Posted by: Sally Ingraham | August 12, 2009

OT: Iphigenia (The diary of a young lady who wrote because she was bored) – Venezuela

iphigeniaby Teresa de la Parra

The heroine of this book, Maria Eugenia Alonso, ‘…is a half-educated young woman, confused by personal vanity and romantic fantasies, often floundering in her efforts to express a critical outlook on society and personal relations.’ So says Naomi Lindstrom in her introduction to the book. I was grateful for her introduction, as it helped me to keep clear in my mind the intent of the author who brought the flighty, excitable Maria Eugenia to life.

I both liked and disliked this book, and I both identified strongly with and at the same time could not comprehend Maria Eugenia. Written through a very long letter and then a series of diary entries, the book follows a few years of Maria’s life – from when her father dies and she leaves France to return to her family home in Caracas, Venezuela as an 18 year old, up until her marriage to Cesar Leal.

I readily identified with Maria’s use of the written word to help puzzle out the world around her. She is intelligent and independent-minded, and her glimpse of freedom before she was thrust back into the sheltered environment of her society sparked off a good deal of thoughts and insights on her part. I enjoyed many of these. On the other hand her focus on material pleasures and comforts irked me. One moment she would be dishing out a lovely strong opinion and the next she would be melodramatizing her plight. She frustrated me in that she tried to fight against the strict moral and social codes enforced by everyone around her, but she didn’t try in the right way. For instance, she secretly read books that her Grandmother didn’t approve of, but she did it only for pleasure and out of stubbornness. It didn’t occur to her to apply herself a little more and actually study.

The book was scandalous when it first came out in the early 1920s because it painted such a clear portrait of a passionate young woman completely trapped in a patriarchal society, who because she lacked the money to establish herself, was forced to remain there, ‘sacrificed’ like Iphigenia of the Greek myth.

The ending of the book is disappointing but not surprising. I was expecting it, and since I didn’t feel very invested in Maria’s fate I found myself bored by the agony of her choice between the married man she adores and the wealthy fiance whom she hates. I didn’t find myself despising Maria for her choice, however, so in that Teresa de la Parra was successful, in showing how it was the society that beat down so efficiently a bright and beautiful girl. The book is full of energy but is ultimately deflating.

After finishing it I did find myself feeling profoundly grateful that I don’t live in Maria’s world, and that even though I am so similar to her (half-educated, confused by personal vanity and romantic fantasies, often floundering, poorish) I can forge my own way in the world and pick my adventures and pursuits. And I don’t have an overbearing grandmother snatching books like this one out of my hands!

I definitely want to find out more about the author, as she was everything that Maria wanted to be – well read, socially prominent, elegant, respected – a free woman. She succeeded in the society where Maria failed, and it was this that prompted her to write Iphigenia so that in some way she could encourage other women to do the same. After being kind of bummed out by Maria Eugenia Alonso, I am ready to be inspired by Teresa de la Parra!

(This was my 5th book for the OT Challenge, although I didn’t manage to finish it until August… On to my 6th book!)


  1. What an interesting response you had to this book, Sarah! I like the sound of the diary/personal letter format, so I’ll keep this in mind despite your reservations; however, the sort of things that bothered you and the fear of it being overly dated somehow are what’s kept me from diving into my own Teresa de la Parra book yet. Hmmm.

  2. Thanks for writing the review. I’m always getting frustrated when reviewers complain about characters and they’ve completely missed the point the writer was trying to convey. I really appreciate that you “got it!” Sorry, I’m on a rant from reading reviews on a book where the writer didn’t name most of the characters (showing that they are universal archetypes) and none of the reviewers got it – they saw it as a flaw. /end rant 🙂

    Btw, I love the title, “The diary of a young lady who wrote because she was bored”

  3. This sounds like an interesting book, given the way it’s written. I’m not familiar with it or the writer, but I’ll definitely be looking them up. Thanks for reviewing this one.

  4. Richard – I will definitely enjoy comparing notes with you if you ever read this. There are certainly interesting parts.

    Eva – I hate it when I feel like I don’t ‘get’ a book or the authors intent. I usually will do some research at that point before I leap to misinformed conclusions, as I’m sure you do. If only everyone were as clever as us! Rant away. 🙂

    Hedgie – Definitely an interesting book. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Interesting! Your description reminds me of a more stylistically experimental Argentinian Edith Wharton. I had almost exactly the same set of frustrations about Lily Bart in The House of Mirth – she had such potential, but she never applied herself enough to realize it. Anyway, thanks for the thoughtful review. 🙂

  6. LOL – the world should be run like people who think like us, right?! 🙂

  7. Yeah, we can replace that first “like” with “by.” 🙂

  8. Emily – I think my frustration with Maria stems a little from my own fear that I don’t apply myself enough – fortunately I won’t be shoved into an unhappy marriage on top of that though! But it is interesting that I disliked her for things that I see reflected a little in myself. I LOVE being challenged by book characters. 🙂

    Eva – Of course, I agree! 🙂

  9. […] 5. July Iphigenia: The Diary of a Young Lady Who Wrote Because She Was Bored by Teresa De La Parra – Venez… […]

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