*Amar y Borbón, Josefa
Amar y Borbón, Josefa
During the last few years of the 18th century, Spanish letters focused almost exclusively on the essay. These writings, much maligned by 19th-century Romantics who saw little of value produced during the Spanish “enlightenment,” provided a critical step in the development of the modern Spanish essay. Josefa Amar y Borbón belongs to a group of intellectuals who read prohibited books, met periodically to discuss issues of concern, and wrote extensively on topics that were bound together by a common theme— a concern for the decadent conditions of Spain and a desire to rectify the situation through education. Whether these writings were called discursos (speeches), cartas (letters), memorias (memoirs), or ensayos (essays), they are recognized today as basic elements of the Spanish essay.
Aragonese by birth, but reared and educated in Madrid, Amar y Borbón was the product, as well as an example, of the enlightened elite in Bourbon Spain. Well versed in Greek, Latin, French, English, and Italian, Amar y Borbón translated many works from these languages into Spanish. In the 1780s she began publishing essays and treatises
whose subjects fall into three broad categories: those concerning science and medicine, those dealing with the study of letters and the humanities, and those combating superstition. Aside from her translations, the author’s original literary production, as catalogued to date, includes eight essays published between 1783 and 1787, and a book, Discurso sobre la educación física y moral de las mugeres (1790; Discourse on the physical and moral education of women).
Each of Amar y Borbón’s essays has three main structural components: authority, tradition, and synthesis. Authority is expressed by numerous citations of classical sources. These autoridades, whom the author quotes in the original language before translating, are from all epochs. Tradition refers to Spanish customs; this component not only provides a point of comparison and contrast with “authority,” but is also a minute
description of 18th-century society. Tradition also provides the reader with some insight concerning Amar y Borbón’s point of view in many instances. The last component, synthesis, combines what “should be” (authority) with “what is” (tradition) to form what “might be”—the synthesis.
While these structural components appear in most of the author’s essays, her style is far from simple, for like many of her contemporaries, she interjects numerous digressions in the form of philosophical musings: questions about the nature of religion and the religious education of children; diatribes against current practices in Spanish society such as men reserving all honors, awards, and recognition for themselves and wishing to deprive women of their intellects; or historical cataloguing of a subject such as the history
of corsets from ancient times to the 18th century.
Authority, tradition, synthesis, and abundant digressions form the basic structure of the essayist’s work: these elements are combined as in a mathematical formula; however, the “solution” is seldom stated. Indeed, in many cases Amar y Borbón leaves the solution of the issue to the readers, whether she does so overtly or not. As she defined her style as an essayist, she perfected the rhetorical form of argumentation that moves from the general to the specific. Most of her essays begin with a statement introducing the major theme.
Then, as if in a musical variation, the same theme is presented in a series of analogous and yet distinct forms.
Within this basic structure and development, Amar y Borbón presents the reader with a healthy dose of wit and sarcasm. For example, when she describes the benefit of good health for women in her book, she states the obvious need for women to be fit for physical work and interjects that “all ladies, and those not worthy of being called so, must
be physically fit for pregnancy, childbirth, and nursing.” At other times her sarcasm is not as subtle. For example in her essay, “Discurso en defensa del talento de las mugeres…” (1786; Essay in Defense of Women’s Talent), written in response to Francisco, Conde de Cabarrús’ fear that allowing women to participate in the Economic Society of Madrid would ruin the organization, she states: “It is obvious that men and women should live entirely separately, and this separation should be complete and forever …but…this scenario remains impossible—there being a thousand reasons for men and women to come together… not the least of which is that the opposite would bring the destruction of the human race…”
Like her contemporaries, Josefa Amar y Borbón wrote a form of literature
characterized by multiple topics bound together by a common major theme: education, enlightenment, and progress. These writers added to the traditions established in the Spanish Golden Age and began to define the literary style later recognized as the modern essay.
CARMEN CHAVES TESSER
Born February 1749 in Saragossa. Grew up and studied privately in Madrid, tutored in Latin, French, Greek, and literature; taught herself Italian and English. Married Joaquín Fuertes Piquer (died, 1798), 1764: at least one child (a son). Returned to Saragossa, 1772.
First female member, Aragonese Economic Society, 1782; member of Ladies’ Group, Madrid Economic Society, 1787; member, Medical Society of Barcelona, 1790. Died in Saragossa, February 1833.
Encyclopedia of the Essay 27
Essays and Related Prose
“Discurso en defensa del talento de las mugeres y de su aptitud para el gobierno, y otros cargos en que se emplean los hombres,” in Memorial literario, instructivo y curioso de la Corte de Madrid, 1786:399–430; edited by Carmen Chaves McClendon, in Dieciocho 3 (1980): 144–61, and by Olegario Negrín Fajardo, in Ilustración y educación: La sociedad económica matritense, 1984:162–76; as Essay in Defense of Women’s Talent, translated by Carmen Chaves McClendon (dissertation), 1976
Discurso sobre la educación física y moral de las mugeres, 1790; edited by Constance A.Sullivan, 1994
Other writings: translated a six-volume work on Spanish literature by Francisco Lampillas (1782–84) and a work by Francesco Griselini (1784).
Franklin, Elizabeth M., “Feijóo, Josefa Amar y Borbón, and the Feminist Debate in Eighteenth-Century Spain,” Dieciocho 12, no. 2 (1989):188–203
McClendon, Carmen Chaves, “Josefa Amar y Borbón: A Forgotten Figure of the Spanish Enlightenment,” in Seven Studies in Medieval English History and Other Historical Essays, edited by Richard H. Bowers, Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1983:133–39
Sullivan, Constance A., “Josefa Amar y Borbón and the Royal Aragonese Economic Society,” Dieciocho 15, no. 1 (1992): Sullivan, Constance A., “Josefa Amar y Borbón,” in Spanish 95–148
Sullivan, Constance A. “Josefa Amar y Borbón,” in Spanish Women Writers: A Bio- Bibliographical Source Book, edited by Linda Gould Levine, Ellen Engelson Marson, and Gloria Feiman Waldman, Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1993:33–43
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