Women Writers of Folklore and the Fantastic: Juana Manuela Gorriti

Today’s featured writer is Juana Manuela Gorriti (1818-1892), possibly the first published writer of fantasy in Latin America [1].

Juana Manuela Gorriti
Juana Manuela Gorriti (1818-1892).
Source: Wikimedia

During her lifetime, she was also the most widely read woman writer in Latin America [2]. I don’t honestly know how well known she is today, but she definitely deserves attention for (among other things) her contributions to gothic literature. In this post, I’ll talk about some of Gorriti’s gothic pieces, and share a translation of a short ghost story from her later writing.

Juana Manuela Gorriti came from a politically active family in Argentina. Her father, José Ignacio de Gorriti, was a hero of the Argentine war of independence from Spain, and a supporter of the Unitarian faction of Argentine politics [3]. When the opposing Federalist faction overthrew the Unitarian government of Argentina, the Gorriti famiily escaped to Bolivia.

In Bolivia, Juana Manuela met and married Manuel Isidro Belzu, who eventually became President of Bolivia. The marriage was not happy, and Gorriti separated from Belzu and moved to Peru, where she began her literary life.  She started a school, edited journals, and published not only in Peru, but in Chile and Argentina as well. While in Lima, she began to host tertulias, or salons, which were attended by prominent cultural and literary figures of the day, both men and women–especially women, for Gorriti was a feminist and encouraged women to join in the intellectual and political life of their countries.

In 1878 she returned to Argentina, establishing herself in the literary and cultural circles of her native country, while maintaining connections with the (many) notable women writers of the period from all over South America. She died in Buenos Aires in 1892.

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Women Writers of Folklore and the Fantastic: Rochita Loenen-Ruiz

I’m switching gears for this post and highlighting a modern writer. I really wanted to include at least one Filipina writer in this series, but I can’t find any suitable ones in the public domain. Luckily, there are several Filipina writers currently active in speculative fiction who have examples of their work online, so I can still share their work with you. I plan to include a few of them in this series.

Rochita Loenen Ruiz
Rochita Loenen-Ruiz. Source

Rochita Loenen-Ruiz is a speculative fiction writer from Banaue, Ifugao who currently resides in the Netherlands. She originally trained as a musician, and her first forays into writing were realist, as is the tradition in the Philippines–part of the reason I couldn’t find any suitable works from an earlier period. She began writing speculative fiction in 2005 and was an Octavia Butler Scholar at the Clarion West Writing Workshop. She was also the first Filipina writer to attend Clarion West.

I found a horror piece by her several years ago that struck me enough to write about it: “Of the Liwat’ang Yawa, the Litok-litok and their Prey.” It’s inspired by mythical creatures from Filipino folklore, although I think the specific creatures of the story may have been created by Loenen-Ruiz.

The piece, as are most the stories by Loenen-Ruiz that I’ve read, is told in a “collage” format: specific scenes strung together that don’t directly flow one into the other like a linear narrative, but jump back and forth between different facets of the tale, until all the threads come together at the end. Some people may not care for that style, but I’ve always liked it. I like the pleasure of piecing together what’s happening as I read; it’s like unwrapping a gift. I’ve also found that this structure works particularly well for weird fiction, since what the reader imagines between the lines can be more unsettling than anything that a writer might explicitly say.

Loenen-Ruiz’s work spans several different genres, from horror to fairy tale to science fiction; some of it is heavily infused with references to Filipino (particularly Ifugao) culture, and some of it is not. For this post, I’ve picked three pieces that I particularly like, and that are online.

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Women Writers of Folklore and the Fantastic: George Sand

Today’s post features Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin, who wrote under the pen name George Sand (1804-1876).

George Sand (1804-1876)
George Sand as painted by François Théodore Rochard, circa 1835. Source: Wikimedia

Sand was one of the most popular writers in the Europe of her time, and highly regarded by contemporary writers and cultural figures, many of whom were her close friends or lovers. Incredibly prolific and politically active, her writings advocated for the poor and working-class, and criticized the social norms that subordinated women to their husbands. She also lived a colorful and controversial life, openly wearing male attire and smoking in public at a time when women did neither of those things. After separating from her husband (at a time when divorce was illegal in France), she took a number of lovers, including Frederic Chopin.

There are people more qualified than I am to write about her overall standing and influence on literature, so I’ll just write about the fantastical and folkloric work that I’m highlighting today: Sand’s 1859 novella Les Dames vertes, translated into English as The Naiad: A Ghost Story; and her 1858 collection Légendes rustiques (Rustic Legends).

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Women Writers of Folklore and the Fantastic: Bessie Kyffin-Taylor

Today’s post highlights Bessie Kyffin-Taylor, and her collection From Out of the Silence (1920). This seems to be one of only two works by Kyffin-Taylor, the other being Rosemary (A duologue) (1918) — held only by the British Library, at least according to WorldCat. Rosemary isn’t online anywhere that I’ve found.

From Out of the Silence
Image from the Mystery and Imagination blog

Nor is there much information about the author herself, though I did find a bit about her husband [1], and about her name:

From Out of the Silence is an enjoyable collection. I liked Kyffin-Taylor’s authorial voice; her protagonists are well-drawn, fleshed out, and occasionally quirky. There are some lovely discriptions of locale and scenery here, especially regarding Wales. The shadow of World War I hangs over a few of the stories, giving an extra touch of tension. Several of the tales have fairly novel touches to their plotting, though they can be somewhat sentimental in places. Supposedly these stories have been compared to the work of E.F. Benson; I thought of A.M. Burrage (maybe that was the WWI aspect, but Burrage could also get a bit sentimental, too), and “Two Little Red Shoes” made me think, just a bit, of Mary Wilkins Freeman.

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Women Writers of Folklore and the Fantastic: Fernán Caballero

March is Women’s History Month, and this month I plan to post about women writers of folklore and the fantastic. Since I like to actually share stories by these authors whenever possible, I will be presenting mostly older writers who have work in the public domain. I will also try to highlight women writers who are perhaps less well known, at least to English language audiences. My goal is to cover some interesting women writers that you may not have read before. Hopefully, you’ll find new avenues of reading to explore!

Cecilia Francisca Josefa Böhl de Faber, aka Fernán Caballero (1796 - 1877)
Cecilia Francisca Josefa Böhl de Faber, aka Fernán Caballero (1796 – 1877). Source: Wikipedia

Today, I’m highlighting Fernán Caballero, the pen name of the Spanish novelist and folklorist Cecilia Francisca Josefa Böhl de Faber. Böhl de Faber was born in Switzerland in 1796 to a Swiss father and an Andalusian mother. Her father moved the family to Andalusia when she was about 17. Although I am highlighting her today for her collection of literary fairy tales, as a writer she is best known for her 1849 novel La gaviota (The Seagull). La gaviota is both an early example of the Spanish costumbrismo literary movement and a precursor to the Spanish realist novel. The novel was instantly successful at the time of its publication, and was translated into most European languages.

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Vengeance with a Stickpin

Browsing through JSTOR the other day, a paper caught my eye: “Vengeance with a Stickpin: Barreto, Quiroga, And García Calderón,” by Daniel C. Scroggins. A stickpin, you say? Oh, that must be “El solitario” (The Solitare)! I love that story; it’s my favorite of the Quiroga pieces that I’ve translated. So of course, I had to read the paper.

Stickpin, circa 1911
Photo by Helena Bonnevier. Source: Wikimedia

Scroggins posits that “El solitario” (probably first published in 1913, collected in 1917), as well as the 1925 short story “El alfiler” by Peruvian author Ventura García Calderón, were both influenced by an earlier story, also titled “El alfiler” (The Stickpin), by Peruvian José María Barreto. Barreto published his story in the Uruguayan periodical Revista Nacional de Literatura y Ciencias Sociales in 1897; Quiroga, remember, was Uruguayan.

If you read Spanish, you can download the August 10, 1897 issue of Revista Nacional here; the story is on page 74. It’s quite short: about two columns of a three column layout. I also translated the story and put it up on Ephemera:

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Las Rayas by Horacio Quiroga

In the introduction to their fantastic (and huge) anthology The Weird: A Compedium of Strange and Dark Stories (2011), Ann and Jeff VanderMeer talk about “unease and the temporary abolition of the rational” as components of the Weird. With respect to modern (twentieth and twenty-first century) fiction, they write:

The Weird, in a modern vernacular, has also come to mean fiction in which some other element, like weird ritual or the science fictional, replaces the supernatural while providing the same dark recognition of the unknown and the visionary.

The thought 1904 jpg Blog
The Thought, Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis (1904). Source: WikiArt

There is a particular feeling, they go on to say, that a certain piece of fiction gives to aficionados of the Weird, a feeling that makes us go “yes, that piece, it’s Weird.” When I read “Las rayas,” by Horacio Quiroga, I definitely got that feeling.

Quiroga isn’t represented in The Weird anthology, but perhaps he ought to have been. He wasn’t in Jorge Luis Borges’ anthology The Book of Fantasy, either, and Borges must certainly have been familiar with his work. Though obviously the fantastic and the weird aren’t (always) the same thing. Quiroga’s work is mostly non-supernatural–also true of Poe, who Quiroga greatly admired–but much of it (like Poe) is extremely unsettling, with illness or madness, or the brutality of jungle life contributing to that sense that here, in this story, you have indeed relinquished the rational.

“Las rayas” struck me as particularly weird. It’s a story about an inexplicable graphomania and its tragic outcome. So of course, I wanted to translate and share it. It seemed straighforward enough, but turned out to be challenging for a reason I hadn’t anticipated.

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Alexandre Singh’s Gothic Tale

We took the day off today and spent a little time at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, the museum down at Land’s End here in San Francisco. Among other things, they are currently featuring an installation plus film called Alexandre Singh: A Gothic Tale.

The installation uses pieces from the museum’s own permanent collection to explore the theme of doubling and the doppelganger — the perfect theme for a museum housed in a building which is itself a replica of a replica of the Palais de la Légion d’Honneur in Paris. The installation, full of mirrors and symmetries, features duplicates from the permanent collection: prints and even sculptures of which the museum owns multiple copies, almost but not perfectly identical, like human identical twins. The space also serves as an anteroom for a small screening room, playing Singh’s short film, The Appointment.

Alexandre singh appointment still exhibition preview 1

The Appointment is a nightmarish little weird tale, exploring duality (of course) and transmigration. The protagonist, Henry Salt, is an author who seems to have a fascination with the idea of The Double. He wakes up one day, completely disoriented, and finds in his diary a note for a lunch appointment. Only he doesn’t remember making the appointment, nor can he make out the name of the person whom he’s meeting….

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HorrorBabble reads Horacio Quiroga!

I’m about a week late making this announcement, but I’m pleased to announce that HorrorBabble has launched a five-part series, “The Horror of Horacio Quiroga,” based on my translations!

The first two have been released: The Feather Pillow and The Spectre (one of my favorites). The next three should come out one at a time every Wednesday at 1pm Eastern time, on YouTube.

And check out their other readings as well — they have a wide and eclectic selection of stories, including a series on “Tales from Foreign Shores”, focusing on works first published in languages other than English. By the way, I have a translation in that series, too: The Family of the Vourdalak.

As always, it’s a great feeling to hear Ian Gordon and the rest of the crew bringing these stories to aural life. And I have picked out the next few stories to translate when time permits, so stay tuned for that as well!

Enjoy!

Library Police: A Novel Crime Fiction Genre

Reading two different takes on libraries, crime, and the 1970s.

I tripped over an interesting collection while browsing the Wildside Press website: The Library Fuzz Megapack, James Holding’s series of short stories about Hal Johnson, the “Library Fuzz.” That’s right, he’s library police for the Grandhaven Public Library, in a smallish city that seems to be modeled on Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.[1] His job is to track down stolen and overdue books, and collect fines.

The Library Fuzz Megapack, by James Holding

As someone who more than once has put a hold on a checked-out book at my local library, only to eventually discover that said book has disappeared, this concept resonates with me. I’m lucky; I can afford to buy books that I can’t get from the library, but not everyone can. And often the book I asked for is older, out of print, and relatively obscure, so even money doesn’t help; the book can’t be easily purchased, and information has simply been lost. So, while I appreciate that it isn’t a good look these days for cops to go door to door, demanding the return of overdue books and collecting late fees (which is what Hal Johnson does–politely), I have to admit that I like the idea of libraries having their own police to recover stolen books. I suspect more than a few librarians feel the same.

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