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Literary Women of the Nineteenth Century

Photo from Wiki/Matto

Literary Latin-American women of the 19th century are seldom acknowledged. In celebration of Women’s History Month I dedicate this blog to some of those Ladies of the Quill who served as inspiring examples of the sisterhood.

Juana Manuela Gorriti

In 1845, the city of Lima, Peru, enjoyed the novel “La Quena,” Juana Manuela Gorriti’s first publication around the age of eighteen. It is the story of an Inca princess who falls in love with a Spaniard. Gorriti, an Argentinian by birth, lived in Bolivia and Peru as well. She was a prolific writer who described the cultures and lives of women in those countries. Among her many novels and short stories, she is most known for “Dreams and Realities” and “The Inca’s Treasure.” Gorriti also founded the international magazine “La Alborada del Plata,” which was an Argentinian cultural journal devoted to the science, literature and poetry of the New World.

Clorinda Matto

In 1884 the musical “Hima-Sumac,” excited the Peruvian Public. This play, written by the Peruvian Clorinda Matto, emphasizes the importance of the Inca Heritage and the Quechua Culture, and it’s inspired by Gorritti’s novel “The Inca’s Treasure.” Although the Inca heroine and her family die at the hands of the Spanish conquerors, it is for a good cause, freedom. Its message is that it is worth dying for a cause in order to maintain the faith and the “Peruvian heart, a heart of fire and a soul so pure that it can still believe and love.” Five years later, Matto published her most famous work, “Birds Without a Nest.” In this novel, the author describes the ill treatment, enslavement and exploitation of women and indigenous people by the ruling patriarchal society, and its political and religious traditions.

Marietta de Veintemilla (La Generalita)

The woman who has had the most power in the history of Ecuador is Marietta de Veintemilla, appropriately known as “la Generalita” or little general. As niece of president Ignacio de Veintemilla she became the First Lady of the nation and was in supreme power during her uncle’s absence. She is considered the first Feminist of Ecuador after establishing that women did not need to be accompanied by men when promenading in the Alameda Park, Quito, Ecuador. She promoted literature, art and political discussions. While living in Lima, Peru, she wrote for the newspaper “El Proscrito,” and in 1890 published her masterpiece “Pages of Ecuador”, which caused a great furor among its readers. In it, she addresses the injustices of the status quo and proposes a different way of thinking in its relations with the indigenous people. In her writings, Marietta enters a realm, up to then, reserved for men. Marietta de Veintemilla is among the four pillars of powerful women in Ecuador, the others being Manuela Sáenz, Nela Martínez y Rosalía Arteaga.

Maria de las Mercedes Santa Cruz

Known as the Countess of Merlin, Maria de las Mercedes Santa Cruz was a Cuban writer and novelist, founder of Cuban literature written by women. Maria lived in France. She knew many important dignitaries and wrote to them about the oppression in Cuba by the powers that be: lack of schools in her homeland; injustices of slavery; the poor judicial system and the lower status of women. Most of the Countess’ work was written in French. Among many memoirs, the most important were her autobiographies, “Mes douze premiéres années” (París, 1831) and “Souvenirs et Mémoires” (Souvenirs d´une Creole) (1835). 

Flora Tristan

Flora Tristan was a feminist French writer of Peruvian ancestry. She wrote a diary about her trip and experiences in Peru, “Pilgrimages of a Pariah,” in 1838. Upon returning to France, she started a campaign for the emancipation of women, workers’ rights and against the death penalty. In 1840 she published a program for a Universal Workers Union, also the theme for her novel “Mephis.” In her words: “All the world’s misfortunes arise from the forgotten and contempt for the inalienable and natural rights of women.”

Lindaura Anzoategui

The Bolivian poet and writer of historical novels, Lindaura Anzoategui, was the first lady of her country between 1880 and 1884. She wrote about her country’s traditions, but her most popular novel was Huallparrimachi in 1815, about the Bolivian war for independence. She presents the protagonists from a romantic literary perspective. Lindaura is said to have led the new era of recognition for Bolivian women in literature.

These six authors are just a few of the Latin-American female writers of the nineteenth century that deserve to be celebrated. 

Frances Gotay

On a final note, I am including the link for a composition by the nineteenth century Puertorrican composer Frances Gotay. She joined the convent of Sisters of the Holy Family in 1883, in New Orleans, and became Sister Marie Seraphine. It is said that she was the first black female composer known in New Orleans.

MBC Violin 1-6, Gotay – “La Puertorriqueã: Reverie”






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