[APPLAUSE] JULIA CHANG: Thank you for that amazing introduction. I want to just give a brief access introduction. So my name is Julia Chang. I am an Asian woman. I'm wearing a black dress and wire-rimmed glasses. I want to thank Susette Newberry, Jenny Leijonhufvud, Peggy Tully, and Elizabeth Kim, and Sean Taylor for facilitating all the various aspects of this Chats in the Stacks.
So thank you all so much for being here today. I know it's a particularly busy time of the semester. And I want to especially acknowledge folks who had to make alternate care arrangements for their children to be here and acknowledge my parents who drove 8 hours to come hear me speak.
I'm very excited to be debuting my book Blood Novels-- Gender, Caste, and Race in Spanish Realism with you all today. So I'm going to start by giving you a kind of overview of the book's central claim. And then I'll speak somewhat more informally about how I got interested in this topic of blood, which was not a topic I had intended to write about.
And then from there, I'll give you one concrete example of how blood is working and all of the complex things that it does in Benito Perez Galdos's 1887 novel Fortunata y Jacinta. And then I'll end with a brief discussion of the book's coda. So here we go.
Blood as metaphor and matter courses through the pages of some of Spanish realism's most canonical novels, infusing its plots and vilifying its aesthetic worlds. And yet somehow, we have been largely unaware of blood's prominence as a structuring element of the realist novel.
Indeed, some of Spain's most prominent literary men, Juan Valera, Leopoldo Alas, Benito Perez Galdos, were clearly captivated by blood. They built their plot lines around problems of inheritance, lineage, blood purity. And they featured women protagonists who are typically described as beautiful, chaste, and pure.
These women had to wrestle in some form of another with this question of bloodlines. My book shows how these authors probed the blood social, gendered, and racial significance while also reanimating the early modern discourse of [SPEAKING SPANISH] or blood purity, a system of discrimination that required proof of so-called old Christian blood to access professional guilds, official offices, and the military.
But more broadly, the blood purity statutes spurred a culture of suspicion around converts or conversos as not being true Christians, and created an exclusive community united by blood. Blood purity is conventionally treated as an early modern issue. But I argue that it finds an afterlife in Spanish realism, profoundly impacting how the genre's key canonical novels took shape.
Valera, Alas, and Galdos's shared fascination with blood and bloodlines comes into focus fundamentally through their beautiful but troubled women. And I'll give you just one very brief example here. So this is Dona Luz published in 1879 by Juan Valera, which is the subject of my first chapter. And this is what I really see as becoming a kind of template for blood novels.
So you have the eponymous protagonist, Dona Luz, who is described as pure in all of these various ways. She's [SPEAKING SPANISH]. It's quite extreme-- clean, pure, chaste, and pulchritude personified. She's also blonde. She has luminous white skin, blue eyes. She's kind of this epitome of Aryan beauty.
But there's one major problem. Dona Luz believes, and the reader is led to believe that she is the illegitimate daughter of a marquee. And therefore, her blood is presumed to be tainted. This tension or paradox in Dona Luz being at once outwardly pure and yet having impure blood becomes a kind of template that I see across these major works of fiction.
So this is a quote that sort of epitomizes this paradox. [SPEAKING SPANISH]. To wipe away her original stain, Dona Luz wanted to be that much more clean and pure. But it's impossible, so that original stain marks her forever. I bring these various works of fiction together under the rubric of blood novels in order to identify a markedly masculinist anxiety around mostly women's disruptive bleeding and corrupted bloodlines.
And ultimately, I'm trying to make three major interventions in my book. The first is that we take blood-based identity seriously in the 19th century. And that means challenging this sharp divide between blood as a pre-modern concern and race as a truly modern one. And here, I'm especially thinking about the visual or epidermal schema of race.
I posit caste as a category that relies on blood-based exclusivity and one that belies visual markers of identity as in the case of Dona Luz who is outwardly white, outwardly pure, and yet on the inside is tainted. It's worth noting that in that novel, she is racialized and compared to [SPEAKING SPANISH].
The second claim that I want to make is that the bleeding body gendered feminine becomes a site for the novel to be reflexive about its own operations. So that the bleeding body kind of lies at the intersection of blood. And it's blood as metaphor, blood in its discursive function, and blood as matter.
The third is that the attention that realism affords to the gendered bleeding body challenges what we now call the linguistic discursive turn in feminist theory or the social construction and theory of gender by demanding that we attend to the materiality of the body itself. That is, blood is meaningful and not only because of its symbolic function, but also because of its very real, very raw materiality.
So how on Earth did I arrive at this topic? I originally set out to research the gendered concept of purity. And bloodlines was really just one aspect of this. For a long time, the dominant scholarship on women or gender in the realist novel focused on the figure of the angel of the Earth and explored questions of domesticity and did talk about chastity in the sense of this virgin, mother, wife figure.
And these are two major titles here-- Bridget Aldaraca's 1991 book El Angel Del Hogar, and published just three years later in '94, Catherine Jagoe's book Ambiguous Angels. Blood and race were not central to these studies. And at some point, I had taken a rather sharp detour in my research and went down kind of a rabbit hole.
I started getting interested in 18th century casta painting. So this was a genre of painting which some of you may be familiar with that surfaced in colonial Mexico and also Peru. And they depicted the purported categories of racial miscegenation, 16 categories. So in this case, "casta" means something very different. It refers to the status of having mixed blood.
I went back to the 19th century novel after this, and I saw these chaste female protagonists women who are described as [SPEAKING SPANISH] in a kind of new light. I started to see how chastity and caste, that is blood based identity, were intertwined. Interestingly, there was a lot written about blood and blood lines in the broader field of Iberian and Latin American studies in pretty much every period and geographical location, except 19th century Spain.
A few scholars in my field even went as far as to say that blood just really didn't matter anymore in the 19th century. But once I started looking for this discourse of blood purity and caste in the novel, I started to see it everywhere. But it wasn't simply enough for me to acknowledge that this was a template. And I think that when you're just getting started out with your research, that first step is just being like, I've identified this thing, and it's really important. And then you have to push it a little forward further to say, so what?
So I felt like something was missing. And I was really stuck on Michel Foucault's characterization of the transition of sovereign power to biopower that he writes about in the first volume of history of sexuality, which interestingly as a side note, I think in 19th century Iberian studies, that book is kind of mined for stuff on gender and sexuality and not stuff about blood and biopower.
So in this book, Foucault talks about this famous transition from sovereign power to biopower. And he describes it as the transition from symbolics of blood to an analytic of sexuality. And I kept returning to this. And at one point, I asked myself, but why only the symbolics of blood? What about actual blood?
So my book, when I was writing it, went through a major conceptual shift. Once I started thinking about material blood from a feminist stance, and it was my own body in a kind of really involuntary way that got me there. So now, I'm going to transition to talk about feminist methodologies, which I will do by reading from the preface of my book.
To be sure, I never set out to write a book about blood. I started with a project on a Hispanic concept of purity. Back then, my interest in blood was an offshoot of a larger investigation that probed the interconnectedness between caste and chastity in 19th century Spanish realism. The existing scholarship I found tended to focus on the concept of chastity, particularly in relation to women in bourgeois domesticity, while caste was largely overlooked.
But realism is women commonly described as pure or tainted in other ways, their bloodlines were impure. In the course of writing and revising, my body was thrust into a perpetual mode of endurance for which I was underprepared. I sustained four pregnancies, two miscarriages, two full-term births. These were times of deep physical loss, expansion and contraction, love and woundedness, intimacy, and alienation.
I became acutely aware of my body's recalcitrance, its temporality, the way it registered loss, its power and limitations. Through these particularly physical, sanguinary, and fluid experiences, intellectually, something shifted inside of me. As I started to conduct new research, I became increasingly invested not only in what Michel Foucault terms the symbolics of blood. That is, quote, "the way blood functions in the order of science to have a certain blood," end quote. But also, the kind that ultimately occupies the outside of the so-called threshold of modernity, physical blood.
For Foucault, blood is above all a metaphor. Its discursive power is what matters most. Stepping back, I began to see a prominent feature of Spanish realism that had not been seriously assessed before-- blood's duality. That is the tension between discursive and material blood captures the very tenets of literary realism. A project about purity thus became a book about blood. And once I saw realism's blood, I could not unsee it.
I could not, for example, read an account of a character's fatal post-partum hemorrhage in quite the same way. And I wondered how I had previously glossed over such a momentous scene. Bleeding gendered feminine, I think, is an act that still horrifies us. It's a site of abjection. It can be leveraged in the name of sex essentialism that feminists have rightly denounced.
And to be sure, this is not a book that privileges the experiential even as it stems from it. Rather, this critical engagement with my own positionality and lived embodied experience, my own reckoning with blood loss became, as it turns out, the key to a feminist methodology that brought me to these rather unconventional readings of Spanish realism.
My hope is that this book provides a unique kind of entry into these works that we thought we knew well and gesture towards new ways of understanding how and why blood came to matter. So recently, I picked up this book Queer Phenomenology, which is a book I have read many times. And I found a quote that I hadn't really noticed before.
It's about the challenges of doing intellectual work, specifically the work of writing as a woman scholar. So here, we have a photo of Queer Phenomenology, the cover photo, which I think is really this Alice in Wonderland feeling of being really small and the writing table being really big, and not being able to get to the writing table, which I think probably many people in this audience can identify with.
And the quote reads-- well, there's two. For some, having time for writing becomes an orientation that is not available giving the ongoing labor of other attachments which literally pull you away. And here, Ahmed is kind of referring to like children as pulling you away from the writing table as a mother. And yet she arrives. Having arrived, she might do a different kind of work given that she may not put these other attachments behind her.
And this was really true in my case that my own experiences of wrestling with my own body led me to do a different kind of work once I arrived at the writing table again. So now, I'm going to turn to a really concrete example from Fortunata y Jacinta to give you a sense of this methodological turning point for me, and how I see blood operating in this particular fiction.
So if you don't know the novel, Fortunata y Jacinta is this, like, I don't know, 1,500-page novel. [CHUCKLES] And the plotline is very basic. Fortunata y Jacinta, the story of two wives. Jacinta is from an elite family. She's the template. She's chaste, pure, filial. She marries her first cousin, Juanito Santa Cruz, because Juanito's parents are very concerned with reproducing the bloodlines.
They talk about [SPEAKING SPANISH], succession, perpetuating the caste. But crucially, Jacinta does not produce an heir, and she's presumed to be sterile. Fortunata is Juanito's lover. She's sort of working class or plebeian. She's impoverished. She engages in informal sex work. She has two different affairs with Juanito.
And she marries Maximiliano Rubin, who is of the petty bourgeois class. And this is a side note-- but he's believed to be of Jewish converso origin. And he's the only man that visibly bleeds in all these novels that I study. Fortunata has an illegitimate son with Juanito. And so when the lineage is at this point of crisis because Jacinta is presumed to be sterile, it's Juanito, the child of mixed blood, that's going to have to carry forward the name.
Fortunata y Jacinta exhibits a world in which the symbolics of blood exists along blood's crude materiality. This duality, blood as a symbol of distinction and blood as visceral fluid matter structure is, to borrow Gil Anidjar's words, "the hemophiliac economy that binds the novel's social web."
In such an economy, the value of purportedly pure blood, that of the elite caste, is regulated through marriage, or more precisely, through The Traffic in Women, to use Gayle Rubin's formulation. The central protagonist, Juanito Santa Cruz, dutifully marries his first cousin to perpetuate the caste.
There, in the ruling classes, blood remains unseen, flowing in a closed circuit. By contrast, the highly aestheticized shedding of physical blood like that of the hemorrhaging Fortunata, Juanito's lover and mother to his only son, marks those bodies that inhabit spaces of social precarity.
I'm going to turn very briefly to this book by Stephen Gilman, which is quite an authority in the field. It's from 1981. And it's called Galdos and the Art of the European Novel. It's cited everywhere. And in a chapter in Fortunata y Jacinta, here, Gilman is interested in how Galdos creates Fortunata's consciousness, right?
He actually finds Fortunata's appearance and body pretty unremarkable. He's like, yeah, she's pretty, but there's not that much to her. But it's her mind that's so interesting. And he kind of makes this for-- he does this formal analysis that says, we come to inhabit her mind by reading this book. And he writes in the chapter-- we know Fortunata in a way we can never know women of flesh and blood-- our mothers, our sisters, our wives.
And the interesting thing is I'm kind of writing against this move. I want to recover Fortunata's flesh and blood as something that is worthy of study and something that is intellectually valuable, but also, a source of ideas. So at the end of this 1,600 or 1,500-page novel-- it's really long-- Fortunata narrates her own death as she hemorrhages.
It seems that I'm going away in blood, my dear son. God wants to separate us, and it will be for your own good. I'm dying. My life is flowing out like the river that goes to the sea-- a much longer passage that I've just truncated for the talk. As Fortunata's body drains of blood, she begins to dictate her will, which effectively bequeaths her son to her lover's wife, Jacinta.
And I argue that the act of giving her son to her rival can be read as a feminist gesture, one that queers traditional roles by upending patriarchal kinship as we know it. Significantly, as Fortunata's does blood gushes forth, so too does language. The hemorrhaging illiterate mother refuses medicine and instead demands pen and paper, ordering her friend, Don Placido, to write as she dictates a will. The narrator relays Fortunata's thought process as she anxiously edits aloud.
Anyway, continue writing down what I say. I do not want to die without showing you an act of kindness. And I send you through the hands of my friend, Don Placido, this angel from heaven that your spouse gave to me mistakenly. No, no, erase the "mistakenly." Put that he gave to me by stealing him from you. No, Don Placido, not like this. This is all wrong because I had him, me, and no one took anything from her. The thing is I want to give him to her because I know she must love him, and because she is my friend.
In this crucial moment of the narrative-- I went ahead, sorry. We bear witness to Fortunata's thought process as she lays claim to her son. Whereas the norms and laws of Spanish society attributed the custody of children to their fathers, Fortunata's defies [SPEAKING SPANISH] and asserts that Pitusin, her son, is both hers and hers to give away.
This is actually incredible when you stop to think about it. That this illiterate woman, who is bleeding to death, is theorizing blood as she bleeds out. To fully appreciate the political promise of Fortunata's gift of blood to Jacinta, I turned to Gayle Rubin's well-known theorization of kinship in The Traffic in Women, where she writes, to enter into a gift exchange as a partner, one must have something to give.
If women are for men to dispose of, they are in no position to give themselves away. Of course, Ruben's talking about marriage here. Fortunata's will radically alters the patriarchal kinship and the caste genealogy around which the entire edifice of Galdos's narrative is erected. But Fortunata and Jacinta unite momentarily as mothers of the same child.
And by participating in givers and receivers of this exchange, they radically transform what it means to be a mother and ultimately, a woman in patriarchal society. Occupying the position as giver, Fortunata's defiance adheres to what she theorizes as the law of blood, overriding the laws of the state.
And so here, these are Fortunata's words and thoughts. [SPEAKING SPANISH]. The true law is the law of blood. [SPEAKING SPANISH]. She too had her own idea with respect to the ties established by law, and she broke them with her mind.
In the final part of my talk, I want to give you a glimpse of my coda, where I bring these blood novels into conversation with current debates in feminist theory, particularly feminist materialism. Feminist materialism, being a kind of school of thought that challenges the linguistic discursive turn. Not to reify the sex body, but to think about recuperating the materiality of the body and how it relates to gender as it's created discursively.
So in 1875, Francisco Cortejarena, doctor of gynecology and obstetrics and member of the Real Academia de Medicina, publishes this article entitled [SPEAKING SPANISH]. So I guess, notes on the effect of evacuations of blood on women. Cortejarena's article responds to the medical preoccupation with a woman's ability to sustain substantial blood loss of which menstruation is only one example.
So in the slide, it reads, [SPEAKING SPANISH]. There's one fact established by observation. And that is that women tolerate evacuations of blood better than men. I remember hearing this in high school. I don't know if this idea is familiar to you like, how weird are women that they can do this?
So this propensity for bleeding curiously doesn't-- I'm sorry, I jumped ahead. So Cortejarena goes on to say-- I don't have it quoted here-- that women even improve their health after several rounds of bloodletting. And this propensity for bleeding doesn't derive exclusively from women's biology. Rather in a surprising turn in the article, he explains that several forms of hemorrhaging in male body result from what we might now call gender.
I had to look all these up when I was doing this research, but they're all different forms of bleeding that sedentary men experience. The striking-- excuse me, within this line of thinking, bleeding is not an effective biological sex, but actually of gender. It's really fascinating-- it's 1875. Illustrated by this claim that feminized men or sedentary men in one form or another will bleed. Put bluntly, men who act like women will bleed like women.
The striking conceptualization of the body has a really early modern feel to it, conjuring up images of the menstruating Jewish man, which Dopico Black writes about in her work and more broadly, the body as a fluid and mutable entity. The effeminate character, Maximiliano Rubin, who is Fortunata's as husband, who's suspected of being Jewish converso origin, is a modern example of this.
Cortejarena's take on the bleeding body, however, also has some post-modern resonances, unwittingly challenging the deterministic force of biology and the notion of fixity we so readily associate with 19th century scientific approaches to the body. This doubly fluid gendered body, that is to say.
The mutable body-- that is the mutable gendered body from which blood readily flows unsettles Vanita Seth's claim that in this very period, the body becomes-- and these are all quotes, "an immutable passive object with deterministic significance packaged in discrete and flexible categories," end quote.
Indeed, Cortejarena's notion of the body in flux unsettles such widely held assumptions about the fixity of modern corporeality and supposed biologically determined identities, namely sex and race that they are thought to enfold. However, blood loss in women, whether involuntary or medically induced, is a source of endless curiosity and fear, problematically appears in this gynecology article as proof or even a source of women's resilience.
That is, women appear immune or even strengthened after several rounds of bloodletting. Something men, Cortejarena concludes, are not physically able to endure. But blood is messy matter. And the realist novels I examine offer a different story about gender bleeding in life, one that scrutinizes the fragility of gendered bleeding bodies rather than exalt their resilience.
Spanish realism vividly depicts how blood's materiality is gendered through and through. Tellingly, in these realist fictions, we see a persistent return to the gendered bleeding body rather than the biologically sexed and static body. And more broadly, these novels tend to privilege the experiential-- the body's tactility, fragility, and sensuous corporeality.
Jo Labanyi has noted that in the 19th century, quote, "men had bodies, but women were bodies," end quote. Galdos's realism, I contend, goes beyond a simple conflation of women as materiality. Instead, its aesthetic attention to the gendered bleeding body speaks to the socially induced precarity of certain lives, particularly those marginalized subjects, gendered feminine, and excluded from elite castes.
Realism in these case studies directs a critical eye to the hierarchical system of blood-based exclusivity, and the institution of patriarchy that relegate such women and effeminate men to the sphere of precarious materiality. Blood then functions as a sign of the social distribution of precarity.
Through the bleeding body, blood novels ultimately show us the limits of discourse by critiquing the vacancy of a reality as construed as pure representation, or reality as mimesis to reference Jo Labanyi's incisive definition of Spanish modernity. This provides a more nuanced explanation of the realist novel, quote, "urgent need to construct its gallery a female protagonist."
That's how Jo Labanyi just characterizes all these novels by men written about-- all these novels by men written about women. These gendered bodies, as a kind of compensation, bear the brunt of materiality for the upper echelons of society. Spanish realism's persistent return to the bleeding body gestures towards its own discursive limitations.
As bleeding as gendered feminine, this further illuminates that gender is not construed through representation alone, that is discursively. Material blood only makes itself visible in great moments of precarity if not death in the novels that I study. Galdos's realism in particular suggests that life may be discursively inflected, but it cannot be accounted for by discourse alone.
The physical body enables, but it also interrupts, sometimes fatally, these identities. Ultimately, blood novels illustrate with rich aesthetic detail the untimely ways in which material feminized bodies perish in vivid evacuations of blood. Thank you very much.
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In the late nineteenth century, some of Spain's most prominent male writers shared a fascination with the dual nature of blood as matter and metaphor. In a hybrid (in-person and live-streamed) Chats in the Stacks book talk, Julia Chang, assistant professor of Hispanic Studies in the Department of Romance Studies, discusses her new book, Blood Novels: Gender, Caste, and Race in Spanish Realism (University of Toronto Press, 2022), which examines the cultural and literary significance of blood and challenges the dominant assumption that, eclipsed by race and sexuality, blood no longer played a decisive role in social hierarchies in late nineteenth-century Spain. While engaging with feminist theory, theories of race and whiteness, literary criticism, and medical literature, Chang makes a case for treating blood as a critical analytic tool that challenges our understanding of gendered and racialized embodiment in Spain.This book talk was hosted by Olin Library.