CASTELLANOS, Rosario (LITERATURE)

Born: Mexico City, Mexico, 25 May 1925. Grew up in Comitan; family moved to Mexico City, 1941, after losing its estate in land reforms. Education: Educated at the National Autonomous University, Mexico City, 1944-50, M.A. in philosophy 1950; University of Madrid, 1950-51. Family: Married Ricardo Guerra in 1958 (divorced); one son. Career: Visited Spain, France, Austria, Italy, the Netherlands, and Germany, 1951; director, Chiapas cultural programmes, 1951-53, and staff member, Institute of Arts and Sciences, both in Tuxtla Gutierrez; director, El Teatro Guinol (puppet theatre) for the National Indigenist Institute, San Cristobal, 1956-59, and toured Chiapas, 1956-58; journalist for various Mexico City newspapers and periodicals, from 1960; press and information director, 1960-66, and professor of comparative literature, 1967-71, National Autonomous University, Mexico City, 1960-66; visiting professor of Latin American literature at the United States universities of Wisconsin, Indiana, and Colorado, all 1967; Mexican ambassador to Israel, Tel Aviv, and lecturer in Mexican literature, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 1971-74. Awards: Mexican Critics’ award, 1957; Chiapas prize, 1958; Xavier Villaurrutia prize, 1961; Woman of the Year award, Mexico, 1967. Died: 7 August 1974.

Publications

Collections

A Rosario Castellanos Reader, edited and translated by Maureen Ahern, with others. 1988.

Obras, edited by Eduardo Mejfa. 1989.


Another Way To Be: Selected Works (poetry, essays, stories), edited and translated by Myralyn F. Allgood. 1990.

Fiction

Balun Canan. 1957; as The Nine Guardians, translated by Irene Nicholson, 1959.

CiudadReal: Cuentos (stories). 1960; as The City of Kings, edited by Yvette E. Miller, translated by Gloria Chacon de Arjona and Robert S. Rudder, 1993.

Oficio de tinieblas. 1962; fragment as Office of Tenebrae, translated by Anne and Christopher Fremantle, in Latin American Literature Today, 1977.

Los convidados de agosto (stories). 1964.

Album de familia (stories). 1971.

Verse

Trayectoria del polvo. 1948.

Apuntespara una declaration de fe. 1948.

De la vigilia esteril. 1950.

Dos poemas. 1950.

Presentacion al templo: Poemas (Madrid, 1951), with El rescate del mundo. 1952.

Poemas 1953-1955. 1957.

Al pie de la letra. 1959.

Salome y Judith: Poemas dramaticos. 1959.

Livida luz. 1960.

Materia memorable (verse and essays). 1969.

Poesia no eres tu: Obra poetica 1948-1971. 1972.

Looking at the Mona Lisa, translated by Maureen Ahern. 1981.

Bella dama sin piedad y otros poemas. 1984.

Meditacion en el umbral: Antologia poetica, edited by Julian Palley. 1985; as Meditation on the Threshold (bilingual edition), translated by Palley, 1988.

Selected Poems (bilingual edition), edited by Cecilia Vicun and Magda Bogin, translated by Bogin. 1988.

Plays

Tablero de damas: Pieza en un acto. In America: Revista Antologica, 68, 1952.

El eterno femenino. 1975; as Just Like a Woman, translated by V.M. Bouvier, 1984; as The Eternal Feminine, in A Rosario Castellanos Reader, 1988.

Other

Sobre cultura femenina (essays). 1950.

La novela mexicana contemporanea y su valor testimonial. 1965.

Rostros de Mexico, photographs by Bernice Kolko. 1966.

Juicios sumarios: Ensayos. 1966; revised edition, as Juicios sumarios:

Ensayos sobre literatura, 2 vols., 1984.

Mujer que sabe latin (criticism). 1973.


El uso de lapalabra (essays), edited by J.E. Pacheco. 1974.

El mar y suspescaditos (criticism). 1975.

Critical Studies:

Rosario Castellanos: Biografia y novelistica by Rhoda Dybvig, 1965; La obra poetica de Rosario Castellanos by Victor N. Baptiste, 1972; Rosario Castellanos by Beatriz Reyes Nevares, 1976; ”Images of Women in Castellanos’ Prose” by Phyllis Rodnguez-Peralta, in Latin American Literary Review, 6, 1977; ”Women and Feminism in the Works of Rosario Castellanos” by Beth Miller, in Feminist Criticism: Essays on Theory, Poetry, and Prose, edited by Cheryl L. Brown and Karen Olson, 1978; El universo poetico de Rosario Castellanos by Germaine Calderon, 1979; Homenaje a Rosario Castellanos edited by Maureen Ahern and Mary Seale Vasquez, 1980; ”Point of View in Selected Poems by Rosario Castellanos” by Esther W. Nelson, in Revista/Review Interamericana, 12(1), 1982; ”Women in the Work of Rosario Castellanos” by Claire Tron de Bouchony, in Cultures, 8(3), 1982; ”Rosario Castellanos and the Structures of Power” by Helene M. Anderson, in Contemporary Women Authors of Latin America: Introductory Essays, 1983; Rosario by Oscar Bonifaz Caballero, 1984, as Remembering Rosario: A Personal Glimpse into the Life and Works, translated by Myralyn F. Allgood, 1990; ”Balun-Canan: A Model Demonstration of Discourse as Power,” in Revista de Estudios Hispanicos, 19(3), 1985, and ”Onomastics and Thematics in Balun-Canan,” in Literary Onomastic Studies, 13, 1986, both by Sandra Messinger Cypress; ”The Function of Interiorization in Oficio de tinieblas" by Frank R. Dorward, in Neophilologus, 69, 1985; The Double Strand: Five Contemporary Mexican Poets by Frank N. Dauster, 1987; ”Toward the Ransom of Eve: Myth and History in the Poetry of Rosario Castellanos” by N. Mandlove, in Retrospect: Essays on Latin American Literature edited by E.S. and T.J. Rogers, 1987; Lives on the Line: The Testimony of Contemporary Latin American Authors edited by Doris Meyer, 1988; Women’s Voice by Naomi Lindstrom, 1989; ”Rosario Castellanos: Demythification through Laughter” by Nina M. Scott, in Humor, 2(1), 1989; ”Confronting Myths of Oppression: The Short Stories of Castellanos” by Chloe Funival, in Knives and Angels edited by Susan Bassnett, 1990; Prospero’s Daughter: The Prose of Rosario Castellanos by Joanna O’Connell, 1995; Testamento de Hecuba: Mujeres e Indigenas en la Obra de Rosario Castellanos by Maria Luisa Gil Iriarte, 1999.

In ”If Not Poetry, Then What?” Rosario Castellanos identifies three points she considers cardinal in her writing: ”humour, solemn meditation, and contact with my carnal and historical roots.” Her complete works give evidence that she kept these points in mind. Her historical and carnal roots are most evident in ”El hombre del destino” (”Man of Destiny”), an essay about Lazaro Cardenas (post-revolutionary Mexican president), and in ”Tres nudos en la red” (”Three Knots in the Net”) and Balun Canan (TheNine Guardians), works that chronicle fictionally her family’s adjustment to the loss of their properties when Cardenas’s administration implemented agrarian reform. In fact, most of her writing is intimately bound to her biography, reflecting from her personal perspective events and conditions around her. A preferred mode of approach to ”solemn meditation” in her writing is through a domestic vignette which then yields to thoughtful reflection. Humour in her writing takes the form of irony.

In Castellanos’s works, significant thematic unity exists across genres. Themes in her essays (weekly newspaper columns written for several Mexico City newspapers) such as social inequality, injustice, and feminist thought, along with a sense of personal isolation and an almost obsessive concern with death, are echoed in her novels, short stories, theatre, and, especially, poetry.

Her early fiction portrays the lives of contemporary native peoples in her home state of Chiapas, defining the people’s existence in terms of their history and mythology and the relation to, and contrast with, the history and mythology of Creole society. Castellanos’s natives are neither Romanticism’s ”noble savages” nor the positive pole of the Manichean opposition (good native victim/evil Creole oppressor) of the Indigenist movement. Her native characters seem authentic because they emerge from her first-hand observation of, and personal contact with, the Tzotzil-Tzeltal of Chiapas. Her recognition of the unequal status of natives in relation to Creoles is evident in ”La suerte de Teodoro Mendez Acubal” (”The Luck of Teodoro Mendez Acubal”). Inequality of status and the tragedy to which it often leads are explored in her essays such as ‘ ‘Discrimination en Estados Unidos y en Chiapas” (”Discrimination in the United States and in Chiapas”), her novels (TheNine Guardians and Oficio de tinieblas— a fragment of which has been translated as Office of Tenebrae), and many of her short stories.

Oficio de tinieblas provides a bridge between her advocacy of the native and her focus on women from a feminist perspective, The protagonist is deemed inferior by both natives and Creoles because she is a woman, a native, and barren. However, by mastering the healing arts, she becomes a leader in her community and catalyses actions that lead to an native boy’s expiatory crucifixion. Castellanos’s concern for the natives oppressed by Chiapas’s feudal society yields to probing examinations of the subordinate status of all women in that society. The questions of the subjugation of women—who are expected to be ”under a man’s hand,” ”be it her father’s, her brother’s, her husband’s, or her priest’s”—and of masculine honour, which depends upon the behaviour of women, are given fictional form in many of her short stories, notably ”El viudo Roman” (”The Widower Roman”), ”El advenimiento del aguila” (”The Eagle”), and ”Las amistades effmeras” (”Fleeting Friendships”). An evolution from Rosario’s concepts of woman’s inherent intellectual inferiority expressed in Sobre cultura femenina [On Feminine Culture], to feminist conviction is easily discernible. She labours to raise the consciousness of her contemporaries, pointing out inequalities between the sexes in Mexico, yet insisting (as in ”Self-Sacrifice Is a Mad Virtue”) that Mexican women have no right to complain about their subordinate status because they remain subjugated by choice in their failure to avail themselves of ”what the constitution gives them: the category of human being.”

Castellanos’s theatrical works include two long dramatic poems and a play. El eterno femenino (The Eternal Feminine), despite its ironic humour, is a serious work, which deserves to be regarded as the pinnacle of her feminist writings. Using a double stage, Castellanos criticizes the reality of contemporary Mexican women as they play the roles dictated by the present-day myths of innocent bride, self-sacrificing wife, fulfilled mother, emancipated woman, mistress, and prostitute, while simultaneously recreating more authentic portraits of historical women long ago rendered into myths in Mexico: Eve, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, the Empress Carlotta, Malinche (Cortes’s native mistress/translator), and so on.

Women’s alienation and their oppression in contemporary urban life is the thread that runs through the short stories of Los convidados de agosto [The Guests of August] and Album de familia [Family Album]. The best known of these is ”Leccion de cocina” (”Cookery Lesson”) a story that alternates the preparation of a meat recipe with acerbic comments on the life of a new bride.

A consummate poet, Castellanos once acknowledged that she ”came to poetry after discovering that other roads were not viable for survival”; that for her, ”the words of poetry constituted the only way to achieve permanence in this world.” Still, in ”An Attempt at Self-Criticism,” she admits that it was not until 1950 that she ”was beginning to discover [her] individuality and validity which, in poetry, has to express the moods of the soul.” But discover it she did: her poems have unequivocally a woman’s poetic voice. She speaks directly and intimately to her women readers about their isolation and the constraints that have limited their lives. By defamiliarizing the feminine context, she makes it, and its inequalities, visible, and leads her readers in the search for another way of being female, as she says in ”Meditacion en el umbral” (”Meditation on the Brink”), one ”que no se llame Safo/ni Mesalina ni Maria Egipciaca/ni Magdalena ni Clemencia Isaura” (”that’s not named Sappho/or Messalina or Mary of Egypt/or Magdalene or Clemence Isaure”).

Both in her early works expressing concern for the Indian’s unjust existence in Chiapas and in her later writings about woman’s inequitable situation in the world, Castellanos acknowledged ”the other” and attempted to span the space of alienation with her poetic words.

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