The Shrouded Woman by Maria Luisa Bombal

«Bombal – with her bold disregard for simple realism in favor of a heightened reality in which the external world reflects the internal truth of the characters’ feeling, and with her deliberate mingling of fantasy, memory and event – is the precursor of the magical realism that is the flower of South American writing today. . . .Her novels awake a feeling of genuine discovery, of minds and hearts not borrowed from European literature but indigenous to a New World of thought and feeling» – Chicago Tribune.

María Luisa Bombal (Viña del Mar, 6 July 1910 – 6 May 1980) was a Chilean authoress.  Her work now comes into a notice by themes of eroticism, surrealism and proto-feminism, and she towers over a small number of Latin American female authors whose works became famous. Bombal was one of the first Spanish American novelists to break away from the realist tradition in fiction and to write in a highly individual and personal style, stressing irrational and subconscious themes (Delbanco 26).

«The Shrouded Woman», as well as other works is full of drama. In this work an authoress spares attention to such themes, as feminism and the life after death. A short story is filled with senses and experiencing. She incorporated the secret inner world of her women protagonists into the mainstream of her novel. She added so much additional explanatory material to this novel. According to Women Writers of Spanish America:

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In her novel the reader sees almost everything through the eyes or sensations of the protagonist, who feels things deeply. The story line is relegated to a lesser role. Poetry seems to flow from this crystalline prose, and Bombal uses repeated symbolic images (such as mist, rain, and wind) with good effect and in an elegant simple style. A reader always knows what the author wants to say.

In respect of this title: the shrouded woman, a corpse which is looking on her life as she regards the people at her coffin.

A dead woman estimates the visitors who come to view her body. There is a number of intense. It is highly original short story. Bombal’s novels were published in English in 1947 and 1948 but were altered significantly by the author to make them more commercially acceptable here (Delbanco 37).

«The Shrouded Woman» examines female experience with stories of women who escape lonely, boring, and unfulfilled existences through fantasy and invented situations.

In her novel María Luisa Bombal masterly compares the unknown and supernatural kingdom of Death with concrete reality and real outward things. At the beginning of the novel, Ana María lies dead and is surrounded by those who once had a relationship with her. Although she is dead, Ana María can still hear and see those who are mourning her. At the same time, while she lies in her coffin, the protagonist is led into the past as she recalls events significant to her life, and she enters the supernatural space of Death inhabited by mystic voices and uncanny landscapes. She relives her love affairs and family relationships with a final clarity and futile wisdom.

In this evocative novel, a blend of mystical elements, new style of righting, and social criticism opens eyes on the fully artificially useless lives of upper-class women of the earlier twentieth century.

A passionate woman and mother of three children, Ana Maria finds that in death her perceptions are amplified; her emotions are fully realized. Her early beauty returns, and she see herself as pale, slender, and corrugated by time. In life she was imaginative, sensitive, intense, and facetious. She travels through the past and experiences her adolescent love for Ricardo (Delbanco 26).

Ana Maria is in oblivion between life and death, and although she is dead to our world, she it possesses qualities of living man still. She lies on her deathbed and she remembers the whole life. She recalls each of the people who come close to her. Her unhappy life doesn’t allow her to die and rest peacefully. She must to release her anger and sadness in this world. She may die in peace and rest in the eternity only through her memories and seeing people at her deathbed.

This novel shows all her suffering. The narrator is Ana Maria herself, but in some parts of the novel the narration is from another person. So we have no main teller. It suggests us an idea that position of Ana Maria is halved. From one side, her body, even dead, is present in the world of living. From another side, her soul in mystical way appears in the world of imprints of her own emotions. She feels such emotions as love and fear  (Delbanco 26).

This work has been seen by some commentators as a rather early example of Latin American feminist writing, pointing to the concerns of various contemporary women authors. And undeniably there is a social dimension to fiction of, María Luisa Bombal dealing as it sooften does with family relationships and with women existing in a society dominated by the worst type of macho males – boorish, insensitive, indifferent or simply cruel. But read solely on a social level, her work seems somewhat simplistic and repetitious. One misses the elements that make her fiction distinctive – the terse yet poetical prose, the dreamlike quality of the worlds she creates, the frequent use of natural elements to evoke interior moods. It is certainly these features of her work, rather than its feminist thrust that have attracted Jorge Luis Borges, who contributes to this volume perhaps one of the shortest prefaces on record.

 «As night was beginning to fall, slowly her eyes opened. Oh, a little, just a little, it was as if, hidden behind her long lashes, she was trying to see. And in the glow of the tall candles, those who were keeping watch leaned forward to observe the clarity and transparency in that narrow fringe of pupil death had failed to slim. With wonder and reverence, they leaned forward, tin- aware that she could see them, for she was seeing, she was feeling . . . » (Bombal, 1948).

María Luisa Bombal writes the monologue of the shrouded corpse of a woman who looks back on her restricted life in La amortajada. An excerpt: “Why does the nature of woman have to be such that she always has a man as the pivot of her life?” (Delbanco 40).

Perhaps, the point is that her life does rise, all too short-lively and lamely, above the germinal; that the narrator is interrelating above all by her sister-in-law Regina, for whom she “feels envious of her suffering, her tragic love affair, envying even the possibility of her death”. By choosing to envy a melodramatic narrative of bourgeois adultery, rather than dwelling in her elemental pool, the narrator never achieves the true oblivion of Bombal’s “shrouded woman,” never accedes to the immanence that Deleuze describes as a moment that is only of a life playing with death. There are many accidents of internal and external life inour way to death. It is very important to give way to an impersonal of our emotions during the whole life. Every event in our life is subjective or objective (Delbanco 30).

The “Shrouded woman” is placed better than the narrator of “The Final Mist.” She at least has children, and servants and retainers; she also has a personal history, youthful excesses to recall and relate; and she finds a strange power as she lies in her coffin, her dead form the object of attention, remorse, and regret, while she awaits “the death of the dead” that follows “the death of the living”.

«The Shrouded Woman» is a story of frustrated desire, of languor and ennui, of a life that is no more than germinal, that never rises above the habitual except in the narrator’s brief fantasy, cruelly dashed by the reality principle (Delbanco 30).

«The Shrouded Woman» is the emergence of feminism in Latin American literature. With the keen interest in the feminist movement in later years, her works were read and commented on more widely. In «The Shrouded Woman» Bombal’s social position is luminal at best. She is in limbo.

Some parts of the novel don’t bring an inspiration, but some of them are excellent. It enforces you to brood on over what happens after death. The novella, «The Shrouded Woman» is an extraordinary work. It consists of small chapters. It is the story of a woman who finds herself newly dead. We can hear this story from the point of view of the main hero herself. All the members of her life bring their particle of ability to die. Her family brought some love and the sense of fault. Friends brought to her a particle of friendship. Her lovers brought to her happy and sadness. All of them stand by her deathbed and bring their pieces of her life with them.

Works cited:

1. Bombal, Maria-Luisa. The Shrouded Woman. New York: Farrar, Straus and Company, 1948

2. Delbanco, Steven. Bombal: Her Life and Work. New York: Knopf, 2005

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