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Dressed to Kill

Dressed to Kill: Death and Meaning in Zaya's Desengaños

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Dressed to Kill
    Book Description:

    Dressed to Killreconciles Zayas'sDesengañoswith the age in which it was written, contextualizing the book in baroque poetics, the Spanish honour code, and fifteenth-century martyr saints' lives.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-9624-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-1)
  6. Introduction: Setting the Interpretative Baseline
    (pp. 3-15)

    In 1647, María de Zayas published a collection of ten stories in Zaragoza with a rather insipid title, theParte segunda del sarao y entretenimiento honesto(Second Part of the Soirée and Decorous Entertainment). Its original readers were probably not deceived by this lacklustre marketing, for a spate of similar titles had followed the 1625–34 ban on novella publication, designed to protect public morality.¹ On the surface, theParte segundapromised what the public had come to expect from such books, which were all the rage on the literary scene of mid-seventeenth-century Spain: prose fiction tales about love and...

  7. 1 The Desengaños at a Distance
    (pp. 17-49)

    Readers of the Desengaños find themselves seeking meaning in a jumble of things, reminiscent of Antonio de Peredaʹs couple searching for virtue in the painting on the left. As anyone knows who has hunted for something in similar conditions, it is helpful to step back and assess oneʹs position. This is a particularly difficult enterprise when under duress, and theDesengañosare designed to pressure the reader. However, like Peredaʹs subjects, Zayasʹs original readers would find what they sought, not only by calm re-vision, but also by looking at themselves: the key to virtue hangs on a ribbon tied around...

  8. 2 Attending the Soirée
    (pp. 51-79)

    TheDesengañosare universally read as a defence of women, and indeed, Lisis summarizes her soirée forensically, concluding, ʹI believe the defence of women has been quite well aired ʹ(Bien ventilada me parece que queda … la defensa de las mujeres, 503). However, even refining the authorʹs meaning of ʹwomenʹ to noblewomen, as I have suggested, still misses Zayasʹs mark for her book. She points directly to that mark in her narratorsʹ comments across the text and uses the plots of her tales to illuminate it negatively, as if with a black light. It is impossible to determine the meaning...

  9. 3 Dressed to Kill: Death and Meaning in the Desengaños
    (pp. 81-121)

    The story is always the same.

    Step one. She is young, she is virtuous, and she is beautiful or wealthy, or both. She marries her husband by consent, not choice, for like a good noblewoman, she does not desire anything or anyone until she is married, and thereafter she seeks only her husbandʹs happiness and her honour.

    A man desires her to an uncontrollable extreme and pursues her. If this man is the one she marries, he marries her in knowing violation of his or her fatherʹs will. If she is already married, the pursuing man is not her husband,...

  10. 4 Dead End: The Convent
    (pp. 123-153)

    The characters in theDesengañoswho die for the right reasons inscribe justice in the narrative, and the wrongly dead are a precious and select few. But not everyone dies. Carefully manipulating the ends of her charactersʹ fictional lives, Zayas weaves a fragile thread that leads out of the dark labyrinth of misdeeds that block the paths of the innocent in the book. It is virtue, whose standards determine which characters attain the convent, her bookʹs final ending. Whether virtuous by dint of innocence or repentance, all the virtuous characters in theDesengañoswho reach the convent survive, at least...

  11. 5 Postscript: Laurela
    (pp. 155-159)

    The youngest victim character of theDesengañosis Laurela (d6), into whose house, life, and honour the vicious Esteban inserts himself, bringing lies and death in with him. The most horrifying of all Zayasʹs victims because of her age, Laurela is twelve years old when Esteban sees her for the first time, and is but fourteen when he enters her house disguised as a maid and becomes her intimate companion. She is fifteen when her family kills her. She is the only unwed noblewoman who dies as a consequence of social corruption, and her story is the only one in...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 161-175)

    Reading theDesengañosin light of Zayasʹs objectives not only reconciles the text with itself but also sheds light on two of its important features that are otherwise invisible. The first is how a female author positions herself in the Spanish honour code, a ritual system universally defined as one that objectifies and victimizes women. Second, illuminating the multiple but coordinated systems of meaning operative in theDesengañosmakes it possible to see how influential the book was.

    There is no evidence that the reform to which Zayas urgently calls her readers was heeded. If it was, it proved ultimately...

  13. Plot Summaries
    (pp. 176-184)

    All main characters are members of the nobility.

    Titles added by an editor in 1734 are in brackets.

    Frame tale

    Lisis, recovering from an illness, organizes a soirée at her Madrid house. Enamored of Don Juan, who desires her cousin Lisarda, Lisis nonetheless accepts the proposal of the noble Diego, and the soirée is to culminate in their nuptials. After stipulating that all storytellers be women, and all tales serve the purpose of delivering a rude awakening (desengaño), Lisis presides over three nights of entertainment, at which ten stories are told.


    Her Loverʹs Slave

    Isabel / Manuel, failed courtship...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 185-202)
  15. Works Cited
    (pp. 203-224)
  16. Index
    (pp. 225-234)