Despite meeting an untimely death in 1974, Rosario Castellanos left her readers a sizeable legacy: 12 books of poetry, three novels (one unpublished), three volumes of short stories, several plays, and four collections of essays. Lifelong friend Oscar Bonifaz explains in Remembering Rosario (1990) that Castellanos, best known initially for her poetry, was encouraged by her colleagues to explore additional outlets for her creative and socially conscious talent. Under these auspices, Castellanos’ most productive period of prose writing occurred while she was working on her prize-winning second novel, Oficio de tinieblas (1962; The Book of Lamentations), which is considered by many to be her masterpiece. In fact, the years following the writing of The Book of Lamentations reflect a marked change in her writing: where alienation, loneliness, and melancholy were key elements in her early poetry, later literary works are characterized by irony, humor, and wit, as if she had arrived at some point of inner peace.
It is through her craft as an essayist that this development is especially evident. Like many fellow writers, Castellanos was a journalist as well as an author, contributing articles regularly to Mexican newspapers (Novedades [News], ¡Siempre! [Always], and Excélsior) and periodicals (Revista de la Universidad de Mexico [University of Mexico review] and La Palabra y el Hombre [The word and the man]). Many of these are included in Castellanos’ collections: Juicios sumarios (1966; Summary judgments), Mujer que sabe latín…(1973; A woman who knows Latin…), El uso de la palabra (1974; The use of the word), and El mar y sus pescaditos (1975; The sea and its little fish). There are also more than 100 uncollected essays.
In this particular genre Castillos cultivates an intimate space in which to discuss a variety of topics, characterized by frequent interior dialogues with her readers in which she shares particular insights or confidences. According to colleague and confidant Emilio Carbadillo, Castellanos’ stylistic evolution was due to the relative anonymity of the reading public, which provided her with a “safe” venue in which to reveal perspectives previously stifled by her characteristic reserve. To this assertion Myralyn F.Allgood (1990) adds that Castellanos’ reading public was highly receptive, as she was already a household name, synonymous with prize-winning novels, short stories, and
poetry. Both Carbadillo and Allgood echo what the author herself describes in “El escritor como periodista” (1972; The writer as journalist), in which she muses about what would have happened had she remained in the “limbo” of her own private world of poetry. She likens her essay style to a spontaneous conversation with friends, finding herself comfortable with the notion of chatting with her reading public as an anonymous and multiple “you.”
This is not to say her topics are necessarily informal. With humor and often biting irony, Castellanos’ essays address what she considered transcendent truths across personal, social, political, and feminist lines. Her first collection, Juicios sumarios, reveals the strong intellectual influence of existentialist Simone de Beauvoir, social and religious thinker Simone Weil, and literary figures Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Gabriela Mistral, Emily Dickinson, and Virginia Woolf. In this volume, Castellanos problematizes specific philosophical positions with regard to social issues.
If Juicios sumarios indicates an interest in “cultural ideology and gender” (Allgood), her next collection, Mujer que sabe latín …, “argues an overtly feminist viewpoint” (Naomi Lindstrom, 1980). Lindstrom posits that this collection reflects thoughts on the status of women and indicates a future for feminist criticism by superseding the simple denunciation and specific grievances so popular in her time, most notably by contextualizing woman’s experience in order to re-examine specific gender roles, as in “Las amistades peligrosas” (1973; Dangerous liaisons). Bonifaz states that her focus is primarily the condition of woman in Mexican culture. This may be the case in “La mujer mexicana del siglo 19” (1973; “19th-Century Mexican Woman”), in which Castellanos describes how myth keeps women marginalized within the culture and history of Mexico (Maureen Ahern, 1988). However, her discussion of the symbiotic relationship between the oppressed and the oppressor in “La participación de la mujer
mexicana en la educación formal” (1973; The participation of the Mexican woman in formal education) could well describe a more universal social condition. According to Ahern, this is especially apparent in “La mujer y su imagen” (1973; “Woman and Her Image”), in which Castellanos refutes the idea of biological determinism by way of a parody of scientific language.
The generalizability of Castellanos’ themes seem to increase in El uso de la palabra, a collection compiled posthumously by José Emilio Pacheco, and including essays from the period 1963 to 1974. The topics span commentaries on local and current events as well as personal and professional issues. In all cases, Castellanos illuminates that transcendent kernel of truth for her readers with humor and irony. In “Una propiedad privada” (1969;
Private property), she analyzes the social and psychological constructs behind a father’s murder of his sons. In later essays, Castellanos reveals a deeply personal facet, for example in “Anticipación a la nostalgia” (1971; Anticipating nostalgia), in which she confronts the sense of loss with regard to good friends and Mexico. Her experiences as a mother surface as well, for instance in “Mundo de cambios” (1973; World of changes), where a single incident with her son leads her to extrapolate on the experience of motherhood as a whole. On a lighter note, her irascible humor with regard to her role as a diplomat is revealed in “La diplomacia al desnudo” (1974; “Sheer Diplomacy”), where diplomatic subtleties are reduced to one simple recommendation: weather as the suggested topic of conversation.
The last collection Castellanos submitted was received two days before her death. El mar y sus pescaditos was oriented toward literature, including critiques and reviews of Latin American writers and their works.
A review of the material written about Castellanos and her literary work reveals that the bulk of research deals with her novels and poetry as well as feminist thematics.
However, her essays, short stories and theater, as well as the social and political themes interwoven in her texts, remain to be fully examined and contextualized. Rosario Castellanos was much more than a talented writer with a specific social agenda: she was diplomat, philosopher, mother, wife, social activist, intellectual, educator, and perhaps most importantly, an artist endowed with the unique ability to connect with her readership through her insightful writing.
Born 25 May 1925 in Mexico City. Studied at the College of Philosophy and Letters, National Autonomous University of Mexico, Mexico City, 1944–50, M.A. in philosophy, 1950; University of Madrid, 1950–51. Director of cultural programs, 1951–53, and staff member, Institute of Arts and Sciences, both in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Chiapas. Director, El Teatro Guiñol/Petul (puppet theater) for the National Indigenist Institute, San Cristóbal, 1956–59, and toured Chiapas, 1956–58. Married Ricardo Guerra, 1958 (later divorced): one son. Journalist for various newspapers and periodicals, including Novedades, ¡Siempre!, and Excélsior, 1960–74. Press and information director, 1960–66, and chair of comparative literature, 1967–71, National Autonomous University of Mexico, Mexico City; visiting professor of Latin American literature at various American universities, 1967. Ambassador to Israel, Tel Aviv, and lecturer in Latin American literature, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 1971–74. Awards: Mexican Critics’ Award, for novel, 1957;
Chiapas Prize, 1958; Xavier Villaurrutia Prize, 1961; Woman of the Year Award, Mexico, 1967. Died (by accidental electrocution) in Tel Aviv, 7 August 1974.
Essays and Related Prose
Juicios sumarios, 1966; revised edition, as Juicios sumarios: Ensayos sobre literatura, 2 vols., 1984
Mujer que sabe latín…, 1973
El uso de la palabra, edited by José Emilio Pacheco and Danubio Torres Fierro, 1974
El mar y sus pescaditos, 1975
A Rosario Castellanos Reader (includes short stories, poetry, and essays), edited by Maureen Ahern, translated by Ahern and others, 1988
Another Way to Be: Selected Works (includes poetry, essays, and stories), edited and translated by Myralyn F.Allgood, 1990
Other writings: two novels (Balún-Canán [The Nine Guardians], 1957; Oficio de tinieblas [The Book of Lamentations], 1962), short stories, poetry, and plays.
Collected works edition: Obras, edited by Eduardo Mejía, 1989– (in progress).
Ahern, Maureen, in Spanish American Women Writers: A BioBibliographical Source Book, edited by Diane E.Marting, Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1990
Foster, David William, in Mexican Literature: A Bibliography of Secondary Sources, Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow Press, 1992
Ahern, Maureen, Introduction to A Rosario Castellanos Reader, Austin: University of Texas Press, 1988
Allgood, Myralyn F., Introduction to Another Way to Be by Castellanos, Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1990
Anderson, Helene, “Rosario Castellanos and the Structures of Power,” in Contemporary Women Authors of Latin America, edited by Doris Meyer and Margarite Fernández Olmos, New York: Brooklyn College Press, 2 vols., 1983
Bonifaz, Oscar, Rosario, Mexico City: Presencia Latinoamericana, 1984
Bonifaz, Oscar, Remembering Rosario: A Personal Glimpse into the Life and Works of Rosario Castellanos, Potomac, Maryland: Scripta Humanística, 1990
Cordero, Dolores, “Rosario Castellanos: ‘La mujer mexicana, cómplice de su verdugo’,” Revista de Revistas, supplement to Excélsior (10 November 1971):24–27
Cresta de Leguizamón, Maria Luisa, “En recuerdo de Rosario Castellanos,” La Palabra y el Hombre 19 (July-September 1976): 3–18
Dybvig, Rhoda, Rosario Castellanos, biografía y novelística, Mexico City: Andrea, 1965
Franco, Jean, The Modern Culture of Latin America: Society and the Artist, London: Pall Mall Press, 1967
Franco, Jean, Spanish American Literature Since Independence, London: Benn, and New York: Barnes and Noble, 1973
Gómez Parham, Mary, “Intellectual Influences on the Works of Rosario Castellanos,” Foro Literario: Revista de Literatura y Lenguaje 7, no. 12 (1984):34–40
González Peña, Carlos, History of Mexican Literature, Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1969 (original Mexican edition, 1940)
Lindstrom, Naomi, Rosario Castellanos: Pioneer of Feminist Criticism, edited by Maureen Ahern and Mary S.Vásquez, Valencia: Albatros Hispanófila, 1980
Miller, Beth, “Women and Feminism in the Works of Rosario Castellanos,” in Feminist Criticism: Essays on Theory, Poetry and Prose, edited by Cheryl L.Brown and Karen Olson, Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow Press, 1978
Miller, Beth, editor, Women in Hispanic Literature, Icons and Fallen Idols, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983
Poniatowska, Elena, “¡Te hicieron parque, Rosario!,” Revista de Bellas Artes 18 (November-December 1971):2
Poniatowska, Elena, “Rosario Castellanos, las letras que quedan de tu nombre,” La Cultura en Mexico, supplement to !Siempre!, 4 September 1974:6–8
Ruta, Suzanne, “Adiós, Machismo: Rosario Castellanos Goes Her Own Way,” Latin American Literary Review, 6 no. II (Fall-Winter 1977):68–80
Urbano, Victoria E., “La justicia femenina de Rosario Castellanos,” Letras Femeninas 1, no. 2 (1975):9–20
Vásquez, Mary S., “Rosario Castellanos, Image and Idea,” in Homenaje a Rosario Castellanos, edited by Maureen Ahern and Mary S. Vásquez, Valencia: Albatros Hispanófila, 1980
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