Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda y Arteaga, widely known as la Avellaneda, was born in Santa María de Puerto Príncipe (modern day Camagüey), Cuba. She came from a noble background; her father, Manuel Gomez de Avellaneda, was a descendent of the royal family of Navarre and aristocracy of Vizcaya of Spain, and also a commander of the Spanish navy in charge of the central regions of Cuba. Her mother, Francisca de Arteaga y Betancourt, was also from a wealthy Spanish family that had lived in Puerto Príncipe. It is said that her mother’s family is the one that inspired the family in her first novel, Sab.
As a child la Avellaneda was not interested in feminine materials. She was given a tutor and soon became engulfed in the books she was given to read. Her mother tried unsuccessfully to get her daughter away from reading so many books and into the more accepted role of young girls. She even attempted to get la Avellaneda to be more social. Although la Avellaneda did not have many friends, she often took the ones she had and placed them into roles of the plays she had written, taking the male roles for herself.
As a young woman Gomez de Avellaneda took a more feminine approach. She studied new fashions instead of books. She took up dancing, music, and painting. She was even engaged to a young man. It was an arranged marriage to a distant relative, she later refused to marry him. She insisted that she could not go on with the ceremony when it was not what she wanted. After rejecting the marriage, a tear in the family put la Avellaneda into a deep depression.
At the age of nine, her father died and her mother remarried ten months later to don Isidoro de Escalada, who was also a Spanish officer in Cuba. At 22, in 1836, she left Cuba with her family for La Coruña, Spain. Soon after, she and her brother left the family for Cádiz then Seville. When she arrived in Spain, la Avellaneda was already recognized as a talented writer. She continued to gain popularity throughout Spain by writing more literary works. When she began writing her new novel, Sab, contributions from advance subscriptions paid for its publication and she quickly became famous in the Latin world.
In Spain she had a number of tumultuous love affairs, some with prominent writers associated with Spanish Romanticism. Her affairs included several engagements to different men. The first man that la Avellaneda had a love affair with was Ignacio de Cepeda, who was the focus of many of her writings, mainly love letters. (There were forty love letters total, spanning from 1839 until 1854. After his death, his widow inherited and published them.). Though she loved Cepeda very much, he did not want to pursue a marriage with her. One reason he gave was that she was not rich enough. He also gave reason that she was not feminine enough stating that she was more verbal than should be and was often too aggressive for a woman of the 19th century.
After her relationship with Cepeda ended, la Avellaneda went to Cádiz. There, she met and had an affair with Gabriel Garcia Tassara. He was also a poet from Seville. In 1844, she had a daughter out of wedlock with Tassara. Soon after the baby was born, Tassara left her and the baby, refusing to call it his daughter. The baby died several months later. This left la Avellaneda heartbroken at the height of her career.
La Avellaneda soon married a younger man by the name of Pedro Sabater who worked for the Cortes and was very wealthy. He was also a writer and wrote many poems for his wife. They married on May 10, 1846. Sabater was extremely sick with what was believed to be cancer. He died shortly after their marriage leaving la Avellaneda devastated. As a result, she entered a convent right after his death and wrote a play called Egilona which did not receive good reviews like her last one had.
In January of 1863, she tried to enroll into the Royal Academy in after a seat belonging to a dead friend of hers became vacant. Even though she was admired by many, being a woman meant that it was not her place to be writing publicly. She was from an upper class family of wealth and recognition, it did not give her the fame she desired from writing so easily. While all the males in the academy were aware of her works and were fascinated by them, they did not give her the right to enter, solely on the fact that she was a woman.
She remarried on April 26, 1855 to a colonel, don Domingo Verdugo y Massieu. They moved from Madrid back to Cuba where both were born. They were close to Francisco Serrano, who was the captain-general of Cuba at the time. When she arrived in Cuba, la Avellaneda was warmly welcomed with concerts, parties, and music. Shortly after their arrival, Verdugo became ill and died on October 28, 1863. This left la Avellaneda in severe distress.
Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda died on February 1, 1873 mostly because she was a diabetic and also had to endure the death of her brother Manuel. She is remembered for her works as a writer and as a political activist. She wrote about issues many wouldn’t speak of in public. Her most famous pieces include more than twenty plays, novels, and poems.
Al partir¡Perla del mar! ¡Estrella de Occidente!¡Hermosa Cuba! Tu brillante cielola noche cubre con su opaco velocomo cubre el dolor mi triste frente.
¡Voy a partir!...La chusma diligentepara arrancarme del nativo suelolas velas iza, y pronto a su desvelola brisa acude de tu zona ardiente.
¡Adiós, patrie feliz, edén querido!¡Doquier que el hado en su furor me impela,tu dulce nombre halagará mi oído!
¡Adiós¡... Ya cruje la turgente velaEl ancla se alza... el buque,estremecido,las olas corta y silenciosa vuela!
Al partirOn leavingPearl of the sea! Star of the Occident!Beautiful Cuba! Night’s murky veilIs dawn across the sky’s refulgent trail,And I succumb to sorrow’s ravishment.
Now I depart! As to their labors bent,The crewmen now their tasks assail,To wrest me from my home, they hoist the sailTo catch the ardent winds that you have sent.
Farewell, my Eden, land so dear!Whatever in its furor fate now sends,Your cherished name will grace my ear!
Farewell!... The anchor from the sea ascends,The sails are full.The ship breaks clear,And with soft quiet motion, wave and water fends. 4
Gomez de Avellaneda was often either praised or shunned for her literary works. She wrote poems, autobiographies, novels and plays. During the 1840s and 1850s was when she was most famous for her writings. She had other female rivals in writing such as Carolina Coronado and Rosalia de Castro but none of them achieved as much praise as Gomez de Avellaneda received from her literary works. She inspired men and women alike with her stories of love, feminism, and a changing world.
Her poetries consist of styles in Hispanic poetry from late neoclassicism through romanticism. Her works are influenced by some of the major French, English, Spanish, and Latin America poets. Her poems reflects her life experiences including her rebellious attitude and independence in a male-dominated society (regarding herself as a woman writer); sense of loneliness and exile from her Cuba (regarding her love for Cuba); and melancholy and depression (regarding her heartbroken affairs). Her poetry surrounds the themes of Cuba, love and eroticism, poetry itself, neoclassical concepts, historical references, religion, philosophical meditations, personal and public occasions, and poetic portraits.
The theme of Cuba is evident in her poem “Al partir” (“On Leaving”), which was in 1836 when la Avellaneda was on the boat leaving Cuba for Spain. It is a sonnet about her love for Cuba and reflects her emotions as she departed.
The most controversial and the first novel she wrote, Sab, was published in 1841. This novel can be compared to Uncle Tom's Cabin in that both novels are literary protests against the practice of slavery. Sab is about a Cuban slave, named Sab, who is in love with Carlota, his master's daughter. Carlota (the heroine) marries a rich white (Jewish) Englishman, Enrique Otway. The book stresses Sab's moral superiority over the white characters. This is because his soul is pure while the Englishman's business interests are his primary concern. The enterprises of Enrique and his father are juxtaposed against the Carlota's family ingenio (sugarcane plantation) which is in decline because Carlota's father is of a good nature, which means he cannot be a good business man.
Sab was banned in Cuba for its unconventional approach to society and its problems. Avellaneda's works were considered scandalous because of her recurrent themes of interracial love and society's divisions. In fact, Sab could be considered an early example of negrismo, a literary tendency when white creole authors depicted black people, usually with a favorable stance. This kind of writing was often cultivated by women authors who might have been arguing, as Gómez de Avellaneda was, that there was a parallel between the black condition and the female condition. Two other Creole women who cultivated negrista fiction were the Argentine Juana Manuela Gorriti (Peregrinaciones de una alma triste & El ángel caído) and the Peruivan Teresa González de Fanning whose Roque Moreno paints a less than sympathetic stance toward blacks and mulattoes. Of course Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin could also be understood in this light.
Two famous poems were from her love letters to Ignacio de Cepeda. Both were called “A él” (“To Him”). The poems reflect her theme of love for Cepeda. The first poem, much longer and more complex than the second, regards her hope in being with Cepeda. However, because Cepeda did not want a committed relationship with her and married another woman, it made la Avellaneda suffered. As a result, the second poem is about their final break, her resignation to their relationship.
Source: John Charles Chasteen, "Born in Blood and Fire, A Concise History of Latin America"
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2. Fox-Lockert, Lucía. "Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda: Sab (1841)". Women Novelists in Spain and Spanish America. Metuchen, N.J: The Scarecrow Press, 1979.
3. Gold, Janet N. "The Feminine Bond: Victimization and Beyond in the Novels of Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda". Spanish American Literature: From Romanticism to "Modernismo" in Latin America. Eds. David William Foster & Daniel Altamiranda. New York: Garland Publishing Co., 1997: 91-98.
4. Harter, Hugh. A. Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1981.
5. ---. "Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda". Spanish American Women Writers. Ed. Diane E. Marting. Westport: Greenwood Press 1990, pp. 210—225.
6. Hart, Stephen M. "Is Women's Writing in Spanish America Gender-Specific?" MLN 110 (1995): 335-352. Examines Gómez de Avellaneda in a context with other Latin American women authors.
7. Kirkpatrick, Susan. "Feminizing the Romantic Subject in Narrative: Gómez de Avellaneda". Las Románticas: Women Writers and Subjectivity in Spain, 1835-1850. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989.
8. Kirkpatrick, Susan. "Gómez de Avellaneda's Sab: Gendering the Liberal Romantic Subject". In the Feminine Mode: Essays on Hispanic Women Writers. Eds, Noel Valis and Carol Maier. Lewisburg: Bucknell University press, 1990: 115-130.
9. Lazo, Raimundo. Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda. La Habana, Cuba: Editorial Porrúa, S. A., 1972.
10. Lindstrom, Naomi. Early Spanish American Narrative. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2004; sobre Gomez de Avellaneda, 99-103.
11. Mata-Kolster, Elba. "Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda (1814-1873)". Latin American Writers. Vol. I. Ed. Solé/Abreu. NY: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1989, pp. 175—180.
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15. Schlau, Stacey. "Stranger in a Strange Land: The Discourse of Alienation in Gomez de Avellaneda's Abolitionist Novel Sab." Hispania 69.3 (September 1986): 495-503.
16. Scott, Nina. "Introduction". Sab and Autobiography. By Gómez de Avellaneda. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1993.
17. Scott, Nina. "Shoring up the 'Weaker Sex'. Avellaneda and Nineteenth-Century Gender Ideology". Reinterpreting the Spanish American Essay. Women Writers of the 19th and 20th Centuries. Ed. Doris Meyer. Austin: University of Texas, 1995: 57-67.
18. Solow, Barbara L., ed. Slavery and the Rise of the Atlantic System. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
19. Sommer, Doris. "Sab C'est Moi". Foundational Fictions. The National Romances of Latin America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.
20. Various authors. "Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, 1814-1873". Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism, Volume 111. Ed. Lynn M. Zott. Detroit: Thomson Gale, 2002: 1-76.
21. Ward, Thomas. "Nature and Civilization in Sab and the Nineteenth-Century Novel in Latin America". Hispanófila 126 (1999): 25-40.
22. Vittorio Caratozzolo. "Il teatro di Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda". Il Capitello del Sole, Bologna, p. 352 (2002).
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