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The Space In-Between: Constructions of Girlhood and Coming of Age in the Fictions of Silvina Ocampo and Clarice Lispector


This dissertation conducts a comparative study of Silvina Ocampo’s Forgotten Journey (1937, Argentina) and Clarice Lispector’s Family Ties (1960, Brazil), increasingly relevant fictions that explore difficult topics: girlhood, sexuality, and initiation rituals. I identify their shared precursors, including Anglophone classics of modernist and children’s literature, and argue that their depictions of girlhood resist dominant genre constraints—and dominant ideas about gender and sexuality. Through comparative analysis and translation studies, I interrogate why and how traditions of women’s writing in Latin America were silenced in comparison to those of their male counterparts—in Ocampo’s case, the canonical tradition of fantastic literature she initiated in the Americas with Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares. My intersectional approach shows how Ocampo and Lispector’s fictions reveal the social construction of girlhood in the cities of Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro and their outskirts. In focusing on Ocampo and Lispector’s debut works of short fiction, as well as their works for children, this project intervenes in the longstanding debate in childhood studies about the power dynamics of children’s literature as written by adult authors. I examine the figure of the child as a dialogic partner that accompanies the authors throughout the creative processes of their first stories for adults and children. I amplify the discussion surrounding gender, sexuality, and intersectionality in Latin American literature by incorporating age as a social category worthy of consideration. By employing a childhood studies framework to analyze the Ocampo-Lispector intertext, as well as examining their revealing journeys into the canon, I recontextualize them as active participants in a mid-century global avant-garde context that turned to children’s creativity to spur artistic innovation. This study traces Ocampo and Lispector’s common authorial project of rewriting a global constellation of foundational girlhood stories that were often written by men, beginning with the Demeter-Persephone myth in Homer and Ovid’s tellings, moving toward folk and fairy tales with special attention to Hans Christian Andersen, and culminating in works of nineteenth-century Anglophone children’s literature, with a focus on Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I situate Ocampo and Lispector as engaged in a joint project to subvert traditional literary portrayals of girlhood, as well as the social expectations reflected and affirmed in these texts, and to illuminate the at times dark underbelly of girlhood, the acknowledgment of which is a prerequisite to social change. The first chapter introduces pairings of Ocampo-Lispector stories that, on both thematic and linguistic levels, are uncannily similar as examples of hybrid, all-ages literature, an approach that dismantles the audience-based binary of writing “for adults” and writing “for children.” The second chapter examines Ocampo’s innovations of the fantastic, children’s, and Bildungsroman genres via the figure of the feminine double in Forgotten Journey, in order to spotlight the vulnerability of the young girl. The third chapter analyzes Lispector’s use of the anthropological construct of the rite of passage in Family Ties to demonstrate the systemic nature of sexual violence against girls and women. This dissertation opens a critical and translational space in-between, one in which Ocampo and Lispector are dialogic partners who speak into being a sympathetic all-ages community that attends to the urgent matters of girlhood and coming of age, vulnerability and trauma, and world literature and social change.

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