This dissertation explores the cultural and literary “fashionings” of Central American female poets of the 1930s in order to demonstrate how some of these poets entered the lettered city (Ángel Rama’s term for the nexus of the Latin American city, written discourse and political and social power), a metaphoric place still dominated by men at that time. Recent Central American cultural studies have found the 1930s to be a critical decade of dictatorships, nascent revolutionary movements, modernization, and foreign imperialism that sets the stage for the conflicts of the later twentieth century. My project takes part in this scholarship by attending to the significant increase in published female poets during this time. I recover their previously unstudied poetry and examine its participation in contemporary middlebrow aesthetics, theosophy, discussions of modernization, mestizaje , and social revolution. Close readings of women’s poetry in relation to other cultural texts (such as photography, film, narrative, pedagogy, and state propaganda) demonstrate how literary criticism and cultural studies can work together to provide a richer view of literature’s roles in both underpinning and undermining hegemonic views on gender relations.
The idea of fashion brings together gender, modernity, cultural production, and consumption in the poetry of many of the authors I study. In that the verb, to fashion, and the Greek verb, poiein , both mean “to create,” this study examines the poetics and fashionings of social and historical processes of 1930s Central America. In particular, fashion theory—the study of fashion as communication—allows me to consider the complexities and ambiguities that poetry and fashion encompassed for women as sign systems. Each chapter draws on the work of several Central American female poets—among whom are well-recognized Clementina Suárez and Claudia Lars—and analyzes their verse vis-à-vis non-poetic texts taken from “high,” mass-mediated, and popular cultures. Setting the stage for subsequent chapters, chapter 1 uses reception studies to consider the poetisa aesthetics and gendered literary communities of Carmen Sobalvarro, Olivia de Wyld, Magdalena Spínola, and Claudia Lars. Chapter 2 considers the modernizing force of erotic verse, which invests women’s sexuality with power in the work of Alma Fiori, Clementina Suárez, and Olga Solari. Chapter 3 looks at theosophy and its potential for both framing and veiling socially and politically subversive readings in the works of Angelina Acuña, Claudia Lars, and Clementina Suárez, and chapter 4 examines the different ways in which Carmen Sobalvarro, María de Baratta, and Olivia de Wyld use the huipil as a trope of indigenism. Finally, my conclusion sets the stage for future work on this generation’s use of the lyric as a platform for promoting feminism and social revolution throughout the isthmus.