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The Prohibited Backward Glance: Resisting Francoist Propaganda in Novels of Female Development


This dissertation examines the unique ways in which three canonical novels of female development subtly responded to the Francoist propaganda that surrounded their production. In order to better understand the covert resistance in Carmen Laforet’s Nada (1945), Ana María Matute’s Primera memoria (1960), and Carmen Martín Gaite’s El cuarto de atrás (1978), I explore the strategies and patterns of the messaging presented to women in propagandistic magazines, textbooks, and manuals of social behavior published by the Sección Femenina (Women’s Section) of Franco’s regime. This propaganda promoted a model woman who was young, energetic, optimistic, cheerful, self-sacrificing, and just educated enough to educate her children; at the same time, internal paradoxes within the ideology of the Sección Femenina, the Falange, and the Franco regime provided apertures for critique, which I find in the selected novels. Building on the foundational work of David Herzberger, I read the authors’ choice of the female Bildungsroman genre as an inherently subversive move for its emphasis on growth and individuality, particularly in a woman. I also see specific mechanisms in each novel that deconstructed particular elements of Francoist doctrine. By revisiting the archive and the canon, I forge a new way of approaching both hegemonic and fictional representations of womanhood.

In Chapter 1, “Andrea Writing and Wandering: Critical Passivity in Carmen Laforet’s Nada,” I show how Laforet questions in particular the requirement that women be both cheerful and subservient. While other critics have debated whether protagonist Andrea has grown or changed in order to argue that the novel can or cannot be categorized as a Bildungsroman, I see Andrea’s passivity as in fact critical: she completely opts out of system by aimlessly wandering city streets, wasting money, and seeking both privacy and friendship in nonstandard ways. Chapter 2, “Destabilizing Dichotomies in Ana María Matute’s Primera memoria,” investigates how Matute also undermines Sección Femenina doctrine, in this case by focusing on the deconstruction of absolutes and the courting of complexity and uncertainty. Whereas the propaganda encourages unity of the individual, which in turn served the unity of society, Matute instead creates opposites that can coexist, such as a natural world that is both nurturing and menacing, which reflects a simultaneous fear and interest in growing up. Finally in Chapter 3, “In Search of Breadcrumbs: Circling Back Through the Past in Carmen Martín Gaite’s El cuarto de atrás,” I turn to the only work in this study that was published after Franco’s death, which allows Martín Gaite to bring to the forefront many of the issues only hinted at in the previous two works. In performing the prohibited backward glance that she discusses in her historical work, she boldly circles back through her past memories in order to reclaim them; as she loops through history, memory, conversations, and storytelling, she rejects the mundane circularity imposed upon women.

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