OUTSTANDING WOMEN SERIES - II
The second post of our series will be dedicated to the pioneers, the invisible voices of early women writers in Spain. For a long time, it was widely accepted that Spanish women were locked up under the rule of patriarchy and in fact, they were, but this does not mean that they did not read, nor write expressing themselves, their feelings, emotions or vindications. As Amanda Powell stated almost 20 years ago, Santa Teresa de Avila or Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz did not spring from the head of Zeus, but rather form a fertile, yet silent and invisible, tradition of women writers.
Let´s make visible a brief history of Spanish early women writers starting from the medieval times. Their presence and testimony date from the beginning of history but for our purposes in the Iberian Peninsula, we will start our revision by the singing poets that had a prominent role in Al Andalus circa the year 1000. Wallada bint al Mustakfi is one of the most popular Andalusian early poets; born in Cordoba she was a princess of the dynasty of the Omeyas and according to sources, she was beautiful, intelligent, cultured and proud.
Her literary works are a collection of fascinating, seductive and defying poems that relate her love affair with Ibn Zaydum, her secret lover. Proud and controversial is how we can probably define her since she was famous for going out in public without a veil, entertain in her palace, and dance with transparent tunics. Freedom and independence were what she valued most and she wanted everyone to know as she embroidered her verses on the trim of her clothing “I am fit for high positions by God and am going my way with pride. I allow my lover to touch my cheek and bestow my kiss on him who craves it”.
Wallada la Omeya
We also have the presence of writers on the Christian side and let´s begin by recognizing Leonor López de Córdoba author of the first female autobiography in the Spanish language in the 14th Century. She was an advisor and confidant of Queen Catalina of Castile and her life and story are full of crimes, passions, treason, and revenge. It is worth mentioning that she narrates the plague that took place in Cordoba in 1392 that forced all the population to seek refuge and confinement at home or in small villages nearby. Quite like the situation that we live in today.
Leonor Lopez de Cordoba
In the 15th Century, there are several female poets whose works were included in the Cancioneros (poetry books) of the Court of Castile such as Mayor Arias or Florencia del Pinar. Florencia´s poetry is fresh and modern and playfully explores the duality of love that makes us feel pleasure and pain at the same time. One of her poems graphicly describes the suffering of being in love when she compares love with “a cancer of nature /that devours all healthy flesh” (lines 7-8) that “if he enters one´s entrails, /he can only leave by tearing them apart” (lines 11-12). A very visual description of the pain one suffers when unloved.
Poetisa del Cancionero
To end this revision, I want to pay special tribute to Teresa de Cartagena one of the brightest women writers of Spanish literature yet still hardly recognized today. Once a brilliant student at the University of Salamanca she fell in disgrace because of a sudden illness that left her deaf. She was four times ostracized by society; for being a woman, for being intelligent, for being a converted Jew and for being deaf. Her first treaty Arboleda de los enfermos genuinely describes her frustration for her sudden isolation, and the anger and frustration she feels for her unwanted disability. Her second treaty, Admiración de las Obras de Dios, offers the first vindication as a feminist writer as she states that men and women are not equal in capacities, but they complement each other because of their very own differences.
Teresa de Cartagena
If you want to learn more about women writers at this period, I recommend these databases Bibliography of Spanish Women Writers and Project Continua. Fortunately, we have a lot more accessible information today and this can help us to teach and learn more about the history of women writers and to give them more visibility, so they finally can have their place in history.