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!
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.
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.
Nor is there much information about the author herself, though I did find a bit about her husband , 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.
Today’s post features Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin, who wrote under the pen name George Sand (1804-1876).
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).
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 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.
Today’s featured writer is Juana Manuela Gorriti (1818-1892), possibly the first published writer of fantasy in Latin America .
During her lifetime, she was also the most widely read woman writer in Latin America . 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 . 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.
Today’s featured author is Mary Amelia St. Clair (1863-1946), who wrote under the name May Sinclair. She was a novelist, poet, and literary critic; also a feminist who was actively involved in the suffrage movement. She wrote and critiqued works in the modernist tradition, and is credited with having coined the term “stream of consciousness” in a literary context.
She was also greatly interested in philosophy and psychoanalysis, interests that permeate the writings that I’m highlighting today. She wrote extensively on the Brontë sisters, and it seems to have been her Brontë scholarship that led to her interest in the supernatural. Several of her ghost stories and metaphysical tales were published together in 1923 as Uncanny Stories.
I first came across Sinclair’s writing in the excellent Boris Karloff/Edmund Speare anthology And the Darkness Falls. Her story “Where the Fire is Not Quenched” is a dark and dread-inducing description of Hell, with an almost Twilight-Zone vibe. It’s also a great example of Sartre’s maxim “Hell is other people” — written at least twenty years before Sartre wrote No Exit in 1943.
Uncanny Stories went into public domain in the U.S. just before I discovered Sinclair, and I’ve had the collection on my “to read” list ever since. This series gave me the perfect motivation to finally pull it off the list, and I’m glad I did.
Women’s History Month is over, but my series continues! Today I am featuring one of the major figures of Spanish literature: feminist, novelist, journalist, critic, and profilic short story writer Emilia Pardo Bazán (1851-1921), the Countess of Pardo Bazán. Like George Sand, she is not primarily thought of as a writer of the fantastic , but is a prominent mainstream literary figure, known for her efforts to incorporate naturalism into Spanish literature.
According to her page at the Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes, she “is considered the best Spanish woman novelist of the 19th Century and one of the most distinguished writers in [the history of Spanish literature].” In 1916, she became the first woman to receive a chair at a Spanish university: Chair of Contemporary Literature and Romance Languages at the Universidad Central in Madrid.
I hadn’t read her since my undergrad days (I have a minor in Spanish Language Literature, though I remember almost nothing about it now), and she didn’t catch my attention at the time, focused as I was on the Argentine magical realists. I came across her again recently, while flipping through some of my old textbooks and bilingual anthologies, and this time around, her stories struck me, hard. Her writing feels remarkably contemporary in its psychological acuity and feminist outlook; like Quiroga, she sketches perceptive portraits of some of the darker and/or frailer aspects of human nature. While the stories I initially read don’t quite fit into the types of fiction I discuss on this blog, I really wanted to include her in this series, if possible.
Fortunately, a little digging surfaced several pieces that arguably qualify as fantastic or weird. I think I’ll have translation projects for some time to come! For this post, I’ll start with two that are short, but particularly powerful.
Part of my Women Writers of Folklore and Fiction series.
We tend to think of vampires as revenants, creatures that have come back from the dead and who feast on the living to maintain their existences. But it’s not just the undead who siphon away the life of their prey. Today’s post looks at two stories about such “living vampires”: Mary Elizabeth Braddon‘s “Good Lady Ducayne” (1896), and Emilia Pardo Bazán‘s “Vampiro” (1901).
Both stories have similar structures: young, vulnerable women are “acquired” by an extremely elderly and obscenely rich person–the living vampire–who siphons the life from their victim(s) in order to rejuvenate themselves.
In “Good Lady Ducayne,” the prey is eighteen year old Bella, whose mother was abandoned by Bella’s father. To earn extra money for the family, Bella goes into service. She is hired as a companion by rich old Lady Ducayne, who pays her an incredibly generous salary–and takes her to Italy! If that sounds too good to be true, it is.
Read “Good Lady Ducayne” at Project Gutenberg Australia, here.
In “Vampiro,” the prey is fifteen year old orphan Inesiña, the parish priest’s niece. Inesiña’s uncle arranges for her to marry seventy-seven year old Don Fortunato, the richest man in the province. The town gossips seem to think Inesiña got a good deal; how long can her husband live? Well….
Read my translation of “Vampiro” at the Ephemera blog, here.
The living vampires from my last post were active predators who sought out their victims. Luella Miller is passive, more like a parasitic vine that wraps itself around a healthy plant and clings to it until the plant dies.
She had blue eyes full of soft pleading, little slender, clinging hands, and a wonderful grace of motion and attitude.
Luella doesn’t need to hunt down prey; they come to her willingly, men and women alike, and gladly sacrifice themselves to care for their “helpless” friend. In Luella, Wilkins-Freeman describes a real-life type of abusive personality, what people call a “psychic vampire” or “energy vampire,” and though there seems to be a supernatural element to Luella’s fascination, in many ways it isn’t the point of the story.
Mary Wilkins Freeman (1852-1930) was an American writer probably best known today for her supernatural short stories, which combine “domestic realism and supernaturalism” (as Wikipedia says), generally in a New England setting. Her stories have a feminist sensibility, and tend to feature self-reliant, often unmarried women as their protagonists. M. R. James spoke favorably of Freeman’s collection Wind in the Rosebushin a letter to Nico Davies, saying “I like it.”
I shared Freeman’s excellent vampire story “Luella Miller” in my previous post, and I thought I’d share another one today. The narrator of “The School-Teacher’s Story” is a retired schoolmarm, financially comfortable, strong-minded, and perhaps not terribly maternal or domestic (it seems Freeman wasn’t terribly domestic, herself). She’s exactly the type of person that ghost stories shouldn’t happen to (so many ghost story protagonists are). And yet, there was that one student….