The genre of Bildungsroman focuses on the
psychological and moral growth of a protagonist from youth to adulthood, and is
linked to the notions and experiences of gender modernity within specific
national literatures. Originating in Germany in the late eighteenth century,
the genre has been influenced by the inequalities in Spanish society and has
been used by many women to express themselves in ways that were not deemed
acceptable in everyday life. (Watts pp. 173) Olga Bezhanova explores the
connections amongst existing female novels of formation, history and Spain’s
social context in her book Is there a
Female Bildungsroman Genre in Spain? Not only does Olga identify and define
key trends in contemporary female novels about formation in Spain but also identifies
three different types of Bildungsroman: circular, reminiscent and collective. (Watts, pp. 174) All
three ideas reflect the patriarchal limitations on female rights and
developments under the previous Franco regime in Spain and the changes women
faced in the post-Franco period. The three different types of Bildungsroman
reflect the transformation in the position of women in Spanish society, with
contemporary Bildungsroman having considerably more complex relationships of
genre with historical and social realities. The most prominent female writers
of the twentieth century wrote narratives to illustrate a female protagonists’
developments and personal growth. The harsh realities of life in Spain for
women created a space for intriguing and grasping plots in literature. Within
this essay, I am going to discuss these three new identifications of
Bildungsroman in relation to Esther Tusquets’ El Mismo Mar de Todos los Veranos (El mismo mar), a novel published
in the revolutionary and changing year of 1978.


Circular Bildungsroman is the idea of there being a
change in gender roles. The novels that use this genre follow a pattern of
circularity, instead of the traditional linear pattern towards maturity,
relating to the restrictions women faced in Spanish society during the
Francoist era. (Luis, p.87) Reminiscent,
the second concept, is the changes that women’s development faced after the
Franco regime, where writers and characters attempt to break from tradition and
begin anew without influences of patriarchy. (Luis, p.87) The third
idea, Collective Bildungsroman is a genre which sets a foundation for looking
and defining the present and the future of Bildungsroman. It goes alongside the
notion that the traces from the patriarchal system are difficult to remove and
still exist, which essentially must be removed to ever achieve equality between
genders. All of these relate in some way to Tusquets’ novel, El Mismo mar.

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!

order now


In the twentieth century, the majority of female
Spanish writers wrote to narrate and illustrate a female protagonist’s
developments and personal growth during a period where women were heavily
discriminated and seen to be inferior because of their gender. Tusquets’ novel is
written in the first-person narrative and is an exploration of memories of the
protagonist as she comes to terms with her past. Set in Barcelona in the
mid-seventies, the novel is a brief love story between a middle-aged university
professor, who is the protagonist and the narrator, and her young Colombian
student named Clara.


The novel demonstrates progression through emphasising
the role of sexuality within female development, as the narrator expresses how
understanding her sexuality is key to understanding oneself. It also voices a
critique of compulsory heterosexuality by offering lesbian desire, love and
sexuality as alternatives to a dominant sexual paradigm. Through doing this,
the author follows a pattern of circularity rather than the traditional linear
development towards maturity. The pattern of Circular Bildungsroman reflects
the impression that women still did not feel empowered to pursue their own
growth, and are pushed back and limited by the obstacles that society had
created. This has a clear relation to the relationship between the protagonist
and her lover Clara, as the couple do not end up together, and both stay in
heterosexual relationships. relating
to the notion that homosexuality was made illegal by the powers in Spain during
Franco’s regime, which was heavily influenced by the Catholic church.

The use of taboo topics by Tusquets such as homosexuality and it not being
accepted by society limits the protagonists’ growth, creating a further pattern
of circularity. By the end of the novel, the protagonist returns to her
heterosexuality, going around in a full circle. Because of the period El mismo mar is set in, the novel
consists largely of Circular Bildungsroman is comparison to the other two. 


The lack of punctuation and the continuous questioning
throughout the novel creates a sense of panic for the protagonist as she
questions her place in society. A traditional element of Bildungsroman is the
lack of control one has in their lives due to their environment, and this is a
key characteristic for those who lived in the Francoist era. However, Circular
Bildungsroman is also brought in to affect here as these cyclical ideas of
panic could ultimately suggest the protagonists longing to escape. The style of
the text also further connotes the characters inability to take control of
their own lives as the narrative is characterised by flashbacks, omissions and
repetitions. (Watts, 2016) The repetition of her longing to leave her husband
Julio suggests that the protagonist not only wants to leave her husband, but
also Julio could be seen as a representation of all patriarchy in Spanish society,
suggesting that the Protagonist longs to escape the grasps of society.


Throughout the novel, fairy tales are used
metaphorically by the female characters to shun the laws of patriarchy. There
is hardly a page without a reference to a character or an event from a fairy
tale story. These stories or tales tended to be very traditional, with notions
of princesses being rescued by her handsome prince. However, as the novel goes
on, we find out more about the protagonist and the fairy tales are disrupted by
references to the story of The Little Mermaid,
arguably introducing an idea of sexual ambiguity into the heterosexual pattern
of life, of which young girls of these fairytales tend to be pre-destined. This
usage suggests that the author is attempting to show that women are no longer
holding these traditional values and are not complying with their traditional
heterosexual love stories. This is indicated clearly as this love story is
about the protagonist and her charming prince, who is actually a woman. This
could be seen as an example of slight reminiscent bildungsroman as the writer
has attempted to break from the tradition of a woman having to be with a man
sexually, however because in the end the homosexual relationship does not work
out, it suggests a circular bildungsroman as the two women do not feel
empowered to grow as they are restricted by society and its regulations,
underlying the social problems Spain was facing at this period of time.


The use of fairy tales metaphorically is also used to
highlight a world which holds more importance to her actual own political and
imperial world she is living in. Fairy tales have connotations of unlocking the
secrets of human relationships. When the protagonist makes references to fairy
tales, such as when Julio is referred to as ‘grotesco capitan de algún yate
fantasma’, (p.16) they never go further than a brief allusion to a world of
mystery, coinciding to the mysterious period that Spaniards had to go through
during the Franco regime. The dictatorship began in 1939 after the Spanish
Civil War and it was a leadership of brutality and restrictions. Franco and the
church worked together to restrict women and their education, their civil
rights and instilled the traditional roles that women should play, that being
one of an obedient mother and housewife. Sex was only permitted in heterosexual
marriages with reproductive means and homosexuality was illegal. Because Spain
was going through such a period where liberal and free thoughts were
restricted, it is evident why novels such as El Mismo Mar wrote about how women felt trapped within their own
lives and homes. This further relates to the useage of fairytales, as this may
have been used as a method of escapism.


The protagonist’s relationship with Julio is also used
metaphorically with fairytales. The narrator’s failed relationship with Julio
is linked mto the story of a beautiful princess being seduced by a handsome
prince, but then abandoned in a castle, or in this instance in the
protagonist’s life. Reminiscent Bildungsroman is demonstrated through the
inclusion of men, contrasting the newfound female power women were experiencing
after the Franco regime. The protagonists husband, Julio is intertwined in to
the storyline and explores the patriarchal power men had over women in this
period. In the novel, the protagonist states that she loses herself in him “me
pierdo con el.” This concept of power is also intertwined, and there is a sense
that Julio’s only power is that he is a male, and has a higher position as a heterosexual
man, coinciding with the ideal example of a man within Spanish society. It
could be said that the inclusion of men within this novel explores the
influence of patriarchal limitations on female development, demonstrating a
link to the Reminiscent genre, as women’s developments in society progressed in
the post-Franco era.  


The lesbian relationship the protagonist has with
Clara is also characterised with fairytales, however as the novel goes on, the
terms of reference become much more complicated. This again could relate to the
complexity of homosexual relationships in the Francoist era. In the novel, the
protagonist initially see’s Clara as an Aztec princess, however as the story
progresses this metaphor is replaced with a mermaid, which ends up being a much
more sustainable metaphor for the character. This vision initially emerges in
the Café scene where the protagonist addresses Clara as ‘tiernísima sirena de
senos adolescenetes y Hermosa cold casi piernas’ (p.66) The loving relationship
between the two characters is no longer apparent as the novel goes on. At the end of the novel, the
protagonist begins to suspect that Clara may betray her for a simpler
heterosexual relationship, and expresses her anger by referencing Clara being like
the little mermaid – as she escapes her own reality of being in love with the
protagonist to lead an ordinary life in a heterosexual relationship to avoid
the judgement and hate she would experience from society if anyone was to find
out. This relates to the idea of this novel following the idea of Circular Bildungsroman,
as the two women still do not feel fully empowered to pursue their own growth
as lovers’ due to their restrictions in society, that being homosexuality being


It is clear
that the use of fairytales metaphorically is a primary tool when attempting the
task of unravelling an identity where patriarchy had always been woven into the
lives of female protagonists, again shedding light to the reality of the
position women had in Spanish society during the Francoist era. In this novel, it is evident that
Tusquets is breaking this norm by introducing and creating a sense of fantasy
of two women who break the rules by being in a homosexual relationship, going
against the patriarchal norms and beliefs that the rule of Spain had in the
majority of the twentieth century. This relates to the idea of Reminiscent Bildungsroman,
as Tusquets attempts to break tradition and introduce the idea of two women
being together compatibly, without the need for a man. However, because this novel
is set in the mid-seventies and the reminiscent genre is about changes in women
developments after the Franco regime, it holds limitations of being within this



In conclusion, it is evident that the novel fits in to
the genre of circular bildungsroman most noticeably out of the three introduced
by Bezhanova. The novel demonstrates progression by emphasising the important
role sexuality has in the development of a woman. The rise of female writers
who used this genre was an outcome of the female sexual and social oppression women
were subjected too in the Franco era. It is evident that throughout the novel
the protagonist is faced with conflicts of her desired sexuality and control
over her life and the male domination which herself and other women were exposed
to. Furthermore, it is
clear that the use of fairytales metaphorically is a primary tool when
attempting the task of unravelling an identity where patriarchy had always been
woven into the lives of female protagonists, again shedding light to the
reality of the position women had in Spanish society during the Francoist era.  Both Reminiscent and Collective Bildungsroman provide
a clear broader context to the genre however they ultimately do not feature as
much as Circular throughout.