Archive | March 2014

A Modern Ifigenia

Teresa de la Parra sans frame

Teresa de la Parra’s work Ifigenia (Venezuela, 1924) tells the unfortunate story of a young woman who sees all her dreams perish in the dull reality of the 1920s Caracas society. The book is a large one and a lot of topics, all the same interesting, may be identified. Aware that other readers may find some other themes than those here presented, I will limit myself to the following ones:

Ifigenia is a Venezuelan high society girl who has spent almost all her life in Paris with her father; she attends a French boarding school and enjoys all Parisian pleasures which by the date are totally subject to the modernist fashion: art noveau, Channel and Vogue conform her parisian life and she does not attempt to give up her daily life. But Ifigenia’s father dies and she is forced to go back to Caracas out of pure necessity where she expects to inherit her father’s fortune. Unfortunately, thinks are very different for Ifigenia, and once she arrives at Caracas, at her grandma’s house, she encounters  an old fashioned society and principles: her grandma and aunt have strict plans of marrying Ifigenia with a proper man who does not stand for parisian modes and fashions; European airs are totally out of place in the American country. Ifigenia is not the first work to show this fear of European contamination, Henry James pursues this topic in most of his works, Edith Warthon’s character, Countess Oleska, is to blame for her liberal european ideas, even Tolstoi puts himself out of ‘Europe’ and criticises moral degeneration in the continent. Thus, Ifigenia is left alone in most of the occasions to enjoy her parisian dresses and haircuts, most of them found in Vogue, which became a fashion magazine for the New Woman.

Ifigenia is also a work full of Romantic ideas about love; apart from the multiple literary references to couples such as Tristan and Isolda, Romeo and Juliet, etc. Ifigenia herself experiences a romantic passion for Gabriel, the man she will not marry because he is a divorced man, and society would not accept it. Ifigenia is not ready to abandon her family for her love and she finally marries her family’s match, César, a man with a complete tyrannical character who puts an end to all her parisian customs. It is very impressive the use of romantic discourse in such a late work, however, the influence of Romanticism in the 20th century is notably and is one of the pillars for breaking with bourgeoise rules in the 19th century and defending a marriage for love trying to avoid any kind of sense of duty. Another influence in Ifigenia is sentimental deism and the importance of feelings and nature. In this sense, it is remarkable Gabriel’s love letter to Ifigenia asking her to escape with him; the discourse is full of deistic ideas such as the exaltation of real feelings upon moral and social conventions, and the importance of nature as a divine setting.

Ifigenia finally marries César, and hence  her mane which refers back to Ifigenia’s sacrifice to save the Greek boat in its way home. She sacrifices herself, and her love, for her family marrying a man she does not love and who does not love her. There is a strong sense of not only spiritual but also physical renounce in her last words after the wedding which embrace the whole sexual experience in a terrible act of female submission.