From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America
13.2 (1993): 105-24.
Copyright © 1993, The Cervantes Society of America
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AJOR studies during the last two decades of Cervantes's Novelas ejemplares by El Saffar (Novel to Romance, 1974) and Forcione (Cervantes and the Humanist Vision, 1982) have heralded growing interest among Hispanists in this rich collection of short narratives, as they have turned our attention to the problems for interpretation evident in their varied content and generic diversity. In her view of the novelas as a systematic poetic study of man's quest for transcendence and faith in higher truths, El Saffar separates what for her are early, realist works whose characters are limited by their own misdirected acts of volition from later, idealistic narratives whose characters' lives are defined by faith and the intervention of God in the guise of the narrator. Forcione's study, similarly, focuses upon the novelas as spiritual allegories, finding in their composition evidence of Cervantes's debt to the dialogic poetics of Renaissance humanism. In so doing, he focuses upon the discursive and rhetorical complexities that have been the subject of much recent novelas scholarship:
In the sense that the irregularities of Cervantes's Sileni refuse to allow their reader the comforts of a stock response and instead burden him with the obligation to cope with unsettling violations of his vocabulary of genre, the Novelas
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ejemplares stand as one of the fullest literary realizations of the characteristic nonlinear discourse of the great humanist writers of the sixteenth century, who turned to dialectic, ironic, and paradoxical modes of exposition in their efforts to explore the complexities of truth, to provoke their readers' collaboration in that exploration, and to revitalize perceptions blunted by the tyranny of familiarity and appearance (28-29).
Other Hispanists have taken up the problems of genre and discourse in studies of individual exemplary narratives of Cervantes's series, and have pondered the issue of exemplarity itself.1 While many modern readers admit that personal preference and post-modernist critical orientations have caused them to focus upon the realist novelas, works characterized by the multivalence, lack of narrative authority, and murkier exemplarity of the subsequent novel form, others have turned their attention to the idealistic tales, which appear to be structured upon the clearer formal and ideological principles of romance. Although their formulaic structure and lack of verisimilitude reveal their affinity to many other examples of romance, we find that these tales are multifaceted and ideologically ambiguous in ways quite similar to their more realistic counterparts in the Cervantine novelas.2 The presence of instability in the figurative systems of romances appearing to be Christian allegories only reinforces the cautionary posture of Cervantes's more multivocal, discordant, down to earth tales: readers must work to assemble meaning that is as complex and pluridimensional as is the world in which they live. Representation of the spiritual in the novelas is in many instances not dissoluble from consideration of the socially pragmatic; nor are the dictates of religion delineated separately from issues of race, nationality, gender, or class. Cervantine exemplars must model judgements that readers are to
article (The Demise of Exemplarity) is a recent example of schematic
reevaluation of the whole series' didactic aims.
2 While El Saffar posits a chronological movement in the composition of the novelas ejemplares from the realistic or novel form to the transcendent idealism of romance, other critics (for example, Riley and Sobejano) argue that in the novelas, as in his other works, Cervantes continued to experiment with both forms, often producing a strong resonance of counter-genres within one work. Friedman's recent study of La fuerza de la sangre, especially 153-54, and Johnston's essay on La ilustre fregona are excellent examples of the increased attention given to this generic hybridization in individual novelas.
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experience as their own critical acts by doing the right
thing, often in contexts shaped by hierarchically intertwined discourses
and conflictive systems of value.3
Of the Novelas ejemplares, El amante liberal is one that has been largely overlooked by modern readers. While commentaries characterize it as a narrative of clear religious exemplarity, El amante liberal receives poor reviews for its confusing form and unnecessarily elaborate discursive style.4 In recent studies, however, Hart, Selig, and Díaz Migoyo have taken up the issue of the work's Byzantine composition, demonstrating the importance of its heterogeneous elements in generating that clear exemplarity for readers and in influencing their response. Hart's detailed analysis of the complex layers of admiratio in El amante liberal suggests that the work's difficulty represents not an artistic deficiency, but rather Cervantes's mastery of those precepts that sought to heighten his readers' pleasure in reading. Although they appear overly contrived by modern standards, the varied, often extravagant reversals of fortune that make up the plot's peripeteia strive to deleitar by adding variety. The manner in which they are narrated clearly is intended to intensify that effect. Hart's study of sample lines reveals a narrative discourse dense with cleverly executed rhetorical figures that Cervantes's educated contemporaries would have recognized and appreciated (312-13). The in medias res narrative format of the romance itself, scored by flashbacks, temporal disjunctions, interior narrative frames, repetitions, and parallels, is even more directed toward exciting the readers, for it drives them whether irritated moderns or, we must assume, delighted contemporaries to seek reconstruction and closure of the tale's many threads.
Selig proposes that El amante liberal is not, as we tend to view it, an overwrought tale, but more accurately a mini-Byzantine romance,
and Talens argue in Cervantes and the Dialogic World that literature
of the Spanish Baroque, however popular or massified it
appears, functions to instill in readers the ideology that privileges specific
structures of institutionalized power (238). Hence, they explain,
in Baroque culture the collaboration between text and receiver is illusory
to the extent that the power of interpretation is given to the
reader/spectator in order to make the manipulation (and the persuasion) more
4 Among those critics who see this work as clearly exemplary of Christian values, both in its final definition of liberalidad and in its resolution through marriage, are Lowe, Pabon, El Saffar, Sicroff, Casalduero, Amezúa y Mayo, and Forcione. For reviews of twentieth-century criticism of its style and form, see Amezúa y Mayo, 2: 58-59; Lowe, 400; Hart, 306.
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in which many of the elements typical to a full-length work are employed
to articulate the basic love story. His schematic review of such constitutive
ingredients includes: a nonlinear and discontinuous narrative discourse that
moves the plot from confusion to restored order; protagonists whose journey
catapults them across a landscape of real geographical places and encounters
with coordinates that appear to be culturally and historically specific,
and who are linked by a linguistic hybrid of Mediterranean languages; repeated
reference to material exchange; adjective-formation that, as he hints, may
reinforce the ideological slant with which the text views these coordinates;
similarly, the portraiture of characters; and use of
self-referentiality, in the stories within the story the latter, as
Selig observes, bringing us full circle back to the problematics of Byzantine
By concentrating in his analysis specifically upon this provocative narrative procedure, Díaz Migoyo deconstructs in his study the telling of the lover's tale to reveal in its entertaining exemplarity a curiously pluralistic message, what I would call an ideological echo-effect that resonates like back-talk to the hero Ricardo's own complacent words. The critic observes that in this novela, as in many others, Cervantes chooses Christian marriage as the perfect conclusion to the love story, because its sacramental nature allows it to function as a material and an allegorical signifier of the union that is simultaneously signified, effecting a neat closure of the multi-linear plot (130). He argues that the representation of this transcendent ending, however, is achieved with a peculiar procedure, for instead of positing the ideal as real, it forces us to accept a self-consciously constructed fiction that betrays its own artificiality (130-31). The most notable example, he argues, is the staging of the story's exemplary generous love as the act of linguistic creation on the part of the hero, Ricardo, that advances the plot. To clarify, the critic notes that the first articulation of Ricardo's love, an unliberal or covetous desire for possession of Leonisa expressed when he finds her being courted by Cornelio, has set the events of the tale into motion well before the beginning of the in medias res narrative (135-37). The novela itself opens, after Leonisa and Ricardo have been captured by Turks and separated by turbulent travels, with the lament of the captive Ricardo, who seeks to free her a duplicate, supplementary discourse of love that appears to be characterized this time by generosity or amor liberal. Díaz Migoyo
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asserts that while the second, apparently reformed, discourse would seem
to be a product of the first, selfish one, as an effect of experience, the
disordered chronological juxtaposition of flashbacks and the use of multiple
narrative frames obscure the origination of all references to his past in
Ricardo's interested present-tense voice. As a captive, he still longs for
her midway through the plot and until its end his own words to readers via
the interlocutor, his confidant Mahamut, portray Ricardo as an equally desirous
spectator to others' attempts to steal and possess his woman.
Although the heroine eventually agrees to feign pleasure in his company when they meet in disguise to plot their escape, she warns him that his love for her remains unrequited:
El hablarnos será fácil y a mí será grandísimo gusto el hacello, con presupuesto que jamás me has de tratar cosa que a tu declarada pretensión pertenezca, que en la hora que tal hicieres, en la misma me despediré de verte . . . . Conténtate con que he dicho que no me dará, como solía, fastidio tu vista, porque te hago saber, Ricardo, que siempre te tuve por desabrido y arrogante, y que presumías de ti algo más de lo que debías (Novelas ejemplares, 173).
When the novela's wanderings are brought to closure by the deception of their captors, and their escape and return home amidst expected fanfare, Ricardo once again declares his love, this time in an ideologically correct liberalidad that appears to be motivated by generous self-abnegation (Yo sin ventura, pues quedo sin Leonisa, gusto de quedar pobre, que a quien Leonisa le falta, la vida le sobra ). He grandly offers to give Leonisa along with his share of their booty to Cornelio, the man she had originally preferred, only to realize that she is not his to give another: Válame Dios, . . . no es posible que nadie pueda demostrarse liberal de lo ajeno: ¿qué jurisdicción tengo yo en Leonisa para darla a otro? (186). Ricardo then magnanimously offers her the right to act autonomously, declaring her to be suya, her own person (186). This declaration reverberates with irony, for her own words have clarified that she was never his to give. Yet by removing the discourse of love from the realm of exchange, the hero makes it possible for Leonisa to do the right thing in responding to las obligaciones que como discreta debe de pensar que me tiene, the obligations of honor made public by Ricardo's very words of denial (186). The heroine corrects Ricardo's still presumptuous rationale, retorting: Esto
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digo por darte a entender, Ricardo, que siempre fui mía, sin estar
sujeta a otro que a mis padres . . . (187); she is bound
only by the constraints of her lineage and class, not by the claims upon
her of his liberalidad. It is for the former in effect,
for the motive of representing her own flesh and blood honorably that
Leonisa exercises her autonomy, paradoxically, by accepting to become his:
a trueque de no mostrarme desagradecida, . . . ¡oh
valiente Ricardo!, mi voluntad, hasta aquí recatada, perpleja y dudosa,
se declara en favor tuyo (187). As Díaz Migoyo brilliantly observes,
this acuerdo sinceramente figurado, armoniosamente contradictorio,
literalmente figurado reinscribes the story's exemplary
liberalidad, rendering a correct reading of the text's hidden
anagram: RICARDO-CORAZON-DE-LEON (150). Cervantes's story in
this novela thus closes with the double representation of doing
the right thing on the part of both protagonists. The patent theatricality
with which the lesson of conjugal love is staged appears to be in dissonance
with the motives for love on the part of Ricardo and his competitors that
have advanced the plot self-interest, desire for domination of the
Other, and the lust to appropriate or possess that which is of value in the
Other, in Leonisa's case, her own eroticized symbolic function as a prime
unit of exchange in a libidinal homosocial economy but it is all the
more so an appropriate closure to Cervantes's portrayal of Ricardo as masculine
Christian exemplar. After pursuing the many threads of this highly charged
story to its end, readers therefore confront an abruptly anticlimactic
resolution: the desire mobilized earlier by the libidinous representation
of Leonisa and the fantasies of those chasing her is rather unsuccessfully
displaced onto Ricardo, who now appears somewhat ridiculously mythologized
as a Christian knight within whose figure she is literally and figuratively
subsumed by consummation of the marriage sacrament (188).
Díaz Migoyo's astute recovery of the chivalric subtext in El amante liberal merits careful consideration, for it signals a major drive in the ideological formulation of the novela, despite the story's structural appearance of being a Byzantine romance in miniature. Although its idealism and closure have led some readers to place it among the few narratives of the Cervantine series that may be seen simply as Christian romances (see my note 4), El amante liberal is indeed another example of the writer's experiments with the potential for problematizing meaning through counter-genres, this time not romance versus what we
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call novel, but in a combination of Byzantine and chivalric romance
forms. In Allegories of Love, Diana de Armas Wilson traces both the
characteristics and underlying tensions that distinguish these two romance
forms, noting that by the late sixteenth century the Byzantine model had
largely supplanted its chivalric predecessor in Spanish literature, with
good reason. The chivalric romance, she explains, generated by a merger
between the cross and the stirrup, served to express the interests
of the Church and of the feudal nobility, idealizing the behavior of the
latter (13). In this literary tradition, marriage an alliance between
families is one more expression of class interest; desire is focused
beyond its limits, in a privileging of adultery. As Wilson points out, the
chivalric was also an enterprise whose class solidarity, by the mid-sixteenth
century, was rapidly being undermined by nascent capitalism, by a value system
in which the erotics of money and property had begun to displace the erotics
of courtly love and holy war (16). She speculates that renewed interest
in the classical Byzantine romance stemmed from changes in Spanish society
and its ideologies in the wake of the expulsion of Jews and moriscos
and of its faltering attempts at capitalism, for this supplanting form is
structured upon the travels of exiled and marginalized characters, and is
laden with reference to commerce and exchanges (16-18). The prominent erotic
longing that characterizes the Byzantine form finds resolution in the requited
love of a marriage between two active subjects, which provides an egalitarian
structure for closure in this less class-dictated, quasi-bourgeois narrative
I propose that while the exchange based, libertine Byzantine structure and many of its oriental elements clearly dominate the plot's literal level in El amante liberal, they function in a very complex fashion to allegorize the latent political and religious message of western, or Christian, chivalric tradition. In effect, the fascinating multiculturalism, the eroticism, the inviting marginality and transgressiveness of the Byzantine romance constitute both admiratio and the discursive formulation of dangers requiring the punitive operations of the work's restrictive chivalric moral, which reveals itself to be religious, racist, and for us, at least, extravagantly sexist. In El amante liberal we find clear articulation through Ricardo's voice of what Said terms the Orientalist discourse, as a collective notion identifying us Europeans against all those non-Europeans that has informed Western institutions and their ideology since the early imperialist
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expansion of nations such as Spain (6-7).5
By rejecting the allure of difference the oriental Moslem world, its
money, the torpe deseo (174) of his Turkish master's wife, and
ultimately the ravishing beauty of a Leonisa marketed in that world, the
male exemplar Ricardo is rewarded in the narrative by a return to his own
religion, homeland, and class, and by possession of her as part of his own
flesh. Leonisa's own exemplification of the knightly Christian ideal of
self-abnegation, in marrying him to emulate a familial and nobiliary honor
that is engendered masculine in the text, confirms the hero's drive to sameness,
closing the narrative on a resounding rejection of other lands, their economies,
and their religion, elements that, as I will show, are represented in feminized
terms.6 The heroine, the principal motive
for the plot's development until its end, then recedes from view to bear
Ricardo's heirs, her will to biological subjugation being rendered,
paradoxically, in the novela's ideology as indication of her heroic
that is, manly virtue. Ricardo's amorous territorial quest thus
opens and closes upon the represented topology of the woman who is, in his
own words, para mí leona oxymoronic embodiment of
the valiant and fiercely unyielding, as capable of self-abnegation in her
decision to value marriage over desire as is the victor liberal
The process through which Leonisa comes eventually to embody the Christian lesson of the tale, however, is fraught with apparent inconsistencies: for if her person symbolizes the correctness of one hierarchical system of human correspondence at the novela's end, that same body serves to represent other configurations of social and political power earlier in the narrative. The eroticism with which it is represented betrays a desire that
Orientalism, Said dates the formulation of the Orientalist
discourse from the great imperial drives of Britain and France in the
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. However, he acknowledges the significant
contribution to Orientalism of the Spanish and other smaller empires prior
to this (17). Although the Orientalism of the Spanish Golden Age has not
been widely studied as a phenomenon broader than specific racial and religious
issues, the construction of literary texts such as El amante liberal
reveals the strong influence and the complexity of its discursive articulations
well before those of modern Orientalism.
6 While Paul Julian Smith does not study the representation of Moors and Turks in the Golden Age, he comments in opening Representing the Other: Race, Text, and Gender in Spanish and Spanish American Narrative (1992) upon the importance of the largely unstudied Oriental motifs that abound in peninsular literature of the period (2).
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is, in fact, clearly more ideological than specific to her character, for Leonisa is given little voice and less agency in the narrative (her primary utterances, up to the work's end, consist ironically of deprecation of the very man whom she finally marries) and her would-be lover Ricardo expresses desire first and foremost for possession of her undifferentiated body lifeless, if need be. (After describing the separation of their captors' ships by a storm which splintered the one in which she traveled, he recounts searching the waves for el cuerpo de la desdichada Leonisa, lamenting mas aún no quiso el cielo concederme el alivio que esperaba tener de ver en mis brazos el cuerpo de Leonisa, que, aunque muerto y despedazado, holgara de verle, por romper aquel imposible que mi estrella me puso de juntarme con él como mis buenos deseos merecían [151-52, my emphasis].) In effect, the men of the narrative relate to each other through her desirable body, and these political tensions are rendered along a series of linked axes: religious, racial, and simultaneously engendered. While this system of attempted and thwarted exchanges is organized hierarchically around the fundamental symbol of Ricardo (Christian, European, masculine), his rivals for Leonisa vary from the same or related race and religion, figuratively engendered female (Cornelio, the Greek captives), to racial and religious others (Moslem Turks and Arabs, the Jewish merchant), equally engendered female. Until the economies that operate between them stabilize at the work's end under the latent but dominant one represented by Ricardo, Leonisa functions as the multivalent, mediating body through which their struggle for power is carried out. This novela is a striking example of the eroticism of the body politic, both in Leonisa's variable figurative function and in the prurience with which her highly public role is scrutinized by the narrative. Although the essays of the Hunt anthology, Eroticism and the Body Politic, focus upon eighteenth-century France, the conceptual framework that links them bears consideration here. Stressing that the very fact that political organization can be imagined as a body leaves open the potential for erotic connotations, Hunt explains that the special role of women in the transmission of power through their reproductive capacities guaranteed that their common body was the representational figure of choice (1-2). To clarify, she observes that this unique role is, more appropriately, an ambivalent position in conceptions of power: Men could not relate to one another, politically or socially,
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without their relationship to women's bodies. The social and political order
cannot be reproduced without women, but women were almost always imagined
as dangerous if they meddled in public that is, political
concerns (2). Cervantes's heroine, Leonisa, is indeed a threat to the
stable conceptions of religious purity and nobiliary honor harbored by Ricardo
when she is the object of heated pursuit and exchange among his rivals, the
infidels; yet she also functions to confirm the principles that organize
his world in her will as subject to deny them all both use of her body and
the benefits of her desire. It is precisely Leonisa's lack of
meddling in the politics that revolve around her that enables
the narrative to affirm her merits as subject: she, in the end, is not a
threat to the transmission of her society's power, but proves to be quite
Readers of this novela are led to anticipate the centrality of the heroine to the captive Ricardo's quest by the intense yearning that marks his discourse from the start. For the first five pages of the in medias res plot, however, its force is revealingly displaced in a testy diatribe against the foreign economy in which, we eventually find, she at present exists, one marked by material exchanges predicated on the assignation of variable monetary values. The Turks' commercial world of influence peddling, slave trading, and sexual favors is defined, in the words of Ricardo's male companion, the crypto-Christian Mahamut, as an evil empire that cannot prevail: todo este imperio es violento, señal que prometía no ser durable (141). Reference to the heroine whose pursuit launched the hero's adventures in this figuratively and literally that is, racially dark territory follows, in the form of a eulogy of his homeland, the Christian Trápana, an exclusive island community whose geographical perfection is manifest in the legendary beauty of one of its own: una doncella, digo, por quien decían todas las curiosas lenguas y afirmaban los más raros entendimientos que era la de más perfecta hermosura que tuvo la edad pasada (142). According to the poets who laud the sum of her predictably metaphorized parts (eyes as shining suns, pearls for teeth, ruby lips, etc.), this physical paragon embodies the ideal harmony of Nature itself, in effect serving as an emblem of that homeland with which the narrative associates her (142).
This same woman, however, simultaneously functions in a separate economy that will drive the narrative to develop as a Byzantine romance before reaching its final, precarious return to
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a properly Western, imperialistic ideology. She does not desire Ricardo, but rather Cornelio, the one inhabitant of Trápana whose attractions are foreign both to Ricardo and the values of his homeland (142). The hero's narrative brands his rival as mancebo galán, atildado, de blandas manos y rizos cabellos, de voz meliflua y de amorosas palabras, y, finalmente, todo hecho de ámbar y de alfeñique, guarnecido de telas y adornado de brocados (143). Cornelio has the delicate face that Ricardo himself in his manliness lacks and a body whose excessive adornment hints at transvestism (143). The contempt manifest in Ricardo's discourse queries the authenticity of his rival's gender as male, and the hero is smitten with a rabia de los celos (143). Uncontrollable jealousy, he admits, caused him to spy on their meeting in the locus amoenus of Cornelio's garden and to assault not Cornelio but Leonisa, with a verbal devaluation of the former intended to destroy her pursuit of the male beauty. In a parody of the metaphors common to Renaissance love lyrics, she is ridiculed for seeking union with a lover who has no phallic authority nor the hot humor of a male, a beautiful man whose valor resides not in him at all, but rather in the money with which his alluring disguise is made possible:
«Llégate, llégate, cruel, un poco más, y enrede to yedra a ese inútil tronco que te busca; peina o ensortija aquellos cabellos de ese tu nuevo Ganimedes, que tibiamente te solicita . . . . ¿Piensas, quiero decir, que este mozo, altivo por su riqueza, . . . ha de querer, ni poder, ni saber guardar firmeza en sus amores, ni estimar to inestimable . . . . ?» (144).
The very wealth, or monied economy, that enables Cornelio to project such
a highly valorized exterior, argues the hero, is incompatible with what is
of true value in love constancy and an esteem for the transcendent
rather than the physical or material assets of the beloved.
This opening scene of triangular desire serves to establish the two series of semiotic coordinates that will sustain all of the novela's developing tensions: commercial activity and money are rendered foreign, a rival force to be eradicated, and both exchange and the cultural Other are engendered in female terms; material poverty (which has, to a relative degree, handicapped Ricardo's attempts to compete directly with Cornelio ) and citizenship in the Christian homeland the text's primary marker of subjectivity, through Ricardo are, by implied contrast,
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engendered masculine. When she appears to transgress the limits of her role
as lady and desired love-object in the second series of coordinates,
by actively desiring a male beauty that reflects her own, Leonisa herself
gives impetus to Ricardo's conquest of those infidel economies that the narrative
represents as having spiritually as well as physically enslaved her. The
triangularity of the garden encounter immediately gives way to the narrative
staging of a much more global, symbolic triangularity, Ricardo's struggle
against a foreign menace for the freedom or proper reconstitution
In this process, the heroine appears to mediate between desiring males, but she is the primary object or territory upon which the strategic operations against mutual foes are carried out. Because she is characterized with sufficient ambivalence to represent plural cultural ideologies during the narrative, she obviates the need of the Christian Ricardo ever directly confronting in combat and hence acknowledging the true power of his allegedly effeminate enemies. He simply skirmishes against the manifestations in her of their influence, striving to extract her from the market that has temporarily redefined her functions. Leonisa's intransitive, yet mediate function allows the triumph of his beliefs to be inscribed in the narrative from its outset despite the hero's literally subjugated, weaponless state; he need not slay a Turk, but only win back their prized booty. Her status as medium also allows the development of her character to parallel Ricardo's own struggles with the terms of desire, toward the exemplary realization of its most spiritually appropriate manifestations. The correct fulfillment of desire, we find, is none other than the essentially intransitive behavior represented by Leonisa's love for Cornelio at the outset of their peregrinations. The proper mirroring of Leonisa's disallowed (implicitly non-procreative), self-affirming desire for an effeminate male is Ricardo's substitution of lust with the neoplatonic desire only for what is valiantly leona in her a reflection of himself in her honorable bearing of inheritors to their faith and caste.
Throughout the travels that buffet them about, Ricardo is confronted with the image of Leonisa both as the corporeal possession of multiple foreign rivals and as the pure ideal of his Christian fantasies, for although she is repeatedly exchanged among owners, she is never consumed. When first captured, Leonisa, like Ricardo, is assigned by her captors a ransom value.
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Ricardo tries to operate in their economy by offering for her exorbitant
price his entire net worth, todo cuanto valía mi hacienda
(147). His fortunes prove to be as variable as is the infidels' market, however,
and negotiations are cut short when the Turks set sail to flee Christian
ships, separating Ricardo from Trápana and his cash (148). In the
Turkish regrouping of prisoners and booty, Leonisa is taken off by her first
master, Yzuf, a Greek renegado who has deserted the Christian world
for greater profit as an infidel mercenary; she appears to have perished
with him in a shipwreck (147). Ten pages and un año, tres días
y cinco horas (143) later, when the narrative flashbacks of dialogue
with his faithful companion Mahamut catch up to the present, Ricardo is shocked
to see her again (157). This time Leonisa is for sale by a traveling Jewish
merchant to whoever bids the highest, the exalted cadí who is Mahamut's
master or Ricardo's own current master, the sultan Hazán. After both
men compete for the rights to her, in order, supposedly, to bestow her for
favor upon the Gran Señor, the superior to whom they owe
their own authority, she becomes the transitory possession and ward of the
Cadí. The rest of the plot in captivity unfolds upon the scheming
of both Turks to secretly possess her body before passing it to the Gran
Señor as virginal, the scheming of the Cadí's wife to
seduce Ricardo (who enters the Cadí's service as Mario),
and the scheming of Ricardo and Mahamut to escape this bondage with
Descriptions of the heroine during this period oscillate precariously between the deprecatory system of references that marks the infidels and idealizing ones that allegorize her Christian virtues. Ricardo characterizes her first captor Yzuf not only as su nuevo amo but also su más nuevo amante (150), thus implicitly questioning the firmness of her morals; when she reappears, it is in the guise of a mora, with covered face but uncovered feet (157) and unbound hair (160), the latter expressions of sexual provocation by the standards of her own culture. The excess of pearls and gold that bedeck her do not bespeak the legitimacy of her rightful class, but rather broadcast the desire of the Jew to inflate her market value as a sex object. When they begin to meet in the Cadí's house to plot escape, the narrator continues, Leonisa counters Ricardo's guise as his master's procurer with her own as that of her mistress. She attempts to formulate a strategy with her ardent admirer first by encouraging the possibility of his lust for Halima and then by advising
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that he comply with the woman's physical demands with whatever imagined interest
is necessary for his successful participation in effect envisioning
the seduction of either one or the other (si a él [deseo] quisieres
corresponder, aprovecharte ha más para el cuerpo que para el alma;
y cuanto no quieras, es forzoso que lo finjas 170). Neither is she
ashamed to fan the flames that rage within the Moslem woman, thereby entering
into the complicity of prurient interest and sexual marketing that defines
non-Christians in the narrative: Leonisa acrecentó en Halima
el torpe deseo y el amor, dándole muy buenas esperanzas que Mario
haría todo lo que pidiese (174, my emphasis). At the
same time, the narrative brings the transcendent, spiritual nature of Leonisa's
allure to the readers' attention by repeated use of solar metaphors in describing
her beauty: descubrió un rostro que así deslumbró
los ojos y alegró los corazones de los circunstantes, como el Sol
(157; a description duplicated on 164). In effect, the foreigners are shown
to be captivated by that aspect of her beauty that defies definition in their
economy her Christian Otherness. The logic of the narrative confirms
the primacy of this latter characterization of the heroine, for she survives
her trials con la entereza y verdad que podían poner en duda
tantos caminos como he andado, with her literal as well as figurative
virtue intact (173).
The ambivalence with which the captive Leonisa's moral status is represented up to this point is but a reflection of that larger struggle between the world of Ricardo and that of her captors. If the trials of the former are characterized by the quest for a positive moral exemplarity, the turbulent schemings of the latter, as we are fully led to expect, manifest the inverse the negative exemplarity of immorality, in a political body whose irrational and frenzied couplings, to borrow Brundage's apt description, have indeed disrupted the transmission of social power (152).7 From the micro-structure of the family to the
monumental study Law, Sex, and Christian Society, demonstrates the
insistence with which canon and then civil law sought from early Christianity
onward to guarantee the stability of social structures by regulating sexual
behavior. The historical shaping of these legislative systems, he argues
(152), reveals the belief of authorities that sexual urges
. . . must be curbed and controlled; otherwise they were sure to
result in irrational and frenzied couplings that would disrupt the orderly
creation of families and the management of household resources. Edicts
and sanctions against homosexual and heterosexual non-procreative sexual
behavior, which increased considerably after the Black Death and sought to
ensure repopulation and secure transmission of structures of power (533),
[p. 119] were grounded in the doctrinal argument
that desire was incompatible with spiritual health and could not be allowed
as the basis of sexual activity. The difficult corollary was, of course,
the model of Christian marriage as a procreative union without lust, except
for that stimulation necessary for its consummation and productivity. The
defusing of erotic energy between the two protagonists at the end
of El amante liberal's plot seems clearly dedicated to the representation
of this ideal.
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macro-structure of regional government the foreigners are in disorder: their
equivalent of the viceroyalty is in dangerous transition and the only marriage
portrayed for readers, that of the Cadí and Halima, is torn by adulterous
desires on the part of both members and is without issue. This is not surprising,
for the aging Turk, despite desire for the body of Leonisa (el fuego
que las entrañas poco a poco le iba consumiendo ), has
proven with his wife incapable of more than abrazos flojos (166).
The limp embraces or metonymic impotence that characterizes this
Turk are, we find, symptomatic of the foreigners. Disputes by the Moslem
conspirators to possess the body of the exotic Christian beauty, an act that
neither they nor the wandering Jew succeed in consummating, belie the inherent
inability of the Orientals to function procreatively or productively to insure
the growth of their race and empire. Not surprisingly, Fetala, Ricardo's
first captor, happily traded rights to Leonisa for the hero himself, four
stalwart rowers, and dos muchachos hermosísimos . . .
(de lo cual se contentó) (149). The narrator's pointed aside
foregrounds the symbolic relationship between race and religion on the one
hand, and sexual preference perceived as gender function on the other, that
is carefully elaborated throughout Cervantes's novela to prepare readers
for the final triumphant contrast between the lion-hearted Ricardo
and the text's pusillanimous cultural Other.
The quest for truth in El amante liberal takes us on an erotic odyssey that charts the ideological and political differences of institutions and the people they shape, along the terrain of the engendered human body. A cautionary tale of that period in our Western cultural formation acknowledged by its own medical as well as fictive literature to be of single-sex, Cervantes' novela takes up the issue of sovereignty in the subject Ricardo, examining its ramifications at home in the model family he eventually attains and on foreign horizons.8 The hero's search for the
Laquer, Chapters 1 and 2, for a discussion of the single-sex
theory. Irigaray's radical analysis of the subject in the wake of Freud brings
us full circle back to a more profound understanding of the conception of
the subject and its sexual identity that largely influenced the Golden Age
that [p. 120] of the perfected human specimen
manifest as a male and the imperfect specimen constituting an immanent male,
whose manifestation is female. See the section Speculum (particularly
Any Theory of the Subject Has Always Been Appropriated
by the Masculine), in which she argues that the Other is
conceived by the male subject's desire and molded to his reflection (133-46).
Irigaray's language in this essay is at times striking proof of the profound
entrenchment of Orientalism in all Western discourse of the Other, for her
own metaphors glide between sexual and the racial or geographical ones that
often characterize this discourse of the cultural Other, as she attacks the
subject's drive to colonize. In one of many examples she writes:
When the Other falls out of the starry sky into the chasms of the psyche,
the subject is obviously obliged to stake out new boundaries
for his field of implantation . . . . But how to tame
these uncharted territories, these dark continents, these worlds through
the looking glass? (136).
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truth of his own existence through the person of Leonisa and the others he
encounters is represented in terms that are simultaneously spiritual, or
psychological, and material, geopolitical. The novela's narrative
betrays through Ricardo strong anxiety regarding both the mercenary nature
of desire and the desires of Oriental mercenaries, as it examines the threat
of unstable values and the buying and selling of bodies in the
body politic. Perhaps not surprisingly, given our knowledge of
seventeenth-century Spain, the coalition of threats to the subject Ricardo
and to social stability from domestic to international is
artistically engendered female, in a series of characters of both sexes.
El amante liberal's exemplarity, ultimately, appears to lie in the authoritative male rendering of its resolution: the hero marks his freedom from effeminate, libertine commerce and his return to anticapitalism and hence to moral high ground when with liberalidad he offers the heroine herself. One of the work's many ironies is the incorporation of Leonisa into the same male-engendered system, when she finally corresponds to his apparent generosity by marrying him, in effect extracting herself from the disturbing market in which she has been an object of repeated exchange. Ricardo hence finds his confirmation in the valiant, or leonine, posture of Leonisa at the end, for she forswears any further misguided attempts to search for herself, and summons the resolve to marry the man who has relentlessly insisted upon the priority of his claims to her throughout the novela. Readers cannot help but notice, however, that this resolution in favor of social stability through the carefully staged representation in the narrative of a generous, or liberal, affirmation
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of (aristocratic) class, (European) race, and (Christian) religion the work's exemplarity is accomplished by the very ungenerous construction of those excluded: all women (as subjects), other religions (Moslem and Judaic), other races (Arabs, Jews, Turks, Greeks), less privileged classes, and the geography that links the heroes' tiny homeland to the rest of the world. Cervantes's narrative leads us to doubt the degree to which its heroes' portrayed exemplarity adequately defines the scope of the novela's lesson, for it resounds with the echoes of misplaced and parodied exemplarity that indeed, to borrow Forcione's own words about the discursive irregularities of Cervantes's novelas, revitalize perceptions blunted by the tyranny of familiarity and appearance (29). In reading for exemplarity, we are forced to reconsider the validity of many stereotypes. While infidels collectively are cast as the perpetrators of Trápana's sufferings, in the kidnapping of its heroes, individually they often do not fit the cultural models that we are led to expect; in fact, they betray a number of surprising virtues. Leonisa's first master, the renegade Yzuf, intends to marry rather than to enslave her (149); upon his death she is saved from the shipwreck and cared for by a band of Turks who protect her as a sister rather than enacting vile desires upon her (171); Mahamut proves to be a loyal and disinterested friend to Ricardo despite his brand as religious mercenary; and Halima loses much of her estate and nearly her life in escaping with Ricardo to become a Christian and she mistakenly believes marry him. Not only are we surprised to find repeated narrative evidence of liberalidad among peoples criticized discursively in the novela for motives of interés. Both the opening and the conclusion of the tale locate the causes of protagonists' trials in the heart of their own culture, Trápana. The qualities quickly projected onto the cultural Other, infidels from the East, are initially manifest in the island community's own leading Christians and in the end still persist among them. Leonisa's beloved Cornelio proves to be a cowardly sensualist whose love of wealth and himself come first; he flees her foreign abductors and never makes a move to pay her ransom, although his wealth far exceeds that of Ricardo. Her own parents, who have supported his suit over Ricardo's, are equally guilty of mercenary motives. The effeminacy with which Cornelio's un-Christian self-interest is rendered in the narrative even makes an appearance in the description of Ricardo himself during the escape. While the Turks battle to their own death aboard the
|122||NINA COX DAVIS||Cervantes|
ship that carries Halima and Leonisa the one narrative context in which
the novela's hero may credibly demonstrate his chivalric valor as
hombre cabal he remains hidden, watching from behind a
door, until the Turks kill each other (180).
We are forced by the many representations of liberalidad in Cervantes's El amante liberal to consider the symbolic nature of that exemplarity itself, as a signifier whose meaning is not clearly delimited. In effect, we are obliged to consider the ideological motives that constitute the cautionary allegory at work in the novela. The collision of two literary forms the chivalric and Byzantine romance and the worlds that they represent leave readers with the nagging impression that the issue of liberalidad is far from resolved by the return home of the protagonists and the narrative's rejection of foreign horizons. The problem of exemplarity, rather than being placed in negative relief by their sojourn among barbarous peoples, begins and ultimately still resides in Ricardo and Leonisa themselves. The tale's final, abrupt discursive shift to a chivalric register a move to which we are immediately alerted because it is out of consonance with Cervantes's other literary works is only superficially supported by the narrative of their behavior, for Ricardo's liberalidad and Leonisa's correspondence through marriage are for them, as well as for readers, enacted, consciously promoted public postures mercenary in terms of the work's definition of economy, even as they constitute doing the right thing.9 While the discursive organization of Cervantes's lover's tale clearly upholds Christian guidelines for social order and mutual respect, its narrative thus appears simultaneously to question the constitution through liberalidad of exclusionary discourses that invert its very meaning.
9 I have consciously played upon the use of this expression in Spike Lee's film, Do the Right Thing, for this film impresses me as an excellent example of a cautionary narrative whose representation of racial, class, and sexual relations contains elements that are at once visionary and retrograde, in a confusion of discourses that leaves American viewers anxiously pondering the correct interpretation of the film and its implications for their world.
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|Fred Jehle firstname.lastname@example.org||Publications of the CSA||HCervantes|