Alfonsina Storni Essay - Critical Essays

Storni, Alfonsina

Introduction

Alfonsina Storni 1892–-1938

(Also wrote under the pseudonym Tao-Lao) Argentine poet, playwright, and essayist.

Storni is considered one of the most prominent Latin-American women poets of the twentieth century. Inspired by her own personal experiences, Storni courageously wrote about the struggles of the individual woman in modern urban society, advocating equality for women and bemoaning the inadequacies of romantic relationships in a male-dominated society. Her subject matter focuses on themes of love and death, while the formal development of her work during the course of her career changed from traditional rhyme and meter to experimental forms of free verse. Storni achieved prominence as a writer in the 1920s, winning two of Argentina's most distinguished literary awards, and joining an elite circle of Latin-American writers in Buenos Aires. A revival of critical interest in her work arose during the 1970s, celebrating her feminist perspective and her place as an important figure in Latin-American literature.

Biographical Information

Storni was born of Italian-Swiss parents May 29, 1892, in Sala Capriasca, in the Italian region of Switzerland. The family relocated to San Juan, Argentina, in 1896, where her father owned and operated a brewery. After the brewery failed in 1900, Storni's father, suffering from depression and alcoholism, opened a small café, where Storni waited tables while supplementing the family income by taking in work as a seamstress. When the café failed in 1904, Storni, at the age of twelve, obtained work in a factory, becoming the primary breadwinner in her family. Her father died in 1907, after which her mother remarried, leaving Storni free of those financial responsibilities. Now fourteen, she joined a traveling theater troupe, but decided after a year that she was not suited to the lifestyle of frequent travel. She enrolled in a teacher's training school, which she attended while supporting herself by working in a chorus line. After receiving her diploma in 1910, Storni began teaching in the town of Rasario. Her life took a sharp turn, however, after she fell in love with a married man, by whom she became pregnant. Refusing to compromise the man's reputation by revealing his identity, Storni moved to Buenos Aires in order to escape local scandal. Her son, Alejandro Alfonso, was born in April 1912. Storni's struggles to survive as a single mother led her through a series of odd jobs. Her feminist sensibilities, expressed through her poetry and essays, published in widely read women's magazines, were rooted in these experiences, which inspired a critical perspective on the role of women in her society. Storni's first short story was published in 1914, and her first book of poetry published in 1916. By 1920, she had gained a reputation as one of the foremost female poets in Latin America. In her lectures and teaching throughout Argentina, Storni promoted fellow female writers, especially Delmira Agustini and Juana de Ibarbourou, both of Uruguay. She also began to publish feminist essays arguing for women's rights, such as the right to vote. She became the first woman to join a prominent South American literary circle, “Anaconda,” through which she befriended the Uruguayan novelist Horacio Quiroga, and the Argentine author Leopoldo Lugones. In the early 1920s, Storni taught drama at a children's theater, for which she wrote and produced plays to be performed by and for children. A nervous breakdown in 1928 was followed by the diagnosis of breast cancer in 1935. A radical mastectomy did not improve her health, and she suffered from depression, as well as cancer, during the final years of her life. After two of her closest friends and fellow writers had killed themselves, Storni committed suicide, at the age of forty-six, by drowning herself in the Mar del Plata, Argentina, on October 25, 1938.

Major Works

Storni's poetry developed in terms of both formal and thematic concerns during the course of her career. Her experiences as a single unwed mother, supporting herself in a modern urban setting, informed much of her work. A persistent theme throughout Storni's oeuvre is the struggle of women in a society that does not grant them equality. These struggles are further expressed through recurring themes of love and death. While her early works follow traditional poetic form in terms of rhyming and metrics, her later works utilize experimental forms and were written in free verse. Storni's first volume of poetry, La inquietud del rosal (The Disquietude of the Rosebush), published in 1916, successfully launched her career as a notable woman writer of her day, but was later renounced by the poet herself, and most critics concur that it is her least successful volume. With her next three volumes, El dulce daño (1918; Sweet Pain), Irremediablemente (1919; Irremediably), and Languidez (1920; Langour), Storni became one of the most prominent Latin-American female writers of the early twentieth century. In these collections, her concern with the oppression of women and their yearnings for equality were a central thematic focus. On the theme of love, she addressed struggles over her physical passion in conflict with her cynicism about male-female relationships. In “Tú me quieres blanca” (“You Want Me Pure”) she criticized Latin American men for imposing oppressive standards of purity on women. In “Hombre pequeñito” (“Little Man”) she compared the role of a woman in a relationship to that of a canary imprisoned in a cage. Ocre (1925; Ochre) demonstrates a shift in her poetic voice to a more intellectually distanced, ironic, and increasingly cynical expression of her perspective on male-female relationships. Her final two volumes of poetry were influenced by her travels to Europe in 1930 and 1934, where she was exposed to the literary avant-garde movement in Spain, meeting such renowned poets as Garcia Lorca. The title of Mundo de siete pozos (1934; World of Seven Wells) represents the human mind as a “world of seven wells.” In a dramatic change from her previous works, these poems are written in free verse, and utilize a surreal, dreamlike, fragmented language of mood to explore her familiar themes of death and alienation in modern urban life. Sea imagery is especially prominent in Storni's final two volumes, hinting at her eventual suicide by drowning in the sea. Mascarilla y trébol (1938; Mask and Clover), published posthumously, makes use of an experimental form of unrhymed verse which retains the metric structure of the traditional sonnet. No longer concerning herself with love and passion, Storni's thematic preoccupations in these “anti-sonnets,” as she called them, created during “moments of near loss of consciousness,” are markedly more abstract and metaphysical, while maintaining the dark, anxious, dreamlike mood of her previous works.

Critical Reception

During her lifetime, Storni was one of the most prominent female poets in Latin-America, yet her works remained controversial due to their feminist themes and open expression of female passion. While Storni is included among the ranks of Latin-American women writers such as Delmira Agustini and Juana Ibarbourou of Uruguay, and Gabriela Mistral of Chile, her work stands out as the most courageously and openly critical of male-dominated society. Although she wrote during an era of transition from modernism to postmodernism in Latin-American literature, Storni's work does not clearly reflect either aesthetic. Critical response to her body of poetry has developed through two distinct phases. Her early works were popular with the reading public, while receiving mixed critical response, due to her feminist stance. In 1920, she received two of Argentina's most prestigious literary awards for Languidez, and, by the mid-1920s, had become a prominent literary figure in Argentina. Her later works were met with waning popularity, as well as harsh criticism for their experimental forms and obscure meaning. Critics in the late twentieth century, however, now view her later work, most notably Mascarilla y trébol, as her most mature and important contribution to Latin-American literature. A revival of critical interest in Storni grew from the convergence of the burgeoning field of feminist literary criticism in the 1970s with the publication in 1975 of the first collection of her poetry in English translation. As María A. Salgado has stated, Storni's life and works “have been fundamental in establishing the foundations of contemporary feminist discourse in Hispanic letters.”

Principal Works

La inquietud del rosal [The Disquietude of the Rosebush] 1916

El dulce daño [Sweet Pain] 1918

Irremediablemente [Irremediably] 1919

Languidez [Langour] 1920

Poesias 1923

Ocre 1925

Poemas de amor [Love Poems] 1926

Mundo de siete pozos [World of Seven Wells] 1934

Mascarilla y trébol [Mask and Clover] 1938

Antologia poética 1938 (reprinted 1968)

Los mejores versos de Alfonsina Storni 1958

Poesias de Alfonsina Storni 1961

Alfonsina Storni, Argentina's Feminist Poet: The Poetry in Spanish with English Translations (edited by Florence Williams Talamantes) 1975

Selected Poems [translated by Dorothy Scott Loos] 1986

Criticism

Sidonia Carmen Rosenbaum (essay date 1945)

SOURCE: Modern Women Poets of Spanish America, New York: Hispanic Institute, 1945, pp. 205–27.

[In the following excerpt, Rosenbaum discusses themes concerning the individual woman in the modern city in Storni's poetry. Rosenbaum concludes that Storni's poetic voice “is not feminist but feminine in the extreme.”]

Ni cupo en otro cuerpo así pequeño
Un alma humana de mayor terneza …

With the publication, in 1916, of her book La inquietud del rosal, Alfonsina Storni was to initiate in her country the fruitful period of modern feminine poetry. …

Storni's lyre, far from being monochord—as are those of so...

(The entire section is 8668 words.)

Gabriele Von Munk Benton (essay date 1950)

SOURCE: “Recurring Themes in Alfonsina Storni's Poetry,” in Hispania, Vol. 33, No. 2, 1950, pp. 151–53.

[In the following essay, Benton discusses Storni's collection Antología poética in terms of thematic concerns throughout her poetry.]

In “Palabras prologales” to her Antología poética Alfonsina Storni states as her own preference for her poetry Ocre, a book of verse published at a time when the poet herself calls her previous poetry of the years 1916–1920 overloaded with romantic sweetness. The poems of Ocre and of the later collections she has chosen for the anthology as characteristic and best appear to be partly a record...

(The entire section is 1405 words.)

Edna Lue Furness (essay date Winter 1957)

SOURCE: “A Woman and the World,” in Western Humanities Review, Vol. 11, No. 1, Winter, 1957, pp. 96–8.

[In the following essay, Furness analyses central themes in the poems of World of Seven Wells.]

In the feminine literature of twentieth-century Spanish America, some authors follow true feminine tradition by writing of subjects which have always had high priority with women, such as love, motherhood, and religion. Others have stepped out of their traditional role, and have written of social, political, and urban problems. To the latter group belongs Alfonsina Storni, who reportedly initiated in Argentina a new school of literature and “who won for...

(The entire section is 901 words.)

Rachel Phillips (essay date 1975)

SOURCE: Alfonsina Storni: From Poetess to Poet, London: Tamesis Books, Ltd., 1975, pp. 29–44, and 101–20.

[In the following excerpt, Phillips analyses formal elements of Storni's poetry on themes of love and death.]

POEMS OF LOVE

Though El dulce daño, Irremediablemente and Languidez contain among them almost half of Storni's published poetry, there is a certain justification for treating them in this study as sub-divisions of one chapter. They appeared in the space of a very few years: in 1918, El dulce daño; a year later, Irremediablemente; and in 1920, Languidez, along with the second edition of...

(The entire section is 17022 words.)

Janice Geasler Titiev (essay date 1976)

SOURCE: “Alfonsina Storni's Mundo de siete pozos: Form, Freedom, and Fantasy,” in Kentucky Romance Quarterly, Vol. XXII, No. 2, 1976, pp. 185–97.

[In the following essay, Titiev argues that, in Mundo de siete pozos, form take precedence over content, concluding that the collection is unified by formal rather than thematic elements of each poem.]

It seems safe to assume that by the time Alfonsina Storni published Mundo de siete pozos, in 1934, form had in general become more important to her than content. Her first four collections (1916–1920) contained a variety of structures, and all but the initial book had a principal theme, love. Love...

(The entire section is 5284 words.)

Sonia Jones (essay date 1979)

SOURCE: Alfonsina Storni, Boston: Twayne, 1979, pp. 51–85.

[In the following essay, Jones examines Storni's poetry in terms of literary modernism.]

Any attempt to classify Alfonsina's poetry by applying to it the usual literary labels is bound to fail. This may very well be true of all poetry, but suffice it to say that, in Alfonsina's case, she never consciously allied herself with any particular literary philosophy. She was interested in studying the goals put forward by the various artistic schools both inside and outside Argentina, but her approach was eclectic. Her early work reflects a predominantly Romantic tone, with its autobiographical elements, its lyrical...

(The entire section is 13937 words.)

Janice Geasler Titiev (essay date Winter 1980)

SOURCE: “Alfonsina Storni's Poemas de amor: Submissive Woman, Liberated Poet,” in Journal of Spanish Studies, Vol. 8, No. 3, Winter, 1980, pp. 279–92.

[In the following essay, Titiev discusses Poemas de amor, Storni's volume of prose poems. Although generally overlooked by critics, Titiev argues, this volume represents a unique development in Storni's use of form.]

In 1926 Alfonsina Storni published a brief volume of sixty-seven prose poems, Poemas de amor. Critics usually ignore this book; it does not always appear in lists of the author's works and is not included in collections of her “complete” poetry. Poemas de amor is not one...

(The entire section is 5107 words.)

Janice Geasler Titiev (essay date September 1985)

SOURCE: “The Poetry of Dying in Alfonsina Storni's Last Book,” Hispania, Vol. 68, September, 1985, pp. 467–73.

[In the following essay, Titiev examines the theme of death in the poems of Mascarilla y trébol in the context of Storni's experience with terminal cancer.]

It is regrettable that anthologized selections of Alfonsina Storni's poetry usually do not include poems from Mascarilla y trébol (1938), her eighth and last book of poetry, since this collection contains some of her best work and perhaps her most original approach to form. It is also understandable because the content of the poems is depressing and occasionally confusing. In these...

(The entire section is 5255 words.)

María Rosa Olivera-Williams (essay date 1989)

SOURCE: “Feminine Voices in Exile” in Engendering the Word: Feminist Essays in Psychosexual Poetics, Temma F. Berg, editor, Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1989, pp. 160–66.

[In the following excerpt, Olivera-Williams discusses two of Storni's poems as feminist statements.]

By the time that Argentine Alfonsina Storni published her first book of poetry in 1916, two years after Agustini's death, other Spanish American women had followed Agustini's path and were being recognized in literary circles. Among them were the Uruguayan Juana de Ibarbourou, the Chilean Gabriela Mistral, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1945, and the Cuban, Dulce María...

(The entire section is 2173 words.)

Janice Geasler Titiev (essay date 1990)

SOURCE: “Women's Language in Two Poems by Alfonsina Storni,” in Monographic Review, Vol. VI, 1990, pp. 232–44.

[In the following essay, Titiev discusses two poems by Storni that explore feminist themes focused on the female body.]

As Patricia Yaeger recently pointed out, the French feminist critics who call for a new woman's language make the mistake of “omitting the practices of real, historical women from their analysis of women's writing” and thereby “remain blind to what has actually happened in women's texts” (20). She undertakes a definition of “a countertradition within women's writing, a tradition that involves the reinvention and reclamation of...

(The entire section is 5312 words.)

Evelyn Fishburn (essay date 1991)

SOURCE: “Alfonsina Storni: A Feminist Reading of Her Poetry,” in Feminist Readings on Spanish and Latin-American Literature, L. P. Condé and S. M. Hart, editors, Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1991, pp. 121–30.

[In the following essay, Fishburn discusses Storni's poetry in terms of “the nature of her feminism” by “focusing on different aspects of femininity in her poetic output.”]

Alfonsina Storni enjoys the well earned acclaim of being one of the first and foremost Latin-American feminist poets. Thus, Beatriz Sarlo places her at the head of a list of women que abrieron camino' to whom she dedicates her book El imperio de los sentimientos (next...

(The entire section is 4076 words.)

Gwen Kirkpatrick (essay date 1995)

SOURCE: “The Creation of Alfonsina Storni,” in A Dream of Light and Shadow: Portraits of Latin American Women Writers, Marjorie Agosén, editor, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1995, pp. 95–117.

[In the following essay, Kirkpatrick discusses Storni's essays in the context of her literary career and the status of women in Argentina during the early twentieth century.]

The Argentine poet Alfonsina Storni (1892–1938) has become a legend in Latin American literary history.1 Socially defiant, professionally ambitious, gifted with talent and early fame, she was nonetheless limited by her social origins, her training, and restrictions for women...

(The entire section is 8239 words.)

Janice G. Titiev (essay date 1997)

SOURCE: “Alfonsina Storni: In and Out of the Canon,” Monographic Review, Vol. XIII, 1997, pp. 310–18.

[In the following essay, Titiev argues that, although several of Storni's poems are now included in the “canon” of Latin-American literature commonly studied in classrooms, these selections still represent only a narrow selection of Storni's range of thematic concerns.]

We tend to refer to “the canon” as though there were only one, although we know that there are, in fact, many different canons. In a discussion based for the most part on the study of English and U.S. literature in English-speaking North America, Lillian Robinson wrote about “the...

(The entire section is 3156 words.)