University of Leicester
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Towards agency: Dialectic bildung in late twentieth century Spanish American women's writing.

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posted on 2015-11-19, 09:06 authored by Emma. Staniland
This thesis is an interdisciplinary project formulated within a number of interrelated fields of study. At its broadest it represents a contribution to Latin American studies, but, within that, it has three main concerns: Spanish American women's writing, gender studies, and the intellectual debate on the relationship between gender and genre. Most specifically, it engages with the Bildungsroman, or development novel, whose widely recognised gender bias has generated scholarly interest in the theorisation of its 'female' version. My study of six contemporary Spanish American novels illuminates the presence of this contested genre in women's writing from across the region, thus contributing to its critical evaluation as a narrative mode both possible in a 'female' form, and highly pertinent to the feminist aims of the authors. In Chapter One, I extract from the Bildungsroman's original narrative trajectory a dialectic framework cons isting of the phases of 'thesis', 'antithesis' and 'synthesis'. This framework is then rearticulated in terms germane to my fields of study, in order to elucidate the texts' portrayals of the 'construction', 'deconstruction' and 'reconstruction' of gendered identities. The depiction of each of these developmental phases is investigated in the subsequent chapters by pairing novels and focusing on a different literary topos: in Chapter Two, 'myth', in Eva Luna (Isabel Allende, 1985) and Como agua para chocolate (Laura Esquivel, 1989); in Chapter Three, 'exile', in En breve carcel (Sylvia Molloy, 1981) and La nave de los locos (Cristina Peri Rossi, 1984); and, in Chapter Four, 'the female body', in Arrancame la vida (Angeles Mastretta, 1985) and La nada cotidiana (Zoe Valdes, 1995). Overall, this analytical framework allows me to argue that, read as a cross-corpus portrayal of gendered Bildung, these novels project a transition from passivity to social agency. As a consequence, this thesis serves to highlight the contribution made by these women writers to the understanding of gendered identity as a social construction that remains open ended.


Date of award


Author affiliation

Modern Languages

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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