Monday, October 22, 2012

Fortunata and Jacinta Volume 2: strong women; silencing the Host

I mentioned in the previous post that I planned to look at some of the principal female characters introduced in Volume Two. Volume One had several strong female characters, notably Guillermina Pacheco and Isabel Cordero, and Volume Two adds to this roster.

Doña Lupe succeeds in the business world as a student of the usurer Torquemada. While she relies on him for help in some areas of her little empire, she skillfully handles other areas on her own. Doña Lupe’s treatment of Papitos (and apparently other maids before her) demonstrates how she likes to mold people to follow her bidding, something she’s unable to do with the two oldest nephews. Some of Doña Lupe’s success comes from her lack of feminine traits or possessions—a widow with no children and only one breast stands outside many of the roles or attributes expected at the time. Her lack of fear at confrontations and her direct language reminded me of Guillermina’s crusading for her causes.

Introduced in the Micaelas’ chapters, Mauricia is portrayed as a masculine female character, said to resemble Napoleon. Mauricia takes on the world unapologetically on her own terms. Her drunken vision near the end of Chapter 6 provides another unsettling vision in the novel. Her challenge to the social and religious orders, including the thinly veiled sexual nature of her assault on the chapel, carries over to her death-bed rants. Galdós provides several secondary characters like Mauricia who play pivotal roles in the plot. Mauricia’s illness and death brings together Fortunata and Jacinta as well as Doña Lupe and Guillermina. Also important is the influence she exerts on Fortunata. Her philosophy celebrating basic passions also includes many points from Feijóo’s “practical philosophy,” although described in coarser terms (more on this in Volume Three).

I want to return to Mauricia’s vision/dream in the chapel since it is so bizarre and works on many different levels. At times it echoes the overall novel’s plot. At other points the triumph of her will and her sexuality shine forth. Her challenge to authority takes on some troubling symbolism when she eats/silences the Host. The lesson from the narrator at the end will be revisited several times in the novel. From Volume 2, Chapter 6, subchapter 9 (ellipsis in original):
In a profoundly lethargic state, Mauricia did what she had not been able to do awake: she continued the action interrupted by the locked door. Nothing actually happened, but the action was firmly rooted in Mauricia’s will. The shrew entered the chapel, not bumping into anything because the lamp on the altar gave off enough light to show her the way. Unwaveringly she headed for the main altar, saying along the way: “I’m not going to hurt you, my little God; I’m just going to take you to your Mamma, who’s out there crying for you and waiting for me to get you out of here… What is it? Don’t you want to go to your Mamma? She’s waiting for you, and she’s so pretty, and looks so nice, all dressed up in that cloak full of little stars, with her feet up there on the moon. Just wait—you’ll see what a nice job I’ll do of getting you out of here. ‘Cause I love you so, I really do. You know me, don’t you? I’m Mauricia la Dura; I’m your friend.”

Even though she was walking very fast, it was taking her a long time to get to the altar because the chapel, which was so small, had become very big. There was at least half a league from the door to the altar. And the more she walked, the further it was. Finally she reached it, climbed up the two, three, four stairs, and felt so odd there, seeing the table covered with delicate, snowy-white linen, and seeing it at such close range that for some time it kept her from taking the last step. When she put her hand on the Holy Communion table, she was overtaken by a fit of convulsive laughter. “Who would’ve said it? Oh my God, oh God; that I… hee, hee, hee!” She removed the crucifix from in front of the ciborium door, then stretched out her arm; but since it didn’t reach far enough, she stretched it more and more until it hurt her from straining so much. At last, thank God, she was able to open the door touched only by the priest’s anointed hands. Lifting the curtain, she fumbled for a moment in that holy, worshipped, mysterious hollow… But there was nothing there! She felt this way, then that way, and found nothing. Then she remembered that that wasn’t where the monstrance was. It was kept higher up. She climbed onto the altar, put her feet on the Communion table, looked this way, then that way… Ah! Finally her fingers touched the metallic base of the monstrance. Oh, but it was cold! So cold it burned. Contact with the metal sent an icy chill down her spine. She hesitated. Should she take it or not? Oh, yes; a hundred time yes; even if she died she had to do this. With exquisite care, but very decisively, she clutched the monstrance and descended a staircase that hadn’t been there before. Pride and happiness filled the daring woman’s soul as she saw the tangible representation of God in her own hands. Oh, how the gold rays on the glass pane shone! And what mysterious, placid majesty there was in the pure host’s being safely behind the glass—white, divine, and somehow seeming like a person, yet it was really only fine bread!

With incredible arrogance Mauricia descended, entirely unaware of any weight. She lifted the monstrance as a priest does, for the faithful to adore it. “See how I’ve dared,” she thought. “Didn’t you say it couldn’t be done? Well, it could and it was!” She continued on her way out of the chapel. The most pure host was faceless, yet it looked out as if it had eyes. And the sacrilegious woman, approaching the place under the chair, began to be afraid of that look. “No; I’m not letting you go. You’re not going back there. Home to Mamma, all right? Baby’s not crying ‘cause he wants hi mother, is he, now?” Saying this, she dared to take the holy form to her bosom as if it were a baby. And then she noticed that the holy form not only had profound eyes as luminous as the sky, but also a voice, a voice that echoed pitifully in her ears. The material quality of the monstrance had completely vanished; all that remained were the essentials: the representation, the pure symbol; and these are what Mauricia pressed furiously to her breast. “Girl,” the voice said, “don’t take me. Put me back where I was. Don’t do anything crazy. If you let me go, I’ll forgive your sins, which you have so many of that they can’t be counted; but if you persist in trying to take me away from here, you’ll be condemned. Let me go and don’t worry—I won’t say a word to Don León or the nuns. They won’t scold you. Mauricia, what are you doing, woman? Are you eating me?”

And that was all. What raving madness! No matter how absurd something is, there’s always room for it in the bottomless pit of the human mind.

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