Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Latin American, Iberian and Latino Cultures


Paul Julian Smith

Committee Members

Nuria Morgado

Magdalena Perkowska

Subject Categories

American Literature | Spanish Literature | Women's Studies


Women writers, Spanish Civil War, Spanish Women Writers, American Women Writers, Women's Studies, Women and War


This dissertation seeks to addresses a lacuna in the androcentric Spanish Civil War literary canon by recovering women’s voices writing about the war from the 1930s to the present. It also examines the war stories women tell and how they represent themselves and others when writing about the Spanish Civil War. All of the seven authors examined here write through the lens of some distance—either as American citizens observing the war or as the descendants of the war’s survivors—but each with an intimate connection rooted in biology or ideology. The foundation of this dissertation is close reading and textual analysis of the works of these authors, and it also dialogues with feminist theories as well as critical studies of women and marginalized populations in war.

Chapter 1 examines the memoir Death’s Other Kingdom (1939), by Gamel Woolsey, and Savage Coast (2013), the posthumously published novel by the poet Muriel Rukeyser. This chapter argues that Woolsey and Rukeyser (the latter through her autobiographical protagonist, Helen) utilize feminist narrative techniques highlighting their unique visual and tactile experiences in the Spanish Civil War as a means of establishing their authority as feminine seeing subjects of war. The second chapter of this dissertation is an analysis of Virginia Cowles’ memoir Looking for Trouble (1941) and three overlapping pieces by Lillian Hellman about her time in Spain: “Day in Spain” (1938), “The Little War” (1942), and a chapter of her memoir, An Unfinished Woman (1969). Chapter 2 continues the analysis of Chapter 1, examining the work of Cowles and Hellman as both participants and observers of war. The chapter also argues that the texts’ narrative embellishments and the writers’ post-facto fashioning of these memoirs reveal a concern for the audience’s affective connection with the suffering in Spain. Chapter 3 is an analysis of three 21st century Spanish novels by women: Ángeles López’s Martina, la rosa número trece (2006); Almudena Grandes’ popular novel, El corazón helado (2007); and the Basque epic, Hijos del árbol milenario, by María Jesús Orbegozo (2010). This chapter is in dialogue with Sebastiaan Faber’s “La literatura como acto afiliativo” and asserts that the literary trend toward intergenerational connectedness in contemporary Spanish Civil War literature is based both in affiliative and filiative relationships. The connectedness created by intergenerational affiliative and filiative bonds also engenders a tendency towards social and collective narratives in all three texts, which highlight genealogies and networks of women. This sense of a social and collective protagonism in the three novels is strengthened through the use of paratexts, which also contribute to a sense of hybridity in the genres of these texts.

This dissertation demonstrates the ways in which the women writers studied here are very present in their texts about the Spanish Civil War. In the 20th century narratives, these writers are visible in the texts as witnesses and participants in the action of the war. In the 21st century texts, the writers make themselves visible especially through their paratextual elements that highlight the processes of investigation and writing and underscore the facticity of the novel’s events. These techniques align with feminist textual practices, and the narrative strategies also strengthen the positions of the writers as affective and effective authorities on their chosen topics within the Spanish Civil War literary corpus.