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Couture and ConsensusFashion and Politics in Postcolonial Argentina$

Regina A. Root

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780816647934

Published to Minnesota Scholarship Online: August 2015

DOI: 10.5749/minnesota/9780816647934.001.0001

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Searching for Female Emancipation

Searching for Female Emancipation

(p.125) Five Searching for Female Emancipation
Couture and Consensus

Regina A. Root

University of Minnesota Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines the increasing complexity of fashion that heightens the function of a woman in public spaces. The complexity of fashion started from the nineteenth century, when women were burdened by the corsets and layered clothing which depict both suffering and social obligation shouldered by women. Nevertheless, the desire of women to declare their citizenship over the same public spaces men occupy never ceases. This chapter explores the implications of the emergence of the “fashion novel” through which women seek their own terms of femininity and social status.

Keywords:   fashion complexity, corsets, body dressings, social obligation, fashion novel, femininity

“Oh! How heavy these dress jackets are!” said a sweet, whining voice close to Mauricio. And one heard the thump of heavy clothing hitting the furniture.

“By God! Is there anything more brutal than imposing on the delicate body of a woman this crushing astrakhan and the no less impossible fustian!”

It was necessary, it was precise, as Cienfuegos says, to characterize those ready-made fashion clothiers: Wort, Bowctlaw, and the likes, as crazy or having conspired against us. And with a sigh of relief:

“Ah!” the voice said. “I seem to have cast two tons off myself.”

“Little do you have left to suffer,” answered another, also sweet and young.

ONE DAY, a young romance writer who has lost his place to urban expansion in Buenos Aires overhears this intimate conversation coming from another bedroom in an all-women’s residence hall. An “invisible houseguest” in Madame Bazan’s boardinghouse for middle-class women of all ages, Mauricio Ridel works on finishing a happy ending for his latest serialized novel. During the writing process, however, he finds himself distracted by the sounds and rhythms of the house, his focus carried away to the conversations in the house on fashion, family life, and female emancipation. Careful not to indicate his presence in any way (for he has agreed to respect the privacy of the women who live there), Mauricio listens in (p.126) to the conversations between female residents from the comfort of his assigned room. Believing themselves removed from male listeners, the female characters of Juana Manuela Gorriti’s 1888 novel, Oasis en la vida (Oasis in Life), openly discuss their concerns and desires in the security of enclosed spaces. The dialogue that begins this chapter demonstrates the relief that a group of unnamed women experience when removing their uncomfortable clothing. They complain about the weight and needless complexity of their fashions and even flesh out a conspiracy theory concerning a few of those crazy designers.1 As the women contemplate the changes that tomorrow’s fashions will inevitably bring, their soft, sweet voices appear punctuated by the incongruous thud of tossed garments.

For the twenty-first-century reader, the corseted waists and extremely layered body dressing of the nineteenth century might seem a unique blend of suffering and social obligation. Indeed, fashion historians have traditionally presented women of the nineteenth century as frail beings, slavishly bending to the whims of male designers. Although there has been mention of a few notable women who escaped the period’s imposed moral and social expectations, the tendency has been to represent the draped female body as the immobilized victim of an oppressive fashion system.2 Body dressing would seem to reflect the social, moral, and economic concerns of this period, demarcating the public arena and the private domain along strict gender lines.

Donald Lowe explains that female fashions were subject to continuous transformations in style, undergoing a series of revivals that were “sometimes decorative, sometimes décolletée, but always antiutilitarian, in order to indicate the woman’s embellishing function in the public space.” In comparison, male fashions tended to be “less fanciful in color and style, more utilitarian and somber,” reflecting “man’s rationality in the public space.”3 Although fashion once reflected the individual’s status in society and class, it now organized the body according to its sex and prescribed roles within society. Given such a framework, one might read the female voices that resonate in the bedrooms of Oasis en la vida as an indicator of the public pressure that had forced women to regress to the domains of their households. Certainly, some female fashions would have rendered a woman unfit for work. However, these conditions certainly did not translate into the wholesale lockout of (p.127) otherwise healthy women willing to roll up their sleeves and press their status as citizens.

In Fashion and Eroticism, Steele argues that the highly decorative and colorful garments worn by the woman of the Victorian period designated her as an important presence in an expanding public sphere. She counters the idea that nineteenth-century society may have forced women into submissive fashions and masochistic behavior, arguing that the prescriptive ideals of fashion magazines were very different from the real experiences of women. The female presence in several Latin American novels—from Mármol’s Amalia (1851–1855) to José Martí’s Amistad funesta (Fatal friendship) (1885)—certainly allows for connections between elaborate body dressing and a female character’s strong convictions. Gorriti takes such an approach further when she unites the opinions and desires of her female characters into a single commentary on fashion. Choosing to emphasize, and not dismiss, her epoch’s styles, she even entertains, albeit jokingly, the possibility of emancipation from odious men. Like the fashion column and society pages of the late nineteenth century, Gorriti’s novel emphasizes the visual immediacy of the real garment. At the same time, it presents strong female voices that, emanating from private spaces, enter the domain of public consciousness with ease.

Looking to serialized fiction, the fashion lithograph, and the history of dress, this chapter examines the rhetorical force of the written garment as it pertains to late nineteenth-century Argentina. A brief definition of the “Fashion novel” leads into a discussion on the fashion and print culture of Buenos Aires. Next is an exploration of the nineteenth-century question of female emancipation in light of an interesting debate on the “oasis in life” that Gorriti initiated at a literary salon in Lima, Perú, prior to the publication of her novel. Her best-selling novel of the same title, along with the widely circulated fashion columns of Spanish author María del Pilar Sinués de Marco, help to unravel the significance of fashion writing during a moment of national reorganization and modernization. Popular magazines that appealed to literate women of all classes, with titles like La Ondina del Plata (Trendsetter of the River Plate), presented fixed images of beauty and comfort as if to bridge a highly commercialized and fragmented culture with the warmth of home. At the same time, these periodicals (p.128) provided women with a unique forum in which to raise questions for public debate and to create an expanded version of the public sphere. Not unlike the female characters of Oasis en la vida, the writers of the fashion column whispered news of upcoming styles—and thereby introduced their readers to new approaches in dressing, thinking, and experiencing life.

We have already established that fashion is a carefully constructed language that one can use to prescribe limits and proclaim liberation, to establish social categories and delineate political loyalties. As Barthes suggests in The Fashion System, the object itself, whether a hat or coat or robe, requires a grounding that is temporal, spatial, sensory, and cultural in nature. Someone must decide what is fashion and who is fashionable, and another must convince the targeted public that such declarations only follow an obvious cultural logic. Barthes uses the term “Fashion novel” to describe any narrative that integrates written or visual signs of dress to organize the body in an overarching social framework, a concept that is integrated into this discussion on postcolonial fashion. He writes,

The Fashion novel is organized around two equivalences; according to the first, Fashion presents the reader with an activity defined either in itself or by its circumstances of time and place (If you want to signify what you are doing here, dress like this); according to the second, it offers an identity to be read (If you want to be this, you must dress like this).4

Within a given cultural group, a narrative of dress thereby undergoes a series of negotiations. At first, the designer exerts some control over the initial sequence, as the historical moment of creation endows the garment with particular meaning. Motivated by her imagination, a sense of “free choice,”5 and perhaps the advice of a fashion columnist, the consumer now decides how to wear a style, fashioning herself according to specific needs, desires, and historical moments. Such negotiations of real experience pose serious challenges for the scholar of material culture, whose work must go beyond the realm of empirical data and address the “fragmented, divergent, fluid and idiosyncratic” nature of dress.6

In approaching the Fashion novel, or the written or visual signs (p.129) of dress, we thus face a number of questions. Leslie Rabine reminds us to ask, “Who speaks this language, to whom is it addressed, what does it mean, and how are its meanings established or transformed?”7 In answering these questions, Rabine uncovers a surprising and unlikely partnership between the fashion magazine and twentieth-century North American feminism. While the Fashion novel clearly subjected readers to an idealized and nearly unattainable form of beauty, these “instruments of consumer capitalism” also provided an important forum for a variety of women’s issues. Challenging the restrictive logic of its time, fashion narratives of late nineteenth-century Argentina enabled middle-and upper-class women to voice their assessments and differing opinions on prescribed social roles. Given the fashion writer’s ability to transform lives with an imaginative twist, it should not surprise us that women authors would choose to “fashion their way to freedom” in an ever-evolving framework of the modern nation.8 A significant power shift was underway at the level of material culture. In the Fashion novel, women were becoming more than a spectacle of modernization and, increasingly, set their own terms of femininity and social status.

As we have seen, the rhetoric of fashion had long addressed matters of public concern in postcolonial Argentina. Following the struggle for independence from Spain, writers of the River Plate region used the pages of early literary magazines to present more than their views on color and cut. Newspaper reporters and popular poets submitted narratives on military costume and fashionable dress when configuring a prenational subject in the attempt to disseminate political goals for an emerging nation. Staunchly divided between Unitarian and Federalist tendencies, Argentine customs had become an overarching moral question, a topic of high seriousness and public debate. For a brief time, censors had overlooked the audacious rhetoric of La Moda, perhaps because fashion was still perceived as a frivolous endeavor and not intrinsically political in nature. To ensure their own safety, several male authors posed as writing women, veiling their ideologies with fashion commentary.

Women authors of the nineteenth century would appropriate this same strategy to propagate their own agendas. Because they, too, used female pseudonyms and the rhetoric of fashion, several readers suspected (p.130) men, and not women, to have penned such views. When newspapers such as the British Packet or La Gazeta Mercantil used their columns to ascertain the authorship of women’s magazines, the authors asked their readers to take issue with their ideas rather than their sex.9 Mary Louise Pratt argues that, although lacking political rights, women authors used these early print networks to “engage with national forms of understanding, maintain their own political and discursive agenda, and express demands on the system that denied them full status as citizens.”10 With this initiation into mainstream journalism, along with a fashionable vocabulary that envisioned independence for all members of society, women stood to gain a more pronounced access, despite numerous obstacles and male antisentiments regarding their political participation.

The pages of La Aljaba (The Quiver) (1830–31), La Camelia (The Camellia) (1852), and La Ilustración Argentina: Museo de Familias (The Argentine Enlightenment: Family Museum) (1853–54) emphasized new patriotic roles for women. While all valued the domestic obligations of the middle class, they also called on women to increase their presence in public and political life. La Aljaba’s title alluded to both the quiver that holds arrows and the fashionably bold color fuchsia that few women of the period dared to wear. Nevertheless, the magazine was not in the business of maintaining the comfort zones of its readers, audaciously announcing in 1830, “We will liberate ourselves from the injustices of men only when we do not exist among them.”11 Edited by Petrona Ignacia Rosende de Sierra, La Aljaba highlighted education rights for women and the oppressive nature of beauty and luxury, attempting to orient its readers to a more intelligent and healthy approach to life.12 At this same time, the Gymnastics Manual for the Beautiful Sex, or Essays on the Physical Education of Young Women circulated in Buenos Aires, advocating that women partake in the spirit of independence and freedom.13 Combining moralizing tales with illustrations of active women, this manual pressed for a woman’s right to comfortable dress, physical activity, and an education. This enlightened approach to health found a forum in La Ilustración Argentina, which published notes on horseback riding, foreign literature, and feminist poetry alongside beauty advice. An early poem, “To Women’s Emancipation,” advocated a confident female presence, “Emancipate yourself proudly / Manifest (p.131) your power / And you will see that woman / Is no slave, but a Goddess.”14 The pages of La Camelia, edited by Rosa Guerra, advocated dress reform and equality for both sexes. Marifran Carlson explains, “Fashionable women’s clothing was both expensive and uncomfortable; women, the editor said, dressed like ornamental dolls. Men might enjoy looking at them, but these fussy, fragile clothes did nothing to improve relations between the sexes.”15 With this fresh attitude and the promise of a lighter wardrobe, many women felt called upon to bring about a movement of simple but elegant change.

By the mid-to late nineteenth century, women authors did not feel the need to shield themselves with pseudonyms, although the practice continued in various contexts. Juana Manso de Noronha publicly assumed all editorial duties for El Álbum de Señoritas (The Young Women’s Album) (1854). Both she and Eduarda Mansilla de García signed their names to articles in the pages of La Flor del Aire (Flower of the Air) (1864) and its sequel La Siempre-Viva (The Ever-Lively Woman) (1864). Many issues of these magazines juxtaposed sewing patterns and reports on the latest European styles with essays on the politics of education and the struggle for female emancipation. “Men speak of science, literature and progress, while women speak of fashion, fashion, fashion,” Manso de Noronha bemoaned, suggesting that it was time for women to educate themselves rather than just “live between a crinoline and a crest.”16 Several periodicals edited by men for a female readership integrated such texts by women authors, who, in turn, found it possible to support themselves financially with poetry and prose. Although the overall focus of these magazines may have been less oriented toward the sociopolitical concerns of women, various essays on fashion suggest that women were well versed in the vocabulary of luxury and consumption.17 Furthermore, their pages appear to have encouraged independent decisions rather than mere fashion prescriptions, or as one inquiry from El Alba (Dawn) (1868–69) put it, “Why don’t you just impose your own rules rather than following them?”18 Other magazines in Buenos Aires in the mid-to late nineteenth century included La Moda Hispanoamericana (Spanish American Fashion) (1874); El Correo de las Porteñas (The Porteña Post) (1876); Doña Mariquita (1877); El Álbum de las Niñas (The Girls’ Album) (1877); El Correo del Domingo (Sunday Post) (1864–68); La Elegancia (Elegance) (p.132) (1878); El Álbum del Hogar (Home Album) (1878–84); and El Correo Americano (The American Post) (1881). Two magazines in particular used fashion description to discuss issues of public access and the prospects for emancipation: La Alborada del Plata (Dawn of the River Plate) (1877–80), founded by Josefina Pelliza de Sagasta and edited by Gorriti and Lola Larrosa; and its competitor La Ondina del Plata (1875–79?), edited by Luis Telmo Pintos.

Despite the increasing successes of female authors, many still felt threatened by the idea of women writing, as this involved “women producing in the public sphere, often from within the domestic center, who introduce domestic issues into the place of public discussion and insist on making visible the activity of women in workplaces, politics, and commercial and social life.”19 This evaluation of Habermas’s “liberal model of the bourgeois public sphere” points to the permeability of the relationship between the private and the public. When women found in domesticity a “public spirit” they could employ, the boundaries blurred.20 Able to strike a balance between family and public life, women planted the seed for “equal standing before the law.”21 Asunción Lavrin demonstrates that the goal, which would culminate in the suffrage movement of the first half of the twentieth century, included “equal access to educational opportunities, the abrogation of nineteenth-century codes curtailing women’s rights after marriage, and specific legislation for the protection of women and children.”22 While society appointed women as the symbols of family virtue and the guardians of morality, the new configuration underway in the public sphere of the late nineteenth century promised to alter women’s roles and the traditional family structure.

The role of women as readers, on the other hand, was considerably less controversial. Reading, like other patterns of bourgeois consumption, was a passive activity that did not contradict the period’s notion of gender expectations.23 The changing attitudes toward female education promoted learning, and reading in particular, for achievement in the domestic sciences. “Home is the school in miniature,” wrote the editor of La Ondina del Plata.24 Yet for many women readers, Francesca Miller argues, education represented “the road to greater control over their lives, in both domestic and political spheres.”25 Following the formation of an Argentine Republic in 1862, the Congress (p.133) had responded to high illiteracy rates and accelerated urban growth by creating a normal school system. The first national census, dated 1869, indicated a literacy rate of 25.2 percent of the male population and 18.3 percent of the female population.26 Once appointed as the National Minister of Education in 1856, and later during his presidency (1868–74), Sarmiento expanded educational opportunities for women, viewing their involvement in public and political life as crucial to the national well-being.27 He appointed Manso de Noronha, author and self-described maestra (school mistress), as the school supervisor for the province of Buenos Aires. Following his presidency, a Common Education Law (1876) finalized the transfer of control over girls’ schools from the Society of Beneficence to the provincial governments. While educational goals served to complement domestic roles, as Carlson indicates, they simultaneously motivated women to become more involved in the patterning of all social roles. Rising literacy rates and the emergence of competitive markets helped the fashion magazine proliferate.28

In the 1880s, Argentina began a period of national consolidation when it unified Buenos Aires, the new capital, with the provinces of the interior. The gaucho and his horse, both symbols of traditional rural values, had long faded into the horizon of the pampas. Having surmounted the political tensions that so divided Argentina following independence, the country now focused its sights on economic growth, fueled by foreign investment capital, massive immigration, and agricultural exports.29 From 1857 to 1890, the nation’s population grew from 1.1. to 3.3 million, with most immigrants settling in the capital.30 Economic booms from 1884 to 1889 earned Buenos Aires its reputation as the Paris of South America, as the cityscape began to resemble the center of European fashion in terms of its customs and architecture. Guy writes, “Fashionable stores, cafés, restaurants, and banks soon dotted the elegant downtown, adding to the glamour and glitter of this apparently opulent capital.”31 Buenos Aires, a city previously viewed as la gran aldea (the grand village), stood transformed with all of its allusions to luxury, consumerism, and international capitalism.32

At a time when a proliferation of publics became evident, luxury took on a fraudulent and discomforting role. The upper classes, in an attempt to reflect their political and economic privilege, had phased (p.134) out “the enclosed and guarded family style of the 1870s” with lavish celebrations and other public forms of consumption. Members of the elite classes in the Southern Cone had often been drawn to goods from Europe when placing themselves at the center of modernity; markers of “status” allowed them to “stand out from their less cultured, less modern, compatriots by fervently embracing everything European and especially French and English.”33 Wealthier inhabitants in Argentina, in particular, sought to mark their increasing importance in the global order. “In dress, art collections, furniture, table service and carriages, the Argentine elite were determined to equal or outdo the wealthy of Europe,” James R. Scobie writes.34 Displays of affluence helped set apart la gente decente (well to do), who made up only 5 percent of the population of Buenos Aires, from the growing middle class and la gente de pueblo (the working classes).35 With the arrival of new immigrants, the black mourning dress that had prevailed in the cityscape, a consequence of the yellow fever epidemic of the early 1870s, gave way to a myriad of foreign styles. For women, dresses had become a bit more flexible, although they still incorporated layered skirts and trains that required bustles of an exaggerated shape and numerous hooks to draw the weighted materials up and to the back. The dandies of the Generation of 1880 (the governing elite), such as Lucio Mansilla and Manuel Quintana, carefully attended to the details of etiquette and other fineries, appearing at the newly founded social clubs with black tuxedos and white gloves. The novelties of Parisian fashion had become a symbol of high status and Argentine fashion magazines anticipated the most popular of European styles.

Because of the accelerated pace of economic expansion, however, members of the nouveau riche and even newly arrived immigrants began to imitate bourgeois styles.36 With the emergence of the fashion lithograph, modistes contemplated the distinctiveness of European dress, copied its design, and then commissioned seamstresses to piece the garment together with a sewing machine.37 The working-class men and women of Buenos Aires turned to the study of Parisian fashions for success in the workplace. A commentary in El Correo del Domingo titled “Inmigrantes: casi una novedad” (Immigrants: almost a novelty) trails the new immigrant on his arrival to the city of Buenos Aires, pointing to his blue beret and the scarves and short, colorful dresses of (p.135) his wife and daughters. Within a few months, the article continues, the immigrant will have erased the outward signs of his foreign past.

Before the year ends, men will have thrown off their berets, cotton clothing and espadrilles, and women will have changed their short dresses and signature scarf for dresses that are more or less in fashion. A little bit more and they will be rich, and maybe the women will look to the lithographs of Paris for clothes that they never knew in France.38

As the immigrant discarded those fashions that marked his predominantly rural background, like the boina (beret) and alpargata (espadrilles), he adopted the coat and tie.39 This kind of access to social mobility created a great deal of anxiety for members of the upper classes who feared losing their power and prestige in an immigrant revolution.

As Julián Martel portrays in La Bolsa (The Stock Market), Buenos Aires had become a place where the employee could dress like his millionaire employer.40 In one section of the novel, the reader follows a fashionable ballerina on her way to enjoy the parks of Palermo on a Sunday afternoon. While dressed to make a distinguished impression on this special excursion, Martel drowns her presence in a sea of opulent carriages.

On a sunny Sunday they descend to the riverbank of the Recoleta and they turn toward Alvear Avenue until reaching Palermo. Among them, Lucrecia, the withdrawn ballerina with her haughty luxury, is trying to impress others with her velvet dress in garnet, that masterwork from the scissors of Madame Carrau. There go our heroes, all wrapped up in the whirlwind that confuses the carriage of the prostitute with the majestic landau belonging to a respectable family, and the slow vehicle of small-time clerk, who is rich without anyone knowing why, made proud by the arrogant colt of the young flirt.41

In this epoch of materialist wealth and bourgeois insecurity, the fashionable female body found itself increasingly regulated and sculpted for distinction. In 1870, the corset reappeared for the talle avispa (wasp waist) style, a look that stayed in vogue until the beginning of the twentieth century.42 This style dramatically changed the proportions of women’s bodies, with the average Argentine woman’s waist shrinking dramatically from about 25 to 27.5 inches (63–70 cm) to between (p.136) 17 and 19.5 inches (43–50 cm), a size some women kept even during pregnancy.43 Penelope Byrde describes the pose that a corseted and bustled woman kept, known as the “Grecian bend,” which pushed “the head and bust forward but moved one’s hips and rear backwards.”44 A tight-laced corset rendered a woman inactive, her petite waist functioning as an indicator of her family’s social status.Yet while one strove for this fashionable presence, anything too lavish was viewed in bad taste. “Although women were widely regarded as morally superior to men,” Steele explains, “they were also regarded, in some sense, as morally feeble; the ‘proper’ and ‘modest’ dress provided them with a protective shield.”45 Women felt great pressures to adhere to the rules of modest behavior, at times undergoing extreme physically discomfort, as the corset wreaked havoc with internal organs. Because prostitutes often set the terms of fashion, it was difficult to achieve psychological comfort through fashion. Writing in the same period, Havelock Ellis revealed that this legislated modesty was an “agglomeration of fears” that made for extreme self-consciousness, even when it aimed to do exactly the opposite. “Garment-conditioned prudery is self-contradictory and eventually self-defeating,” he ultimately concluded.46

The apprehensiveness toward luxurious feminine display in the public arena provided Argentine women authors with a precarious challenge. Feminine style seemed to regulate a woman’s movement, encouraging her to assume domestic roles that kept her tucked away at home with her children and family. At the very least, an affluent woman might serve her family as an ornamental appendage of pleats and puff. Furthermore, symbols of high fashion ultimately rendered invisible the identities of the very women who had made them. To piece together sartorial pleasures, seamstresses endured such long hours, low wages, and miserable working conditions that many turned to prostitution for a less burdensome life. Argentine poet Evaristo Carriego (1883–1912) sadly remembers this social problem in “La costurerita que dio aquel mal paso” (The seamstress who took that wrong step).”47 For working-class women, who found themselves relegated in both the public and the private spheres, an oasis of life may have seemed a mirage. By 1888, the year when Gorriti published her Oasis en la vida, women found themselves at a fashion crossroads. The affordability of the sewing machine allowed women to choose between homemade (p.137) dresses or ready-made clothing. The advent of comfortable textiles, built-in bustles, and the rejection of the crinoline skirt helped women feel a bit more comfortable in their dresses. Two years later, despite the economic crash of 1890, the fashionistas of Buenos Aires continued to plot a shift in vision. Lengthened bodices, uncorseted waists, and deep jewel-like tones revealed a confident and relaxed concept of elegance. The Fashion novel, just as Gorriti suggested, prefigured the struggle for more equitable roles for women. Its movement would gain special momentum by the very end of the nineteenth century.48

Like the fuchsia heralded in La Aljaba’s title, the female reader of the nineteenth century embraced the bold presence of new styles. She could admire them and envision using them, but she did not always wear them. Lavrín explains that the historian may not always be able to quantify the motivations of women and the kinds of political lives they desired. How, then, to unravel those “behavioral norms” and the tensions that women felt as they struggled to gain rights and preserve their femininity?49 Although the Fashion novel does not grant us definitive answers, it does shed light on the concerns and triumphs of women who reflected on the restrictive nature of their social roles. Through fashion writing, authors could embrace the feminine styles of the day as they worked to piece together a narrative of emancipation. Employing discursive strategies not unlike those found in Gorriti’s Oasis en la vida, women imagined a refuge inspired and changed by their alternative designs.

With the chaos of modernization, where exactly did one find their harbor of strength and salvation? The idea of an oasis in life first surfaced at the well-known literary soirees held at the home of Gorriti in Lima, Perú. An Argentine native, Gorriti had moved to Perú with her two daughters following a difficult separation from Manuel Isidoro Belzú, a military official who became the president of Bolivia in 1848.50 These evening gatherings, at times lasting until three o’clock in the morning, included at least fifty male and female participants who read their works of creative fiction, debated treatises on women’s education,51 smoked cigars, and performed séances by moonlight.52 Following her return to Buenos Aires, Gorriti again posed the question of what constitutes an oasis, “the perfume of happiness,” in the pages of La Alborada del Plata, a magazine under her editorial leadership.

(p.138) In a thoughtful discussion on the oasis in life, Mercedes Cabello de Carbonera (from Perú), Florencia Escardó, and Larrosa (from Uruguay) touched on the importance of serenity and self-realization in an increasingly complex and materialistic society.53 An essay by Cabello de Carbonera set the soul free amidst the temptations of life to uncover the essence of the oasis, arguing that nature grants all the capacity to search for meaning and contentment.54 Her extensive commentary on the self-reliance that authorship afforded her gave strong indicators to the reader that writing could serve as one’s oasis in life. Escardó would focus on the sacrifices undertaken to maintain the oasis. When meeting diversions and pleasures such as “the bustle of the salon, the joy of long walks, illusions, conceit, the vanity of youth,” maintaining one’s spiritual focus on the home might seem especially great.55 Escardó reminded her reader that maintaining peace at home was well worth the struggle, as nothing compared to the love and happiness of family. Larrosa, who would edit the magazine during its second run, also directed her readers to the delights and comforts of home. She writes, “The one who loves the home has a delicious oasis from which to amuse the spirit when faced with the bitter moments of life and changes of fortune.”56 Incorporating both liberal and conservative views, Gorriti explored the question of self-realization and, in the process, expanded the debate on female emancipation. From La Alborada del Plata, readers gained an appreciation for the diversity of views and personal motivations that underscored the search for happiness.57

One decade later, Gorriti, Argentina’s first female professional novelist,58 would insert herself as a character in her own Oasis en la vida, a social novel on the importance of “work, perseverance and savings.”59 Written toward the end of a most prolific career, the publication of this book absolved Gorriti of all debts and thereby reinforced the message found on its title page: sine labore nihil (without work, nothing).60 Masiello explains, “From its introduction to final resolution, the book emphasizes the world of financial exchange and the possibility of profit and security in a society founded on materialist values.”61 Printed by the Compañía Sud-Americana de Billetes de Banco and with its interests in mind, the novel depicts a city in flux. Returning to his native Argentina from France, Mauricio finds the Buenos Aires of his childhood transformed by the thriving economy and a population explosion. (p.139) He feels an overwhelming sense of patriotism for his country although he grew up in a French boarding school that his stepmother forced him to attend. While away, his stepmother forces Mauricio’s father into a faulty business venture that leaves him bankrupt and ultimately leads him to commit suicide. Having lost his inheritance, Mauricio thus returns to the city that will make his new fortune. A sign announcing La Buenos Aires insurance company, “powerful association that has at its core the strongest national and foreign capital,” provides a protective backdrop to this orphan’s meditations.62 Despite the turmoil of urban expansion, La Buenos Aires helps guide the characters of the novel to their refuge, calming unnecessary fears and anxieties. In dedicating her novel “A la Buenos Aires,” Gorriti gives thanks to the insurance company who commissioned the work but also incorporates an image of the growing capital and its female inhabitants. Appearing at a moment of great economic prosperity for Argentina, the novel highlights an emerging middle class whose promise of upward mobility offers great hope to the hard-working Mauricio.

The novel’s dedication continues with some preliminary words by S. Vaca-Guzmán, Argentina’s minister of economy to Bolivia, who links Gorriti’s premise of the oasis of life to the creation and accumulation of wealth.63 Under the title of “Political Economy,” he combines the seemingly contradictory forces of Christian doctrine and positivist science to make sense of the new materialist values that predominate the culture. Vaca-Guzmán describes Argentina’s political economy as “that venerated matron” or “this moralistic tutor for society,” as if to establish a new guiding mother for Mauricio and all modern orphans.64 He situates Gorriti in the highest realm of American intellectuals, commending her for the ability to put an attractive dressing on an otherwise dry and challenging topic.65

Creative intelligences have the ability to transform and embellish ideas that pass through the spirit; it would appear that they possess that revitalizing gift of sensual Spring that makes everything beautiful, covering all with flowers and the luster of clouds.

If one still does not believe such an assertion, I invoke as witness, with my support, the present book.

Its author proves, with the attractive dressing of the novel, the benefits of work, perseverance and savings. Never before has such (p.140) an economic theme been handled with such charm, with the most graceful mischief, nor with the most natural and unaffected intrigue.66

Such an introduction from someone who most probably was not a proponent of women’s rights must have pleased Gorriti immensely. Vaca-Guzmán’s words placed Oasis en la vida in the context of Argentina’s political and economic transformations, thereby undermining boundaries that traditionally relegated “male discourse” to the public sphere and female voice to the private sphere. Furthermore, the introduction validated a heavily commercialized enterprise: Advertisements for delicious juices and sensational candies in addition to La Buenos Aires insurance policies abound. Appropriating the language of consumerism, Gorriti promoted images of active, independent female characters “on the rise.”67

As a maestra and advocate of women’s rights, where would Gorriti position herself in the Oasis en la vida? Several first-person mentions allow her to appear alongside the female protagonist, Julia López, and to move along the development of the plot. In chapter 14, Gorriti allows her clothing to drop to the floor with a thud. Her voice criticizes the social codes that force women into uncomfortable dresses as if to bar them access from the public arena. As her friend Julia changes into more comfortable dinner attire, she, too, sheds extremely heavy layers. One can imagine the laughter of the many readers who knew that Gorriti preferred to appear in masculine trousers—à la George Sand—while about in downtown Buenos Aires.68

Contemplating the final sequence of his romance novel, Mauricio finds his attention diverted to the “faint sounds of voices and skirts” next door.69 Throughout the novel, Mauricio finds himself distracted by the activity and strong opinions of the female residents. He listens to their desires for emancipation and imagines the French designs they describe. The discourse on fashion often takes on the qualities of a foreign language, with some of the more challenging vocabulary appearing in italics, implying that Mauricio, like any “unenlightened” fashion reader, probably doesn’t understand them. As previously examined, the women hypothesize that fashion will soon revolutionize their lives with lighter and more liberating styles. “Ha! Ha! Ha! I’m casting aside all that is bad, as you can already see,” Julia remarks as she puts on a self-made design.70 At this point, the eavesdropping Mauricio realizes (p.141) that he is in love with Julia, who he has admired since first sighting her in France. An orphan like Mauricio, Julia has returned to Buenos Aires following a notable career in Europe as a pianist.71

Taking advantage of the liberties that an all-female boardinghouse allows, the residents subscribe to the most important newspapers, dress in their own designs, and play the tunes of “Women’s Emancipation.”72 The twenty residents of all ages and backgrounds—widows, young professionals, and one retired school director—find friendship and support in each other. Together they ponder questions related to female emancipation, debating biblical misquotations used to regulate women and the image of the domestic angel. One woman affirms, “Emancipated or not, woman will always reign as queen.” An older resident opposes emancipation on the grounds that women might become as tyrannical as men. The residents eventually refute this comment, deciding that their neighborhood has already yielded its share of tyrannical females. For Mauricio, this mosaic of voices represents little more than “a noisy invasion.”73 Gorriti juxtaposes this sensation with a real offensive when she has a burglar enter a window that very night to steal the money and jewels of the residents. Mauricio rushes heroically to the rescue, breaking his status as the “invisible houseguest” and getting stabbed in the process. In the days that follow, the residents nurse him back to health and give up the freedoms they normally enjoy without a male presence.74 One voice advises the residents, “Now, let us assimilate our looks as much as possible to the latest lithograph of The Season, and with all our buttons and bows, we will sit down at the table with our handsome guest.”75

In chapter 31, Gorriti makes a final appearance as a witness to Mauricio and Julia’s wedding. Written with a dialogic technique similar to that of our opening quote, the reader understands the consensus but does not necessarily know who has articulated it. One does know, however, that the participants of this dialogue are those female guests who, following the wedding, return to their residence hall and share news of the event with others. As the women set down their fans and take off their hats and gloves, they re-create the image of Julia López on her wedding day. The precious wedding dress, the intricate butterfly fan—all the details point to a fashion lithograph “of the latest design.”76 The guests evaluate the bride’s good fortune, noting the list (p.142) of prominent leaders who attended the wedding. The few women in attendance, with the exception of Gorriti, are not identified.

“Few women: all very elegant.”

“But what a large entourage of gentlemen! All the press: General Mitre, Bartolito, Dávila, Lainez, Vedia, Laurencena, Lalanne, Walls, Ribaumont, Ortega, Alberú, Mulhall and so many others.”

“Eduardo Coll was also there. And Emilio Casares was the best man and they say he gave an awesome gift to the bride.”

“Many literary figures: General Sarmiento, Santiago Estrada, José María Zuviria, Bolivian minister Dr. Vaca Guzmán and so many others, dear, who I don’t know. We could hardly fit in the chapel.”77

Following this entourage of male public figures, the narrative sheds its dialogic approach and continues with a unified sermon by a priest who details the importance of savings, hard work, and a reliable insurance company. It ends with a moment of sweetness between the bride and groom, “two spirited devotees of work.” Gorriti promptly interrupts this romanticized vision of complete security with the joyous cries of the female guests. She writes, “Everyone cried. I cried, too.”78 The tears break the hegemonic narrative of the ceremony, a strategy that encourages the reader to consider all points of view and to break with the framing provided by Vaca-Guzmán’s “Political Economy.” Gorriti concludes Oasis en la vida by viewing the male leaders of the epoch through the eyes of many women and on their own terms.

This late nineteenth-century Fashion novel reflected carefully the onslaught of economic transformations brought about by bureaucratic modernization. By including Vaca-Guzmán and herself as characters in a social novel on the importance of savings and hard work, Gorriti entered a public debate on materialism and female economic autonomy. Turning to the rhetoric of fashion, she discussed the prospects of female emancipation in a society wrought by change. Incorporating a diversity of voices, Gorriti asked her readers to embrace the challenges and hard work that the premise of female emancipation entailed. In a world ruled by economic experts and advertisers, a woman would have to rely on her confidence and her own decisions to forge beyond her oasis in life.

Fashion engaged many of the social changes brought about by modernization, linking the rhetoric of publicity to a consumer’s (p.143) private desires and reflecting the increasing complexity of women’s lives. La Alborada del Plata and La Ondina del Plata also marketed this new language of fantasy and self-transformation. Under the premise of improving its readership’s wardrobes, the magazines published reviews of Parisian fashion plates. Fashion columnists worked to educate readers on their uses, helping them to appropriate styles for a Latin American climate and to make sense of the overwhelming number of options: combinations for travel by train, garments for evenings at the opera house, outfits for high tea, dresses for excursions to the countryside. In the creation of consumer fantasies, dress would seem to have played a prominent role in granting women “access to publicness.”79 Might one argue that the plethora of consumer choices contributed to a more flexible notion of the public sphere?

Figurines, engraved fashion plates, present an interesting challenge to this question. Publicity campaigns in magazines often presented women as ornamental appendages, grouping them together in manicured gardens, beach boardwalks, and elaborate mansions. A more humorous nineteenth-century fashion plate places two women in a rowboat, dressed for a tranquil lake adventure but drifting aimlessly without oars. As in modernista poetry and prose, the female form seemed a precious jewel tucked away in an extravagant palace.80 These commercialized images, often colored by hand, outlined trends on color and cut for the fashion inspired. Vyvyan Holland described early fashion illustration as a process that showed people “the right kind of clothes for them to wear to be abreast of the fashion of the moment,” while also predicting “what the fashionable person will be wearing in the near future.”81 Anticipating the future, the fashion plate thus rendered an ideal for the body, allowing each reader to accept, alter, or reject its image of perfection.82 Responding to lithographs of contemporary European fashions, Argentine women would have appropriated and transformed numerous styles, deciding when to use the image as a model and when to deviate from its designs.

Because figurines advertised a particular pattern or style, the description that accompanied the engravings provided the late nineteenthcentury reader with clear instructions on how to piece together her garment. Accustomed to predominantly visual approaches to fashion, the twenty-first-century reader may prefer to gloss over such lengthy (p.144)

Searching for Female Emancipation

Fashion plate depicting women’s visiting dresses. Published in La Torre de Oro13 (1873): 102–3.

Courtesy of Biblioteca Nacional, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

detail. But this information was extremely important for the home seamstress, as the following description from La Ondina del Plata illustrates:

Princess dress of a snow-covered grey and brown silk. —The front of the dress provides a silk cover that buttons to the side. This part of the cloth disappears under the puff behind, where it then falls to the right and creates a pleated skirt. A trimming in grey cloth, adorned with lace and tassels, runs along the edges of the front cover as well as the fragment of brown silk. The other side of the dress is all snowcovered grey, which intersects the section made of brown silk and falls like a pleated skirt in the back. The middle portion of the back is striped with a border of grey material and the tail of the dress is gathered at the bottom. Adorned with ruffles, the tail is also of silk: one of the ruffles is fastened at the hem. The small silk purse bears the same lace adornment; its buttons, like the ones of the dust jacket, are of a pearl grey. Silk sleeves with lace boots. The wing, lifted on only one side, is fastened with a fantasy-style plume. Outlining the crown of the hat, clasps and feathers.83

(p.145) Broken down into parts, the description of this princess-style dress presented a very fragmented yet detailed approach to ornamentation. It divided the female body into the corresponding sections of the dress: the front (parallel to the sleeves, the collar), the many parts of the back, and the sides. As the reader carefully considered each section, she may have lost sight of the complete dress. Furthermore, the dress was not enough. Special accessories, such as the gray pearl buttons, a matching purse, or the plumed fantasy hat, added to the impressive flow of pleats and puff.

Bridging the novelties of fashion with matters of common sense, the fashion columnist presented creative ideas for homemade designs. Realizing that luxury had limits, she also had women consider the benefits of the fashion magazine to the prosperity of one’s family. Under the heading of “Real Life,” Sinués de Marco writes,

From the lithographs that fashion presents, take what you agree with: modify, add, match one style with another. Faced with the precise explanations, try to make your own accessories by yourselves and you will find that your families will realize that the fashion magazine, instead of being a burden, is of great practical value for you and other women.84

To demystify fashion for themselves and their families, many Argentine women in the capital and the provinces turned to the writings of Sinués de Marco, who was highly regarded throughout her native Spain and Latin America for her Christian conduct manuals. As Spain’s first female professional author, Sinués de Marco found herself placed alongside other Hispanic writers in the pages of La Alborada del Plata and its competitor, La Ondina del Plata, “the middle-class women’s newspaper that most vocally supported female emancipation.”85

While scholars of Latin American literature have viewed Sinués de Marco as a figure staunchly opposed to the premise of feminist emancipation, the recent scholarship of Ignacio Sánchez-Llama and María Cristina Urruela helps clarify this position by taking into account the later evolutions of her work.86 Early in her career, Sinués de Marco espoused the moral values deemed of national importance by Isabel II (1843–68). Following her marriage to a well-known Spanish journalist and playwright, José Marco, she published a series of conduct manuals,87 (p.146) including the best-selling El ángel del hogar (Domestic Angel) (1859), which circulated widely throughout Latin America. Despite a seemingly contradictory belief in female self-sacrifice, Urruela explains that, “time and again Sinués presented herself explicitly as a woman writer in favor of educating women and furthering their role as productive members of society.”88 She would defend the professional status of women authors and female economic autonomy throughout her life. Her magazine with the same title of her best-selling conduct manual, El Ángel del Hogar, would support the progressive agenda of the revolutionary Spanish government of 1868, when all other women’s periodicals aligned themselves with the Spanish monarchy.89 By 1872, she edited a transatlantic fashion newspaper titled La Torre de Oro with offices in Sevilla and Buenos Aires.90 New editions of her books continued to appear in Buenos Aires, Lima, and Mexico.91 Three years later, following a much publicized separation from her husband, Sinués de Marco left Madrid and set up shop in Paris, penning fashion columns for El Correo de la Moda (1851–93) and essays for El Imparcial (1867–1933), a liberal Spanish newspaper.

In La Ondina del Plata, Sinués de Marco offered solicited advice to readers with a conversational style. “I am going to give you some friendly advice, as is all of my advice, dear readers,”92 her column on “Fashion” began. Faced with so many figurines, some women must have felt unsure about their options.93 Like Gorriti, Sinués de Marco reminded her reading public of the value of hard work and savings, values that did not necessarily affirm the goals of high fashion. She writes,

In order to be a truly elegant woman, distinguished, and even eccentric sometimes, there is no need for financial ruin.

Simplicity attracts sympathies and even admiration, and this admiration does not bear bitter fruit but instead might make others imitate you.

You should love fashion as if it were a friend; but you should not offer her sacrifices as if she were a deity.94

While the figurines promoted a particular vision of artificial beauty, the thoughtful consumer needed to contemplate her own identity and selfpresentation. Could fashion not reflect the emotional intelligence and (p.147) intellectual capacity of its wearer?95 By providing sensible and rational explanations, the fashion columnist helped her readers domesticate the chaos of choice. Finding elegant statements in every woman’s closet, she reminded her readers that the pursuit of the oasis in life did not require a costly dress.96

The rhetoric of fashion of late nineteenth-century Argentina defined the specific features of dress, re-creating the “puff” train and the immigrant arrival’s blue beret. With fashion lithographs, readers imagined a new range of applications and especially the fashions of Europe imported to Argentine soil. As a visual sign, these figurines served, as Barthes has explained in another context, “to propose a model which is a copy of reality but also and especially to circulate Fashion broadly as a meaning.”97 Each garment thus unfolded according to its own logic, allowing writers to assign function and value to an otherwise neutral article. In earlier years, the rhetoric of fashion had imported the enlightened ideas of Europe. Women authors later used the vocabulary of fashion to establish, although somewhat problematically, a public forum in which they could discuss their aspirations and exercise a limited control over the perception of gender. In the pages of La Alborada del Plata and Oasis en la vida, Gorriti encouraged her contemporaries to explore the prospect of female emancipation. Sinués de Marco focused on the pragmatic issues that her readers faced when making choices for themselves and their families. Gorriti pushed for more comfortable clothing; Sinués de Marco aspired to make women feel comfortable with individualized designs. Into the twentieth century, the Fashion novel continued to provide a forum for a myriad of opinions on female emancipation, allowing all to contemplate triumphs and plot challenges in the search for the oasis in life. (p.148)


(1.) Interestingly enough, Gorriti chooses to use the word nosotros, suggesting that both men and women aspire for ideal bodies and clothes with which to shield them.

(2.) See, for instance, Stephen Kern’s study of Anatomy and Destiny: A Cultural History of the Human Body (New York: Bobb-Merrill Company, 1975) and Helene E. Roberts’ essay “The Exquisite Slave: The Role of Clothes in the Making of the Victorian Woman,” Signs: Journal of Woman in Culture and Society 2 (Spring 1977): 554–69. Steele writes, “It is absurd to blame clothing for limiting women, and pointless to blame ‘men’ or ‘society’ for forcing women to wear restrictive or ‘feminine’ dress” (Fashion and Eroticism, 246).

(3.) Lowe, History of Bourgeois Perception (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), 96.

(4.) Barthes, The Fashion System, 249.

(5.) I write this with the understanding that one’s sense of “free choice” may or may not be real.

(6.) Efrat Tseelon addresses the need for attention to sartorial diversity in order to resist stereotypes in the realm of fashion research. She especially questions the validity of the qualitative and quantitative divide that permeates this interdisciplinary field. See her “Clarifications in Fashion Research,” in Through the Wardrobe: Women’s Relationships with Their Clothes, ed. Ali Guy, Eileen Green, and Maura Banim (Oxford: Berg Publishers, 2001), 253. For an analysis of the historical presentation of style, which C. Evans and M. Thornton believe has not accounted for the way in which “worn fashion generates meaning,” see “Fashion, Representation, Femininity,” in Feminist Review 38 (1991): 48–66.

(7.) Rabine, “A Woman’s Two Bodies: Fashion Magazines, Consumerism, and Feminism”; in On Fashion, ed. Benstock and Ferris, 59.

(8.) I borrow this turn of phrase from Guy, Green, and Banim: “The fashion system is fluid enough to show ‘gaping seams’ which allow women some control over their clothed images and identities, spaces which permit personal agency and negotiated images” (Through the Wardrobe, 7).

(9.) Zoila writes, “It seems like I can already see some young men with a sardonic laugh at the same time they declare, ‘What childishness! The girls with a newspaper!’—Regardless of these funny stories, go forth compañeras, I will help you with all my soul and we will make them understand what we know, what (p.190) we are worth, that is: We will humiliate them.” Eliza narrates a conversation with Don Hermógenes, who believes that the editor is a man using a series of female pseudonyms (La Camelia, no. 1, 4).

(10.) Pratt, “Women, Literature, and National Brotherhood” in Women, Culture, and Politics, 52.

(11.) La Aljaba (Buenos Aires: Imprenta del Estado, 1830) 1. Nestor Tomás Aúza believes that a group of nameless women edited La Camelia, despite popular attribution to Rosa Guerra. See Periodismo y feminismo en la Argentina, 1830–1900 (Buenos Aires: Emecé, 1988), 166–68. The magazine does indeed use the pronoun “we” when discussing opinions on topics as diverse as literature and equal rights. See also Masiello, La mujer y el espacio público; Greenberg, “Towards a History; and Lily Sosa de Newton,” Narradoras argentinas (1852–1932) (Buenos Aires: Editorial Plus Ultra, 1995).

(12.) The luxurious pursuits had reached such an extreme that Rosende de Sierra considered it “ruinous of abundance; damaging to domestic tranquility; a clash with good reason and ridiculous to the situation of the country” (La Aljaba, no. 8, 3).

(13.) Published in London by R. Ackerman, Strand, and distributed throughout Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia, Perú, Chile, and Buenos Aires, President Rivadavia used this Gimnástica del bello sexo, o ensayos sobre la educación física de las jóvenes to introduce the concept of physical education for women to the River Plate region. From the advertisements of newspapers, as well as one signed copy of this manual in the private library of Ricardo Rodríguez Molas, we know that the second edition (published in 1827) circulated in Buenos Aires after 1830.Very little is known of its author; Rodríguez Molas ascertains that he was a Spanish native exiled in England. See Rodríguez, “La gimnasia femenina como arma de la ilustración,” Río Negro, February 10, 1993, 11.

(14.) Signed B. H.. 8, 121–22. Signed B. H.

(15.) Marifran Carlson, ¡Feminismo! The Woman’s Movement in Argentina from Its Beginnings to Eva Perón (Chicago: Academy Chicago Publishers, 1988), 60–61.

(16.) La Siempre-Viva, June 16, 1862, front page. The July 9, 1864, issue argued that Argentine women were suffering beneath their luxurious clothes rather than taking the steps necessary to secure an education.

(17.) For an interesting view of material culture, technological advancement and changing domestic roles, see the editorial comments found in Búcaro Americano (1896–1908), a magazine published in Buenos Aires and edited by Clorinda Matto de Turner. The Peruvian author documents the way in which telephones, sewing machines, electric massagers, and hairdryers were transforming the daily lives of urban women. Bonnie Frederick comments on the international scope of Matto de Turner’s enterprise, explaining that in the magazine’s pages “women everywhere were writing literature and urging expanded women’s rights.” Frederick, (p.191) Wily Modesty: Argentine Women Writers, 1860–1910 (Tempe: Arizona State University Center for Latin American Studies Press, 1998), 28.

(18.) El Alba, 1868, no. 1 (first issue), 11.

(19.) Seminar on Feminism and Culture, Women, Culture and Politics, 175.

(20.) Several scholars point to the porous nature of the public sphere in the nineteenth century, particularly when it concerns women’s issues. See Craig Calhoun’s edited volume on Habermas and the Public Sphere (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1992), in particular Mary Ryan’s essay on “Gender and Public Access: Women’s Politics in Nineteenth-Century America,” 259–88, and Seyla Benhabib’s “Models of Public Space,” 73–98. When following Habermas’s model, Benhabib reinforces the idea that “participation is seen not as an activity only possible in a narrowly defined political realm but as an activity that can be realized in the social and cultural spheres as well” (86).

(21.) Asunción Lavrín, “Final Considerations,” in Latin American Women: Historical Perspectives, ed. Asunción Lavrín (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1978), 316. Guy describes a civil code passed in 1871 that treated women as minors “completely under the control of their husbands or fathers.” Women could not “manage their own money or property; nor could they work without patriarchal permission. Furthermore, until the 1913 Ley Palacios, family heads who forced women into prostitution committed no crime that affected their rights of patria potestad as defined by the civil code” (Sex and Danger in Buenos Aires, 44).

(22.) Lavrín’s “Final Considerations,” 316. In the context of early twentiethcentury feminism, she writes, “Suffrage was a goal, but almost as a derivative of the larger goal of legal equality.”

(23.) Seminar on Women and Culture, Women, Culture, and Politics, 175.

(24.) Telmo Pintos, “La mujer: habilitada para la enseñanza,” La Ondina del Plata, August 1, 1875, 301; cited in Frederick, Wily Modesty, 49. For an insightful discussion of education and “The Angel in the House,” see Frederick, Wily Modesty, 45–49.

(25.) Francesca Miller, Latin American Women and the Search for Social Justice (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1991), 44.

(26.) Twenty years later, Rock continues, “although conditions varied greatly among the regions, in some areas education, housing, and consumption standards bore comparison with the most-advanced parts of the world” (Argentina 1516–1987, 118).

(27.) Carlson, ¡Feminismo!, 66 (see chapter on “Education for Women in Nineteenth Century Argentina”). For more information on Sarmiento’s contradictory views on the question of female emancipation, see Elizabeth Garrels in “Sarmiento and the Woman Question: From 1839 to the Facundo,” in Sarmiento: Author of a Nation, ed. Tulio Halperín Donghi, Iván Jaksic, Gwen Kirkpatrick, and Francine Masiello (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1994), 272–93. (p.192) See also Tulio Halperín Donghi’s essay in the same volume, “Sarmiento’s Place in Postrevolutionary Argentina,” which offers a unique vision of this education project as a “gospel of renewal” (19–30).

(28.) Roberto Cortés Conde discusses the transformations of this marketplace in “Sarmiento and Economic Progress: From Facundo to the Presidency,” in Sarmiento: Author of a Nation, 114–23.

(29.) James R. Scobie, Buenos Aires: Plaza to Suburb, 1870–1910 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1974), 213. Rock points to the transatlantic boom in commerce and the export of sheep wool starting in the 1850s. Sheep, it appears, outnumbered people and cattle for the second half the nineteenth century. By the late 1880s, Rock estimates a ratio of thirty sheep for every one Argentine (Argentina 1516–1987, 133).

(30.) Rock, Argentina 1516–1987, 132. Rock writes, “By the late 1880s the nation’s population was increasing threefold every thirty years. Argentina was now becoming a society of white immigrants and large cities” (118). The census of 1869 indicates 1,836,590 inhabitants. In 1914, the number of inhabitants had grown to 7,885,237. Income levels also boomed as a result of international commerce, with gold prices rising from $7.80 in 1870 to $19.70 in 1910. Saulquin describes how the period’s affluence converted Calle Florida into the city’s most well-known pedestrian mall for window-shopping and fashionable purchases (La Moda, 48).

(31.) Guy, Sex and Danger in Buenos Aires, 37.

(32.) Lucio López addresses this transformation of Buenos Aires from a provincial village to a materialistic urban center in his social novel of the same name. La gran aldea appeared in serialized form in Sud-América in 1884 (Buenos Aires: Centro Editor de América Latina, 1992).

(33.) Benjamin Orlove and Arnold J. Bauer, “Chile in the Belle Epoque: Primitive Producers, Civilized Consumers,” in The Allure of the Foreign: Imported Goods in Postcolonial Latin America, ed. Benjamin Orlove (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997), 113–49, 118.

(34.) Scobie, Buenos Aires, 234.

(35.) Scobie discusses the social structure of late nineteenth-century Argentina, defining la gente decente, the emerging interests of the middle class, and la gente de pueblo (who, as Scobie indicates, made up the other 95 percent of the population of Buenos Aires) in his chapter on “Social Structure and Cultural Themes” (Buenos Aires, 208–49).

(36.) Such imitation had been unheard of previously. Susan Socolow has addressed those legal documents that used dress and other social conventions to denote racial status in the Spanish colonies. See “Acceptable Partners: Marriage Choice in Colonial Argentina, 1778–1810,” in Sexuality and Marriage in Colonial Latin America (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press), 209–46. By the late nineteenth century, however, dress codes did not distinguish race and class in the same (p.193) way. Because society did not challenge the well-dressed man, working-class maleswore coats and ties. This also served to distance themselves from the low status of their foreign-born parents. See Scobie, Buenos Aires, 220 and 232.

(37.) Lily Sosa de Newton writes that the modiste was often foreign-born. See “El trabajo de la mujer” in Las argentinas ayer y hoy (Buenos Aires: Ediciones Zanetti, 1967), 210.

(38.) Correo del domingo: Periódico literario ilustrado (Buenos Aires: Imprenta del Siglo, 1885), December 3.

(39.) The beret and espadrilles made their way to the rural regions of Argentina, where farmers then adopted them (Saulquin, La Moda, 57).

(40.) Julián Martel, La bolsa (Buenos Aires: Imprenta Artística “Buenos Aires,” 1898).

(41.) He continues, “There goes an entire society like an immense apocalyptic vision raised by agio and speculation, celebrating the most scandalous orgy of luxury that Buenos Aires has ever seen and will ever see.” Cited in Saulquin, La Moda, 58.

(42.) The uncorseted waist and “natural style” of North American dancer Isadora Duncan most likely helped bring about this change in Argentina. See Saulquin, La Moda, 53.

(43.) Ibid., 51. Leigh Summers explains that the taboos of Victorian culture forced women to keep a pregnant body from view. See Summers, “Corsetry and the Invisibility of the Maternal Body,” in Bound to Please: A History of the Victorian Corset (Oxford: Berg Publishers, 2001), 37–61.

(44.) Penelope Byrde, Nineteenth Century Fashion (London: B. T. Batsford Limited, 1992), 66 and 68.

(45.) Steele, Fashion and Eroticism, 130. Frederick highlights the symbolic language that alludes to female modesty in El álbum del Hogar. The Spanish author Sinués de Marco, for instance, compares the modest woman to a violet, “an unobtrusive flower often hidden under the leaves of larger, showier flowers,” as if to show that “a woman-violet should be silent, self-effacing, and out of the public eye” Frederick, Wily Modesty, 47. The question of Sinués de Marco’s feminism appears later in this essay.

(46.) Cited in Bernard Rudofsky, The Unfashionable Human Body (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press, 1974), 26.

(47.) Selección de poemas de Evaristo Carriego y otros poetas (Buenos Aires: Centro Editor de América Latina, 1968), 34. Wages for sewing had always been low, in part because most women knew how to perform such a task. Guy writes, “For poor women in the capital city, domestic service and sewing at miserable wages were the major alternatives to prostitution” (Sex and Danger in Buenos Aires, 42).

(48.) Just two years after the publication of Oasis en la vida, for example, Cecilia Grierson became the first women to receive the country’s medical degree, (p.194) and Eufrasia Cabral and Elvira Rawson were the first women to address publicly feminist concerns at the Plaza de Mayo.

(49.) Lavrín, “Final Considerations,” 304 and 315.

(50.) Frederick, Wily Modesty, 160–61. Many scholars have written on Gorriti’s life and creative fiction. Aside from the excellent sources already listed, see Mary Berg, “Juana Manuela Gorriti,” in Escritoras de Hispanoamérica, ed. Diane Marting (Bogotá: Siglo Veintiuno, 1992), 231–45; Cristina Iglesia, ed., El Ajuar de la patria: Ensayos críticos sobre Juana Manuela Gorriti (Buenos Aires: Feminaria Editora, 1993). For a more fictionalized account of history, see Martha Mercader, Juanamanuela, mucha mujer (Buenos Aires: Editorial Sudamericana, 1980) and Analía Efron, Juana Gorriti: Una biografía íntima (Buenos Aires: Editorial Sudamericana, 1998).

(51.) Gertrude Yeager, “Juana Manuela Gorriti: Writer in Exile,” in The Human Tradition in Latin America:The Nineteenth Century, ed. William H. Beezley and Judith Ewell, (Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources, 1989), 114–27. See pages 123–24 in particular. During these years, Gorriti supported her children and herself with income from a girl’s school and an elementary school that she founded.

(52.) Thomas C. Meehan, “Una olvidada precursora de la literatura fantástica argentina: Juana Manuela Gorriti,” Chasqui: Revista de literatura latinoamericana 10.2–3 (February–May 1981): 3–19. See page 7.

(53.) All essays mentioned in this paragraph can also be found in Masiello, La mujer y el espacio público.

(54.) Cabello de Carbonera, “Los oasis en la vida,” La Alborada del Plata 4 (December 9, 1877): 32.

(55.) Florencia Escardó, “El oasis en la vida,” La Alborada del Plata 6 (December 23, 1877): 45–46.

(56.) Lola Larrosa, “El Hogar,” La Alborada del Plata 5 (December 16, 1877): 33–44.

(57.) Without question, many of the views held by women authors were extremely conservative. As one widely circulated manual encouraged, “Work, economy and savings sustain the home and ensure that its well-being transmit satisfaction and joy to all members of the family.” See Emilia M. Salzá, La economía doméstica al alcance de las niñas [Domestic economy for girls] (Buenos Aires: Librería del Colegio, 1901), 48. Gorriti provided a forum for all of those voices, as if she realized that open discussion on matters of interest and concern to women would promote—and not stifle—the quest for female emancipation.

(58.) R. Anthony Castagnaro, The Early Spanish American Novel (Las Americas, 1971), 91.

(59.) Gorriti, Oasis en la vida, 6

(60.) Masiello, Between Civilization and Barbarism, 129.

(61.) Ibid., 126. Masiello continues, “A novel whose principal objective is to urge readers to place their savings in the banking institutions of America and to (p.195) confirm their faith in the future by purchasing life insurance, Oasis en la vida integrates modern materialism with a call to strengthen the home economy.”

(62.) Gorriti, Oasis en la vida, 43.

(63.) He writes these words on December 22, 1887.

(64.) Ibid., 6.

(67.) Masiello, Between Civilization and Barbarism, 125.

(68.) Scholars mention this cross-dressing only briefly. See Nina M. Scott, “Juana Manuela Gorriti’s Cocina ecléctica: Recipes as Feminist Discourse,” Hispania 5.2 (May 1992): 310–14. See page 311. Meehan writes that her cross-dressing began in the 1850s, when she organized the literary soirees at her home in Lima (“Una olvidada precursora,” 7).

(69.) Gorriti, Oasis en la vida, 56.

(70.) Ibid., 59. When Gorriti compliments Julia for the comfortable simplicity of her robe and then asks who made it, the resident replies, “Who would it be? Julia López, your servant.”

(71.) Out of respect for her recently deceased father, Julia only wears black garments. “Happy you,” (ibid..

(72.) Gorriti attributes this melody to Ortiz Zeballos.

(73.) Ibid., 66. Throughout the novel, Gorriti portrays the sounds that Mauricio hears with choppy sentences such as “Laughter, the moving of furniture, the opening of the piano.”

(74.) Again, Mauricio views this female presence as an invasion. Upon awakening, Mauricio finds his space overtaken by women, but by now he enjoys the kindhearted attention. “At that moment, those who had been strolling in the garden invaded the room, with full scarves and double skirts with the beautiful roses of Spring that spread themselves out on Mauricio’s bed, over furniture and even the flooring.” Ibid., 96.

(75.) Ibid., 98.

(76.) Ibid., 110.

(77.) Ibid., 110–11.

(78.) Ibid., 114.

(79.) Michael Warner, “The Mass Public and the Mass Subject,” in Habermas and the Public Sphere, ed. Craig Calhoun, 384.

(80.) Rubén Darío’s Azul was published in 1888, the same year that Oasis en la vida appeared.

(81.) See Vyvyan Holland, Hand Coloured Fashion Plates, 1770–1899 (Boston, Mass.: Boston Book and Art Shop, 1955), 21. Holland was a prominent fashion (p.196) lithograph collector also known for being the son of Oscar Wilde, one of the period’s most dramatic dressers.

(82.) See Ann Hollander’s Seeing through Clothes (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1978), 321.

(83.) La Ondina del Plata (Buenos Aires, 1876–79), 622.

(84.) Ibid., 6.

(85.) Frederick believes that La Alborada del Plata was a more conservative periodical that celebrated the domestic angel or the type of woman who had “sacrificial tendencies” and worked toward “self-erasure” (Wily Modesty, 46).

(86.) In Wily Modesty, Frederick depicts her as a “leading promoter of the domestic angel” concept. Masiello sees her as a feminist in Between Civilization and Barbarism, but notes her ultraconservative tendencies in La mujer y el espacio público. Urruela provides a new historical perspective in her essay on “Becoming ‘Angelic’: María Pilar Sinués and the Woman Question,” Recovering Spain’s Feminist Tradition, ed. Lisa Vollendorf (New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 2001).

(87.) Her moral stories found in La ley de Dios (1858) and A la luz de la lámpara (1858), officially endorsed by Spanish religious and government authorities, were even incorporated for use in public instruction. Despite the conservative neo-Catholic approach of her conduct manuals and serialized novels, Sinués de Marco did not escape criticism. Women authors often found themselves in a precarious public role, their private lives as scrupulously reviewed as their written work. As Sánchez-Llama suggests, the “manly realist” tendencies of the late nineteenthcentury cultural histories that assigned inferior status to works by women authors based on biological premises alone were ultimately responsible for discounting the status that Sinués de Marco achieved in her lifetime. See his essays on “María del Pilar Sinués de Marco y la cultural oficial peninsular del siglo XIX: del neocatolicismo a la estética realista,” Revista Canadiense de Estudios Hispánicos 23.2 (Winter 1999): 271–88; and “El ‘varonil realismo’ y la cultura oficial de la Restauración en el fin de siglo peninsular: el caso de María del Pilar Sinués de Marco (1835–1893),” Letras peninsulares 12.1 (Spring 1999): 37–64.

(88.) Urruela, “Becoming ‘Angelic,’” 162.

(89.) Sánchez-Llama, “María del Pilar Sinués de Marco,” 277–78.

(90.) The title of this magazine refers to the golden tower of a castle in Sevilla, Spain, its tiles reflecting the Andalusian sun. La Torre de Oro was referred to as a “periódico dedicado a las damas” (newspaper for the ladies), highlighting the subjects of “Educación, Labore, Literatura, Economía Doméstica.”

(91.) Urruela, “Becoming ‘Angelic,’” 161.

(92.) La Ondina del Plata, 6.

(93.) In their exploration of the roots of fashion anxiety, Alison Clarke and Daniel Miller affirm, “Individuals are frequently too anxious about the choices to be made to proceed without various forms of support and reassurance. Where (p.197) possible, support involves close friends and family who are trusted to give advice reflecting care and concern.” See “Fashion and Anxiety,” Fashion Theory 6.2 (June 2002): 191–213. See page 209.

(94.) La Ondina del Plata, 7.

(95.) A letter to Sinués de Marco’s unmarried brother reiterates this belief. She writes, “Trust me, in choosing your soul mate, do not look for the extremes but instead seek out the modest, Enlightened woman who is the beautiful daughter of progress and civilization. Remember, my dear brother, that affirmation of mine that you find so silly: ‘There are always old-fashioned lithographs.’ Yes, I repeat, there are even really bad ones” (ibid., 247).

(96.) Sinués de Marco’s column abounded with advice for family and dear friends, encouraging fashion victims to contemplate the simplicity of life and offering useful suggestions to those in “what to wear” despair. When one friend ponders what to wear to an important social gathering, the column re-creates their conversation. Using a dialogic approach that will remind readers of Gorriti’s Oasis en la vida, she writes,

(97.) Barthes, The Fashion System, 10.