Victoria Ocampo, Gabriela Mistral and Victoria Kent were confident and got together even before they met in person, moved by mutual admiration. The letters meet in Precious Letters (1932-1979) (Renaissance), in a volume edited by Elizabeth Horan, Carmen de Urioste Azcorra and Cynthia M. Tompkins that reads as the friendship of five decades between three exceptional women and an example of that the personal and the political are inseparable.
What did Kent, Ocampo and Mistral have in common? They did not share origins, education, economic status, or even occupation, although all three wrote. They were decidedly feminist, left-wing, the three had passionate intimate lives that did not fit the canon of the time and when they met they had already decided to reject the role of obedient mother-wife that society held for them. All three worried about the welfare of the Civil War orphans and refugees in exile. All of them had contact at some point with the director of the Residencia de Señoritas María de Maeztu (a character that emerges from the letters), who orchestrated the meeting between Ocampo and Mistral.
Mistral, which the Nobel Prize for Literature caught by surprise in Brazil, is the most literary of the three. «I wash my soul a lot back to poetry. It is not true that one does it, she is the one who manipulates the poor poet, ”he writes. Kent and Ocampo are more direct in their letters, perhaps because they felt more comfortable in the role of publishers. The Spanish wrote Four years in Paris , a novel inspired by the stage that lived under a false identity during the Nazi occupation so as not to be detected by the Gestapo , but the work where he spent more years and effort was Iberian , the anti-Franco magazine published in Nueva York that was published between 1953 and 1974 and was funded by his partner, philanthropist Louise Crane (ex, by the way, Elizabeth Bishop). Ocampo also turned his time and money into Sur , a magazine (and editorial, Kent's novel was published there) in which he wrote all the intellectuals of the time, from Borges to Bioy Casares through Ortega y Gasset, García Márquez, Lorca and Neruda.
Of the three, the one that may be most familiar to the Spanish reader is Victoria Kent. Heiress of Concepción Arenal in her concern for the lousy state of Spanish prisons and sadly remembered for refusing female suffrage (she thought that Spanish women were not sufficiently educated to vote in 1931), she was the first Spanish lawyer and deputy for the Republican Party. In exile he agreed with Mistral in Mexico and since the 50s he lived in a sophisticated environment in New York.
Mistral's life is the most troubled of the three, which is to say, and that is reflected in the letters, to which he spent several hours a day. There is the diplomatic slip that completely removed her from the Madrid consulate, the son she took years to recognize (who is affectionately nicknamed Yin Yin in the letters and who would end up committing suicide due to bullying in Petrópolis), her indefatigable nomadism between Europe and Latin America and his relationship with Doris Dana, of the New York aristocratic family , just like Louise Crane.
To the powerful Crane, mother and daughter (the mother was a co-founder of MoMA), Ocampo had known them much earlier, in the 30s. This is how Mistral tells Ocampo the courtship between Kent and the rich heiress: «There our Vict. Kent has found a jewel of a girl who hosts her and feeds her with a big nobility, because she has surely already spent her savings » . The contacts of the Crane served so that, years later, Ocampo was released after being imprisoned by Peronism.
Correspondence is marked by wars, politics and exile . Ocampo and Mistral knew that during the occupation Kent was hidden from the Nazis and correspondence was interrupted those years. Similarly, Mistral refrained from contacting Kent the first year of the Civil War because he knew his mail was under surveillance. During the four years that German submarines patrolled the Atlantic, correspondence was paralyzed . More anecdotes of spy film: Ocampo picked up the Four-day manuscript in Paris from Kent in New York before setting sail for Europe and is very likely to take it with him when he attended the Nuremberg trials. The letters were very important: Kent packed them the three times he moved.
Beyond the political, the intimate slips into the letters . The health ailments of Mistral (a diabetes that caused half-blindness, kidney problems and recurrent flu) are a constant. The Chilean is the least formal and most spontaneous: the same shares with Kent a dream she has had with Manuel Azaña than the violent anonymous she received for a while, which left her touched.
Precious letters is also, as the prologue points out, an important document in LGBT history "to understand the way in which gender and social identities were interwoven" during the Civil War and Franco. Both Mistral and Kent built areas that today we would call queer in the Madrid of the Second Republic and the New York of the 50s, 60s and 70s . The desire for freedom is breathed in the letters, as when Mistral writes to Ocampo: «Write your own; Let go, don't polish too much, dare to be Creole. Forget the culture, which is a bad word. Throw it away and write with oblivion of what you know and what is strange in your blood ». Physically they coincided few times. The last, when Mistral was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The last sentence that Mistral told Kent was: "What about that country? The misery is great » . The last music he wanted to hear was the Spanish Sephardic song.
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