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Matilde Cherner, the writer who denounced prostitution in Spain (even before Galdós)

In 1881, Benito Pérez Galdós published The disinheriteda book with which he opened the cycle of Contemporary Spanish novels (1881-1889) and, until recently, considered one of the first in Spain to address the issue of prostitution. However, before him, a woman was the first, not only to write, but to openly criticize the institutionalization of prostitution in our country: Matilde Cherner (Salamanca, 1833-Madrid, 1880).

The writer and journalist, who has been described as a woman “with progressive ideas” and a “convinced federal Republican,” collaborated with media outlets such as The Salamanca MagazineMagazine The Enlightenment of Women either The Federal Republican Enlightenment.

He also always wrote hidden under the pseudonym Rafael Lunanovels like Sunset and dawn (1878), plays such as Don Carlos of Austria and The crossand critical works such as Critical judgement on the exemplary novels of Cervantes – a study that was awarded by the Royal Sevillian Academy of Good Letters. But, without a doubt, his most controversial work was Maria Magdalena (1880), in which she bravely portrayed the reality of prostitution in Spain.

“Local third parties or Consensual pimping, which would be the Celestina of this book, is not a crime today either.. And that myth of free voluntariness? This Cherner already explained it so many years ago. What voluntariness do these women have who are forced to become prostitutes because they have nowhere to drop dead? What voluntariness does a 19-year-old Paraguayan woman with three minor children in her care have? It’s like she described in the character of Aspasia: I’m alone, without a penny. Did I commit suicide? What life expectations do I have?”

Alicia de la Fuente also adds that, compared to The disinherited de Galdós, “this book is much more critical.” “Galdós was a very critical writer also with social issues and those that concerned women. But I think that in this novel much more intention, more pain, comes out. It is, as it were, closer. In the end it is a topic that mainly concerns women”.

And he adds: “What’s more, Galdós in The disinherited He didn’t even go so far as to say that Isidora is a prostitute. The reader intuits it, but Matilde is much more explicit. Another thing is that Maria Magdalena is much easier to read, while many people find Galdós dense.

With the publication (finally) of Maria MagdalenaDe la Fuente seeks to bring another voice critical of prostitution, put Matilde Cherner in her rightful place in history and, of course, “put her work where it deserves, within the reach of any reader.”

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