From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America 10.1 (1990): 59-68.
Copyright © 1990, The Cervantes Society of America


The “Other” Woman in Cervantes's Persiles and Zayas's Novelas


Struck by the impressive array of “other” women in The Trials of Persiles and Sigismunda and in Zayas's double collection of framed novelas,1 I decided to study Zayas's frame narrative as a re-vision of the Sousa Coutinho episode in Persiles (I, 10) because they represent contrary treatments of the “other” woman in the same situation: the bride who decides to enter the convent rather than marry. My reason for juxtaposing such dissimilar works comes from the internally stated purpose of Zayas's novelas: they aim to represent a defense of women's good name2 in a violently misogynistic society3 and, more to our point, Zayas's novelas aim to defend the female character so meanly

     * This is a paper from a symposium on Los Trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda, as is explained in the Foreward of this issue of the journal.
     1 All page references are to the following translations: Miguel de Cervantes, The Trials of Persiles and Sigismunda, trans. by Celia Richmond Weller and Clark A. Colahan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989) and Maria de Zayas, The Enchantments of Love (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990) and The Disenchantments of Love (typescript under review at the University of California Press) both trans. by H. Patsy Boyer.
     2 “Lysis's intention in this was to defend women's good name (so defamed and denigrated by men's bad opinion that there is scarcely anyone who speaks well of them)” Disenchantments, 3-4.
     3 See José Antonio Maravall, La literatura picaresca desde la historia social (Madrid: Taurus Ediciones, 1986), Chapters XII-XIII.


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exploited by the male authors who comprised the masculinist canon: “There is no book published nor any play staged that is not a total offense to women” (Disenchantment, 12).
     In her introduction to the last, or twentieth, tale, Lysis, the frame protagonist, states that because all men are “declared enemies of women,” she “has declared war against all men” (Disenchantment, 495). Lysis's war metaphor explains the subversive strategies that characterize Zayas's text, such as subtle intertextuality, double discourse, and irony. In addition, intricate framing devices and internal commentaries on the tales inscribe dual gender readings that enable both masculinist and feminist reader to interpret the tales in accord with individual perceptions of social order. Paradoxically, these confining structures serve to open up the text to conflicting, often contradictory, interpretations.4
     The “other” woman in Zayas's novelas represents a crucial dimension of the subversive stategies at work. The “other” woman in this context is a female character who actively betrays a female protagonist or one whose behavior flagrantly transgresses socially accepted —patriarchal— values and literary conventions. In the twenty novelas, there are at least fourteen such characters. Although several come to the expected bad end, the majority achieve their desire in defiance of audience/reader expectations of poetic justice. Not only is the “other” woman often redeemed in Zayas's texts, she serves as an exemplary role model, in spite of, or because of, her socially reprehensible behavior, her transgression of patriarchal norms, as is abundantly evident in the concluding novela, “The Ravages of Vice,” and in the denouement of the frame narrative.
     Definition and treatment of the “other” woman in Persiles seem radically different, perhaps because in this work all women are perceived as different, as “other.” Certainly a guiding principle in the definition of the female character in this text is the need to bring her under, to subordinate her to, the patriarchal order;5 consequently “other” in this context refers to the unsubordinated, or the insubordinate, female character. In the Sousa Coutinho episode of Persiles, Leonora is a species of “other” woman in a striking way. She is not “other” in the destructiveness

     4 See my unpublished “A Baroque Reading of ‘El verdugo de su esposa’” read at the Kentucky Foreign Language Conference, April, 1989.
     5 I am indebted to Ruth El Saffar's studies of the feminine in Cervantes's works; see Beyond Fiction: The Recovery of the Feminine in the Novels of Cervantes (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984).

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of her ungoverned lust like Rosamunda or Cenotia, rather her “otherness” comes from her desire to remain chaste, to become a bride of Christ rather than Sousa Coutinho's bride. In disobeying her father and in rejecting her suitor, Leonora rejects the authority of the patriarchal social order, and she pays a dear price for choosing Christ over Coutinho:6 she dies a seemingly gratutitous death. Insofar as Leonora's side of the story remains an “untold” story, it typifies the conventions that served as inspiration for Zayas's chrestomathy of “untold” stories.7
     The story Cervantes tells is clearly Sousa Coutinho's. Leonora figures primarily for structural reasons, as an objectified adjunct to plot and to the characterization of the male protagonist, rather than as a significant character in her own right. Even so, two details are important: that she chooses chastity over marriage, and that mysteriously she dies. Leonora's rejection of Sousa Coutinho endows him with identity as the prototypical Portuguese lover; it also endows him with a story to tell which, in its brevity, stands as a negative exemplum of male-female relations in Persiles. Significantly, this episode is reenacted by Auristela and Periandro at the very end of the book, where it brings about the revelation of their identities as true lovers just prior to the moment of epiphany.
     Apart from its startling, if undeveloped, message,8 perhaps the most striking characteristic of the episode is its suffocated speechlessness. Its language stresses the oppositions between voice/silence, expression/suppression, dominance/subordination, manifested in the asymmetrical relationship between male subject and female object. Sousa Coutinho fails to win his bride because of his inability to speak and only when he is at last able to tell his tale to the pilgrims does he achieve release in death. Leonora, of course, has no right to speak at all, and she is harshly punished for her unruliness in raising her voice against the patriarchal order.
     Following upon the heels of Rutilio's tale (who, we will recall, served among the barbarians disguised as a deaf-mute), the pilgrims hear a sweet voice across the calm waters, and invite

     6 Despite the apparent historicism of the name (see note 1, p. 370), I wonder to what extent the name Coutinho/Coitiño may be ironic.
     7 See Mary S. Gossy, The Untold Story: Women and Theory in Golden Age Texts (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1989).
     8 This episode is, of course, a masculinist revision of the Marcela/Grisóstomo episode in Don Quijote.

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the singer to join their number. After they land and make themselves comfortable, Periandro asks the singer to tell his story. He identifies himself as Manuel de Sousa Coutinho, a Portuguese soldier. Without preliminary courtship, he had petitioned for the hand of the lovely Leonora and her father had promised her to him two years later. Then he was ordered away on military duty; when he went to bid Leonora farewell, she “came out to the great hall to see me. With her came modesty, grace, and silence. I was overcome when I saw such beauty so near me; I wanted to speak but my voice caught in my throat and my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth. I didn't know what to do, nor could I do anything but keep still and let silence express my confusion.” Leonora's father said: “On days of departure, . . . the tongue should never say too much and it may be that this silence speaks more in your favor than any eloquence.” Sousa Coutinho goes on: “All these words stuck in my memory and were so stamped on my soul that I haven't forgotten nor will I forget them as long as I live. Neither the beautiful Leonora nor her mother spoke a word to me; neither could I, as I've said, say a thing” (54-55). The lover went off to the wars, returned, and all was set for the extravagant exchange of vows.
     Just as Sousa Coutinho's tale is introduced by his harmonious song, the marriage scene is set off by music and voices “as one.” At the culminating moment, Leonora “raises her voice” for the very first time and confesses her “treachery”: although she had promised to take no other husband on earth but Sousa Coutinho, she was, in fact, already married to her heavenly spouse, Christ. As she defies Sousa Coutinho to “call her any name that comes to mind,” the nuns strip off her costly raiment and shear her hair, symbolizing not only her farewell to the world but also the fact that she has been stripped of the word, she has no voice, no story; she is a negative entity whose only act is not choosing the convent but rejecting marriage. Sousa Coutinho is momentarily struck dumb by her unimaginable act but he does raise his voice to utter “Maria optimam partem elegit” and again lapses into silence. With the final word of his tale, he breathes his last and drops dead. The pilgrims bury his body in the snowy waste and continue on their way.
     Although the intense tale of Sousa Coutinho's ill-starred love seems complete with his death, it achieves closure only in its epitaph (III, 1). Upon landing in Portugal, the pilgrims are taken to read the epitaph on the white marble tombstone erected

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in “Living Memory of the Quite Dead Manuel de Sousa Coitiño” (197). Auristela asks what became of his bride, the nun, and is told that Leonora died within a few days of hearing of his death, either from the austerity of her (chaste) life or from the shock of the unexpected news. It is significant that the tale is not complete without the epitaph, representing the joining of word to memory, nor is it complete without the news of Leonora's mysterious death, representing the dissolution of the word into an untold silence.
     The split episode speaks of the split relationship between male and female, between world and word. Both characters are subsumed into the silence of death, but his story lives while hers has yet to be told. Sousa Coutinho the lover presents himself as victimized, betrayed, by a woman who places her “selfish” desire for purity above his desire to possess her and thus incorporate her into (or subordinate her to) the social order. Leonora's “otherness” reveals the degree to which her disobedience threatens the dominant male order. Until very recently, the convent in literature has not been regarded as a legitimate, let alone a spiritual, option for a female character. Rather it has been considered a negative space, contrary to natural law, in that it allows the female to escape from patriarchal control. Leonora contrasts with the many female characters in Persiles who do voice their own narratives; inevitably, however, these women are subsumed into the male order through marriage. Not one of the four lustful female characters (three of whom come to a bad end) “has” a story. Leonora's futile bid for autonomy reoccurs in all its destructive implications in Auristela's fleeting decision to remain a “sister,” to enter the convent instead of entering into marriage with Periandro. Her bid for independent identity must be rejected as inimical to the “natural,” masculine order symbolized in marriage.
     Despite the fact that Sousa Coutinho's story is presented from the masculine point of view, his constipated speechlessness seems to represent a knot in the development of the narrative. He is unable to get in touch with the feminine he so desires until after he has lost her. Only then does he become author and protagonist of his brief tale. This suggests that the feminine, Leonora, stands for the voice he lacks (a relationship inverted in the parodic pairing of lustful Rosamunda and slanderous Clodio, and alluded to in many other pairs in Persiles). If woman, Leonora/Auristela, is what is other to the male, what he

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lacks, voice or language, then she must be brought into relationship with the masculine, she must be subsumed into the male system; she cannot be left free, loose, dangling, particularly not in the feminine space of the convent. An important part of the message of this episode consists of the struggle to find and express self, masculine, through an alien and sometimes rebellious medium, feminine.
     What relates this intense episode to the narrative that frames Zayas's novelas is that the two plots have in common the bride's last-minute decision to enter the convent. As previously mentioned, the stated purpose of Zayas's framed novelas was first to defend women's good name and second to revise the negative image of the female character depicted in masculine literature, images like Leonora's. Zayas's feminist revision of Golden Age literature does not represent a simple inversion, but rather a complex subversion, of masculine plots, conventions, discourse.
     Although most Zayas critics have either failed to address the importance of the frame material or have dismissed it as an irrelevant formal device, the frame is crucial to an understanding of the work in its integrity. In the Enchantments of Love, the conventional plot of the frame tells the courtly story of Lysis, her quartan fever, and the entertainment her friends plan for her diversion during the Christmas season. The soiree consists of five evenings of elaborate dances, masques, feasts, songs, and storytelling. Lysis had fallen ill from depression caused by her unrequited love for don Juan; soon it is revealed that her fickle suitor has transferred his attentions to her cousin, Lisarda, who is described as being “unprincipled in getting her way” (Enchantments, 8).
     The frame material occurs at the beginning and end of each collection, on each night, and also in the introductions to each tale and the commentaries at their conclusion. That is, in addition to its own plot, the frame presents a wealth of information about the character-narrators, about how the stories are narrated, and about how they are interpreted by the frame characters. Also important is the fact that most of the tales in the Enchantments are framed by Lysis's voice as she sings introductory and concluding songs. As the frame plot develops, don Juan becomes more open in his courtship of Lisarda even as he tries to maintain his hold over Lysis. His friend don Diego falls in love with Lysis and begins to court her, which enrages don Juan and the two come to the verge of a duel. The duel is

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averted and the first part ends with the promise of a second part, at Easter, to celebrate Lysis's wedding to don Diego (Enchantments, 312). Although the Enchantments seems to construct a conventional literary universe, it is important to note the preeminence of woman's voice; the power over narration is divided equally between five men and five women storytellers and the gender distinctions between their tales are highly significant.
     In the second part, The Disenchantments of Love, the soiree to celebrate Lysis's marriage to don Diego takes place, not the following Easter, but a year later due to her lingering illness. On this occasion, Lysis alters the rules significantly: only women are to narrate true cases designed to disenchant women about men's deceptions and men about their wrongheaded notions of women. The new design posits the listeners, and by extension the readers, as fundamentally deceived, in need of undeception about gender relations.9 Much to their annoyance, the men at this soiree are denied power over discourse for, to the ladies' great delight, these are all to be women's tales (Disenchantments, 4-5). Furthermore, the Disenchantments sets out meticulously to deconstruct the seemingly conventional novelistic universe of the Enchantments.
     At the end of the frame plot, at the very moment of her wedding, Lysis delivers a lengthy feminist disquisition and then raises her voice to announce her decision to join Isabel and Estefania in the convent. Lysis's announcement stuns everyone present including her own mother. Soon thereafter, however, we learn that her mother and Isabel's join the three girls in the convent.10 Interestingly, the suitors, don Diego, don Juan, and don Felipe, perish as gratuitously as did Cervantes's Leonora.
     This surprising conclusion has been anticipated from the very beginning in the frame protagonist's name, Lysis, meaning “release.” The storytelling does, in fact, “release” Lysis from the patriarchal order, and her decision to enter the convent is described by the principal narrator as “the happiest possible ending” (Disenchantments, 312). The final “release” has been anticipated in the four strategically placed tales narrated in the first

     9 In this connection, I have come to consider Zayas's text as “masculine” in that it deceives the reader with words just the way men deceive women, as opposed to Cervantes's presentation of text and voice as feminine. The question of difference, of “otherness,” in the two texts merits closer study.
     10 Estefania is already a nun, Isabel intends to take her vows, but the other three women remain secular and do not become nuns.

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person by the female protagonist herself. The first story in each part is a highly conventional tale narrated by the internal female protagonist. In “Everything Ventured,” a pastoral story, Jacinta tells her tale to a rescuer who, interestingly enough, does not seek to marry her. Instead he places her in a convent, where she lives a happy secular life. This tale is, in a sense, re-vised in the first tale of the Disenchantments, “Slave to Her Own Lover,” with one significant difference. Here the character-narrator, Isabel, is the only frame character to tell her own story. Isabel expiates her sin (of having been raped) by telling her tale, which liberates her from slavery to the patriarchy and enables her to find release in the convent. She functions as an alter ego (a better term would be “sister”) for Lysis; she replaces Lysis in providing the frame songs for the tales and ultimately inspires Lysis to join her in the convent. The only way women can escape enslavement to the male hegemony, indeed the only way women can survive, the Disenchantments seems to say, is through telling their own stories, through control over discourse, and through finding their own feminine space —the convent.
     The most significant tale with regard to the denoument of the frame, and the only tale narrated by Lysis herself, is the very last tale of the two part collection, “The Ravages of Vice.” It is the capstone tale that sets the stage for Lysis's surprise announcement.11 “The Ravages of Vice” is a stunning story and its protagonist, Florentina, is Zayas's most flamboyant “other” woman in her transgression of moral law and literary convention. It is the tale of her passionate, ecstatic love affair with her sister's husband which she herself narrates to her rescuer, don Gaspar. After four years of forbidden pleasure, her confessor threatened anathema, so she framed her sister in such a way that her husband, don Dionís, would kill her. Florentina's plot assumed that he would then marry her and restore her honor. Inflamed with vindictive rage, however, don Dionís stabbed to death his innocent wife and every other member of the household, including himself. Only Florentina managed to escape the slaughter, gravely injured, but alive, saved by the intervention of a black slave girl. She was then rescued by a suitor, don Gaspar, who desisted from his love for her after he heard her tale. He

     11 This tale represents a feminist re-vision of “Just Desserts,” the male-narrated seventh tale of the Enchantments, a thesis developed in my unpublished “Zayas's ‘Other’ Woman,” read at the Wichita Foreign Language Conference, April 1990.

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did, however, obtain the king's pardon for her crime and arrange her entry into the convent, where Florentina “at last achieved her desire and became a nun in one of the most sumptuous convents in Lisbon” (Disenchantments, 537).
     Her story is shocking in its violence and in its message; namely that the protagonist is a loose woman who achieves her desire, first physically in an incestuous adultery, then spiritually in the convent. She survives the carnage she herself had plotted and not only goes unpunished but is rewarded. Her plot to use the male system (don Dionís's honor and his sword) against itself shadows Zayas's technique in applying her pen (sword) to the subversion of masculine literary conventions (honor). Florentina's transgression, the explosion of rage she unleashes, and her expiatory story, release her from the patriarchal coil and transform her into an autonomous spiritual woman. Her liberating narration of her own story, her entry into a female space, and her discovery of a new sisterhood reinforce the example set for Lysis and for the female reader.
     The Sousa Coutinho episode that resurfaces at the end of Persiles, when Auristela tells Periandro she has decided to enter the convent, represents a reversal of the book's happy conclusion. For both Leonora and Auristela, the decision to enter the convent (a commitment to chastity rather than lust, to the spirit instead of the flesh) represents a disjunction, a severance, a disunion that threatens death to both members of the pair. Persiles seems predicated on a necessary relationship of masculine and feminine. This is the very relationship studied throughout Zayas's novelas and rotundly rejected in favor of female autonomy. In her work, the “other” woman, through her otherness, through her transgression, becomes author and subject of her own story, of her own discourse. In this way, she frees herself from her “enslavement” to the masculine order, from being the “object” of masculine desire, from subordination, suppression, silence. Her admission into the sisterhood represents a release, a lysis, of the feminine into control over self, body, and voice in her own protected space.
     Zayas's re-vision of the Sousa Coutinho episode clearly rejects the conventional desideratum of patriarchal social order as symbolized in marriage. In her work, marriage seems instead to represent a celebration of the masculine subjugation of the feminine, a disjunction, a prelude to an honor tragedy, just the reverse of what it means in Persiles. Through a feminist subversion

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of the message implicit in the Sousa Coutinho episode and in Persiles, Zayas's frame narrative suggests that what is important for women is the power to control their own lives and their own discourse. Only in this way can they achieve inner harmony and the development of the self within an alienating and an alienated society.12


     12 Maravall, in the work cited, amply describes alienation in seventeenth-century Spanish society. William H. Clamurro also stresses social disintegration in his study of “The Ravages of Vice,” “Ideological Contradiction and Imperial Decline: Toward a Reading of Zayas's Desengaños amorosos” (South Carolina Review, Summer 1988, V, 2, 43-50).

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