Academic journal article Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America

La Senora Peregrina as Mediatrix in "La Ilustre Fregona"

Academic journal article Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America

La Senora Peregrina as Mediatrix in "La Ilustre Fregona"

Article excerpt

Readers of "La ilustre fregona" have often been perplexed by what they see as the excessive plasticity of the tale's assumed heroine, Costanza. She is one of the several female noble characters of the Novelas ejemplares who is deprived of her rightful social situation and forced to be situated in a region of the lower world. But Costanza stands as a foil against her Cervantine peers, such as the curious and defiant Leonora ("El celoso extremeno"), the undomesticated Preciosa ("La gitanilla"), the adventurous Teodosia ("Las dos doncellas"), and the resolute Leocadia ("La fuerza de la sangre") who, in varying degrees, resist becoming unjustifiably enclosed and subjugated. As William Clamurro points out, it is peculiar that unlike the heroines of "La espanola inglesa," and "El amante liberal," Costanza involves little interaction and no special challenges that the suitor must overcome (203). Indeed, Costanza is exceptionally uninvolved in the development of the plot; silent and stationary, she appears mostly unconcerned with the shaping of her destiny in any way. Instead she waits for "the timely intervention of a deus ex machina" (Aylward 70). Until the recognition scene, she remains an aloof figure that evades interaction with both fellow characters, as well as with the reader. Ana Maria Barrenechea describes Costanza's image "en hueco," pointing to her lack of interiority (199-200). What little information we have about Costanza comes second-hand, from what other characters have to say about her. As Ruth El Saffar observes, there is no behind-the-scenes acquaintance with her "true personality" (103).

Critics in the past have often likened Costanza's exemplary behavior to that of the heroine of the romance genre, highlighting her ability to resist the immoral forces that pervade the Toledan inn. (1) Joaquin Casalduero remarks that "Costanza, que vive constantemente sometida al peligro, que esta en relacion con los hombres, sale victoriosa de todo ataque" (202). There is nothing in the text, however, that suggests that Costanza is exposed to real danger. In fact, even though she is famously known as a "fregona," she is described as never having washed a single dish. (2) And although the inn where she resides is filled with raging violence and lust, she does not experience any real danger of being killed or raped, as would the romance heroines of Northrop Frye (80). Costanza is described as spending her days praying, reading, and embroidering. Ironically, she appears to live the idealized life for maidens as constructed by humanists such a Luis Vives or Fray Luis de Leon. Thus, while Costanza is physically placed in the Toledan inn, she nevertheless lives a separate life away from the darkness and chaos associated with the underworld, inexplicably isolated and protected from her picaresque surroundings, as if by enchantment. Like the enchanted Dulcinea, she is also depicted as a "villana de Sayago" (148). It is only when all of the main characters assemble at anagnorisis that she uncovers her mysterious identity (Clamurro 203). It is during this scene that, through the confession of the father, Costanza is finally disenchanted.

Although Costanza does not actively shape the main elements of the story, her presence is central to the development of the main plot. She is an astral body, as described by Barrenechea, "un astro que arrastra hacia su orbita a los que se cruzan en su camino" (200). Costanza lives in a shrine-like place where all of the major elements of the tale are eventually resolved. It is as if Costanza herself is the end of a pilgrimage, where men from all classes, including her half-brother, her future husband, and her father, go to show their love and devotion. It is because of Costanza's presence at the inn that young Avendano and Carriazo stay in Toledo, where they will subsequently be reunited with their fathers and be restored to society. In an ironic twist of events, the elder Carriazo also finds himself in a pilgrimage to Costanza's "shrine" where, through confession and repentance, he and his son will finally break against the picaresque forces that prevented them from living up to the "ilustre" code of behavior expected of their social standing. …

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