Feminine Singular

Women Growing Up through Life-Writing in the Luso-Hispanic World

by Maria-José Blanco (Volume editor) Claire Williams (Volume editor)
Edited Collection XVI, 372 Pages


Women have often chosen to tell their secrets, confide their dreams and express their deepest and most intimate thoughts in diaries, letters and other forms of life-writing. Although it is well established as a genre in the Anglophone and Francophone traditions, there has been very little publication of life-writing in the Hispanic and Lusophone worlds and even less scholarly criticism has appeared.
This collection of essays is the first volume to focus on the variety of women’s life-writing in the Luso-Hispanic world. The authors analyse women who have written or expressed their sense of identity through diaries, autobiographies, biographies, memoirs, travel writing and poetry, as well as forms of visual art, examining how they represent themselves and others. The volume brings together critics and academics working in Europe and the Americas who are engaging with the work of women from different countries, produced in locations ranging from a sixteenth-century convent to a twenty-first-century kitchen. The book responds to a range of different literary genres as well as reaching beyond literature to analyse women’s self-representation through painting, drawing and collage.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Figures
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction: Singular Feminine Voices and Histories (Maria-José Blanco / Claire Williams)
  • Women life-writing in the Luso-Hispanic world: An overview
  • Post-modern life-writing
  • Feminine singular: Fifteen chapters
  • Finale
  • Part I: Cloistered Lives
  • 1. Captive Writing: Intimacy, Eroticism and Repression in Women’s Literature, or Landscapes with Secrets (Anna Caballé Masforroll)
  • Introduction
  • Teresa of Ávila: ‘Siempre digo más de lo que querría, y no todo lo que deseo’ [I always say more than I would like, and not all that I desire]
  • Carmen Laforet: Another borrowed language
  • Rosa Chacel: Saying what I don’t say
  • Bibliography
  • 2. Two Aristocrats in the Convent: The Autobiographies of Antónia Margarida de Castelo Branco and the Marchioness of Alorna (Clara Crabbé Rocha)
  • Bibliography
  • Part II: Diary Writing
  • 3. Publicity and Secrets: Publishing a Private Diary (Laura Freixas)
  • Selection
  • Time lapse
  • How the selection is made
  • Bibliography
  • 4. Notebooks and Collages: Carmen Martín Gaite’s Visions of America (Maria-José Blanco)
  • Visions of America: The notebooks
  • Visión de Nueva York: The collages
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • 5. Adolescence, Trauma and Catharsis in Olga Alonso’s Testimonios: Women’s Life-Writing from Revolutionary Cuba (Sofia Maniscalco Mason)
  • Bibliography
  • Part III: Memoir and Confessions
  • 6. Fernanda de Castro, Ao fim da memória: Memoirs of a Portuguese Century (Paula Morão)
  • Bibliography
  • 7. Shadow Talk: Constructing Female Memory of Resistance to Salazar’s Dictatorship (Carina Infante do Carmo)
  • Bibliography
  • 8. Promises of Happiness and Unhappy Effects in Abecedario del estío by Liliana Lara (Raquel Rivas Rojas)
  • The migrant self
  • Autofiction and postliterature
  • Affects and self-writing
  • Transgenre writing and autofiction
  • An ABC of migration
  • An intimate public self
  • The murky flow of objects
  • Between history and heterotopia
  • Happy objects and unhappy effects
  • Bibliography
  • Part IV: Poetry
  • 9. Childhood Memories in the Poetry of Adília Lopes (Rosa Maria Martelo)
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • Bibliography
  • 10. Ana Luísa Amaral’s Carta a Minha Filha: A Mother/Daughter Relationship in Verse (Susan Bozkurt)
  • Introduction: The poetess
  • The poem
  • The autobiographical voice
  • Motherhood
  • Female genealogy
  • For writing is re-naming
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Part V: Fictional Auto/biography
  • 11. Gendered Genres: Autobiographical versus Autofictional Readings of Elvira Lindo’s Lo que me queda por vivir (Maite Usoz de la Fuente)
  • Bibliography
  • 12. The Politics of Self-Presentation and Representation in Isabel Allende’s Mi país inventado: Un paseo nostálgico por Chile (Silvia Roca-Martínez)
  • Introduction
  • Authority and credibility in Mi país
  • The implications of the ‘them versus me’ rhetoric in Mi país
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Part VI: Visual Biographies
  • 13. Capturing the Likeness: The Encounter between Writer (Agustina Bessa-Luís) and Painter (Maria Helena Vieira da Silva) in Longos Dias Têm Cem Anos (Claire Williams)
  • Bibliography
  • Filmography
  • 14. Julia Fons’ Scrapbooks of a Chorus Girl: Life-Writing and Popular Musical Practices in Early Twentieth-Century Spain (Pepa Anastásio)
  • The great divide: Popular music practices in modern Spain
  • Scrapbooking as a form of life-writing
  • Saving and organising
  • Julia thinks
  • Contemplating and sharing
  • Bibliography
  • 15. The Eccentric Self-Portraits of Helena Almeida (Maria Luísa Coelho)
  • Inhabited paintings: The woman artist and strategies of self-representation
  • Between figuration and abstraction: Women artists and the dominant art tradition
  • Female self-representation in the context of the Estado Novo: Subverting patriarchal ideologies
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Epilogue: Anything But a Biography (Hélia Correia)
  • I
  • II
  • III
  • Bibliography
  • Women’s life-writing: Texts
  • Critical studies
  • Filmography
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index
  • Series index

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Figure 4.1. Homenaje a Virginia Woolf © Herederos de Carmen Martín Gaite, 2005. Publicado originalmente por Ediciones Siruela, Madrid, España.

Figure 4.2. Once Upon a Time in the Early Eighties © Herederos de Carmen Martín Gaite, 2005. Publicado originalmente por Ediciones Siruela, Madrid, España.

Figure 13.1. Arpad Szenes, Portrait of Vieira da Silva (1942), ink/paper, 21.8 × 15.1cm. From the collection of Alberto de Lacerda.

Figure 14.1. The cover of one of Julia Fons’ scrapbooks. Doc. 3461, Julia Fons: Álbum de recuerdos (recortes de prensa, programas y fotografías), 1907–1914, Instituto Nacional del Teatro, Almagro, Spain. Photo by María Teresa del Pozo Arroyo.

Figure 14.2. Magazine cover, photograph and cuttings from Julia Fons’ scrapbook. Doc. 3461, Julia Fons: Álbum de recuerdos (recortes de prensa, programas y fotografías), 1907–1914, Instituto Nacional del Teatro, Almagro, Spain. Photo by María Teresa del Pozo Arroyo.

Figure 14.3. Cuttings and reviews, Julia Fons’ scrapbook. Doc. 3461, Julia Fons: Álbum de recuerdos (recortes de prensa, programas y fotografías), 1907–1914, Instituto Nacional del Teatro, Almagro, Spain. Photo by María Teresa del Pozo Arroyo.

Figure 14.4. Publicity photo for ‘La corte del Faraón’ (1910), Institut del Teatre, Barcelona. ← xiii | xiv →

Figure 15.1. Tela Rosa para Vestir (1969), b/w photograph, 58 × 48cm. Fundação de Serralves – Museu de Arte Contemporânea Coll., Porto. Acquired in 2000. Photo Filipe Braga © Fundação de Serralves, Porto.

Figure 15.2. Pintura habitada (1977), b/w photograph, with blue acrylic paint, 64.5 × 55cm. Private coll. Photo @ Civilização Editora.

Figure 15.3. Pintura Habitada [Inhabited Painting] (1974), b/w photograph and acrylic, 160 × 120cm. Photo © Mário Valente. Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporânea – Museu do Chiado, Lisbon. Direção-Geral do Património Cultural / Arquivo de Documentação Fotográfica (DGPC/ADF).

Figure 15.4. Seduzir [Seduce] (2002), photograph on photographic paper, 129 × 194cm. Photo © José Manuel Costa Alves. Museu Calouste Gulbenkian – Coleção Moderna, Lisbon, Inv. 02FP366.

Figure 15.5. A Casa (1982), b/w photograph, 259 × 130.8cm. Private coll., Lisbon. Photo @ Civilização Editora.

Figure 15.6. Eu Estou Aqui (2005), b/w photograph, 125 × 125cm. Photo @ Civilização Editora.

Figure 15.7. Dentro de Mim (2001), b/w photograph, 232 × 120cm. © Laura Castro Caldas/Paulo Cintra. Luso-American Development Foundation Coll., long-term loan to the Serralves Foundation – Contemporary Art Museum, Porto, Portugal.

Figure 15.8. Estudo para Dois Espaços (1977), eight b/w photographs, 60 × 40cm. Museu Coleção Berardo coll., Lisbon.

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A lot of life, including births, deaths and marriages, and some teaching and writing, has happened to the editors of this volume since the international conference from which the project originated was held. ‘Feminine Singular: Women Growing up Through Life-Writing in the Luso-Hispanic World’ took place at the former Institute for Germanic and Romance Studies (IGRS), University of London, over two days in May 2011. Our first thanks should go to the participants at that conference, for the inspiration they gave us to embark on compiling a book of essays on the topic. Particularly important was the presence of our keynote speakers, Anna Caballé, Hélia Correia and Laura Freixas, who kindly agreed to contribute to the collection. The conference could not have been held without the generous sponsorship and collaboration of the IGRS, the Centre for the Study of Contemporary Women’s Writing (University of London), the Coffin Fund, the Spanish Embassy, the Cervantes Institute and the Camões Institute.

As the book took shape, we relied on the time and expertise of colleagues to peer review the submitted chapters, and we are extremely grateful for their invaluable assistance as well as that of the reviewer of the final manuscript. Other colleagues provided useful references and helped us discover fascinating texts. The biggest thanks should go to our contributors for their patience in seeing the project through to publication.

We would also like to express our appreciation for the hard work and patience of Hannah Godfrey, our editor at Peter Lang.

Claire Williams is particularly grateful to Cláudia Pazos Alonso, Raquel Ribeiro and Phillip Rothwell for their words of wisdom and generosity of spirit, and thanks Giles Ratcliffe for adding value to everything.

Maria-José Blanco would like to thank Beatriz Mérida for her support and David Glyn for always being there.

Finally we would like to thank all the following individuals and institutions for their permission to reproduce words and images from the following texts and sources: ← xv | xvi →

Helena Almeida and the Museu do Chiado for the images in Chapter 15 and on the cover.

The heirs of Olga Alonso, for Olga Alonso, Testimonios (La Habana: Gente Nueva, 1973).

Ana Luísa Amaral, for ‘Um pouco só de Goya: Carta a minha filha’, Poesia Reunida 1990–2005 (Vila Nova de Famalicão: Quasi, 2005).

Margaret Jull Costa (trans.) and Liverpool University Press, for ‘Just a little bit of Goya: Letter to my Daughter’, in Ana Luísa Amaral, The Art of Being a Tiger (Oxford: Aris & Phillips, 2016).

The Fundação António Quadros and the heirs of Fernanda de Castro for: Fernanda de Castro, Ao fim da memóriaMemórias – 1906–1939 (Lisbon: Verbo, 1986).

Heirs of Carmen Martín Gaite, for: Carmen Martín Gaite, Cuadernos de todo (Barcelona: Areté, 2002).

Tamesis for permission to publish material from Maria-José Blanco López de Lerma, Life-Writing in Carmen Martín Gaite’s Cuadernos de todo and her novels of the 1990s (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Tamesis, 2013) and the Journal of Romance Studies for allowing us to include in the Introduction some information from special issue 9/1: ‘Airing the Private: women’s diaries in the Luso-Hispanic World’, ed. Maria-José Blanco and Sinéad Wall (Spring 2009).

Adília Lopes and Assírio e Alvim publishers for Dobra: Poesia Reunida (Lisbon: Assírio e Alvim, 2009).

Luís and Mary de Sousa Amorim, for allowing us to reproduce the drawing of Maria Helena Vieira da Silva by Arpad Szenes and the photo of her palette and brush, from the collection of Alberto de Lacerda.

The Instituto Nacional del Teatro, Almagro, for permission to use images from the Julia Fons archive, and the Institute del Teatre, Barcelona, for the publicity photo of Fons in ‘La Corte del Faraòn’ (1910).

Every effort has been made to trace copyright holders and to obtain their permission for the use of copyright material. The publisher apologises for any errors or omissions in the above list and would be grateful for notification of any corrections that should be incorporated in future reprints or editions of this book.

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Introduction: Singular Feminine Voices and Histories

Spain, Portugal and the countries they colonised were, for centuries, proudly, gloriously patriarchal and still retain traces of the repression that made women feel that their lives had no value beyond reproduction; no individual intellectual purpose. Women have often chosen to tell their secrets, confide their dreams and express their deepest and most intimate thoughts in diaries, letters and other forms of life-writing.1 Until well into the twentieth century, though, very few women have felt able to publish their autobiographies, memoirs, diaries or letters and yet, as we can see from the earliest texts analysed here, even in the most cloistered of environments, women like Saint Teresa of Ávila wove their own stories into their theological, pedagogical writing.2 ← 1 | 2 →

Access to education and literacy are further obvious factors that limited women’s expression, meaning that the first documents produced by women were written by nuns who originated from noble families. A pattern can be identified, whereby women in medieval times were permitted to write religious or theological texts, confessions or accounts of their spiritual lives, then, over the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, texts linked to philosophy, education and health. By the end of the nineteenth century, women were able to work as writers of fiction and, in the twentieth century, journalists. The twenty-first century has seen fears of discovery replaced by the innovative blurring of ‘truth’ and fiction, and debate about rights to privacy.

The danger that may befall any narrative written in the first person is that it is considered reductively autobiographical rather than the work of a creative imagination. Life-writing has always blurred this boundary between fiction and reality, giving it the appeal of authenticity, yet the stigma of narcissism. Accounts can be useful historical documents revealing the intimate details of famous or anonymous subjects, but also evoking a certain moment or period in ways that lists of historical data cannot; always with the caveat that a subjective account is necessarily selective and biased. Women’s writing has often been dismissed as sentimental, limited to the personal and excluded from the canon; even in present times bitter debates rage over the specificity of a literary prize just for women.3

The recent success (by which we mean global impact through translation into several languages) of writing from around the world which blurs the boundaries between fact and fiction by authors such as (British) Helen McDonald, popular phenomena (Italian) Elena Ferrante and (Belarusian) ← 2 | 3 → Nobel prize-winner Svetlana Alexievich (not to mention the debate caused by the hyper-autobiographical novels of Karl Ove Knausgaard) is yet to be matched by writers from hispanophone and lusophone countries. And yet, women have been writing in Spanish and Portuguese for centuries, often without getting published and, if they do, failing to gain much recognition, if any.

The present collection of essays has the aim of identifying women who have written or expressed their sense of identity through diaries, autobiographies, biographies, memoirs, travel writing, poetry and forms of visual art, such as painting, drawing and collage or scrapbooks, analysing how they represent their own lives, and the lives of others. In this introductory essay, we offer a broad, and certainly not exhaustive, overview of women’s life-writing in the Luso-Hispanic world, to provide a contextual background to the chapters which follow. In our choice of the critical essays that comprise this volume, as well as in the introduction, we have tried our best to foreground lesser known writers, or lesser known books by well-known writers, as well as showcasing a wide range of forms of life-writing. There is no in-depth examination of theories or critical debates in this first essay, because the contributors make reference to, and apply a variety of these to particular works, in the chapters that follow.

Women life-writing in the Luso-Hispanic world: An overview4

Before the 1800s, as outlined above, very few women dreamed of publishing their diaries, memoirs and autobiographies. The exceptions were religious women like Leonor López de Córdoba (c. 1362–1420) who supposedly ← 3 | 4 → penned the first autobiography written in Spanish, Memorias [Memoirs],5 the well-known sixteenth-century confessions of St Teresa de Ávila (1515–1582) in her Libro de la vida (1562 and 1565) [The Life of Saint Teresa by Herself (2004)],6 addressed here in Chapter 1 by Ana Caballé, and Mexican nun Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (c.1651–1695) in her ‘Respuesta a Sor Filotea de la Cruz’ (1691) [Response of the Poet to the Very Eminent Sor Filotea de la Cruz (2015)].7

Diaries written by women did however gain importance at the beginning of the nineteenth century, as Nora Catelli explains, providing a specific date and a reason for such an increase:

No cabe duda de que la fecha clave aquí es 1800 y que el diario llamado ‘íntimo’ reconoce sus orígenes en Francia alrededor de ese año. […] Y no por casualidad ese mismo año 1800 […], supone un cambio en las costumbres de vivienda y trabajo de ← 4 | 5 → la clase media y la consagración de un modelo de mujer laica, encerrada en el círculo familiar, esposa y madre: el ángel del hogar.8

[There is no doubt that the origins of the so called ‘intimate’ diary format date back to 1800, in France. […] And not by chance that same year 1800 […], brought with it a change in living and working habits amongst the middle classes and the consolidation of a new model for the lay woman enclosed in the family unit, wife and mother: the angel in the house.]9

She goes on to note that that date marked a change in the kind of women who wrote diaries. They were: ‘mujeres confinadas. Pero ya no en celdas, sino en la vida familiar, en el circulo domestico’ [women confined. No longer in cells, but now by family life, within the domestic circle].10 Concurrently, the number of published women writers also grew considerably:

El hecho incuestionable es que la incorporación de la mujer a la literatura – que, de modo general en el mundo occidental, tiene lugar en el siglo XIX – transforma la literatura universal. […] El siglo XIX cambia la dirección literaria del ‘yo’ al ‘tú’.11


XVI, 372
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2017 (February)
Women's writing Hispanic world Lusophone world Life-writing
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2017. XVI, 372 pp., 4 coloured ill., 11 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Maria-José Blanco (Volume editor) Claire Williams (Volume editor)

Maria-José Blanco teaches twentieth-century Spanish literature at King’s College London. Her research interests lie in contemporary Spanish writers, with a special focus on women writers and life-writing. Claire Williams is Associate Professor of Brazilian Literature and Culture at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of St Peter’s College. Her research focuses on contemporary women’s writing and minority writing from the Lusophone world.


Title: Feminine Singular