From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America
7.2 (1987): 9-28.
Copyright © 1987, The Cervantes Society of America
||DIANA DE ARMAS WILSON|
AM PLEASED AND HONORED to be able to share with this distinguished audience some curious though I hope not excessively impertinent ideas about El curioso impertinente. You have all, I know, pondered that disturbing tale of a triangle created by a husband anxious to test his wife's fidelity through the instrument (lit., el instrumento) of his best friend. Interpolated into Part I of Don Quijote, the tale is read aloud by the priest to the characters who have converged at Juan Palomeque's inn. Although committed to speak today on the intertextuality of El curioso, I shall begin where the tale itself ends, with the priest's indictment of its inter-sexuality: Si este caso se pusiera entre un galán y una dama, pudiérase llevar; pero entre marido y mujer, algo tiene del imposible.1 A plausible case between lovers, but impossible between man and wife, concludes the priest, the first of a long line of critics in and out of the Quijote who have discredited El curioso by denying it
following is a transcription of a paper invited for presentation at the 1985
annual meeting of the Cervantes Society of
America at the MLA conference in Chicago.
1 El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha, I, ed. Luis Andrés Murillo (Madrid: Clásicos Castalia, 1973), p. 446. Unless noted otherwise, all further citations to the Quijote will be from this edition and will be parenthetically
documented in my text by chapter only.
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credibility, readability, or pertinence.2
By Américo Castro's 1925 polling of a dozen scholars (himself included),
the issue of pertinence had come to a tie, an opposition that has been dismantled
across our century, as increasingly flexible readers began to allow for what
Bruce Wardropper justly termed The Pertinence of El curioso
In the light of this long and problematic canonization, it would seem at best quixotic to enter the ancient critical lists battling the issue of the interpolated tales. If I bring up these polemics of pertinence, then, it is only because we owe to them some of the most concealing and revealing judgments in Cervantine criticism. For those of us who must read or teach the Quijote in English, the dismissive attitude towards El curioso of its modern translators bears noting: not worth the telling; doesn't bear examining; the substance will do.4 Scarcely confined to
Sansón Carrasco's comments on El curioso as a misfit in II.3,
and Cide Hamete's excuses for it in II.44. To recall one strident example
of the outdoing topos by Cervantes' flesh and
blood over his fictional critics see Unamuno's judgment of El
curioso as a novela por entero impertinente a la acción
de la historia (Vida de Don Quijote y Sancho [Madrid: Espasa-Calpe,
S. A., 1966], p. 95). Not the least of Cervantes' distinctions is his challenge
to the confining logic of verosimilitude his showing us that
what we take to be plausible or pertinent (lo que se puede llevar)
is itself an artifice, a convention. The Cervantine character who strategically
preempts forthcoming criticism of El curioso is further ironized by
his role in the novel: as a celibate priest, his flawless ignorance of sexual
otherness may itself discredit those constraints of likeliness
that, as a reader, he proffers us. He appears to regard as
impossible any violation against his readerly expectations that
fiction will reinscribe for him only the received cultural ideas of marital
3 Wardropper's seminal essay appeared in PMLA 72 (1957), 587-600. Castro's remarks are from El pensamiento de Cervantes (Madrid: Editorial Hernando, S. A., 1925), pp. 121-28. I disagree entirely with the conclusion imposed on Castro by his reading: se impone la conclusión de que Cervantes tenía no muy buena la opinión de la mujer (p. 127n.).
4 Of El curioso, Cohen assures us that neither its morality nor its psychology bears a moment's examination, and that it is difficult to see what amusement the average reader can find in it. His advice to skip El curioso is, astonishingly, aimed at anyone who has found his patience wearing thin, say, during Marcela's speech on freedom a telling double erasure (Cervantes: Don Quixote, trans. J. M. Cohen [Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1950], p. 15). In his translation for The Portable Cervantes, Putnam reassures us in an editorial summary replacing El curioso that the substance of it may be given rather briefly (trans. and ed. Samuel Putnam [New York: Viking Press, 1949], pp. 299-302 and 307-09). And Starkie's 1957 abridgement intrepidly crosses over El curioso as a digression (Don Quixote of La Mancha, trans. and ed. Walter Starkie [New York: New American Library, 1957]). Note that the 1612 Shelton translation included El Curioso.
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its English-language translators, this trivializing of Cervantes' tale is
replicated by Vladimir Nabokov's scornful dismissal of its plot as
incredible nonsense, deceit and eavesdropping being the usual bedsprings
of the thing.5 For the summit of
exasperation, however, we must turn to Madariaga's authoritarian criticism.
His curt inhospitality to El curioso is to me most suggestive, for
it functions as a code that allows us to read the tale's intertext of hidden
allusions: The Curious Impertinent, intones Madariaga,
is a frank intruder, smuggled into the work by a simple contrivance
the finding of a manuscript in a bag left by a visitor in the
Inn.6 Although Cervantes'
contrivance here generates more critical vehemence than one might
expect (including an unkind cut at Cervantes' tactlessness),
Madariaga's judgment of El curioso as a frank intruder
serves an extraordinary interpretive function. It establishes some powerful
lines of continuity with Borges' tale of The Intruder, a story
that strikingly emulates the structures of El curioso and whose epigraph
furnished me the title for this talk: passing the love of
women.7 The phrase is from the Old
Testament, from David's dirge for Jonathan: Jonathan lies slain upon
the high places. / I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; / very pleasant
have you been to me; / your love to me was wonderful, / passing the love
of women (2 Samuel I:25-26).
This biblical epigraph foretells the structures of desire in Borges' La intrusa, a tale of a triangle created and destroyed by brotherly love. In this story exalted by Borges as perhaps the best . . . I have
Nabokov, Lectures on Don Quixote, ed. Fredson Bowers (New York: Harcourt
Brace Jovanovich, 1983), p. 143.
6 Salvador de Madariaga, Don Quixote: An Introductory Essay in Psychology (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1934), p. 79. That there seems to be no room at the inn for intruders seems doubly suspect if we recall the text's revelation, some dozen chapters later, that the abandoned valise also contained the real-life manuscript of Rinconete y Cortadillo, left behind by that absent-minded visitor and that both stories might just be de un mesmo autor (I.47). Italics mine.
7 Borges, La intrusa, in El Aleph (Madrid: Alianza / Emece, 1971), pp. 175-80. The epigraph to the Spanish La intrusa is even more cryptic: 2 Reyes, I, 26. Ronald Christ sees this epigraph as foretelling the national [i.e., the Argentine] mythos (The Narrow Act: Borges' Art of Allusion [New York: New York Univ. Press, 1969], p. 126), but I view it as having a more global literary resonance. Borges made his rivals into brothers, as he puts it, in order to avoid unsavory implications, as if unaware of the unsavory implications of such an avoidance technique (The Aleph and Other Stories: 1933-69, ed. and trans. Norman Thomas di Giovanni [New York: Dutton, 1970], p. 278).
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ever written the Nilsen brothers, a pair of illiterate Argentine compadritos, share a woman picked up by the elder brother Cristián. They attempt to rid themselves of her (and of their increasing love for her) by selling her to a brothel, but they are driven to buy her back. Finally unable to save their relationship with the woman between them the elder brother kills her. In Los teólogos Borges has written that there are some men who seek the love of a woman only to forget her, to put her out of mind. Borges puts his intrusive woman out of mind and text by snuffing her out entirely allowing his men to survive and even to be bonded by her murder. The closing lines of La intrusa represent this new intimacy as follows: They threw their arms around each other, on the verge of tears. One more link bound them now the woman they had cruelly sacrificed and their common need to forget her [la obligación de olvidarla.]8 The filiation with El curioso should be obvious: two men sharing a woman who somehow intrudes on their original bond. The Borges scholar Gene H. Bell-Villada vividly describes the nature of the bond in La intrusa:
The tie stressed here, of course, is of a rather archaic sort, the macho bonds between men in the wilderness, a relationship of the kind one might encounter at all male clubs, on athletic teams, or in men's-magazine stories about deer hunting.9
Although it might be pertinent to know that Borges' mother articulated the lady-killer ending for La intrusa, I do not wish to expose an audience of cervantistas to further speculations on Borges' family romance.10 Rather I have invoked Borges in order to use him
intrusa, p. 180. Borges speaks of La intrusa as his favorite
story in Emir Rodríguez Monegal's Borgès par lui-même,
trans. Françoise-Marie Rosset (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1970),
p. 172. Los teólogos may also be found in El Aleph,
9 Borges and His Fiction: A Guide to his Mind and Art (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1981), p. 189.
10 Borges has been diagnosed as incurably repressive by the irrepressible Harold Bloom in A Compass for the Labyrinth, The Yale Review, 59 (1969), 110. For the notion that Borges' fiction is even more Dulcineated than the knight's own ideal, see Arthur Efron's Don Quixote and the Dulcineated World (Austin: Univ. of Texas Press, 1971), p. 143. See also James E. Irby's remarks about Borges' fictions as the creations of someone who has become more and more an incredible mind in an ailing and almost useless body, in the Introduction to Labyrinths, eds. Donald A. Yates & James E. Irby (New York: New Directions, 1962), p. xvii. For a provocative comparison of Borges with Calderón, see Alicia Borinsky's Benefits of Anachronism: A Disorder in Calderón's Papers, Denver Quarterly: The Rhetoric of Feminist Writing, ed. Diana Wilson, Vol. 18, No. 4 (Winter, 1984), pp. 90-92.
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as he himself used Pierre Menard: in order to rewrite
El curioso those three chapters of the Quijote that Menard,
in his splendid fastidiousness, may himself have found nauseous and expendable.
My initial strategy in what follows, then, is to rethink El curioso
in the light of Borges' violent intimacies. After all, long before the Yale
School of critics assured us that we learned to read older texts from newer
texts, that there were benefits to be gained by ignoring chronology, Borges
himself had already recommended what he called the new technique
. . . of the deliberate
anachronism.11 Keeping the graphic
schema of La intrusa in mind, then two male subjects
passing the love of a female object (era una cosa
is how Borges puts it) we shall explore the remote literary precursors
of this triangle, as well as the repose of its millennial repetition. Following
this, we shall move forwards again, if only by about a decade, to examine
a text that shatters that repose: the Barbaric Isle narrative of Cervantes'
I am of course well aware that any talk of triangles will evoke René Girard's transhistorical account of the erotic triangle, an account noisily indebted to El curioso (and more silently to Freud's Oedipal triangle). But Girard's theory itself partakes of the problem at hand in that its assumptions are also passing the love of women. (Let me call your attention to the double genitive here: not that Girard's theory passes over the love of women as the objective genitive men's love for women but rather that it passes over the love of women as the experience of women in love.) Ruth el Saffar has documented Girard's curious blindness towards Cervantes' later works of literature works that give prominence to the healing, restorative presence of the feminine: i.e., to the mother, to nature, to the unconscious.12 But Girard's theory of mimetic desire also elides over any consideration, as Robert ter Horst has recently and rightly noted, that women are less addicted to ritual sacrifice than are men.13 In what follows I hope to
Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote, in
Labyrinths, p. 44.
12 Ruth El Saffar, Unbinding the Doubles: Reflections on Love and Culture in the World of René Girard, Denver Quarterly, pp. 6-22. See also Toril Moi, The Missing Mother: The Oedipal Rivalries of René Girard, Diacritics, 12 (Summer, 1982), 21-31. It is tempting to link Girard's theories to the violence implicit in Freud's fictions, whose ambiguities, as Patricia Klindienst Joplin argues in an essay on the Philomela myth, posit an original moment in which an act of violence (the transgression of a boundary, the violation of a taboo) explains how difference became hierarchy, why women were forbidden to speak (The Voice of the Shuttle Is Ours, Stanford Literature Review, I, i [Spring, 1984], pp. 29-30).
13 Robert ter Horst, On the Importance of Being Earnest: A Reply to Cesáreo Bandera, Cervantes, 5 (1985), 62.
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illuminate a specific set of interactions and transactions by which Cervantes
himself Girard's avowed model eventually fractures the Girardian
construct that so violently passes over the love of women.
To that end I must take up the intertextuality of El curioso, a term I am using in Thomas Greene's sense of the structural presence within a text of elements from earlier works. Greene, who laments his neglect of most notably Hispanic literature in The Light in Troy, his study of Renaissance imitation, could very well have included Cervantes in his roster of those celebrated Renaissance writers who had the courage to confront the model without neurotic paralysis and [to use] the anxiety to discover selfhood. Certainly the creator of El curioso neutralizes all anxieties of influence by deliberately writing into his work his relationship to his models just as he did in the Prologue to Part I of the Quijote. Into El curioso, then, as visible or acknowledged constructs, Cervantes inscribes his imitative strategies: mostly agonistic, occasionally heuristic, never reproductive or sacramental.14 Out of this rich and abundant intertextuality this criss-crossing of influences I want to take up three subtexts, one at a time, in order to explore their literary transvaluation in El curioso.
Let us begin with the story of Gyges and Candaules, not the version given us by Glaucon in Plato's Republic (about Gyges' magic ring) (II.359-60), but the account in Herodotus (b. 484 B.C.), whose History of the Persian Wars it virtually ushers in. I should stress that El curioso' s filiation with the Candaules story has been gaining strength across the twentieth century, growing in status from a mere analogue to fuente primera to el arquetipo de El Curioso.15 Gyges and Candaules is both a success and a succession story: of how a lowly bodyguard can topple a king, taking over from him, with the consent of the Delphic oracle, the kingdom of Lydia. There are semiotic shards of the giant-killer topos here, especially resonant in light of the giant-slaying dream that underwrites Don Quixote's fight with the wine-skins,
M. Greene, The Light in Troy: Imitation and Discovery in Renaissance Poetry
(New Haven: Yale University Press, p. 1982), pp. 2, 16, and 37-53.
15 Note the trajectory from J. D. M. Ford's 1928 footnoted recognition of Gyges and Candaules as an analogue; to Francisco Ayala's 1965 view of it as El curioso's fuente primera; to Helmut Hatzfeld's 1966 vision of Candaules' double transformation in the Quixote (Candaules transformado) not only as Anselmo but also as Cardenio; to Paul M. Arriola's 1970s enshrinement of the Greek tale as el arquetipo de El curioso. See Arriola's useful critical history of the theme of Candaules in Varia fortuna de la historia del rey Candaules y El curioso impertinente, Anales cervantinos, 10 (1971), 33-49.
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the episode that disrupts and glosses the reading of El
curioso.16 But let us here briefly recall
the Herodotus plot. King Candaules desires that Gyges his favourite
among his bodyguard and the man to whom he entrusts all his
weightiest secrets watch his Queen undress: contrive that
you may see her naked. Gyges protests (briefly, in some half-dozen
lines, unlike Cervantes' long-winded Lotario) but Candaules won't
take no for an answer. He installs Gyges behind the open door
of the regal bedchamber, where he must play the voyeur. The Queen (still
nameless in the Greek text) perceives what her husband has done and decides
to punish him for what Herodotus calls her great shame. The next
day she gives Gyges an either / or proposition: You must either kill
Candaules and take me for your own and the throne of Lydia, or yourself be
killed now without more ado. Gyges opts for life, of course, and slays
Candaules in his sleep. The rest is Persian
The earliest allusion to this story in Spanish occurs in the medieval Coplas de Mingo Revulgo, in which it is written of Candaulo: ándase tras los zagales / por estos andurriales / todo el día embebecido. These lines were glossed by Fernando del Pulgar as meaning that Candaules was a boy-chaser: que su rey anda tras los mozos.18 Whatever sexual turns Candaules' medieval career may have taken, they are not as yet evident in Herodotus. The so-called father of History gives us a notably unadorned plot: a man's desire to expose a woman (who violently objects to the exposure) to
another man. In Herodotus the woman executes a contrapasso, as it were: she contrives to have the contriver of this plot destroyed ironically by his own body-guard, and in the very bedroom he has profaned. Traffic in women is violently avenged at the dawn of history for the first and last time, it would seem by an outraged woman.
The declinations on this ur-text of two men trafficking in the body of a woman without her leave are most instructive. As we move down
Candaules as a giant, see Kirby Flower Smith's The Tale of Gyges and
the King of Lydia, American Journal of Philology, 23 (1903),
38. Cervantes' disruptive wineskin episode is an imitation of the last chapter
of Book II of Apuleius' Golden Ass (translated into Spanish by Diego
de Cortagana for posthumous publication c. 1525), where Lucius compares himself
to a giant-killer as he perforates three bewitched and animated wineskins.
17 Herodotus, with an English trans. by A. D. Godley, Loeb Classical Library, I (London: Heinemann, 1920), 8-15.
18 Fernando del Pulgar, Glosas a las Coplas de Mingo Revulgo (Madrid: Clásicos Castellanos, 1929), p. 169. Copla III cited above.
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the centuries and into the related literary traditions that funnel through
El curioso, the woman's agency or subjectivity is increasingly regarded
as intrusive. The notable exception to this trajectory would seem to be
Cervantes, who calls this very traffic into question who does not allow
his female characters to be scapegoated without some vigorous
counter-drama.l9 The elements from Herodotus
whose structural presence we can espy in Cervantes, then, include the figure
of the reluctant adulterer and the feature of voyeurism to
be inverted in El curioso from lover to
husband.20 The most resonant feature of
Cervantes' imitation, however, bears noting: the woman's improvised response
to her attempted reification is, for all its theatrics, still vía
Cups rather than daggers constitute the prevailing topology for the second line of influence I wish to consider today, the literary wife-test. When Cervantes' Lotario alludes to the test of the cup, he is advertising the Orlando Furioso as one of the subtexts of El curioso: la prueba del vaso the test rashly undertaken by Ariosto's simple doctor Anselmo but refused by el prudente Reinaldos. When a deceived husband sips from this magic cup, it will automatically spill its contents into his lap [OF, 42]. Rinaldo's prudent refusal is rooted in the predictable frailty of the feminine gender: My wife a woman is, their sex is frail (the la donna e mobile routine).21 The Carolingian wife-test that subtends El curioso had its earliest Arthurian expression in Robert Bicket's Lay of the Horn, a 12th-century Anglo-Norman Breton
women as scapegoats, see Dorothy Dinnerstein: What women want is to
stop serving as scapegoats (their own scapegoats as well as men's and children's
scapegoats) for human resentment of the human condition. They want this so
painfully and so pervasively, and until quite recently it was such a hopeless
thing to want, that they have not yet been able to say out loud that they
want it (The Mermaid and the Minotaur [New York: Harper &
Row, 19761, p. 234).
20 On Anselmo as voyeur: Anselmo se encerró en un asposento y por los agujeros de la cerradura estuvo mirando y escuchando lo que los dos trataban (I.33); and Todo lo miraba Anselmo, cubierto detrás de unos tapices donde se había escondido (I. 34).
21 Orlando Furioso, 43.6. An imprudent character in Orlando Furioso called Anselmo a victim of Ariosto's dreaded cup-test [OF, 43.6] may have provided Cervantes both the name of his anti-hero in El curioso and that of his Second Shepherd in the Goatherd's Tale. In this last, Cervantes represents as a locus of misogynistic lamentation a pseudo-Arcadia where men such as Anselmo and Eugenio take up full-time careers of railing at the frivolity of women (I.51).
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lay in which King Arthur nearly stabs Guinevere after he imprudently
drinks from a magic ivory horn that reveals her infidelity by pouring the
wine upon him, down even to his
But there is a subtext even to all these subtexts. The father of all these secular cup-tests, as it turns out, is Moses. As spokesman for the Lord in the Old Testament, Moses articulates the so-called law of jealousies in Numbers 5:11-31. This law decrees that a priest may force an accused wife (even one merely suspected of going astray) to drink from an earthen vessel a mixture of water and dirt from the tabernacle floor. Should the woman have lain with another, then this bitter water that causeth the curse (in one Spanish version, el agua que saca la verdad) shall enter into her . . . and her belly shall swell, and her thigh shall rot. When Lotario piously invokes la prueba del vaso, the implication is that it's best not to test, since women traditionally fail the cup-test no matter who's drinking. That there is no similar drink to expose the men they have lain with seems to have concerned neither the Lord nor Lotario.
Wife-testing, then even without the aid of cups, horns, or earthenware vessels has an ancient pedigree. One thinks of Ovid's Cephalus and Procris, and of Apuleius' Cupid and Psyche, myths that come from texts we know Cervantes read. Shakespeare was also exploring, at about the same period, the ethics of wife-testing in plays such as Othello, Cymbeline, and the Winter's Tale, this last with a cup (a semiotic shard from the Mosaic earthenware vessel?) that holds a metaphoric spider. But for the most vivid representations of the wife-test in the pan-European Renaissance, we must give. the palm, of course, to Calderón.
I am most haunted, however, by the third of El curioso' s subtexts, the so-called tale of the two friends. Cervantes refers to the tradition in his opening lines: Lotario y Anselmo, o como se llamaban por antonomasia, los dos amigos (I.33). Antonomasia functions here as the trope, the swerve in locution, through which two men are named friends. Although something in the mind withers, as Terence Hawkes claims in his study of metaphor, at the prospect of unfolding the mysteries of Antonomasia, one of these so-called mysteries might embrace her reincarnation in Part II of Don Quijote as the Princess Antonomasia, turned into a brass monkey for her sexual fall.23 The
Bicket's Lai du Cor [Lay of the Horn], MS: Bodleian Library, Oxford,
Digby 86. See English prose translation in Medieval English Literature,
ed. Thomas Garbaty (Lexington, Mass.: Diana Heath, 1984). In this lay,
[p. 18] Guinevere protests that the horn is
too veracious, as it tests unfaithful thoughts as well
as acts. In A Note on El Curioso impertinente, Rudolph
Schevill reprints the story of the chastity-test in Christophoro Gnospho's
El Crotalón, published in Madrid in 1871, because of its
similarity to El curioso impertinente. Schevill here also footnotes
a series of peculiar tests of chastity and virtue to be found
in early prose fiction, the fabliaux, Amadís de Gaula,
and Palmerín de Oliva (Revue Hispanique, 22 [March 19101,
23 Metaphor (London: Methuen, 1972), p. 4. It is suggestive that the name of the metaphor that channels the close male friendship in El curioso will be personified, impregnated, and turned into a brass monkey in Part II of the Quijote, when the Princess Antonomasia falls to don Clavijo (II.38). [In the original version of this article, this footnote appeared on p. 18. -FJ]
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dos amigos tradition troped by antonomasia, however,
my main concern here, has been very capably unfolded by Avalle-Arce, who
traces it down seven centuries, beginning with the 12th-century Disciplina
clericalis. Although Avalle-Arce gives the tale mythic status
[situación mítica], he never inquires into the
sexual mores or economic practices that have assigned that
situation to literary mythicity (as I hope to show Cervantes
does). Actually, Avalle-Arce could have begun his Latin tradition some 8
centuries earlier, in the non-fictional realm, with St. Augustine's claim
(in De genesi ad litteram, his commentary on Genesis), that if
it was company and good conversation that Adam needed, it would have been
much better arranged to have two men together, as friends, [and] not
a man and a woman (IX.v.9). But Avalle-Arce could not have closed his
dos amigos tradition where we can today, since at the time of his
writing he did not have access to Freud's recently published Complete
Letters (1985), in which is documented another dos amigos situation
passing the love of women: namely, Freud's own long
thralldom to Wilhelm Fliess. One of Freud's letters to Fliess makes
his priorities explicit: I do not share your contempt for friendship
between men, probably because I am to a high degree party to it. In my life,
as you know, woman has never replaced the comrade, the
How, then, might we unravel this mythic plot of male intimacy of males bonded together through the conduit of a woman's body that they must shame (as in Herodotus), or test (as in the Bible and
The Complete Letters of Sigmund Freud To Wilhelm Fliess: 1887-1904,
trans. and ed. Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press,
1985), Letter of August 7, 1901. It gives many of us pause to think that
the seduction theory, as well as the Oedipus complex, were the brain-children
of this documented male thralldom and that this enthralling
friendship's most immediate victim, Emma Eckstein (whose suspicious
nose had to suffer Fliess's nasal psychosurgery) was a kind of latter-day
de-nosed puppet a Melisendra desnarigada (II.26).
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subsequent secular scriptures), or erase (as in the dos
amigos tradition recently revived by Borges)? How does Cervantes criticize
and correct his models, rewrite these prior visions as his own? And will
we need a commentary to make sense of his transvaluation? Francisco
Ayala has observed that El curioso remains una de las creaciones
más ambiguas e insondables de su ambiguo e insondable autor.
Cervantes' creation may be more amenable to the soundings of
contemporary readers readers who are made not nauseous
but curious by its protagonist's strange metaphor for his wife-testing. For
it is Anselmo's self-diagnosis of his disease his verbalization of
its kinship to an eating disorder common among women that forces us
to recognize the great distance that Cervantes has traversed from his models.
For in none of these subtexts from Moses to Ariosto is the husband's
desire so explicitly structured like the language of male
Anselmo famously diagnoses his own locura by metaphorizing it as a female eating disordera desire to eat dirt, plaster, coal, and even other unnamed, if more explicitly vile, things: enfermedad que suelen tener algunas mujeres, que se les antoja comer tierra, yeso, carbón y otras cosas peores, aun asquerosas para mirarse, cuanto más para comerse (411-12). By way of a presenting symptom, then, Anselmo offers us a menu of non-nutritive ingestants. Whatever we are to make of this utterance, it begs, I think, for the kind of psychoanalytic criticism that is being applied today to those so-called fasting girls from Catherine of Siena and her anorexia mirabilis down to our modern epidemic of' eating disorders. Although social and cultural historians are using psychoanalytic approaches, there are still many scholars who would refuse any crítica psicológica to literary figures.26 Harry Sieber usefully gave Anselmo's disease a Renaissance psycho-physiological reading in 1970, when he diagnosed it, on the authority of Huarte de San
notion of male hysteria, first tentatively noted by Aretaeus and Galen, was
unequivocally voiced by a contemporary of Cervantes, the French physician
Charles Lepois (1563-1633), more commonly known as Carolus Piso (see Ilza
Veith, Hysteria: the History of a Disease [Chicago: Univ. of Chicago
Press, 1965], pp. 128-29). On the ambiguous Cervantes / Curioso,
see Francisco Ayala, Los dos amigos, Revista de Occidente,
3 (1965), 290.
26 See Rudolph M. Bell, Holy Anorexia (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1986), and Joan Jacobs Brumberg, Fasting Girls: The Emergence of Anorexia Nervosa (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1986). Consider ed. Shoshona Felman's intelligent plea to generate implications between psychoanalysis and literature (Literature and Psychoanalysis: The Question of Reading: Otherwise [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1971), p. 9).
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Juan as pica a craving for unnatural food glossing it as
possibly a version of hysteria. While I do not regard Huarte's
humoral theories as quaint or useless (I agree with Sieber that Huarte
taps the unknown often mysterious emotional structure of man),
I believe that we can now move beyond the venerable Renaissance medical theories
in the area of eating disorders, widely regarded today as a silent
language, as a kind of discourse without words (e.g., an
issue currently being illuminated, and sometimes banalized, by such books
as Holy Anorexia, Starving for Attention, Hungry for
Identity, et al.). We are in a better position now to scrutinize that
gender-inflected label of hysteria, eliminated as far back as 1952
from the Diagnostic Manual, if not from the mind, of the American
Psychiatric Association. If, as the Lacanian Serge Leclaire puts it, the
hysteric's question boils down to Am I a man or a woman,? we
may at least be prepared to abandon the rigid either / or category that bespeaks
such pathology.27 But we should under no
circumstances abandon either Anselmo or the question of his conspicuous
consumption. Just as psychoanalysis was taught to Freud by his
hysterical patients, our contemporary debate about sexual difference
indeed, about the future of difference may have much to learn
from the torments of Anselmo.
It is reductive to speculate on whether Anselmo is homo-, bi-, or asexual all gross clinical labels that shed little light on his own enigmatic identification with women. By confronting psychoanalysis (as a theory of sexuality in human societies) with new inquiries into ideologies of gender, we may open Anselmo's locura to the complex sexual dynamics operating both in his case and in his culture. Cervantes, indeed, may help us to move from the discourse of hysteria also known as sexual allegory towards a new discourse, towards a workable psychology of sex differences. The special pertinence of this
Sieber, On Juan Huarte de San Juan and Anselmo's Locura in
El curioso impertinente, Revista Hispánica Moderna,
36 (1970-71), 2, n. 7 on hysteria. Sieber's diagnosis was based
on the authentic discourse of the Renaissance on the humoral theories
expounded by Huarte de San Juan in his Examen de ingenios (1575).
Theorizing that psyche follows soma, Huarte had written that the disease
pica (a.k.a. malacia) can additionally attack the understanding
[el entendimiento, el cerebro], and when that happens, allí
vemos juicios y composturas extrañas (p. 4). The use of
hysteria as a diagnostic category was contested by E. Slater in
The diagnosis of hysteria, British Medical journal (1965),
1, 1395-99. Leclaire's question, from his essay Jerome, or Death in
the Life of the Obsessional, is cited by Stuart Schneiderman in
Jacques Lacan: The Death of an Intellectual Hero (Cambridge: Harvard
Univ. Press, 1983), p. 59.
|7.2 (1987)||The Intertextuality of El curioso||21|
tale for our time is that Anselmo's disease the need to know
his woman's real nature is a perverse form of communion.
Anselmo explicitly metaphorizes his disorder as a longing for female longings
(como suelen tener las mujeres). Even as twisted signs or signifiers,
Anselmo's cravings for what he believes to be female fare are a part of the
curious dynamic of his sex / gender relationships: Anselmo's desires to test,
taste, and even swallow the other (Camila) can be fulfilled only
through the instrument of the same (Lotario). Seen from
this coign, Anselmo recalls Foucault's Don Quixote: a hero of the
Same in an endless quest for similitude a quest which leaves
Anselmo, on the eve of his death, amarillo, consumido, y seco
There have been countless post-mortems done on Anselmo, ascribing his death to error, to curiositas, to mono- or megalomania, to an ethical abnormality, to sexual perversion. The earliest of these anatomies, to my thinking, was performed by Cervantes himself in the Persiles in the work Edward Dudley justly ranks as one of the most ambitious intellectual feats ever attempted by a novelist.29 Cervantes' rewriting in the Persiles of his predecessor self in the Quijote is a revisionary as well as a visionary experiment. The vexed issue of male bonding via women's bodies is deepened, extended, and allegorized in Cervantes' last romance. The enigmatic overture to the Persiles (set on a fictional Barbaric Isle in the real North Sea in the semi-fictional 1560s) may be read as an extended metaphor for David's dirge, Borges' epigraph, and my title: passing the love of women. I would further suggest that the Barbaric Isle narrative of the Persiles shows us Anselmo's psyche, writ large, in the mode of sexual allegory. The Isla Bárbara narrative, in short, teaches us how to read El curioso.
Let's begin with those cravings for (among other things) carbón. The male inhabitants of Cervantes' Barbaric Isle eat something like that regularly, or at least ritually. The insistent food motif in this narrative is a powdered drink of charred hearts: la bebida de los polvos specifically polvos de . . . abrazado corazón.30 The only way to identify
Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences,
trans. of Les Mots et les choses (New York: Vintage, 1973), pp.
29 Edward Dudley, The Wild Man Goes Baroque, in The Wild Man Within: An Image in Western Thought from the Renaissance to Romanticism, eds. Edward Dudley and Maximillian E. Novak (Pittsburgh: Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, 1972), p. 117.
30 Los trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda, ed. Juan Bautista Avalle-Arce (Madrid: Clásicos Castalia, 1969), p. 58. All subsequent references to this text will be parenthetically documented.
|22||DIANA DE ARMAS WILSON||Cervantes|
the potential father of their forthcoming messiah is by the manly ingestion of the pulverized hearts of sacrificial victims: only one lucky patriarch will be able to swallow these powders without wincing. This drinking test has been revealed to the barbarians by a vana e impertinente profecía (shades of Anselmo's vana e impertinente curiosidad?). Eduardo González sees this ritual drink as metaphorizing el autóctono ajetreo sodomita del Grupo [the aboriginal sodomite agitation of the Group], a notion given some authority by Alban Forcione, who writes of a particular barbarian's sodomitic passion, and by Joaquín Casalduero, who also allows of una impresión de sodomía in this episode. These consensual notions would link Cervantes' barbarians at least to the Anselmo of Francisco Ayala's interpretation: the closet homosexual who kept his turbios deseos . . . sublimados en las formas nobles de la camaradería.31 But my own reading does not depend upon sodomy as an interpretive structure. I am more interested in the Barbaric Isle as Cervantes' emblematic homosocial landscape, in Eve Sedgwick's sense of
a far-ranging continuum which includes not only the elements of homosexuality in male-male relationships but also such other elements as male bonding which may be characterized by intense homophobia.32
The same landscape that we pre-viewed in the tradition of los dos
amigos, in other words, is magnified grotesquely, to almost comic
proportions, in the Barbaric Isle narrative.
What do we find on Cervantes' Isla Bárbara? The island sustains a community of isolated males bound together under a Barbaric Law. This so-called Ley Bárbara or ritual idolatry dictates a continual circulation of women's bodies, required only for biological procreation as containers to incubate that long-awaited messiah. To this end, imported women are purchased a subidísimos precios [at inflated prices] with gold ore and prize pearls: que los pagan en pedazos de oro sin cuño y en preciosísimas perlas. The text is careful to note that the women are never brutalized by the barbarians: on the contrary, they
González, Del Persiles y la Isla Bárbara:
Fábulas y reconocimientos, MLN 94 (1979), 233; Alban
Forcione, Cervantes' Christian Romance: A Study of Persiles and
Sigismunda (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1972), p. 240;
Joaquín Casalduero, Sentido y forma de Los trabajos de Persiles
y Sigismunda (Madrid: Gredos, 1975), p. 28; Ayala, p. 304.
32 Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1985), pp. 1-5.
|7.2 (1987)||The Intertextuality of El curioso||23|
are well treated by them que sólo en esto muestran no ser bárbaros (p. 57). The only interdiction for women on the island would appear to be language. They are forbidden to dilate their speech, or as the interpreter explains: que estos mis amos no gustan que en otras pláticas me dilate, sino en aquellas que hacen al caso para su negocio [These my masters do not wish me to dilate my speech in anything other than what is pertinent to their business] (p. 62). Their business is violence and the sacred, and women have but one assigned role in this economy: they are commodities who guarantee the continuity of the insular culture; they are things to be exchanged, just like spoken words. The women on the Barbaric Isle are in fact treated precisely like signs: they are communicated. When one of the island's warriors expresses his spontaneous desire for the sign of a woman (la hermosa imagen, que pensaba ser mujer is actually the hero in female disguise), the barbarian's out-law behavior is checked with a deadly arrow through his tongue. One arrow leads to another and then to a full-scale patri- / fratricide: arremetieron los unos a los otros, sin respetar el hijo al padre, ni el hermano al hermano (p . 68). A violent faction sets the island on fire, and in the ensuing holocaust all its inhabitants are turned to ashes [hechos ceniza] (p. 70). The protagonists Persiles and Sigismunda (travelling under pseudonyms) manage to escape from the smoldering island in order to begin, as self-exiles, their quest for a different sexual economy. Thus begins Cervantes' last romance, with this amazing micro-narrative about an all-male community trying before the holocaust to detour the love of women. Cervantes may have taken for the germ of his narrative Pliny's description of the Essenes, a community of all-male refugees living sine ulla femina (close to the Dead Sea, aptly). This classic fantasy has its modern literary avatars, to name only two flagrant examples, in D. H. Lawrence, who dreams of men relating to each other in womenless regions, and in Borges, who makes that dream fictionally come true.33 The traditional doctrinal readings of this Barbaric Isle prologue to the Persiles focus on Cervantes' barbary as a kind of Arctic hell to Rome's heaven on earth.34 Much attention has also been given to
Natural History, Volume II, Book V. xv. 73, trans. H. Rackham, M.
A., Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press), pp. 276-77.
We know that Pliny was on Cervantes' mind during this period of writing,
since Book VIII of the Natural History is cited within the Persiles
itself (p. 134). D. H. Lawrence's womenless regions of fight and
pure thought may be found in his Education of the People,
in Phoenix: The Posthumous Papers of D. H. Lawrence London: Heinemann,
1936), pp. 664-65.
34 Avalle-Arce, Introducción, Persiles, p. 26.
|24||DIANA DE ARMAS WILSON||Cervantes|
contemporaneous chronicles about American Indians in order to inveigh against their morally abhorrent human sacrifices.35 Beyond its capacity to express rhetorical horror, however, the cannibalism in the Persiles explicitly functions to streamline a system of sexual circulation: pulverized hearts are the indispensable ingredients for the patriarchal taste-test for validating the father-son relations which in turn secure the genealogy of paternal power and its laws. The regulation of female sexuality on this isle, in short, is legislated by males concerned in that endless quest for similitude to procreate only their own gender. It is the systematic social apparatus of Cervantes' mythical island not its cannibalism that merits closer study. To displace the cannibalism onto savages in America seems to me an interpretative luxury. Cervantes is not writing regionalism here but allegory a dark conceit of a society mediated by chunks of gold, of a culture in which the commercial is confounded with the genealogical transaction. These economic particulars, moreover, adumbrate Lévi-Strauss's well-known formulation of the marriage transaction as the archetype of exchange in primitive societies, a relationship established between men, with the woman figuring only as one of the objects in the exchange, not as one of the partners.36 This formulation recalls not only the transaction of Camila between Anselmo and Lotario, but also the archetype of exchange that Cervantes will wildly parody in the opening chapters of the Persiles. Soon after his exposure of the barbaric social mechanisms by which females are taken up as raw materials, Cervantes commits critical arson: he burns down his tiny patriarchy. But creation is universally related to apocalypse, and the new rises on the ruins of the old. The new in Cervantes is an imaginative revision of heterosexuality, with women as partners to not conduits of a relationship. And this revision is worked out in the Persiles, the work I regard, in Dudley's phrase, as Cervantes' final statement on the human condition.37
Forcione, for instance, sees Cervantes' cannibalizing barbarians as imaginatively
linked not only with the American Indians but also with the powers
of hell, a connection further glossed by his view of the barbarians'
grotesque marriage . . . and its prophetic offspring as
demonic counterweights of the various Christian marriages which the
work celebrates and of the true Messiah (Christian Romance,
p. 38 & 38n.). It bears noting that the first volume of El Inca Garcilaso's
Comentarios reales was published in 1617, the same year as the
36 Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Elementary Structures of Kinship (Boston: Beacon, 1969), p. 115.
37 Dudley, p. 116. See Heidi Hartmann's well-known definition of [p. 25] patriarchy: relations between men, which have a material base, and which, though hierarchical, establish or create interdependence and solidarity among men that enable them to dominate women (quoted in Sedgwick, Between Men, p. 3).
|7.2 (1987)||The Intertextuality of El curioso||25|
Before I return to the transactions between men in El curioso, I would like to glance briefly at some fertile and interesting similarities between Cervantes' barbaric society and Lacan's Symbolic order the order of Language in which the so-called Father's Law replaces the Desire of the Mother. It is well known that Lacan's notion of the Symbolic is derived from anthropology, most notably from Lévi-Strauss.38 But we might generate even richer implications between Lacan's psychoanalytic account of the unconscious what he calls the scene of the Word and Cervantes' literary account of the Barbaric Isle. Cervantes represents the inhabitants of his literary island, for instance, as crazed producers of signs, communicating largely by noises (espantoso estruendo) or by gestures (señas, señales, muestras).39 The women imported by Cervantes' barbarians uncannily anticipate Lacan's idea of woman, expressed in his Seminaire II, as the symbol of a 'word' exchanged between men.40 The Barbaric Isle also recalls Lacan's scene of the Word in that it maintains its own resident interpreter; it is the scene of some covert male / female language lessons; and its shores offer refuge only to those outsiders who can play at being mute. Cervantes' whole Barbaric Isle narrative, in other words, appears to be depicting a crisis of language, of categories of difference. In a kind of travesty of man's conscription into systems of kinship into the culturalization of biological sexuality the hero of the Persiles is represented in the act of being metaphorically born into a barbaric order whose paternal law must be upheld through ritual sacrifices. Most pertinent to our reading is the fact that Cervantes
Lacan, Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis, trans., with notes
and commentary by Anthony Wilden (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1968), pp. 249-61,
includes commentary on how Lacan sought to integrate into psychoanalysis
Lévi-Strauss's hypotheses about the relations of linguistic social
39 Note, e.g., un terrible y espantoso estruendo; dando señales y muestras; por señas . . . le dio a entender que no quería matarle; de nadie eran entendidas articuladamente las razones que pronunciaba, in Chapter 1; comenzó a convidar por señas in Chapter 4.
40 See Seminaire II, p. 303, cited by Ellie Ragland-Sullivan in Jacques Lacan and the Philosophy of Psychoanalysis (Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1986), p. 289. The Lacanian theory of the paternal metaphor (Wilden, pp. 270-72) is regarded as a revolution in psychoanalytic thought whose repercussion in other areas cannot as yet be estimated (Wilden, p. 299).
|26||DIANA DE ARMAS WILSON||Cervantes|
destroys his island his mapa mentis, his spatial metaphor for
relations between men before his hero's heart can
To return our focus to the relations between men inscribed in El curioso, however, it should be tendentiously clear by now that I regard the Barbaric Isle narrative as Cervantes' retrospective commentary on Anselmo's problem. As I see it, Anselmo suffers from a disease of communication in all senses of that term. It may be a multidetermined disorder, but we cannot infer for Anselmo either biological factors or family dynamics. What we can know, however, is the language of Anselmo's culture, the approved maxims and prejudices that constitute its system of values. That system might suggest to us why he is making the female body a focus of his symbolic behavior. Let me conclude my argument, then, by recalling several features of El curioso's system of values that, when examined from the perspective of the Barbaric Isle narrative, support the critical notion that meaning is always wandering around between texts:41 first, the economics of desire between Anselmo and Lotario; secondly, their long discourses on the nature of woman; and, finally, Camila's untraditional response to being communicated between men.
First, the economics. Just as women are fungible goods on the Barbaric isle, Camila is regarded barbarically by both her husband and her lover as currency, as an item of exchange. She is not merely reified across the tale, she is mineralized. Obsessed with the equation of women and precious stones, Lotario tells Anselmo that he is the legítimo posesor de un finísimo diamante, de cuya bondad y quilates estuviesen satisfechos cuantos lapidarios le viesen, a point which he hammers home compulsively: Haz cuenta, Anselmo amigo, que Camila es finísimo diamante; and No hay joya en el mundo que tanto valga como la mujer casta y honrada (I.33). Anselmo is similarly keen to have an 18-karat wife, having designed a test to reveal los quilates de su bondad como el fuego muestra los del oro. But he also believes that he can sell his wife's loyalty with gold with [cuatro] mil escudos de oro (I.33). Even the narrator's problematic voice begins to echo what Nabokov is amused to call the Prospector's Simile42 in this work: Pues si la mina de su honor . . . te da sin ningún trabajo toda la riqueza que tiene . . . ¿para qué quieres ahondar la tierra, y buscas nuevas vetas de nuevo y nunca visto tesoro . . . ? (I.33) When Camila eventually
Bloom, Kabbalah and Criticism (New York: Seabury, 1975), pp.
42 Lectures on Don Quixote, p. 143.
|7.2 (1987)||The Intertextuality of El curioso||27|
falls, it is because Lotario minó la roca de su
entereza, although she would have fallen aunque . . .
fuera toda de bronce (I.34). The mine of her honor what
a telling trope! The rhetoric of commerce here insinuates obvious parallels
with the vendible ladies of the Barbaric Isle narrative. But its meaning
even wanders around that catalogue of paper ladies which crops up near the
end of the Quijote, Part II, when Sansón Carrasco assures his
pastoral fraternity that if necessary they can all buy their
shepherdesses at the marketplace pues las venden en las plazas
Also proleptic of the Barbaric Isle rhetoric, where the whole issue of female desire is elided, are the long discourses between Lotario and Anselmo on the nature of women. Anselmo assures Lotario que su esposa Camila no tenía otro gusto ni otra voluntad que la que él quería que tuviese (I.33). How parallel this seems to the arrogant logic of the barbarian in the Persiles who shrieks out, Esa doncella es mía, porque yo la quiero (p . 67). As for Lotario's cautionary discourse (which Anselmo regards as oracular, and which critics have variously celebrated as wise, eloquent, striking, or sad but true as assertions of normalcy), I see it as little more than a copious, aphoristic, even vicious tractate for the male regulation of the woman's body.43 Lotario's seizures of honor (to borrow Honig's phrase for Calderón), the urgency of his insistence on el qué dirán, and his blind adherence to Aristotelian systems of misogyny (Mira, amigo, que la mujer es animal imperfecto) are blindingly obvious in their unconscious barbarity to women.
Finally, as for the traffic in Camila, the scapegoating of her sexuality is foiled by her sudden accession to subjectivity, by her own unruly production of discourse. The curious pertinence of Camila strikes us most forcibly during her improvisation, under pressure, of the storeroom drama variously labeled in the text as Anselmo's tragedy (la tragedia de la muerte de su honra) or his anatomy (notomía de las entrañas de su honra). Unlike all of El curioso's intertexts and in an implied debate with them Cervantes makes Camila into a maker. Using theatre as a means of resistance, Camila confronts her husband's hysterics with her own histrionics. In record time, she produces, directs, and stars in her own agonistic imitation of the Roman myth of Lucrece aquella Lucrecia quien dice que se mató sin haber cometido
ed. Frank Pierce, Introduction, Two Cervantes Short Novels:
El curioso impertinente and El celoso
extremeño (Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1966), p. 10; see also
Arriola, pp. 37-38; see also Wardropper, p. 597.
|28||DIANA DE ARMAS WILSON||Cervantes|
error alguno (I.34).44 Camila's little
drama is a fiction-within-a-fiction-within-a-fiction, what John J. Allen
calls the last and smallest [of the Quijote's] series of Chinese
boxes.45 Camila steps out of her box
having convinced Anselmo that she is the pattern of chastity
or as Cervantes suggestively puts it, un simulacro de la
honestidad (I.34). Through the agency of the alert Camila, Cervantes
laughs the chastity-test away. Like the men who love through her,
Camila will eventually die, but not before she produces a plausible counter-text
to that insidious Golden Age sociolect of female value a
lying text, in fact, but the only one that Anselmo (el hombre mas
sabrosamente engañado) is evidently able to
If El curioso impertinente is a frank intruder, it may be said to intrude into all those quixotic male fantasies about the nature of women. Cervantes seems to have been testing wife-testing, exposing all those shared cultural fictions the norma loquendi of the Renaissance man that drive Anselmo, like the violent and sacrificial barbarians of the Persiles, to self-destruct. At the critical moment of writing his final confession, Anselmo drops dead, pen in hand, leaving the unfinished lines: y pues yo fui el fabricador de mi deshonra, no hay para que . . . (I.35). Language fails Anselmo but it does not fail Cervantes who, before his own death, will cross the frontiers of genre into romance into that uncharted territory where both genre and gender distinctions blur. If the earlier tragedy of the death of Anselmo's honor teaches us anything, in sum, it is that passing the love of women is an act of great violence, and that only a failure of language would also make it sacred. It is our turn now not to fail Cervantes.
|UNIVERSITY OF DENVER|
contests that image of female purity internalized and even enshrined by
Renaissance writers: quiero matar muriendo [I want to kill while
dying] is her laconic correction of Lucrece's exemplary suicide. In contrast
to Shakespeare's representation of Lucrece pacing the floor after her rape
And that deep torture may be called a hell, / When more is felt
than one has power to tell (II.1287-88) Cervantes' parody focuses
especially on her power to tell. Unlike her own literary models,
Camila's affective experience does not lack a voice, a voice that
will find a swelling chorus across the Persiles.
45 On the vast amount of acting in the Quijote, see John J. Allen's Levels of Fiction in Don Quixote, in the Norton Critical Edition of Don Quixote, trans. Ormsby, eds. Jones & Douglas, pp. 919-927.
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