Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Fortunata and Jacinta Volume 3: practical philosophy

After Juan dumps Fortunata again, she is protected by the retired military man Evaristo Feijóo. He sets her up in her own place and proposes an arrangement for her to be his lover. She accepts but, as his health declines, the dynamic changes mostly to a father-daughter relationship. (This isn’t the only relationship in the novel that has incestuous overtones.) Feijóo’s health declines so quickly that he becomes worried about Fortunata’s future—what will become of her when he can no longer take care of her? The answer from Feijóo is that Fortunata needs to return to Maxi and ask for his forgiveness. In laying out his plan, Feijóo provides what the author terms a practical philosophy. The goal was for Fortunata to love, or at least tolerate, Maxi after her return to him. Realizing this goal may not be possible, Feijóo’s rules were meant to protect her reputation and standing (from Volume 3, Chapter 4, subchapter 6; ellipsis in original):
“The first thing you must always, always bear in mind at every moment and under any circumstances is that you must keep up appearances. Look, chulita, I’m not dying until I’m sure I’ve planted this notion firmly in your head. Learn my words by heart and say them every morning right after the Lord’s prayer.”

Like a language teacher who repeats a declination to his pupils, hammering in the syllables one by one as if here nailing them into their brains, Don Evaristo, right hand raised, as if it were a hammer pounding steadily against a wall, slowly nailed these words into his pupil’s mind:

“Keeping … up … appearances; following … the rules; showing … the respect … we owe each other … and above all … never losing control, you hear? … never losing control” (as the teacher repeated this last rule, his hand was suspended in the air; his eyebrows arched halfway up his forehead; and his eyes which were extremely bright, emphasized the importance he placed on this part of the lesson), “never losing control, you can do whatever you like.”

Fortunata’s stay at the convent was to give her the appearances of respectability, putting a coat of whitewash on her past. She immediately falls into Juan’s arms, who presented a shortened version of Feijóo’s philosophy back in Volume Two: “You can do what you like as long as you’re discreet.” Juan has already learned Feijóo’s rules and perfected them. Being the “Dauphin,” though, helps him in his extramarital escapades. Fortunata’s past and reputation count against her, especially after the whitewashing fails.

Update: the last paragraph was left off the original posting: Mauricia also understood the philosophy to some extent and had tried to coach Fortunata while they were still in the convent, although she failed to include many points that made Feijóo's philosophy complete:

“Once you’re a nice little married lady you can do as you please—and keep the fringe benefits that go with ‘properness.’ A single woman’s a slave; she can’t even go where she wants. The ones that get themselves an excuse for a husband have carte blanche for everything.”

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