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Transatlantic Circuits of Power: A Comparative Study of Late 19th Century Caribbean and Spanish Novels


This dissertation brings together Spanish, Cuban, and Puerto Rican novels written in the late 19th century, a period covering the 1868 Revolution and the Restoration, up to independence. These novels expose the conflictive political and economic integration of both peninsular and overseas territories, which configures social relations in a web of mutual influence. I focus in particular on the representation of imperial discourses as articulated by, and informing, discourses of gender, class, sexuality, race and geopolitical situation.

A fundamental claim of my work is that these novels cannot be understood apart from the transatlantic economic, political, social and cultural ties between peninsular Spain and the Caribbean. Thus, my dissertation attempts to question the concept of the `national' as it has been applied to Spanish and Spanish-Caribbean cultural traditions of the 19th century. This approach requires detailed engagement with the historiography of the period, both because of Spain's troubled relationship with its imperial past throughout much of the 20th century, mirrored in the historical record until recently, and because of a predominance of post-independence interpretations of Caribbean novels.

I begin with Hostos' La Peregrinación de Bayoán (1863) and Alas' La Regenta (1884-5), focusing on the representation of imperialism before and after the Six Year Revolution, from the point of view of the Puerto Rican white Creole class and the Spanish provincial bourgeoisie respectively. I show how these two perspectives present different and opposed political models, which are illuminated and enacted by different gender discourses. Chapter Three offers a comparative reading of Pardo Bazán's La Tribuna (1884) and Morúa Delgado's Sofía (1894) focusing on the representation of exploited parties within the realist/naturalist genre. In both novels women are depicted through discourses of race and slavery, but in different ways and to different ends. Chapter Four, on Galdós' La Desheredada (1881) and Villaverde's Cecilia Valdés (1882), addresses the failure of modern society to live up to its liberal ideals, such as social equality and mobility, especially because of self-reinforcing social structures of exploitation and consumerism. These exploitative structures, based on gender and class distinctions, are connected figuratively and materially with colonial exploitation, especially the slave trade.

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