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This May 12 marks the centenary of the death of Emilia Pardo Bazán (A Coruña, 1852 – Madrid, 1921), a writer who stands out, apart from her literary merits, for her continuous struggle for the emancipation of women. One of the fronts of this battle, called at the time the “academic question”, was his determination to be part of the Royal Spanish Academy (RAE). Up to three times he tried, but without success.
Had she succeeded, she would have been the first full-time academic at this institution, but she could not make history. In fact, it took until 1978 for another woman, the writer Carmen Conde, to access the Docta Casa, although the number of women present in this institution is still low.
In 1886 the name of Emilia Pardo Bazán began to be mentioned as a possible candidate to enter the Royal Spanish Academy and the rumor became stronger and stronger: the writer wanted to be a member of the Academy.
The example of ‘La Avellaneda’
In 1889 the newspaper El Correo published, under the title “Women in the Academy”, four unpublished epistles by Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda (Camagüey, 1814 – Madrid, 1873). Dated in 1853, its content revolves around the efforts made by this Cuban-born poet and playwright with the aim of joining the Royal Spanish Academy.
To do this, based on her literary achievements, she sent a request for admission to the director of this institution. Let us remember that until 1858 it was still possible to run as a candidate without having to be presented by three academics. However, despite having some support, Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda had her request denied.
No rule prevented the entry of women, but, after an intense debate, in 1853 they reached an agreement to prohibit it. As Alonso Zamora Vicente recounts in his “History of the Royal Spanish Academy”, the assembled academics voted against allowing women to enter. The result was not unanimous: fourteen academics voted against the entry of women, and six in favor (another three votes in favor were not counted because they came from academics who could not attend in person, such as Manuel José Quintana, Eugenio de Tapia and Nicomedes Pastor Díaz). This agreement will be unfailingly fulfilled for years despite the fact that it was never written or formed part of the statutes of the Royal Spanish Academy.
In response to these epistles, Emilia Pardo Bazán writes, in turn, another two, entitled “The academic question. To Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda (in the Campos Elíseos) ”, which appeared in La España Moderna. In them, the Coruñesa addresses the writer, now deceased, in solidarity with the rejection that she had suffered in her day from the Royal Spanish Academy, which allows her to denounce injustices towards women:
“Would you smile, Tula [Gómez de Avellaneda]If I told you a gossip that reached me: it is whispered that some academic considers me excluded from the corporation for lacking electoral rights. (…) Sex does not only deprive profit, but also honors ”.
Emilia Pardo Bazán defends her right to enter the Academy, “not to be excluded from a literary distinction as a woman (not as an author, since without false modesty I can tell you that I am the harshest and harshest critic of my own works)”. And he concludes by expressing his willingness to work tirelessly to “improve my service record as a snubbed academic.”
However, this time he did not submit his candidacy.
In 1891, “once again rumors link Doña Emilia with the Royal Academy of Language, and she redefines her position”, writes Eva Acosta (2007), one of her biographers. This is a second attempt, different from the previous one, as it now has the support of politicians, journalists and writers.
The culminating point of this new assault on the RAE is the publication of Pardo Bazán’s writing entitled “The academic question. To Mr. Rafael Altamira, Secretary of the Pedagogical Museum “, included in the New Critical Theater in March 1891. This is a response to” The academic question. To Mrs. Emilia Pardo Bazán ”, published a month earlier in La España Moderna, by Altamira himself. In this first letter, Altamira, who was not an academic but a jurist, affirms the following:
“The way to vindicate the right of females to be academics, as they are heads of state [se refiere a Isabel II], It’s open”.
These are years of energetic feminist demand and Emilia Pardo Bazán, how could it be otherwise, thanks him for the gesture.
But this time there was not a formal proposal either, rather it was more of a covert candidacy, so the rejection was not explicit.
After reviving the “academic question”, in 1912 the third attempt took place. A campaign of support for Emilia Pardo Bazán then began, putting the Royal Spanish Academy on the ropes. Doubting his literary merits was unthinkable (in the sales lists he was only behind Galdós and Pereda), so the academics chose to resort to their agreement of 1853, with which they had prevented the entry of Gómez de Avellaneda, to reject to Pardo Bazán.
In addition, they argued that since 1858 any candidate had to be presented by three academics in number and that this protocol had not been followed. In effect, what Pardo Bazán had done was send a letter requesting admission, along with a memorial and an extensive curriculum vitae, to the director of the Academy.
Insults and offenses
As if this double rejection were not enough, the writer had to put up with some impertinences. One of them is told by Sebastián Moreno in his book La Academia se amusement (2012). It seems that Juan Valera, the author of Pepita Jiménez, suggested that the writer be invited to visit the Academy and that they show her the armchairs, warning her that they could not be changed. That way he would realize that he couldn’t sit on any of them, since his butt was so much bigger. Also mentioned in this book is the adjective that Menéndez Pelayo dedicated to her: “Ugly literata in danger of becoming freethinker.”
At this point, we can ask ourselves a few questions. Why was Emilia Pardo Bazán so insistent? What need did she have to expose herself so much? What was your true claim? She made it clear herself in an interview published in El Día (February 7, 1917).
Defend an indisputable right
Five years after her frustrated third attempt to access the Language Academy, Emilia Pardo Bazán grants an interview, with the title “What the Pardo Bazán says of the Royal Spanish Academy”, which is published, along with an imposing photo of the writer (signed by Gonzáles), on the cover of El Día. We highlight the following excerpts:
“For me, this is a question that has only become interested in an ideal concept, the feminist aspect. I have not fought for the vanity of occupying an armchair in the Academy, but to defend an indisputable right that, in my opinion, women have. I was not admitted to the Academy, not because of my literary personality, as everyone who could vote for me has said, but because I am a woman. (…) And let it be known that it is a matter that I have only become interested in an idealism, in a conviction, because each one has his own purposes, and I have to separate obstacles from those that hinder women. I never hope to enter the Academy; but in this special case the fight is worth more than the triumph ”.
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original.
Silvia Hurtado González does not receive a salary, nor does she work as a consultant, nor does she own shares, nor does she receive financing from any company or organization that can obtain benefit from this article, and she has declared that she lacks relevant links beyond the aforementioned academic position.