An Old Woman’s Guide to Love: María Gertrudis Hore’s Amor Caduco

This is a presentation I’ll be giving at the 2017 American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies in Minneapolis in a session on the “Delusional Self”

In Félix Samaniego’s fábula “La Hermosa y el espejo”/“The Beauty and the Mirror,” a woman is infuriated to find that with the passing of the years, her faithful “friend” the mirror no longer praises her beauty with words of “gracioso” (cute) or “bonito” (pretty) but rather tells her the plain, hard truth that she is losing her former beauty. The poet scolds “Listen to me, if you look for friends who only talk about how elegant and enchanting you are, but never point out the faults that you can’t see in yourself, how will you ever improve?” Anarda, the woman in this poem, prefers her delusional sense of self over the truth, and Enlightened Spanish men like Samaniego were quick to criticize her for it. Recent scholars like Alvaro Molina and Michael Schlig have discussed visual and literary images of eighteenth-century Spanish women and women’s beauty, and in particular the use of the mirror as metaphor, which underscored: “inaccuracy, fallibility, and deceit, but in the same contexts they often also exposed unresolved issues related to relations between the sexes” (Schlig 378). Schlig goes on to cite Laura Mulvey’s important 1975 essay that established the concept of the male gaze as fundamental not only to film studies, but for any analysis of images—visual or literary—of the women’s bodies. Alvaro Molina, in his study of the visual representations of gender in eighteenth-century Spain, also examines the presence of mirrors and of male on-lookers in the depictions of the aging female body “En las imágenes que giran en torno al espacio del tocador, la verdad del espejo se opone frecuentemente a la de los aduladores que acompañan a la dama en su arreglo personal, sobre todo con el paso de los años”/In images that appear in dressing rooms, the truth of the mirror is opposed frequently by the adulators who accompany the lady in her beauty routine, especially with the passing of the years” (396). The exterior male gaze of patriarchy both fetishizes the female form while it censures a woman’s own narcissistic gaze into the mirror. Freud himself voices the same ambivalence that Enlightenment men held towards female beauty:

Women, especially if they grow up with good looks, develop a certain self-contentment which compensates them for the social restrictions that are imposed upon them in their choice of object. Strictly speaking, it is only themselves that such women love with an intensity comparable to that of man’s love for them. . . Such women have the greatest fascination for men, not only for aesthetic reasons, since as a rule they are the most beautiful, but also…it seems very evident that another person’s narcissism has a great attraction for those who have renounced part of their own narcissism and are in search of object-love. (“Narcissism” 87-88)

As Mónica Bolufer points out, eighteenth-century Spanish women too derived personal pleasure and social power from their appearance, and they enjoyed for themselves “the secret pleasure of narcissistic contemplation…of seeing oneself in the mirror of the gaze of others” (208).

The paintings “Majas on a Balcony,” “Maja and Celestina on a Balcony,” and “Time and the Old Ladies” by Francisco Goya, all created between 1808-1812 and believed to be intended as a series, highlight through both mirrors and external observers some themes related to the patriarchal gaze of female bodies. They also, through their use of aging female bodies that are sometimes juxtaposed with young female bodies, point to the fleeting nature of female beauty, and ridicule the delusional female self. Goya had explored these themes earlier, from the subtle irony of his various portraits of the Queen María Luisa—with identical arrow-shaped combs adorning both the Queen’s in the painting “The Family of Charles IV, and the later painting “Time and the Old Ladies”—, to the young majas and decrepit Celestina-like women of the engravings of the Caprichos—notably in these two: No. 3 “Ruega por ella” (Pray for Her) and 55 “Hasta la muerte” (Until Death). In this latter engraving both mirror and male and female observers reveal the truth of the old woman’s delusion—she is merely a caricature of a beautiful young woman, an object of ridicule of those who observe her. Yet her self-indulging Narcissistic gaze contrasts with the harsh scrutiny of the mirror, calling to question her interior sense of self—does she see what the others see in the mirror, or a delusion? Mulvey critiques the typical patriarchal depiction of woman, who is “tied to her place as bearer of meaning, not maker of meaning” (834). Not only is woman silenced, as she ages she is rendered irrelevant. Toril Moi, speaking of Freud’s declaration of “psychical rigidity and unchangeability” in women after thirty, exclaims that they are “the living dead, the Nosferatus of the soul. No wonder Freud finds them frightening” (842).

But the fact is that, despite all this, women were not silent or silenced, especially not after age thirty. In Spain a generation of Enlightenment women writers achieved literary success through publication in their 30s and beyond—playwright María Rosa Gálvez and poet Margarita Hickey were in their 30s, Josefa Amar y Borbón in her 40s, Inés Joyes y Blake in her 60s. In the remainder of this paper we will examine a poem Amor caduco (Aged love) by María Gertrudis Hore, who was 54 at the time of this poem’s publication in the Diario de Madrid in April of 1796. Hore (1742-1801), known by her penname Hija del Sol (Daughter of the Sun), was born to a wealthy Irish merchant family in Cádiz. She is remembered as much for a mysterious decision to leave her marriage and enter the convent of Santa María in Cádiz at the age of 36, as for her fourteen published poems, most of which appeared in journals in Madrid after becoming a nun in the late 1780s through the 1790s. The 1796 poem “Amor caduco” gives what on the surface seems to be a lighthearted but cautionary tale to old women who still dream of love. In the poem, the love-stricken old Cefisa stumbles and injures herself while daydreaming of a former lover, but she comes back to reality from her delusion after glimpsing her reflection in a stream: “¿Con rostro arrugado, Cabello nevado De amor padecer?” the poet inquires. Images of the poetic subject’s advanced age exist for the viewer/reader long before this climactic moment. From the poem’s first images—the “corvo cayado” (her cane), the description of her neck hunched over with age (doblado el cuello), and her trembling vision “trémula vista”—to its description of the fateful fall from her “weak and aged footing” (“anciana débil planta”) and resulting in her grave injury as she feels her face literally bathed in blood, we the readers observe with pity and perhaps ridicule her moment of self-recognition as an ironic twist on the myth of Narcissus where her own reflection does not captivate, but rather repulses. Still, the destiny of both Narcissus and Hore’s poetic Cefisa is death, graphically depicted in Cefisa’s bloody head injury, but also looming as she walks away slowly into the sunset towards home. Death first appears lines before Cefisa’s fall, in the memory of her dead lover, whom she describes as “de la Parca despojo desgraciado”/Death’s unfortunate loot. The use of the word “caduco” in title of the poem evokes not merely old-age, but decrepitude and obsolescence. Cefisa’s youth, her former beauty, and her love-life have passed, and outwardly they are barely discernable, the carved words from a long-lost lover “casi borrados” (almost erased) in the bark of an old tree. But for Cefisa, the memories that these barely visible words evoke are inerasable, and they bring back a pain so strong that she believes she would die from love, not from old age—“muriera de amor, de amor moriría”—the hypothetical imperfect subjunctive and conditional tenses connect past to present, while they evoke an inner experience that cannot be observed. The climactic moment of self-recognition as she views her bloody reflection in the stream is not that she is no longer young and beautiful—she is not like the decrepit old ladies of Goya’s pieces who persist in their delusional self-image—but rather that she, as her lover before her, is dying, and she recognizes it.

In the poem’s sensible conclusion, Cefisa rejects her old passions “entregando al olvido de su pasada juventud pasiones.” She leaves the idyllic outdoor scene of her youth—the green meadow (verde prado), the flowery field (campo florido), the tall oak (alta encina) and of course the stream running through it—and she returns to a domestic setting, her cabin, and to her loving “familia placentera.” It seems that Cefisa has learned her lesson, that she won’t persist in her delusion “Hasta la muerte” (until death) as Goya warns. Cefisa is thankful in the end, but of what? She gives thanks to Heaven that no one saw her swoon and fall, “que no hubo en el suelo quien viera su acción.” The poet interjects her own advice to old women at the end of the poem, turning this poem into its own female-fable to counter Samaniego’s prior admonitions to aging beauties. Hore’s advice is not that old women shouldn’t feel love, but rather, curiously, that if they do harbor lingering emotions of love, they should stop walking for a while “suspendan luego el piso” and avoid public humiliation “Pues si en público caen por acaso, causará mayor risa.” Hore both acknowledges the power of the male gaze in the possibility of public ridicule and humiliation, while she also affirms the importance of women’s inner emotional life.

Simone de Beauvoir described the aging woman’s inner emotional life in her monumental Second Sex as frustrated and negative “she shuts herself up with the secret she carries in her heart that is the mysterious key to her unhappy lot. She endeavors to try out in turn all the possibilities she has not exhausted. She begins to keep an intimate diary. . . . Just as the young girl dreams of what her future will be, so she evokes what might have been her past; she pictures her lost opportunities and invents retrospective romances” (642). Beauvoir is unique among early feminists in her interest in aging, but still her words reflect how negatively society views an old woman’s love. While eighteenth-century male writers, twentieth century philosophers, and even, yes, twenty-first century scholars seem to agree with Freud that a woman past thirty is of little interest, the fact is that for generations, women writers like María Gertrudis Hore found that they were just coming into their own as they aged. In “Amor caduco,” not only does an old woman avoid becoming a caricaturesque object of ridicule, but also through the voice of the female poet, an old woman is more than the bearer of meaning to patriarchy’s gaze, but rather she becomes her own maker of meaning.

Works cited:
Bolufer, Mónica. Mujeres e ilustración: La construcción de la femenidad en la España del siglo XVIII. Valencia: Diputació de València, 1998.
Beauvoir, Simone de. The Second Sex. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1952.
Hore, María Gertrudis. “Amor Caduco.” Diario de Madrid. April 17 (1796): 441-443.
Freud, Sigmund (1914) “On Narcissism: An Introduction.” Ed. James Strachey. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XIV (1914-1916): On the History of the Psycho-Analytic Movement, Papers on Metapsychology and Other Works. 67-102.
—. (1933). “Femininity” Freud 1953-74. Vol. 22. 112-35.
Molina, Alvaro. Mujeres y hombres en la España Ilustrada. Identidad, género y visualidad. Madrid: Ensayos de Arte Cátedra, 2013.
Moi, Toril. “From Femininity to Finitude: Freud, Lacan and Feminism, Again.” Signs, 29.3 (2004): 841-878.
Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings. Eds. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. New York: Oxford UP 1999: 833-44.
Samaniego, Félix María. “El espejo.” Fábulas en verso castellano para el uso del Real Seminario Bascongado (1781), Madrid: 1841. 344.
Schlig, Michael. “(D)espejos: Neoclassic Aesthetics, Female Narcissism and the Male Gaze in Enlightenment Spain.” DIECIOCHO 34.2 (Fall 2011). 367-382.

Bienvenidos al nuevo semestre de Escritura Avanzada

Bienvenidos a un nuevo semestre, y al curso de escritura avanzada, Español 413, en la Universidad de Mary Washington (Virginia, USA). Hace 3 años que no he dado este curso, debido a mis responsabilidades como Chair del Departamento de Lenguas y Literaturas Modernas. Estoy muy emocionada de volver al curso, y como siempre me pasa, he decidido cambiarlo un poco de lo que he hecho en el pasado. Mi objetivo general en este curso siempre ha sido ayudar a todos los alumnos mejorar su manejo del idioma del español, aumentar sus destrezas de escribir, desarrollar una voz auténtica, y trabajar en la sofisticación de su escritura. Vamos a trabajar en todo esto en parte con el estudio y la lectura–de algunos puntos de gramática difíciles, y de la escritura de otros. Pero la mejor manera de mejorar nuestra escritura es escribir. ¿Por qué escribir en un blog? En parte, porque hoy en día, los blogs (las bitácoras) son la mejor manera de comunicar nuestras ideas por escrito. Pero también he escogido el formato del blog porque así no solamente podemos explorar nuestras propias ideas, sino que también podemos interactuar con otros escritores. Así me ha pasado a mi, y es a través de varios blogs que he mantenido en el pasado que he conocido a otros escritores, investigadores, y profesores con los mismos intereses. Pero como pueden ver en mi blog, no es fácil mantener un blog. Nuestro desafío este semestre es escribir regularmente, desarrollar nuestras ideas, nuestro vocabulario, y establecer una presencia entre una comunidad de otros escritores–sean de nuestra clase, o de la web.

Como tal vez ya saben, mi investigación se centra en el siglo XVIII español, particularmente en la escritura de las mujeres del dieciocho. Estoy actualmente trabajando en una propuesta para un artículo, y mis lecturas últimamente han sido sobre el concepto de una República de Letras–un concept que desarrolló el movimiento de la Ilustración. En las palabras de Dena Goodman (escribiendo sobre Francia) “it (18th century philosophy, the Republic of Letters) was not confined within the individual, disembodied (Cartesian) mind (…) its tasks could be completed only in a social setting, as a social practice” (Goodman, 8) Creo que lo mismo es verdad sobre la nueva República de Letras que representa el internet y los medios sociales en general, y blogging en particular. ¡Que nuestro curso este semestre desarrolle una República de Letras en Mary Washington, y que se extienda más allá de Fredericksburg!

Image from front page, google books,

Image from front page, google books,

Aquí hay una copia del plan de la clase para el semestre: espanol-413-primavera-2017

Goodman, Dena. The Republic of Letters: A Cultural History of the French Enlightenment. Cornell UP, 1994.

DQ, imitation, GIFs and plagiarism

Don Quijote de la Mancha (película completa sub español)

“Windmills” from Don Quixote (2000), Peter Yates, Director


make animated gifs like this at MakeaGif

This week in my freshman seminar Digital Don Quixote, we are addressing the question of copyrights, Creative Commons and plagiarism at the same time we have been reading chapters 7-9 of Part 1—the iconic windmill scene followed by the less well known episode of the interrupted battle with the Basque squire. In the latter episode, Don Quixote’s battle with a Basque squire is interrupted when the narrator reports that the manuscript he is reading is truncated, and that the rest of the story is missing. On a quest to find out what happened in the story and to the missing text, while perusing a market in Toledo, the narrator discovers a text in Arabic that when translated turns out to be the missing text—the History of Don Quixote de la Mancha by Cide Hamete Benengeli, Arabic historian. The story continues where it left off, and Don Quixote defeats his challenger. This ingenious narrative interruption underscores Cervantes’ parody of the popular novels of chivalry (as he claims to be his main aim in this novel) which often also had supposed historian’s telling of the heroes feats. But also the many layers of narration—narrator, translator, historian, Cervantes himself—complicate the readers interaction with the story. Don Quixote´s “history” is a copy of a copy, with multiple authors presenting, interpreting, and commenting on it as it passes from some supposed true events to its present form. All the while readers participate in this chain of narration, themselves interacting with it, and even changing it. This will become even more the case in the second part when Cervantes has a real-life copier of his novel—the unauthorized sequel to Don Quixote by Avellaneda that was published between in the ten year gap between the first and second volumes—which he takes care to debunk throughout the second part.

When I paired these readings from Don Quixote with the readings on issues of copyright and plagiarism, some of it had to do with what I saw as some loose connections on the topics of authorship, and some had to do with a visit I scheduled with our Center for Honor, Leadership, and Service. To prepare for that visit students have also read a blogpost by Shelly Carson, a Psychology Today contributor, “Plagiarism and its Effects on Creativity.” I also thought that at this point it would be fun to work with some animated GIFs to represent some of these important episodes in the novel to encourage the students to experiment a little with some new digital applications. So hurredly before class on Monday morning, I made the above GIF, taking a couple seconds of video from a television film version of the novel directed by  Peter Yates, and starring John Lithgow into an application called You can see the results of my 30 seconds of work above. Nothing too impressive, but sort of fun. But then I thought, did I just plagiarize?

Our own Center for Honor has an infographic on its website to answer my question.

untitledSo I don’t think I plagiarized. Whether or not my GIF is within the “fair use” definition of the copyright laws is another question, which blogger Peter Van contemplates in this blogpost “Do Animated GIFs Infringe on Copyrights?“ Basically, no one has really challenged GIF creators use of copyrighted material in court…yet! Shelley Carson sees plagiarism as symptomatic of our digital age’s “dumbing down” of culture. Are GIFs (and the related internet memes)also contributing to this dumbing down? Is  my 5 second loop of a windmill spinning round and round and round and round…creative? Certainly I could have put more thought into it, combining the images in a more interesting way, maybe added my own special touch, all of which would have been more possible if I had photoshop and not a web application to work with! GIFs are a great example of our imitative postmodern aesthetic. GIFs can be parody or pastiche, and their endless looping of the same series of images are unique to our digital internet culture. Which is where I think they connect with Don Quixote, which also repeats and re-presents its story multiple times through multiple voices. Readers become authors who in turn become narrators. Let the battle resume!

Don Quijote de la Mancha. Capítulo 7

“Battle with the Basque” Don Quijote de la Mancha (1992), Manuel Gutiérrez Aragón Director.

Another Year With Don Quij(x)ote

I am embarassed that it’s been 5 months since I last blogged. Last spring semester was a whirlwind of teaching, committee meetings, chair duties, and conferences. Spring turned to summer with more of the same. We also experienced a terrible tragedy on our campus right at the end of the spring semester that was a horrifying ending to end what was a pretty contentious year among our student body, and faculty. Unfortunately all of that got in the way of my appreciation, at least my public appreciation on this blog, of the fact that, despite whatever else was going on around me, last academic year was for me a highlight of my teaching career, as it began and ended  with Don Quijote.

I’ve alreay discussed in an earlier blog post about my first-year seminar (FSEM) Digital Don Quixote, its successes and short-comings, and my plans for the spring 2015 senior seminar in Spanish. I’d like to debrief a bit about the senior level seminar, before I look ahead to a new year with the FSEM.

Our advanced seminar course Spanish 451 Cervantes had not been taught in years when I decided to give it a try, despite the fact I´m no Cervantista. But I was a student, and I know how hard it was for me to read the novel the first time, so I tried to look for activities, both in and out of the class that would help students not only comprehend the novel better in Spanish, but also help them start to experience its richness, and the vast bibliography about it. To encourage their reading, students logged in and commented on chapters as they finished them through blogposts, and a progress meter that I kept. We kept collective class notes on our wiki, Don Wikijote. This is also where project groups, which studied a series of characters in the novel, displayed their work.

Some of the sections on the course webpage contain our class-time activities. A really successful one involved two visual maps we created of the movements of the characters in the first and second volumes. It helped all of us visualize who was where, when, and with whom, but also helped us see some major structural and character differences in the two parts of the novel. We used a free tool call Cacoo for this activity, which was really fun for the students,  but I think we could have used Google docs just as successfully. Other class activities that involved collecting images and music associated with the novel and posting it on our website, or creating a word cloud with Voyant, were good, but maybe not as impactful as the wiki or the map.

But by far the best thing was a great group of bright students who were game to try out all my crazy digital tools, and who approached this novel with great enthusiasm. It was such a fun semester that I spent with them, full of lively conversation and great insight that a webpage can even begin to represent!