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Revision as of 15:11, 14 June 2013

Josefa Amar y Borbón, Spanish writer, scholar and translator,1749-1833?

By Mónica Bolufer, Universitat de València

Born in Madrid on the 4th of February 1749, Josefa Amar descended on both sides from families of a certain intellectual renown and social standing. Both her father, José Amar, and grandfather were royal physicians, and her mother, Ignacia de Borbón, was a cultivated lady. She had a rather unusual education for a non-aristocratic woman of her time, supported by her parents. She learnt Latin, Greek, and several modern languages (French, Italian and, what was more unusual in that period, also English). After marrying a lawyer, Joaquín Fuertes Piquer, she moved to Zaragoza, a provincial town where he served as a magistrate, where she and her husband joined the reformist and Enlightened circles. The couple had one son, who would become a magistrate (“oidor”) of the colonial bureaucracy at the Audiencia of Lima, Peru, in Spanish America, and died during the insurrection of 1810.

Josefa Amar had considerable knowledge of the Latin classics, of contemporary Spanish and European moral and pedagogical writing, as well as that from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and of ancient and modern medical texts. She was familiar with the main references in each field and particularly receptive to the works of other women writers, mostly French, including Anne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, Stéphanie Ducrest, comtesse de Genlis, and her favourite, Anne-Thérése de Marguenat de Courcelles, marquise de Lambert, but also mentions the profiles of other learned women of different origins, from the Swedish erudite Sophia Weber to the Italian mathematician Maria Gaetana Agnesi, in order to assert women’s capacities and her own entitlement to speak and represent herself as a woman intellectual.

Josefa Amar’s written work includes, on the one hand, translations and, on the other hand, original essays and a major treatise. She translated French, Italian and English texts that were connected with some of the most pressing interests of her time: agronomic, pedagogical and erudite works by Griselini, Xavier Lampillas, John Locke, some of which were published and earned her considerable prestige, and others, never printed, are lost. However, her most important publications are her Discourse on the talent of women (Discurso sobre el talent de las mujeres, 1786), a contribution to the Enlightenment debate on women’s admission to the Economic Society of Friends of the Country in Madrid, which was published in the periodical Memorial literario and later translated into Italian, and her Discourse on women’s physical and moral education (Discurso sobre la educación física y moral de las mujeres, 1790), the most comprehensive pedagogical treatise on women’s education in eighteenth-century Spain, which pays much attention to serious intellectual training and takes for granted gender equality of reason. She enjoyed considerable prestige in her time, and this latter work in particular was received positively in Spanish periodicals, praised by her contemporaries and included both in general catalogs of writers and in compilations of women writers written during her lifetime (Latassa y Ortín, 1802; Serrano y Sanz, 1833). She was admitted to the Economic Society of Aragón in 1782, to the Junta de Damas (Ladies’ Committee) of the Economic Society of Madrid in 1787, and to the Royal Medical Society of Barcelona, in recognition for her contribution to the popularization of medical knowledge. Although her writings were never reprinted, her influence can be appreciated in later works on women’s condition and education. However, after her death, her name was relegated to a few, brief footnotes that mentioned her pedagogical work. Only in the last few decades have feminist historians and literary critics reconstructed her life and analyzed her work in depth.


Key works:

  • Discurso en defensa del talento de las mugeres y de su aptitud para el gobierno y otros cargos en que se emplean los hombres, in Memorial Literario, instructivo y curioso de la Corte, vol. VIII (august 1786), pp. 399-430.
    • Modern edition: Olegario Negrín Fajardo, Ilustración y Educación. La Sociedad Económica Matritense (Madrid 1984) , pp. 162-176.
    • Facsimile editions: María Victoria López-Cordón: Condición femenina y razón ilustrada: Josefa Amar y Borbón (Zaragoza 2005), pp. 265-296; Inmaculada Urzainqui (ed.): “Catalin” de Rita de Barrenechea y otras voces de mujeres del siglo XVIII (Vitoria 2006), pp. 93-124.
  • Translation into Italian: Difesa dell’ingegno delle donne e delle loro attitudine pel Governo e per altre cariche pubbliche. Ragionamento accademico di donna Giuseppa Amar e Borbon accademica della Real Società Aragonese degli Amici del Paese tradotto dallo spagnuolo dall’ab. Gianfranc. Masdeu a richiesta d’un sincero encomiatore della coltissima ragionatrice (Roma: Luigi Perego Salvioni 1789).
  • Oración gratulatoria que la Señora …, elegida socia de honor y mérito, dirigió a la Junta de Señoras de la Real Sociedad Económica de Madrid, in Memorial Literario, vol. XII (december 1787), pp. 588-592.
    • Facsimile edition in López-Cordón: Condición femenina y razón ilustrada (2005), pp. 311-315.
  • Discurso sobre la educación física y moral de las mujeres (Madrid: Benito Cano 1790) 349 pages in 8º.
    • Critical edition: María Victoria López-Cordón (Madrid, Cátedra, 1994).

Presence in compilations of (women) writers:

  • Félix de Latassa y Ortín: Biblioteca nueva de los escritores aragoneses que florecieron desde el año de 1795 hasta el de 1802 (Pamplona 1802), ch. 6, pp. 231-235.
  • Manuel Serrano y Sanz: Apuntes para una biblioteca de escritoras españolas (desde el año 1401 al 1833) (Madrid 1903-1905).
    • Facsimile edition: Madrid 1975, vol I, pp. 27-30.

Relevant publications:

  • Elizabeth F. Lewis: “Feijoo, Josefa Amar and the Feminist Debate in Eighteenth-Century Spain”, Dieciocho. Hispanic Enlightenment, 12/2 (1989), pp. 188-199.
  • Constance A. Sullivan: “Josefa Amar y Borbón and the Royal Aragonese Economic Society (with documents)”, Dieciocho, 15/1 (1992), pp. 95-148.
  • Isabel Morant and Mónica Bolufer: “Josefa Amar y Borbón. Une intelectuelle espagnole dans les débats des Lumières“, Clio. Histoire, Femmes et Sociétés, 13 (2001), pp. 69-97.
  • Elizabeth F. Lewis: Women writers in the Spanish Enlightenment: the pursuit of happiness (Aldershot 2004).
  • María Victoria López-Cordón: Condición femenina y razón ilustrada. Josefa Amar y Borbón (Zaragoza 2005).

AsK June 2013

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