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Allegories of Love

Allegories of Love: Cervantes's Persiles and Sigismunda

Diana de Armas Wilson
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    Allegories of Love
    Book Description:

    In the work he considered his masterpiece, Persiles and Sigismunda, Cervantes finally explores the reality of woman--an abstraction largely idealized in his earlier writing. Traditional critics have perpetuated this disembodied ideal woman: "Every Man," claimed the translators of the 1706 Don Quixote, has "some darling Dulcinea of his Thoughts." As Diana de Armas Wilson shows, however, Cervantes himself envisioned the radical embodiment of "Dulcinea" in the later Persiles, a pan-European Renaissance allegory. Wilson illuminates Cervantes's strategic use of the ancient genre of Greek romance to contest various chivalric fictions about women, love, and marriage--fictions collapsing under the constraints of an emerging bourgeois culture. Taking as her subject Cervantes's erotic imperative--to leave behind "barbaric" notions of love in quest of a new conceptual space--Wilson demonstrates how the heroes of the Persiles, unlike Don Quixote, learn to cross the borders of difference. Their journey toward marriage is illustrated by thirteen inset "exemplary novels," perhaps the most exploratory of Cervantes's writings. Allegories of Love not only examines the fundamental importance of sexual and cultural difference in Cervantes's last romance, but also reveals the historical conditions of representation itself during the late Renaissance.

    Originally published in 1991.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6179-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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    (pp. xi-xx)

    Cervantes’s last romance—the work he twice heralded as “el granPersiles[the greatPersiles]”—was regarded by many of his contemporaries as hisobra maestra. Yet it has been eclipsed for nearly four centuries by the vastly more popularDon Quixote, a work that justly exhibits a pride of place in the European canon.¹ Published posthumously in 1617, thePersilesis a text that challenges our ability to read figuratively. “We read well, and with pleasure,” Annette Kolodny reminds us, “what wealready know howto read.”² We readDon Quixotewith knowledge and pleasure, thanks, in part, to...

  2. Part One: Context and Subtexts

      (pp. 3-23)

      One of Borges’s doomed protagonists reflects on how, down through history, generations of storytellers have always repeated two narratives: “la de un bajel perdido que busca por los mares mediterráneos una isla querida, y la de un dios que se hace crucificar en el Gólgota [that of a lost ship searching the Mediterranean seas for a loved island, and that of a god who has himself crucified on Golgotha].”¹ Although Cervantes exploits both narratives in thePersiles, he acknowledges only a Mediterranean quest story as his model: Heliodorus’sAethiopica, the most complex of the extant Greek romances.² Even more pertinently,...

      (pp. 24-44)

      At the close of the opening chapter of her celebrated study on genre,The Resources of Kind, Rosalie Colie notes that for Don Quixote—“as for his master”—the notion of literary kind was “essential” to the imagination. For Don Quixote, who saw the world screened through the books of chivalry, the genre of romance was, as Colie puts it, “his fix on the world.” The parallel claim that romance was essential to “his master,” Cervantes, requires a breadth of discussion not given it by Colie. If she means that Cervantes used a genre, with all the decorum it supplied...

      (pp. 45-77)

      El Pinciano concluded his long eulogy to Heliodorus with the observation, one surely not lost on Cervantes, that readers could extract an allegory (“exprimir alegoría”) from theAethiopica, and not a bad one (“no mala”) at that. A modern critic of Greek romance assures us, however, that “Heliodorus is not writing allegory but romance.”¹ The relations between romance and allegory, intimate ones for centuries, continue to put theorists asunder. Unlike El Pinciano’s Ugo—who could comfortably claim to have no “doctrina de Aristóteles” on allegory²—modern readers must confront far too many doctrines on allegory and its relations to other...

      (pp. 78-106)

      For dealing with the subject of love in literature—the lively and clever “amigo” advises Cervantes himself in the prologue toDon Quixote, part 1—there is really only one literary reference to consult: “Con dos onzas que sepáis de la lengua toscana, toparéis con León Hebreo, que os hincha las medidas [With a smattering of Tuscan you can apply to Leon the Hebrew, who will supply you to your heart’s content].” Although Cervantes undoubtedly had those “two ounces” of Italian, he did not need them to understand Leone Ebreo, since a splendid Spanish translation was available to him as...

  3. Part Two: The Text

      (pp. 109-129)

      Although the fictive time of Cervantes’s Barbaric Isle narrative,¹ the opening text of thePersiles, coincides with Montaigne’s celebrated interview, in 1562, of a Brazilian cannibal in Rouen, Montaigne’s essay—perhaps thelocus classicusfor Renaissance notions of New World cannibalism—is often cited and widely anthologized, whereas Cervantes’s reflections on cannibals remain unremarked. Montaigne’s famous adage on barbarism arose out of his speculations on the above encounter: “We call barbarous anything that is contrary to our own habits.” The prelapsarian savages he would famously fictionalize could be called “barbarous,” he cautioned, only “by reference to the laws of reason,...

    • Chapter Six PLOT AND AGENCY
      (pp. 130-150)

      On some fictive date in or around the 1560s, two young people, a man and a woman, embark on a two-year, thousand-mile journey from “Tile” (Thule, Iceland) to Rome, arriving in the Eternal City in its jubilee year.¹ Only in chapter 12 of the fourth and last book of thePersiles—“donde se dice quién eran Periandro y Auristela [where it is revealed who Periandro and Auristela were]” (464)—do we learn that their rightful names are Persiles and Sigismunda. At that point we also learn the real motives for the trip. Ostensibly, Auristela is fulfilling a vow to travel...

      (pp. 151-176)

      The focus of this chapter will be on Cervantes’s inset stories (also known as interpolations, intercalations, or episodes), those fables “of delicious love” that, depending on who is reading, either “make” thePersilesor break it.¹ One eighteenth-century reader even felt that they swallowed it up. Warning contemporary writers to curb their episodes, Gregorio Mayáns y Siscar pointed to the episodes in thePersilesas a negative example of overload: “No deven ser tantos, que por ellos desparezca el assunto principal, como sucedió a Miguel de Cervantes en suPersiles i Segismunda[sic] [They should not be so many that...

  4. Part Three: The Woman in the Text

      (pp. 179-199)

      As all readers ofLa fuerza de la sangreknow, Transila’s inset story (1.12–13) is not Cervantes’s first representation of rape. But the narrative in thePersilesis a tale offoiledgang rape and, therefore, a kind of romancein ovo. It may even be called a “kidnapped” romance, in that the heroine violently wrenches the tale out of her father’s mouth in order to make it her own: “Quitándole a su padre las palabras de la boca, dijo las del siguiente capítulo [Taking the words out of her father’s mouth, she said those of the following chapter]”...

      (pp. 200-222)

      The critical question of what’s in a name, always a fertile one for Cervantes’s work, remains for the character of Feliciana de la Voz not only unanswered but unasked. As the heroine of the central episode of thePersiles, this young Estremaduran woman can explain only the social derivation of her odd cognomen: that all who have heard her sing acknowledge her to have “la mejor voz del mundo [the best voice in the world]” (299). But the figurative operations at work in Feliciana’s depiction suggest forces well beyond the range of such provincial singing talents. The tale she relates,...

      (pp. 223-247)

      Along with hermaphrodites and colonialism, exorcism has become a seductive Renaissance topic in the postmodern period, its interest for us perhaps culturally rooted in the increasing “bewitchment” of rationalist thought by new articulations of knowledge. During the 1980s, for instance, a complex and resonant intertextuality was established between Shakespeare’sKing Learand a savage contemporaneous English satire aimed at a group of Roman Catholic exorcists, “Papists” involved with the Babington Plot (1586). Trying to show us how exorcism and theater converge inLear, at least two critics nominated as Shakespeare’s source the Protestant polemicist Samuel Harsnett, who, while domestic chaplain...

    (pp. 248-252)

    Nothing has been more difficult than writing this epilogue you are now reading. Many times I fed my disk into the computer, and many times I took it out again, not knowing what I would write. One of these times, seated at my desk thinking of what to say—the screen blank, my elbow on the keyboard, my cheek in my hand—an essay on Cervantes unexpectedly arrived, via Federal Express. It was from a lively, clever friend of mine who, intuiting my difficulty, helped me to understand why books in the postmodern age must be abandoned rather than finished....