Women write revolution

Date of Completion

January 2001


Literature, Comparative|Biography|Literature, Latin American|History, European|History, Latin American|Women's Studies|Literature, English




This dissertation considers issues of gender and representation through an analysis of twentieth-century female revolutionary figures from Ireland, Spain, Cuba, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. These transgressive and highly symbolic women raise important questions about the intersection of history and literature and about the place of gender in the construction of national histories. Since revolutions occasion social transformation under often chaotic conditions, they create space for the potential transformation of gender relations. The study takes as its point of departure the personal narrative, which engages the problematic nature of representation with its tensions between fact and fiction, historical and literary artifact, the embodiment and displacement of the self. These women's lifewritings illustrate gender relations in flux, expose the political symbolism of the strong woman at moments of nation formation and transformation, and display the multiple ways that gender enters into literary, historical, and visual narratives. ^ Chapter One examines three female revolutionary figures from the period of Ireland's War of Independence and Civil War, Maud Gonne, Constance Markievicz, and Kathleen Clarke, whose personal narratives demonstrate an awareness of the processes of self-construction and a great degree of visual and discursive performativity. Chapter Two explores the lifewriting of Dolores Ibárruri, “La Pasionaria,” arguably the most important figure (male or female) from the Spanish Civil War. Her autobiography functions as a double narrative of self and national history, drawing on epic and tragic plots. Chapter Three analyzes the figure of Haydée Santamaría, “heroine of the Cuban Revolution” and long-time president of the Cuban cultural powerhouse Casa de las Américas. Her lifewriting reveals how the construction of revolutionary history is mediated by individual memory. Chapter Four centers on one of the major women participants in the Sandinista National Liberation Front during its revolutionary and post-revolutionary periods—Doris Tijerino, whose testimonial narratives raise questions about generic hybridity and national conflict. Chapter Five examines two women's prison memoirs from the Salvadoran Civil War—Ana Guadalupe Martinez's Las cárceles clandestinas de El Salvador and Nidia Díaz's Nunca estuve sola, in which the cell is both a trench of resistance and a stage for writing the female revolutionary self. ^