My current book project, Pregnant Minds and Literary Bodies: Motherhood and Feminism in Spanish Women’s Literature of the Modernist Era (1900-36), builds on the research that I began for my doctoral dissertation. This book examines literary representations of the mother-role in the early twentieth-century writings of Carmen de Burgos, Concha Espina, Margarita Nelken, and Federica Montseny. In addition to fictional narratives, I also analyze the essays written by these women during the 1920s as a way of more comprehensively articulating their ideological approach to woman- and motherhood.  In the process, I aim to reassess first-wave Spanish feminism by focusing precisely on these women’s engagement with maternal issues. Moreover, many of the most prevalent themes of first-wave Spanish feminism are indeed echoed or visible in today’s post-modern narratives and contemporary “popular culture” debates; thus my book provides a new lens through which we might approach 20th- and 21st-century Spanish literature and culture.

To add a visual to the themes I began exploring in my dissertation, below is the poster I designed when I was in the midst of my initial research at Penn State. The goal was to showcase my  research to professors outside my discipline, to alumni and professionals  outside Academia, and to undergraduate students of all ages.Poster_RBender

Recently I published a peer-reviewed article, “Fashion, Ekphrasis, and the Avant-Garde Novel: Carmen de Burgos’ La mujer fantastica (1924)”, in the open-access journal Ciberletras. In this study, I examine moments of ekphrasis — the literary description of works of art — in the novel La mujer fantástica and how they connect the fashion-obsessed protagonist to a long history of royal European portraiture. By analyzing Burgos’s juxtaposition of fashion and art from 19th-century France and 20th-century Spain, I argue that this overlooked novel challenges the notion that Spanish avant-garde literature represents an abrupt break from the past. It also validates fashion and make-up as nontraditional feminine artistic mediums while establishing a cultural and historical trajectory of women’s fashion as integral to artistic production. Feministas Unidas awarded this project the 2nd place Adela Zamudio prize in 2018 for the Best Published Essay of 2017 in the areas of feminist studies, gender studies, queer studies and studies related to works of literature and cinema by female authors. You can read the blog-version of my article’s argument here: Fashion and the Fine Arts in Carmen de Burgos’ Avant-garde Novel, La mujer fantástica.


Left: Empress Eugenia, as painted by Winterhalter in 1865.  Right:  The cover design of Burgos’s 1924 novel, La mujer fantastica (The Fantastic Woman).

In early 2017 I published a chapter in the The Routledge History Handbook of Gender and the Urban Experience (ed. Deborah Simonton), “Modernity and Madrid: The Gendered Urban Geography of Carmen de Burgos’s La rampa (1917).” In this chapter I expand on previous areas of research pertaining to women’s experiences of pregnancy and motherhood in early 20th-century Madrid, particularly in the Maternity Ward (see “Maternity Ward Horrors” 2012), to examine additional urban spaces – populated almost exclusively by women – that appear in Burgos’s novel. A few examples are the Gota de Leche (a food bank), the orphanage attached to the Maternity Ward, the pediatrician’s office, and a small plaza of prostitutes. Also related to my research on early 20th-century Spanish women’s narratives, in 2016 a portion of my work on Margarita Nelken, “Theorizing a Hybrid Feminism: Motherhood in Margarita Nelken’s En torno a nosotras (1927)”, was published in the Bulletin of Hispanic Studies.


Madrid, 1910 (Calle de Alcala and the future Gran Via). Image via

In addition to my work on women’s literature and first-wave Spanish feminism, especially within urban spaces, I also examine the manner in which the Spanish Avant-garde approaches corporeality in general, and the female body specifically.  I have written on Ramón Gómez de la Serna’s La hiperestésica (1931), and I recently wrote a book chapter examining José Díaz Fernández’s treatment of the female body’s reproductive potential in La Venus mecánica (1929).  This appeared in an edited volume focused on the body within the Spanish and Italian Avant-Garde, published by Routledge (2016): Modernism and the Avant-garde Body in Spain and Italy (Eds. Nicolás Fernández-Medina and Maria Truglio).  Finally, my research and teaching projects extend beyond the Spanish peninsula and into the broader Spanish-speaking world. I published a Transatlantic study of race in the Avant-garde poetry of Federico García Lorca (Spain) and Nicolás Guillén (Cuba) with the Latin America Literary Review (2014). This was my second article dealing with Latin American literature; my first was a short analysis of language in Ernesto Sabato’s El tunel, published in Romance Notes.

mural de independencia

Many of the above projects – especially those related to gender and corporeality – have led me to begin researching medical history and the evolution of obstetric practices in Spain and Western Europe during the 17th – 21st centuries.  My studies of scientific and medical advances in the twentieth-century inspired me to examine their presence as “postmodern artistic mediums” in Pedro Almodovar’s La piel que habitoI especially appreciate finding ways to connect my current research on early 20th century Spain and First-Wave Feminism to both my teaching and to contemporary discussions on motherhood, femininity, and heteronormative gender roles. In Salamanca  (June 2015), for example, I examined the way in which contemporary Spanish films glorify motherhood, if only “un/sub-consciously”, in my analysis of the 2007 film, Las 13 RosasIn the future, I plan to pursue projects that explore representations of children, childhood, and adolescence, as well as masculinity, femininity, and heteronormativity in 20th-21st century Peninsular literature.


8 Responses to Research

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  8. Pingback: Women of the Second Republic (Spain 1931-39) | Rebecca M. Bender, PhD

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