Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda Essay - Critical Essays

Avellaneda, Gertrudis Gómez de


Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda 1814-1873

(Born Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda; also wrote under the pseudonym “La Peregrina”) Cuban novelist, playwright, poet, short story writer, essayist, and editor.

A prolific writer, Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda is remembered for her controversial and progressive beliefs, best embodied in her anti-slavery novel Sab (1841). Avellaneda established a reputation early in her career as a talented writer whose unconventional behavior was as well-known as her works. During her lifetime Avellaneda enjoyed literary and commercial success in several genres, including poetry, drama, novels, short stories, and essays. But in part because her work examined inequalities of gender, as well as that of race and class, Avellaneda also experienced harsh criticism from her male peers. Despite these difficulties, Avellaneda continued to write about issues of interest and importance to women, creating a substantial body of work considered important for its abolitionist and feminist ideology.

Biographical Information

Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda was born on March 23, 1814 in Puerto Príncipe (modern day Camagüey) in central Cuba. Her parents, Francisca de Arteaga y Bentancourt and the Spanish naval officer Manuel Gómez de Avellaneda, were relatively wealthy, and Avellaneda enjoyed a privileged upbringing which included a strong literary education. When she was nine, Avellaneda's father died, and her mother quickly married a Spanish army officer. The family relocated to Spain soon afterwards, in part due to her stepfather's anxieties about potential slave uprisings. They eventually settled in Seville, where Avellaneda enjoyed the intellectual and cultural atmosphere. During her time in Seville Avellaneda met Ignacio de Cepeda, to whom she would write love letters during the next fifteen years despite her involvement in numerous other affairs. Avellaneda also became involved in Seville's literary circles and her first play, Leoncia (1840), was produced there. Eager to experience a more extensive literary scene, Avellaneda moved to Madrid. There she published her first novel, Sab, and the first edition of her collected poems, Poesías (1841; Poetry). These early successes were followed by many others, and Avellaneda achieved both acceptance within a predominantly masculine world and economic success, even though her writings critiqued women's traditional roles and representations. Avellaneda's positions on these issues were also reflected in her own life. She advocated open relationships, was ambivalent about marriage, and had several love affairs. Her involvement with the poet Gabriel García Tassara in 1844 ended after she become pregnant. Her daughter Brenhilde died in infancy in 1845. Avellaneda married Pedro Sabatar in 1846, but he died four months later. In 1853, after continued literary success, Avellaneda applied for membership in the Royal Spanish Academy, a literary coterie supported by the Spanish government. Although she had many supporters within the Academy, Avellaneda's petition was denied because of her gender, a decision that was probably influenced by her unconventional conduct. Avellaneda married Colonel Domingo Verdugo in 1855, and his 1859 transfer to Cuba led Avellaneda to return to her homeland. There she was crowned with gold laurel leaves in recognition for her contributions to Cuban national literature, though Spain continued to claim her as one of their literary figures. While in Cuba, Avellaneda continued to write. She also founded Album Cubano (1860; The Cuban Album), a woman's magazine. After Verdugo's death, Avellaneda left Cuba and visited the United States and parts of Europe before returning to Spain in 1867. During the last years of her life she focused primarily on her Obras (1869; The Complete Works), excluding from it some of her earlier and more controversial works. Avellaneda died in 1873 of diabetes and was buried in Seville.

Major Works

Although she published and produced many works, Avellaneda is remembered mainly for those which most strongly and directly address the conditions of women. In particular, her earliest works established Avellaneda's reputation as a writer interested in examining social issues that affected women and other alienated or oppressed groups. Her first novel, Sab, was considered scandalous because of its abolitionist stance. It also critiques the institution of marriage, with clear parallels made between the state of the slave Sab and that of Carlota, his mistress. Avellaneda's next novel, Dos mujeres (1842; Two Women) also criticizes the state of marriage for women in its sympathetic portrayal of adultery. Many of Avellaneda's plays, including La hija de las flores (1852; The Daughter of the Flowers), La Adventurera (1853; The Adventuress), and Oráculos de Talía (1855; Oracles of Thalia), feature strong female characters and women in unconventional theatrical roles. Avellaneda's interest in writing for and about women's rights continued throughout her life. In her magazine Album Cubano, Avellaneda published the essay “La Mujer” (1860; “Woman”), which examined women's roles in religion, history, government, and the intellectual sphere. Overall, Avellaneda's work reveals a consistent interest in the condition of women that is exemplified not only in Sab but present in the writings in Poesías and Obras.

Critical Reception

Avellaneda's reputation as a radical writer and a feminist largely derives from the reaction to her two earliest novels, Sab and Dos mujeres. The former's abolitionist content and critique of marriage was considered subversive by many, while the latter's challenge to the benefits of marriage was no less controversial. Both novels were published in Spain but were banned from sale in Cuba. The controversy surrounding these books helped generate interest in Avellaneda's writings among her contemporaries, with reactions ranging from the laudatory to the highly negative. Those sympathetic to Avellaneda's interests found her work compelling, while others found her work scandalous. In general, however, Avellaneda was considered a literary figure whose stance on women's issues was reflected in her own life. Although she was denied membership in the Royal Spanish Academy and some of her works were considered failures because of her didacticism, Avellaneda enjoyed enough success to earn a living from her writing. She was a popular figure in Cuba and Spain, and both countries claim her as part of their national literary heritage. As anti-slavery sentiments and the feminist movement grew, Avellaneda's reputation as an important liberal writer increased.

Much of the scholarship on Avellaneda has been in Spanish. More recently, however, critics writing in English have begun to examine Avellaneda's literary output. Hugh Harter's examination of Avellaneda's work provides a useful introduction to the themes in her writings as present in her two earliest novels. Other critics are interested in Sab for its intersections of abolitionism and feminism. These critics, including Susan Kirkpatrick and Beth Miller, explore Avellaneda's work as a nineteenth-century feminist. Sandra Meyer and Frederick Kluck contextualize Avellaneda's writing with feminist and abolitionist movements worldwide, as in their comparison between George Sand's Indiana and Sab. This critical avenue is representative of the focus on Sab as Avellaneda's most important work. Thomas Ward and Janet Gold develop different aspects of Avellaneda's depiction of the feminine in Sab. Other scholars have examined how Avellaneda's feminism and controversial beliefs changed over the course of her career. Beth Miller and Alan Devermond claim that Avellaneda's revisions of the sonnet “A Washington” illustrate her political development and are representative of a change in focus by contemporary Latin American authors. Librada Hernández examines three of Avellaneda's plays and argues their representations are subversive to the social order. Nina M. Scott considers the author's feminism in a recent essay. Combined, these scholars demonstrate an interest in the same issues as Avellaneda herself: equality and liberty measured against oppression and alienation.

Principal Works

Autobiografía y cartas de la señorita doña Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, (autobiography) 1839

Leoncia (drama) 1840

Poesías [Poetry] (poetry) 1841; revised edition, 1850

Sab (novel) 1841

Dos mujeres [Dos mugeres; also referred to as Two Women] (novel) 1842

Alfonso Múnio (drama) 1844

La Baroness de Joux [The Baroness of Joux] (legend) 1844

Espatolino (novel) 1844

El Príncipe de Viana [The Prince of Viana] (drama) 1844

Egilona (drama) 1845

La Gaceta de las Mujeres [editor; La Ilustración de las Damas] (journal) 1845

Guatimozín, Último Emperado de México [Cuauhtemoc, The Last Aztec Emperor] (novel) 1846

Saúl (drama) 1849

La Velada del Helecho o El Donativo del Diablo [The Vigil of the Fern Plant, or The Gift of the Devil] (novella) 1849

Dolores, Páginas de una crónica de familia [Dolores, Pages from a Family Chronicle] (novel) 1851

La Montaña Maldita: Tradicíon Suiza [The Accursed Mountain: Swiss Tradition] (legend) 1851

El Donativo del Diablo [The Gift of the Devil] (drama) 1852

Errores del Corazón [Errors of the Heart] (drama) 1852

La hija de las flores [The Daughter of the Flowers] (drama) 1852

La Verdad Vence Apariencias [Truth Conquers Appearances] (drama) 1852

La aventurera [adaptor; from the play L'Aventurière by Emile Augier; also referred to as The Adventuress] (drama) 1853

Hortensia (drama) 1853

La Hija del Rey René [The Daughter of King René] (drama) 1855

Oráculos de Talía ó Los duendes de Palacio [Oracles of Thalia or The Ghosts in the Palace] (drama) 1855

Simpatía y Antipatía [Amity and Aversion] (drama) 1855

Baltasar (drama) 1858

Tres amores [Three Loves] (drama) 1858

Album Cubano de lo Bueno y lo Bello [editor; The Cuban Album of the Good and the Beautiful] (journal) 1860

La Mujer [Woman] (essay) 1860

El Artista Barquero ó los Cuatro Cinco de Junio [The Artist Boatman or the Four Fifths of June,; also referred to as The Boatman Artist] (novel) 1861

Obras literarias [Complete Works] (poetry, drama, and prose) 1869-71

Cartas inéditas existentes en el Museo del Ejército. (letters) 1975

Manual del cristiano: Nuevo y completo devocionario por la excelentísima señora doña Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda de Sabater (religious medititations) 1975


Beth Miller and Alan Devermond (essay date 1979)

SOURCE: Miller, Beth, and Alan Devermond. “The Metamorphosis of Avellaneda's Sonnet to Washington.” Symposium: A Quarterly Journal in Modern Foreign Literature 33, no. 2 (summer 1979): 153-70.

[In the following essay, Miller and Devermond trace Avellaneda's revision of her sonnet, “A Washington,” as evidence of Avellaneda's evolving political views and self-identification as a Spanish-American writer.]

Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda published a sonnet to George Washington in the first edition of her Poesías (1841).1 It was reprinted in the second edition (1850), and again in a Spanish-language journal in New York in 1852, in both cases...

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Hugh Harter (essay date 1981)

SOURCE: Harter, Hugh. “The Novels.” In Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, pp. 119-42. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1981.

[In the following excerpt, Harter offers an examination of the characteristics, character types, and themes found in Avellaneda's novels.]

Although Spain, with Don Quixote and the development of the picaresque genre, has good reason to its claim as the “mother” of the novel, the rich vein of novelistic creativity had run dry long before the advent of romanticism to Iberia. By the 1830s and the advent of the romantic period, the works of Sir Walter Scott were widely read, often in poor translations, and there were numerous adaptations and...

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Beth Miller (essay date 1983)

SOURCE: Miller, Beth. “Gertrude the Great: Avellaneda, Nineteenth-Century Feminist.” In Women in Hispanic Literature: Icons and Fallen Idols, edited by Beth Miller, pp. 201-14. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983.

[In the following essay, Miller tracks Avellaneda's development as a feminist and public figure throughout her life and as demonstrated by her writings. Miller also notes historical connections between Avellaneda's feminism and the concurrent feminist movement of the United States.]

When I first began working on Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda in 1972, I imagined that she must have been a visible and controversial “personality” in her time,...

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Janet Gold (essay date 1989)

SOURCE: Gold, Janet. “The Feminine Bond: Victimization and Beyond in the Novels of Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda.” Letras Femeninas 15, no. 1-2 (1989): 83-90.

[In the following essay, Gold asserts the importance of female relationships in Sab, Dos mujeres, and El Artista Barquero.]

Chloe liked Olivia … perhaps for the first time in literature … All these relationships between women, I thought, rapidly recalling the splendid gallery of fictitious women, are too simple. So much has been left out, unattempted. And I tried to remember any case in the course of my reading where two women were represented as friends. … They are...

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Susan Kirkpatrick (essay date 1990)

SOURCE: Kirkpatrick, Susan. “Gómez de Avellaneda's Sab: Gendering the Liberal Romantic Subject.” In In the Feminine Mode: Essays on Hispanic Women Writers, pp. 115-30. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 1990.

[In the following essay, Kirkpatrick claims that the women and slave characters in Sab are alternative depictions of romantic and liberal ideologies. Using this construction Avellaneda critiques the cultural inequities inherent in those ideologies.]

Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda's novel Sab was the first abolitionist novel to be published in Spanish.1 Two details—the gender of the author and the date of publication in...

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Sandra Beyer and Frederick Kluck (essay date 1991)

SOURCE: Beyer, Sandra, and Frederick Kluck. “George Sand and Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda.” Nineteenth-Century French Studies 19, no. 2 (winter 1991): 203-09.

[In the following essay, Beyer and Kluck discuss the influence of George Sand's Indiana on Sab.]

That George Sand's works were of great importance in the English, Russian and American literary worlds is extremely well documented. Paul Blount asserts in his George Sand and the Victorian World, “It is not an exaggeration to say that a cult of George Sand existed in Victorian England and that among its participants were some of the most important figures in the literary world.”1...

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Librada Hernandez (essay date 1991)

SOURCE: Hernandez, Librada. “El No de Las Niñas: Subversive Female Roles in Three of La Avellaneda's Comedias.Hispanic Journal 12, no. 1 (spring 1991): 27-45.

[In the following excerpt, Hernandez asserts that Avellaneda wrote didactic and subversive comedies to criticize representations of women in society and the theater.]

The appearance of a successful woman playwright in the Madrid theater of the mid nineteenth century is an odd occurrence since the stage had been dominated by male writers. Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda represents a unique case in Spanish as well as in European literary history for the women that had acquired recognition at...

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Nina M. Scott (essay date 1993)

SOURCE: Scott, Nina M. Introduction to Sab and Autobiography, pp. xi-xxvii. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1993.

[In the following essay, which introduces Scott's translations of Avellaneda's work, Scott provides an overview of Avellaneda's life and pertinent background information on Sab.]

Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda y Arteaga was born in Puerto Príncipe (today Camagüey), a provincial capital in central Cuba, in March 1814, the eldest child and only daughter of Manuel Gómez de Avellaneda and Francisca de Arteaga y Betancourt. Her father was of aristocratic Spanish lineage, an officer in the Spanish navy in charge of that area of the island (Cuba...

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Nina M. Scott (essay date 1995)

SOURCE: Scott, Nina M. “Shoring Up the ‘Weaker Sex’: Avellaneda and Nineteenth-Century Gender Ideology.” In Reinterpreting the Spanish American Essay: Women Writers of the 19th and 20th Centuries, edited by Doris Meyer, pp. 57-67. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995.

[In the following essay, Scott analyzes Avellaneda's feminist essay “La Mujer” in its context within Album Cubano, a journal founded and edited by Avellaneda.]

Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda (Cuba, 1814-1873) is not known as an essayist: she was principally a poet, novelist, and playwright, famous in her lifetime—at times even notorious for her unconventional...

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Thomas Ward (essay date 1999)

SOURCE: Ward, Thomas. “Nature and Civilization in Sab and the Nineteenth-Century Novel in Latin America.” Hispanofila 126 (May 1999): 25-40.

[In the following essay, Ward posits connections between the depictions of nature and the characters in Avellaneda'sSab, suggesting that this allows a critique of social Darwinism.]

The relationship between nature and society has long been a theme in Western literature, the pastoral serving as an antidote to the commercial corruption of the city. Horace, Virgil and Ovid, paradigmatic authors, established the notions of beatus ille and locus amoenus as important literary motifs. During the...

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Further Reading


Branche, Jerome. “Ennobling Savagery? Sentimentalism and the Subaltern in Sab.Afro-Hispanic Review 17, no. 2 (fall 1998): 12-23.

Examines Sab as an abolitionist and feminist text that illustrates notions of liberty and equality.

Fivel-Démoret, Sharon Romeo. “The Production and Consumption of Propaganda Literature: The Cuban Anti-Slavery Novel.” Bulletin of Hispanic Studies 66, no. 1 (January 1989): 1-12.

Discusses four Cuban anti-slavery novels, including Sab, asserting that these novels negotiate their abolitionist positions amid the censorship of such ideas.


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