As today is the beginning of Women’s History month, and since I have spent many days walking through rural Galicia, I was would like to start by praising a Gallega writer named Rosalia de Castro. He face was plastered on posters all over shop windows, traffic posts, and announcement boards in Padron, one of the stops on the Camino. The tapas bar, Pulperia Real, even had banners with flags with her face decorating the main square. I was lucky enough to be in the town she lived and wrote in for most of her life, Padron, right around her birthday the 23rd of February. Her poems and excerpts from her essays were gloriously displayed in the town hall along with banners of her face. She is Galicia’s golden girl. So intrigued was I by this face that kept appearing over and over in the bus, in the supermarket, on bags, that I went to the municipal library and asked to read a few of her books. They were mostly written in Gallego but some had Castillano translations.
What characterizes her poetry is an emotional tone termed saudade, a mix of melancholy, longing, and nostalgia. I read an excerpt from one of her poems that is about a man who needs to emigrate to America as he has no way to support himself in his rural Galicia. The poem is basically his saying goodbye to the rivers, the fields, the birds, the countryside in a lyrical heart-wrenching exposition that reminded me of Edgar Lee Master’s Spoon River Anthology.
All of her works stand out, however, in their realistic depiction of the sufferings of women. She was a champion of women’s rights and her longer works focus on the plight of women and the lower classes.
I think Rosalia had that sad sensibility that comprehends that underneath the veneer of happiness lies the foundation of pain. She was born to unknown parents as she was dropped in the buzon for foundlings at one of the convents in Santiago. Most probably she was the product of an illicit union between two unequal social partners. She spent her childhood roaming the countryside around Padron due to ill health. She missed many days of school due to illness. This accounts for her romantic imagination and her love of nature.
Rosalia de Castro was born on February 23rd Writing in Galician and Spanish, after the period known as the Séculos Escuros (lit. Dark Centuries), she became an important figure of the Galician Romantic movement, known today as the Rexurdimento (“Renaissance”), along with Manuel Curros Enríquez and Eduardo Pondal.
She married Manuel Murguía, a member of the important literary group known as the Royal Galician Academy, historian, journalist and editor of Rosalía’s books. The couple had seven children: Alexandra (1859–1937), Aura (1868–1942), twins Gala (1871–1964) and Ovidio (1871–1900), Amara (1873–1921), Adriano (1875–1876) and Valentina (stillborn, 1877). Only two of Rosalía’s children married, Aura in 1897 and Gala in 1922; neither they nor their siblings left any children, and thus, today there are no living descendants of Rosalía de Castro and her husband. Their son Ovidio was a promising painter, his career cut short by early death.
Rosalía published her first collection of poetry in Galician, Cantares gallegos [gl] (“Galician Songs”), on 17 May 1863. This date, 17 May, is now known as the Día das Letras Galegas (“Galician Literature Day”), and commemorates Rosalía’s achievement by dedicating, every year, this special day to a different writer, who must also write in the Galician language, since 1963. Día das Letras Galegas is an official holiday in the Autonomous Community of Galicia.
Relative poverty and sadness marked Rosalía’s life, in spite of this, she had a strong sense of commitment to the poor and to the defenseless. She was a strong opponent of abuse of authority and an ardent defender of women’s rights. Rosalía suffered from uterine cancer and died in Padrón, province of A Coruña, Spain, on 15 July 1885.
She is buried in the Panteón de Galegos Ilustres, a pantheon (mausoleum) in the Convent of San Domingos de Bonaval in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.
Here is a short cartoon bio (if you can understand Spanish):