Plotting Women is a fascinating study of how Mexican women have struggled to insert themselves into the male-dominated “plot” from the seventeenth century until the present. This book is much more than a study of well-known female writers, though they provide the bulk of the texts analyzed here. Since Franco argues that women, in their “struggle for interpretive power,” have often had to resort to unconventional genres, she also explores the autobiographies of seventeenth-century mystical nuns, the 1801 Inquisition trial of the ilusa Ana Rodríguez, the paintings of artist Frida Kahlo, the letters of Antonieta Rivas Mercado (a close friend of José Vasconcelos and lover of Arturo Pani), and the unpublished ethnographic material by Consuelo Sánchez, one of Oscar Lewis’s informants. In addition, Franco’s wide-ranging discussion of culture and symbols leads her to masterful analyses of José Joaquín Fernández de Lizardi’s Quijotita and of films by Luis Buñuel and “El Indio” Fernández.
Franco’s book is learned, original, and provocative. Yet, despite her research in Mexican archives and historical works, it is strangely ahistorical. In emphasizing the continuity of women’s dilemma over four centuries, she overlooks the dramatic changes in women’s participation in literary and public spheres. Indeed, one must question her choice, for the twentieth century, of tortured misfits and male filmmakers over female writers who achieved fame in the literary mainstream. The representativeness of her female voices is not of concern to her, however, for Franco insists that she is not “attempting to write the history of women and writing in Mexico” but is simply focusing on “moments when dissident subjects appear in the social text and when the struggle for interpretive power erupts” (pp. xxiii, xii). By this yardstick she has succeeded, with a book that will be of great interest to students of Mexican culture.