Eva Canel

* 1857 (Coaña) 1932 (La Habana) Spain
Fields of activity: literature, journalism, writer, adventurous traveller
Author: Marta García Quinto


Eva Canel, or Eva Agar Infanzón which was her full name, was born in 1857 in the Asturian town of Coaña. A woman caught between two centuries, paradoxical positions prevailed over her life: conservative in real life, and an enemy of the feminist movement, in her novels and plays she tackled complex social problems, providing daring and individualist solutions for them; she fought against prejudices, yet had others herself. She died in Habana, a city that she had loved deeply, on 2 May 1932, after an intense, adventure-filled life.

Together with her husband, the writer and journalist Pedro Perillán Buxó, who had to go into exile from Spain for political reasons, they founded and contributed to various newspapers from different American nations such as Uruguay, Argentina, Chile and Cuba, among others.

The life of Eva Canel, after the death of her husband, reveals a notable desire to copy his actions. She wrote for the theatre, published novels, contributed to various newspapers, and used any space possible to present herself in public as a speaker.

She was a pioneer in solitary travels abroad, something that she inherited from her husband. The majority of women joined their husbands on discoveries and adventures during the 19th century. The case of Eva Canel is no different at the start, but her initial interest stems from the influences she had from Europe and the Americas, where she lived for a considerable part of her life, without revealing a Eurocentric attitude, as some of her predecessors did. However, she incorporated new and different “exoticisms” into her travel accounts.   

Like the women travellers before her, her travel accounts provide an image of the historical, social and even political context of Latin America from a female perspective. They do not only describe the place, but the protagonism of the people who live there and experience the culture that gives rise to legends, stories and traditions. Among other titles, most notable are: Cosas de otro mundo. Viajes, historias y cuentos americanos (Things from another world. Travels, stories and American stories), Viaje a la tierra del fuego (A trip to Tierra del Fuego) (1889).

Adherence to the literary movements of the end of the 19th century can be observed in Eva Canel’s work; from Costumbrismo, reflected in the types and their traditions, to characters and romantic themes, and Naturalism known as “español católico” or formal naturalism, following the steps of her compatriot Emilia Pardo Bazán.

The author wrote seven novels and four plays, the most notable of which are: “Trapitos al sol” (Cloths in the sun) and “Pola”. The controversial topics tackled in her work raise an important question. How was a woman, whose behaviour in real life was characterised by intransigence and inflexibility, capable of dealing with topics of great social depth in her literature? Paradoxically, Eva Canel took a stance against the feminist movement, stating that it was a social disturbance.  

She stated that she was not endeavouring to remove women from the sphere of action “granted to them by their sex and their attitudes”, nor did she consider it necessary for women to have university degrees that removed them “from their setting and their duties”. But this was very distant from her real behaviour, since the actions of her life had little in common with those of a domestic woman, controlled by her husband, father or tutor. Despite her obtaining pleasure from continually reiterating her anti-feminist stance, she insisted that in order to change the situation of women in society, the first step consisted of fighting for an equal education system. 

The author has not been recognised in Spain as a woman of the Spanish humanities. Situated between two worlds, her figure is blurred in time and space. A foreigner to some, and absent for others, no-one has reclaimed her with the force that she desired. But her work provides great cultural and personal wealth, on account of the places she visits and lives in, the delicate politics at the time at which she was writing, and her feminine view of the events. With her work and her paradoxical life, Eva Canel proposes a balance between the stereotypes of European “civilisation” and indigenous “barbarism”, through relations that she perceives between both worlds and her culture.


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