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Michelle C. Geoffrion-Vinci, assistant professor of foreign languages and literatures at Lafayette, has written an insightful analysis of a pioneering 19th-century Spanish feminist, Between the Maternal Aegis and the Abyss: Woman as Symbol in the Poetry of Rosalía de Castro, published in June by Fairleigh Dickinson University Press. The first printing of the book has nearly sold out.

Marquis Scholar Amy Mish was “instrumental” in copyediting the manuscript and organizing the bibliography and index, says Geoffrion-Vinci. Mish also helped her prepare a translation with scholarly introduction of Castro's 1884 collection En las orillas del Sar (On the Shores of the River Sar). Mish worked with Geoffrion-Vinci before graduating from Lafayette in 2001 with a degree in mathematics-economics.

Geoffrion-Vinci's book examines the poetic techniques that Castro used to link issues of femininity and identity — both national and individual — to the construction of a system of gendered symbolic language.

Castro (1837-1885) wrote five volumes of poetry, four novels, and numerous essays before succumbing to cancer of the uterus at age 48. While best known for her more introspective and intimate poetry, Castro's mature works are also highly feminist and political in thematic orientation, notes Geoffrion-Vinci. For instance, Cantares gallegos (Galician Songs) (1883) is generally hailed as the catalyst for the 19th-century Galician cultural revival and contains poems that decry the mistreatment of women and Galicia, both of which occupied highly marginalized positions within the framework of 19th-century Spanish society.

The daughter of an unmarried Spanish noblewoman and a priest, Castro was raised by the latter's family until the age of ten. However, she was not recognized publicly as the priest's daughter; but rather, her birth records described her as orphaned. The noblewoman then defied convention in predominantly Catholic, conservative, 19th century Spain by recognizing and subsequently raising Castro as her daughter.

Through her book, Geoffrion-Vinci seeks to address the lack of attention that Castro receives in undergraduate and graduate Spanish literature courses, and to debunk her image as a saintly, romantic figure who was the self-proclaimed mother of the downtrodden of Spain, especially the northwestern province of Galicia.

“What I investigate in this book are the various symbols that construct an image of female identity and Spanish national identity in Castro's principal poetic works,” says Geoffrion-Vinci. “It's my position that Castro is anything but the angelic figure that scholars, historians, and her family painted in the last century. She was a separatist, a feminist before feminism even was a concept in Spain, and at times bitterly angry over the political upheaval in Spain, the demise of liberal ideals, and her own painful physical condition resulting from her lengthy battle with cancer. These issues don't get fair notice by the scholars who examine this person and her body of work in their research and the courses they teach.”

In researching Castro's three most mature and significant collections of poetry, Geoffrion-Vinci found images that increased in frequency and depth from the first volume to the last, those becoming symbols that form a consistent, organic whole.

“There's a wide variety of tropes and recurrent symbols that develop much greater meaning or impact and have significant ramifications regarding self, nation, and gender,” she says. “Castro, or Rosalía as she is widely known, created a poetic symbolic system where oft-repeated iterations of images take on greater meaning with every occurrence; for example, the rose, lunar imagery, tides, heavens, and water. These symbols work together to express a very compelling world view that hasn't been examined sufficiently.”

As part of a year-long collaboration, Geoffrion-Vinci and Mish coauthored an article related to the book, “On the Shores of Oblivion: Toward a Feminist Translation of Rosalía de Castro,” which has been provisionally accepted for publication in the journal Letras Femeninas. They also made a presentation based on the paper at Matters of the Market: Texts and Contexts in Spanish and Latin American Literature, an April 2001 conference at Cornell University.

“One of the special things about Amy was that she was not a Spanish major,” says Geoffrion-Vinci. “She had studied abroad in Spain and wasn't willing to stop working with Spanish while completing the requirements of her major.”

Much of their work together was funded by Lafayette's EXCEL Scholars program, in which students assist faculty with research while earning a stipend. Geoffrion-Vinci has benefited from collaborations with several EXCEL Scholars.

“They're exceptionally bright people,” she says. “They lend a different perspective to my work. In being relative newcomers to the study of language, literature, and culture, these students provide fresh insight and enthusiasm regarding the work at hand, the text, and history. They are very talented at keeping me on my toes and asking cogent questions. It's been my pleasant experience that my academic relationship with students really strengthens my work as a scholar.”

As a result of another EXCEL project, Geoffrion-Vinci and junior Marquis Scholar Angela Guarino coauthored a 30-page article, “Of Cookpots, Kettles and Codes: Language and Libido in Cristina Fernández Cubas as read through Hélène Cixous,” which has been accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed journal Anales be la Literatura Espanñola Contemporánea (ALEC). A government and law major from Springfield, Pa., Guarino explored female characters and gender identities in Cubas' work as well as the historical background of pre-Franco and post-Franco Spain.

She was thrilled when her Spanish professor approached her about participating in EXCEL research. “It's unbelievable,” says Guarino. “You just can't get that opportunity anywhere else.”

The collaboration will continue after Guarino returns from studying abroad in Spain this fall. Geoffrion-Vinci expects their further work to be published in journal articles or a book.

In another EXCEL project last year, Geffrion-Vinci mentored Marquis Scholar Sam McDonald, who graduated from Lafayette this summer with a degree in International Affairs. McDonald helped research and write part of ¡Sí se puede! Un curso introductorio para hispanoparlantes nativos (Yes You Can! An Introductory Course for Native Speakers of Spanish), a textbook that will teach Spanish heritage speakers how to communicate appropriately in their home language. Geoffrion-Vinci's main collaborator on the project is Dr. María Carreira, associate professor of Spanish at California State University, Long Beach. As it gives Spanish instruction, the textbook will feature important Hispanic figures, their achievements in the United States, and their cultural histories in their respective countries of origin. It is scheduled to be published by Houghton Mifflin & Co. in 2004.

Geoffrion-Vinci will continue her work on ¡Sí se puede! in a new EXCEL collaboration this fall with Elizabeth Tucker Hirsh, a sophomore from Skillman, N.J.

She also has created a First-Year Seminar, “On Cooking, Culture, and Cinema,” which incorporates service learning and makes its debut this fall. Students will explore cultural identity through the medium of food and its representation in film and print media, explains Geoffrion-Vinci. They will read novels, view films, and learn to cook and eat foods from the Hispanic, Mediterranean, Asian, African-American, Jewish-American, and Native American cultural communities.

“I'm really excited about this course,” she says. “Part of our collective responsibility as a class will be to feed the homeless and children, and to give cooking demonstrations for displaced and disadvantaged mothers at Third Street Alliance for Women.”

Geoffrion-Vinci teaches courses on Spanish literature and civilization from the 18th century to the present and such language classes as Elementary and Intermediate Spanish, Advanced Composition and Conversation, and Business Spanish. A member of Lafayette's Women's Studies Advisory Committee, she has also taught Hispanic Women's Narrative in Translation, an interdepartmental course on Hispanic women's poetry in translation and the impact of gender on poetic production.

Geoffrion-Vinci has participated in several projects aimed at enriching the classroom language-learning experience through technology. She has developed interactive computer programs for beginning, intermediate, and advanced Spanish courses using XMedia Engine, PowerPoint, and the Internet. In Advanced Spanish she uses a program which she designed, “¿Cómo se analiza un poema en español?/How to analyze poetry in Spanish.”

Geoffrion-Vinci joined the Lafayette faculty in 1998. She earned her bachelor's degree from Wellesley College and her master's and Ph.D. from Stanford University. She also conducted graduate studies at Yale University.

Geoffrion-Vinci has authored several publications, presented 17 papers at conferences, and given two keynote addresses for Stanford University's Center for Teaching and Learning and its teaching assistant orientation program.

She has received grants and fellowships from Lafayette, Community of Agile Partners in Education, American Association of University Women, Stanford Institute for Research on Women and Gender, Yale University, the Ford Foundation, and the Charles A. Dana Foundation. She has been honored with Stanford's Walter J. Gores Award for Excellence in Teaching and the Intel Corp. and The Tech Museum of Innovation Certificate of Inspiration (San Jose, Calif.).

She is a member of Modern Language Association, Asociación Internacional de Hispanistas, North East Modern Language Association, American Association of University Professors, Women's Caucus for the Modern Foreign Languages, Asociación de Letras Femeninas Hispánicas, American Association of University Women, American Association of Teachers of Spanish, and American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.

Geoffrion-Vinci has served on numerous Lafayette committees, including Curriculum and Educational Policy, Interim Travel Scholarships, Recreational Athletics, First-Year Orientation, Computer Services, Community Outreach, Engineering/International Studies, and search committees for the director of the Landis Community Outreach Center and the director of choral activities. She also has been Lafayette's representative to the Lehigh Valley Association of Independent Colleges Women's Studies Coalition. In addition, she is a faculty interviewer for the office of admissions.

An adviser to Hispanic Society of Lafayette and students preparing to study abroad in Spain and Mexico, Geoffrion-Vinci regularly serves as cantor and/or provides piano accompaniment to Catholic religious services on campus. Working in conjunction with the Nicaraguan Consulate in Philadelphia, the Council of Spanish-Speaking Organizations of the Lehigh Valley, Inc., and various Lafayette student groups, she organized a disaster relief collection of more than 20 boxes of clothing, food and medical supplies in response to Hurricane Mitch, the 1998 earthquake that devastated large areas of Central America.


Tucker Hirsch ’05 collaborated with Michelle Geoffrion-Vinci, associate professor of foreign languages and literatures, on an introductory course for heritage speakers of Spanish.

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