Sara Beatriz Guardia

Sara Beatriz Guardia gave an interesting talk the other night at the Café Bar Sancho Panza (Grau 209A, Barranco) – a locale I recommend, by the way. The talk on 19th century women writers Clorinda Matto and Mercedes Cabello, focused on the hatred and intolerance Lima society showed these authors. Guardia has written a paper called EL ODIO EN LA CONSTRUCCION DE LA ESCRITURA FEMENINA DEL SIGLO XIX and she says the hatred visited upon women writers must be studied. While she was talking, I was of course thinking about how remarkably uniform strategies of bullying and abuse are.

Matto died in exile, and Cabello ended up in an insane asylum (although this of course was most directly caused by the untreated syphilis she had caught from her mujeriego husband, who was too embarrassed to tell her what disease they had and why). There were huge attacks against both writers and their so-called friends, who included the well connected Ricardo Palma, permitted this – they sat by and did nothing, as they did not wish to risk their own positions. These notes are incomplete but they represent what I remember of the talk, which was very interesting.

The novels that shocked Palma were Blanca Sol (Cabello) and Aves sin nido (Turner). It is important to remember how racist Peru was when Aves sin nido appeared. Lucía, the heroine, is a Lukácsian 19th century hero, opposed by society in everything. ASN is sharply anticlerical and it suggests that the only solution for the Indians is to become white and limeños, since there is no possible salvation for them at home. Because of incest (whose perpetrator is the Bishop) and illegitimacy (due to incest / rape) there is no space for them in the nation as Indians. That is why they are “birds without a nest.” The Church got very mad at Matto for her denunciation of it and barred her from her [native] Cusco for life. Matto’s second transgression had to do with the war with Chile, which, if I understood Guardia right, she thought had to do with problems internal to Peru and not just with the alleged wickedness of Chile. Also, she praised González Prada for being a real intellectual and that insulted everyone else who wanted to be seen as a real intellectual.

Terribly insulting verses were written against her by the envious Juan de Arona, who circulated them in folletín (El Chispazo). This was passed around among elite intellectuals and influenced their opinions. According to these verses she is dirty, foul smelling, an Indian, a mule, and so on. Meanwhile at the magazine she directed (El Perú Ilustrado) she accepted for publication a story in which a pacifist Christ has Mary Magdalene as an Apostle. This so upset the good Christians that her house in Arequipa was attacked with a hail of stones. Note, of course, that her woman run publishing house was attacked by men.

Blanca Sol was Peru’s first realist novel and it criticizes the elites. Cabello was ostracized because people saw themselves in her book and thought she was slandering them. Meetings were held against her. Letters were written by intellectuals who criticized her stance against religion based education.

Juana Manuela Gorriti had created the women’s literary clubs of Republican Lima, modeled on those of the French Revolution, and it was thanks to these that Matto and Cabellos got into San Marcos, the national university (I think this is what Guardia said, I should have asked for clarification). By the end of the 19th century, these no longer existed, but they and these writers’ bravery are what made possible the successes of women writers and painters in the avant-garde period and later.


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