[(essay date 2017) In the following essay, Maginn explores Grandes’s The Ages of Lulu, suggesting that Grandes breaks the mold of masculine erotica by subverting traditional gender roles and narrating a sexual awakening through an unsettling father/daughter paradigm.]
The study of literary sub-genres can shed a great deal of light on the workings and drives of a society, especially a changing society such as the post-Francoist Spain. As Janet and Genaro Pérez argue, popular literature lies close to the collective consciousness and desires of a nation, providing “an implicit chronicle of cultural intangibles, those factors Unamuno termed ‘intrahistoria’ …” (139). The explosion of erotic literature in 1980s and early 1990s Spain is particularly interesting to the observer of contemporary Spanish culture since it is one form of expression that deals with that “dark” area that was forbidden and repressed in Franco’s Spain: the “low” and “lower-half” of the body, to use Stephanie Sieburth’s terminology (1). That this long-forbidden area was finally spot-lighted in a society’s literature is in itself worthy of attention, but even more interesting is that women writers began to cultivate this hitherto male-dominated genre, representing female sexuality and desire in a way that had never before been seen in Spanish literature. This paper will examine how the erotic—especially female erotica—is represented in narrative form in the new, postmodern sensibility that began to manifest itself in Spain after Franco’s death.
Erotic literature has a long and controversial history1 and is a genre still considered by many critics to be aesthetically worthless, morally reprehensible and misogynistic. Given the polemics involved in the textual and sexual politics of this genre, writers who produce literature categorized as erotic necessarily implicate themselves in a debate that centers on either the repetition or the re-figuring of certain conventions. This debate becomes even more intensified when women writers explore areas of female subjectivity, sexuality and gender through explicitly erotic (some might say pornographic) representations. After giving a brief account of the development of women-authored erotic narrative in post-Franco Spain, I will focus on two works, Ana Rosetti’s short story “La noche de aquel día” (1991) and Almudena Grandes’ Las edades de Lulú (1989) which, in my view, deal with the erotic/pornographic in a transgressive way, presenting themselves as unsettling texts even within the sexually liberated climate of contemporary Spain. While all literary genres develop and change over time, most readers and critics can agree about what constitutes say, a science fiction or detective novel. The erotic, however, has never belonged to any stable or consistently defined category because its classification has always depended upon social mores influenced by religious beliefs and moralistic convictions, which, of course, change from generation to generation. Even at the beginning of the twenty-first century the debate continues about whether certain narratives are erotic or pornographic, or whether they are literature at all.
When talking about erotica in past centuries the figure of the Marquis de Sade comes to mind. Although not all critics would agree, some literary scholars...