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Four— Women, Literature, and National Brotherhood
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Women As National Icons: Mármol, Gorriti, and Manuela Rosas

The uneasy coexistence of nationhood and womanhood is played out in that paradoxical republican habit of using female icons as national symbols. For every Unknown Soldier there is a Statue of Liberty, a Britannia, a Marseillaise, a national virgin—in the Americas, the indigenous figures of La Malinche, Pocahontas, the violated Indian woman. In patriotic speeches, in sculpture, in poetry, novels, and plays, female icons are used to symbolize the nation—symbolizing, often enough, that which is at stake between warring groups of men. Such symbolizations played a conspicuous role in the extraordinary drama of national self-fashioning that took place in Argentina following independence from Spain. In its cultural and literary dimensions, that drama provides a vivid instance of the modern ideological tangle of nationalism, militarism, republicanism, fraternity, and womanhood.

In a configuration that has some points in common with the American Civil War, the battlelines in Argentina in the 1830s and 1840s were drawn between two camps, the unitarios and the federales . Roughly speaking, the unitarios were led by Buenos Aires-based, Europe-oriented liberal republicans advocating free trade and a centralized, secular, progressive republic centered in Buenos Aires. The federales who opposed them are generally seen as constituting an alliance of two groups: first, traditional land-based elites of the interior, defending local autonomy, traditional economies, trade protectionism, and church power; and second, a new wave of capitalists who had entered the cattle industry in Buenos Aires Province much more recently, after other forms of commerce with Europe failed to expand. Following independence from Spain, the unitarios had formed a centralized Argentine Republic, consecrated in the Constitution of 1826. The effort was short-lived, however. By 1830, power had been lost to the federales , and the two groups remained locked for twenty years in a devastating civil war. The unitarios called the federales barbarians, and the federales called the unitarios savages (both terms highly charged in the context of decolonization).

Until the victory of the unitarians in 1852, the dominant historical figure was the now-legendary federalist leader Juan Manuel de Rosas. Having become leader of the federalists (in part by assassinating the opposition), the politically talented and ruthless Rosas ruled Argentina from 1838 to 1852, with an iron hand and a secret police force that sent scores of Argentinians to their deaths or into exile. Debate still goes on in Argentina regarding whether Rosas was a crude leftover from the colonial era or the first great Argentine nationalist, but there is no question how the unitarios saw him. The unitario leaders were urban intellectuals deriving from the colonial bureaucracy and the colonial universities. They were prolific writers, passionately devoted to


the project of decolonizing their culture, of creating a enlightened republic of letters. Lacking control of the economy, one form of production they did control was print, and during the Rosas period they produced an immense body of writings, mainly journalistic, including a corpus devoted to Rosas himself, which must be one of the great literatures of denunciation of all time.

In 1844 José Mármol, a key unitarian intellectual, began publishing the serial novel Amalia , which became and has remained a canonical testimonial to the period. The title character is a young and beautiful upper-class Buenos Aires woman. Through family ties and her love for a unitarian militant, she becomes embroiled in political intrigue and exposed to Rosas's reign of terror. When an attempt to overthrow the dictator fails, she and her lover arrange to marry and flee the country. The novel ends minutes after the marriage, when Rosas's henchmen invade Amalia's house, killing her lover and leaving her in the hands of a benevolent, but federalist, uncle. Mármol's novel is not at all simplistic, but the national symbolics are clear. Amalia's initial situation allegorizes the moment of Spanish American independence: when she was a young woman, her father died and her mother married her to an old family friend for protection. After a year of passionless union, the friend dies, as does the mother, leaving Amalia (alias Argentina) a young, beautiful widow (a near virgin) of considerable resources, including her own house. At the end of the novel, Amalia is still an unexchanged woman, the frustration of her marriage reflecting the failure of the unitarian national project. The sexual and the domestic are homologous with the political and the military. No new national family has been founded to replace the already defunct colonial patriarchy. The entire drama takes place, of course, among the criollo elite.

Though republican ideals remain unfulfilled in the novel, they are not unexpressed; the language with which Mármol's characters describe their political aspirations echoes Anderson's account of the modern nation. In this passage from near the end of the novel, the hero, Daniel Bello, calls for a "spirit of association" and attributes the unitarian defeat to

nuestros hábitos de desunión, en la parte más culta de la sociedad; nuestra falta de asociación en todo y para todo; nuestra vida de individualismo; nuestra apatía; nuestro abandono; nuestro egoismo; nuestra ignorancia sobre lo que importa la fuerza colectiva de los hombres. . . . Aquel que sobreviva de nosotros, cuando la libertad sea conquistada, enseñe a nuestros hijos que esa libertad durará poco si la sociedad no es un solo hombre para defenderla, ni tendrán patria, libertad, ni leyes, ni religión, ni virtud pública, mientras el espíritu de asociación no mate al cáncer del individualismo, que se ha hecho y hace la desgracia de nuestra generación.[4]

[the habits of disunion among our cultured class; our want of association everyhere and in everything; our life of individualism; our apathy; our neglect; our selfishness; our ignorance regarding the value of the collective strength of


men. . . . Let him who survives among us when liberty has been won teach our children that this liberty will last for a very short time if the nation does not unite as one man to defend it; that they will have neither a country, nor liberty, nor laws, nor religion, nor public virtue until the spirit of association shall have destroyed the cancer of individualism, which has made and which still makes the misfortune of our generation.]

Since we are talking about a civil war, it is no surprise to find that Amalia, the unitarian national symbol, has a federalist counterpart in Mármol's novel. She was a real person—Manuela Rosas, daughter of the hated dictator. A woman the same age as Mármol himself, she too has been the subject of a sizable literature of praise and condemnation. Historically, Manuela Rosas became her father's confidante and a chief political agent after her mother's death in 1838. In Mármol's novel, she appears as a competent, appealing person victimized by her father's crude tyranny. Like Amalia, she remains an unexchanged woman at the end of the novel (as she did in real life, marrying in her thirties only after her father want into exile in England).

Apart from her fictionalization in Amalia , Manuela Rosas turns up elsewhere in Mármol's writings, as the pretext for prescribing the future of women in the new republic. In 1851 Mármol published an essay on Manuela Rosas analyzing her life and character.[5] It reads as a fairly straightforward exhortation to domesticity and republican motherhood. Mármol sees Manuela as "la víctima de esa imposición terrible de vivir soltera" [the victim of that terrible imposition to live unmarried]. With "otra educación y otro padre" [a different upbringing and a different father] she would become capable of falling in love with a suitable man and would no longer be found attending orgies, dancing "hasta con negros" [even with Negroes], or, in a particularly unladylike lapse, serving to an English naval officer the salted ears of a unitarian colonel. Thus, as I will suggest more fully below, Mármol's writings portray elite women as both symbols and historical agents in the ongoing drama of nation building; at the same time, their absorption into domesticity will be the very sign that the nation has indeed been born.

Juana Manuela Gorriti was also the same age as Mármol, and as engaged as anyone with the future of the emergent Argentine nation. She too left Argentina during the Rosas period, and around 1850 she wrote a very popular story about the civil conflict, titled "El guante negro" ("The Black Glove").[6] In this story, too, the drama of nation building is played out in love relations, and women are important both as symbols and agents in that process. Gorriti's story, however, presents a much less orderly symbolic structure than does Amalia . Here, the sexual and the domestic do not operate homologously with the political and the military. Love, politics, patriotism, and militarism tangle in complex fashion.

Like Amalia , "El guante negro" embodies the national conflict in two women, a unitarian named Isabel (note the courtly name) and Manuela


Rosas. They are in love with the same soldier, a young federalist named Wenceslaus (another courtly name), whose sincere affection for Manuela has been overwhelmed by a newfound passion for Isabel. Unlike Amalia, Isabel does not espouse her lover's political cause as her own. Rather, she places her politics above love and demands that Wenceslaus prove his faith to her by enlisting in the unitarian army. Placing love above family and politics, he does so. His father, a federalist colonel, hears this news and, placing his politics above family, arranges to murder his son for disloyalty. Wenceslaus's mother, placing family above politics and motherhood above marriage, murders her husband to prevent him from killing her son. Wenceslaus hears of his mother's deed and, reversing his earlier choice, decides that her sacrifice obliges him to return to the federalist army and the arms of Manuela Rosas. He does so and is promptly killed on a battlefield. The story ends with the unexchanged, unfulfilled unitarian Isabel—alias the still unformed nation—standing on the battlefield in the midst of a tangled pile of male corpses, among which she has found that of her beloved Wenceslaus. She loses on two counts: the unitarians have lost the battle, and her federalist lover has been killed. Manuela reaps a Pyrrhic victory, and it remains unclear in whose hands the national future ought to rest. The men in the story are all dead.

While in Amalia it is clear that the heroine's happiness and her lover's life have been sacrificed to the tyranny of Rosas, no such clear conclusion can be drawn from "El guante negro." Love, politics, and family weave in, through, and around one another in unpredictable ways. In Amalia , women characters are embedded in family structures that are weak, parentless, sometimes perverse; in "El guante negro," the family has disintegrated even further. Isabel and Manuela are without visible family ties in the story; for example, both are presented traveling alone to Wenceslaus's bedside. Wenceslaus's mother, far from being sheltered by her family men, finds herself murdering one to protect the other. While Amalia is often called upon to heroically defend the sentimental/domestic sphere of her house from political violence, in "El guante negro" both the house and the battlefield are sites for both sentimental/domestic and political action, by either sex.

It should be emphasized that I am presenting what one might call "preferred readings" of these texts—that is, I am for the most part interpreting them in the terms in which they seek to be interpreted. Deconstructive and other skeptical/approaches give rise to different and more textured readings; these go beyond my present purpose, which is simply to introduce literary uses of national iconographic conventions. In Amalia and "El guante negro," the abandoned fiancée left standing after the final shoot-out symbolizes the failure to consolidate the republic. At the same time, in neither text can the women be said to function solely as national symbols. They are also active protagonists in the political drama. They have not been domesticated;


republican motherhood has not been consolidated (though the stage is seemingly set for it). Amalia and, to an even greater extent, "El guante negro" support the suggestion that at least in some sectors of Spanish American society this postrevolutionary period marked a historical aperture for women, an experimental moment in which they could be imagined as players in the drama of nation building.

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