What I have learned after three years of studying female participation in Spanish magazines around 1900, by Judith Rideout

 

As an output of the HERA Travelling Texts project, my PhD was conceptualised to find out more about the networks of women writers who featured in Spanish magazines of the third time window of the project, which corresponded to the period 1890-1914. Initially, my first emotion was one of trepidation, as the traditional teaching of literary history has led to only a few women writers featuring in the literary canon. My fear was that a study of the press archives over a three-year period would not uncover enough evidence of a Spanish female literary culture to provide a coherent doctoral narrative.

 

I should not have worried. The wealth of data based primarily on the analyses of five magazine titles actually resulted in my having to cut two finished chapters from my final thesis in order to meet the word-limit requirement, and my strongest sensation on finishing this thesis (of over 90,000 words) that further research is required to do justice to all of the Spanish women writers of this period. Even from the limited number of magazine titles researched, much of the data collected was not be included in the final thesis, and it is for this reason that all of the quantitative data, managed on spreadsheets, has been published as a digital object to accompany my thesis. These spreadsheets are available for the interested researcher to view at: http://dx.doi.org/10.5525/gla.researchdata.336

 

So what did I learn after three years of studying female participation in Spanish magazines? For the sake of brevity and convenience to the reader, I will enumerate my discoveries and describe them in general terms.

 

  1. Far from the ‘handful’ of women writers who are discussed in general histories (there tends to be one great woman per generation who is allowed to pass into the timeless narrative, leaving all of her sisters behind), there were in fact hundreds of Spanish women participating in literary culture at the turn of the century. Given that my research found over 500 female active contributors in five Spanish magazines alone, the implication is that there must have been thousands of women writing in differing capacities over the period. Of course, many of these writers would be very obscure, perhaps contributing one or two poems or articles for a provincial periodical or newspaper of small circulation, but nevertheless, they existed. Their invisibility to traditional history can be attributed both to their gender, which as we know has had a major marginalising effect on most women’s literary legacy, and also the fact that literary historians have traditionally seen writers for the press as being somewhat less worthy of note than authors of published books. For this reason, the vast majority of these women were twice made invisible by the arbiters of cultural value, and so it gave me great pleasure to be able to bring at least some of them to light.

 

  1. Women writers were found to be much more likely to feature in magazines which had female editors. This was even the case when the magazine was a male-edited woman’s magazine. It is not known if this was due to women writers feeling more comfortable sending their contributions to another woman, or whether it was because women editors tended to publish more contributions from other women than their male counterparts, although it is likely to be a combination of both factors. One notable exception to this general rule was the male-edited freethinking newspaper Las Dominicales, which as part of a fringe movement that looked to recruit women, actively sought female contributors. Tellingly, however, it was not until a famous woman began writing for the magazine that other women found the courage to write.

 

  1. There was a common tendency for a new woman writer invoke a woman writer who had gone before, to justify her own (female) name on the page. This was often a literary foremother (the foremothers typically invoked were the canonical Spanish writers of mid-century), but it was also often a woman who was an established contemporary writer, such as a celebrated woman writer of the magazine in question, if not the editor herself. It is clear that women took inspiration and courage from other women writers, whether these were already well-established in the general literary culture, or simply already published in the same magazine.

 

  1. The women’s writing networks found within the magazines were thoroughly transnational, and this was particularly the case with the magazine’s editors. As might be expected in the case of Spain, the most common transnational connections were with Latin America, but there were also occasional real-life connections between women writers in England, France and Italy. The literary influences from women writers outside of Spain was much greater, with women writers from dozens of countries around the world referenced and their work occasionally reproduced from other press sources. There was a great enthusiasm for the editors of every magazine studied to bring to women readers the examples of illustrious women from all over the world, to create an imaginary of a global female community in the readers’ minds.

 

  1. The magazines and newspapers of this period were not just repositories of women’s writing, but also faithfully chronicled, if in subtle clues, the women behind the writings and the public lives that they led. Careful study of the magazines uncovered biographical information about many of these women writers – details such as their marriages, the births and deaths of their children, spouses and other family members, their places of residence and their own deaths. The magazine editors were also keen to document how many of their female contributors were also public speakers, and my research uncovered a lively associational culture of women speaking on many topics before a mixed audience, with prominent women of the time travelling around the country and internationally to deliver speeches. Women were keen to participate at such events, if not as speakers then as members of the audience, and reports of the time show how many public events were packed with both women (and men), keen to see their sisters innovate for their sex whether in orating fiery political speeches, reciting poetry or even directing an orchestra. Given this participatory fervour, it is unsurprising that my research also revealed Spanish women’s involvement in all aspects of literary culture: women could also be found in the magazines not just as writers but as translators, editor/proprietors, book reviewers, booksellers and publishers. Spanish and Latin American women also wrote on a wide range of topics, and were not afraid to speak their minds, again belying the myth of the submissive Angel of the Hearth which was still a powerful trope in the Hispanic world at that time.

Caras y Caretas (Buenos Aires) 5th Dec 1908 Clorinda Matto de Turner conference

Biblioteca Nacional de España, Hemeroteca Digital

While it was impossible to include the name of every woman writer that I found in the magazines during the course of my research, I tried to include as many as possible, with an emphasis on the marginal writers who had not been mentioned in any previous research. To mention these forgotten women and discuss what I knew of them felt like it was a way of honouring their memory, making them live again. In this sense, my work was about documenting the fringes of literary culture in many ways, fringe movements (Spiritism and Freethinking), fringe writers often writing from the provinces, in a country which itself was on the fringe of European literary culture. I hope my thesis has played its part in bringing the fringe of women’s literary history into the centre of the academic spotlight.

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