Preface: I am in the process of trying to rewrite the preface historical material for the travel guides, and split it into a separate book. At that point, I want to then go back and do a much better job at doing the travel guide part and history of some of the specific parts of Madrid/Spain as per the original intent of the website. The history part just got overwhelming and hugely disorganized. Doing this requires combing a 189 page document with a 169 page document with a fair bit of overlapping text and information between them. This will be a work in progress, with that work in progress posted as blog posts. After having done the first three eras, the 189 page document is down to 164 pages so progress! Yay!
This area appears mostly characterized by literature and middle class women, with a little bit of information about legal changes. Women, especially same-sex attracted women, otherwise didn’t appear to be that interesting to write about as a class.
Nineteenth century Spain (1810 – 1874)
As Spain left the Enlightenment period and proceeded into the nineteenth century, a change in cultural attitudes around homosexuality began to take place because of advances in science, philosophy and politics; this resulting in people more generally beginning to advocate for increased human rights across the whole of Spanish society. Despite this, women were often left out of these conversations and Spanish feminism was still in its infancy. Feminism was at its most successful among middle class and upper class Spanish women; poor and working women were often ignored, and literacy rates and educational opportunities for these women continued to largely be non-existent. They were still culturally assumed to be required to remain in the house, and had fewer opportunities to participate in new labor organization movements that were springing up around the country, even in sectors like tobacco where women dominated in terms of workforce numbers.
The first formal, national written penal code in Spain’s modern era was not produced until 1822. Inspired by the French Napoleonic Code of 1810, neither mentioned homosexuality as sodomy had been legal in France since 1791. This effectively removed homosexuality as a crime for both men and women. The only exception left in the law was in the military, where homosexuality remained illegal; the exception had little impact on women and lesbians as they were not able to serve as soldiers in Spain’s military forces. Otherwise, the penal code was gender neutral in its approach to sex related offenses, especially in cases of violation of morals. In practice, this meant that sentences and punishments were often completely arbitrary, and lesbians often found themselves more severely punished than their heterosexual female peers as their activities were viewed as violating societal gender norms of the era.
During the 19th century, the study of homosexuality was medicalized around anatomy, with a focus on anus and penis size as a means of classifying gay men. Lesbian sexual practices were viewed as nothing but a crude imitation of “true” pleasure, so no similar studies were undertaken of female sexual anatomy. This pattern of focusing medical studies about homosexuality on men to the exclusion of women would largely continue into modern day Spain with only a few rare exceptions.
tortillera, the Spanish language equivalent to dyke, had appeared in the Spanish speaking world by the late 1820s. Emerging first in Latin America, it almost certainly was a derivative of the word tortus, meaning twisted or one-eyed. The word’s origins and usage were closely tied into expressions of homophobia in Spain, and would later be adopted by the broader homosexual community in Spain in a similar way that queer had been repurposed by English speaking lesbians, gays and bisexuals.
The works of Sappho were being translated into French starting in Paris by 1818. These works were circulating in Madrid earlier than later Spanish language translations and contained more of the obvious Sappho interest in women imagery. The works of Sappho started to emerge in the 1830s with translations from ancient Greek to Spanish, with different works appearing. This includes ones translated in 1832 by Don José del Castillo y Ayensa in 1832 and A. Bergnesde las Casas in 1838.
In 1832, José del Castillo y Ayensa published a scholarly translation of the work of Sappho. At the time, Sappho was not viewed as inherently about female desire and instead was viewed as being about the persecution of her work by others over time and the reasons for Sappho’s suicide, namely her unreciprocated love for Phaon. His translation went on to be republished in Madrid in 1859 and in Barcelona in 1910 before being removed from Spanish publishing history.
References to Sappho would continue through out this period in similar contexts to that of del Castillo y Ayensa in other forms of popular media of the day, depriving Sappho of female-on-female sexual attraction. Sappho was mentioned in a satirical newspaper piece in 1836. A short history of the life of Sappho was published in a Spanish newspaper in 1846.
Anne Lister visited the town of Hernani on 5 July 1838, at a time when the Carlist Wars were taking place in Spain. She wrote in her diary of this, “Awaked 2 or 3 times during the night, so terribly bit by some thing […] my artillery man, lance-corporal Colin Morrison, an Edinburgh man, was waiting for me – a fine looking soldier-like, civil man of apparently 24 or 25 – very fine morning – off at 6 – soon passed the little fortified gate (draw bridge and double trench) ot of the town, leaving (left) the sandy inlet and the long bridge over the river (Urumea)= and the road to Passages – we soon passed through the ruined village and pursued our road by steepish ascent towards Hernani distance 4 English miles – about a more or more from St. Sebastian, a fort (left) on the hill manned by Spanish soldiers – hilly road […]”
Despite some relaxation in attitudes towards lesbians, male misogynist editors in Galician language newspapers and books of the day would often take stories about crossdressing women or lesbians and recast these historical texts into explicitly heterosexual narratives, reinforcing the dominant gender roles of the period. This included thirteenth century references to transcriptions of the cantigas featuring Sancha and María.
Among women readers in the 1840s, at a time when broader literacy among women was very low and the national literacy hovered around 25%, the lesbian themed works of women writers like Sappho, Santa Teresa de Ávila, George Sand, Madame de Staël and Mexico’s Sister Juana Inés de la Cruz were very popular and were frequently mentioned in women’s publications. Among upper-class and bilingual literate Spanish lesbians, French writers like Boileau, Anne Le Févre Dacier and Tanneguy Le Fèvre were influential in the 1840s. Despite admiration for many of these writers, women were often warned not to follow the behaviors described by the writer of 1807’s Corinne, ou l’Italie, French writer Madame de Staël. At the same time, the state also enforced their views on readers, censoring the works of Amparo López del Baño and Carolina Coronado because the writers’ poetry discussed women loving women.
Romantic period women poets of 1840s Spain were sometimes inspired by the writings of Santa Teresa de Ávila and those of Sappho and because of their ability to use sensual and erotic language when describing women for writings aimed at men. This group included Carolina Coronado, Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda and Cecilia Francisca Josefa Böhl de Faber who wrote under the name Fernán Caballero.
María Josefa Massanés y Dalmau moved to Madrid in 1843 after getting married. She quickly got an appointment as a faculty of the literature section of the Liceo Artístico-Literario de Madrid. The following year, as her fame and acclaim grew, she returned to Barcelona where she continued to publish. Starting in the 1850s, she began to publish poems in the Catalan language, where she also quickly found acclaim and found herself a leader of the Catalan feminine Catholic social movement. While unlikely a lesbian, the imagery in her poetry between two women and her connection to the Hermandad Lírica would have put her into close contact with leading lesbians of the day and been an inspiration for lesbian readers and writers alike.
Spain’s criminal codes were amended several times in this period, including in in 1848, 1859 and 1870. Despite these amendments, homosexuality and sodomy were never mentioned and added as a criminal offense. The penal code was amended in such a way though so as to allow for prosecution of both through other means, namely through public scandal laws and laws against immorality.
19th century poet Carolina Coronado, born in December 1820 in Almendralejo, Extremadura, was one a handful of Spanish Sapphic writers in this period who would later be written out of history despite being widely read at the time unlike her contemporaries like Pilar de Sinués, Fernán Caballero, Emilia Pardo Bazán and Rosalía de Castro whose works became part of Spanish literary canon. As a group, those women with class privilege were better placed to ignore social norms that said writing was a masculine activity. Others were protected because of a network of women they surrounded themselves with. Others found validation and support of their work through support of male family members. Others could self-publish their work. In many cases, the group who remained visible in history for much longer periods were able to do so because their works did not fundamentally challenge patriarchal narratives of the state and society. Coronado’s fate to be forgotten was partly a result of challenging patriarchal narratives and her works containing Sapphic themes. By 1840, the 20-year-old had established a literary circle of like-minded, though not necessarily lesbian, women that included Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda and Cecilia Francisca Josefa Böhl, where the phrase “hermandad lírica” first gained prominence along with the concept of “las amistades”, circles of female writers who developed deep friendships with each other that didn’t involve competition with each other. Her four-poem collection of “Los cantos de Safo” was published in 1843 in a poetry volume, Poesías, along with the piece “El salto de Leucades” using Sapphic myth and voice. Coronado had fear that borrowing from this tradition would limit her broader appeal as it would require readers to have a classic education to understand them. She also was transgressive in writing about female desire for other women by borrowing from tradition that suggested Sappho’s writings about such desire were aimed at men.
In 1836, Gómez de Avellaneda‘s stepfather, fearing a slave rebellion in Cuba, convinced her mother to sell all her property and slaves and move the family to Spain for their safety. Setting sail on 9 April 1836, Gómez de Avellaneda used the two-month voyage to compose on of her best-known poems, the sonnet “Al partir”. After spending some time in France, they family finally settled in A Coruña for two years. By this time, Gómez de Avellaneda was dedicated to her writing and it caused a rift in her relationship with the Spanish man she was involved with. After that, Gómez de Avellaneda moved with her bother to Sevilla, and her poetry was published in several Andalusian newspapers. In the fall of 1840, she moved to Madrid where she made friends with many writers there and published her first collection of poems titled Poesías. The following year, her novel Sab was published. Sab, written eleven years before Uncle Tom’s Cabin, told the love story of a mulatto slave and his white own’s daughter. Gómez de Avellaneda continued to publish successfully but found herself single and pregnant in 1847, a situation that left her socially isolated, pessimistic, and feeling lonely. Her daughter died at seven months old, without ever being recognized by her father. Her fame continued to grow, and she was the second most important woman in Madrid after Reina Isabel II de España. Gómez de Avellaneda’s work in this period discussed more openly than some of her contemporary’s female sexuality and used female perspective sexual imagery instead of more patriarchal and male dominated perspectives. It was degenerated in writing by members of the Real Academia Española at the time as they feared her abilities and her potential to encroach on an all-male domain. One of their weapons of choices to attack her was use of female sexual imagery in verse. Another was to accuse her of being sexually promiscuous. A third was to try to rob her of her femininity in an attempt to dehumanize her further. She applied for a chair at the Real Academia Española, but the men refused to grant her one on account of her sex, and no woman would be granted one until 1979 when one was granted to Carmen Conde. Gómez de Avellaneda married again on 26 April 1856 to a Spanish politician. The failure of her comedic play Los tres amores two years later would result in her husband Colonel Domingo Verdugo y Massieu clashing in the street with the man her husband blamed for the play’s failure; the clash left her husband seriously injured. Following this incident, the couple went to Cuba in 1858 and remained there; her husband died in Cuba in 1863 and the following year Gómez de Avellaneda returned to Madrid after travels around the United States and Europe. She died in the city on 1 February 1873 and was buried in Sevilla next to her husband and brother.
During the 1850s in Spain, the use of the word lesbiana was considered inappropriate. Attempts were to ban the publishing of Charles Baudelaire’s 1857 compilations of Sappho’s poems titled, “Las Lesbianas” because it was considered pornographic and against public morals. This despite the fact that the work was intended to try to recover the works in Spanish from Greek antiquity and was done by a male writer.
Caballot had entered the Valencian language by 1851, appearing in the Escrig dictionary published that year. Referring to lesbians in a derogatory sense, the word translates into English as “big horse,” attributing masculine qualities to lesbians and denying their feminine aspects. The Valencian word Homenenca continued to be used as a euphemism for lesbians, and was included in the 1851 version of the Escrig dictionary.
The First Spanish Republic came to an end on 29 December 1874, and, with it, the Bourbon monarchy was restored along with its conservative brand of Roman Catholicism. Gay male homosexual culture already existed in Madrid and Barcelona in 1874, and Alfonso XIII offered little opposition to this. Little evidence exists though to suggest a similar culture for lesbians in either city, let alone a lack of opposition to it.