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  • La mujer en la ficción arcádica: Aproximación a la novela pastoril española
  • Elias L. Rivers
Begoña Souviron López, La mujer en la ficción arcádica: Aproximación a la novela pastoril española. Frankfurt: Vervuert & Madrid: Iberoamericana, 1997. 204 pp.

In Spain during the 1550’s two antithetical works of prose fiction were published: La vida de Lazarillo de Tormes, y de sus fortunas y adversidades, anonymous, and Los siete libros de la Diana, written by Jorge de Montemayor. In the imaginary world of Lazarillo only hunger and money motivate human lives; a mother must even give up her small son to these pressures, and for women in general some form of prostitution seems to be the obvious way to survive. Conversely, in the world of Diana no one worries at all about food or money; love and its idealistic ramifications are the only concern worthy of men and women, and both sexes express with utopian freedom their emotional joys and sorrows.

In the non-fictional world of society, as we have all been made aware, women’s social status has nowhere been equal to that of men: biology has given the latter, on the average, a physical superiority and a proneness to violence that underlies a de facto social advantage reenforced by law and custom in all cultures that can be historically documented. Ancient Greece and Israel were no exceptions; and the medieval cult of the Virgin Mother, along with the adoration of the belle dame sans merci, did not spark social revolutions. But, as Begoña Souviron López explains, the Renaissance rebirth of the ancient pastoral myth, especially in the Spanish novel, did lead to the creation of a utopian, or virtual, world in which women’s protesting voices can be heard with a new freedom. In Garcilaso’s Egloga II (lines 823–25) shy Camila says to an aggressive Albanio:

Aquéste es de los hombres el oficio: tentar el mal, y si es malo el suceso, pedir con humildad perdón del vicio.

She means that men try to take advantage of women sexually: if they fail, they pretend to repent, but presumably, if they succeed, the damage is done, and women are held to blame. Montemayor’s Selvagia is much more eloquent and explicit on the subject of men’s injustice in judging women, as are female characters in Gil Polo’s Diana enamorada. And, more than a century later, this [End Page 445] line of argument is picked up by the Mexican nun Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz in her famous redondillas beginning “Hombres necios que acusáis . . .” Women’s Arcadian voice is one of protest.

Begoña Souviron López (p. 9) attempts a “poststructuralist hermeneutic” approach to the Spanish pastoral novel, an approach based “en los últimos hallazgos de la antropología del Imaginario . . . y en los más recientes y significativos descubrimientos de la Semiótica de los sistemas de representación del Renacimiento y Barroco . . .” She first reviews the ancient and medieval traditions, emphasizing Sannazaro’s key role in the rebirth of the Arcadian myth. (Although she mentions Jesus the Good Shepherd, she neglects the importance of the pastoral tradition of the Bible, from the patriarchs and David the shepherd king to the humble shepherds of Bethlehem, who were important in Spanish pastoral literature.)

In her second chapter Souviron studies models for women based on four different “substrata”: mythological archetypes, with permutations of Venus and Diana; social and political norms defined by Renaissance intellectuals such as Castillejo, Pérez de Moya, and López Pinciano; Counter-Reformational moralizing (“la perfecta casada,” “la pecadora arrepentida,” and “la monja devota” defined by Fray Luis de León and by Malón de Chaide); and, finally, censorship and the Inquisition. Her book is, in fact, the story of the decline and fall of the pastoral myth in Spanish fiction; she tells us (p. 104) “cómo se articula la retórica de la emancipación femenina en las primeras novelas pastoriles, y de qué manera, a medida que la Contrarreforma avanza, va sufriendo un proceso de involución que desemboca en...

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