Armonía Somers - A groundbreaking feminist classic from 1950s Uruguay, The Naked Woman was met with scandal and outrage due to its erotic content, cynicism, and stylistic ingenuity. The novel follows Rebeca Linke's ardent, ultimately tragic, attempt to free herself from a hostile society
Armonía Somers, The Naked Woman, Trans. by Kit Maude, The Feminist Press at CUNY, 2018.
A groundbreaking feminist classic from 1950s Uruguay, The Naked Woman was met with scandal and outrage due to its erotic content, cynicism, and stylistic ingenuity. The novel follows Rebeca Linke's ardent, ultimately tragic, attempt to free herself from a hostile society. Juxtaposing fantastic imagery and brutal depictions of violence, Somers will resonate with readers of Clarice Lispector, Angela Carter, and Djuna Barnes.
The first English-translated work of the late Somers (1914–1994) is a momentous allegorical tale of power and lust from 1950 that remains relevant in 2018. On her 30th birthday, the sullen Rebeca Linke leaves her home, hops on a train, and travels to a cottage deep within the wilderness, where she strips nude and tries to cut off her own head. Surviving this self-inflicted attack, she reattaches her cranium, sheds her “conventional consciousness,” and wanders the nearby fields and forests. Cut by tree branches while moving through the forest, Rebeca’s nude form inspires a dangerous lust in the men who catch glimpses of it. Rebeca passes through a secluded house in the woods, and her presence arouses the woodsman inside—who, after she leaves, rapes his wife. Later, a pair of farmers flee when they spy her and spread word of her existence through a local village. Soon, the village men form a mob, determined to find the naked woman skirting the trees, and a misogynistic frenzy of violence and sexual envy erupts. This short yet undeniably powerful take on the viciousness of the male ego exposes the soft underbelly of “civil society,” showing that just beneath the surface is man’s base animal nature. Somers’s novel is a surreal, gripping experience. - Publishers Weekly
One woman’s feminist awakening leads a village to ruin.
Nearly 70 years after it was published, Somers’ haunting and timeless novella has been translated into English for the first time. Somers, a Uruguayan feminist who died in 1994, recounts one woman’s transgressive journey toward autonomy. On her 30th birthday, a bored Rebeca Linke finds herself longing for a remarkable thing that has yet to (and may never) happen. Under cover of darkness, she travels to her country cottage, withdraws from the world, and casts away all societal responsibilities. Beneath the moonlight, in a dreamlike state, Linke decapitates herself—symbolically, of course—and re-enters the world naked and free. Slipping into bedrooms and appearing in fields, her ghostly, erotic presence—now calling herself Eve—quickly drives the village insane. Sick with sexual desire and lost in their misogyny, the men simultaneously dream of her and dream of killing her. It’s not only the men who fear what Eve will do to their orderly yet fragile existences; the women resent her nudity and wonder if she’ll undo the normalcy they enjoy. Somers’ similes are as gorgeous as they are effective: “But now the man’s desire had swelled like a river after the rainy season” and “he hacked away at her as if she were a tree trunk.” Imbued with magical realism, mysticism, and biblical themes, Somers’ novella poses questions still relevant today: “Had she, a naked, destitute woman, really caused all this madness? Or was she was being used as an excuse for something already lurking inside of them?” The larger truth is as naked as the woman haunting the countryside.
A lusciously brutal resurrected classic. - Kirkus Reviews
“I am so grateful that a new generation will be able to read this surreal, nightmarish book about women’s struggle for autonomy—and how that struggle is (always, inevitably) met with violence.” —Carmen Maria Machado
“The extraordinary power of The Naked Woman lies in the mysterious sensation of a metaphor whose meaning is being suspended. Like all literary greats, Somers offers no answers, she just amplifies the questions.” —Andrés Barba
“A fiery, imaginative meditation on the reach of embodied consciousness, The Naked Woman is a timely translation of a Latin American hidden jewel. Wild and brilliant, Somers speaks to us in the here and now of our troubled present." —Cristina Rivera Garza
“Too strange and scandalous for her time, Armonía Somers is a feminist legend.” —Lina Meruane
“Armonía Somers is an extraordinary writer whose erotic fairy-tale world is akin to that of Angela Carter. Thanks to Kit Maude’s perceptive rendering, the English-speaking reader can now discover one of the most original, and unfairly neglected, Latin American authors of the past century.” —Alberto Manguel
“This short but savage novel is essential reading. Hallucinatory, surreal, and beautifully brutal. Like a dream-vision that gets under your skin.” —Julianne Pachico
The 1940s were a good decade for the arts in Uruguay. The writers Carlos Quijano and Juan Carlos Onetti founded the influential leftist weekly Marcha in 1939. Joaquín Torres García, Uruguay's leading modern artist, opened a studio in the capital, Montevideo, to train the next generation of painters. A community of writers, artists, and critics was taking shape there, and by 1945, that community had become a full-on cultural boom.
The artists and writers of that boom are called the Generación Crítica, or the Generación del 45, and include some of the most exceptional minds in Uruguayan history, many of whom remain famous today. For the most part, they were realists, leftists, innovative and independent thinkers. None, however, were nearly as innovative as the fantastical, experimental near-Surrealist writer Armonía Somers, who belongs to the Generación del 45 by age only. As far as Somers was concerned, she and her work belonged to no one but herself.
Somers' first novel, The Naked Woman, translated by Kit Maude, is a wild, brutal paean to freedom. It's a challenging book, one that took nearly 70 years to make its way into English. Somers — a pen name, she was born Armonía Etchepare — opens casually enough. "As much as she'd been hoping otherwise, Rebeca Linke's thirtieth birthday began with exactly what she had expected: nothing." That line could lead anywhere. The next scene could be a party, a bad family dinner, a marital fight. But in The Naked Woman, Rebeca heads to a remote cottage, strips naked, and cuts off her own head. Then she "[shoves] it back on like a helmet" and ventures, still naked, into the woods. - Lily Meyer
Originally published in 1950, this slim novel packs a major wallop. Somers (1914 – 1994, pen name for Armonía Liropeya Etchepare Locino) was a Uruguayan writer, pedagogue, and a major force in Latin American feminism. And although she was a prolific writer, this publication of The Naked Woman is Somers only novel translated into English. Highly surreal and somewhat reminiscent of Djuna Barnes or Clarice Lispector, the novel tells a dreamlike tale that is also heavy with a feminist critique of society, its inherent misogyny and repression of female sexuality. This is an important work of twentieth century feminism whose central meaning clearly resonates today.
On her thirtieth birthday, the protagonist Rebeca Linke decides to take a journey from her comfortable life in the city to a cottage in the country. Before she leaves, she removes her clothing in a clear gesture toward what it is to come later in the novel. She travels by train wearing only a coat, the presence of her naked body becoming the central power and symbol in the novel. Eventually arriving in the country, she leaves her coat behind in a field and in a dreamlike sequence in the cottage, attempts to cut off her own head. While the violence of this act is shocking, it is a necessary part of her progression from Rebecca Linke to the woman she will become. Of course this is a world of symbol and metaphor—her symbolic self-decapitation is just the next step on her journey to shrugging off conventional consciousness.
Once Linke has re-affixed her detached head to her body, she travels through the night into a world full of sky and forest. She revels in her freedom—alive to sensation and to the reality of the power of her naked body. When she arrives at a hut in the woods, she moves into the bed of the heavily masculine woodsman and his frail wife. The woodsman believes her to be a dream as she whispers in his ear calling herself “Eve.” Unable to meet her desire with his own “Eve” leaves the hut. In his anger and frustration with his own impotence the woodsman brutally rapes his wife, a foreshadowing of sexual violence later in the novel.
As Eve travels through the nightmare world of forest and village, she inspires curiosity, lust, and ultimately violent rage in the men who see her naked body. Farmers glimpse her luminous body in the forest and spread word of her to the local village. In their mixture of desire and frustration, the men of the village come together into a destructive and violent mob. They cannot control or contain her and so decide to destroy her.
But it isn’t just the men who want to destroy Eve. The women of the village are horrified by their husband’s new-found lust, the “red-hot night of the woman” eclipsing “the effort of thousands of restrained evenings during which the women, instinctive economists, went about rationing chastity and lust so as to ensure that the community grew in a measured, orderly way.” The power of Eve’s sexuality as represented by the vision of her naked body is such that the villagers’ carefully controlled lives are violently disrupted and they respond to her with the “jarring inevitability of a natural disaster.” Eve's presence has inspired the villagers to forget “the fears society had drummed into them” and they become intensely sexually aware. Even the local priest has visions of Eve’s naked body and feels a desire rise in him that he has never known. His deacon claims that the woman is a “naked beast” and must be the mother of the Devil. But in his sermon, the priest claims that Eve is the first woman, the eternal Eve and that the villagers are not worthy of her presence. For the priest, the villagers “hated the unknown” and only knew how to express their fear through hatred. He concludes that the luminous body of the naked woman represents a beauty and freedom the villagers do not have access to, “A single incarnation of freedom cannot exist without starting a war.”
In an extended scene toward the end of the novel, Eve stops to speak with Juan, a married villager, and they become lovers (albeit briefly). When Juan asks her for her name, she renames herself “Phryne” (in a nod to the Ancient Greek courtesan tried for impiety). As she and Juan discuss the nature of love, the town descends on them. Refusing the priest's guidance, the deacon and the villagers rename Eve/Phryne, “the Naked Woman” and see her only as “primitive, brazen, obscene.” Juan attempts to protect her by covering her body with an old raincoat but it is too late, the villagers are on him. She is saved only when the village itself catches fire in a biblical blaze. In this build up to the end of the novel, The Naked Woman asks the central question, “Had she, a naked, destitute woman, really caused all this madness? Or was she being used as an excuse from something already lurking inside of them?” In the midst of the conflagration, the priest strips himself naked and walks into his burning church in a final rebellion against the small minds of the villagers and their limited understanding of the sacred. As the villagers turn to save their homes from fire, the naked woman walks to the forest and the river and here she becomes Rebecca Linke again in a beautiful, albeit disappointing final act. - Yvonne C. Garrett
On Translating Armonía Somers's “The Naked Woman"
Born in 1941, Armonía Somers was a Uruguayan feminist, pedagogue, novelist, and short story writer. Though considered to be part of the literary generation of 1945 in Uruguay, her style and use of a pseudonym set her apart. She passed away in May 1994. The Naked Woman will be her first novel translated into English.