At the end of 2022, the National Library of Peru published The new readers of the 21st century from researcher Evelyn Sotomayor. In this book, Sotomayor highlights/rescues the legacy of a generation of enlightened Peruvian women who had an intellectual and social impact in their time. If today we celebrate the presence of women in the Peruvian intellectual and artistic circuit, it is largely due to the enlightened women of the 19th century. To have more light on the matter, CARETAS spoke with Sotomayor.
—Why read the illustrated ones of the Peruvian XIX?
The 19th century is the foundation of the society we have today. This first generation of illustrated women thinks about how to improve their living conditions, both educational and working, among other demands. I look at the illustrated ones, especially what they do after the Pacific War. In the 70s, Juana Manuela Gorriti with her famous literary evenings on Urrutia street already had the romantics, Ricardo Palma and Luis Benjamín Cisneros went to her evenings a lot. The women participated in weeklies and magazines, such as Correo del Peru and La bella lima. But it is after the war with Chile that they already come out with the pen as if it were a weapon. Their claims are more direct, the war allows them to talk about the need to educate us, for example. Professionalism is important to them.
—Several of your claims are current.
The issues that they claim are very current in the nineteenth century. There is a documentary the school of silence 2014, produced by César Hildebrandt Chávez. The documentary records that women have high illiteracy rates and that school dropout is strong among adolescents. We think they are distant issues, but no, they are topical. What I am looking for with my work is to recover memory, to know who Clorinda Matto de Turner, Mercedes Cabello de Carbonera, Gorriti were…. Life was very hard for them, Clorinda got involved in politics and it ended very badly and Mercedes ended up in the mental hospital in Lima.
—In this sense, the war with Chile is decisive.
That’s how it is. The illustrated ones already had a presence in the cultural circuit, but their great productions are made after this one. Let’s think about the conspirator Carbonera Hair. Whoever reads it will think that they are talking about Peru today: an x-ray of corruption. Also in
white sun, which deals with prostitution. Without the war, they probably would have addressed these issues as Gorriti said: “You had to write it in the mists”, as in between the lines. They leave very safe to write about topics that were banned.
—Clorinda was treated very badly.
Juan de Arona made fun of Clorinda’s leave. He also did the same with Antonia Moreno, wife of Cáceres. They did so in El leguito fray José, which was an illustrated publication attached to Piérola’s party. Clorinda had a good education and came from the bourgeoisie, she was not from the remote areas of Cusco, however, Lima sweeps her floor with her. They call her a tomboy, that she smells like vinegar for getting into men’s issues.
“Were they being harassed?”
They suffered political harassment, especially Clorinda. But also sexual harassment. Let us bear in mind that in those years there were no terms such as femicide, for example. There is a letter from Clorinda to Palma and she tells him between the lines that if yo I would have accepted, it is something that would weigh on me for the rest of my life; there is the crime of Ángela Barreda at the hands of the friar Eugenio Oroz.
“How did they read?”
With Clorinda’s editorials we can get an idea of her intellectual and cultural interests. If he read in the library or if they took the books home. Reconstructing daily life is rebuilding memory, seeing Peruvian DNA. I also wonder what they danced (did they dance the marinera?), what did they eat… These are some questions that have not yet been asked about the daily life of our intellectuals.
“Why do we have so many valuable female writers?” blurred?
I believe that this silence towards the Peruvian authors has had to do with the sensitivity of the researcher. We discover these authors when they have always been there. There is no doubt that there has been a macho criticism that has yielded under the lenses of the 21st century.
—Apart from this book, you have also published Clorinda Matto’s literary evenings in post-war Lima and you have just prefaced the collected poetry of María Emilia Cornejo published by the Fondo de Cultura Económica.
That the FCE has published the collected poetry of María Emilia Cornejo, a 23-year-old girl who is positioned in the literary canon seems to me of necessary and attractive value in the 21st century. Her voice emerged 50 years ago and the topics she touches on are still taboo in a society as conservative as Peru’s. María Emilia is the daughter or heiress of a genealogy of women who have always written in this country. She has to recover them all to continue reading and analyzing our own DNA and putting together our genealogy. That genealogy that may seem past, but is a present. Our girls need models; they need to identify themselves and female writers can be an excellent female role model.
(Gabriel Ruiz Ortega).
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