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

The Fictions of Blood in "La Fuerza De la Sangre"

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

The Fictions of Blood in "La Fuerza De la Sangre"

Article excerpt

Todavia no se ha estudiado con suficiente detalle el tema de los estatutos de limpieza de sangre de Espana de los siglos XVI y XVII a traves de la literatura de dicha epoca. Este articulo se funda en la interpretacion de la sangre en la novela "La fuerza de la sangre" de Miguel de Cervantes, para subrayar la interaccion de los dos generos mas importantes en la novela: el cuento de milagros y el romance. Esta lectura ubica la ideologia de la limpieza en el centro de la novela y sugiere la posibilidad de investigar la influencia mutua entre los estatutos de limpieza y los generos literarios.

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THE SUBJECT OF BLOOD purity has recently been studied in Cervantes with respect to Don Quijote and La Numancia, (1) but I will focus on a Cervantine work whose interpretation hinges on the meaning of blood: "La fuerza de la sangre," which explores the public acceptance of the absurd fiction of limpieza de sangre while also reflecting on the limitations and possibilities of genre. (2) I draw on Maria Elena Martinez's characterization of the Spanish concept of blood purity and impurity as "fictions, ideological constructs based on religious and genealogical understandings of difference" (Martinez 61). As Martinez notes, in spite of their fictional nature, these "were no less effective at shaping social practices, categories of identity, and self-perceptions" (61). "La fuerza de la sangre" investigates precisely these fictions, drawing ironically on the conventions of the miracle narrative and the romance to skewer the ideology behind limpieza. The novela argues that the purity of blood can never be known, and thus any system premised on this purity is pure fiction. Rather than directly puncturing the posturing of his characters--as occurs in, for example, El retablo de las maravillas--in "La fuerza de la sangre," Cervantes approaches the problem of pure blood obliquely, taking advantage of genre conventions and the coded language of limpieza, while at the same time pointing to their fissures and inconsistencies. In other words, Cervantes asks us to dismantle the fiction of limpieza de sangre by dismantling the fiction he presents to us. (3)

If we consider the novela from this perspective, its unlikely events can be understood through a single glimpse of spilled blood and its miraculous credibility. This central "miracle"--at once believable and inconceivable--allows the reader of "La fuerza de la sangre" the possibility of accepting the truth of the narrative while questioning its reliability. Blood is the central sign in the novela because it allows just this ambiguity: the ideology of limpieza de sangre insists that blood can be made legible and knowable; however, as a mere bodily substance, it remains opaque, an empty signifier. This interpretive disconnect, the novela argues, is the specific province of fictions, both those that take place on the page and those that operate in readers' everyday lives, including those that underpin even the most entrenched institutions. This approach to "La fuerza de la sangre" demonstrates that many of the dismissive or contentious entries in its critical history are misguided; they either fail to allow (or account) for its irony or simply acknowledge its ambiguity with no further nuance. It also allows us to resituate "La fuerza de la sangre" with respect to the rest of the Novelas ejemplares, challenging traditional divisions attributed to the work.

"La fuerza de la sangre" recounts the rape of Leocadia, a noble but poor young woman, by Rodolfo, a wealthy nobleman. After seeing Leocadia walking with her parents one night, Rodolfo conspires with his friends to abduct her, whereupon Leocadia loses consciousness; Rodolfo rapes her in this state after carrying her to his parents' house. When Leocadia awakens and realizes what has happened--and after Rodolfo attempts to rape her a second time--she begs him to promise he will maintain "perpetuo silencio" (Cervantes 2: 80), never once mentioning these events to anyone else. …

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