Emilia Pardo Bazán, a powerful woman

Nowadays, women artists can express themselves much more easier than they could in the 19th century. Several claim their right to be treated equally to men. In the 21st century, women artists can live from their art and are free to live the life they want. Many are fulfilled in their works and have never been so proud of being women. But what about artists of another time in which women were much more controlled by social rules ? 

In Spain, during the 19th century, few women intended to live on their own by earning their own money. Women experienced this as a constant struggle. The year 2021 celebrates the 100th anniversary of Emilia Pardo Bazán’s death. She has been the first Spanish woman to become a university professor and fought her entire life for women’s education. She was quite a character. During her lifetime, she faced a lot of critics from her colleagues and from a large part of society.

A great author and a free woman 

Emilia Pardo Bazán is one of the pioneers of naturalism in Spanish literature and often compared to Zola. Indeed, she tried to give a narrative space to the middle and lower middle classes. She wanted to give the same level of knowledge to all children in order to become what they want when growing up.  One of her most important novels, Los Pazos de Ulloa, deals with the decadence of the rural galician world and with aristocracy. But the novel which most perfectly pictures her fight for women’s education is La Tribuna. In this novel, the protagonist is a young cigar-maker with no education but who knows how to read. Thanks to her readings, she develops a sense of justice and starts fighting for union rights for her female coworkers. She falls in love with a bourgeois who will bring her decadency forward by leaving her heartbroken, broke and with-child.  

Many of Emilia Pardo Bazán’s novels were severely criticized because of their subjects and protagonists. Her writings were viewed as masculine because of her style and topics. But the thing which shocked the most was her lifestyle: she divorced her husband and took care of her three children, she lived off her own fortune and her own job. She also had a very off-standard sexual life for her time, especially because of her lover, Benito Perez Galdos, a famous Spanish author. Their love story lasted more than twenty years but was highly criticized since they were not married. She was plenty independant. When she died, she was recognized as a great writer, but because of her lifestyle and the rising of franquism, she has been deeply hidden in the history of Spanish women. 

Is the memory of Emilia Pardo Bazán fading away  ? 

As an important character in the cultural life of Galicia — her native region  — she did not become an unknown woman there. But in the rest of Spain, she has been hidden by the image of Pila Primo de Rivera, the feminine face of the dictatorship. Women’s education moved back with the francoist regime and all her victories vanished. Nowadays, she is considered the first woman who fought for equality in education and women’s right to work. Even if she has been occulted by the dictatorship, her name has not been forgotten. 

She is, today, a symbol of feminism in Spain. Feminism has given another meaning  to her writings. They are highly compared to the claim of women’s freedom and self-sufficiency. She can be considered as a role model for Spanish women. From her fight to her lifestyle, she is regarded as the quintessence of nowadays’ feminism. 

Una lección de Doña Emilia Pardo Bazán no Ateneo de Madrid sobre Literatura Contemporánea Francesa". Cuadro de Joaquín Vaamonde

A reborn woman 

In order to celebrate this significant intellectual as a woman, several plays about her were created in the past years. One of them is Emilia, as part of  the project “Mujeres que se atreven”. This play is a large monologue in which Emilia Pardo Bazan speaks up in front of all the academicians who denied her academic title. It is a fictional introspection in the thoughts of a self-confident woman in a man’s world. This offers Emilia the opportunity to be reborn and put an end to sexism in the 19th century. 

Another remarkable play is Galdos enamorado. It presents the epistolary exchange between Galdos and Emilia Pardo Bazán. It deals with their incredible love story and their never-ending passion. It is very interesting that the play has been named Galdos enamorado (Galdos in love) because it has only been built from the letters that Emilia sent to him. The only trace of this love remains in the letters conserved by Galdos which present Emilia as a writer and lover. Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, this play has been canceled. As we are all waiting for new productions, you can always discover or rediscover Emilia Pardo Bazán’s own work. 

If you go to Spain someday, you will probably notice her name in some streets. You could also see her statue in Madrid and in La Coruña or visit her museum, La Casa-Museo Emilia Pardo Bazán.

Emilia Pardo Bazán was a woman of her time but she is also a great role model for some of today’s feminists, even if she disappeared from history books during quite a time. She is considered in Spain as the author who never ceases to be reborn through literature to enlighten our spirits, the woman who fought for human rights and equality. For her 100th death anniversary, we can only hope that Emilia Pardo Bazán’s fight will be revived in everyone’s minds.


Couverture : Retrato de D.ª Emilia Pardo Bazán por Joaquín Vaamonde. Museo de Belas Artes, A Coruña. (Reproducción de La Tribuna: Cadernos de Estudos da Casa-Museo Emilia Pardo Bazán, n.º 2, 2004).

Sources : 

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  • article :
  • CARMEN PORRÚA, del, Carmen, bajo la dirección de VILANOVA, Antonio, in Actas del X Congreso de la Asociación Internacional de Hispanistas (AIH), tomos I y III, Literatura del Siglo XX, “Producción y recepción de Emilia Pardo Bazan en el diario La Nación de Buenos Aires (1880-1899)”, 1989, Centre Virtual Cervantes. url: https://cvc.cervantes.es/literatura/aih/aih_xb.htm  consulté le 16/11/2020 à 11h
  • PATIÑO EIRIN, Cristina, PEÑAS VARELA, Ermitas, GONZALES HERNAN José Manuel, in La literatura de Emilia Pardo Bazán, Editoriales Fundación Caixa Galicia y Casa-Museo Emilia Pardo Bazán, 2009, Galicia, p. 438. Url: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/343294510 , consulté le 16/11/2020 à 11h30

To find the plays : 

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