[(essay date 1988) In the following essay, the critic discusses recurring images in Bombal's novellas and stories that serve to portray the futile state of her women protagonists.]
Imagination is a strong, restless faculty. When she shows us bright pictures, are we never to look at them, and try to reproduce them? And when she is eloquent, and speaks rapidly and urgently in our ear, are we not to write to her dictation?Charlotte Brontë, in a letter to George Henry Lewes1
The desire to translate and to render artistically her inner fantasies and thoughts into the written word is not a novel experience for the literary woman. However, as Charlotte Brontë's questions clearly imply, fiction was not always considered a legitimate domain for the woman writer. Indeed both Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar brilliantly disclose in their panoramic study of the woman writer and the nineteenth-century literary imagination, how several generations of women were either prevented or strongly dissuaded from "attempting the pen".
Anomalous figures in the annals of a predominantly masculine engendered literary domain, women have until quite recently, been denied their place in literature.2 However interesting it is to speculate and to discuss the probable causes and origins of this conspiracy of silence, it is even more essential to examine the distinctive manner in which the woman writer has not only designed her craft but has also confronted and transcended the conventional strictures that have been given her.
Although María Luisa Bombal initiated her literary career in the Buenos Aires of the thirties amidst a highly respected group of artists and intellectuals--among these, Jorge Luis Borges, Oliverio Girondo, Norah Lange, Pablo Neruda and Victoria Ocampo--and her first two novels, La última niebla (1935) and La amortajada (1938), appeared in the prestigious journal Sur, the recognition and interest that these works initially inspired, suddenly and mysteriously waned, plunging the poet-novelist into the silent abyss of literary anonymity that was to accompany and to plague her for a period of almost three decades. So few acknowledged the originality of her prose, that an incredulous Amado Alonso found himself compelled to ask:
¿Por qué la crítica local no habrá anunciado La última niebla como un libro importante? ... Una novelista que en su primera obra nos da una construcción poética con tan artística realización y con tan sobrios y eficaces elementos de estilo bien merece ser saludada y presentada por la crítica con especial atención.3
Unwilling to subscribe to the literary dogmas that were still in vogue in her native Chile and responding to an inner voice that differed from conventional techniques of storytelling in its tonality, substance, and form, María Luisa Bombal was destined to become a marginal and somewhat problematic figure. Her preoccupation with feminine themes, her revitalization of traditional models of narration and her voluntary exile also undoubtedly contributed to her enigmatic disappearance from the literary mainstream.
María Luisa's narrative evokes a poetic vision of the self and its relationship to its world. Implicit within the...