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Henriette Partzsch

Genre Paintings and Conversation Pieces: Conflicted Idylls in 19th-Century Spanish Literature Written by Women


Karin Carsten Montén's research on Fredrika Bremer's reception in Germany has shown how the aesthetic preference for the idyll of the so-called Biedermeier shaped the readers' reactions to Bremer’s work and person, thus contributing to the immense success of the Protestant Swedish writer. Almost unanimously, contemporary critics in Germany described her texts as tender, moral and Christian, emphasizing its attention to the everyday world of domesticity, considered as female, as well as its loose and often conversational structure. Potentially more conflictual aspects were mostly ignored or overlooked. This kind of reaction, linked to as well as inspiring a certain type of textual production (mostly written and read by women?), was not limited to Germany and the works of Bremer, but seems to form an international pattern, that can also be observed for instance in the Netherlands.

My contribution will discuss how this pattern manifests itself in the very different cultural context of Spain, were Bremer (1801-1865) was compared by male critics to one of the most successful authors of the nineteenth century, Fernán Caballero (1796-1877). Caballero in turn helped legitimize a younger generation of women writers (for instance Faustina Sáez de Melgar, 1834-1895), who cultivated narratives of domesticity that often inscribe themselves, like Bremer in the German view, in the tradition of genre paintings and conversation pieces (costumbrismo). I will briefly sketch the connections between these writers and then focus on the conflicted idylls they depict in some of their texts, with special attention to the interplay of suffering, freedom and resignation of the sentimental protagonists.

AsK, September 2012

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