Academic journal article Romance Notes

History in Perspective in Ana Maria Moix's Vals Negro

Academic journal article Romance Notes

History in Perspective in Ana Maria Moix's Vals Negro

Article excerpt

ANA Maria Moix's Vals negro (1994) is a "reality"-based novel that implicitly questions the ability of both the narrators and the readers to apprehend historical "truths." By repeating unreliable information from uninformed characters, the multifaceted narrative voices in this fictionalized biography highlight doubt, negation, lies and contradictions. Knowledge is continually placed into question as facts are routinely distorted and the truth is silenced or ignored. The resulting mosaic of refracted shards of fragmented information brings to mind a kaleidoscope, offering a beautiful yet constantly shifting image of the life of the protagonist.

Each of the novel's six chapters--chronological vignettes of the life of the Austro-Hungarian Empress Elizabeth of Bavaria (a.k.a. Sissi)-is focalized with indirect free-style narrations that suggest six different Rashomonian first-person points of view. The variety of these perspectives is expanded even further through the inclusion of seemingly endless opinions about Sissi, ranging from official reports, newspaper articles, eye-witness accounts, legends, rumors and innuendo. As Alice R. Clemente states, the "narrative voice cedes its perspective to a series of witnesses" (329) who distort Sissi's life and history through the lens of their own particular reality. Moix's novel is a study in cubistic perspectivism which considers how the empress's husband, in-laws, servants, subjects, and friends might interpret (or misinterpret) her liberal political beliefs and her tendencies toward lesbianism, anorexia and clinical depression.

Since the narrators--particularly the male narrators--do not under stand their subject, and Sissi herself is practically silenced (1) readers are offered only fragmentary and contradictory glimpses of the empress. The desire for understanding is thwarted, the promise of in-depth comprehension, denied.

Certain chapters particularly foreground the unreliability of the narrators and the unknowns/unknowables which preclude true understanding; because of space considerations, I will limit my comments in this paper to the prologue and first two chapters. The prologue--the only chapter which does not follow the chronological order of the rest of the book--begins at the end, describing Sissi's assassination at the hands of an Italian anarchist in 1898. As the only chapter with a third-person omniscient narrator, it may appear, at first, to offer a more neutral, "truthful" biographical history than that found in the personalized perspectives of other chapters' narrative voices, but the prologue's beautiful, poetic descriptiveness belies the idea of journalistic impartiality. Sissi--dressed in perpetual mourning after the suicide of her son Rudolph, the only male heir to the throne--is called "La Dama Negra." Her encounter with "La Dama Blanca," the apparition who always warned her of the upcoming deaths of family members and who now greets her as the embodiment of Death, is described in "quasi-lyrical, legendary" (Clemente 329) terms.

Still, the prologue begins with the cold efficiency of a newspaper article, clarifying historical space and time: "Una dama blanca y otra negra coincidieron en los muelles de la ciudad de Ginebra la manana del 10 de septiembre de 1898" (7). It continues as if it were a police report: the second paragraph contains a twelve-line-long parenthetical list of every person who was present at the moment the empress was attacked. This roster of witnesses is so static that it suggests a tableau; the only noteworthy action--the stabbing of a stiletto into the empress's heart has yet to be disclosed to the reader.

In spite of the prologue's precision, there is a pretense of great mysteriousness, since the narrator avoids naming both the empress and the crime perpetrated against her. But this "mystery" will be mitigated by the knowledge that most readers bring to the novel. Thus, for example, although La Dama Negra's real name is not revealed until page sixteen, the use of Sissi's preferred pseudonym, "condesa Hohenembs" (8), and references to "la extravagante viajera" (10), "[l]a ilustre dama" (12) and, finally, "el real cadaver" (15), "la ahora difunta" (15), or "la dama muerta" (15) will not create any difficulties in comprehension for a reader with even the most basic knowledge of the subject of the novel. …

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