The Fictions of Blood in "La fuerza de la sangre".
THE SUBJECT OF BLOOD purity has recently been studied in Cervantes with respect to Don Quijote and La Numancia, (1) but I will focus on a Cervantine work whose interpretation hinges on the meaning of blood: "La fuerza de la sangre," which explores the public acceptance of the absurd fiction of limpieza de sangre while also reflecting on the limitations and possibilities of genre. (2) I draw on Maria Elena Martinez's characterization of the Spanish concept of blood purity and impurity as "fictions, ideological constructs based on religious and genealogical understandings of difference" (Martinez 61). As Martinez notes, in spite of their fictional nature, these "were no less effective at shaping social practices, categories of identity, and self-perceptions" (61). "La fuerza de la sangre" investigates precisely these fictions, drawing ironically on the conventions of the miracle narrative and the romance to skewer the ideology behind limpieza. The novela argues that the purity of blood can never be known, and thus any system premised on this purity is pure fiction. Rather than directly puncturing the posturing of his characters--as occurs in, for example, El retablo de las maravillas--in "La fuerza de la sangre," Cervantes approaches the problem of pure blood obliquely, taking advantage of genre conventions and the coded language of limpieza, while at the same time pointing to their fissures and inconsistencies. In other words, Cervantes asks us to dismantle the fiction of limpieza de sangre by dismantling the fiction he presents to us. (3)
If we consider the novela from this perspective, its unlikely events can be understood through a single glimpse of spilled blood and its miraculous credibility. This central "miracle"--at once believable and inconceivable--allows the reader of "La fuerza de la sangre" the possibility of accepting the truth of the narrative while questioning its reliability. Blood is the central sign in the novela because it allows just this ambiguity: the ideology of limpieza de sangre insists that blood can be made legible and knowable; however, as a mere bodily substance, it remains opaque, an empty signifier. This interpretive disconnect, the novela argues, is the specific province of fictions, both those that take place on the page and those that operate in readers' everyday lives, including those that underpin even the most entrenched institutions. This approach to "La fuerza de la sangre" demonstrates that many of the dismissive or contentious entries in its critical history are misguided; they either fail to allow (or account) for its irony or simply acknowledge its ambiguity with no further nuance. It also allows us to resituate "La fuerza de la sangre" with respect to the rest of the Novelas ejemplares, challenging traditional divisions attributed to the work.
"La fuerza de la sangre" recounts the rape of Leocadia, a noble but poor young woman, by Rodolfo, a wealthy nobleman. After seeing Leocadia walking with her parents one night, Rodolfo conspires with his friends to abduct her, whereupon Leocadia loses consciousness; Rodolfo rapes her in this state after carrying her to his parents' house. When Leocadia awakens and realizes what has happened--and after Rodolfo attempts to rape her a second time--she begs him to promise he will maintain "perpetuo silencio" (Cervantes 2: 80), never once mentioning these events to anyone else. Rodolfo, to prevent his own identity from being discovered, leads Leocadia out of the house blindfolded and leaves her in the town plaza. He blithely continues with his plans to travel to Italy, "con tan poca memoria de lo que con Leocadia le habia sucedido, como si nunca hubiera pasado" (2: 85). Leocadia, meanwhile, fears for her own honor and the reputation of her entire family, a fear confirmed by her father's recommendation that she keep silent.
Unfortunately, it soon becomes apparent that Leocadia is pregnant; after giving birth to the child, Luisico, in secret, the boy is sent to live with relatives for a number of years before rejoining his mother in the guise of a younger cousin. One day, as Luisico is playing outside, an out-of-control horse tramples him, "derramando mucha sangre de la cabeza" (86). A nearby nobleman--Rodolfos father, unaware of his son's rape of Leocadia and hence of the fact that he is Luisico's grandfather-- is immediately so affected by the boy's plight that he takes him to his own house to recover. When Leocadia learns where Luisico is, she rushes to his side and quickly realizes that the room where he is recovering is the very same room in which he was conceived. She reveals the truth to Rodolfos mother, who orchestrates an elaborate plot to bring Rodolfo home and trick him into marrying Leocadia. Rodolfo does not recognize his bride-to-be but is still, as he was before, taken with her beauty, and he agrees to the match. A hasty wedding follows, and Rodolfo learns the truth of Leocadias identity, as well as of the existence of his child, Luisico. After that, the text tells us, the entire house "quedo [...] sepultada en silencio," and Rodolfo and Leocadia live, so we are told, happily ever after: "que muchos y felices anos gozaron de si mismos, de sus hijos y de sus nietos" (2: 95).
Previous readings of the novela have discussed the centrality of blood, but they do not explore the simultaneous proliferation of meaning and specificity that Cervantes allows for. (4) William Egginton astutely links the titular blood to limpieza, noting that it "seems to extol the force of blood in a society obsessed with the discriminating potential--in terms of class, religion, and overall privilege--of that force" (Theater 34). While I agree with his conclusion that the novela undermines the concept of honor to the point of denying its existence, I contend that blood signifies much more than mere honor, and that both the novelad social and literary critiques are even broader than this and other readings suggest.
Other approaches acknowledge the persistent, multivalent character of blood in the novela but do not follow through on these observations, or do not consider their literary implications. Elizabeth Howe, for example, rightly considers blood an "all-pervasive presence" but does not fully consider its symbolic potential (Howe 66), while David Gitlitz identifies at least five potential meanings of blood: "that of Christ" in terms of absolution; "lineage," as in the continuity between Luisico and his grandparents; "the nobility of the two protagonists;" the violence of both Leocadias rape and Luisico's injury; and, lastly, "the hot sexual instincts of Rodolfo" (Gitlitz 118). In spite of his insight that all of these possibilities "are operative simultaneously" (118), Gitlitz concludes that the novela is simply "another case of Cervantean moral ambiguity" (119), which does not account for the work's specificity. Emily Weissbourd, meanwhile, rightly notes the novelas "ironic representation of theories of inherent blood difference," but she does not explore the literary sources or consequences of that irony (122).
Some of the most influential readings of "La fuerza de la sangre," meanwhile, overemphasize its religious valences, reading it as ultimately redemptive and underestimating the irony the narrative suggests. R. P. Calcraft, for example, in spite of a nuanced, careful structural analysis, sees an echo, "impossible to mistake," allegorizing Christ and the Virgin Mary in order "to show that in art, and perhaps also in life, inseparable links can exist between earthly and heavenly responsibility for matters concerning man's moral and spiritual salvation" (202-03). This interpretation, along with that of other critics who see "La fuerza de la sangre" as idealist, overlooks much of the novela, as we will see below. Joaquin Casalduero is even more specific in his categorization of "La fuerza de la sangre," classifying it not only as an idealist text but a redemptive one, with the titular blood standing in for that of Eve. This reading, however, fails to describe how Leocadia--other than by mere virtue of being a woman--can adequately be allegorized into Eve. If the novela is indeed an allegory or retelling of the Fall, it cannot take Leocadias fault as a given, and indeed the novela takes great pains to emphasize her innocence. Secondly, Casalduero's reading is problematic in positing marriage as the antidote to original sin. This has never been its purpose, and early modern theologians confirm that this was not the case in late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century Spain. (5) Casalduero's interpretation thus does not track with contemporary understandings of the sacraments. In spite of Casalduero's detailed reading, then, I find this interpretation untenable.
The reading closest to my own is Alban Forcione's, which considers "La fuerza de la sangre" to be "probably [Cervantes's] most religious exemplary novella" even as it allows that it is "directly concerned with the claims of the secular world" (395, 386). Forcione interprets blood in both registers, concluding that while this tension persists until the very end of the novela, "the opposition from which they spring should be seen as one of complementarity rather than as one of exclusivistic antagonism" (394). As I will show, however, the concept of complementarity does not quite complete the picture; the tension Forcione identifies does open up multiple avenues of interpretation, but it does so to foreground what connects them and in order to advance a coherent, precise critique of that linchpin of early modern Spanish social life, limpieza de sangre. By looking at the novelas tensions as undoing its very premises, I show how the novela uses the fiction of limpieza de sangre to reveal the entanglement of fiction with everyday life.
It would be impossible to give a complete history of the development of the concept of limpieza de sangre in this space, but a brief overview is necessary to understand the resonances of blood in "La fuerza de la sangre." Martinez, David Nirenberg, Juan Hernandez Franco, James Amelang, and others have shown the origins of limpieza in late medieval Spain, tracing the development of institutionally specific blood purity statutes alongside the rise of the Inquisition. Over the course of the sixteenth century, the initial practices of limpieza investigations solidified into the ideal of the noble, old Christian from time immemorial. During this time, the category of pure blood became even more limited by excluding anyone who had any dealings with the Inquisition, even tangentially; anyone suspected of being connected to the moriscos, following the Alpujarras uprising; anyone connected to a perceived impurity through the maternal line (previously, only paternal descent had been considered); and finally, although early limpieza investigations only scrutinized a candidate through his grandparents, these time limits were eventually scrapped entirely (Martinez 51-52). The result of these expansions was "the uniquely Iberian paradigm of the 'hidalgo-cristiano viejo' and with it a whole culture of social differentiation based on blood and religion" (Martinez 80).
As limpieza investigators were expanding the scope of their searches, they were also growing increasingly indiscriminate about the kinds of sources they relied on. Some investigations required witnesses to report whether they had ever heard, in truth or by mistake, a person implied to be impure (Sicroff 215); thus, a drunken slur or even a jest could have serious consequences, and even someone who felt confident of their genealogical record could not rest easy. Because of the impossibility of meeting this standard with any kind of consistency, the late sixteenth--and even more so the seventeenth--centuries saw increasingly panicked calls for reform. The royal favorite of Felipe IV, the Conde-Duque de Olivares, for example, wrote in favor of scaling back limpieza investigations, recognizing that "la mancha tambien puede arruinar a los limpios" (Hernandez Franco 156). Nevertheless, the statutes persisted, and attempts at reform were ineffective (207).
In spite of the unattainable, unmaintainable nature of the figure of the hidalgo-cristiano viejo, it had significant real-worid impact; it was an impossible standard, but it was nevertheless the standard. Sicroff describes the concept of limpieza de sangre as not simply "an abstract idea, intellectually conceived" but rather "an 'operation' [fonctionnement]" (Sicroff 10; my translation). Along the same lines, one anonymous petition to a committee in Castile aimed at investigating reforms, which Sicroff dates to 1598, complains that blood purity was determined "in a completely 'metaphysical' way" (210; my translation). As Martinez rightly explains, limpieza was not necessarily important because crypto-Judaism was, historically, a serious threat, but because "it powerfully shaped Old Christian attitudes, motivations, and actions [...] and intensified other social conflicts" (Martinez 40). It was, in sum, an ideological problem: "uno de los principales problemas sociales que registran los Reinos Hispanicos" (Hernandez Franco 16). Recently, James Amelang has suggested that historians "pay special attention to signs of dissonance" when it comes to analyzing the impact of limpieza (87). Contemporary literature, and in particular "La fuerza de la sangre," can provide significant insight into those moments of dissonance.
Necessary to support this massive, unwieldy ideal and its attendant ideological implications was a vast bureaucracy with its staggering amount of paperwork. Investigating, documenting, and verifying limpieza required a legal, document-based approach. These documents could include family genealogical histories produced specifically for limpieza investigations. Some of these were so thorough--and so clearly fictional--that they extended back to Abraham (Hernandez Franco 139). They also included witness statements and testimonies, the number of which varied wildly between institutions (Martinez 71). The prestigious military orders had some of the most exhaustive witness requirements: at least twenty-four witnesses to prove blood purity, twenty to prove nobility, and whatever other witnesses might become necessary, but some cases could require up to five hundred interrogations (71). The concept of limpieza was thus an impossible, textual ideal--that is to say, a fiction.
Another document-based social construct changed significantly around the same time that limpieza ideology was developing. The practical changes to the marriage ceremony developed at the Council of Trent, although not prompted by concerns about limpieza, nevertheless compounded the problems the ideal of blood purity posed. Prior to Trent, marriage could be a relatively uncomplicated proposition: in the late medieval period and early fifteenth-century Spain, for example, "single men and women could be married secretly simply by copulating after having stated their intention to marry" (Lacarra Lanz 162). While the Church "advised them to make their decision public [...] they were not obligated to do so" (162). In the post-Tridentine world, however, marriage was a family affair, as the church "surrendered its couple-oriented notion of marriage to secular demands for greater public authority by abolishing clandestine marriages and by promoting dowry exchange as an indirect form of parental control" (Sperling 68). Rather than simply voicing a desire to marry, "a couple now had to publish banns on three consecutive Sundays, receive their priest's blessing in the presence of at least two witnesses, and register the marriage in their parish church of origin" (70-71). As noted above, at the same time, limpieza investigations increased scrutiny into relatives by marriage; a male petitioner also had to demonstrate the purity of his wife's entire lineage (Martinez 63). Paired with the new, more stringent requirements the Council of Trent put forward, this made couples increasingly hesitant to marry lest they throw their family's reputation into jeopardy. As one contemporary proverb put it, "dexastes a fulano porque le conosciades, y escogistes a fulano porque no le conosciades" (Salucio 30V): anyone whose lineage was known was probably a threat to one's own blood purity.
In "La fuerza de la sangre," however, none of the bureaucratic convolutions, uncertainty, or metaphysical disputes that marked the historical, quotidian experience of limpieza ideology are present. In fact, wherever these would appear, they are instead conspicuously absent: the fictional world of the novela takes blood purity for granted, as though it were an indisputable given. In this way, the novela parodies contemporary practices, revealing their artifice, arbitrariness, and impossibility in making the content or value of one's blood legible and of ordering a system of interpretation around it.
In the novela, the concept of limpieza de sangre is never invoked directly; instead, it is reduced to its literary counterpart, honor. This reduction simplifies the many problems of limpieza into a single convention, but as the novela shows, even this 'simple' formulation is contradictory and unsustainable. "La fuerza de la sangre" presents honor as both a genealogical fact and as the province of one's private conscience; these irreconcilable definitions demonstrate that honor, like blood purity, is an impossible fiction. For Rodolfo and Leocadia, at the start of the novela, honor is an inherited, inalienable property. Rodolfo explains to his mother, Estefania, that he possesses "la nobleza, gracias al cielo y a mis pasados y a mis padres, que me la dejaron por herencia" (Cervantes 2: 91). Leocadia makes a similar assertion: "soy noble porque mis padres lo son y lo han sido todos mis antepasados" (2: 88). Nevertheless, after the rape, honor is presented in quite a different light. Leocadias father, urging her to maintain her silence about the matter, consoles her by explaining, "la verdadera deshonra esta en el pecado y la verdadera honra en la virtud" (2: 84). Because Leocadia has not sinned, she cannot be dishonored; God knows her innocence, and this is sufficient for her to continue living honorably. As Egginton demonstrates, Leocadias father's definition affirms both that "hidden dishonor is better than exposed honor" and that "exposed dishonor is worse than hidden dishonor" (Theater 37). The only possible conclusion is that there is "no such thing as honor, only the fear of exposure" (37). Although honor does have consequences for the characters, it is, like limpieza, an impossible ideal.
To highlight the implausibility of both of these understandings of honor even further, the novela allows them to be immediately knowable. Honor as a genealogical fact is presented as obvious in the case of Luisico, who gave indications of being "de algun noble padre engendrado" (Cervantes 2: 85), even though his true parentage is known only to Leocadia and her parents. The conception of honor as a private, religious matter is also refuted by Leocadias fear of discovery; she is "temerosa que su desgracia se la habian de leer en la frente" (2: 85). In both cases, the dizzying array of documents required to prove limpieza de sangre are rendered unnecessary. This idealized, effortless vision of honor stands in stark contrast to the laboriously constructed, always precarious status of blood purity.
The world of "La fuerza de la sangre" further distinguishes itself from practices contemporary to Cervantes when it comes to the subject of marriage. (6) As we saw above, late sixteenth-century Spanish marriages required documentation, and they resulted in significant paperwork for any descendants looking to prove the status of their blood. Yet the marriage of Rodolfo and Leocadia is instantaneous and pointedly verbal. After Estefania lures Rodolfo home with the promise of marriage and tricks him with a false portrait, she presents the beautiful Leocadia as his true bride. After a bit of commotion (Leocadia, overcome with emotion, faints; Rodolfo once again takes advantage of her unconscious state to throw himself upon her), the two are married by a priest who was waiting in the wings. The moment Leocadia reawakens, Estefania tells the priest to get on with it already ("diciendo al cura que luego luego desposase a su hijo con Leocadia" [2: 94]). And the priest obliges: "El lo hizo ansi, que por haber sucedido este caso en tiempo cuando con sola la voluntad de los contrayentes, sin las diligencias y prevenciones justas y santas que ahora se usan, quedaba hecho el matrimonio" (2: 94). This description of the marriage sharply contrasts with contemporary practices, idealizing a simpler ceremony while carefully maintaining a grudging respect ("justas y santas") for the post-Tridentine conventions. (It also cheerfully overlooks Leocadias lack of "voluntad" to be in this situation in the first place; it is only because Rodolfo raped her that she now finds herself obligated to marry him.) Neither Rodolfo nor Leocadia know anything about each other's families--aside from the fact that both have asserted their nobility--an utterly unthinkable proposition outside of the novela. The difference in social status between the two--Leocadia is noble but poor while Rodolfos family is both noble and wealthy--is likewise blithely ignored, although this would have been a determining factor in contracting any marriage.
At every moment that a contemporary reader of "La fuerza de la sangre" might expect an acknowledgement of the constraints of blood purity, then, the narrative ignores such concerns. Thus the operation of limpieza ideology in the novela is more or less the polar opposite of its historical functioning. "La fuerza de la sangre" glosses over any potential difficulties, but the effect of this is to throw their absence into relief. The improbability of the novelas take on limpieza is a mirror of its improbability in everyday life; both are equally suspect. Through this oblique approach to the concept of limpieza, then, the novela points to the ruptures in its everyday operation.
This oblique approach, however, has generated a divided critical assessment on the ending of the novela. A number of other critics have noted the seeming implausibility of Rodolfo and Leocadias marriage, reading it as an unfortunate, unlikely, or even offensive conclusion. (7) George Hainsworth summarizes a prominent critical position on "La fuerza de la sangre" thus: "In a word, in the Cervantine oeuvre, we are not aware of a more shocking example of bad taste" (qtd. in Forcione 362; my translation). On the other hand, critics who tend to group "La fuerza de la sangre" under the 'idealist' umbrella see the marriage as restoring harmony and tend to view it positively, often by citing the change in Rodolfos character. (8) El Saffar approaches the ending philosophically: "the union of Leocadia and Rodolfo is a hymn to the ultimate reconcilability of all things" (El Saffar 136).
This idealist take on the wedding is, however, unjustified by the text. There is no evidence to support the theory that Rodolfo has changed; the narrator takes care to point out that he is just as lascivious and self-centered as ever. When Leocadia is unconscious, Rodolfo, "llevado de su amoroso y encendido deseo, y quitandole el nombre de esposo todos los estorbos que la honestidad y decencia del lugar le podian poner, se abalanzo al rostro de Leocadia, y, juntando su boca con la della, estaba como esperando que se le saliese el alma para darle acogida en la suya" (Cervantes 2: 94). The irony of the tone is unmistakable. Given that, as it appears, Rodolfo is still a "libidinous S.O.B." (Gitlitz 113), my reading of the wedding is closer to the first group of critics. I agree that the ending is in bad taste, but I do not think this should be the end point of our analysis. If, as I argue, the novela points us toward the fractures in its own narrative and in the ideology it describes, there is no need to limit our assessment to the mere actions recounted. The bad taste of the wedding is what should alert us to the fact that something is off; it draws our attention to the attitudes and actions that have allowed it to take place. The careful symmetry of the novela, which many critics have discussed, (9) asks us to read this second union of Rodolfo and Leocadia alongside the first. This simultaneous reading reveals that the only difference is that, the second time around, the union of Leocadia and Rodolfo has the patina of social legitimacy granted to it by marriage.
This legitimacy is precisely what is brought under our scrutiny. After the wedding, the narrator tells us, "Fueronse a acostar todos, quedo toda la casa sepultada en silencio, en el cual no quedara la verdad deste cuento, pues no lo consentiran los muchos hijos y la ilustre descendencia que en Toledo dejaron, y agora viven, estos dos venturosos desposados, que muchos y felices anos gozaron de si mismos, de sus hijos y de sus nietos" (Cervantes 2: 95). This insistence on the illustrious character of Rodolfo and Leocadias descendants, and the even more insistent mention of their children and grandchildren, should give us pause. After raping and impregnating Leocadia, Rodolfo went to Italy, where it is strongly implied that he continued his lascivious ways. (It is unlikely that the phrase "[s]onabale bien aquel Eco li buoni polastri, picioni, presuto e salcicie, con otros nombres deste jaez, de quien los soldados se acuerdan cuando de aquellas partes vienen a estas y pasan por la estrecheza e incomodidades de las ventas y mesones de Espana" [84-85] refers to charcuterie.) Instead, we should read the narrator's rosy take on the marriage ironically. Although it grants a particular, socially mediated kind of legitimacy, there is no doubt that it denies or conceals, as well. Luisico's rapid transformation from unacknowledged, illegitimate son to a part of this "ilustre descendencia" confirms this point. As Adriana Slaniceanu argues, "There can be no doubt that Cervantes scrupulously chose this coda [...] for the purpose of undermining the authority of those figures normally associated with its formalities" (110). The kind of legitimacy described here--the purity of Rodolfo and Leocadias lineage, their honor--cannot be made legible in the idealized style Cervantes satirizes here, and it cannot be made legible through an untrustworthy, unwieldy, unrealistic bureaucratic apparatus, either. The conditions that authorize this marriage reveal that the fiction of illustrious, noble, Christian descent is exactly that: a fiction--a textual fiction that, like this very novela, can be deconstructed.
The implausible nature of the novela is broader than this example alone. Aside from the symmetrical pairing of events to highlight their differences, there are numerous other details and facets of the novela that point toward artifice. Selig notes the reliance of the novela on the visual, and in particular its tendency toward representation, composition, and superficiality. Leocadias appearance before Rodolfo at the very end of the novela is a carefully staged tableau, which Karl Selig argues draws on contemporary theories of painting (125). The characters themselves, as Juan Bautista Avalle-Arce laments, have no depth; they are mere archetypes (27). Leocadias "innocence is amorphous," moving into and out of being as the plot requires, while Rodolfos "lawlessness is devoid of intentionality" (Slaniceanu 103). One effect of this is that the characters are not particularly adept at analyzing their own situations; Rodolfo, in particular, "es un lector que no profundiza sino que se deja llevar por las apariencias" (Parker Aronson 78). In sum, the novela displays a consistent, marked inclination toward the artificial and the superficial. But as critics of the novela, we can be better readers than Rodolfo.
To further our reading, I draw on both Slaniceanu's and Forcione's analysis of the novelas indebtedness to two popular, contemporary genres: the romance and the miracle, respectively. I use "romance" as a genre--rather than, following Northrop Frye, a mode--here because of the contemporary influence of Heliodorus's Aethiopica via el Pinciano and Fernando de Mena (El Saffar xiv). I acknowledge, however, that it is a "notoriously slippery category," recognizable by specific attributes (Fuchs, Romance 1). I approach both of these genres with Barbara Fuchs's assertion that Cervantes often "deploys literary convention [...] to disguise the power of his own critique behind a veil of conventionality" in mind, as well, specifically with respect to normative identities (Fuchs, Passing 17). As Slaniceanu points out, "La fuerza de la sangre" includes a number of the "obvious romance features," including "the woman's dominant role in the action, the blood-will-tell motif, the opposition of violence and fraud, exemplified by the act of rape, and its vindication by the heroines enormous resourcefulness" (102). The romance is appropriate for a novela intended to undermine the status quo by suggesting its implausibility because this genre "relies on lack of verisimilitude;" thus Cervantes can exploit "this very weakness to create subtle interplay between the unlikely event and the critical check of self-parody" (105).
This interplay manifests in the novela both through the narrator's seeming absentmindedness and the characters' unlikely self-reflection. The narrator often 'forgets' to give the reader important information, calling the reliability of all of the novelas events into question. For example, the second time Leocadia is in Rodolfos house, to check on the injured Luisico, she is able to definitively confirm that it is the same house in which she was raped because the number of steps is the same as the number she walked when being escorted out of the house, blindfolded, by Rodolfo. But the narrator had not previously mentioned this counting; he adds it as an afterthought: "Finalmente, sacaron a luz la verdad de todas sus sospechas los escalones, que ella habia contado cuando la sacaron del aposento tapados los ojos (digo los escalones que habia desde alli a la calle, que con advertencia discreta conto)" (Cervantes 2: 87). The clarifying parenthetical only adds to the impression that this information has been suspiciously inserted after the fact as corroboration. It pulls one out of the narrative and asks the reader to again consider Leocadias implausible poise and reason immediately after a traumatic event. Leocadia herself cannot quite believe her own abilities; after a lengthy, carefully reasoned discourse to Rodolfo about why he should keep the rape silent for the sake of her honor, she wonders aloud, "No se como te digo estas verdades, que se suelen fundar en la experiencia de muchos casos y en el discurso de muchos anos" (2: 80). In both cases, the effect is to jolt the reader out of the narrative to reflect on the suspect likeliness of these events, even those that do not come with clarifications, excuses, or confirmation.
Aside from these seeming narrative shortcomings, "La fuerza de la sangre" challenges even the broadest definition of romance in the character of Rodolfo, who is far from the "wandering hero" typical of the early modern romance or the chivalric ideal of late medieval romances (Fuchs, Romance 66). Indeed, he compares unfavorably to the contemporary ideal and resembles nothing so much as the "frivolous young man" decried by late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century reformers (Kennedy 289). A comparison with the hero of Alonso Jeronimo de Salas Barbadillo's 1620 El caballero perfecto, a mirror for gentlemanly behavior, is far from favorable to Rodolfo, who suffers from "la inclinacion torcida, la libertad demasiada y las companias libres, [que] le hacian hacer cosas y tener atrevimientos que desdecian de su calidad y le daban renombre de atrevido" (Cervantes 2: 77).
In addition to the resonances with the romance, scholars have demonstrated how "La fuerza de la sangre" owes a debt to the miraculous in two ways: first, by invoking a miracle said to have occurred in Toledo; and second, by drawing on and simultaneously undermining certain literary forms present in contemporary miracle literature. Both John Allen and Forcione discuss the similarities between the plot of "La fuerza de la sangre" and a popular legend, summarized by Jose Zorrilla as "A buen juez, mejor testigo." The legend recounts the story of a nobleman who gives his word to marry a woman of lesser social status in front of a crucifix, known as the Cristo de la Vega, outside a Toledan church--the basilica of St. Leocadia. They consummate the union, but the nobleman goes back on his word and refuses to marry the woman. With no other witnesses, the woman appeals to the crucifix, asking the image whether or not the nobleman gave his word in marriage. The crucifix makes a gesture with its arm, indicating that this is true, and the nobleman finds himself obligated to follow through. The plot parallels with "La fuerza de la sangre" are clear, and Leocadias theft of Rodolfos crucifix, along with her appeal to it as a "testigo" strengthen the connection (88). Cervantes was likely aware of the legend, especially given that the remains of St. Leocadia were taken to the basilica in 1587, and the procession passed Esquivias, where Cervantes was then living (Allen 274).
Although it is clear that there are similarities between this legend and "La fuerza de la sangre," the novela diverges in some ways from the miracle narrative. Broadly, Forcione identifies this narrative as relying on "the intervention of divine agency" to restore heroes who are "quite unheroic, and frequently even fallen," and who are "victims rather than combatants;" and that "the meaning of the situation in which they are involved is to be sought in the significance of the single central event rather than in the exemplary nature of their acts" (329). Leocadia is certainly fallen, but she is not necessarily unheroic. Her impassioned arguments and fierce self-defense successfully prevent Rodolfo from raping her a second time, even as they seem to lack verisimilitude. Similarly, although she is certainly a victim, she is also a combatant for an outcome that will restore her honor. Her theft of the crucifix links her to the legend Zorrilla summarizes, but the narrator makes it quite clear that her interest in the image is not religious: she steals it "no por devocion ni por hurto, sino llevada de un discreto designio suyo" (Cervantes 2: 82). Sieber rightly argues that this points toward human agency rather than divine (16). Finally, it is not divine agency that finally brings about the marriage but Leocadias and Estefanias machinations. There is no indication of the divine to "underplay the material nature of both women's calculatedness" (Slaniceanu 108). Thus Forcione and Slaniceanu both conclude that the novela takes an ambiguous stance toward the miraculous and the miracle narrative as a genre.
Considering "La fuerza de la sangre" in light of both the romance and the miracle narrative can help clarify some aspects of the novela, but extending Forcione's and Slaniceanu's critique to consider the interplay and mutual subversion of genres throws the miracle of Luisico's accident into relief. Forcione aligns "La fuerza de la sangre" more closely with the miracle narrative as a particular form of the romance genre; however, the movement between the two is what allows us to most fully appreciate the novela's achievement. Of Cervantes's works, this interplay of genres is explored most fully in Persilesy Sigismunda (1617), but here, he exploits the limits of both to demonstrate the impossibility and absurdity of the idea that blood could ever be legible. First, the movement between the specifics of the miracle narrative and the romance allows the reader to be complicit in the eventual marriage of Leocadia and Rodolfo--to root for it, in some sense--while also maintaining a certain distance from it because, as the miracle narrative implies, the resolution is out of our hands. This complicity and distance helps account for the opposition of critical opinions on the ending. Second, pairing these genres allows Cervantes to demonstrate the implausibility inherent in the romance genre in the first place, undermining the very idea of the "happily ever after" of marriage, which is something of a Cervantine hobby-horse. (10) At the same time, the shadow of doubt moves in both directions: the elements of romance also call the plausibility of the miracle narrative into question, revealing both genres to be incapable of being entirely believable. Consequently, this central lack of credibility permits us to see the conflict between contemporary miracle narratives of conversion and the far less miraculous limpieza distinctions that persist in Spain between old and new Christians.
With both of the primary genres the novela employs called into question, I now turn to the central "miracle" of "La fuerza de la sangre": Luisico's accident and his grandfather's extraordinary response.
Sucedio, pues, que un dia que el nino fue con un recaudo de su abuela a una parienta suya, acerto a pasar por una calle donde habia carrera de caballeros. Pusose a mirar, y, por mejorarse de puesto, paso de una parte a otra, a tiempo que no pudo huir de ser atropellado de un caballo, a cuyo dueno no fue posible detenerle en la furia de su carrera. Paso por encima del, y dejole como muerto, tendido en el suelo, derramando mucha sangre de la cabeza. Apenas esto hubo sucedido, cuando un caballero anciano que estaba mirando la carrera, con no vista ligereza se arrojo de su caballo y fue donde estaba el nino; y, quitandole de los brazos de uno que ya le tenia, le puso en los suyos, y, sin tener cuenta con sus canas ni con su autoridad, que era mucha, a paso largo se fue a su casa, ordenando a sus criados que le dejasen y fuesen a buscar un cirujano que al nino curase. (Cervantes 2: 85-6)
The "miracle" of "La fuerza de la sangre" is that Rodolfos father is able--instantly, definitively--to see Luisico's blood for exactly what it is: pure, noble, and of his own lineage. As I discuss above, while this moment is often read as pivotal, it is read either as simply a feature of the romance, as "a peculiarly literal cri du sang" (Greene 108), or as essential to the moment the novela "fails to become a subversion of a miracle" (Forcione 394). Although it is true that this moment cannot be read as a true miracle, this is not because "La fuerza de la sangre" "recoil[s] from the miraculous" (355); rather, it is because the movement between romance and miracle has made a true miracle impossible. Without the neat resolution of romance, and absent the possibility of divine authorization, we are left with something that has the characteristics of a miracle but that is still not entirely believable. Diegetically, the action is credible; no one questions Luisico's grandfather's actions. But to the reader, it appears implausible. More succinctly, it has the characteristics of fiction: it can be believed at the same time one knows it to be untrue, and it points us toward the implausibility of limpieza de sangre and the fictionality of the system that proposes it.
The concept of fiction Cervantes employs in "La fuerza de la sangre" derives from a classical understanding of poetics. In the Poetics, Aristotle argues that poetry could tell a lie that was somehow greater than the truth: it is "a more philosophical and a higher thing than history: for poetry tends to express the universal, history the particular" (69). Later, for Horace, an ethical component is added, and the lies poetry tells must not only be greater than the truth but also contain "moral truths" (Egginton, Man Who Invented Fiction 164). Boccaccio drew on this tradition in shaping the Italian novelli and explicitly added the component of entertainment or delight (37). Cervantes clearly draws on all of these traditions: in the introduction to his Novelas ejemplares, he highlights the invented nature of the tales, their moral exemplarity, and their potential for entertainment. However, the fiction of "La fuerza de la sangre" adds yet another complication: it is a fiction that is not limited to the page but that encroaches on and influences the lives of its readers.
In order to appreciate the accident's seemingly miraculous quality, we must look to the kinds of miracles it draws on. (11) The miraculous is present not simply as a genre or in reference to the legend attributed to the basilica of St. Leocadia. Luisico's accident draws specifically on accounts of miraculous bleeding leading to conversion, inflecting them with the language surrounding the discourse of limpieza de sangre. These narratives originate with the legend of Longinus, which was popular in the Renaissance: although Longinus was blind, at the Crucifixion, "when he pieced Christ's chest with a spear to be sure that he was dead, blood and water miraculously poured out of Christ's body and Longinus was healed of his blindness" (Pereda, "Performing Doubt" 69). In the Gospel of John, this moment is marked as the moment of conversion from belief to disbelief: "But one of the soldiers with a spear opened his side: and immediately there came out blood and water. / And he that saw it hath given testimony: and his testimony is true. And he knoweth that he saith true: that you may also believe" (John 19:34-35). Upon seeing Christ's miraculous blood, Longinus instantly believes; whereas before he was blind, the blood allows him to perceive the truth of Christ's divinity. (12) This articulation of credibility with respect to vision was an important, prominent theme in early seventeenth-century Spanish cultural production (Pereda, "Performing Doubt" 80). One of the primary ways this theme developed into the early modern period is through the myths associated with sacred images, particularly crucifixes. The key parts of these myths, although details vary, are the crucifix, miraculous bleeding, and a resulting conversion.
Two of the most important images known for these particular characteristics are the Beirut Crucifix and the Cristo de Burgos, strongly tied together in early modern Spanish thought. According to late medieval legend, the Beirut Crucifix was stabbed in the side by a group of Jews and began bleeding profusely; those responsible for this profanation, along with all of the other Jews in Beirut, converted to Christianity because of this miracle (Pereda, "La conversion" 233). Interest in the Beirut Crucifix saw a resurgence because of the immense popularity and devotion to the Cristo de Burgos, "una de las piezas de culto mas impactantes de la imagineria tardo-gotica que puedan encontrarse en Castilla" (231). Awareness of the legends surrounding the Beirut Crucifix "conocio un claro renacimiento desde la segunda mitad del siglo XV," and these legends were often attributed to the Cristo de Burgos instead (233). The latter was also strongly associated with blood imagery and narratives of conversion (232). In a detail that recalls the legendary gesture of the crucifix outside the Basilica of St. Leocadia, one of the pilgrims who discovered it supposedly "vivio tal vida de santidad que el propio Cristo, en una ocasion, se inclino hacia el y le dirigio la palabra" (232). Further connecting the Cristo de Burgos to "La fuerza de la sangre" are the many miracles attributed to it that recall Luisico's injury: the "mas notable" of its miracles was "la supuesta reanimacion de un nino que habia resucitado despues de caer" (234).
Around the time that "La fuerza de la sangre" was being written, then, narratives of miraculous conversions related to both images were in wide circulation. Although many miracles were attributed to them, the origin miracle is that of conversion, the movement from disbelief to belief, through the witnessing of blood. Furthermore, given the way attributes of the miraculous tend to travel--as they did between the Beirut Crucifix and the Cristo de Burgos--the details of some of these narratives seem to recall the legend of the Cristo de la Vega. For the miracles circulating around the Cristo de Burgos in the fifteenth century, Pereda argues, "la incorporacion de los judios conversos a la leyenda no parece sustentarse tanto en factores historicos como en otros imaginarios, sobre los que se proyecta la creciente ansiedad de la sociedad castellana acerca de su propio pasado" (Pereda, "La conversion" 235). That is, these conversion narratives registered concerns about the conversion and expulsion of Jews and Muslims and the move toward a unified, Catholic Spain. The narratives in circulation at the turn of the seventeenth century, however, must be considered in light of the most important social problem of their day: limpieza de sangre. The concept of pure blood questions the idea that true conversion was even possible, that it would be enough to compensate for an inherent susceptibility in the blood, and that blood can confirm the truth of one's claim to old Christian identity.
The "miracle" of "La fuerza de la sangre" is precisely this last point: Luisico's blood does, incredibly, confirm his parentage and, eventually, restore his lineage. Rodolfos father, like Longinus, sees the blood of his grandchild and immediately understands its meaning; it is completely believable, a situation that is utterly impossible in the real world of limpieza investigations. It is important to note that the "conversion" of Luisico's grandfather is not brought about by the stolen crucifix. While the crucifix evokes this miraculous context, the narrative makes clear that Luisico's blood is the agent of conversion. This breaking down of miracle narratives into specific tropes mirrors the novelas careful resistance to the confines of any one genre; "La fuerza de la sangre"'s complex, shifting allegiances to its sources allow for the possibility of reading against the grain and of seeing the artifice of the narrative. The "miracle" of witnessing Luisico's blood is thus the moment that authorizes the entire narrative, while, at the same time, calling it into question. This contradictory nature of belief is captured in Sebastian de Covarrubias's two principal definitions of creer. (13) In the first place, to believe is to accept "lo que no entendemos o sentimos" as a "propio acto de la fe" (Covarrubias 364). On the other hand, he records, "En las cosas humanas los que fian poco de los demas tienen este refran: 'ver y creer,' que en rigor es no creer" (365; my emphasis). To see and believe--to believe because one has seen--is to fail to have true faith because it requires evidence. Rodolfos father sees and believes, and in so doing, he calls into question the truth of his own conversion, and, by extension, the possibility of belief in pure blood. It is because limpieza de sangre requires so many proofs that it cannot have the divine authority of sacred Truth; like a novela, it can be analyzed and questioned, investigated and doubted.
This investigation can be carried out by analyzing the language linking the "miracle" to the ideology of limpieza de sangre. The other characters' acceptance of Luisico's parentage, as well as their efforts to bring Rodolfo and Leocadia together, are all cast in language relevant to limpieza. The details of the accident itself invoke the threat of impurity. Luis is trampled by horses, and many of the early modern Spanish terms for racial differentiation, such as "raza," "casta" and "linaje," came into the popular lexicon primarily through horse breeding. By the start of the sixteenth century, they were commonly applied to racial distinctions as well (Martinez 28). Thus Covarrubias registers the first definition of "raza" as "[l]a casta de caballos castizos, a los cuales senalan con hierro para que sean conocidos" and ends with "tener alguna raza de moro o judio" (Covarrubias 851). Luisico's rescue, then, which brings him back into the family line--quite literally into his father's house--is his rescue from this illegitimacy and impurity. (14)
The confirmation of Luisico's origins and its acceptance by Rodolfos parents also draw on limpieza conventions. After Rodolfos father sees Luisico's blood, "references to the presence of Divine Providence in the action become much more frequent and more direct" (Forcione 369). Forcione explains this with reference to the "magical power that the symbol of blood enjoyed in the religious culture of the time," which he defines as limited to "the redemptive, propitiatory blood of Christ and the martyrs, the pure blood of the Virgin, and the tainted blood of sinful humanity" (370). Instead, I would argue that, because blood is conceived in the novela in terms of limpieza, the language of providence must be read in this way, as well. Thus when Rodolfos father learns the truth of Luisico's identity, the miraculous is invoked a second time: "Y el lo creyo, por divina permision del cielo, como si con muchos y verdaderos testigos se lo hubieran probado" (Cervantes 2: 89). "Muchos y verdaderos testigos" are precisely what would be required in any limpieza de sangre investigation; the fact that they can here be casually dispensed with confirms the miraculous legibility of Luisico's blood.
Leocadia does not confirm her suspicions with recourse to the miraculous, but through more mundane means. Slaniceanu has noted how calculating Leocadia is, even likening her to "a thorough investigator at the scene of a crime" (Slaniceanu 104). Her investigations, though, can be read more fruitfully as resembling those that would take place during a probanza de limpieza de sangre. Already armed with a genealogical narrative, Leocadia seeks confirming signs and witnesses, scouring her surroundings and recalling every detail she can about the scene of her rape:
[P]or muchas senales, conocio que aquella era la estancia donde se habia dado fin a su honra y principio a su desventura; y, aunque no estaba adornada de los damascos que entonces tenia, conocio la disposicion della, vio la ventana de la reja que caia al jardin; y, por estar cerrada a causa del herido, pregunto si aquella ventana respondia a algun jardin, y fuele respondido que si; pero lo que mas conocio fue que aquella era la misma cama que tenia por tumba de su sepultura; y mas, que el propio escritorio, sobre el cual estaba la imagen que habia traido, se estaba en el mismo lugar. (Cervantes 2: 87)
Finally, she summons the crucifix, "testigo de la fuerza que se me hizo" to testify on her behalf, displaying it to Estefania at the moment she reveals the truth about their relationship (88). Leocadias careful analysis and her findings are all directed toward proving the genealogical narrative of Luisico.
The equally necessary counterpart to this thorough investigation, the suppression of information, is also pervasive in "La fuerza de la sangre." Many critics have discussed the oppressive atmosphere of silence in the novela. (15) This silence is geared in every instance toward preserving the appearance of honor, and hence of limpieza, in an effort to quell the potentially dangerous "publica voz y fama" (Hernandez Franco 196). Early in the novela, the narrator declines to identify Rodolfo "por buenos respectos, encubriendo su nombre" (Cervantes 2: 77)--shielding his family line from the imputation of illegitimacy. The silence that surrounds Rodolfos and his friends' actions--"todo lo cubria la soledad del lugar, y el callado silencio de la noche, y las crueles entranas de los malhechores" (2: 78)--serves the same purpose. Reading the final lines of the novela in terms of limpieza also accounts for the curious detail that "quedo toda la casa sepultada en silencio" (2: 95). This final silence is similar to what Robert Ter Horst, writing about Calderon, refers to as "the silent male world of marriage" (Ter Horst 91), but in the context of "La fuerza de la sangre," we see the ideological apparatus behind maintaining that silence.
The very last lines of "La fuerza de la sangre" perfectly encapsulate its indebtedness to limpieza ideology, the romance, and the miracle narrative: "permitido todo por el cielo y por la fuerza de la sangre, que vio derramada en el suelo el valeroso, ilustre y cristiano abuelo de Luisico" (2: 95; original emphasis). The improbable but desired union of Rodolfo and Leocadia, its divine origins, the oblique and ironic reference to the character of Luisico's lineage, all authorized by one of the few direct references to blood in the work. Of early modern Spanish images of conversion, Felipe Pereda argues that their "Baroque potential for credibility and its artistic persuasiveness is as much a testimony of faith as it is, at least obliquely, one of doubt" (Pereda, "Performing Doubt" 81). In "La fuerza de la sangre," Cervantes presents both credibility and doubt through the interplay of romance and miracle. Both genres are invoked in the same move that dismantles them, revealing their fundamental impossibility. Their ability to produce a convincing fiction also, necessarily, points to their fissures. This paradox is possible only because of the unique paradox of blood in early modern Spain: the prodigious efforts toward making it legible and comprehensible serve only to underscore its unavoidable opacity. In other words, when it comes to limpieza de sangre, one must always see and then believe. Blood purity is, unavoidably, a fiction, like the novela: reading "La fuerza de la sangre," one can see and believe--while, at the same time, disbelieving.
Thus, to consider "La fuerza de la sangre" in terms of its supposed realism versus idealism is to ignore its achievement; these two poles frame the novela in terms of what the fiction is like rather than what it can accomplish. In his introduction to the Novelas ejemplares, Cervantes insists, "yo soy el primero que he novelado en lengua castellana" (Cervantes i: 52). While the story of Longinus, and Scripture more generally, can inspire true conversion and belief, with "La fuerza de la sangre," Cervantes argues that fiction's power lies in its ability to advance belief even as its possibility is revoked. Phrased in another way, it would take a real miracle for the action of "La fuerza de la sangre" to be credible and for the fiction of blood purity to be true. These two fictions are not simply entangled or analogous, but rather mutually constitutive. The fiction of blood purity allows the novela to cohere, while the novela allows limpieza de sangre to be true--at least temporarily. Even further, though, by insisting that the fiction of blood purity can only ever be temporarily true, "La fuerza de la sangre" encroaches on its readers' everyday lives by calling into question the very premise of the most important contemporary social question, allowing the possibility of thinking outside pervasive, pernicious ideologies.
JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY
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(1) See Greene; and Burk.
(2) Emily Weissbourd discusses both "La fuerza de la sangre" and "La gitanilla," but her analysis is geared toward an interpretation of a 1623 English play, The Spanish Gypsy.
(3) Ruth El Saffar has also discussed "La fuerza de la sangre," and the Novelas ejemplares more generally, in terms of fiction, which she sees as "not only the mirror of reality, but the means by which the author and the character and the reader discover and recreate themselves" (167). As I argue below, fiction should instead be interpreted in terms of textuality and credibility. Thus, I disagree with her assertion that "La fuerza de la sangre" and the other so-called "idealistic novelas point the way not toward the modern novel, but toward the romance" (168).
(4) One reading, for example, proposes a tautology: "La leccion que se saca de La fuerza de la sangre es esta: la sangre como fuerza" (Piluso 490).
(5) Jeronimo Martinez de Ripalda, whose catechism was in wide circulation in both its 1591 and 1619 editions, makes this clear. In a plain, accessible, question-and-answer format, baptism is described as a spiritual birth, "en que nos dan el ser de gracia, y la insignia de Christianos," which removes Original Sin along with "qualquier otro [pecado] si le halla" (122). The effect of marriage, meanwhile, is summarized briefly as giving "gracia a los casados para bien viuir en el [matrimonio]" (127).
(6) David A. Boruchoff likewise notes the seemingly deliberate nonconformity of Rodolfo and Leocadias marriage with the dictates of the Council of Trent and notes that this nonconformity "points to other problems of greater human, dramatic, and moral importance within his fictions" (469). On the subject of how the novela points to larger problems, Katia Sherman proposes a skeptical reading.
(7) For Olivares, contrasting "La fuerza de la sangre" with Maria de Zayas's La fuerza del amor, "La fuerza de la sangre" is "una de las novelas mas idealistas de Cervantes" at the same time that it "reescribe las consecuencias de la violacion y las acciones de la dama ultrajada" (82). Because of the wedding, for Avalle-Arce, the novela is "un fracaso" (25) because "Cervantes desatendio de triste manera la caracterizacion de sus personajes" (27), leading to "inverosimilitud" (31).
(8) Calcraft, for instance, argues, "[t]he effects of time and place have restored to Rodolfo the natural gifts that 'sangre ilustre' he was once happy to dishonour in pursuit of the most selfish ends" (201). Clamurro also sees Rodolfo as a changed man by the end, asserting that, when he is re-introduced to Leocadia just before the wedding, he "immediately falls in love with her, this time in love in the best sense of the word" (150).
(9) Calcraft: "The clear symmetry of the story's events is perhaps the most obvious structural features of the work" (197); Gitlitz notes the novelas "extraordinary symmetry" (113); Piluso: "Hay una simetria perfecta en la estructura" (488).
(10) This theme is explored at length, for example, in Don Quijote, particularly the intercalated novela "El curioso impertinente," as well as elsewhere in the Novelas ejemplares, notably "El celoso extremeno."
(11) For an alternative view on how the miraculous context of "La fuerza de la sangre" relates to the discussion of the miraculous at the Council of Trent, see Lasperas.
(12) This movement from disbelief to belief through vision has a long history of application to both textual exegesis and the interpretation of images; see, for example, Kessler.
(13) I am indebted to Felipe Pereda for pointing me toward this entry from Covarrubias.
(14) Luisico's accident also showcases the paradox of pure blood: in order to remain secure and safe from contamination, it must stay inside the body, where it remains illegible; but in order to be made legible, it must be spilled. Georgina Dopico-Black explores this paradox at length, particularly in relation to El medico de su honra.
(15) Stacey Parker Aronson, for example, reads "un espacio de silencio cargado de significado a pesar de su aparente amoralidad debida a la ambiguedad narrativa" (78-79). Dina De Rendis likewise notes that "the recurrent oppositions 'seeing'/'not seeing,' 'hearing'/'not hearing,' 'talking/'not talking' play a fundamental role" (159).
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|Publication:||Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2017|
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