I’ve decided to keep posting 7 chapters at a time. Well, this post will have only 6 chapters, because the next story, The Captive, is told in chapters 39, 40, and 41. So, next week I’ll write about chapters 39 through 45, and the week after will have chapters 46 through 52, which is the last chapter of Book I. Hopefully, March 1st, a Friday, will see me writing the first post on Book II, and that post will be just an introduction to the second book, and a word or two on the few pages Cervantes wrote as dedicatory and preface.
33, 34, and 35 tell us the story of this Ill Curiosity or The Man Who Was Recklessly Curious. No matter how many times I listen to this story, I always shake my head on the first conversation between these two friends, Anselmo and Lothario. There’s multiple references to Lothario in music, literature, and culture, as well as earlier and later variations of the story line.
Anselmo wants to test and try his wife’s honor. Lothario is Anselmo’s best friend, and he wishes him to be the one doing so, -in case Camila succumbs to Lothario advances, for the matter to stay private. Lothario’s speech on why not to do this at all is stunning, but not without biases. Once more, this is the seventeen hundred, my dears, a time in which we, women, are equated to fragile glass, or called creatures of weak will. No matter how we are portrayed, I can’t help but being sad contemplating the wreck that Anselmo causes by his stupidity, his truly weak character, his total disregard of common sense, and his lack of moral strength.
We can read about the psychology of jealousy, or how any virtue is not something we acquire once and will possess forever, but something we need to nurture and actively cultivate. We can also read about how the lack of morals in those above and around us, will influence us as negatively as the virtues in those around us can impact us for the best. We can hear the sermon, and it’ll never be as powerful as it is the moment we listen to it narrated in this parable of sorts. If we leave Cervantes’s limitations aside, and go to the heart of what’s told, we’ll all learn while being entertained with the story.
Cervantes, through the words of Lothario, expresses a conservative and christian view of marriage that many of us still hold true many centuries later. That of a married couple being one flesh, united by a divine tie. Even if one doesn’t share those beliefs, I am still convinced that, after hearing about Lothario, Anselmo, and Anselmo’s wife, Camila, we can all say how foolish it is to look for trouble, or to challenge a suspicion based on nothing, just rooted on your sick mind. Where I live, I hear a lot: ‘if it ain’t broken, why fix it?’
I don’t know about you, guys, but Anselmo fits the addict profile. His addiction is to a sick ideal. Once he convinces Lothario to test Camila’s honor a little bit, we all know he’s not going to stop there. As with any obsession, he set himself for failure, just as Lothario told him. Like the Cookie Monster, there’s no way to make the cookie look perfectly round and not bitten anymore.
I always wonder why Lothario didn’t put more resistance. We can only imagine that Anselmo would have found another one to do what he wanted, to tempt his wife Camila. Plus Cervantes wanted to tell us this parable, this exemplar novel.
We have another saying to capture this, ‘tanto va el cántaro a la fuente, que al final se rompe‘, the pitcher goes to the spring so often, that it ends up breaking. All Lothario’s prophesies of disaster came true. What wasn’t broken at the beginning, did break by Anselmo’s obstinacy aimed to quench an obsession that can’t be cured by giving in to it, but by eradicating his own insecurities. Anselmo, -as any jealous person-, has either a low self esteem, or an ego problem-, and that can’t be solved by anything that has to do with the person who is the object of the sick party affections. Those problems start and end in oneself. These three good people, who could have enjoyed the niceties of marriage and friendship, end up dying at a young age.
This was the story in the papers that they found at the inn. The priest says he finds it not a true story. He doubts it could have happened. But he likes the way in which it was told. What about you? I agree. Everything is exaggerated for effect. It’s intriguing how Cervantes writes stories within the story, some which he presents us as the main or true one, and others inside which are presented as fiction. DQ is different, he’s a bones and blood man gone crazy, who thinks he’s a knight errant, and who will be forever in literature as such.
But his story is not just his story, but the story of others around him. However, this will soon become more complicated, as in part two, Sancho and DQ are seen as people from a book, while Cervantes tells us how ‘real life’ people relate to them when they see them? It’s like there’s a world of fictional characters portrayed as real people, who also see other real people who are characters inside the novel that tells about their life. And next week, Cervantes will be mentioned in the story of one of those who arrives at the inn, -this time a plausible story, with historically accurate details-, in which we call an exercise in historical fiction.
Like Velazquez’s Meninas, it’s impossible to me to understand what’s happening in depth. A painting of a painter painting a painting, in which the painting shows us the subjects only in a mirror, and the rest are people looking at those two being painted, and which in truth shows us those who are around those two being painted, who are not truly posing for the picture, but are the ‘true’ subjects of the painting, and who are also engaging with us, as if they are the ones in real life, in time and space, and we, -who are usually the ones watching-, are now being ‘looked at’ from the canvas, looked at by dead people, in no present space or time, who are more real, as they exist permanently in the painting, while we who look at the painting, come and go.
In chapter 35, this story that the priest is reading gets interrupted. Sancho erupts in the room saying that his master, DQ, is fighting Micomicona’s giant. They go in the room where they see a half asleep DQ slashing the wine skins open. When the inn keeper sees this, he starts beating him up to death, which would have been accomplished but for the priest and Cardenio’s intervention.
Chapters 36 and 37, are the culmination of the quartet made by Dorotea, Luscinda, Fernando, and Cardenio. A company comes, and we don’t know who they are until we see that it’s Fernando with Luscinda. When Fernando read the paper that Luscinda was married to Cardenio, he wanted to kill her, but his parents stopped him from doing so. He learned Luscinda had left to go to a monastery, and in the company of the three men that were with him at the inn, he set to go for her. Luscinda, when she woke up to see she was in Fernando’s possession, fainted again. Once she recovered, she had kept travelling with them in a state of agony, crying and silent.
Cardenio recognized Luscinda’s voice, Luscinda finds Cardenio, both embrace not allowing anyone to separate them anymore. It’s Dorotea’s turn. She offers herself to Fernando as his legitimate wife by his own oath. She’s aware of her inferior linage, and aware of his bad judgment trying to become Dorotea’s husband breaching Cardenio’s friendship in the process, and leaving Dorotea in a disgraced situation. This time, Dorotea’s speech was a bit indignant to me, specially when she ended it by throwing herself at his feet. However, Fernando here seems to value Dorotea accordingly, and admits to not having done so when he should. It seems that Fernando’s gigolo’s days are over.
Something is said here about Dorotea that may have some significance. Even though of a lower class than Fernando, Cervantes says that he or she who is of noble heart and virtue, can by that improve in his or her station, -climb up the social ladder-. We all saw how Fernando was, conversely, going down that ladder by his dissolute life style. This whole affair reminded me of Jane Austen novels, and it’s also something very present where I live. We still have ‘classes’, people with citizenship, with green cards, or without. People with money and status, and plain folk. All I can say it’s that I’m glad that these four ended up happily matched.
I almost forgot to mention that Sancho is utterly worried. Micomicona is Dorotea, the giant is Fernando. He goes and tells DQ, who can’t believe this. DQ convinces Sancho that it’s not true. Sancho believes DQ about Dorotea still being Micomicona, -he wants to believe that Dorotea is still a queen with riches and kingdoms-, but he doesn’t believe DQ when he says he killed the giant. He saw himself how those were wine skins hanging, and the room is now a mess of wine puddles on the floor.
Chapter 38 is peculiar. DQ presents them with an oral essay? He regales them with his impressions on who is more worthy to be loaded, the man of letters, -the bachelor-, (not the clergy, those devote themselves to the divine), or the soldier? Cervantes held both occupations at different times in his life. He fought, and he wrote, though here he’s specifically comparing the student of humanities with the soldier. He decides in favor of the soldier. After all, those entrusted with arms by their country, risk their lives. Though the student is usually poor, he manages, while the soldier risks it all at each occasion, sacrificing much every day, physically and emotionally. DQ equates himself to those men of arms. He’s too a knight who ‘fights’, and he fears death before having achieved a name for posterity.
People are curious and puzzled about DQ’s strange kind of madness, for
when DQ talks about a matter he knows, like this of comparing soldiers to students of humanities, he’s said to be a very sensible man.
That’s one more week of our errant knight, or Sir Knight of the Rueful Countenance, next week we’ll hear the story of the captive, which has much of Cervantes’s himself in it. And the author himself will have a cameo appearance.