by the soul” (78) – a clearly subversive postulation in 17th-century Spain. Instead, Cabriada attributes the force of life to that which is produced when blood circulates through the heart and nourishes the body. The letter, then, challenged traditional beliefs by making the body the locus of inquiry, while at the same time pointing towards the liberating possibilities of new science (79).

Throat and heart_Jacques Fabien Gautier d'Agoty_1745

Throat and Heart, Anatomy of the Visceras, Dissected. By Jacques Fabien Gautier d’Agoty, 1745.

I particularly appreciated the twenty fantastic illustrations in Fernández-Medina’s book, many of which prompted me to seek out additional visual connections via art, media, and online archives. For example, Chapter 2, “Cartesianism and Its Discontents: Marcelino Boix y Moliner, Martín Martínez, and Diego de Torres Villaroel” (80-116), contains illustrations of the human heart from Martín Martínez’s The Complete Anatomy of Man, published in 1728. Sparking my curiously about the details of this 18th-century publication, I quickly found the fascinating and intricately detailed cover art (below), featuring a medical theater framed by a human bodies — one of flesh and blood, another of the skeleton — that effectively foreground both the layered complexities of the body’s materiality and the tenuous boundaries between life and death. This illustration also connects well to Fernández-Medina’s discussion of Martínez’s Skeptical Medicine and Modern Surgery (1722), in which the physician and philosopher voices concerns regarding “the implications and shortcomings of Descartes’ medical philosophy,” particularly that “Cartesian anatomy had not resolved any of the major difficulties facing the medical profession concerning vital force and the body-soul nexus” but rather “generated more confusion” (93). By examining Descartes’ reception in Spain, and the re-evaluation of the body’s vital force in the writings of Martinez (and Boix and Moliner to open the chapter), Chapter 2 demonstrates that these varied reappraisals of vital force had profound impacts on the direction of Spanish medicine in the 18th-century, making the body-soul nexus a topic of great relevance in medical literature in Spain throughout the Enlightenment.

martin martinez_anatomia completa_cover

Cover of Martín Martínez’s (1684-1734) Anatomía completa del hombre (Complete anatomy of man), published in 1728. The image, Amphiteatrum matritense by Matías de Irala, depicts an anatomy lesson in the Anfiteatro of Madrid’s General Hospital. Image via Wikipedia.

And of course since I always like to connect complex academic topics to contemporary pop culture(!), I wanted to highlight the concept of the operating theater — a space where medical students and other spectators could watch surgeons perform surgery — that is the focal point of the 18th-century Complete Anatomy of Man cover design. The Theater/Amphitheater setting is especially fascinating to me due to the way in which its function and appearance in late 19th- and early 20th-century medicine has been documented in paintings and photography of the era. But more recently it was meticulously represented in the 2014-15 television series The Knick, about the fictional Knickerbocker hospital in 1900s New York City. This series effectively demonstrates how much was still unknown about the human body, even a “mere” century ago (the importance of blood types, for example), and experimental surgical procedures often ended in the “shocking” death of the patient on the operating table. If medical history interests you from a less-academic perspective, you should absolutely check out this unique series.


A scene inside the operating theater (amphitheater) created for the two-season series “The Knick” (2014-15), starring Clive Owen. Image via LA Weekly.

Finally, the last chapter of the book before the conclusion, Chapter 6, “Degeneration, Regeneration, Corporealization: What the Lived Body Can Do According to Miguel de Unamuno, Pio Baroja, and Ramón Gómez de la Serna” (232-95), examines the Spanish modernist era, particularly how its disenchantment with science and intellectual culture and even “chaotic revolt against positivism” prompted a reaffirmation of the body and its creative powers, or a “more holistic conception of the body… as a lived body” (234-35). This sixth chapter examines these three modernist writers — also Avant-garde, in the case of Ramón — as a way of appreciating how the lived body, full health and vitality or conversely degenerate or infirm,  “laid the groundwork for new critical paradigms of subjectivity that propelled modernist aesthetics in Spain” (236). The discussion of a curious series of essays written by Unamuno in 1886 — “The Influence of Gymnastics on Building Character” — was particularly illuminating for me, first because their title and topic are so far-removed from what I had come to associate with the preoccupations and philosophy of the author of San Manuel Bueno, mártir and El sentimeinto trágico de la vida. Secondly, Fernández-Medina convincingly connects these articles to the personal journey of the author, from “physical debility” in his youth to the “invigorating courage and general salubriousness” of early adulthood (242). The biographical connection demonstrates the possibility of transforming the self by consciously cultivating and managing “the body’s innermost vital force” (243). For me, the implications of Unamuno’s writings on the physicality of the human body, “The Influence of Gymnastics on Building Character,” balance the abstract, philosophical musings for which he is perhaps most well-known. In other words, as Fernández-Medina states, they set up “the framework for the dynamic kinship… between body and soul that will frame his later theorizations” (245-46). This illustration accompanying this section of the book shows an 1875 Bilbao gymnasium, and when I looked into these types of images online I found an amazing cover from one of the first Spanish Physical Education journals – I particularly love the lion accompanying the shirtless man in his quest to perfect his physical form!


Source: Xavier Torrebadella i Flix’s article 2012 article, “Las primeras revistas profesionales y científicas de la educación física española” — PDF link at the end of this post.

Overall, Life Embodied has prompted me to think more deeply about where my own work on maternity and childbirth intersects with medical history and philosophical questions of life, of life-giving, forces. One of the limitations, which Fernández-Medina acknowledges in his Preface, is the lack of attention given to female intellectuals or artists, or the general underrepresentation of women (xx). While it is true that women did not participate in or have the opportunities to enter intellectual culture in the same ways as men, and that women’s writing was not necessarily produced or preserved in universities, libraries, or archives, many of the “remarkable texts about medicine women, women healers, nursing, midwifery, and women’s prominent role in folk medicine and homeopathy” that were beyond the critical parameters Fernández-Medina established for his book could add to the centuries-long exploration of the body and its “vital force” (though conservative author Ángela Grassi is included for her 1876 novel, El copo de nieve / The Snowflake, 217-22). Most of the texts analyzed ignore the sex or gender associated with the human body. On the one hand, we might presume this to offer an abstract and therefore possibly “universal” understanding of the human body and soul that transcends gendered specificities. Yet on the other, particularly as I see it in terms of explaining the force (or forces) that propels, creates, or defines “life,” the lack of attention these (almost all male) writers and intellectuals gave to the female body — a body capable of gestating and birthing a new human being, or a new human life — reflects the interpretation of the human body “through the dominant male culture of patriarchy,” a limitation that Fernández-Medina also directly acknowledges (xx).

Anatomical figure_Jacques-Fabien Gautier DAgoty_1765_Wellcome

Anatomical figures of the maternal body. By Jacques-Fabien Gautier d’Agoty, 1765. Images via Wellcome Collection.

In sum, Life Embodied‘s innovative approach to Spanish modernity, the modern subject, and the complexity of the (in)material forces that create and sustain human life, offers scholars of Spanish Literature, Culture, and/or Philosophy new points of entry into such vast, theoretical, and interdisciplinary subjects as the body, vital force, and modernity. It also introduces readers like myself, whose research tends to fall more within the realms of historical and cultural studies, to a wide variety of new texts that prompt further investigation into the artistic and literary production of their era. As an example I’ll end with another piece of late 19th-century realist artwork I discovered when preparing this post and exploring representations of medicine and the human body in literature and art, especially while reading the final chapters on the 19th-20th centuries: Spanish painter Luis Jiménez Aranda’s “La sala del hospital” (1889).

What are some of your book — or art, photography, or gallery — recommendations in terms of medical history and the theorization of the human body?

Luis Jimenez y Aranda_Sala del hospital_1889_wikimedia

“La sala del hospital en la visita del médico en jefe” by Luis Jiménez Aranda (1889). Displayed in the Mueso de Bellas Artes de Sevilla. Image via Wikimedia.


Fernández-Medina, Nicolás. Life Embodied. The Promise of Vital Force in Spanish Modernity. McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2018.

Fernández-Medina, Nicolás, and Maria Truglio, eds. Modernism and the Avant-garde Body in Spain and Italy. Routledge, 2016.

Torrebadella i Flix, Xavier. “Las primeras revistas profesionales y científicas de la educación física española / The First Spanish Physical Education Professional and Scientific Journals (1882-1936)”. Apunts. Educación Física y Deportes, no. 109, Jul-Sept., 2012, pp. 11-24. DOI: 10.5672/apunts.2014.0983.es – PDF

Image galleries:

Dream Anatomy Catalogue. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Bethesda, MD.

The Wellcome Collection of Images (artwork and photographs that reflect the cultural and historical contexts of health and medicine). Free Museum and Library. London.

Wellcome Collection on Instagram. Bio: “The free museum and library that aims to challenge how we all think and feel about health by connecting science, medicine, life and art.”

Posted in Art, Literature, Modernity, Science and Medicine, Spain | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A New History of Iberian Feminisms (review)

Bermúdez, Silvia and Roberta Johnson, eds. A New History of Iberian Feminisms. U of Toronto P, 2018. 522 pp.

(My full-length, non-illustrated(!) review will be published with Feministas Unidas in 2018.  I ‘ll link here when it’s available, or you can email me for a copy. This is simply a shortened, blog-style version of the review with images and links – I wrote a similar blog-post-review on Multiple Modernities: New essays on Carmen de Burgos (review)).

A New History of Iberian Feminisms is a timely chronological history and innovative discussion of feminist thought throughout the Iberian Peninsula, from the 1700s to the present day. I say timely as its publication comes at a moment when21st-century Spain has been grappling with high-profile controversies related to women’s rights: new threats to abortion laws in 2013-14; debates and protests regarding gender equality, demonstrated by a massive, 5 million+ women’s strike in March of 2018; and sexual violence, specifically the recent #LaManada ruling (June 2018) that cleared five men of rape in a high-profile “Running of the Bulls” case that sparked fierce debate over definition of rape and sexual violence. It is innovative, as it is the first volume of its kind to examine Spain and Portugal together — as IBERIAN feminisms (sharing issues and a trajectory somewhat different from those characterizing feminism in other Western European nations) — in an effort to understand “the Iberian Peninsula as a multilingual cultural and literary configuration in all its complexity” (3).

La manada_yo si te creo

Protests in Madrid regarding #LaManada ruling. Posters include the phrases “Verguenza! / Shame!” and “#Yositecreo / I believe you”.  Image via El pais.

Unlike previous histories, these essays do not privilege the urban areas of Madrid or Barcelona, nor do they treat Portugal as a separate entity. On the contrary, Bermúdez and Johnson have collected 36 essays – from 30 international scholars – addressing feminist concerns in Spain’s Castilian-speaking areas, the Basque Provinces, Catalonia, Galicia, and Portugal. The volume highlights the geographic, linguistic, cultural, and political diversity of the Iberian Peninsula, as well as its historically rigorous Roman Catholic tradition. In the brief introduction, Bermúdez and Johnson explain two important aspects of the framework. First, the “feminist writing” that their volume focuses on is primarily essays (not fiction). Second, they explain that Karen Offen’s European Feminisms 1700-1950: A Political History served as a model, given its holistic view of a diverse region (Europe) containing significant differences among individual areas (nations) (6). Immediately following the introduction is a list of all contributions with a descriptive 2-5-sentence abstract (pp. 7-22), which is especially useful.


The first six chapters pertain to the eighteenth century and comprise Part I (Ch. 1-6), “Iberian Feminism in the Age of the Enlightenment,” coordinated by Catherine M. Jaffe and Elizabeth Franklin Lewis. These essays “situate women” in relation to monarchies, religious ideology, and the family. Of particular note are Franklin Lewis’s chapter on  “civic motherhood” (50-57) and Vanda Anastáio’s discussion of “‘Feminism’ in Portugal before 1800,” in which she aims to dispel the notion that there were no traces of feminist claims in Portugal before the rise of suffragist movements (67).

Part II (Ch. 7-14), “The Long Nineteenth Century (1808-1920),” coordinated by Maryellen Bieder and Christine Arkinstall, demonstrates the volume’s “elastic” chronology, as the dates position early 20th-century feminist activity as a continuation of, or ideological overlap with, 19th-century thought. Here I mention Chapter 13 (co-authored by Amaia Alvarez-Uria, Josune Muños, and Iratxe Retolaza), which highlights the unique cultural and linguistic dynamics of Spain’s Basque region in terms of women’s education. The chapter foregrounds the first woman to publish a book in Basque, Bizenta Mogel (1782-1854), an important writer who also published children’s literature in Basque (182). I was not familiar with Bizenta prior to reading this book, but I found several short articles celebrating her  contributions to Basque literature and culture – many of which are written in Basque (the page linked to above, for example, contains a 5-minute illustrated YouTube video on her life, narrated in Basque).

Bizenta Mogel_aztarna

Bizenta Mogel, image via Aztarna.com

The volume’s third and fourth sections cover the majority of the 20th century. Part III (chapter 15-19), “The Iberian Feminism Movements Gain Strength under Republics, 1910-1939,” attends to the increase in feminist activity in varied regions of the peninsula (again, Portugal, Galicia, Cataluña, the Basque region, and Castilian-speaking Spain). Johnson takes care in chapter 18 to connect overlooked first-wave Spanish feminists to later twentieth century feminist activity, linking Carmen de Burgos to Lidia Falcón (228) and describing Marujo Mallo as a “precursor of the ‘corporal’ feminism that Spanish feminists adopted during the repressive Franco regime” (233).

Part IV (Ch. 20-25), “The Dictatorships of António de Oliveira de Salazar (1926-74) and Francisco Franco (1939-75)” begins with an historical overview of dictatorial Portugal and Spain, detailing common features of both nations, whose regimes overturned prospering feminist progress and caused women’s legal situations to take “a giant leap backwards” (250). Chapters 21-25, then focus on Iberian women’s resistance and the nuances of resurgent feminist activity with individual chapters dedicated to Galicia, Catalonia, the Basque Region, and Portugal.


A sampling of the varied protagonists and complex characters in Almodovar’s films ranging from 1980-2017). Image via Studiouniversal.com

The fifth and sixth sections of A New History cover second- and third-wave feminist thought from the late 20th-century through the present. Part V (Ch. 26-30), ‘A New Beginning: The Transition to Democracy and Iberian Second-Wave Feminism (1974/75-1994/96)” continues to focus on regional specificities, like Basque Feminist Movements (Ch. 29), Galician feminism (Ch. 30), and the expansion of feminist discourses to include voices defending gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals’ rights (which is especially apparent, in my opinion, in contemporary Spanish literature and filmAlmodovar’s complicated protagonists are the easiest way to illustrate/visualize (above) this plurality of contemporary voices).

Finally,  Part VI (Ch. 31-36), “Iberian Feminisms’ Diversity: 1996 to Present,” considers the individual and collective effects of changes in education – today, more women have earned college degrees and, institutionally, women’s studies programs, research centers, and academic conferences have proliferated since the 1990s (354-55). These essays engage with issues that have occupied center stage in the continued struggle for women’s rights in Spain and Portugal since the 1990s, especially “domestic violence, abortion rights, gender equality, and lesbian and queer identities” (348). Related is an article in El Pais that offers perspectives from different generations of Spanish feminists and activists on many of these issues (The Challenge of Being Feminist in Spain Today, [Spanish]).

Manifestacion 8 de marzo_madrid_2017

March 8, 2017 – International Women’s Day, Madrid. Image via elpais.es

Overall, A New History of Iberian Feminisms is an exceptional and nearly comprehensive synthesis of feminist thought and activity in Spain and Portugal, offering new discussions of previously under-analyzed texts or unknown women writers. The thorough historical overviews opening each section are not limited merely to “women’s history,” and they would make excellent supplementary resources for graduate or undergraduate courses on Spanish or Portuguese cultural history. In terms of limitations, there is an occasional lack of synthesis, encyclopedic tone, or unclear chronologies, largely due to the extensive biographic profiles and detailed descriptions or summaries of the content of women’s essays (however, as an essential reference text, this can also be a strength). Additionally, given the focus on essays, some discussions do not necessarily reflect recent critical scholarship that has engaged with women’s fiction to problematize traditional views on what women’s writing meant at different moments (see my post on recent Carmen de Burgos essays, for example). The bibliography is likewise comprised predominantly of secondary sources; primary texts are limited to essays (and some poetry), although this genre preference is clearly prefaced in the Introduction. Nevertheless, A New History of Iberian Feminisms is an essential resource – if not a new “Bible” of Spanish, or Iberian, feminist history – for any scholar studying historic or contemporary women’s issues, or women’s literature and cultural production, either in Spain or Portugal specifically, or throughout Western Europe and the Luso-Hispanic world more broadly.

What other books on Spanish Feminism, Spanish Women’s Literature, or Contemporary Spanish Women’s or LGBTQ issues have you read recently? A few of my recommendations are below, based on some of  my most recent purchases/reads (which are likely specific to my specific research topics… the avant-garde, early 20th century, and issues related to maternity/motherhood).


Bermúdez, Silvia and Roberta Johnson, eds. A New History of Iberian Feminisms. U of Toronto P, 2018.

Castro, Idoia Murga, et al. Mujeres en Vanguardia. Madrid: Residencia de Estudiantes, 2015.

Fernandez-Miranda, Maria. No madres. Mujeres sin hijos contra los topicos. Plaza & Janes, 2017.

Prado, Antonio. Matrimonio, familia y estado. Escritoras anarco-feministas en la Revista Blanca (1898-1936). Fundación de Estudios Libertarios Anselmo Lorenzo, 2011.

Kirkpatrick, Susan. Mujer, modernismo y vanguardia en España: 1898-1931. Trans. Jaqueline Cruz. Cátedra, 2003.

Posted in Feminism, First-wave spanish feminism, Spain, Women | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Multiple Modernities: New essays on Carmen de Burgos (review)

Review: Anja Louis and Michelle M. Sharp, eds. Multiple Modernities: Carmen de Burgos, Author and Activist. Routledge, 2017. 224 pp.

I recently finished writing a review of Anja Louis and Michelle Sharp’s new volume of essays on Carmen de Burgos (1867-1932), a Spanish (feminist) writer and activist who was born in Almería, then lived and worked in Madrid from about 1900 until her death in 1932. As one of the three authors fundamental to my dissertation — and now my book project — I have read a LOT about and by Burgos, and I’ve published three articles on her fiction (links at the end of this post). My complete and “official” review is forthcoming in Symposium, A Quarterly Journal in Modern Literatures. But I thought that excerpting portions of the review here with additional informal “blog-commentary” and illustrations might introduce Burgos to those unfamiliar with early 20th-century Spanish literature and feminist activity, or who are unaccustomed to (or uninterested in!) reading academic book reviews. For my Spanish-speaking readers, the below 2-minute video is a concise summary of Burgos’ life, literary production, and social or political activity.

If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, Burgos’ name likely sounds familiar, as I’ve written several previous posts on her life and fiction, as well as how I’ve used her work in my teaching and scholarship — you can check them out below:

  1. Fashion and the Fine Arts in Carmen de Burgos’ Avant-garde Novel, La mujer fantástica
  2. Illustrating Spain’s Silver Age of Literature: Carmen de Burgos, Ramon, and “Bon”
  3. Maternity and Madrid: Gendered Spaces in La rampa (1917) 
  4. (teaching): Exploring Female Identities in Carmen de Burgos’ “La rampa”

Moving on to my review, as the title suggests, Multiple Modernities: Carmen de Burgos, Author and Activist, focuses on the plurality of Carmen de Burgos’ personal and professional roles, as well as the modern ideas she expressed in her extensive and varied literary output and feminist advocacy. A prolific writer of fiction and non-fiction, the editors of this volume describe her as “embod[ying] the tensions between tradition and modernity, depicting multiple representations of womanhood” (4). However, many of her most revolutionary and innovative texts suffered near cultural erasure due to the diligent censorship of the Franco years. The 12 essays contained within Multiple Modernities not only portray Burgos’s work as “a dynamic body adapting to the modernizing world” in which she lived, but also highlight the interdisciplinarity of her literary production through an exploration of a “variety of theoretical frames and primary texts” (12). I especially appreciated the focus on multiplicity, heterogeneity, adaptation, and ambiguity, which makes no attempt to defend Burgos’s contradictions or to pigeon-hole her as either a staunch “feminist” author or a writer of “frivolous” women’s literature. While the entire collection of essays in Multiple Modernities sets forth valuable  new contributions to scholarship on Burgos, in this post I’m only going to highlight a few chapters that were of particular interest to me and my current projects.

carmen de burgos_yorokobu

Carmen de Burgos, “Colombine” (Almeria 1867 – Madrid 1932).

Chapter 1: “Carmen de Burgos: Spanish Feminist, Lost and Found” by Elizabeth Starčević.
It is fitting that Starčević opens this volume, as she was the first academic to have made Burgos the topic of her doctoral dissertation in 1976, just as Spain was transitioning to democracy and Spanish women writers were beginning to receive critical attention. This essay is uniquely personal, as Starčević recalls her early years of research in 1970s Spain, where she gradually pieced together aspects of Burgos’s life from archives and personal relationships she established with Burgos’s descendants. She illustrates this by recalling how – as a young mother and doctoral student in the United States of the 1970s – she perceived many of the difficulties Burgos faced as a teacher, a writer, and a “mother confronting the demands of motherhood and livelihood” as paralleling her own, despite the decades and cultural distance between them (17). I appreciated that Starčević closed her essay emphasizing connections between the past and the present, asserting that understanding past struggles of women like Burgos allows us to “see today’s challenges as part of an ongoing process” (15).

Carmen de burgos portada

Poster announcing the commemorative activities in Almería, Spain – Burgos’ birthplace – in September 2017 for the 150th anniversary of the author’s birth. Image via novapolis.es

Chapter 4: “Face to face with Carmen de Burgos: The Influence of other women writers on her career and her work,” by Ana I. Simón Alegre.
This chapter focuses on the influence of women writers on Burgos’s career and work, but  I found its strength to be the attention given to her earlier, lesser-known essays. These texts were carefully inserted as appendices to her translation of German neurologist Paul Julius Moebius’s controversial La inferioridad mental de la mujer [The mental inferiority of women] (1905) as a way to “deny the validity” of Moebius’s work (66). As I recently gave a presentation on these same early essays penned by Burgos at the April 2018 NeMLA conference (Pittsburgh), I was particularly interested in this chapter. For my presentation, I had focused on several essays from these appendices that dealt with the situation of women and children in Spain’s prisons. I compared Burgos — and the backlash she often endured for voicing her opinions and fighting for those with little or no power —  to those individuals who today are derogatorily referred to as “SJWs, or Social Justice Warriors”. The negative “SJW” label tends to be disproportionately directed towards women and minority populations as a way of discrediting their ideas and ignoring the urgency of their concerns for human rights abuses and other social or political injustice. Key to this discrediting process are catchy epithets and visuals, specifically unflattering images used mockingly to connect (female) appearance to the purportedly unnecessary, absurd, or even “dangerous” threat to the status quo that these individuals represent and promote. In the early 1900s, Burgos was labeled “La divorciadora” for her articles advocating the legalization of divorce; “La dama roja” for her leftist inclinations; and she was caricatured in popular newspapers and revistas of the time. Today’s memes function similarly. Below are the top/most-frequent images returned from a “SJW meme” or “SJW meme template” Google search — you have probably seen most of them, and while #NotAllSJWMemes are women, a large portion do rely on unflattering portrayals of women who reject or do not conform to traditional ideals of femininity in order to mock and discredit their claims.

(I think I’ll have to write a post about that presentation in more detail now, mainly because memes are so much fun to use in blog posts!)

Chapter 11, “Bringing the escuela to the despensa: Regenerationist politics in Carmen de Burgos’s cookbooks,” by Rebecca Ingram
Chapter 12, “La perfecta casada: Carmen de Burgos’s new feminine feminist perfection,” by Michelle Sharp.
Both of these final chapters analyze different traditional “conduct manuals” that Burgos wrote early in her career. Both Ingram and Sharp place Burgos’s cookbooks and domestic manuals in their full cultural and literary context in order to disprove the common claim that Burgos wrote these apparently “anti-feminist” or “regressive” feminine instructional manuals merely to earn a living. On the contrary, Ingram and Sharp argue that such texts were integral to Burgos’s larger platform of seeking feminist reforms, allowing her to reinforce ideas expressed in her literary narratives while reaching a unique audience “that may not have had contact with her other [literary] texts” (197). Ingram (Ch. 11) emphasizes the educational value of Burgos’ cookbooks and how they connected private domestic practices to public-sphere culinary gastronomy and innovation, resulting in a discourse resembling later feminist efforts to re-define domestic tasks (188-90). Sharp (Ch. 12) notes that cookbook’s and manuals’ promoted change from inside the home and within the woman herself, similarly subverting the public-private dichotomy established by the ‘angel del hogar’ (203-10).

I appreciated Sharp’s and Ingram’s analyses, as they are closely related to my recent work on the representation of Fashion in Burgos’s literature. My goals are similar to theirs — to consider Burgos’ attention to the details of fashion as more than a mere “frivolous” female characterization devoid of artistic and literary value. In fact, the artistic appreciation of fashion in the paintings of Joaquín Sorolla — a late 19th-, early 20th-century male painter — was the focus of the special joint exhibit at the Sorolla Museum and the Thyssen here in Madrid last month, and I wrote about that excellent temporary exhibition as well: Joaquín Sorolla and Fashion in Madrid’s Museums.

Overall, Multiple Modernities is a new essential reference for any scholar working on Carmen de Burgos, Spanish women writers, or the development of Spanish feminist thought throughout the twentieth- and twenty-first-centuries. The interdisciplinary nature of the essays ensures that the volume contributes to broader conversations on early 20th-century Peninsular literature, culture, and feminist thought.


Image via Routledge

Additional resources:

Bender, Rebecca. “Fashion, Ekphrasis, and the Avant-garde Novel: Carmen de Burgos’ La mujer fantastica (1924).” Ciberletras, vol. 39, n.p. HTML: http://www.lehman.cuny.edu/ciberletras/v39/bender.htm

—. “Maternity Ward Horrors: Urban Motherhood in Carmen de Burgos’ La rampa (1917).” Cincianati Romance Review, vol. 6, no. 34, 2012, pp. 79-96. PDF: http://www.cromrev.com/volumes/vol34/006-vol34-bender.pdf 

—. “Modernity and Madrid: The Gendered Urban Geography of Carmen de Burgos’ La rampa (1917)”. The Routledge History Handbook of Gender and the Urban Experience. Ed. Deborah Simonton. Routledge, 2017. Google Books preview of my chapter, Chapter 10.

Louis, Anja and Michelle M. Sharp, eds. Multiple Modernities: Carmen de Burgos, Author and Activist. Routledge, 2017.

Sevillano Miralles, Antonio and Anyes Segura Fernandez. Carmen de Burgos “Colombine” (Almeria, 1867-Madrid, 1932)Instituto de Estudios Almerienses. Universidad de Almeria. 2009. (Book opens as PDF here).

Posted in Feminism, First-wave spanish feminism, Literature, Modernity, Spain, Women | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Joaquín Sorolla and Fashion in Madrid’s Museums

From February 13 to May 27 (2018), the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Museo Sorolla in Madrid presented the special exhibit, “Sorolla y la Moda” / “Sorolla and Fashion.” I was especially excited to see this particular special exhibit advertised when I walked by the Thyssen during my first few days in Madrid, as I have been working on issues pertaining to “Fashion as Art” in the early 20th century since I attended a conference on the representations of fashion in Hispanic Literature (April 2017) and then subsequently published an article on Fashion and Ekphrasis in the Avant-Garde Novel. I visited the Thyssen last week on “Día de los museos,” or International Museum Day (May 18), and I ventured up to the Museo Sorolla on a Saturday afternoon to see the other half of this joint exhibit. This will probably be on of my least “academic” posts, as I mainly want to share some of the beautiful images from the exhibits and a few observations I had after learning more about Sorolla and the the presence of fashion in his work. Plus, it is technically summer vacation… right?


Entrance to the special exhibit at the Thyssen. Image mine.

According to the materials prepared by the Thyssen and Museo Sorolla, the ubiquity of fashion is a distinctive characteristic in the paintings of Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida (1863-1923), who is most renowned for his portraits and landscapes. Sorolla was a careful observer of fashion trends and essentially chronicled the changing styles of the fin-de-siècle and early twentieth-century eras. As this exhibit aimed to demonstrate, in his portraits he not only captures the intricate artistic details of dresses, jewelry, and accessories, but also the historical and cultural “mood” that these items convey. His wife, Clotilde, was his preferred model, as were his 2 daughters and his son. The exhibit at the Museo Sorolla contained excerpts of letters he had written to Clotilde when traveling abroad, requesting measurements so that he could bring back uniquely fashionable dresses and accessories for her and their daughters. The below images are both portraits of Clotilde. In the first, from the Thyssen exhibit, Clotilde’s portrait is accompanied by a photograph of Sorolla painting her in his studio, and also a black evening gown from the early 1900s, which doesn’t appear in my photo.


Painting: Clotilde con traje negro (Clotilde in a black dress), 1906. Photograph: Sorolla painting ‘Clotilde in a black dress’ in his studio (1906). Image mine, from the Thyssen special exhibit, May 2018.


Clotilde sentada en un sofá (Clotilde seated on a sofa), 1910. Dress by Jeanne Paquin, circa 1912. Image mine, from special exhibit at the Museo Sorolla, May 2018.

As one of the most popular painters of his era, Sorolla painted numerous portraits of early 20th century aristocracy and high society. In commissioned portraits, women typically posed in their best dresses, given that their wardrobe was key in communicating their elegance and status. The growth of cities and “modern lifestyles” created social customs and forms of entertainment that fostered a new concern with public visibility – especially for women – when attending the theater, cabaret, or opera; conversing in outdoor cafes; or strolling the wide boulevards and carefully designed city parks. As such, Sorolla paid close attention to the artistic and creative aspect of women’s clothing design and production, and he captures these details in his portraits though a distinctive and innovative form of subtle impressionism, combined with elements of classical, realist painting that point to the influence of Spanish master Diego de Velázquez. Below are a few images from the special exhibit at the Thyssen, in which aristocratic women pose in their finest attire for their commissioned portraits.














The next image is a portrait of Sorolla’s youngest daughter, Elena, when she was about 25 years old. The pleated silk Delphos gown juxtaposed with this particular painting was a style first created around 1907 by French clothing designer Henriette Negrin and her husband, the Spanish-born Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo. Inspired by the clothing of ancient Greece (the chiton), the pleated “Delphos” became one of Fortuny’s most famous garments, and it was one of the first pieces of “high fashion” to become valued for its artistic and aesthetic qualities. Much of what I read about the Delphos connects to what I wrote about in my article on Fashion and Art as is appears in Carmen de Burgos’s novel, La mujer fantastica – rather than characterize the protagonist as “frivolous” for her obsession with fashionable trends, I argue that Burgos uses art to demonstrate that women’s fashion indeed has a long tradition of high aesthetic value. Of course… one of the problems is that it has been valued as art mainly when produced by male designers or immortalized by male painters. But that’s another post entirely…!


Painting: Elena con tunica amarilla (Elena in a yellow tunic), 1909. Dress: Vestido Delphos (Delphos gown), by Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo, circa 1920. Image mine, from special exhibit at the Museo Thyssen, May 2018.

Upon seeing this Delphos dress and the accompanying portrait of Sorolla’s daughter Elena, I couldn’t help thinking about one particular episode of the Spanish period drama El tiempo entre costuras (translated to English as The Time in Between or The Seamstress, and based on the popular novel by Maria Dueñas), in which the protagonist works to create a variation of the “Vestido-Delphos” for her client to wear to an important political event. The difficulty of reproducing a Delphos gown, as well as the prestige associated with wearing distinctive and artistic pieces of clothing in the 1920s, are captured well in the show’s scenes (below).

You can watch El tiempo entre costuras on Netflix, which I highly recommend if you’re in the market for about 12 hours of escapist, melodramatic television featuring beautiful 1920s-1940s costumes, gorgeous scenery of Morocco and Spain, and an occasionally cheesy or unpredictable storyline that will remind you of Downton Abbey in its ability to keep you hooked on what will happen next. Perfect summer binge-watching material…

In any case, returning to the Sorolla and Fashion exhibits, I’ll end with a few pictures of  my favorite room from the Museo Sorolla. This room contained numerous paintings of Valencian shorelines and Spanish vacationers – including the Sorolla familly. These light, impressionistic beach paintings are largely responsible for establishing Sorolla’s fame as the “master of light” in painting.  I particularly appropriated the dark but brilliant red walls in the studio rooms of the Museum, which served as the perfect backdrop not only for nearly every Sorolla painting regardless of its tone or theme, but also for the late 19th-century furniture and decor the fills each room.


A room in the Museo Sorolla, Madrid,  the studio and home of the artist and his family. Image mine.


Details of a summer dress from the 1910-20s in the Museo Sorolla, Madrid. Image mine.


Summer dresses and parasol at the Museo Sorolla, Madrid. Image mine.

I highly recommend a visit to the Museo Sorolla if you’d like something a bit different to do in Madrid. It’s just outside of the main tourist areas of the centro and, at only 3 euros (or free after 2:00 pm on Saturdays), it’s an inexpensive way to spend an hour or two in the peaceful gardens and carefully decorated rooms of a 19th-century Spanish home.


Museo Sorolla website

Mueso Thyssen website

Maria Duenas’ 2009 best-seller, El tiempo entre costuras and the English translation, The Seamstress via Amazon.

Posted in Art, Spain | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Fashion and the Fine Arts in Carmen de Burgos’ Avant-garde Novel, La mujer fantástica

I’m going to start the new year with a post on my most recent article, “Fashion, Ekphrasis, and the Avant-Garde Novel: Carmen de Burgos’ La mujer fantástica (1924)”, which was published in the open-access journal Ciberletras in December 2017. I was excited to publish this article in that format, as it allowed me to easily include hyperlinks to the images that were so fundamental to my analysis of Burgos’ narrative.  But I still wanted to post a bit about this work here on my blog, where I can include the actual images and also highlight some of my main points for those who may not read the full, 20-page-ish article! I began this article as a conference paper on Burgos’ portrayal of fashion (la moda) in this novel, and I wrote a post about the artist who designed its cover last year. But as I did further research on La mujer fantástica‘s numerous references to painting and the fine arts, I expanded the paper to argue that, in fact, this novel “becomes a paragon of the contradictory, hybrid nature of avant-garde activity in Spain,” given its detailed descriptions of fashion and urbanity, coupled with its playful, if not somewhat “elitist,” references to the fine arts. In particular, I was struck by mentions of 19th-century portraiture and the Second French Empire, a historical and cultural era that seems the antithesis of the Spanish Avant-Garde of the 1910s-20s (a contrast apparent even in the stylistic differences between the cover of the 1924 novel and the 19th-century portraits I will discuss below).

Original cover of “La mujer fantástica” (The Amazing/Fantastic Woman) by Carmen de Burgos (1924), designed by Bon. Image via Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes.

To frame my discussion of the artists referenced in the novel, I used the concept of ekphrasis , particularly “allusive ekphrasis,” which is a more subtle way of connecting the literary (words) to the visual (images). In the context of Spanish literature, for example, Frederick de Armas has identified a variety of types of ekphrasis that create nuanced literary portraiture and communicate complex meanings. Armas defines “allusive ekphrasis” as an instance in which “the novelist simply refers to a painter, a work of art, or even to a feature that may apply to a work of art. This becomes ekphrasis only in the mind of the reader… who can view the work in his memory and imagination” (22).  This technique, or referential description, I argue, was particularly appealing to Carmen de Burgos, who had expressed disdain for lengthy, unnecessary narrative descriptions and preferred instead the visual cues of theater that prompted the imagination (El arte de ser mujer 129). Moreover, in his recent dissertation, Brian Cole identifies allusive ekphrasis as a common feature of Spanish avant-garde novels, emphasizing that “the reader is expected to have background knowledge of these artists in order to fully understand what the author communicates” (146). Cole’s research focuses exclusively on male writers, but as a contemporary, Burgos certainly fits within the aesthetic and chronological categories he identifies.

In La mujer fantástica, Burgos employs an allusive ekphrasis on the very first page, describing the appearance of three young women as they prepare for an evening out: “Las tres eran bonitas, graciosas; parecían tres damitas del Segundo Imperio, escapadas de un cuadro de Winterhalter” / “All three were pretty, beautiful; they resembled three young women of the Second Empire, as if they had escaped from one of Winterhalter’s portraits” (5). The image of a group of women in a Winterhalter painting likely alludes to one of his most famous works – and one of the few he created of a group of women – that of the Empress Eugenie and her ladies-in-waiting (below):

“Empress Eugenie and Her Ladies-in-Waiting” by Franz Xaver Winterhalter (1855). Image via Palais de Compiegne (c) RMN-Grand Palais.

For the informed (educated!) reader, this brief description is heavily weighted with visual imagery and historical/cultural contexts that both clarify and complicate the subsequent representations of women in the novel. The artist to which Burgos makes reference – Franz Xaver Winterhalter (1805-73) – was a German painter known for his portraits of European royalty. He was especially renowned as the painter of the French Courts during the Second French Empire of the mid- to late-nineteenth century (1852-70), a historical fact Burgos recognizes within her ekphrastic language. Moreover, his  legacy is closely associated with his portraits of women and it is intimately connected to fashion ad the diffusion of his era’s most fashionable trends. Two of his most famous paintings are Empress Eugenie and her Ladies-in-Waiting (1855) (above) and the royal portrait of Empress Elisabeth of Austria (or “Sisi”, as she was known) in 1865 (below). Readers familiar with Winterhalter would therefore be privy to a clear image of the appearance of the women described in Burgos’ opening chapter; while readers unfamiliar with the reference would still understand the plot and description, but in a less nuanced manner (in my article I note that this divide recalls Ortega y Gasset’s claim, which has been criticized as elitist, that arte nuevo would divide the public into two groups: those who understand and those who do not).

“Empress Elisabeth of Austria” (“Sisi”) by Franz Xaver Winterhalter (1864-65). Image via Wikimedia / Kaiserliches Hofmobiliendepot, Vienna.

While both Elisabeth (“Sisi”) an Eugenia were admired for their beauty and poise, Empress Eugenie – a Spanish countess-turned French Empress upon her marriage to Napoleon III – was revered for her refined sense of fashion a exquisite taste in clothing. At several moments in her novel, Burgos explicitly compares her protagonist (Elena) to the Empress Eugenie and, as I argue, these ekprhastic associations serve as a means of portraying the protagonist’s fascination with fashion trends, make-up, and wardrobe in terms that do not reduce these habits to mere feminine frivolity, but rather position them as modes of artistic expression and female identity formation. Eugenia in particular was an exceptional historical figure, and her death in Madrid in 1920 inspired Burgos to publish a short biography of the Empress this same year: “La Emperatriz Eugenia: su vida”. In this text, Burgos not only highlights her political influence, intelligence, Spanish heritage, but also makes a point to celebrate her style and fashionable taste in a separate chapter, “The empress and fashion”. Here, she links Eugenie to her predecessor, Marie Antoinette – in terms of feminine royal power and aristocratic fashion – a connection that the Empress herself had chosen to highlight through a commissioned Winterhalter portrait in which she models 18th-century dress (below).

“Empress Eugenie in 18th Century Costume” by Franz Xaver Winterhalter (1854). Image via The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Relative to my study of the representation of women in the novel, in her research on Empress Elisabeth and the “visual culture of femininity,” Olivia Gruber Florek argues that 19th-century aristocratic portraiture, which has traditionally been cast aside as archaic and unrelated to modernism, is in fact the very point of departure from which multiple meanings and ambiguous modern identities may be conveyed (5). This is particularly the case for women, who were able to exercise some degree of autonomy over their appearance in these works of art by selecting their clothing, hairstyle, and approving final versions of the paintings. Empress Eugenie, for example, frequently wore elaborate dresses designed by Charles Frederick Worth, the English designer who dominated the Parisian fashion scene during the second French Empire and is considered the father of haute couture. Taking into account the historical and cultural markers informing Burgos’ initial novelistic reference to Winterhalter’s paintings (via allusive ekphrasis), as well as the explicit mentions of Empress Eugenia throughout the La mujer fantástica, I suggest that Burgos calls attention to the artistic value of (female) fashion in an historical context. Not only does she foreground its centrality in Winterhalter’s paintings, but she traces a trajectory from the royal empresses immortalized in museums, to modern women who, amidst early 20th-century reverence for French fashion and the art of haute couture, continued to pursue fashion as a means of self-expression and identity formation.

“Empress Eugenie in Court Dress” by Franz Xaver Winterhalter (1853). Image via Wikimedia. This was one of the most widely copied and circulated images of Eugenie in the 1850s (Kessler-Aurisch 14-16).

Just as the empresses of the 19th century European empires exercised control over their ideal presentational images through fashion choices, beauty practices, and commissioned portraits that would memorialize their likeness in museums of fine art on a global scale, so too does Burgos’ mujer fantástica curate an “ideal image” to put forth to her world. Elena’s daily toilette routine and dress selection are described as “su arte” in the novel, and this language is consistent with Burgos’s claim in El arte de ser mujer (1920) that fashion is itself an art form on par with music and painting (38).  In the conclusion to my article, I argue that in La mujer fantástica Carmen de Burgos creatively embeds her continued defense of fashion (la moda) through allusive ekphrasis and a markedly avant-garde style that redeems the realist impulses of the nineteenth century by reconsidering their representational pluralities. In the process, she challenges the notion that avant-garde literature necessarily represents an abrupt break from or rejection of the past, validates fashion and make-up as non-traditional, feminine artistic mediums, and establishes a cultural and historical trajectory of women’s “artistic production” through fashion and self-representation.

I’ve tried to summarize some of the main points of my article, but I’ve omitted many examples from the novel and my research in order to make the is post a bit more concise. It’s worth noting that there are MANY instances of allusive ekphrasis in this novel, many of which I discuss in my full article, and once I delved into the details of these references I became quite distracted – and excited – by the additional layers of meaning that they each conveyed in this new literary context. In fact, with the novel’s frequent allusions to painting, portraiture, and sculpture, I state that Burgos essentially “creates a bona fide art museum in narrative form.”

What other early 20th century Spanish novels – especially written by women – feature fashion or the fine arts (especially via ekphrasis) prominently in either characterization or plot development?


Armas, Frederick de. “Simple Magic: Ekphrasis from Antiquity to the Age of Cervantes.” Ekphrasis in the Age of Cervantes. Edited by Frederick A. de Armas, Bucknell UP, 2005, pp. 13-31. (Amazon)

Bender, Rebecca M. “Fashion, Ekphrasis, and the Avant-Garde Novel: Carmen de Burgos’ La mujer fantastica (1924).” Ciberletras 39, Dec. 2017. n.p.

Cole, Brian M. “Ekphrasis and Avant-Garde Prose of 1920s Spain.” Dissertation, University of Kentucky, 2015. Theses and Dissertations-Hispanic Studies, UKnowledge. Proquest.

Burgos, Carmen de. El arte de ser mujer. 1922. Biblok, 2014.

—. “La Emperatriz Eugenia. Su vida”. La Novela Corta, año 5, no. 240, 15 Jul.1920, n.p.

—. La mujer fantástica. 1924. Alicante: Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes, 2010, <http://www.cervantesvirtual.com/nd/ark:/59851/bmc891b0>. Accessed 20 Jan. 2017.

Florek, Olivia Gruber. “The Modern Monarch: Empress Elisabeth and the Visual Culture of Femininity, 1850-1900.” Dissertation, Rutgers University, 2012. Proquest.

Kessler-Aurish, Helga, et al, editors. High Society. The Portraits of Franz Xaver Winterhalter: Arnoldsche Art Publishers, 2015.

Posted in Art, Literature, Modernity, Spain, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Urban Spain through Literature: Literary Maps of Madrid and Barcelona

Anyone who has ever traveled with me knows I am a bit obsessed with maps – I’m either wandering around following my route via Google Maps, attempting to get my bearings and update what I refer to as “my internal GPS” (I’m generally very good with directions!), or I’m in the car paging through the good old-fashioned Rand McNally Road Atlas, studying distances, reading population statistics and other trivia, and generally marveling at the massive scale of the midwestern and western US states. I realize now that two of my favorite souvenirs are maps! I wrote about the illustrated map of Mexico I purchased from a Mexico City kiosk last summer, and in this post I’m going to discuss my FAVORITE souvenir from my FAVORITE city, which I framed and hung in my office: a Literary Map of Madrid. A student visited my office at the beginning of the semester and asked me about it, and we spent some time reading some of the quotes, most of which I had only skimmed over a few years ago when I bought it. But paying closer attention to the map and its contents made me want to do a bit more research and find out if I could purchase additional copies. Good and bad news at the end of this post…

Image via Prodigioso Volcan.

So who created this literary geography of Madrid? Artist Raul Arias designed the original Literary Map of Madrid in 2008 for a digital project, and in 2013 it was printed and sold in limited quantities in only two local Madrid bookstores  (I purchased mine at one in Malasaña that summer). The mapa literario is composed of quotes from famous (mostly Spanish) authors about the city, and their words are placed in roughly the urban area to which they refer — Ramón Gómez de la Serna, Pío Baroja, Ramón del Valle-Inclán, Benito Pérez Galdós, Mariana José de Larra, and Ernest Hemingway all make appearances.  Below I’m pointing out two of the quotes from this map that I particularly enjoy — both from Ramón Gómez de la Serna and both dating to the late 1910s to early 1920s.

Madrid es no tener nada y tenerlo todo (Madrid is having nothing and having everything)  — Ramon Gómez de la Serna

Una pedrada en la Puerta del Sol mueve ondas concéntricas en toda la laguna de España  (A stone thrown in the Puerta del Sol creates concentric waves in the entire lagoon of Spain)  — Ramon Gómez de la Serna

Unfortunately, as is often the case with most objects or texts documenting Spanish literary or cultural history, some of my favorite female authors — Carmen de Burgos, Emilia Pardo Bazán, and Margarita Nelken, each every bit as famous in their day as Ramón or Galdós — do not appear anywhere on the map, despite their prolific writing about the modernizing capital. Women are (again!) underrepresented in this 21st-century depiction of urban and literary history, as it seems Soledad Puértolas and Esther García-Llovet are the only two autoras to have made the cut. To do justice to their writing on the city, I decided to feature several additional literary quotations from some of these absent women. And because I love vintage photographs of early 20th century cities, I’m including additional pictures of Madrid from about the same time period as the quote I selected.

The first is from Carmen de Burgos‘ short novela, “El veneno del arte” (1910), and was pronounced in the text by a bohemian artist, nostalgically singing the praises of the city that most inspired him after having just returned after traveling throughout Europe.

No hay como Madrid en el mundo. Las demás ciudades sirven para pasar una temporada, en Madrid, la vida… (There isn’t another like Madrid in the world. Other cities are fine to spend a time, but in Madrid, one’s life.) — Carmen de Burgos

Madrid, 1910 (Calle de Alcala and the future Gran Via). Image via cochesclasicosdehoy.com

The next quote is from one of my favorite books, the 1917  urban novel La rampa, which was also written by Carmen de Burgos. This particular passage refers to the transformation of the city during Carnaval, or La Verbena del Carmen, and it could be placed just north of the city center on Fuencarral and Hortaleza Street, up through the area known as Cuatro Caminos. The narrator in this text distinguishes the urban Verbana del Carmen from those festivals that took place outside the city center. To illustrate this aspect of La rampa I have chosen paintings – one of a rural Verbena celebration in the San Isidro meadow outside of Madrid, created by José Romano Gutiérrez-Solana between 1908-15; and the second of the same Verbena del Carmen referenced in Burgos’s novel painted by Maruja Mallo in 1927. See my previous post for more details on Mallo’s Verbanas.

La verbena del Carmen se introducía en la ciudad, penetraba en ella, era como una invasión de alegría y de regocijo… No era como las otras verbenas apartadas del centro, en un emplazamiento algo alejado. Esta verbena corría por las calles, con la alegría contagiosa que se propaga como el reguero de una traca… (The Virgen del Carmen Carnival entered the city, penetrated it, it was like an invasion of happiness and celebration… it wasn’t isolated from the city like other Carnivals, in somewhat remote locations. This Carnival ran through the streets, with contagious happiness that spread like the tail of a firecracker)
–Carmen de Burgos

A more rural, carnival setting, just outside the city center: “Verbena en la pradera de San Isidro,” by José Gutiérrez-Solana, 1908-1915. Image via Artnet.

The urban Verbena del Carmen, that took place directly in Madrid’s city center. “Verbena” by Maruja Mallo, 1927. Image via Museo Reina Sofia.

The third quote I’ve included below is from Margarita Nelken’s 1923 novel La trampa del arenal, which also takes place in central Madrid. In addition to general references to Retiro, Puerta del Sol, Calle Princesa, and Moncloa, several streets from the traditionally lower- and working-class, castiza neighborhoods of Lavapies and Embajadores, just south of the city center, are specifically mentioned by name. The street references in this text not only evoke a very particular urban atmosphere and encourage the reader to “map” the action of the narrative, but they also function as a means of characterizing the protagonists in terms of their social class. Salud, for example, is a social climber from this area of the city – “ni artesana ni burguesa” – who manages to obtain a job in a wealthier neighborhood. Yet as she walks home to her poorer neighborhood at night, the narrator establishes a parallel between the divided city center and the doubling or splitting of Salud’s identity:

Al volver a su casa por la noche, en cuanto bajaba la Concepción Jerónima y se internaba en el mundo que todavía no había dejado de ser el suyo, experimenta la desazón del que está a punto de perder la esencia misma de su existencia…  (Upon returning to her home at night, as soon as she went down Concepción Jerónima Street and entered that world that was still hers, she experienced the unsettling feeling that she was about to lose the essence of her existence)
— Margarita Nelken

The working-class neighborhoods of Lavapies contrast sharply with the rapidly modernizing city center in the Madrid of the early 20th century. Phot of a Plaza en Lavapies, circa 1920. Image via Twitter @SecretosdeMadrid.

Finally, Matilde de la Torre‘s description of entering the city by train from Asturias in 1936, from her memoirs of her years serving in the Republican Courts from 1936-38,  is beautiful and poetic… but it is also followed immediately by uglier, darker references to incipient, brutal Spanish Civil war: smoke is also visible from afar as a result of recent artillery shots and bombings… large trucks transport dead bodies through the city streets at night… and families are divided as the men leave to fight and protect the city by day, possibly not returning at night:

La ciudad se presenta de repente a nuestros pies, como sábana urbana que se tendiese bajo nuestra caída del cielo. (The city appeared suddenly at our feet, like an urban sheet thrown out below our fall from the sky) — Matilde de la Torre

Madrid, 1936

Now that I’ve retrieved these words for this blog post and located them within the map composed of male authors, maybe I’ll do a mini crafting project in my office one of these days and add these lines to my framed “Mapa literario de Madrid” with a few elegant neon post-it notes!!!! Returning to the Literary Map, when I was searching for information on the Mapa Literario de Madrid last week, I discovered that Arias had also created a new Literary Map of Barcelona just this year (2017), and it is currently available in bookstores in Barcelona and Madrid, along with the reissued Literary Map of Madrid. The Barcelona map, modeled after the shape of Antoni Gaudí’s mosaic salamander in Barcelona’s Parc Güell, contains quotes — in both Spanish and Catalan — from 34 authors, including Jaime Gil de Biedma, Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, and Jacint Verdaguer. I appreciate the more symmetric shape and layout of this map, and also the addition of landmarks like the Sagrada Familia and Torre Glòries (or Torre Agbar).

Image via Prodigioso Volcan.

You can purchase each poster-size, 24 x 36-inch map via La Central’s online store by simply typing “mapa literario” into the search box.  The GOOD news is that copies are available for under 13 euros, which is about what I paid for mine in Madrid 4 years ago. The BAD news is that shipping to the US is an additional 25 euros. So the “Literary Maps” of Madrid and Barcelona can be obtained relatively easily, but with a hefty international shipping cost that puts the purchase of one map at around $45.00 US, which makes them something of “investment posters” if you also plan to frame these rather large images. Although buying the two together reduces the impact of that flat-rate shipping… hmmm… this actually sounds like a good start to my standard Christmas-shopping practice — one item for me, one as a gift…!

Do you have any favorite literary quotes about Madrid or Barcelona – particularly from women writers? Have you read any of the many “urban novels” set in these Spanish cities – which ones?


Carmen de Burgos. “El veneno del arte” in La flor de la playa y otras novelas cortas. Ed. Concepción Núñez Rey. Editorial Castalia, 1989. pp. 219-70.

—. La rampa. Stockcero, 2006.

Margarita Nelken. La trampa del arenal. Editorial Castalia, 2000.

Matilde de la Torre. Las Cortes republicanas durante la Guerra Civil. Madrid 1936, Valencia 1937, Bacelona 1938. Ed. Francisca Vilches-de Frutos. Fondo de Cultura Económica de España, 2015.
** I reviewed this book for Feministas Unidas and blogged a shorter, illustrated version of that review here in early 2017.










Posted in Art, Feminism, History, Literature, Modernity, Spain, Women | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments