Parra, Teresa de la (1889–1936)

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article
views updated

Parra, Teresa de la (1889–1936)

Venezuelan novelist and short-story writer. Name variations: Ana Teresa Parr Sanojo; (pseudonym) Frufru. Born in 1889 (some sources cite 1891 or 1895) in Paris, France; died of tuberculosis in 1936; longtime companion of Lydia Cabrera (1900–1991, Cuban-born American scholar of Afro-Cuban culture, particularly santeria); no children.

Selected writings:

Diario de una señorita que se fastidiaba (Diary of a Lady Who Was Bored, 1922, published as Ifigenía , 1924); Las memórias de Mamá Blanca (1929, published in English as Mama Blanca's Souvenirs , 1959); Cartas (Letters, 1951); Epistolario íntimo (Private Letters, 1953); Obras completas (Complete Works, 1965).

One of Venezuela's best-known writers, Teresa de la Parra was born to wealthy parents in Paris at the end of the 19th century, and as a child lived on her family's plantation in Tazón, near Cúa, Venezuela. According to some sources, she attended Catholic school in Valencia, Spain, where her family moved in 1906 after her father's death; other sources relate that she was educated in Paris. Sources agree, however, that Parra returned to Caracas, Venezuela's capital, as an adolescent. Her first book, Diario de una señorita que se fastidiaba (Diary of a Lady Who Was Bored, 1922), uses the format of a young woman's letter and journal to explore the limited options available to women in Caracas in the early 1900s. In the novel, 18-year-old María Eugenia struggles with the social conventions of the patriarchal society around her, much in the same manner as some of the female characters of Edith Wharton , Parra's contemporary. A succès de scandale upon its publication, the novel caused some outraged conservatives to accuse Parra of "undermining the morals of young women." It was republished two years later as Ifigenía, with the title serving as an ironic comment on the main character's sense of self (she compares herself to Iphigenia, the daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra of Greek myth).

While Parra's first novel received much praise, her second novel, Las memórias de Mamá Blanca (1929), is considered her masterpiece. The memoir of an elderly woman who recounts her childhood on a sugarcane plantation, the book also paints a portrait of the now-vanished world of Venezuelan plantation society at the end of the 19th century. It was published in English for the first time in 1959 as Mama Blanca's Souvenirs, and again in 1993 as Mama Blanca's Memoirs. Like much of her work, the novel is fictionalized autobiography, drawing on her childhood memories of living on her family's plantation.

Teresa de la Parra's work remains highly acclaimed in South America and in Europe, where she lived for many years. She formed a group of French and South American writers in 1926, and the following year began lecturing on the role of women in South America, which she continued doing throughout her life. A frequent traveler, in her final years Parra returned to Europe to seek a cure for the tuberculosis which ultimately claimed her life in 1936, when she was only 47. Her remains were moved to Caracas 11 years later.

sources:

Buck, Claire, ed. The Bloomsbury Guide to Women's Literature. NY: Prentice Hall, 1992.

Hampton, Janet Jones. Review of Iphigenia in Belles Lettres. Fall 1994, p. 79.

Uglow, Jennifer S., ed. and comp. The International Dictionary of Women's Biography. NY: Continuum, 1989.

suggested reading:

Parra, Teresa de la. Iphigenia (the diary of a young lady who wrote because she was bored). Translated by Bertie Acker. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1994.

——. Mama Blanca's Memoirs. Translated by Harriet de Onis and Frederick H. Fornoff. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1993.

Maria Sheler Edwards , M.A., Ypsilanti, Michigan