The Heart in the Glass Jar: Love Letters, Bodies, and the Law in Mexico

The Heart in the Glass Jar: Love Letters, Bodies, and the Law in Mexico

The Heart in the Glass Jar: Love Letters, Bodies, and the Law in Mexico

The Heart in the Glass Jar: Love Letters, Bodies, and the Law in Mexico

Synopsis

The Heart in the Glass Jar begins with one man's literal heart (that of a prominent statesman in mid-nineteenth-century Mexico) but is truly about the hearts, bodies, legal entanglements, and letters--as both symbols and material objects--of northern Mexicans from the 1860s through the 1930s.
William E. French's innovative study of courtship practice and family formation examines love letters of everyday folk within the framework of literacy studies and explores how love letters functioned culturally and legally. French begins by situating love letters in the context of the legal system, which protected the moral order of families and communities and also perpetuated the gender order--the foundation of power structures in Mexican society. He then examines reading and writing practices in the communities that the letters came from: mining camps, villages, small towns, and the "passionate public sphere" that served as the wider social context for the love letters and crimes of passion. Finally, French considers "sentimental anatomy," the eyes, hearts, souls, and wills of novios (men and women in courting relationships), that the letters gave voice to and helped bring into being.
In the tradition of Carlo Ginzburg's The Cheese and the Worms and Natalie Zemon Davis's The Return of Martin Guerre, French connects intimate lives to the broader cultural moment, providing a rich and complex cultural history from the intersection of love and law.

Excerpt

Though the heart in the glass jar no longer beats, it continues to invigorate life at the very center of the “lettered city,” a phrase that Angel Rama coined to capture the relationship between power, the written word, and the urban center in Latin America from the colonial period to the present. Today, the heart stands in a display case, preserved in formaldehyde, in a small museum recently established within the facilities of the Colegio Primitivo y Nacional de San Nicolás de Hidalgo, a high school within an institution of higher learning in the city of Morelia in the state of Michoacán. San Nicolás, or “Prepa 1,” as it is now known, was originally founded in Pátzcuaro in 1540 and then moved to Valladolid (now Morelia) in 1580. As an institution, it boasts a long history of educational accomplishments within the state and the nation and claims such distinguished alumni as Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, José María Morelos, and Ignacio López Rayón, figures prominent in the movement for independence. Before the recent creation of the museum, that is, for approximately the previous 140 years, the heart occupied a place of honor in the library of the colegio.

As living tissue, from 1814 until 1861, the heart sustained the life of Melchor Ocampo, a statesman prominent in mid-nineteenth-century public life. Ocampo, captured by a conservative army as part of the conflict over the Reform Laws, had barely had time to write out his will, donating all his books and papers to the colegio, before meeting his end in front of a firing squad in 1861. His body, recovered from the tree in which it had been left hanging, was taken to Mexico City, where his heart was removed during . . .

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