- The Influence of Sacred Oratory on María de Zayas: A Case in Point, La fuerza del amor
Marina S. Brownlee’s essay “Postmodernism and the Baroque in María de Zayas” classifies the three prevailing views of Zayas’ work as realistic, a faithful portrayal of life in seventeenth-century Spain; as exemplary narratives designed to celebrate establishment values; and as exclusively feminist (111, 113–15). Brownlee takes issue with each of these perspectives, proposing instead that we read the novellas as calling attention to the power of language and its complex performative function. “She [Zayas] presents a variety of potentially exemplary, totalizing discourses—feminist and masculinist—in their power both to represent legitimately and to manipulate illegitimately” (120). Brownlee goes on to speak of Zayas’ “metalinguistic critique” of such venerable cultural institutions as marriage, honor, religion, and the justice system (120). This article will focus on the third of these institutions in the form of Golden Age sermons, and on how a particular novella by Zayas, La fuerza del amor, incorporates and responds to elements of their totalizing masculinist discourse.
I believe that the sermons, which were preached Sunday after Sunday, on special feast days, during the six weeks of Lent and the four weeks of Advent, as well as during retreats and novenas and, of course, on special occasions like funerals (Dansey Smith 10, 20), had a pervasive influence on Zayas’ writing. Yet they have received relatively little attention from Zayas scholars. [End Page 426] Perhaps typical of the relationship between Zayas and the sermons, La fuerza del amor, the fifth novella in the collection Novelas ejemplares y amorosas, published in 1637, seems at times to echo the viewpoint of Golden Age preachers but in the end forcefully rebuts them.
A passage that occurs near the beginning of the novella offers a good example of Zayas’ use of allusion to the sermons, and at the same time, of the importance for her readers of familiarity with those sermons in order to correctly interpret or edit her work. The passage concerns Laura, the beautiful and noble protagonist who will be so ill- and unjustly treated by her husband, don Diego, although in courting her he has given every indication of being madly in love with her. Preceding the passage is a paragraph in which the narrator remarks on the Neapolitan custom of holding soirées in the viceregal palace or homes of the nobility, parties attended by young unmarried women. The narrator Nise appears to agree with those in some other regions of Italy who disapprove of this custom, since most of the time those attending are unable to get to Mass next day. It is at such a soirée that don Diego will have the opportunity to declare his love to Laura. In his edition of the Novelas amorosas y ejemplares, Agustín G. de Amezúa renders the passage in question as follows: “Salió, en fin, Laura a ver y ser vista, tan acompañada de hermosura como de honestidad, aunque, a acordarse de Dina, no se fiara de su recato” (222).
Some editions, such as that published in Paris by Baudry in 1847, have mistakenly substituted Diana for Dina (Dinah in English). The editors were apparently not aware of this biblical figure, the victim of a rapist, whose story appears in Genesis 34.1–31, and of her significance for the author of the novellas and her readers. Unfortunately, even such a recent and well-executed English translation as H. Patsy Boyer’s, based on “Agustín G. de Amezúa’s authoritative edition . . . (Madrid: Aldus, 1948)” (xxxix), misreads the passage, which in Amezúa correctly reads “Dina,” and therefore mistranslates the allusion: “At last, endowed with her beauty and her modesty, Laura went forth to see and to be seen, although, if she’d remembered the goddess Diana, she wouldn’t have trusted in her modesty” (160). The fact that it is the translator’s mistake and not the printer’s is indicated by her addition of “the goddess” in front of the name.
While an allusion to the goddess Diana does not really make much sense in this context, one...