INDIGENOUS LOVERS AND VILLAINOUS SCIENTISTS: REWRITING NINETEENTH-CENTURY IDEAS OF RACE IN ARGENTINE ROMANCE NOVELS.
The three novels I study are set in the late-nineteenth century, include heroines of European descent, mestizo heroes, villainous scientists who threaten the romantic relationship, and happy endings marked by marriage and the birth of a child. In Indias blancas, set in 1871, wealthy and white Laura falls in love with Nahueltruz Guor, the son of the cacique of the Ranquel Indians. Their love grows clandestinely until their secret affair is discovered by the jealous Coronel Racedo, resulting in the desperate flight of Nahueltruz and Laura's forced marriage to a family friend.
Indias blancas: la vuelta del Ranquel (henceforth La vuelta del Ranquel) resumes the story of Indias blancas. Laura's husband has since died. She is having an affair with General Roca, who is on the verge of undertaking the final Conquest of the Desert. Her peace is disrupted when one Lorenzo Rosas arrives from France, for Rosas is none other than Nahueltruz, polished after a six-year stay in Europe. Tension simmers between the former lovers as they work to trust each other once again. In the end, Laura gives birth to Nahueltruz's son, they marry, and live happily ever after on a plantation he buys to shelter the displaced people of his tribe.
Finally, Casanas's La maestra de la laguna relates the story of Elizabeth O'Connor, a strong-willed Bostonian who travels to Argentina to become a teacher in one of President Domingo F. Sarmiento's teacher colleges. Her path repeatedly crosses with that of Francisco Pena y Balarce, an upper-class Argentine escaping from the revelation that he is a bastard. He also suffers from a mysterious disease characterized by severe pain attacks that leave him temporarily blind. Elizabeth and Francisco begin a tumultuous relationship interrupted when they are attacked by an Indian malon. Jim Morris, a Cherokee seeking revenge on the French Doctor Nancy, who had murdered his father and brother in order to collect their skulls for his museum, leads the attack. He takes Elizabeth captive, although she eventually escapes and marries Francisco because she is pregnant with his child. Later, Francisco is taken captive but released when it is revealed that an unnamed cacique, possibly Calfucura, is his real father. Francisco is actually a mestizo. In the end, Francisco and Elizabeth realize how much they love each other and everyone lives happily ever after.
These novels have found a wide and adoring public. For the largest Argentine publishing houses, romance novels make up 10-25% of sales annually and hold their own against international best sellers (Molero). Bonelli alone has sold over two million copies (Molero) and her official Facebook page has over 65,000 likes from fans who call themselves "Bonellistas" (Florencia Bonelli (Official)). Casanas received the Premio del Lector at the Feria del Libro de Buenos Aires in 2012 and has had numerous novels on the bestseller lists ("Casanas, la autora que cautivo al publico"). Despite--or perhaps because of--this commercial success, these romance novels have largely been untouched by scholars. (2) However, their nineteenth-century settings and focus on heterosexual love and marriage remit us to Doris Sommer's foundational fictions with their positivist programs of national consolidation through romance. These "novelas retro-fundacionales," as Maria Cecilia Saez Roby labels them, use rewritings of canonical texts to craft a new identity for the nation (154). In doing so, she concludes, they revalue marginalized groups and expose the hypocrisies and injustices elided in the original foundational fictions.
Saenz-Roby's conceptualization of "novela retro-fundacional" is a useful framework for approaching the twenty-first-century romance; however, her article is limited in scope to the intertextuality between Bonelli and Mansilla's Una excursion a los indios ranqueles. I borrow her term, but like Jayashree Kamble approach the romance novel "as a barometer of the ethos of its times" (21). I argue that these novels participate more extensively in current efforts to critically revisit the theories and practices of nineteenthcentury science. In that period, intellectuals such as Mansilla, Francisco P. Moreno, and Domingo F. Sarmiento argued that science held the answer to the economic and political problem posed by indigenous cultures in the region. Their work with anthropology and prehistory often justified military actions on the pampas, arguing that the "indio" was destined to disappear due to biological inferiority. The racial determinism that predicted extinction or permanent degradation for indigenous cultures also painted a negative picture of the American mestizo. European intellectuals such as Robert Knox, the Comte de Gobineau, and Louis Agassiz all disdained racial mixture, an attitude exemplified by Knox's assertion that the "Hispano-hybrid races" were a "disgrace to human nature" and faced certain destruction (505). Argentine intellectuals found themselves in the uncomfortable spot of defending the River Plate mestizo against these foreign attacks while still harboring their own doubts about the fitness of the "indios" and gauchos living on the frontier.
In recent decades, scholars have exposed the racism at the heart of this scientific production and its complicity in the destruction of rich and varied cultures. The once-glorious victory over the desert has been refigured as a genocide, and national heroes such as Moreno and Roca labeled predecessors to the human rights abuses of the 1970s and 80s (Mazzeo 54). The Grupo Universitario de Investigacion Antropologia Social (GUIAS), based in La Plata, has dedicated countless hours to identifying the indigenous remains still in the museum's collections and negotiating their return to their communities of origin (Gutierrez). These actions thus argue for the equality and humanity of both past indigenous peoples and those alive today, stressing their role in Argentine national identity. In the three novels I study, the retrofoundational revisionist project cannot be separated from this critical reassessment of science, foreign as it may seem from the passion of the romance novel. Bonelli and Casanas use three conventions of the romance novel--the romantic hero, the barrier, and the happy ending--to break down scientific racism and propose an alternative Argentine identity that purports to include both indigenous cultures and mestizos. However, this incorporation is only partial, as other aspects of genre and the settings of the novels subtly reaffmn nineteenthcentury preferences for Whiteness, European-ness, and "civilization." In contrast to SaenzRoby's optimistic assessment of the retrofoundational project, I argue that these novels require the reader to be complicit in the perpetuation of exclusionary national projects.
Strategy One: An Alternate Romantic Hero
The romance novel is predicated on a hero and heroine, usually star-crossed lovers who suffer through a number of tribulations to be together. In the original Argentine romances, such as Jose Marmol's/iwa/z'a (1851), both lovers are young, attractive, and white. Those texts that differed from this model, such as Juan Zorrilla de San Martin's Tabare (1888) or Eduardo L. Holmberg's Lin-Cale! (1910), end with the tragic death of one or both of the lovers, emphasizing the sterility of the mestizo and the impossibility of interracial love. The twenty-first century romances challenge this exclusion by featuring attractive, strong mestizo heroes whose romantic plotlines are resolved happily with the birth of a further mixed-race child.
Both novels take the archetypical romantic hero--tall, mysterious, and handsome--and infuse him with a dose of exoticism. The hero of the Indias blancas series, Nahueltruz, hews so closely to this model that his rival, General Julio A. Roca, metatextually observes that he, "se asemejaba mas a la descripcion de un heroe de novela romantica que a la de un reo profugo de la Justicia" (Bonelli, La vuelta 63). At the same time, however, Laura is explicitly attracted to "su condicion de indio" (Indias blancas 216). These "Indian" characteristics, including hairlessness, high cheekbones, and bronzed skin, also attract Elizabeth to Francisco, the hero of La maestra de la laguna (Casanas 311). In this way, qualities that were once a sign of Otherness are now valued as strength and beauty. Additionally, unlike the Hispanic hybrid described by Louis and Elizabeth Agassiz as a "mongrel nondescript type, deficient in physical and mental energy" (293), these heroes are passionate, powerful, and intelligent. Always on the move, they also engage in intellectual pursuits such as Petrarchian poetry or natural history.
Another piece of the revisionist project in these novels is direct defiance of scientific racism's characterization of the mestizo as sterile. French anthropologist Paul Broca, for example, had concluded in 1864 that certain "crossings" were significantly less productive than others (15), and others followed suit, arguing that children from "cross-species" unions would be "low in vitality" (Knox 566) or would lack character (Agassiz 292). Bonelli and Casanas challenge these perceptions and their Argentine literary expressions. Francisco is threateningly sexual, a "peligroso felino" who caresses Elizabeth "causandole un secreto placer que no se sabia capaz de sentir" (Casanas, La maestra de la laguna 201). Likewise, Nahueltruz inspires great passion in Laura and in tum cannot control his own sexual impulses around her (Bonelli, indias blancas 225). Both are able to quickly impregnate their heroines. It is hard to imagine anything further from the cold, impotent mestizos of texts like Tabare than these heroes.
The novels also present a resolution to the oft-repeated literary trope of the tragic mulatto, the mixed-race character who suffers due to his or her "divided inheritance" (Brown 194). For Nahueltruz, being a mestizo does, in fact, provoke a species of psychological torment. In Indias blancas, he repeatedly wishes he were White in order to facilitate his relationship with Laura (Bonelli 306). However, when facing his uncle Epumer, imprisoned on the Isla Martin Garcia, he feels a profound sense of guilt for forgetting his heritage and permitting a White woman to manipulate him (Bonelli, La vuelta 334). As a mestizo, he is not White enough for White society and not Indian enough for the Indians. Nahueltruz's divided loyalties are paralleled by an unstable sense of self. After speaking with Epumer he feels so far removed from that life that he has the sensation that he had never been a Ranquel (352), but quickly contradicts himself by thinking "Para ella siempre sere un indio" (359). As a result, he suffers from a split identity that at times feels like no identity at all: "El no pertenecia al mundo de los blancos...menos aun al ranquel, porque habia llegado a despreciar el primitivismo en que vivian; jamas habria podido regresar a las tolderias... El no era nada, ni huinca ni ranquel" (214). Nahueltruz feels pressure to "be" one identity or the other, and the impossibility of this choice spirals him into nothingness.
Despite these echoes of the tragic mulatto, Nahueltruz is able to find happiness through the unconditional acceptance of Laura, his beloved. After over 800 pages of trials and tribulations across the two novels, their romance ends with a declaration of eternal love. Laura promises to put her life, and that of their child, in his hands. Nahueltruz is struck dumb with emotion, and Laura's promise makes him feel powerful, even invincible (452). Love could not save the nineteenth-century mestizo, but in these twenty-first-century romance novels it is enough overcome the psychic and social stigma of mestizaje. The romance provides not only happiness for the hero, but also strength and vitality, characteristics once thought to be lacking in the Hispanic hybrid.
In an inversion of the values associated with the tragic mulatto, for Francisco, discovering his father's true identity allows him to finally understand and value certain qualities that had previously separated him from his family and peers (Casanas,Z.a maestra de la laguna 536). Knowing himself to be mestizo does not tear him apart, but rather alleviates his physical pain and brings him peace. His only concern is for how Elizabeth might view him (622), but as in La vuelta, her nonjudgmental love and acceptance distance him from any sort of tragic fate. In fact, in La maestra de la laguna, everyone except Francisco's embittered stepfather is shown to gladly and quickly accept his secret heritage. In the end, he finds comfort in knowing that the mestizo condition is so common that he is literally one in a million. His mother's rape by a cacique is "algo que ocurria a muchas mujeres" and thus "Habia muchos como el... La frontera todo estaba sembrada de mestizos" (644). Although Francisco's reaction to this revelation is perhaps a little too cavalier to be believable, this ending does depict racial mixture as a nonissue.
As the mestizo is positively revalued, however, he is also whitened and civilized, repeating nineteenth-century paradigms. Although frequently referred to as "indios" and characterized as the forbidden other, both Nahueltruz and Francisco largely participate in hegemonic culture. In the case of Indias blancas, in addition to his romance-hero good looks, Nahueltruz is described as looking like "un heroe de la mitologia griega" (Bonelli 197). This connection to ancient civilizations belies his Indianness and would not have been out of place among the theories of Argentine Aryanism developed by nineteenth-century intellectuals such as Vicente Fidel Lopez, Domingo Sarmiento, and Francisco Moreno. Nahueltruz had also been educated in Cordoba and Paris, and speaks Spanish, French, Italian, and Latin so well that he makes Laura feel unrefined in comparison (Bonelli, La vuelta 93). These characteristics contrast sharply with what both the characters and the reading public have come to expect from a Ranquel. The domestication of the savage hero is not unique to these novels, but also appears in US captivity romances and US and British desert (or sheik) romances. (3) In all these forms, the need to build connections between the protagonists demands that the author emphasize commonalities across cultures (Teo 10). In fact, Laura guiltily admits to Eduarda Mansilla that had Nahueltruz not been "un hombre instruido," she probably would not have fallen in love with him (171). Although his skin is dark, Nahueltruz's spirit is associated with Western ideals, a process than Kamble argues allows even non-Caucasian romantic heroes to be felt by the reader as White (135).
Nahueltruz is so "civilized" that he speaks with the words of Darwin and Spencer, naturalizing the scientific arguments for the elimination of his own tribe. From the beginning of Indias blancas, he is a prophetic voice arguing that "Los huincas son mas poderosos, y tarde o temprano nos doblegaran" (Bonelli 220). He also subscribes to the idea of the cultural superiority of the "huincas," saying that, "No se puede rehuir el progreso que viene con el avance del huinca, es una realidad implacable. Y yo creo que nos adaptamos o perecemos" (221). His language is not that different from his enemies' interventions earlier in the text, as all insist that the European culture of the creole constitutes an advance over that of the indigenous tribes. In creating the conditions for affinity between her hero and heroine, Bonelli echoes the nineteenth-century assertion that the extermination of the Indian was not an immoral action but rather the result of natural processes. Despite projecting a new inclusive Argentine identity with the inclusion of an (partially) indigenous protagonist, Bonelli's novels still engage in an evolutionary understanding of racial history whereby the Indian was a necessary stage to overcome as the nation progressed.
Furthermore, in a plot twist that recalls the legerdemain of the desert romance in which the "Arab" hero is revealed to be at least part European (Bach 33), although Nahueltruz is repeatedly referred to as an Indian or a Ranquel, he actually has very little indigenous blood. In Una excursion, Mansilla names the real-life Mariano Rosas as the son of the cacique Paine and describes when he was captured and taken to the Governor Juan Manuel de Rosas's ranch to work as a peon (200). Legend tells that Rosas grew fond of Mariano, baptized him, gave him his Christian name, and became his godfather. Bonelli takes liberties with this story, alleging that Mariano Rosas was actually the son of Juan Manuel de Rosas and the wife of Paine, herself the daughter of a Ranquel and a White woman (Indias blancas 332). In the novelized account, therefore, Mariano Rosas is only 1/4 Indian. Nahueltruz, son of Mariano Rosas and Blanca Montes, is thereby only 1/8 Indian, and his child with Laura will consequently possess only 1/16 Indian blood. As in the English-language sheik novels of the twentieth century, the hero's ultimate whiteness "saves" the heroine from sex with the Other (Teo 80) and permits the perpetuation of White identity (Kamble 142). In the Argentine novels, this process of whitening the hero's personal genealogy also anticipates the overall demographic shift of Argentina as government policies of immigration, extermination, assimilation were realized.
La maestra de la laguna similarly argues for an infusion of educated, upper-class, White people into the nation's genetic pool. Elizabeth is a North American with strong Irish heritage. The choice of Elizabeth instead of a criolla as the romantic heroine and other half of the foundational family in the novel points to the fulfillment of Domingo F. Sarmiento and Juan Bautista Alberdi's goal of attracting European immigrants to rejuvenate and advance Argentina. In fact, when Elizabeth tells the fictionalized Sarmiento that she has married an Argentine, he invokes Alberdi and exclaims, "Ya empieza a arder la fragua que alimentara a esta tierra" (Casanas 648). Like the child of Nahueltruz and Laura, her child will be whiter than his father who in turn was whiter than his father. A fundamental paradox is at work in these texts: they elevate people of indigenous heritage to the status of romantic hero/protagonist while simultaneously erasing the presence of the Indian in the implied future of the nation. The twenty-first century romance novel laments the racism of the past, while continuing to contribute to the "narrative of invisibilization" (Gordillo and Hirsch 11) of the present-day Amerindian through the characterization of the romantic hero and the whitening of his progeny.
Strategy Two: The Villainous Scientist
Another fundamental aspect of the romance novel is what Pamela Regis calls "the barrier," the person(s) or circumstance(s) that threaten the happiness of the lovers in whom the reader has emotionally invested (32). In the novels studied here, the primary challenges come from society's rules about race, personified in men of science. Although Bonelli's villain corresponds to a specific historical figure and Casanas's is a fictionalized amalgam of many, both authors negatively depict scientists and their actions, relying on the romance reader's strong emotions to intensify this critical portrayal.
In Bonelli's novels, the critique of science is developed through the character of Estanislao Zeballos. Born in 1854, Zeballos was the founder of many Argentine scientific institutions and an armchair anthropologist (Perez 13). He was also a prolific author of books about the territory and native peoples of Argentina, written to justify and support military conquest. Bonelli fictionalizes Zeballos, concentrating the supposedly objective vitriol of the era in his character. In La vuelta del Ranquel, Zeballos opines that military operations in the South are the only aceptable plan of action because "Tierra Adentro nos pertenece por derecho... el derecho que nos da la cultura, la civilizacion y el progreso!" (Bonelli 27). This statement, paraphrased from his works, excludes the Ranquels from the first-person plural and positions them as a foreign enemy working against the natural development of civilization. Like others of his time, he conceives of a hierarchy of races in which indigenous peoples occupy a lower rung than the non-indigenous race inhabiting the cities of Argentina. This biological superiority, manifested in more advanced culture and customs, guarantees the right to destroy or forcefully employ the "bestias" of the pampas "a punta de Remington" (156). The indigenous people are not lawful citizens, but bandits who threaten the very bases of the nation.
Bonelli brings this attitude to the reader's awareness by opposing Zeballos's comments with the more moderate voice of Laura, the romantic heroine. As owner of the fictional Editora del Plata, Laura refused to publish Zeballos's La conquista de quince mil leguas (Bonelli, La vuelta 308). Every time she speaks with Zeballos, she defends the humanity and dignity of the Indians. She argues that although they work the land in a different manner, they are neither lazy nor unproductive (27). The representatives of anti-Indian thought are never allowed to speak in the novel without being contested by a voice that calls for tolerance and understanding. This rhetorical strategy, found in North American abolitionist novels, allows direct refutation of the arguments the authors wish to discount. Thus, Laura becomes the mouthpiece for a critical reassessment of the proclamations of an era invested in hierarchical conceptualizations of race and infatuated with the idea of progress. The insertion of the debate into the romance novel gives it more force, as the reader recognizes that it is not just about abstract racial groups but will also have profound effects on the characters with whom she or he has begun to identify. In La vuelta del Ranquel, the successful realization of Zeballos's anti-Indian programs would make the happy ending the reader desires for Laura and Nahueltruz completely impossible. This careful weaving of incendiary quotes and an emotionally charged context forces the reader to reconsider the myths learned from history books with regard to the necessity and methods of the Conquest of the Desert.
In La maestra de la laguna, Casanas paints a similar pessimistic portrait of nineteenth-century science. Here, the critique is carried out in dramatic fashion through the character of Doctor Nancy, a French medic who traverses the pampas, collecting indigenous skulls. This practice was not rare; in the nineteenth century scientists frequently dug up graves and sent bones to museums at home and abroad in similar patterns to those established by the commoditization of other fossil mammals (Podgorny 253). In their writings, grave robbing is depicted as essential for the advancement of the noble cause of science. The Indian is so far Othered by the discourses of prehistory and racial hierarchy that the fact that the bones were once a person who had family and friends is willfully ignored. Francisco Moreno, perhaps the closest model for Nancy, is even willing to dig up the remains of Sam Slick, a Tehuelche Indian he knew while alive and called "amigo" (Viaje 102). The end justifies the means when the end is perceived as fundamental to progress.
Casanas's villain, Doctor Nancy, similarly believes that there is nothing wrong with his efforts to collect skulls. He explains to Francisco and the estanciero Armando Zaldivar that he is building a museum in his hometown and therefore is interested in collecting "todo cuanto pertenece a los salvajes americanos," including ceramics, arrowheads, and bones (Casanas 261). For him, the collection of skulls is "una coleccion como cualquier otra" (261), equating Indian bones with stamps, rocks, or teapots. The act of collecting strips the object of humanity (Andermann 17), but this practice could not come about without the accumulated theories that already represented indigenous peoples as less than human and nearly extinct. It is impossible to imagine Doctor Nancy arguing for the disinterment of his family members or of upper-class Europeans, for the discourses of anthropology and racial determinism had firmly located them within the fully human ranks of mankind. The same theories that validated the extermination of indigenous people also protected European descended populations as a separate, superior group.
Faced with Armando and Francisco's skepticism with regard to the morality of collecting Indian skulls, Nancy relies on a familiar justification: his collecting activities are actually for the benefit of the indigenous people and serve a conservational purpose. He affirms that "En Norteamerica ha habido verdaderas masacres... y, de no ser por mi, no quedaria ni rastro de los vencidos" (Casanas 261). This rationalization echoes Moreno's claim that the Indian tribes of his day were rapidly disappearing and that ethnographers and other scientists needed to take immediate action to save what vestiges they could ("Antropologia" 203). Because the Indian was represented as inevitably destined to disappear, scientists' conservational efforts could focus on preserving a memory instead of trying to save the physical Indians. From his actions to his justifications, Doctor Nancy is a fictional counterpart to Moreno, Zeballos, and others, using nearly the same language to justify and elevate the collection of indigenous body parts. However, to the modern reader this heroic rhetoric rings false and we are left with a vision of the scientist as insensitive grave robber.
In La maestra de la laguna, the act of collection and its ramifications on the objects of scientific study are drawn into close contact: the reader is told that previously in North America, Doctor Nancy killed Jim Morris's father and brother, both Cherokees, in order to expand his collection of American Indian skulls (Casanas 255). Jim is understandably upset, and his presence in Argentina is due to his desire to enact revenge. It is this quest for retribution that puts him in Elizabeth's path. When he attacks Nancy's carriage, killing him, he also takes Elizabeth captive. At first glance, these actions make Jim appear to be the villain of the novel, but Doctor Nancy's belief in scientific progress at any cost and lack of remorse lead the reader to prefer the scalping Cherokee to the French doctor. The true barrier to the romantic relationship is Nancy, whose work is not only repugnant but is also indirectly the motor that further complicates the plot and delays Francisco and Elizabeth's happy ending. The heroic nineteenth-century scientist is now represented as an immoral villain with evil designs. Bonelli and Casanas achieve this transformation by appealing to both a rationallogical level, presenting counterexamples to racist discourse, and an affective level, appealing to the reader's sense of justice and righteousness.
Implicit in the censure of Doctor Nancy is also a censure of the museums and scientists that purchased and displayed the bones he collected, creating a market for an inhumane trade. If there were no buyer, then there would be no need to collect indigenous skulls and skeletons. In La maestra de la laguna, the museum is no longer depicted as a place of national honor and a launching point for the future, but rather as a silent place of death and thus ending. It is a specter on the edge of the narration, signaling only bad fortune for the indigenous protagonists. As Jans Andermann has argued, the display of indigenous bodies in museums "forges a gruesome allegory of state conquest by exposing, in the museum interior, the radical exteriority of an otherness that the rationality of liberalism can only conceive as--and thus turns into--a space of death" (16). Nancy's collection of indigenous skulls tracks the government's conquest of land and people, rendering the Indian prehistoric and always already disappeared, even when still alive. The fact that Nancy has been hired by the Argentine government (as a medic, although he rarely acts as such in the novel) stresses that he is not just a rogue racist but part of an institutional, nationwide effort in which science and policy are complicit. Casanas's depiction of the aims and procedures of nineteenth-century science make clear the racism at its center.
La vuelta del Ranquel also engages in this wider criticism of the institutions of science. The last quarter of the novel centers on the theft of Mariano Rosas's bones from his grave in Leuvuco by Lieutenant General Eduardo Racedo in 1879. Although the novel introduces an invented rationalization for this action (revenge against Nahueltruz for killing Racedo's uncle), the other details of the episode coincide with historical fact. Racedo dug up the bones, donated them to Zeballos, and they eventually ended up displayed in the Museo de la Plata for many years (Endere and Curtoni 77).
Bonelli restores the human element to this practice by presenting the reactions of Mariano Rosas's family to the news of the theft of his remains. Quoting Mansilla, who wrote that the Ranquel Indians had a profound respect for their dead and that "No hay herejia comparable al hecho de desenterrar un cadaver" (251), she depicts the theft as a tragedy that shakes the very core of the family. When Laura goes to visit, Mariano's mother Mariana is not well and "Nahueltruz presentaba la traza de un demente" (Bonelli, La vuelta 379). Dirty, drunk, and sleep-deprived, he is determined to kill Racedo even though it would mean arrest or death. Whereas in the nineteenth century science was depicted as a triumphal process of national advancement, Bonelli's novel reinserts scientific practice into a context of complex relationships and presents the formerly unnarrated viewpoint of the victims of progress. The purported objectivity of nineteenth-century science is dismissed, exposing both the biases of the scientific practitioners and the humanity of those formerly reduced to lifeless object.
Nonetheless, the critique of science in these novels is tempered by the fact that both authors also offer a positive assessment of a major historical figure who similarly worked towards the extermination of indigenous cultures: General Roca in La vuelta del Ranquel and Domingo F. Sarmiento in La maestra de la laguna. In La vuelta de! Ranquel, Roca is the foil to Nahueltruz, similarly attractive but holding opposing values. Given the historical revision in the novel and his role as a barrier to the lovers' reunion, the reader anticipates Roca will be depicted as vile. Nahueltruz calls him "el asesino de mi pueblo" (Bonelli 51), and Roca openly admits to Laura that his plan is to "exterminar a los indios del sur" (39). However, this characterization of Roca as the enemy is lukewarm at best. Despite these pronouncements, his actions in the field of battle are described once and again as the judicious reflection of society's wishes. Ironically, this pardon is voiced by another subaltern character, Laura's mulatta servant, Maria Pancha. Responding to Nahueltruz's insistence that he cannot forgive Laura for sleeping with the man who murdered his people, she says:
Bien sabe usted que entre su pueblo y los cristianos existia una guerra que, tarde o temprano, terminaria con el exterminio del mas debil. Sin duda, los mas debiles eran ustedes, por salvajes e ignorantes. Pero ya desde antes del ano 10 existieron asesinos de su pueblo... Roca termino lo que muchos comenzaron e intentaron antes que el. La expedicion al sur no se trato de un capricho del general sino de la expresion de la voluntad del pueblo argentino, que ya estaba harto de ser burlado una y otra vez por ustedes, ladrones de ganado, de mujeres y de ninos. (433)
Maria Pancha's response stresses that the idea for the expedition was not Roca's; he is not an instigator, but rather a follower. He is serving the Argentine people, protecting women and children from the thieving hoards who would otherwise take them captive. When Nahueltruz protests that the "huincas" had started the conflict by stealing their land, Maria Pancha appeals to the ideas of Herbert Spencer in response: "Pero asi son las leyes de este mundo. ?Y quien dijo que, por ser leyes, son justas? El poderoso aplasta al debil" (434). The conflict between Indians and "cristianos" is a case of the struggle for life: natural, unstoppable, and inevitable. Neither Roca nor Argentina can be blamed. The Conquest of the Desert had to happen, for these are the ways of the world.
Roca's innocence is highlighted by the repeated emphasis of the fact that he himself did not kill a single Indian, given that "no se habia topado con un indio alzado ni para muestra" (Bonelli, La vuelta 191). Later, his assistant affirms once again that although they suffered from hunger and cold, they saw no Indians (212) and that it is absolutely certain that Roca himself never entered into battle with the indigenous malones (213). The expedition is thus characterized as tedious weeks that "mas tenian que ver con falta de provisiones, pestes y tedio que con batallas, muertos y heridos" (213). Roca and his soldiers are martyrs for the national cause. The fact that other columns killed indigenous people during this campaign is glossed over, and Roca himself is absolved of any direct participation in the processes of extermination. Despite Nahueltruz's insistence that Roca is a murderer, the text continually works to depict him as an innocent pawn in an unstoppable process.
Finally, it is Roca who secures Nahueltruz's long-term safety, thus ensuring his happy ending with Laura. Instead of prosecuting him for having killed Hilario Racedo in self-defense, he acquiesces to Laura's pleas and alters military records to list Nahueltruz as a battlefield casualty during the Conquest of the Desert (Bonelli, La vuelta 235). In this way, Nahueltruz can continue to live with Laura as Lorenzo Rosas, White man. This action redeems Roca in the eyes of Laura, Nahueltruz, and the reader, erasing any continued unease with his role in military action and his affair with Laura.
In La maestra de la laguna, a similar protection of the reputation of national heroes occurs. President Domingo F. Sarmiento, who in real life argued that the "indios" lacked the capacity to think (Conflicto 110) and were "destinados por la Providencia a desaparecer en la lucha por la existencia, en presencia de las razas superiores" (Conflicto 269), is depicted as an old man working tirelessly to better the country. From the very first pages, the novel casts him in a positive light. La maestra opens with a letter from Mary Mann, friend of the heroine, addressing Sarmiento as "mi estimado amigo" (Casanas 11) and ending with the postscript, "!Que gloriosamente ha triunfado usted en la presidencia de su pais!" (12). This approving depiction continues throughout the text, as the characteristics most associated with him are devotion and compassion. He adores his lover, Aurelia Velez, and values her mind as well as her heart, treating her as a trusted advisor and equal (25). He also shows great tenderness for animals, carrying on better with his cat than with his peers (35). His only fit of anger in the novel occurs when a servant removes a cardinal's nest from his window, scaring away the birds that kept him company while he worked (60). It is very difficult to connect anti-indigenous policies and racist attitudes with this cuddly, elderly feminist.
The text also stresses Sarmiento's role as an educator and not an exterminator. His connections to Mary Mann and his projects of instituting public education across the Republic are repeatedly highlighted. With regard to indigenous cultures, the novel's Sarmiento claims that "hay que educar a todos por igual, sin discriminacion de raza o credo" (31). What is not stressed is the fact that education could also serve to whiten Argentina by facilitating assimilation and portraying certain elements of indigenous cultures as backwards or shameful. In the novel, Elizabeth "civilizes" the young Indians of Mar Chiquita by teaching them to read and replacing indigenous rituals with the practices of Christianity. Sarmiento's project of public education, while admirable, does not have entirely altruistic motives. The vast distance between how Zeballos and Nancy are depicted, on one hand, and Roca and Sarmiento on the other, suggests that the censure of nineteenth-century science in the novels is more a function of building plot and melodrama than representative of any sort of sustained, effective critique of cultural paradigms. By picking and choosing who to absolve and who to condemn, Casanas and Bonelli depict nineteenth-century scientific racism as belonging to certain "bad" individuals, but not having wider ideological importance.
Strategy Three: The Happy Ending
Unlike the mixed-race romances of the nineteenth century that ended in tragedy, the twenty-first-century novels studied here double down on happiness, insisting that their disparate couples can overcome the odds. At first glance, the happy endings appear to contend that there is space for both women and indigenous peoples in Argentine national identity. True love prevails and the white heroines and mestizo heroes fonn nuclear families whose children will perpetuate their lineage into the future. This positive outlook elides numerous sacrifices that deny the incorporation of indigenous peoples as full equals in the nation. Nonetheless, these supposedly happy endings minimize the numerous sacrifices made by the indigenous and mestizo characters and cover up their incomplete and unequal entry into the national identity.
First, the emphasis on marriage and the monogamous relationship highlights the rejection of the othered sexuality of the Ranquels. Nineteenth-century Argentine intellectuals and politicians were extremely concerned with indigenous sexual practices, particularly the custom of taking multiple wives. On April 30, 1879, General Roca issued an order stating,
Se previene a los Jefes que tengan indios a su cargo ya sea en servicio, en calidad de amigos, o prisioneros, tengan el mayor cuidado en que estos se sujetan a las buenas costumbres de la civilizacion, prohibiendoles absolutamente el casamiento con dos o mas mujeres y las demas ceremonias de tribu que ofendan de cualquier manera la moral y decencia, a cuyo cumplimiento concurran no solo el buen consejo sino tambien medidas represivas si fuesen necesarias. (Lupo 83-84)
This order shows the extent to which Indian sexuality, characterized by polygamy and the kidnapping of White women, was viewed as a threat to the nation. The absolute prohibition of polygamy, the need for "mayor cuidado," and the approval of force demonstrate the degree to which Argentine elites worried about the sexual difference presented by indigenous cultures, even after they were subdued.
The shift from other sexual practices to the "buenas costumbres de la civilizacion" is seen clearly in both novels. In Indias blancas, Nahueltruz's grandfather, Paine, has many wives, and his father, Mariano Rosas, expresses his desire that the captive Blanca Montes be his "mujer principal" (Bonelli 255). The marriage of Laura and Nahueltruz in the chapel of San Francisco on a calm July day puts a clear end to this practice, stressing instead church-approved monogamous bliss. In La maestra de la laguna, Elizabeth and Francisco also agree to marry once he finds out she is pregnant, despite her doubts about the depth of his love (Casanas 504). In this way, the novels continue to buy into the ethnocentric cultural hierarchies that structured nineteenth-century programs of assimilation and integration.
Secondly, both happy endings require that the mestizo romantic heroes choose to live their lives as white. In addition to the fact that both men are strongly associated with White cultural values, their indigenous roots are minimized by the novels' endings. Francisco's life is not fundamentally changed by the discovery of his indigenous parentage, and questions of race disappear completely from the epilogue of the novel. He simply accepts his past and moves on; race and racial mixture have been overcome. In La vuelta de! Ranquel, Nahueltruz the Indian is permanently killed off and Lorenzo Dionisio Rosas takes his place (Bonelli 253). The deception can never be discovered and for the outside world Lorenzo is, and always will be, White. Although Bonelli and Casanas depict the mestizo as a privileged type, he must be de-Indianized in order to be incorporated into national history.
The novels' settings further highlight this erasure. At the end of La vuelta del Ranquel, set in 1879, the Ranquels have been largely defeated by the Argentine army. Nahueltruz builds a ranch to shelter the few who remain, as in the rest of Argentina there is no longer a space for them or their way of life (435). La maestra de la laguna takes place several years before the Conquest of the Desert, but one of the major historical events that ground it is the defeat of Calfucura at the Battle of San Carlos in 1872. Francisco discovers his indigenous heritage at almost the exact moment that the tribes presumed to be his blood relations were to be wiped from the map. There is no chance for Francisco to do anything more with this new identity than conserve it as a memory, a relic of a past time. Like nineteenth-century understandings of (pre)history, both novels relegate indigenous peoples to a prior epoch, with little physical or symbolic importance in the present.
Finally, La vuelta del Ranquel includes a second happy ending, this time to the conflict between the protagonists and science. To do so, it engages with a theme of great interest at the time of its publication: the debate over the restitution of indigenous remains. Around the world, the question of the return (4) of remains has emerged as a hot button topic in the last four decades (Hubert and Fforde 1), with concern over whether there is a legal and/or moral obligation to return remains (Whitby-Last 36) or whether they should be kept for nationalist or scientific purposes (Tumball 63). Implicit in the arguments against repatriation is a struggle to maintain control over marginalized communities: by collecting skulls and making claims about indigenous peoples' racial fitness and evolutionary possibilities, anthropologists exerted both physical control over bodies and a more diffuse control over questions of citizenship, culture, and belonging. Returning bones and objects requires giving up full access to information and a parallel acknowledgement of the autonomy of those populations (Skrydstrup 65).
Much of the theoretical work on reburial has emerged from the United States and Australia, but similar shifts in perception and legal actions have occurred in Argentina. Argentine claims for human remains began in 1973, but it was not until 1994 that Inakayal would become the first indigenous person to be reburied in the country (Endere 273). On August 28, 2000, Argentine Law 25.276 decreed the return of Mariano Rosas's skeleton to his hometown of Leuvuco, where it was to be reinterred with an "homenaje oficial" over one hundred years after it had been exhumed. La vuelta del Ranquel includes this return in an epilogue set in the year 2001. Titled "Promesa cumplida," the epilogue reproduces the text of Law 25.276, followed by a fictional newspaper article dated June 24, 2001 that describes the ceremony that accompanied the reburial. A young woman, identified as the great-granddaughter of Mariano Rosas, speaks:
Mi abuela, Laura Escalante de Rosas, le prometio a mi abuelo, el cacique Nahueltruz Guor, alla por 1880 que, algun dia, los restos de su padre, Mariano Rosas, regresarian a descansar en Leuvuco. Y, a pesar del denuedo con que lucho para conseguir su objetivo, tocando cuanta puerta conocia, Laura Escalante murio con la pena de no haber cumplido. Debieron transcurrir ciento veintiun anos para que el pueblo argentino dejara de hacer oidos sordos a este legitimo reclamo y devolviera lo que jamas debio salir de aqui. (Bonelli 455-56)
The description of the reburial depicts the return of Mariano Rosa's remains as the reparation of past wrongs, a happy ending to the scientific plotline that echoes the happy resolution of the romantic conflict. It condemns not only the individual grave robbers, but also the institutions that housed and displayed the remains for so many years. In this way it echoes the powerful language of the Colectivo GUIAS, which speaks of the "Prisioneros de la Plata" and conceives of these scientific practices as human rights abuses (Torres Cabreros).
Nonetheless, the fact that the novel ends with this episode suggests that all is well in the present and that measures to rectify past wrongs will soon be taken. The use of the preterit in the above passage indicates that the Argentine public has awoken to the plight of indigenous people and will no longer "hacer oidos sordos" to the claims of the communities. In fact, the settings of these novels and the emphasis on the racism of the nineteenth-century scientists allow Bonelli and Casanas to incorporate this moment into national narratives while ignoring the racism of the present. The happy endings, particularly with regard to the return of Mariano Rosas's bones, suggest that the racist attitudes they expose in the novels are safely in the past and that the present-day Argentina from which they write is aware of the danger of these beliefs and therefore far distanced from them. My conversation with Casanas echoes this assessment: she indicated that she believed that the Indian-Argentine conflict of earlier centuries was due to cultural misunderstandings that have been largely overcome, despite still incomplete integration into the nation (Casanas, "Repuestas"). The approval of reburial movements and subsequent revalorization of indigenous identities in the novels are thus no more than redemptive moments, consigning difference to the past and highlighting unity in the present.
In this regard, these romance novels fail to achieve any true incorporation of indigenous peoples or pointed criticism of the racism of Argentina's past or present. This inability is partially a function of historical fiction, as Bonelli and Casanas can rewrite the past but not change its events. How do you write a happy ending to a historical tragedy that meant the physical and cultural elimination or invisibilization of entire tribes? Could Nahueltruz and Laura have lived happily ever after? Is there a way for Francisco to come to terms with his heritage without diminishing the difficulty of cultural contact? It is hard to imagine the novel that could have balanced historical reality with the demands of genre.
At the same time, the problematic resolutions of these novels suggest the difficult ideology of the happy ending in general. The demand for resolution overwhelms nuance and messy realities, a simplification which is particularly risky in the historically based romance. Nahueltruz or Francisco's identity issues are made irrelevant by love, and the continued struggles of indigenous peoples in Argentina are negated by the sense that these (exemplary) couples will live happily ever after, untouched by struggle or strife. Additionally, these happy endings also require the reader be complicit in the limitations Bonelli and Casanas have traced for indigenous incorporation; happy endings are only satisfying if the reader buys into the value system the author has proposed throughout the text (Carishamre 52). In these novels, the happy endings require that the reader accept that love conquers all (even racism), that the disappearance of indigenous peoples and cultures was a sad inevitability, and that living as white is the only way the mestizo hero can endure. Despite the apparent inclusionary happiness of these endings, they perpetuate many earlier understandings of Argentine history and identity.
Bonelli and Casanas's novels decry the racism of the nineteenth century while perpetuating many of the attitudes and beliefs that undergirded the very practices they condemn. This double discourse reflects an unfortunate truth of present-day Argentina: many suggest that racism is not a problem in Argentina, but indigenous people continue to suffer the effects of discriminatory policies. Although the 1994 Constitution defined Argentina as a pluricultural nation, thus "encoding the ethnic and cultural pre-existence of indigenous peoples," it also set up major obstacles to the success of indigenous demands for land rights (Vom Hau and Wilde 1289). Today, indigenous people in Argentina are more likely to be poor (Ray 22) and less educated (Binstock and Cerrutti 19), and thus excluded from the rights afforded by citizenship. As in the nineteenth century, formal recognition of citizenship and its related rights does not always translate to indigenous peoples' full and equal participation in society.
Studying Bonelli and Casanas's novels also affords an important window into the role that popular culture, specifically romance novels, plays in the shaping of racial projects. On one hand, popular fiction can bring historical revision and issues such as scientific racism to a mass public. The emotional connection of the reader to the romantic heroes and the melodramatic conventions of the genre allow the revaluation of indigenous peoples and the criticism of national heroes to leap off the page. Narrative parallels and even direct quotations from classic foundational fictions and nineteenth-century treatises highlight the differences encompassed in the twenty-first century perspectives of the authors, particularly in the forging of new romantic pairings that hint at an openness and mestizaje previously ignored. Despite these opportunities for reassessment, the novels' representations of "indios blancos" (to play on Bonelli's title), insistence on fixing the indigenous people far in the nation's past, Darwinian language, and happy endings reaffirm centuries-old racial paradigms. This tension demonstrates the limitations of the historical romance novel as revisionist genre as well as the dogged persistence of nineteenth-century racial understandings. The righting of historical wrongs is a challenging process, weighed down by conflicting perspectives, the strength of inertia, and our inability to fully access the experience of the past. Just as the return of the remains of people such as Inakayal and Mariano Rosas has been slow and at times improperly handled, the romance novels of Florencia Bonelli and Gloria Casanas attempt to write out the scientific racism of nineteenth-century texts but stumble along the way.
Ashley Elizabeth Kerr
University of Idaho
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(1) Delrio et al. provide an overview of this argument, showing how in addition to military action, displacement, the forced separation of families, and the prohibiting of certain customs constituted an intentional erasure of indigenous peoples.
(2) Articles about Bonelli include Maria Cecilia Saenz-Roby's examination of the relationship between Indias blancas and Mansilla's Una excursion a los indios ranqueles and Silvina Barroso's theorization of the role of the romance novel in the creation of cultural subjectivities. Although Barroso states that she bases her analysis largely on the Indias blancas series, she does not engage specifically with the texts. The only other references to Bonelli's novels I have found are a brief reference to the romance novels of "Andrea Bonelli" (emphasis mine) in an article by Sonia Jostic, and a biography and summary of several of her novels in Susana Chas's overview of the novels of Cordoba. I have found no scholarly texts that address Casanas's novel.
(3) The parallels between these Argentine romances, US captivity novels, and sheik romances are numerous and merit a lengthy study on race and romance across national borders that is outside the bounds of this paper. The Argentine-Arab connection is particularly interesting, given nineteenth-century tendencies to Orientalize the Argentine desert. These include Sarmiento's insistence in Facundo that the natives were a type of American Bedouin (67) or Leopoldo Lugones's Moorish genealogy of the gaucho (see Civantos).
(4) Maria Luz Endere has suggested the use of "reburial" or "return" of remains instead of repatriation, as indigenous people in Argentina identify as Argentine (277).
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|Author:||Kerr, Ashley Elizabeth|
|Date:||May 1, 2019|
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