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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Negotiating the feminine : travel, writing and identity in Rosario Castellanos's nonfiction from Spain, the United States and Israel Ross, Nancy Jean


The Mexican writer Rosario Castellanos (1925-1974) is well known for Balún Canán (1957) and other works of prose, poetry, or drama. However, in my thesis I aim to shed light on a genre that has been understudied by scholars and neglected by translators: her nonfiction. Of her nonfiction, I look specifically at her travel writing. Firstly, at the letters she addressed to Ricardo Guerra (1927-2007), compiled in Cartas a Ricardo (1994) [Letters to Ricardo]. And, lastly, at the articles she wrote as Mexican ambassador to Israel (1971-1974) which were originally published in Excélsior but, have since been anthologized and edited by Andrea Reyes in Mujer de palabras: artículos rescatados de Rosario Castellanos, volume III (2007). More specifically, Castellanos, after being awarded a scholarship by the Institute of Hispanic Culture (1950-1951), wrote letters from aboard the S.S. Argentina, and from the women’s residence in Madrid. I look at Castellanos and her companion, Dolores Castro (1923- 2022), as women traveling unaccompanied by men in Franco’s Spain. I also analyze Castellanos’s reaction to the Moorish, Jewish and Catholic cultures in Spain in relation to her own complex legacy as a member of the dominant land-owning class in Mexico. Some twenty-five years later in Castellanos’s letters which she wrote as a visiting professor in the U.S., (1966-1967), I focus on her identity as a cosmopolitan woman whose letters constitute a form of resistance to gender roles in Mexican society. I argue that she uses the epistolary genre to create her own self and that during her stay in the U.S., along with her son and her son’s nanny, Herlinda Bolaños, she reconfigures her own identity and, consequently, her identity from both inside and beyond the confines of the family. Castellanos’s letters, and to some extent her journalism, with the myriad details of daily life, function as a combination of travel diary, autobiographical memoir, and epistolary novel where she can create herself as a literary character. My objective is to avoid a strictly autobiographical reading of this work and so be able to place Castellanos’s travel writing firmly in contemporary literature.

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