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Monica Burguera

Re-Appropriating Middle-Class Womanhood:
The memoirs of the Countess of Espoz y Mina (1805-1872)


In this paper I want to explore some of the questions articulating the memoirs of Juana de Vega, Countess of Espoz y Mina; three texts written during the eighteen thirties and forties: her husband’s memoirs, her own Memorias Íntimas, and her Apuntes (Notes) on the period in which she was the governess of queen Isabel II and of her sister (1841-1843). Especially relevant is the later appropriation of her legacy both as an exemplary public “middle-class” woman and an “angel of the house”, by some of the most significant women writers of the following decades, like in particular Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda or Concepción Arenal. Juana de Vega’s self-representation as well as all later representations by others help us reflect on the changing ways in which modern womanhood has related historically to marriage, philanthropy, maternity, abnegation, and social citizenship, but also to patriotism, nationalism or the political.

On the one hand, then, from a European comparative perspective (with the French and British cases), I re-evaluate the articulation and circulation of this set of texts — as a hidden and successful author of her husband’s memoirs, and a female unpublished author of her own — and the context in which they were produced, to engage in the ongoing debate on the particular making of a middle-class femininity, literary production in nineteenth-century Spain, and the construction of the official canon. I reconstruct a genealogy of women writers as they engaged in the public sphere, and, mostly implicit, political debates. On the other, I pay particular attention to the first very late editions of the Countess’ memoirs and the gendered nature of the allographic paratexts they produced in two very different political and cultural contexts of the twentieth century: 1910 and 1944. Both editions aimed at very different implicit audiences, and created both a different female author, and a diverging gendered audience.

AsK, September 2012

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