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Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda - WikiVisually

You may also like. English Biography and Autobiography. Spanish Biography and Autobiography. German Biography and Autobiography. Humour Biography and Autobiography. Religion Biography and Autobiography. Paperback Biography and Autobiography. This item doesn't belong on this page. Nevertheless, in the s there were some Cuban whites who were genuinely concerned with establishing a counterdiscourse, which, as we shall see, was antislavery but not abolitionist in nature.

I am referring to the gathering of intellectuals and writers around the wealthy, Venezuelan-born planter Domingo Del Monte , a group whose activities began in Matanzas in and moved to Havana the following year.

Del Monte and his followers were genuinely alarmed by the huge increase in the island's black population as well as by the inhuman working conditions in the sugar mills. They used their writings to plead for the curtailment of the illegal slave trade and pointed out the injustices of the institution of slavery on human and moral grounds, yet never went so far as to openly advocate emancipation.

Del Monte's influence over his followers was enormous. He shared his extensive library of contemporary European authors and was in active contact with English abolitionists like Richard Madden, once British consul in Havana and still a judge on the Mixed Court, the arbitration tribunal of the slave trade. Del Monte not only commissioned antislavery texts from members of his group, but he and the authors conferred among themselves and critiqued each other's works as they were being written, in effect producing a series of collective texts.

In , in a kind of forerunner to today's Latin American testimonial literature, Del Monte found a literate mulatto slave, Juan Francisco Manzano, and urged him to write his autobiography. Manzano had already published poetry in Cuban newspapers, which was very unusual for a slave, and at the time of his interaction with Del Monte was a fugitive. Manzano had been promised his freedom in exchange for his text the original is housed in the National Library in Havana , so that he quite literally wrote his way out of bondage Netchinsky 27 ; the group subsequently raised the sum needed to buy the slave and free him Luis In order to elicit the sympathy of Cuban readers, the Del Monte authors often dwelt on incidents where innocent and submissive slaves were barbarously mistreated, but given the prevailing fear of slave uprisings among their readership, they never dared to present a rebellious slave who might resort to violence.

However, in spite of the group's essentially conservative stance, their "antislavery narrative represented one side of a dialogue on slavery which directly threatened slavers and Spanish officials in Cuba" Luis 61 , and after two serious slave uprisings in and Manzano, who was jailed for a year before being freed, never wrote again, while Del Monte was exiled and died in Spain in Ivan Schulman's key article on the origin of the novel in Cuba points out that this genre has its roots in these crosscurrents of debate surrounding the institution of slavery , a view shared by Netchinsky, who shows how novels like Francisco and Sab "map the frustrations of youthful development for a human being and a nation," both longing to be free from outside control Avellaneda was not part of the Del Monte group for a variety of reasons: her youth, her gender, and the fact that she came from central Cuba, which was a fair distance from Havana and whose principal industry was cattle, not sugar.

But the principal reason why Avellaneda had no contact with the Del Monte group was that she left for Spain in , only one year after it had relocated to Havana. It should also be noted that her novel is her text alone, not a collective effort as was the case with the literature of the Del Monte writers. Being her earliest novel, the one closest to her departure from the island, it is also her most American, especially in her description of the Cuban landscape. In spite of Avellaneda's having adopted an American setting, critics are right in underscoring that her text is responding more to European than to autochthonous Cuban influences Guerra , and indeed Sab's literary ancestors are recognizably European.

Avellaneda's descriptions of her native island in Sab as well as the idea of a pre-European utopia of peace and harmony with nature owe a clear debt to Atala ; it is also more than likely that the raging storm so important to her novel's plot development has its roots in a parallel episode in Chateaubriand's work.

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Sab and Autobiography

Whereas Chateaubriand's lovers were Indian, Avellaneda responds more to her Cuban roots by creating a hero who is mulatto. The black character in Hispanic literature had its roots in the Spanish Renaissance, and in the plays of Lope de Vega, not to mention Othello , to whom Sab refers in his letter to Teresa.

Shakespeare aside, one of the first European writers to present a black protagonist in an American setting was the Englishwoman Aphra Behn. Early in her life Behn had traveled to Suriname and claimed that her novel Oroonoko; or, The Royal Slave reflected some of her experiences there. It is almost certain that Avellaneda was familiar with a French translation of Oroonoko , which apparently was widely read in eighteenth-century France Jackson 26 ; furthermore, Mary Cruz cites Avellaneda's reference to "Oroondates" in the Autobiography letter of July 25 , which Cruz feels is a misspelling of "Oroonoko" 9.

Behn's text, like Chateaubriand's later Atala , abounds with descriptions of tropical American nature and her cast of characters—white colonists, Indians, and black slaves—reflects the multiethnic nature of the Caribbean.

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Her hero is an African prince who is sold into slavery to the Americas; as Jackson noted, "It is probably due to [the popularity of] Oroonoko Sab certainly fits into this convention. Oroonoko's rebellion against his enslavement is also much like Sab's: "Reduced to the impotence of a plantation slave, he pits his personal code of honesty, honor, loyalty and fortitude against the social order that sanctions self-interest, arrogant power, and sadistic brutality" Metzger xiv.

However, Oroonoko is a far more violent text than Sab , for the hero does in fact organize a slave rebellion, is defeated, and dies a ghastly death by dismemberment.


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Prior to his own death Oroonoko kills his beloved wife, the princess Imoinda, to spare her a similar fate. Violence is also prevalent in Victor Hugo's very early novel Bug-Jargal , which he allegedly wrote in two weeks when he was sixteen and published in Bug-Jargal was all the rage in France just when Avellaneda arrived in Europe, and its influence on Sab is unmistakable.

Though Hugo had never been to the Americas, he set the novel in St. Domingue and described events related to the slave uprising in Like Oroonoko, Bug-Jargal is an African prince who leads a slave rebellion and is ultimately executed; unlike Behn's hero who had a black wife , he is in love with Marie, the daughter of the white French planter who owns him. Hugo thus presented rivals in love similar to those that Avellaneda created in Sab , with conflicts that cross both racial and social lines Cruz 9.

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As was the case with Oroonoko and Atala , Hugo's novel also dwells on the exotic aspects of tropical American nature, and the particular episode of Carlota in the garden may well have its roots in Hugo's text, where the lovely Marie, too, retreats to a leafy bower on her plantation to dream of love. In short, a reading of these three novels makes patent just who Sab 's principal literary ancestors were, though none of these texts developed their female characters anywhere nearly as well as Avellaneda did.

As was said earlier, Avellaneda had worked on Sab intermittently for several years before deciding to publish it.


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  • Barreda perceptively points out that "when she began a more independent life around , the form of Sab started to gel and to acquire contours" By she had achieved a number of literary successes, found the subscribers to help her pay the publication costs and thus launched a book which would help to underscore her own exotic background.

    The edition was a small one, however, and Avellaneda's Spanish relatives, scandalized by her antislavery stance, reportedly bought up a large number to take them out of circulation Figarola Nevertheless, her book made its mark. Though the novel was officially banned in Cuba, chapters of Sab were copied and clandestinely circulated on the island Portuondo As Cubans became more and more restive about their colonial status in the last years of the century, Sab resurfaced in the s, "serialized in a Cuban revolutionary journal in New York [which] suggests how important an ideological weapon this novel must have been" Sommer Avellaneda did not live to see slavery abolished in or independence come in , fifteen years after her death.

    Sab was finally published in Cuba in , on the centennial of Avellaneda's birth, in what is still the definitive edition of her complete works. For a long time Sab received minimal critical attention. Standard reference works on Spanish American literature of just a few years ago cf.

    Sab and Autobiography - Cheap Books

    What is necessary is to read Sab , which is what the majority of our literary historians usually fail to do" Portuondo's remark dates from the early s. Since then a number of feminist critics have paid serious attention to Sab , as they have to many other examples of women's literature of the nineteenth century. Unaccustomed to the extreme sentimentality of these works and to the copious tears shed within their pages, which make for rather soggy going at times, the modern reader must learn to penetrate below the surface and to realize that some extremely important, even radical issues are being discussed.

    With respect to the literature of the United States, Jane Tompkins has pointed out "[that] the popular domestic novel of the nineteenth century represents a monumental effort to reorganize culture from the woman's point of view, that this body of work is remarkable for its intellectual complexity, ambition and resourcefulness; and that, in certain cases, it offers a critique of American society far more devastating than any delivered by better-known critics such as Hawthorne and Melville" As Tompkins says, what makes this discussion different from other literature of the time is that it is being carried on by women, and from a woman's view of the world.

    The same is true for Spanish American works, so that comparative research into the literature of this hemisphere is very productive. Case in point: the recent feminist revindication of Uncle Tom's Cabin as a serious work in the United States is paralleled by the critical attention accorded Sab in Spanish American literature, and the conclusions drawn often transfer very well. Elizabeth Ammons, for example, has focused on the radical nature of Harriet Beecher Stowe's text, on the way in which it lays bare the "root evil of slavery: the displacement of life-giving maternal values by a profit-hungry masculine ethic that regards human beings as marketable commodities" , an observation which can be applied equally well to Sab.

    Another topic common to many nineteenth-century women's texts in both North and South America was the attack on the institution of marriage. In the United States, involvement in the abolitionist movement made many women conscious both of their own lack of human and legal rights and of the similarity between the bondage of the slave and that of the woman whose need for economic security frequently forced her into analogous situations of dependence and servitude. Indicative of this awareness is southerner Mary Chesnut's bitter comment at witnessing the auction of a black woman: "You know how women sell themselves and are sold in marriage from queens downward, eh?

    A controversial 19th-century Cuban novel about the fatal love of a mulatto slave for his white owner's daughter, together with a novella about an intelligent, flamboyant woman struggling against the restrictions on her gender. New here? We use this information to create a better experience for all users. Please review the types of cookies we use below. These cookies allow you to explore OverDrive services and use our core features.

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