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Hendrik Schlieper

As a cultural commonplace, pathology in general and madness in particular have been equated with femininity. Since ancient medicine, the female reproductive system has been defined as a principal origin of both physical and psychological insanity.

This definition gains particular importance during the 19th century in which medicine is declared a leading discourse and – significantly - the idea of the pathological female is persistently kept up.

Male Spanish novelists – Pérez Galdós, Clarín among others -, adopting medical themes as a strategy to gain poetological authorization, seem to cement the medical image of the woman. The depiction of female madness constitutes a final step to silence and ruin their female figures.

Emilia Pardo Bazán, as my contribution intends to point out, adopts an opposite attitude towards medical and (male) literary authorities. Her heroines' madness can be understood, on the one hand, as a subversive strategy to constitute female identity within patriarchal hegemony. On the other hand, as described in the final chapter of her novel Dulce dueño, the constitution of femininity in the code of madness takes a poetological dimension. Locked up in a madhouse, the protagonist Lina happily begins to write down her experiences which form the present novel, converting – in the sense of Virginia Woolf's famous dictum - her cell into a madhouse of her own.

Consequently, my contribution will try to interpret Emilia Pardo Bazán's depiction of female madness as a mise en abyme of the author's general poetological concept.

SvD, February 2009

  • Conferences > NEWW international conferences > Bochum 2009 > Schlieper

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