Juana Manuela Gorriti
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Juana Manuela Gorriti was born in Salta near the Bolivian border. She came from a wealthy upper-class family, and attended a convent school when she was eight. Her father, José Ignacio de Gorriti, was a politician and soldier, and signed the Argentine Declaration of Independence on July 9. She was also the niece of the infamous guerrilla Jose Francisco "Pachi" Gorriti. Her family was liberal, and supported the Unitarians during a time when Juan Manuel de Rosas ran the country. Juan Manuel was a conservative who was in office from 1829 and 1852, and used genocide to steal land from the indigenous people. In 1831, when Gorriti was thirteen, the federal caudillo Facundo Quiroga forced Gorriti and much of her family into exile, so they emigrated to Tarija, Bolivia. This is where she met future husband Manuel Isidro Belzu.
Manuel Isidro Belzu was a captain in the Bolivian Army at the time. They married when she was fifteen, and she bore three daughters. As his career advanced, their marriage suffered, and he abandoned her in 1842 after nine years together. He later went on to become president in 1848, and was assassinated in office to be replaced by Mariano Melgarejo. It was rumored, though unconfirmed, that Mariano himself shot Belzu during a fake embrace in order take over as President, even though he acted as a dictator. Gorriti did not receive the divorce papers until fourteen years later, during the shelling on Lima's port by the Spanish Navy in 1866.
Separated, but not divorced, she left Bolivia for Peru, where her literary life would take off. She started teaching, and eventually founded a school. In Lima, a coastal city where she lived, Gorriti arose as an influential journalist, and started to regularly host tertulias. Fashionable men and women of mostly a well educated background would attend these salons, such as Ricardo Palma and Manuel González Prada, Mercedes Cabello de Carbonera, Clorinda Matto de Turner and Teresa González de Fanning. They would meet to discuss literature and progress, a theme Gorriti felt passionate about, and would include in much of her literature. Gorriti was a feminist, and it showed in many of her journals. Through her writings, she instructed and inspired women to take on the modern gender roles which were so common in Europe and North America. She wanted women to stand up and be heard, to educate themselves, and not be afraid to go against the norm.
In 1866, the Spanish Navy shelled ports on Peru's and Chile's coastlines, including the port of Lima. Gorriti served as a battlefield nurse. She also risked her life evacuating the wounded when the Spanish surrendered at Callao. For her heroism, and Florence Nightingale-like actions, Gorriti was seen as a Peruvian freedom fighter, and was awarded the Second Star of May by the Peruvian government. She wrote about these events in numerous articles and short stories, later collected and published in the Album of Lima founded by herself and her friend and fellow writer Carolina Freyre de Jaimes. Gorriti also founded the newspaper The Dawn of Lima with fellow poet Numa Pompilio Yona.
In 1878, Gorriti returned to Argentina, and even after having faced numerous scandals in her life such as divorce, exile, and Belzu having a child out of wedlock, she was still seen as an exceptional woman who brought great pride to her country. Her daughter Mercedes became sick in Peru in 1879, but Gorriti could not go to her because of the war between Chile and Peru over the provinces of Tanca and Arica. Mercedes died later that year. Gorriti also founded the newspaper The Argentina Dawn, where she published many articles on the rights and education of women, and how Progress was limiting their freedom. When she died, Argentines hailed her as a famous, instructive, influential journalist in her day.
Gorriti wrote a number of novels and short stories, including "La hija del mazorquero" and "El lucero de manantial." Both of these stories are melodramatic tales with a strong anti-Rosista political message. She also wrote a number of other novels and short stories. Among these is another melodramatic novel, "La oasis de la vida" written in the 1880s as an advertisement for the insurance company "La Buenos Aires": the plot is the standard "poor orphan boy can't marry his true love", but all is resolved when he finally discovers his parents had a life insurance policy with company, and so he isn't quite so poor after all. This novel was indicative of the new, more expansive literary climate in Argentina at the time.
Of interest, but not often noted, was her on-again, off-again, three-year stay in Lima where she served as a mentor for a whole generation of women writers. This resulted in her publication of a short but influential novel "La Quena" in the prestigious newspaper El Comercio. Later as Peruvian politics began to stabilize she contributed to the institutionalization of Peruvian literature by collaborating in the Revista de Lima with stories like "El Angel Caido", "Si haces mal no esperes bien" and others. By organizing and hosting her tertulias, she provided a great opportunity for many female writers like Mercedes Cabello de Carbonera, Clorinda Matto de Turner and Teresa González de Fanning to come together and discuss literature, progress, and the progress of women. Many of the attendees would later go on to write more about these subjects, including Teresa González de Fanning, who founded an enlightened women's movement.
Although perhaps not as well known as she should be, Juana Manuela Gorriti is an author not to be overlooked. Her stories are finely crafted, and not only bear witness to trends in South American literature of the 19th century, but are enjoyable reading in their own right.
- Berg, Mary. "Juana Manuela Gorriti: narradora de su epoca" Loyola University Maryland, 20 March 2007. 18 March 2007
- Chasteen, John Charles. Born in Blood and Fire. 2nd ed. London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2006.
- Sylvester, Santiago. “Exile and property.” Iruya. 8 March 1997. 17 March 2007
- Fernandez, Maria Cristina. “Franciscano Military man.” Portal Informativo de SALTA. 3 March 2007. 17 March 2007
- Ward, Thomas. “Ficción histórica peruana: Las escritoras comprometidas”. Labrys: études féministes/estudos feministas, No. 11 "Femenismos en el Perú" (janvier/juin 2007-janeiro/junho 2007).