Argentina and the United States’ “Gender Situations” in Eduarda Mansilla de García's Trip Memoirs (1882)

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Linda Gruen University of California, Irvine, USA lgruen@uci.edu

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Abstract

This article explores the ways in which nineteenth-century Argentine author, Eduarda Mansilla de García, engaged with the issues of women and modernity in her 1882 travelogue, Recuerdos de viaje. It argues that the practice of travel writing served a dual purpose for Mansilla. Publishing a travelogue about the United States enabled Mansilla to trouble Argentine period gender restrictions while at the same critically evaluate North American females. Drawing from theorizations regarding travel writing as a place of power negotiations, I unveil how Mansilla employed her travelogue as a means of validating the cultural capital of Latin American geocultural space in comparison with that of the United States. Consequently, this nineteenth-century Latin American travel narrative did more than the task of light entertainment; it engaged with significant, ongoing period transnational debates regarding modernity, gender, and nation.

Gender itself is a complex and

constantly evolving situation that

cannot be divorced from its

political and cultural setting.

–Judith Butler, Gender Trouble

Argentine visitor Eduarda Mansilla de García commented on the idea of gender as a situation of changing circumstances when she marveled in her 1882 travelogue that “The American woman enjoys a level of individual freedom unlike any other woman in the world” (1882: 111).1 Although Mansilla's gender limited her personal freedoms on home ground, as the niece of Argentine dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas, the wife of liberal politician Manuel Rafael García Aguirre, and an established author, she was still a significant Latin American travel writer. Her elite background and extensive travel experience, which included time spent in the US and Europe as a diplomat's wife, made her exceptionally well positioned to report on North American women for her compatriots. Printed by the Juan D. Alsina Press, Mansilla's Trip Memoirs (Recuerdos de viaje) was the first published travel narrative by an Argentine woman. The text, released as the first book in an uncompleted two volume series, also functioned to reestablish Mansilla's presence within the national literary circle after an eighteen-year residence abroad. Moreover, the account's release in book form revealed this author's privileged status in a period when journalism was the most common and least expensive medium of publication (Mejías-López 2009: 69). Mansilla's choice to highlight her US rather than her European tours was an astute authorial strategy given that writing about Continental travel—a familiar experience for upper-class Argentines—would likely not have been of great interest to home readers.

Two key factors contribute to the dearth of nineteenth-century female-authored Latin American travelogues. First, fewer women than men had the opportunity to travel abroad, let alone publish their trip accounts. Next, certain genres, such as sentimental poetry, letters, and diaries were considered more gender-appropriate during this period because they were seen as providing private outlets for what was thought to be women's natural emotive states.

In contrast, the travel genre allowed women to trouble male gender privileges. If freedom of movement as well as publishing had historically been male prerogatives, a female travel writer challenged gender limits by assuming the protagonist privilege of “producing the rest of the world” (Pratt 2008: 4). According to period mores, respectable women should not have familiarity with worldly, public affairs; in fact, the sex was not even thought capable of true intellectual production (LaGreca 2009: 4). Yet Mansilla did not confine her travel narrative to sanctioned “women's topics,” such as fashion. She discussed politics and history, advising her implied readers at the beginning of a chapter that “Those readers that do not like History can skip it” (1882: 43).2 Mansilla justified the inclusion of “male” topics in her travel narrative by clarifying that “It is not possible to talk about the United States without covering a bit about its politics” (1882: 26). Perhaps Mansilla's elite class status made her literary activities seem to be a genteel pastime, a situation that served to grant her greater freedom to transgress gender norms regarding content.

Indeed, what seemed most striking to foreign visitors to the United States were those gender freedoms being debated in their own countries that appeared already to have been granted to North American women. These freedoms included access to employment, to unchaperoned movement, and to education, all of which made women more noticeably visible in the public sphere.3 Many travelers commented on US women's beauty, lauded their entry into the workforce as reporters, store clerks, typists, and factory workers, and noted how they were respected in public. In fact, by 1870 women comprised one-third of New York City's labor force (Ryan 1990: 63). This increased female visibility was particularly remarkable for Mansilla since it contrasted sharply with more constrained female roles in her own country.

Importantly, Mansilla was no casual traveler. She belonged to what Angel Rama has labeled “the lettered city”—Latin American creoles with prestigious professions related to the written word—authors, lawyers, newspaper editors, government officials, and more (1998: 16). The discourses of these post-independence “mentors of a new era” revolved around the recurring themes of “civilizing, illustrating, Europeanizing, secularizing [and] nationalizing” (Bruno 2005: 12; translation mine). As a group, these public intellectuals debated—some even legislated into existence—national ideological projects. Consequently, the nineteenth-century Latin American travel narrative about the United States did more than the task of light entertainment; it engaged with significant, ongoing period transnational debates regarding modernity, gender, and nation. Given their overriding concerns regarding shaping their young countries’ futures, it is no surprise that these individuals, such as Mansilla, represented travel abroad as both a pleasure and a didactic activity. Even though Mansilla was not an Argentine political leader, her close affiliations with this elite group certainly lent more weight to her observations.

Drawing from Benedict Anderson's theorization of “imagined communities,” I argue that foreign trip narratives, including this travelogue, contributed to the consolidation of the Latin American nation-building project, the lettered elites’ dominant place within this project, and to the formation of an autochthonous literary tradition. In Anderson's paradigm, the idea of nation is a social construct, and print sources have played a key role in unifying a sense of national community (1983: 6–7, 61–65). Additionally, keeping in mind Michel Foucault's (1978) theorization regarding the fundamental connection between knowledge and power as mutually imbricated fields, I assert that lettered elite authors and editors perpetuated their positions of power by controlling the content of knowledge. Consequently, the gaze of the lettered elite traveler was never innocent or objective, but, consciously or not, largely in the service of a class interest. Logically, one depiction alone, no matter the positionality of the author, cannot speak for the whole of a nation, but can reveal a particular, power-based viewpoint. Therefore, a travelogue, even when presented as a quest for knowledge abroad, ultimately functioned as a tool to forge Latin American home territory with power, class, and cultural hierarchies similar to those that had existed during colonial times. We can read this reinscription of the hegemony of the power elite in Mansilla's travel account.

While foreign visitors could readily admire the United States’ nineteenth-century industrial transformation and progressive institutions, they were, at times, less effusive regarding the social and moral implications of modernity, especially as they applied to gender. This issue was particularly true when the evolving situation for US women did not necessarily coincide with travelers’ cultural values and political goals. Some visitors argued that excessive liberty lead to masculinization and encouraged libertine behavior, destabilizing women's traditional role of domestic guardian and even bringing into question national morality. Critics of US women depicted them as frivolous, self-indulgent, overly flirtatious, and obsessed with extravagant adornment, among other negative attributes (Miller 2012: 92–93). Mansilla occupied a middle ground regarding North American women. For this travel writer, the North American female fell short in the area of high cultural refinement, though she lauded certain gender freedoms not yet widely available to women in her own country.

We should keep in mind that despite certain freedoms, white, middle-class US females, because of their race and gender, were still subject to the parameters implicit in the “Cult of True Womanhood” or “Angel of the House” ideal. The Angel of the House, a pervasive Victorian trope of the ideal woman popularized in the United States, Europe, and Latin America, was characterized by extreme abnegation, personal sacrifice, Christian religiosity, and modesty. This formulation was also racially coded; in other words, “the emphasis on the seclusion and ‘protection’ of women [was] to ensure chastity and the selection of appropriately white reproductive partners” (LaGreca 2009: 6). The Angel of the House paradigm in post-independence Latin America created meaning beyond the level of the individual since “the civilizing forces responsible for creation the nation were classified as white and feminine” (Szurmuk 2007: 12; translation mine). The Iberoamerican press often represented women as “vessels of national morality,” invested with vital task of guiding the moral and religious upbringing of future citizens” (LaGreca 2009: 11). As part of this separate sphere ideology, the woman was tasked with providing a moral haven to which the husband returned from the day's work in the competitive business world.

Rapid industrialization in the United States, paradoxically, had much to do with the creation of the ideology of separate spheres as well as the conditions for gender role change. These innovations consisted of paid employment opportunities outside the home, technological advances (such as indoor plumbing), and the invention of domestic laborsaving devices (including carpet sweepers and the first canned foods) (Calhoun 1996: 113). For foreign observers, then, the US woman was a symbol of a modernizing nation that offered an attractive but also troubling glimpse into their own possible gender futures.

We should keep in mind that well-to-do travelers, such as Mansilla, largely confined their visits to predetermined tourist venues such as New York City's palace hotels or Niagara Falls. For this reason, these foreign observers did not encounter a comprehensive sampling of domestic womanhood. A more realistic experience should have included frontier women and recent immigrants living in New York City's tenements since these were rapidly growing segments of the national population.

Certain stereotypes regarding North American women prevailed in tourist accounts. Two of the most popular images were opposites: “the philanthropic woman,” a strong, self-sacrificing figure, and the “cosmetic woman,” a female motivated by materialism. These two stereotypes solely referenced upper and middle-class urban white women (Miller 2012: 84). The selfless philanthropic woman reinforced the Angel of the House ideal, while the second stereotype provoked widespread criticism by international visitors.

The Latin American upper class, to which Mansilla belonged, can be categorized as having a cultural frame-of-reference triangulated between their home country, Europe, and the United States. In his study of Latin America's material culture, Arnold J. Bauer claimed that “in the last third of the nineteenth century the association between foreignness and progress comes up again and again” (2001: 154). Bauer explored how elite Latin American consumers made purchases that validated the cultural cache of European products by purchasing the latest Parisian fashions or by serving their dinner guests an entirely French menu. In the antebellum period, however, the United States began to emerge as a distinct locus of idealization for the genteel Latin American traveler. Nonetheless, no direct steamship service existed between the US eastern seaboard and South American Atlantic ports during the nineteenth century. Argentines were obliged to journey north via Chile or, more commonly, travel first to Europe to reach the United States, a circumstance that culturally and geographically inscribed the overarching importance of the Old World to the South American Atlantic traveler (Fifer 1991: 136–141). While the United States could not offer the foreign visitor the prestige of historic sites or great works of art in comparison with Europe, it did have another type of allure—that of a rapidly industrializing and modernizing sister hemispheric republic founded on similar fundamental principles. Given that more time had passed between initial independence and the nineteenth century, the northern republic could be inspected as a “work-in-progress” and a possible model for the more recently formed Spanish American countries.

Although presented as a travel narrative, this text was also a memoir. Mansilla, in fact, resided in the United States from 1861 to 1863 and from 1868 to 1873 to accompany her husband on his diplomatic assignments. Interestingly, while Mansilla was among her country's vanguard in terms of her publishing career, she remained largely conservative regarding other forms of female emancipation. The way she linked themes of gender and civility related closely to her Argentine elite class cultural identification. Mansilla positioned herself in her travelogue as an expert cultural arbiter, a cosmopolitan female easily able to read the signs of true breeding and refinement. The essence of her self-construction was based on her familiarity with French high culture in a time when “appropriation of French ideas and tastes stemmed from a homegrown desire on the part of Argentine elites to adopt cultural forms … that were internationally associated with ‘civilization’ and modernity” (Daughton 2008: 836). During this period the Argentine upper class read French literature in the original language, traveled frequently to Europe, and remodeled Buenos Aires in the image of Paris. The weight of French cultural prestige was such that “for a small group of elite Latin American women, time in Paris offered freedom and opportunities to develop an intellectual persona,” a situation that likely applied to Mansilla, who published a well-received 1869 Parisian serialized novel in French entitled Pablo ou la vie dans les Pampas (Fey and Racine 2000: 89).

The publication of her travelogue as a book rather than as a serial implied a more limited readership in a restricted national literary market. The reader of Mansilla's travel narrative would need to have had both the means to purchase her book and the background to fully comprehend her erudite references. In this text, Mansilla employing the narrative voice typical of the urban chronicle—the causerie—to directly address her implied home readers with “us” and “our customs.” The causerie, popular among Argentine intellectuals of the period, was characterized by a free flow of impressions that mimicked an intimate conversation. This rhetorical strategy served to connect Mansilla with her reading public as a united community with shared values and practices. The chronicle has been defined as a form of literary journalism directed to domestic, cultured bourgeois readers, a description that can be extended to this travel account (Ramos 2001: 114). Mansilla produced this type of cosmopolitan authorial persona by peppering her account with European literary references and phrases in various languages, an act that strengthened her self-figuration as well as created a sense of “entre-nous” exclusive identity with those readers equipped to decode such textual features. Despite her elite background and her adherence to a European literary style, by writing for a public readership, Mansilla placed herself outside of the gender norm for the period. Maryellen Bieder, in her study of the nineteenth-century Spanish gendering of writing, posited that “since masculine cultural forms constitute the norm, the work of a literata [literary woman] or poetisa [poetess] represents that-which-is-not-the norm, the otherness of non-male writing” (1995: 98). Unlike their male counterparts, female writers often balanced writing authoritatively with respecting gendered codes of behavior, knowing that their work would be judged first and foremost as female authored. Her brother Lucio, also an established author and world traveler, expressed the predominant Argentine male attitude toward female writers thus: “When will our families understand that the future of literary women is precarious—and that it is much more appropriate to aspire to sew, iron and cook than write well?” (1890: 35; translation mine). Indeed, the very word literata or literary woman often implied a pejorative tone. Thus, the female author's rhetorical juggling involved creating a socially acceptable authorial persona while inserting herself strategically into the res publica, a feat that Josefina Ludmer has labeled “the ruse of the weak” (1984: 47; translation mine). One strategy used by women writers to deflect criticism was to insist that the work was not intended for publication and was only released publicly at another person's request. Mansilla appeared to employ this strategy in her dedication, addressed to her friend Dr. Barbosa, when she claimed that “You are the one who has most encouraged me to write My Trip Memories” (1882: xxxi). Another common female rhetorical strategy that Mansilla adopted early in her literary career was to publish under a pseudonym. Although she used Alvar and her son's name, Daniel, as pseudonyms for some of her publications, her true identity was widely known at home. This practice “was a polite sham that communicated to her audience the appropriate feminine modesty expected from a woman of her class … Mansilla could project the appearance of genteel reticence while enjoying the reality of being known as a writer” (Frederick 1998: 52–53). Perhaps her established authorial status made continued use of a pseudonym unnecessary over time, given that “the feat of adding one's true name can only be successfully carried out by those who possess indisputable adquired merit or solid accredited titles won through hard battle” (Auza 1998: 41). The growing field of Argentine journalism opened up opportunities for women to publish, even if anonymously.

By the mid-nineteenth century, there were two kinds of women's periodicals: ladies fashion magazines, typically overseen by men, and liberal republican journals that addressed female emancipation, usually edited by women (Bergmann et al. 1990: 174). In Argentine journals “women appealed to the most cherished belief of the Generation of 1880: that they were living in an age of material and moral progress” to frame petitions for gender reforms (Frederick 1998: 11). The Argentine Generation of 1880 included influential liberal Argentine males who came to power after the fall of the Rosas dictatorship, but the exclusion of women from the role of official policymakers did not preempt their requests for reforms. In the case of Mansilla, however, while she advocated for opening up the field of journalism in Argentina as a more widely socially acceptable female career, she never advocated for female suffrage. Nevertheless, appealing to female readers was, in actuality, intended to boost newspaper and advertising sales, the bottom line in journalism. In other words, “women's entry into the field had less to do with newspapers’ interest in their position in society than with their position as consumers” (Fahs 2011: 66). Journalism enabled Mansilla to develop her literary style and public persona as well as remind readers of her more prestigious career as a novelist. She praised journalism in the United States for offering women an alternative profession that freed them from “the slavery of the needle” (1882: 115). Mansilla's reference to a needle was not casual; women's struggle for acceptance as published writers has been conceptualized as the “needle vs. the pen” debate. The needle served as the iconic tool of the nineteenth-century woman, quietly seated over sewing, one of the few respectable occupations available to the sex. As the century progressed, the pen came to symbolize a more active female role in education and in paid employment outside of the home (Frederick 1998: 67-73). Such opportunities became possible later on in her own country, as evidenced by author and one-time president of Argentina, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, who remarked in 1885 that “Eduarda has fought for ten years to open the doors closed to women, to participate like any other columnist or reporter in the heaven reserved for the chosen (men), until at last she has obtained a ticket for entry” (1900: 276; translation mine).

Francine Masiello has proposed the concept of a “third space” to interrogate early female journalism in Argentina. Masiello identified the third space as a place where women expressed their voices in ways that fell outside the established boundaries of separate sphere ideology. By publicly engaging with the fields of culture and politics, women's journals actively broadened the concept of the nation—the third space—distinct from the Argentine classic binary of civilization versus barbarism (Masiello 1994: 8). While Mansilla may have ultimately contributed to opening up this third space during her lifetime, she also upheld the supremacy of women's traditional domestic roles. Contradicting the opinion expressed in her travelogue, she wrote in favor of needlework and against extended female rights in La Nación, a leading Argentine newspaper when she declared that “I am not a supporter of women's emancipation in the sense that she should fight alongside men in the fields of science or in professional occupations” (2015: 623). Writing a “healthy” Sunday column on fashion or social events—the type of “soft” news typical of the women's pages of a newspaper and a labor that could be completed from home—was considered to be an acceptable influence on society, an extension of the gender's edifying role.

By choosing to overlook the US female suffrage movement and the significant numbers of women workers in the US labor force in her travel account, Mansilla's text raises the question of to what degree travel literature is a performative genre that has been utilized to support one's own preconceived notions, predetermined agendas or an existing status quo. Respecting established home gender role and in tacit opposition to greater female emancipation, Mansilla pronounced that North American women more effectively influence in society from the private rather than the public sphere. This opinion is expressed in her travelogue when she concluded that, “The woman in the American Union is the absolute sovereign; the man lives, works and betters himself for her. This is where one should look for and study feminine influence and not in dreams of political emancipation” (1882: 72). Mansilla saw no advantage in women demanding more social and civil rights, when she questioned: “What would American women gain with emancipation? Rather, they would lose and they know this well. Women influence in the public sphere though means that I will call psychological and indirect” (1882: 72). In other words, while a woman may publish a genteel journalistic piece, for this author, the gentler sex was sufficiently influential in society through its positive moral influence and educational function in the domestic sphere, a situation that did not confront male privilege.

The reality was that despite Buenos Aires’ reputation as the “Paris of America,” women from the elite class lived highly circumscribed lives centered on the domestic sphere, conforming to what has been labeled “the provincialism of gender” (Johns 1993: 85). Legally, the 1870 national civil code classified women in the same category as minors and the insane; they could not divorce or enter into any contracts without their husbands’ approval (Carlson 1988: 40). In accord with conventional home culture, Mansilla's observation regarding female emancipation proved conservative. By not opposing the restrictions on Argentine womanhood, she did not threaten the male-dominated public sphere. On the other hand, considered within the context of home society, this move could be considered an astute “ruse of the weak” that allowed this author to continue expressing her voice in print.

We can read an instance of preconceived notions when, in route from France to the United States, Mansilla established a binary of cultural comparison that prevailed throughout her travelogue. Debating the relative merits of English vs. French transatlantic steamships, she stated that “I even prefer to be shipwrecked with the French” (1882: 12). This position identified Latinness, a category that included Latin America and France, as a superior classification over the Anglo-Saxon. This racializing of ethnicities typified nineteenth-century pseudoscientific discourse that, although originating from Darwinian biology, was intended to emphasize cultural differences. Consequently, Mansilla sympathized with the US South after the Civil War, a region she felt possessed an “aristocratic essence,” an attribute she linked to its French legacy (1882: 64).4 Such binaries coincided with Argentine national debates inaugurated by Sarmiento's foundational 1845 novel, Facundo: Or, Civilization and Barbarism.

In his literary critique of the Rosas regime, Sarmiento established an Argentine dichotomy in which the barbarous countryside threatened urban civilization. As part of this construct, white middle and upper class urban women represented civilization as “creators and guardians of civilized and civilizing spaces such as private homes, schools, and hospitals” (Szurmuk 2000: 3). Mansilla presented herself as one such beacon of civilization when she declared that “There are few things more susceptible to personal growth and education than admirability” (1882: 12). In essence, only a select class of individuals, those from a superior background, had the capacity—the “legitimate taste” in the words of Pierre Bourdieu—to make valid aesthetic judgments (1984: 16). Bourdieu located this “pure gaze” in the privileged class when he theorized that “the aesthetic disposition … can only be constituted within an experience of the world freed from urgency and through the practice of activities which are an end in themselves” (1984: 54). Mansilla expressed a similar viewpoint when she asserted that:

The savage does not notice the buildings he sees for the first time; he sees them poorly, he judges them according to his narrow savage criterion. In order to comprehend beautiful things, it is imperative to have within ourselves an ideal of beauty. (1882: 12)

She did not use the word “savage” accidentally; in asserting her capacity to formulate proper aesthetic judgments, Mansilla aligned herself and her family—labeled as barbarous in Sarmiento's work—on the side of civilization, troubling the national binary. Additionally, by depicting the Argentine elite as civilized, the United States emerged in contrast as culturally barbarous, an aspect we can read in Mansilla's depiction of the North American woman.

Although the northern republic demonstrated advances in modernization and industrialization, culture was another matter, particularly the areas of manners. For nineteenth-century foreign visitors, such as British critic Fanny Trollope, the “lack of established social traditions and aggressive assertions of social equality” signaled the impossibility of North American society ever attaining refinement (Kasson 1990: 58). Display of proper manners in public held vital importance to the Argentine upper class as a visible way of demonstrating one's legitimate membership in the elite social stratum (Needell 1999: 559). Yet female decorum seemed absent when Mansilla recorded that upon arriving in New York, the well-dressed US American girls that had entertained the ship passengers with their “incessant chatter and inoffensive coquetry,” greeted their male family members with solid kisses on the mouth accompanied by vigorous handshakes, rather than more discreet kisses on the cheek or forehead and a tender embrace “as we do in our race” (1882: 9–10). What's more, during this period it was customary for female guests to a home to “freshen up” in a hostess’ bedroom before proceeding downstairs. Mansilla used this occasion to chide North American women for displaying white, lacey pillowcases and well-folded sheets on her bed for her female guests to see, when it would be more elegant and more discreet to cover “those mysteries of the bedroom” with a dark satin bedspread (1882: 17). Such observations underscored a clear cultural divide between North American and Argentine women that prevailed throughout this account.

Like a positivist scientist who gathered knowledge through observable experience, Mansilla proposed that “I am studying the American people with an eye for detail, even to their foods,” adding a quote by epicurean Jean Anthelme Brillant-Savarin who proposed a direct correlation between food and culture: “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are” (1882: 38-39). Since European culture was akin to home territory for Mansilla, studying North American culture implied noting Otherness, in this case through analysis of female comportment.

Dining etiquette appeared to be absent when Mansilla categorized and masculinized US women as feasting ravenously like “heroes from Homer” (1882: 40). The art of fine dining demanded mastery of complex etiquette rules because “in the nineteenth century, every one of the countless glasses, knives, forks, and plates perfectly arranged on the dinner table had its specific use, which only initiates knew” (Higonnet 2002: 309). Ready knowledge of this exacting form made dining “a social ceremony, an affirmation of ethical tone and aesthetic refinement” that served to validate one's place in the social stratum (Bourdieu 1984: 196). During her first meal in a New York hotel she recalled witnessing “an elegant young woman of eighteen devour half a lobster, even sucking the antennas, with delight, with an eloquent expression visible on her lovely face” (1882: 39). Her use of the words “devour,” “suck,” and “eloquent expression” indicated an uncontrolled act of sensual public consumption and a lack of highbred manners. In a related incident, it pained Mansilla to see elegantly dressed ladies at a party consuming soup in an unladylike manner, “seated prosaically in that female position that permits one to rest a large soup plate on one's slightly separated knees” (1882: 40). In contrast, for the cosmopolite, “the censorship of all bodily manifestations of the act or pleasure of eating (such as noise or haste), the very refinement of the things consumed … this whole commitment to stylization tends to shift the emphasis from substance and function to form and manner” (Bourdieu 1984: 196).

Period etiquette manuals established clear divisions between public and private behavior when dining (Willams 1996: 48). In this case, nevertheless, Mansilla's depictions of the Anglo-American woman's table manners revealed a rift between her well-dressed appearance and her public behavior. At a high society party, Mansilla pointed out that “Only Zola's realism can give an accurate idea of the spectacle, the smell, the surroundings, of these lovely women [who] devour large spoonfulls of blackish liquid in which float large, grisly pieces of meat, simultaneously shaking their golden locks and their active jaws” (1882: 40). The sight of these golden-haired beauties is contrasted unflatteringly with their vigorous, animal-like chewing on unappetizing meat. Interestingly, when the US popular press also disparaged the late-nineteenth-century nouveau riche, they redirected attention away from the disconcerting issue of growing income inequality by providing “another way to avoid talking openly about the dirty secret of class in America” (Kasson 1990: 67).

Mansilla's reference to French Naturalist writer Emile Zola, who explored unsavory aspects of city life in his novels, positioned her, and by inference, home readers, as the embodiment of refined aesthetic taste. This move set them apart from Anglo-American females who appeared unaware of the most basic alimentary social codes. Mansilla was not alone in expressing horror toward these food choices. The secretary of the Argentine Embassy complained to her that “I'm beside myself” because his US girlfriend preferred unladylike foods, including turtle and oysters, over delicate dishes such as cream and ladyfingers (1882: 40). For the sophisticate, negating the primal necessity of consumption by eating with proper form—a combination of order, restraint, propriety, and genteel food choices—affirmed one's standing in society, an issue that did not seem to disturb US women.

Like Trollope, Mansilla faulted North American table manners and hearty (or masculine) food choices. This observation appeared particularly disturbing when linked to gender, since women were thought to embody the model of national urbanity. In other words, for men, eating with gusto signaled vigorous masculinity, while for women this comportment clashed with period ideals of femininity. Although Mansilla did not make such a connection, voracious, indiscriminatory eating could also be interpreted as a national metonymy—as a lack of restraint inherent in the citizenry of an aggressive, imperialist nation.

If we accept the claim that for the travel writer, the central premise of the text “becomes a question of establishing authority through the demarcation of identity and difference,” Mansilla's rendering of North American females’ alimentary habits served to elevate herself and her social class (Spurr 1993: 7). In other words, she inscribed Anglo Saxon modernity, with its emphasis on utilitarianism, as culturally barbarous in contrast to a more refined Latin aesthetic. For this writer, the aesthetic of taste is based on distinction, a practice ostensibly absent in the democratic culture of the model republic. The Argentine elite, never more than two to four percent of the country's population, characterized by “extraordinary wealth, exaggerated European pretensions, disdain for everything Latin American” sought “to equal or surpass their regional and European counterparts in every area possible as a way of legitimating their privileged social status within their own country and abroad” (Johns 1993: 93). While Mansilla sought to emphasize the refinement of her own society through its close alignment with France, this move reinforced the master tropes of European hegemony by locating a superior cultural order as originating outside of Latin America.

Mansilla held reservations about the changing situation of women and modernity in the northern republic. On one hand, she applauded opportunities for women to participate in journalism in the northern republic, a practice that she pioneered in her own country. Mansilla rationalized opening up journalism for working women with few other respectable income earning options, as well as for privileged women who could contribute to the nation through their uplifting periodical publication, an extension of their traditional domestic roles. On the other hand, as evaluated from the context of her social class, US material progress failed to result in its cultural advancement, as evidenced by the unrefined manners in its women.

For these reasons, interrogating US womanhood in this travelogue took on greater significance than touristic descriptions. For Mansilla, resettled in her country after a long absence abroad, her travel memoir served to reestablish her presence in national literary circles. Engaging in international debates about female emancipation and models of modernity also validated her authority as a cosmopolitan writer. Her depiction of US women as lacking in true breeding had clear national implications that upheld a Francophile Argentina as a “rival modernizer” when compared to a culturally barbaric northern republic (Körner et al. 2012: 126). Mansilla participated in journalism for the remainder of her life, signing subsequent articles with merely “Eduarda.” By highlighting the negative consequences of northern modernity and excessive liberty had on the female gender, this author valorized the women and cultural values of her own country.

One way of stressing one's authority as a national author addressing an imagined, homogeneous homeland was by emphasizing shared—and superior—cultural values in a travelogue. Confronting the US model through the act of writing can, therefore, be viewed as an act of political positioning, a response to what Pierre Bourdieu and Jean-Claude Passeron have defined as “symbolic violence” (1977: 4). This maneuver validated the cultural capital of Latin American geocultural space in comparison with that of the United States. Ultimately, the critical eye of this Latin American female travel writer tempered the trope of US exceptionalism.

Notes

1

Eduarda Mansilla de García's works have not been translated to English. All translations of her texts are mine.

2

Wolfgang Iser theorized the concept of the “implied reader.” In this construct, a literary text implies an ideal reader, and the meaning of a text is the result of collaboration between author and reader (1974: 274).

3

Argentina, it should be noted, introduced female education in the 1820s, ten years before the United States (Miller 2012: 88).

4

Linking Latinity with the US South was not an uncommon perspective. During the US Civil War, the Revue des Races Latines interpreted the conflict in racialized terms. In other words, “Southerners were, and had always been, part of the transnational Latin community. Historically and culturally, they belonged to the Latin race; they were closer to France or Spain than to the Union states” (Thier 2011: 637).

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  • Bourdieu, Pierre. 1984. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, trans. Richard Nice. Abingdon: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bourdieu, Pierre and Jean-Claude Passeron. 1977. Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture, trans. Richard Nice. London: Sage Publications.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bruno, Paula. 2005. Introduction. Paul Groussac: Un estratega intelectual. Buenos Aires: Universidad de San Andrés.

  • Butler, Judith. 1990. Gender Trouble. Abingdon: Routledge.

  • Calhoun, Charles W. 1996. The Gilded Age: Essays on the Origins of Modern America. Wilmington: SR Books.

  • Carlson, Marifran. 1988. Feminismo! The Women's Movement in Argentina From Its Beginnings to Eva Perón. Chicago: Academy Chicago Publishers.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Daughton, J.P. 2008. “When Argentina Was ‘French’: Rethinking Cultural Politics and European Imperialism in Belle-Époque Buenos Aires.” The Journal of Modern History 80: 831864.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Fahs, Alice. 2011. Out on Assignment: Newspaper Women and the Making of Modern Public Space. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

  • Fey, Ingrid E. and Karen Racine. 2000. Strange Pilgrimages: Exile, Travel, and National Identity in Latin America, 1800-1900s. Lake Elsinore: Jaguar Books.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Fifer, J. Valerie. 1991. United States Perceptions of Latin America 1850–1930. A ‘New West’ South of Capricorn? Manchester: Manchester University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Foucault, Michel. 1978. The History of Sexuality. Vol. I: An Introduction, trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Pantheon Books.

  • Frederick, Bonnie. 1998. Wily Modesty: Argentine Women Writers, 1860–1910. Tuscon: Arizona State University Center for Latin American Studies Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Higonnet, Patrice. 2002. Paris: Capital of the World. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

  • Iser, Wolfgang. 1974. The Implied Reader: Patterns of Communication in Prose Fiction from Bunyan to Beckett. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Johns, Michael. 1993. “The Antinomies of Ruling Class Culture: The Buenos Aires Elite, 1880-1910.” Journal of Historical Sociology 6 (1): 74101.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kasson, John F. 1990. Rudeness and Civility: Manners in Nineteenth-Century Urban America. New York: Hill and Wang.

  • Körner, Axel, et al., ed. 2012. America Imagined: Explaining the United States in Nineteenth-Century Europe and Latin America. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • LaGreca, Nancy. 2009. Rewriting Womanhood: Feminism, Subjectivity, and the Angel of the House in the Latin American Novel, 1887–1903. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ludmer, Josefina. 1984. “Tretas del débil.” In La sartén por el mango: encuentro de escritoras latinoamericanas, ed. Patricia Elena González, 4754. San Juan: Ediciones Hurucán.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Mansilla, Lucio Victorio. 1890. Entre-nos: Causeries del jueves, vol. 4. Buenos Aires: Juan D. Alsina Publisher.

  • Mansilla de García, Eduarda. 2015. Escritos periodísticos completos (1860–1892). Buenos Aire: Ediciones Corregidor.

  • Mansilla de García, Eduarda. 1882. Recuerdos de viaje. Buenos Aires: Juan D. Alsina Press.

  • Masiello, Francine Rose. 1994. La mujer y el espacio público: el periodismo femenino en la Argentina del siglo XIX. Buenos Aires: Feminaria Editora.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Mejías-López, Alejandro. 2009. The Inverted Conquest: The Myth of Modernity and the Transatlantic Onset of Modernism. New York: Vanderbilt University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Miller, Nicola. 2012. “Liberty, Lipstick and Lobsters.” In America Imagined: Explaining the United States in Nineteenth-Century Europe and Latin America, ed. Axel Körner, et al., 81124. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Needell, Jeffrey D. 1999. “Optimism and Melancholy: Elite Response to the Fin de Siecle Bonaerense.” Journal of Latin American Studies 31 (3): 551588.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Pratt, Mary Louise. 2008. Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation. Albingdon: Routledge.

  • Rama, Angel. 1998. La ciudad letrada. Montevideo: Arca.

  • Ramos, Julio. 2001. Divergent Modernities. Durham: Duke University Press.

  • Ryan, Mary P. 1990. Women in Public: Between Banners and Ballots, 1825–1880. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

  • Sarmiento, Domingo Faustino. 1900. Obras de D.F. Sarmiento, vol. 46. Buenos Aires: Mario Moreno.

  • Spurr, David. 1993. The Rhetoric of Empire: Colonial Discourse in Journalism, Travel Writing, and Imperial Administration. Durham: Duke University Press

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Szurmuk, Mónica. 2007. Miradas cruzadas: narativas de mujeres en Argentina 1850-1930. Mexico City: Instituto Mora.

  • Szurmuk, Mónica. 2000. Women in Argentina: Early Travel Narratives. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.

  • Thier, Maike. 2012. “The View from Paris: ‘Latinity’, ‘Anglo-Saxonism’, and the Americas, as discussed in the Revue des Races Latines, 1857-64.” The International History Review 33 (4): 627644.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Trollope, Frances Milton. 1832. Domestic Manners of the Americans. London: Whittaker, Treacher and Co.

  • Williams, Susan. Savory Suppers and Fashionable Feasts: Dining in Victorian America. The University of Tennessee Press, 1996.

Contributor Notes

Linda Gruen holds a Ph.D. in Spanish from the University of California, Irvine. Her research interests include Latin American travel literature, the urban chronicle, and spatial theory. E-mail: lgruen@uci.edu

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Journeys

The International Journal of Travel and Travel Writing

  • Anderson, Benedict. 1983. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso.

  • Auza, Néstor Tomás. 1988. Periodismo y feminismo en la Argentina. Buenos Aires: Emecé Editores.

  • Bauer, Arnold J. 2001. Goods, Power, History: Latin America's Material Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Bergmann, Emilie, et al. 1990. Women, Culture and Politics in Latin America: Seminar on Feminism and Culture in Latin America. Berkeley: University of California Press.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bieder, Maryellen. 1995. “Gender and Language: The Womanly Woman and Manly Writing.” In Culture and Gender in Nineteenth-Century Spain, eds. Lou Charnon-Deutsch and Jo Labanyi, 98119. Oxford: Claredon Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bourdieu, Pierre. 1984. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, trans. Richard Nice. Abingdon: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bourdieu, Pierre and Jean-Claude Passeron. 1977. Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture, trans. Richard Nice. London: Sage Publications.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bruno, Paula. 2005. Introduction. Paul Groussac: Un estratega intelectual. Buenos Aires: Universidad de San Andrés.

  • Butler, Judith. 1990. Gender Trouble. Abingdon: Routledge.

  • Calhoun, Charles W. 1996. The Gilded Age: Essays on the Origins of Modern America. Wilmington: SR Books.

  • Carlson, Marifran. 1988. Feminismo! The Women's Movement in Argentina From Its Beginnings to Eva Perón. Chicago: Academy Chicago Publishers.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Daughton, J.P. 2008. “When Argentina Was ‘French’: Rethinking Cultural Politics and European Imperialism in Belle-Époque Buenos Aires.” The Journal of Modern History 80: 831864.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Fahs, Alice. 2011. Out on Assignment: Newspaper Women and the Making of Modern Public Space. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

  • Fey, Ingrid E. and Karen Racine. 2000. Strange Pilgrimages: Exile, Travel, and National Identity in Latin America, 1800-1900s. Lake Elsinore: Jaguar Books.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Fifer, J. Valerie. 1991. United States Perceptions of Latin America 1850–1930. A ‘New West’ South of Capricorn? Manchester: Manchester University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Foucault, Michel. 1978. The History of Sexuality. Vol. I: An Introduction, trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Pantheon Books.

  • Frederick, Bonnie. 1998. Wily Modesty: Argentine Women Writers, 1860–1910. Tuscon: Arizona State University Center for Latin American Studies Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Higonnet, Patrice. 2002. Paris: Capital of the World. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

  • Iser, Wolfgang. 1974. The Implied Reader: Patterns of Communication in Prose Fiction from Bunyan to Beckett. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Johns, Michael. 1993. “The Antinomies of Ruling Class Culture: The Buenos Aires Elite, 1880-1910.” Journal of Historical Sociology 6 (1): 74101.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kasson, John F. 1990. Rudeness and Civility: Manners in Nineteenth-Century Urban America. New York: Hill and Wang.

  • Körner, Axel, et al., ed. 2012. America Imagined: Explaining the United States in Nineteenth-Century Europe and Latin America. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • LaGreca, Nancy. 2009. Rewriting Womanhood: Feminism, Subjectivity, and the Angel of the House in the Latin American Novel, 1887–1903. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ludmer, Josefina. 1984. “Tretas del débil.” In La sartén por el mango: encuentro de escritoras latinoamericanas, ed. Patricia Elena González, 4754. San Juan: Ediciones Hurucán.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Mansilla, Lucio Victorio. 1890. Entre-nos: Causeries del jueves, vol. 4. Buenos Aires: Juan D. Alsina Publisher.

  • Mansilla de García, Eduarda. 2015. Escritos periodísticos completos (1860–1892). Buenos Aire: Ediciones Corregidor.

  • Mansilla de García, Eduarda. 1882. Recuerdos de viaje. Buenos Aires: Juan D. Alsina Press.

  • Masiello, Francine Rose. 1994. La mujer y el espacio público: el periodismo femenino en la Argentina del siglo XIX. Buenos Aires: Feminaria Editora.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Mejías-López, Alejandro. 2009. The Inverted Conquest: The Myth of Modernity and the Transatlantic Onset of Modernism. New York: Vanderbilt University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Miller, Nicola. 2012. “Liberty, Lipstick and Lobsters.” In America Imagined: Explaining the United States in Nineteenth-Century Europe and Latin America, ed. Axel Körner, et al., 81124. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Needell, Jeffrey D. 1999. “Optimism and Melancholy: Elite Response to the Fin de Siecle Bonaerense.” Journal of Latin American Studies 31 (3): 551588.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Pratt, Mary Louise. 2008. Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation. Albingdon: Routledge.

  • Rama, Angel. 1998. La ciudad letrada. Montevideo: Arca.

  • Ramos, Julio. 2001. Divergent Modernities. Durham: Duke University Press.

  • Ryan, Mary P. 1990. Women in Public: Between Banners and Ballots, 1825–1880. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

  • Sarmiento, Domingo Faustino. 1900. Obras de D.F. Sarmiento, vol. 46. Buenos Aires: Mario Moreno.

  • Spurr, David. 1993. The Rhetoric of Empire: Colonial Discourse in Journalism, Travel Writing, and Imperial Administration. Durham: Duke University Press

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Szurmuk, Mónica. 2007. Miradas cruzadas: narativas de mujeres en Argentina 1850-1930. Mexico City: Instituto Mora.

  • Szurmuk, Mónica. 2000. Women in Argentina: Early Travel Narratives. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.

  • Thier, Maike. 2012. “The View from Paris: ‘Latinity’, ‘Anglo-Saxonism’, and the Americas, as discussed in the Revue des Races Latines, 1857-64.” The International History Review 33 (4): 627644.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Trollope, Frances Milton. 1832. Domestic Manners of the Americans. London: Whittaker, Treacher and Co.

  • Williams, Susan. Savory Suppers and Fashionable Feasts: Dining in Victorian America. The University of Tennessee Press, 1996.

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