This article traces the historiography of the romantic yet poorly understood mistress, friend and political ally of Simón Bolívar: Manuela Sáenz Aizpuru de Thorne (1797–1856). It highlights two opposing schools of interpretation on Sáenz: the ‘bad girl’ and ‘heroine’ schools. Nationalism and the cult of Bolívar (especially among Venezuelan and Ecuadorean authors), have combined with the later influence of revolutionary socialist and feminist ideas to ensure the predominance of the latter and, thus, of an heroic-mythic view of Sáenz. Yet scholars' efforts to recover the historical woman have challenged this view and, above all, paved the way for a more nuanced, gender-conscious understanding of Sáenz's role and significance.
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