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Spanish professor drawn by the life, work of Peruvian writer

April 30, 2012

Peruvian writer Mercedes Cabello de Carbonera (1845-1909) has been the focus of Oswaldo Voysest’s research since he wrote about her work in his dissertation as a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California-Berkeley.

Since then, the associate professor of Spanish has published several articles on Cabello de Carbonera and wrote a prologue to a 2007 edition of her novel Blanca Sol (1888). His present research includes working on a critical edition of her novel El conspirador (1892) and an untitled anthology of her essays, both scheduled to be released sometime in late 2012 or 2013.

A manuscript-in-progress, however, is Voysest’s main endeavor. About five years ago, Voysest formed the structure for a book studying the life and work of Cabello de Carbonera. Having already collected material from his dissertation as well as his work on Blanca Sol and various articles, Voysest set out to gather more materials by visiting archives in Peru and Cuba. Cabello de Carbonera lived out her life in Peru and was known at the time throughout Latin America, having written about and supported the Cuba independence movement.

In her writing life, Cabello de Carbonera was an initiator of the ‘realist’ current of literature in Peru. She had not been studied much, prior to Voysest’s work. While she had not received much attention before, Voysest found her work intriguing. In both her novels and essays, she tackled societal issues such as double standards.

“I was fascinated by her life and personality,” Voysest says. “[She was] a self-taught woman in the 19th century who said things as they were in conservative Lima. She wrote about topics that were not spoken of so openly — particularly, about women.”

Voysest is also intrigued by the end of her life, when she went mad and was institutionalized. From reading the work of a Peruvian journalist, Voysest discovered that Cabello de Carbonera died of syphilis that she likely got from her husband, who frequented prostitutes. Voysest speculates that the syphilis drove her mad.

Voysest’s manuscript is expected to be finished next year. Once completed, Voysest plans to continue examining 19th-century networks of women writers in South America and beyond.

Source: Oswaldo Voysest is an associate professor of Spanish. He teaches all levels of Spanish, primarily courses in advanced Spanish language as well as literature and culture courses. His Spanish 215 course will be part of the “Labs Across the Curriculum” in the fall. Voysest’s research focus is currently Peruvian writer Mercedes Cabello de Carbonera, but also includes 19th- and 20th-century Spanish-American literature. He can serve as a media resource on topics related to his teaching and research.