On female beauty.
Beauty is one of the most constant human obsessions. Whatever the century, human beings have always been drawn to beauty and have been shown to be intrigued by it. Throughout history, beauty has always been something to contemplate upon, to admire, to be in awe of, to desire, but also to reflect upon. However it can be said, the search of beauty--in any of its shapes--constitutes the secret engine that lies underneath the movements of the planet. Of all the breathtaking landscapes, and special objects that can be found, attractive human beings have always been the most longed for.
The history of humanity is also the history of beauty. In this sense, the example that is usually quoted--and Umberto Eco aligns to this tradition --is the one offered by the Greco-Latin epic: the mythical war of Troy. Undoubtedly, Homer took a lot of poetic licenses, and nowadays it is seemingly difficult to distinguish clearly between metaphor and reality, but some of the events and places depicted in The Iliad rely on real equivalences. That distant war was caused by Helen's beauty she had never been blamed for anything. That the beauty of a woman should constitute the reason of so many ravages, deaths, and even of the destruction of a city was regarded as normal. Umberto Eco also mentions the episode in which the beauty of the same Helen is capable of numbing Menelaus' arm, the husband, and therefore he is unable to kill her, as he had desired.
The same part played by beauty in history has been revealed in a variety of ways, even by the most rigorous historians, such as Castelot, who --by evoking Napoleon's Polish mistress--was wondering how many beautiful eyes have occupied a special place in history. Napoleon laid the foundation for the ephemeral duchy of Warsaw in order to please Maria Walewska. The examples of women who have influenced political decisions throughout history are numerous. There is no great writer who has not provided any statement regarding beauty. The exegesis mentions the fact that it has been Shakespeare's favourite theme, and that we are indebted to him for the following quote: "Beauty and ugliness are inexistent; it is the thought that makes them be." There is a need to emphasize at this point a very important aspect: the British writer had already noticed the subjectivity of the human judgment. What is beautiful for one may as well be ugly for another.
Umberto Eco, in the introduction of his essay, elaborates a warning that beauty is not absolute or immutable, and that it has changed its form throughout the passing of time, as there have been various models of beauty. The great Italian semiologist amuses himself by imagining the visit of an extraterrestrial being, coming from the following millennium onto the Earth, wondering what the latter might think when seeing Picasso's painting and when reading (assuming that it may be capable of understanding any human language) the description of an attractive woman in a romantic novel from the same epoque. Nevertheless, in spite of everything, Umberto Eco concludes with the fact that there may be various "unique rules for all cities and for all centuries." (2004)
In his Storia della bellezza, the Italian semiologist notices that the artists, poets and writers are the ones who are meant to witness and reveal what is considered beautiful for every age, throughout the centuries. Meanwhile, the philosopher has been asking himself what beauty is. It is sufficient to think about ancient ruins, temples and statues more or less intact, which we have inherited from the Greek and Latin antiquity, in order to realize that the reflexion on beauty can be traced back to the most distant times. Symmetry, proportion and harmony have been traits very much appreciated by our ancestors in building beauty standards. For Pythagoras, beauty came from mathematics. Plato, besides perfecting the concept of beauty as harmony, came up with another idea, quite original, that beauty stands for an idea, whose existence is not dependent on that of beautiful things. "the beauty of one form is akin to the beauty of another; and then if beauty of form in general is his pursuit, how foolish would he be not to recognize that beauty is the same in every form" (Plato 1994: 62), he mentions in The Symposium. According to Plato, beauty is visible to everyone, in any part of the world, being a mere manifestation of the true beauty, which resides in the soul, and to which we are granted access if we delve into its knowing:
Wondrous beauty (and this, in Socrates, is the final cause of all our former toils)--a nature which in the first place is everlasting, not growing and decaying, or waxing and waning; secondly, not fair in one point of view and foul in another, or at one time or in one relation or at one place fair, at another time or in another relation or at another place foul, as if fair to some and foul to others, or in the likeness of a face or hands or any other part of the bodily frame, or in any form of speech or knowledge, or existing in any other being, as for example, in an animal, or in heaven, or in earth, or in any other place; but beauty absolute, separate, simple, and everlasting, which without diminution and without increase, or any change, is imparted to the ever-growing and perishing beauties of all other things. (Plato 1994: 62-63)
In a world, which is mostly governed by ideas, truth, beauty and good are bound together. This concept has constituted the basis of the various schools of it along times and cultures, and it has managed to survive throughout the centuries; various echoes of it are to be found in the lines of Pablo, in Marianela by Benito Perez Galdos, when the protagonist claims that beauty is "the light of good and truth." The research of beauty has become a branch of philosophy, called aesthetics, and it has come to be of interest to many illustrious philosophers, such as Diderot, Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Heidegger or Russell.
Given that in 2015 is the celebration of 400 years since the publishing of the second part of Don Quixote, and that in 2016 the death of the most important Spanish writer is commemorated, it is appropriate to evoke him on every occasion provided by the cultural activities happening across the world. Choosing Cervantes as the main representative of the domain of letters is a very well-founded decision for Spain. There is no other Spanish writer who could be compared with him: "In a century when all the genres develop, one which has an abundance of genius writers, Cervantes is the only Spaniard to reach a totally universal fame: and from this standpoint, there is no comparison to be made between him and Lope de Vega, or Gongora, nor even Calderon." (Canavaggio et al. 1995: 53)
Further on, when looking for the causes of his fame: "his decisive contribution to the coming of the cardinal points of modern fiction, in both stories and novels" (Canavaggio et al. 1995: 53). Cervantes brought people the gift of "A knight who made everybody laugh, but who never said a joke. He had a far greater heart for telling jokes. He made people laugh by being serious" (Unamuno 1992: 143). And since all the wise men of the world have learned how to live from the crazy Don Quixote, we most certainly have to be eternally grateful to Cervantes, especially as, throughout his life, the distinguished writer has not enjoyed his well-deserved fame, being little more than an ordinary person. However, Angel del Rio may be right in saying that it is unnecessary to remember the setbacks in the life of the writer.
"There is no reason to lament the misfortunes of Miguel de Cervantes, nor the apparently vulgar level of his life", since this was the manner which allowed him to "know, notice and assess the temple of the Spanish life in its majesty and misery, in its heroic illusionism and the sad reality of an already imminent decadence. From this, he would leave us in his writings the most loyal copy, reflected in multiple perspectives, filled with bitter irony and piercing humour." (Del Rio 1982: 462)
Cervantes' fame encloses something else: "It is also in debt to the manner in which in his works, apparently in a transparent and yet extremely ambiguous way, the design from which it arose, overflows without stopping" (Canavaggio 1995: 53). It is also due to the fact that Cervantes depicts in his writings the most touching of life experiences, the longing and hidden sadness known to every human being. These aspects are everlasting, and barely change throughout the centuries. Angel del Rio states: "As in Shakespeare's dramas, the contemporary writer, who with differences of shape and content works as in Cervantes' novels, poetry, and history, the preocupation for truth and anxiousness of human beings, the observations of experiences and the flight of imagination." (Del Rio 1982: 452)
Consequently, by describing general and eternal matters, Cervantes manages to overcome his age: "It is obvious that in his writings, humanism is rendered in new forms and in a new concept of life and of men. Resembling Tasso in Italy, Montaigne in France and Shakespeare in England, Cervantes overcomes the crisis of the humanism and channels his legacy towards a new manner of understanding the relationship between the human being and its world" (Del Rio 1982: 451). Undoubtedly, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra is the unsurmountable "prince of Spanish ingenuosity" (Menendez Pelaez et al. 2005: 687), the notorious vertix of the literary creation in Spanish.
If during these two years there are numerous conferences and an endless amount of cultural occurrences dedicated to Cervantes, it is beyond doubt that in the years to come Cervantes will still be spoken of. Humanity needs this unique writer, and it will never be capable of doing without his wise lessons.
Beautiful women in the Exemplary Novels
In all his works, Cervantes proves to be fascinated by the human beauty, by the beauty of natural landscapes, and also by that of urban ones. In the first of his "exemplary novels," The Little Gipsy, Preciosa is an adolescent gipsy, who awakens the admiration of the people who see her, as she already is very beautiful:
Neither sun, nor wind, nor all those vicissitudes of weather, to which the gipsies are more constantly exposed than any other people, could impair the bloom of her complexion or embrown her hands; and what is more remarkable, the rude manner in which she was reared only served to reveal that she must have sprung from something better than the Gitano stock; for she was extremely pleasing and courteous in conversation. (Cervantes 1855: 178)
It is noticed here that Cervantes does not show great esteem for the beauty of Preciosa's countenance and hands, but for a certain distinction which she shows, and her quite pleasant manner. However, the writer mentions the physical beauty of the protagonist various times throughout the novel. It is precisely for her beauty that the gentleman Andres falls in love with her, becoming her servant, as he desires nothing better than to serve her. We cannot cease to mention Cervantes' considerations of beauty, outlining the effect that Preciosa had had upon poor Andres; she had subdued his will with her beauty, an eternal privilege of beauty, which is very wisely shown:
O potent force of him who is called the sweet god of bitterness--a title given him by our idleness and weakness--how effectually dost thou enslave us! Here was Andrew, a knight, a youth of excellent parts, brought up at court, and maintained in affluence by his noble parents; and yet since yesterday such a change has been wrought in him that he has deceived his servants and friends; disappointed the hopes of his parents; abandoned the road to Flanders, where he was to have exercised his valour and increased the honours of his line; and he has prostrated himself at the feet of a girl. (Cervantes 1855: 209)
The same opinion is shared by another character, Clement, who provides an excuse for Andres, thinking that the beauty of a woman is a satisfactory reason to commit absurd things: "for I am not so dull of understanding, Preciosa, as not to know how omnipotent is beauty; and yours, which surpasses all bounds of loveliness, is a sufficient excuse for all errors, if error that can be called for which there is so irresistible a cause" (Cervantes 1855: 220). In The Generous Lover, Leonisa is a noble young woman, whose beauty yields hearts, although it has to be acknowledged that in his description, Cervantes continuously uses the literary motifs of his time. His fellow citizens joined him in considering her "the most beautiful woman of all Sicily." The following was said about her:
Of whom the most ingenious tongues, and the choicest wits declared that her beauty was the most perfect ever known in past ages or the present, or that may be looked for in the future. One, of whom the poets sang that she had hair of gold, that her eyes were two shining suns, her cheeks roses, her teeth pearls, her lips rubies, her neck alabaster; and that every part of her made with the whole, and the whole with every part, a marvellous harmony and consonance, nature diffusing all over her such an exquisite sweetness of tone and colour, that envy itself could not find a fault in her. (Cervantes 1855: 239)
Undoubtedly, Cervantes shows great esteem for the beauty of women, and this seemed to be the first quality that a woman should have to possess. Later on, Leonisa, abducted by the Turks, is sold, and at the moment of the negotiations she repeatedly awakens the admiration of the man who is contemplating her. Ricardo, an Italian from the same city as the man who was in love with her, has the opportunity to present the scene in which a Jew wants to sell a Christian, and two men argue about it, having been bewitched by her beauty:
Struck by her appearance, the first thing the cadi and the pashas did, was to bid the Jew make the Christian uncover her face. She did so, and disclosed a countenance which, like the sun bursting through thick clouds which have long obscured it, dazzled the eyes and gladdened the hearts of the beholders. But on none did that marvellous light produce such an effect as on the woe-worn Ricardo, for he saw before him no other than his cruel and beloved Leonisa, whom he had so often and with such bitter tears bewailed as dead. (Cervantes 1855: 251)
Leonisa's beauty lightens up a great deal of passion throughout the exemplary novel, as the young woman in dispute is being sold many times, and finally purchased--in front of the griefstricken Ricardo--by two men, with the pretext of being prepared in order to be given to the sultan (but each of them is attempting to keep her for themselves).
In The Spanish-English Lady, there is the story of Isabel, a seven-year old girl, who is abducted in Cadiz, during the sacking achieved by the English in 1596. Her parents complain about her disappearance, but the English gentleman Clotald, who had hidden her in his ship, does not allow himself to be softened, despite risking his life, as the Count of Leste had already solemnly announced "that whoever had possession of the child, should restore her on pain of death" (Cervantes 1855: 278). Clotald "kept the child concealed in his ship, being fascinated, though in a Christian manner, with the incomparable beauty of Isabella" (Cervantes 1855: 278), and he takes her with him to London, in order to bring her up in his house. When she returns as a very beautiful young woman, Ricardo, Clotald's son, falls in love with her, and they present Isabela to the queen, in order to ask permission for the marriage. This is the effect that Isabel has at the Court:
Isabella's escort halted at the lower end, and she herself advanced alone in all her inconceivable beauty [...] like that of a brilliant meteor shooting through the sky on a calm clear night, or of a sunbeam darting at the first dawn of day through a mountain gorge. A comet she seemed, portending a fiery doom to the hearts of many in that presence hall. (Cervantes 1855: 283)
But Cervantes had cleared a little the fact that Isabel's unique beauty, for provoking such corruptions, came to be supported and exacerbated by her clothing and the jewellery that she was wearing. Her adoptive parents had made an effort in decorating her, on the day they presented her to the queen:
They dressed Isabella in the Spanish style, in a robe of green satin with a long train, and slashes lined with cloth of gold and looped with the pearls, the whole being adorned with precious stones; a diamond necklace and girdle, with a fan such as is carried by Spanish ladies; and for head dress her own luxuriant golden hair entwined with diamonds and pearls. In that sumptuous attire, with her sprightly air and marvellous beauty, she made her appearance in London in a handsome coach. (Cervantes 1855: 283)
Isabel, despite being beautiful, is also intelligent, and of good feelings. One of the maids of the queen, as a result of envy--as Isabel had already refused her son, who had also fallen in love with her--provides Isabel with a poison, which makes her lose her health and her unique beauty, as she is left "Loss of her hair, eyebrows, and eyelashes, her face swollen, her bloom gone, her skin blotched and blistered, and her eyes red and humid" (Cervantes 1855: 300), resembling "an object [...] loathsome to look at" (Cervantes 1855: 300). Despite this fact, Ricardo continuously wishes to marry her, given that "for the great love he bore her comprehended not only her body but her soul, and if Isabella had lost her beauty, she could not have lost her infinite virtues" (Cervantes 1855: 300). He goes to see her, and reassures her that his love does not rely on appearances, and that he had loved her and he still loves her for her qualities and her virtues, not for her physical beauty:
But from the moment I first loved you, Isabella, it was with a different love from that which finds its end attained in the gratification of the sensual appetite: for though your great beauty captivated my senses, your infinite virtues enthralled my soul, so that if I loved you in your beauty, I adore you in your plainness. That I may confirm that truth, put your hand in mine. (Cervantes 1855: 301)
Giving him her hand signified a promise of marriage. In fact, Ricardo marries Isabel, but only two years later, and after overcoming many adversities. In the time until then, she heals from her illness and recovers her beauty completely. The young man comes to look for her in Seville, exactly on the day when Isabel was meant to enter the monastery and become a nun. For such an occasion, she had followed the tradition; she had been flaunting her best clothing. She was wearing the same dress which she had worn for the presentation to the queen of England, and we cannot avoid noticing that Cervantes once again mentions the jewellery:
And as it is customary for maidens about to take the veil to dress themselves in their very gayest attire on the day when they are to renounce for ever the pumps and vanities of the world, Isabella wore the same splendid dress in which she was presented to the queen of England, with her necklace and girdle of lustrous pearls, her diamond ring, and all her other sumptuous jewels. (Cervantes 1855: 307-308)
It is important to mention the fact that on this occasion, Cervantes does not allow the reader to extract his own teachings, but he himself renders them at the end: "This tale may teach us what virtue and what beauty can effect, since they are sufficient together, or either singly, to win the love even of enemies; and how Heaven is able to bring forth our greatest happiness even out of our heaviest misfortunes." (Cervantes 1855: 313)
This is one of the primordial characteristics of the cervantine manner of thinking: virtue and beauty are always depicted as being together. The masterly people are also beautiful. As we have seen, this idea originates in the Platonic conception, which dominates the European way of thinking throughout centuries. The literary tradition was attributed to all the virtues of the beautiful beings, and to all the flaws of the ugly beings. Let us not forget that the witches of the stories had always been ugly.
In The Strength of the Blood, the young Leocadia, almost a child, awakens in Rodolfo the wish of abducting her, when he mistakenly sees her: "But Rodolfo had been struck by the great beauty of Leocadia, the hidalgo's daughter, and presently he began to entertain the idea of enjoying it at all hazards" (Cervantes 1855: 314). Leocadia's beauty is a strong excuse for him to commit the misdemeanour, and Cervantes, besides the fact that he condemns her, justifies the conduct of the young woman. Rodolfo rapes Leocadia, and leaves without being concerned about what happens, without knowing that as a consequence to the act, she is carrying a child. The two protagonists meet again a few years later, when Rodolfo's mother lies to her son, telling him that she had chosen an appropriate wife for him, and shows him the portrait of an ugly woman. He denies accepting her as a wife, and mentions his tastes to his mother:
I am a bachelor to be sure, but I perfectly comprehend the coincidence there should be between the sacrament of marriage and the just and due delight mutually enjoyed by the married pair, and that if that be wanting, the object of marriage is frustrated; for to imagine that an ugly face which one must have before his eyes at all hours, in the hall, at table, and in bed, I say once more that is impossible. For God's sake, my lady mother, give me a wife who would be an agreeable companion, not one who will disgust me, so that we may both bear evenly, and with mutual good-will, the yoke imposed on us by Heaven, instead of pulling this way and that way, and fretting each other to death. If this lady is well-born, discreet, and rich as you say, she will easily find a husband of a different humour from mine. Some look for noble blood in a wife, some for understanding, others for money, and others again for beauty, and of the latter class I am one. (Cervantes 1855: 326)
In this way, Rodolfo confesses that the first crucial thing in a woman who is to be his wife is beauty; later on, he clearly states it: "beauty is what I covet, with no other addition than virtue and good breeding. If my wife brings me this, I will thank Heaven for the gift and make my parents happy in their old age" (Cervantes 1855: 327). But he is lucky, as his mother had already wanted to test him, and in fact, the wife she had chosen for him was Leocadia, mother to Rodolfo's son. When she calls her, and Leocadia enters the room, she is of dazzling beauty. Leocadia's depiction resembles that of Isabel, The Spanish-English Lady:
The season being winter, she was dressed in a robe and train of black velvet, with gold and pearl buttons; her girdle and necklace were of diamonds; her head was uncovered, and the shining braids and ringlets of her thick chestnut hair, spangled with diamonds, dazzled the eyes of the beholders. Her bearing was graceful and animated. (Cervantes 1855: 327)
We can conclude that Cervantes' ideal of feminine beauty was the blonde woman, with long hair, sweet countenance, but well-dressed and decorated with jewellery; the writer seems to think that the shining of the diamonds and the purity of the pearls will certainly increase women's beauty. Rodolfo, coming to Leocadia, dreams of having a wife who resembles her, or at least, to have half of her beauty and he would not ask for anything more in his life. Rodolfo, who was closely watching Leocadia's incomparable beauty, was saying to himself: "could I find but half that beauty in the wife my mother has chosen for me, I should think myself the happiest man in the world. Good God! What is it I behold? Is it some angel in human shape that sits before me?" (Cervantes 1855: 328)
The Jealous Extremaduran tells us the story of the old Felipo de Carrizales, who had returned quite rich from Latin America, and who had decided to end his life in solitude, enjoying his richness. But taking this decision does not last for long, as one day, passing on the street, he notices by mistake a young girl showing her face at a window, "about thirteen or fourteen, with a face so very handsome and so very pleasing in its expression, that poor old Carrizales was vanquished at once, and surrendered without an effort to the charms of the beautiful Leonora, for that was the girl's name" (Cervantes 1855: 333). In a couple of days, he established the marriage with Leonora's parents, and he marries her, not before giving her a dowry of "who settled upon her twenty thousand ducats, so hotly enamoured was the jealous old bridegroom ... " (Cervantes 1855: 334)
In The Illustrious Scullery-Maid, two young gentlemen, Avendano and Carriazo, decide to distance themselves from their parents, in order to have a mischievous summer. While the two young men are praising the beauty of a scullerymaid, the desire to meet her is awakened in the two noble friends. That is why they go to Toledo, in search of Sevillano's inn. Avendano falls in love with Costanza, the scullery-maid, and denies continuing his path. His friend Carriazo tells him off: "Gallantly spoken, and as becomes a generous breast like yours! Here's a pretty story! Don Tomas de Avendano, son of the wealthy and noble cavalier, Don Juan de Avendano, over head and ears in love with the scullery-maid at the Posada del Sevillano!" (Cervantes 1855: 374), but he does not make him change his mind. What is more, Avendano is soon to be jealous. That very same night, they encounter the opportunity to see the chief magistral's son singing a sonnet to Costanza. The two friends end up working at the inn, spreading barley and hay, and bringing water. Obviously, they hide their true names and their metamorphoses--Cervantes reassures us -are even more spectacular than those of Ovid. Avendano alias Tomas Pedro is deeply in love with Costanza, and does not care that his friend plays cruel tricks on him: "What do you intend to do, then, with this Portia, this Minerva, this new Penelope, who, under the form of a scullery-maid, has vanquished your heart?" (Cervantes 1855: 383); "O Platonic love! O illustrious scullerymaid! O thrice-blessed age of ours, wherein we see love renewing the marvels of the age of gold! O my poor tunnies, you must pass this year without a visit from your impassioned admirer, but next year be sure I will make amends, and you shall no longer find me a truant." (Cervantes 1855: 383)
Nothing makes him cease, even though the young woman does not give him any hopes, and this is what torments him: "Her extreme reserve, however, was such that there seemed little likelihood of his finding such an opportunity; besides, the great concourse of people in the house made it almost impossible that he should have any private conversation with her,--to the despair of her unfortunate lover" (Cervantes 1855: 389). Therefore, they will keep on working in the inn, until the discovery of the scullerymaid's noble origins, and Tomas de Avendano will marry her. But this marriage will take place after he has turned mad for the beauty of the so-called scullery-maid.
Harry Sieber notices that in exemplary novels such as the The Little Gipsy and The Generous Lover that "love is very much integrated in the interest of duchies, shields and jewellery, most of all, and in the economy in general" (Sieber 1992: 30), money being one of the two themes of the novel. "In this way, the interchange between love and economy, or better said, the economy of love does not allow the existence of poor lovers. Without money, there is no love" (Sieber 1992: 30). Harry Sieber concludes: "This relationship is an important theme for two of the first three novels" (Sieber 1992: I309). But the theme also appears in The Illustrious Scullery-maid, as Harry Sieber's statement is also pertinent for this exemplary novel. If the noble figure of the scullery-maid had not been discovered, it would have been difficult for a gentleman to marry her, despite her beauty, and despite how much he had loved her.
The Two Ladies deals with the story of two young, beautiful girls, Teodora and Leocadia, who have fallen in love with the same young man, Marco Antonio. He cheats on both of them, but only takes the honour of Teodosia (when Leocadia waits for him, he is not going to spend the night with her; hence the young woman uselessly awaits him), and afterwards he goes to Italy, where he does not manage to arrive, because he is caught up by the two women, accompanied by sir Rafael, Teodosia's brother. The beauty of each of them provokes the jealousy of the other, and Cervantes knows very well how to describe this intense feeling, the eternal double, poisoned by love:
Not only did he fail to keep the assignation, but a week after I learned for certain that he had disappeared from home, and carried off from the house of her parents, persons of distinction in his own neighbourhood, a very beautiful and accomplished young lady named Teodosia. I was nearly mad with jealousy and mortification. I pictured Teodosia to myself in imagination, more beautiful than the sun, more perfect than perfection itself, and above all, more blissful than I was miserable. (Cervantes 1855: 425)
Lady Cornelia, protagonist of the eponymous novel, is the last beautiful woman of the exemplary novels. She ends up giving birth without being married and is compelled to run, in order for her brother not to kill her so as to regain the lost honour of the family. Almost fainting in the street, Cornelia asks for the help of a Spanish student, who describes her as follows: "I removed the mantle which had hitherto concealed her face, and discovered the most astonishing loveliness that human eyes ever beheld" (Cervantes 1855: 8). This beauty had lightened the heart of the Duke of Ferrara, who had fallen in love with her, but for family reasons had been unable to make her his wife. However he will definitely decide to marry her, after the occurrence of various unforeseen incidents. The adversities make Cornelia whine about being endowed with such great beauty: "Unhappy is she," returned the lady, "to whom heaven has given it for her misfortune" (Cervantes 1855: 8). But we can assume that she is not very sincere, as it is beyond doubt that the young woman had never wanted to be ugly. In the end, when Cornelia happily enters Ferrara, as the duke's wife, the writer comments that she does so "rejoicing the eyes of all who beheld her." (Cervantes 1855: 41)
We can conclude that in his Exemplary novels, Cervantes teaches us that beauty is a primordial quality of a woman, a quality which always awakens the admiration of those who surround her, either men or women, and always makes men fall in love. But Cervantes also knows that, if there is no great beauty, a woman has got other resources of making men fall in love with her. Such is the case of Lady Estefania de Caicedo, the protagonist of The Deceitful Wedding. She knows how to wrap herself in an aura of mystery; she does not show her face from the beginning, only her hands. She keeps her face covered with the cloak, in order to inspire men to have an unrestrained desire to see her. She will allow a man to see her only if he goes and visits her. The military allows themselves to be enchanted by this woman, and describes her in this way:
For my part I was all on fire for the snow-white hands I had seen, and dying for a peep at the face; so I presented myself next day at the door which my servant pointed out to me, and was freely admitted. I found myself in a house very handsomely decorated and furnished, in presence of a lady about thirty years of age, whom I recognised by her hands. Her beauty was not extraordinary, but of a nature well suited to fascinate in conversation; for she talked with a sweetness of tone that won its way through the ears to the soul (Cervantes 1855: 114)
Cervantes tells us that by being in love she was "communicating" that love by engaging in pleasant, loving conversations. We cannot help observing that beautiful women of the Exemplary novels are all witty and full of virtue. All of them are positive characters. Dona Estefania de Caicedo, who is a negative character--cheats on the military, marries him by telling a lie, and then flees with the belongings of the latter; so she is not such a very beautiful woman, after all.
Beautiful women in Don Quixote
On April 23, 2015--the year designated to be the centenary of Quixote--the .writer Juan Goytisolo, winner of the Cervantes Prize, pointed out in his acceptance speech that human beings of our time feel the need to "return to Cervantes and assume the madness of his character as a superior form of sanity. [...] In doing so we do not evade the wicked reality that surrounds us. We sit upside down, with our feet deep in it."
Cervantes wrote Don Quixote to "knock down the ill-founded machine of the chivalrous books, hated by many and praised by many more", as the author mentions in the foreword about the first part, and as it is rendered in the last lines of the second part: his desire has been to bring the "hatred of men towards the claims and outrageous stories from the books of chivalry". Four centuries later, Sir Francisco Rico wonders quite sensibly: "If that censorious purpose would really determine the contents of Quixote that has maintained so vivid an appetite for an infinite number of readers for so many years?" and immediately answers: "Obviously not" (Rich 2012: 134). Don Quixote is much more than a parody of chivalrous books. By reading Don Quixote we learn to stop fearing the ridicule, and to acquire the value of defending our dreams against all odds.
It is impossible to cover the complexity of Quixote in a few lines. It was considered the best novel of all time, and the book that has been the most edited with the most number of fresh issues after the Bible. Jean Cannavaggio (1955: 69) called it a "best-seller" and noted that many of our contemporaries invoke the name of Don Quixote without being able to narrate his adventures, and "to that book, which has been overshadowed by the myth that it has aroused, should return it to its rightful place, that of being the first novel of the modern time."
The tie that binds the adventures of the mediocre and modest nobleman, and turns into a knight-errant overnight, is the madness caused by reading the novels of chivalry. The spirit of the time rendered a fervent praise to madness, and the madness of Don Quixote draws its essence from Erasmus, and from several other literary works of that time, such as Angry Orlando. But Don Quixote is a madman who is also quite sane at the same time.
Among the numerous teachings contained in Don Quixote there is one which is mentioned by Dorotea: "For however ugly we women may be, it seems to me it always pleases us to her ourselves called beautiful" (Cervantes 1855: 160). On the account of the author, this resorts to a fine knowledge of the feminine soul. In the second part of the novel, the author shows an even more refined knowledge of the matter, which he had probably acquired with the passing of the ten years that separate the first part of Quixote from the second. This time Cervantes tells us that beauty which is unrecognized and offended often arouses the hatred of women: "for affronts, levelled against the beauty and the vanity of women, awaken their wrath in an extraordinary manner, and inflame them with a desire of revenging themselves!" (Cervantes 1847: 320)
Feminine beauty, in Cervantes' opinion, always has the force to appease the spirit of men, and submit their wills. The Christians admire a Muslim woman: "And, as the beauty has prerogative and grace to reconcile tempers and attract the wills, then they are all surrendered in their desire to please and caress the beautiful Muslim" (cf Cervantes 1855). Don Quixote is not abundant in female characters, but some portrayals of beautiful woman occur. Dorotea's depiction is very much in Cervantes' style, being the same description of beautiful women as in all his works. Cardenio, the priest and the barber, seeing Dorotea dressed as a man thinks "it is no human creature, but divine being" (Cervantes 1855: 157). The young woman has got blond, very long locks, just like the other Cervantes's heroines:
The youth then took off the montera, and shaking his head from side to side there broke loose and spread out a mass of hair that the beams of the sun might have envied; by this they knew that what had seemed a peasant was a lovely woman, nay the most beautiful the eyes of two of them had ever beheld, or even Cardenio's if they had not seen and known Luscinda, for he afterwards declared that only the beauty of Luscinda could compare with this. The long auburn tresses not only covered her shoulders, but such was their length and abundance, concealed her all round beneath their masses, so that except the feet nothing of her form was visible. (Cervantes 1855: 157)
Dorotea arranges her locks with hands worthy of that breathtaking hair, dazzling the three men, who had earlier contemplated--as genuine voyeurs --the woman's legs, while she was washing them in the river: "She now used her hands as a comb, and if her feet had seemed like bits of crystal in the water, her hands looked like pieces of driven snow among her locks; all which increased not only the admiration of the three beholders, but their anxiety to learn who she was" (Cervantes 1855: 158). Dorotea competes for Fernando's love with Luscinda, although it is a false competition, since Luscinda is in love with Cardenio, and the wedding with Fernando is settled only by a decision of the young woman's father. Luscinda is also such a beautiful, blonde woman, that Cardenio is willing to lose his life if he cannot live it with Luscinda. Cardenio has the possibility of seeing his beloved on her wedding day with Fernando, to evoke her as follows:
Soon afterwards Luscinda came out from an antechamber, attended by her mother and two of her damsels, arrayed and adorned as became her rank and beauty, and in full festival and ceremonial attire. My anxiety and distraction did not allow me to observe or notice particularly what she wore; I could only perceive the colours, which were crimson and white, and the glitter of the gems and jewels on her head dress and apparel, surpassed by the rare beauty of her lovely auburn hair that vying with the precious stones and the light of the four torches that stood in the hall shone with a brighter gleam than all. Oh memory, mortal foe of my peace! why bring before me now the incomparable beauty of that adored enemy of mine? Were it not better, cruel memory, to remind me and recall what she then did, that stirred by a wrong so glaring I may seek, if not vengeance now, at least to rid myself of life? (cf. Cervantes 1855: 27)
Some very young dancers appear at Camacho's wedding, who are also blonde and very pretty: "eight nymphs divided into two files. The god Cupid led one file, and Interest the other; the former adorned with wings, bow, quiver and arrows, the other appareled with rich and various colours of gold and silk" (Cervantes 1847: 142). Quiteria herself is also blonde, and Sancho Panza cannot help admiring her blonde locks in his vulgar language: "Ah, the merry jade! And what fine hair she has! If it is not false, I never saw longer nor fairer in all my life!" (Cervantes 1847: 146). Sancho also highlights the clothes and the jewels of the bride, since "she is not clad like a country girl, but like a court lady" (Cervantes 1847: 146). Velvet, earrings, necklaces and rings increase the beauty of the woman:
Let me never thrive but they are of gold, ay, and or right gold, and adorned with pearls as white as a curd, and every one of them worth an eye of one's head. Ah, the merry jade! And what fine hair she has! It it is not false, I never saw longer no fairer in all my life. That her sprightliness and mien! Why, she is a very moving palm-tree, loaded with branches of dates; for just mark the trinkets hanging at her hair, and about her neck. (Cervantes 1847: 146)
Obviously, the most imposing of all these beautiful women in Don Quixote has to be Dulcinea. For Don Quixote, "there is no maiden in the world that is more beautiful than the Empress of La Mancha, the peerless Dulcinea del Toboso" (Cervantes 1855: 46). Using an outstandingly refined way, full of literary topics, Don Quixote describes his "sweet enemy" (but what to expect from the knight who has had his mind enhanced by reading?): her name is Dulcinea, her country El Toboso, a village of La Mancha, her rank must be at least that of a princess, since she is my queen and lady, and her beauty superhuman, since all the impossible and fanciful attributes of beauty which the poets apply to their ladies are verified in her; for her hairs are gold, her forehead Elysian fields, her eyebrows rainbows, her eyes suns, her cheeks roses, her lips coral, her teeth pearls, her neck alabaster, her bosom marble, her hads ivory, her fairness snow, and what modesty conceals from sight such, I think and imagine, as rational reflection can only extol, not compare. (Cervantes 1855: 76)
Whenever a character praises the beauty of another woman, Don Quixote contradicts him, proclaiming the superiority of Dulcinea's beauty. This happens at Camacho and Quiteria's frustrated wedding, when some farmers praise the beauty of the bride: "Long live Camacho and Quiteria: he as rich as she is fair, and she the fairest of the world!" (Cervantes 1847: 141). Obviously, this bothers Don Quixote, who immediately adds: "It is plain, said he to himself, that these people have not seen my Dulcinea del Toboso; for had they seen her, they would have been a little more sparing in their praise of this Quiteria." (Cervantes 1847: 141)
There is no doubt that Cervantes was aware of the subjectivity of beauty: the beholders who contemplate are the ones to estimate the beauty of a woman; beauty is not appreciated in the same way by all those who contemplate it. At the sight of Dorotea, Cardenio would consider her the most beautiful woman, if his eyes "if they had not seen and known Luscinda" (Cervantes 1855: 157). He then says that "the beauty of Luscinda could compare with this" (Cervantes 1855: 157). All these beautiful women in Don Quixote are also virtuous. The ugliness signifies a lack of virtue. Marcela Pastor says that it is "worthy of being hated."
Beautiful women in The Works of Persiles and Sigismunda
It is the Cervantes' latest novel, a Byzantine novel and a posthumous work, published in 1617. It has been much appreciated by the contemporary public, since the Prince Edition has been immediately followed by others, as well as by translations into other languages. The work tells the story of love and pilgrimage of Persiles and Sigismunda, who pretend to be brothers, and claim to be called Periander and Auristella, in order to explore much of the continent and seas, on their way to Rome, where they recover their identity and destiny. In each section of the pilgrimage, characters, stories and adventures accumulate: "In accordance with the omnes sumus peregrini super terram in the Bible; his pilgrimage is instituted as an allegory of human life that rises to perfection [...]" (Canavaggio 1995: 82)
The adventures of the heroes are further clarified in chapter XII of the Fourth book: the two are sons of kings, Persiles inheriting the realm of Tile, and Sigismunda the Kingdom of Frislanda. Sigismunda's mother had sent her to Tile to protect her from the war; and she had fallen in love with Prince Magsimino, Persiles's elder brother and heir to the throne. But Magsimino has been fighting an endless war. Meanwhile Persiles had fallen in love with her. Persiles was lovesick and Sigismunda responded to him, therefore the mother had allowed the two lovers to leave in order to avoid Magsimino's anger. It had taken him two years to come back from the war, and upon finding out about Persiles and Sigismunda's escape, he had gone out to look for them. By the time he reached Rome, Magsimino had already been so sick, that he could only join the hands of the two lovers, and wish them much happiness, and to be able to enjoy the two kingdoms that they would inherit.
Periander, Persiles and Auristella, and Sigismunda are so beautiful, that they amaze all the other characters. This is the effect they have on some French ladies: "As soon as they came up, they recognized in Auristella and Periander the two pilgrims, whose marvellous beauty left an impression never to be forgotten by any one who had ever seen them." (Cervantes 1854: 356)
Auristella is a beautiful woman, who arouses admiration from all parts. There is not another more beautiful woman on Earth. She is the only one who seems to despise her beauty, and does so in modesty, comforting Periander when she plans to revenge on his promise to marry him and dedicate her life to God: "I have a younger sister quite as beautiful as I am, if we can call anything that is mortal beautiful; you may marry her" (Cervantes 1854: 442). The French ladies envy Auristella, since her beauty makes all men fall in love with her. Having a certain amount of perfect knowledge of the feminine soul, Cervantes adds a few memorable lines about envy, which is awakened by the beauty of another woman: "I aroused the envy and indignation of the three French ladies to find how much more Auristella's portrait was valued by the duke than theirs, which they knew had been brought to him by the servant who was sent to get their pictures for his lord, as has been already related. They heard from him that theirs were much esteemed, but that hers was idolized, a thing which dwelt very heavily upon their hearts,for it is well known that no beauty can bear to be excelled by another without mortal displeasure; they cannot even bear comparisons, for as the common saying goes, that all comparisons are odious in the case of rival beauty, they become doubly odious, unless friendship, relationship, quality, and highstation, stand in the way of this accursed jealousy and envy, for such it may well be called." (Cervantes 1854: 402)
At the end of pilgrimage of the two heroes, near Rome, there are Arnaldo and the Duke of Nemurs--two other suitors of Auristella--injured after a challenge. They had fought for Auristella's portrait, illegally painted in France, which everyone wanted to acquire. In Rome, Auristella also arouses admiration, and she is about to cause havoc, as an inhabitant who seems to be a poet fears: "I will lay a wager that this must be the goddess Venus, who, as in times of old, is come to visit the relics of her loved Eneas. By Heavens! The governor is wrong not to give orders that they may cover the face of this moving idol: does he wish to make the sober ones wild, to destroy the tender-hearted, and turn the foolish youths into idolaters" (Cervantes 1854: 406). Admittedly, Cervantes exaggerates Auristella's beauty a little. Later, the Duke of Nemurs and Arnaldo will continue struggling for Auristella's portrait, as both of them want to buy it, offering exorbitant amounts of money to the painter. But people who are looking and trading realize that the one who is portrayed is Auristella, who arrives in a car at that precise moment; the crowd surrounds the car with admiration, so that it can no longer continue on its way:
People came in to look at it, and by degrees a murmur arose, every one declaring that "The picture which is here to be sold is the same as this pilgrim in the carriage." They wanted not only to look at the likeness, but at the original, and so began to surround the carriage in such a manner that the horses could neither move backwards nor forwards. "Therefore," said Periander, "Auristella, my sister, conceal thy face with some kind of veil, for so much brightness is dazzling, and will not let us see our road". Auristella did as she desired. (Cervantes 1854: 416)
Beauty can do everything. Two well-known heroes are sentenced to hang for having committed crimes, and they write a letter from prison, asking for help, and they would be happy to relate everything, with Auristella's help, as she has got more possibilites of obtaining her freedom: "If the unparalleled Auristella puts halides in tape and wants to take in charge our freedom, that will be easy;" (cf Cervantes 1854: 5) "because what has prompted her great beauty that it is unable for one to reach it, even if you ask for the same hardness" (cf. Cervantes 1854 IV, 12). Another humble character thinks the same about the power of beauty: "which it was natural to suppose might happen from her extreme beauty,enough to melt a heart of marble, at least,if this suspicion of mine was a rightone, for I cannot affirm that it was from experience." (Cervantes 1854: 450)
Beauty is the source of love. For this reason, the courtesan Hippolyta, in love with Periander, and a great connoisseur of the feminine soul, guesses that the heroes are not brothers, and that Periander loves Auristella. Hippolyta thinks of robbing Auristella of her immense beauty, hoping that Periander will cease to love the ugly Auristella: "eyes; we will see if, when her beauty fades, that first cause of love, the love itself will fade also" (Cervantes 1854: 429). But Periander's feelings are unchanged when Auristella loses her beauty: and this seemed less beautiful, because "Nevertheless, she was still beautiful to them who saw her, not as she was now in her bed, but in their hearts, where her image lay" (Cervantes 1854: 434). What Hippolyta was imagining would occur in the case of the Duke of Nemurs, who ceases to love Auristella when she loses her beauty, as a result ordered by the courtesan jealous spells: "Not so was it with the duke; his love had been engendered solely by the great beauty of Auristella, and thus, when that beauty was fled, his love also fled with it,which must be deeply rooted in the heart to be strong enough to follow the beloved one even to the brink of the grave." (Cervantes 1854: 435). In the following sentence, Cervantes warns the readers: "to love what is ugly seems something unnatural, and worthy to be called a miracle." (Cervantes 1854: 435)
To Cervantes, physical beauty is associated with moral beauty, as Prince Arnaldo tells Periander, praising Auristella, believing her to be Periander's sister: "the beauty of person is oftentimes indicative of beauty of soul" (Cervantes 1854: 409). For Cervantes and the writers of his time, a physically beautiful person could not be bad, with only a few exceptions. One of these exceptions is Ruperta, the Countess Widow, "extremely lovely, with a long and flowing white veil, which reached from her head to her feet" (Cervantes 1854: 369). She is not a negative character, but she seems to be a cruel woman, since she had sworn to avenge the death of her husband, killed by a former suitor, a widower Lord, who was in love with Ruperta, but whom she had despised, marrying another. Ruperta thinks about killing Croriano, the offender's son (because the offender is already dead), and hides at night in the room of the young man, where "She easily gained this by means of one of his servants, who was won over by her gold, thinking also that he was not doing any very ill office to his master in bringing so beautiful a lady into his apartment" (Cervantes 1854: 371). But looking at the face of the sleeping Croriano, the young handsome woman, with a knife in her hand, drops the knife and the candle she was carrying. Croriano wakes up, and his crying is presently heard by servants, who rush to his chamber, bringing light. "At this crisis the servants rushed in with lights, and saw Croriano, and recognized the beautiful widow, who looked like the resplendent moon enveloped in white clouds" (Cervantes 1854: 373). Ruperta asks Croriano not to kill her, and tells him what her intentions had been, assuring him to waive forever her revenge: "I no longer feel the desire for revenge, nor to remember my injury. Live in peace; I wish to be the first to ask forgiveness myself, if I have not already pardoned you for the fault you never commited" (Cervantes 1854: 374). But the story does not end there, there is something else: by marrying the son of their offender, Ruperta becomes wife of Croriano.
Another exception is constituted by the courtesan Hippolyta, considered "one of the most beautiful women in Rome, one of the freest manners, one of the richest, and one of the cleverest" (Cervantes 1854: 429). There is no denying that the courtesan is a negative character: she falls in love with Periander, and her jealousy is what makes Auristella lose her beauty. She realizes that Periander cannot live without Auristella, and returns to the Jewish sorceress, to ask her to save Auristella:
Hippolyta then, having as I before said, seen, that if Auristella died, Periander would die too, hastened to the Jewess to desire that she would moderate the spell which was consuming Auristella's life, or cease the charm altogether, for she did not wish to be the cause of destroyin gthree lives with one blow, since Auristella dying, Periander would die, and Periander dying, she also would lose her life. (Cervantes 1854: 439)
A little later, when the heroes are aware of the imminent arrival of Magsimino, who was the true fiance of Sigismunda, they are desperate, and Hippolyta, animated by a very noble sentiment, offers them help, by putting much of her fortune at the disposal of the two heroes in love:
As for the rest of the party they were all busy thinking what advice it would be best to give Periander. The first who offered any was the rich and enamoured Hippolyta. She proposed to take Periander and his sister with her to Naples, and spend her hundred thousand and more of ducats with them there. (Cervantes 1854: 457)
We can consider that Hippolyta is an exception in the literature of the 17th century, as there is no denying that she is a very beautiful, but also a very bad woman. But at the end she repents, and corrects her mistakes. There is still no place in the literature for women who are both beautiful and bad.
One can state without fear of error that Cervantes is very sensitive to feminine beauty as in his works he repeatedly expresses his admiration for beautiful women as he portrays an ideal of feminine beauty: young, with a very long fair hair, which overshadows the sun, their being blonde representing a paradox, since this is not the predominant hair colour in their geographical region of origin.
Cervantes made use of tropes to depict beautiful women in the idea of beauty of his time: golden hair locks, coral lips, pearl teeth. Despite using these traits, he also satirizes them, as the writer is well aware of the subjectivity of beauty: it often depends on the eyes of the beholder. To Cardenio, for example, no woman seems to be more beautiful than Luscinda in Don Quixote, while in The Works of Persiles and Sigismunda, all the characters recognize the beauty of Sigismunda --Auristella as there is no woman who surpasses her. For the author, beauty is related to virtue, a beautiful person is also virtuous, in the spirit of Plato's philosophy, and so the beautiful women that seem evil or vengeful repent, retrain, and change their attitude. The beauty of a woman has much power, inspires admiration, and is able to subdue any will, therefore, a man would rather die than not be able to live with the woman who to him is the most beautiful in the world.
University of Craiova
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|Publication:||Romanian Journal of Artistic Creativity|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2015|
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