- La pasión esclava: alianzas masoquistas en La Regenta Nuria Godón
La pasión esclava: alianzas masoquistas en La Regenta is a cut above nearly everything published on the subject of Spain's most canonical nineteenth-century novel, La Regenta. It ranks with the best work by noted scholars Jo Labanyi, Nöel Valis, Stephanie Sieburth, Alison Sinclair, and others. La pasión esclava traces the way masochism functions in La Regenta, showing it to be, contrary to what some have argued, a subversive strategy. This is not an argument that is easily digestible without careful theoretical groundwork, something at which the book's author clearly excels. In four well-argued chapters Nuria Godón shows how the novel's masochistic alliances defy gender roles, parody nineteenth-century matrimonial contracts and hold out to the heroine, Ana Ozores, an alternative to the prison of sexual dissatisfaction in her marriage through a companionate spiritual relation with her confessor, don Fermín. Because the general tendency is to emphasize masochism's role in demeaning the subject who submits to it, it is easy to overlook the role of feminine agency in the mechanism of the masochistic contract in this novel.
Godón weaves her picture of the way masochism functions in a literary text from a triple perspective that includes clinical-historical, cultural, and literary dimensions. The result may be compared favorably with Louise Kaplan's ground-breaking study of sexual perversions in Madame Bovary, only it is much more focused on a single pathology, not just a single text. The study is superbly documented, and though it deals with complex psychoanalytic theory, its accessible [End Page 511] prose and thorough explanations make it available even to readers unfamiliar with the topic of masochism. The breadth of Godón's knowledge of masochism on display in the introduction and continuing in Chapter One, "Reconsiderando el masoquismo," is impressive. Sophisticated discussion of all texts relevant to the topic are the bedrock of the introduction, from the classical texts of Sade and Sacher-Masoch, through Freud and Kraft Ebbing, de Beauvoir, and Sartre, to contemporary readings of masochism theory (Pietz, and especially Deleuze, and many others). Here Godón usefully stresses the importance of recognizing the Spanish context, in which Catholicism plays an important role. This emphasis on Catholicism, sustained throughout the book, allows her to explore in depth carnal versus spiritual passion, and the sublimation of love that is key to understanding the relationship between Ana Ozores and her confessor, as well as between the confessor and his domineering mother. The brief discussion of the dynamic of masochism in contemporary texts by Pardo Bazán and other Spanish novelists in comparison with Sacher-Masoch's Venus in Furs also adds to our understanding of how the dialectic of masochism functions in La Regenta. Finally, by including not just Venus in Furs but Sacher-Masoch's lesser-known work, The Love of Plato, as key literary sources, Godón offers a convincing view of masochism in the Spanish context.
Chapter One delves deeper into the differences between the major models for masochism as a sexual pathology and the Spanish model. In La Regenta, the various components of masochism—the dialectic of the twin souls, the masochistic contract, pleasure and pain, theatricality and fetishism—in some cases plays out differently than in most clinical models. Examining the evolving relations between Fermín and Ana in the light of a broad range of classic clinical studies reveals how Clarín distorted common models, leading Godón to conclude, "El afán de agonía subyacente en el masoquismo dentro del contexto español obedece al sentimiento de culpa que se erige en el Catolicismo" (43). This sets the stage for the thesis, developed further in later chapters, that the masochistic contract in the case of La Regenta is a parody of the marriage contract. While in the model of Sacher-Masoch and others it is the masochist who orchestrates the scene (the amorous fantasy involving torture), Clarín reverses the model in La...