Posts tagged ‘Spain’

14/09/2016

Lisarda; or, The Travels Of Love And Jealousy (Part 2)

lisarda1bExtreamly pleased was the Melancholy Gentleman, with the courteous offers of Ricardo, who desir’d not to wonder that he of himself should relate a misfortune, that ought to be for his honour kept private from all the World, but his Civilities had such influence over him, that he had not Power to refuse him any thing; besides he thought the stillness of the night requir’d a Companion to Discourse with to pass away those tedious hours; so that Ricardo began, and related the whole story of his Misfortunes; and having ended, the Gentleman confest his Misfortunes were great, but those he should relate were far exceeding his, in as much as he had not only lost a Mistress that he lov’d, but a Wife, whom he admir’d above all Worldly things; and his Honour, a thing that ought to be dearer than Life…

Whatever the Criticks made of the first part of Lisarda, it seems that its author’s overriding ambition for it –  that “the Book sells” – was sufficiently fulfilled to satisfy Mr Cox’s publisher, since the concluding part of the short novel appeared in due course; with the two being reissued together in September of 1690.

Not that the author’s opinion of himself, or his opinion of his readers’ opinions, seem to have altered as a result of his apparent success. The second part of Lisarda opens with another address to “The Reader” wherein Mr Cox expresses his dismal conviction that they probably followed his advice, tendered at the beginning of the first part, and bought his book chiefly to abuse it; with more to come:

Now do not I know whether with truth begin with Gentle, Courteous, or Kind Reader; for perhaps you deserve none of these Epithets; examine your Conscience, and if you find yourself clear of having abus’d either Book or Author, send me but word of it, and I have left sufficient to have any of those to begin with: But if you had rather show your Wit, and exercise your Talent in Criticism; perhaps I shall give you subject enough to work on in this second Part, so that you would really be at a loss, if you had spent all your Satyrical Phrases on the first, and prodigally thrown away the last Jear your Mistress sent you on an odd expression you preferr’d from the Academy of Complements to your Heroick Love Epistle; and for a further advancement made it the ridicul’d Interpreter of your Incomprehensible thoughts; your Lovely Cælia, Aminta, or what other fine Romantick Names you have bestow’d on the sweet Lady. I protest, Sir, if so, you must change your Company, and there wait a fit occasion to put if off a second time: Or else continue saying every now and then, with a bonne Grace, But Damn me, Madam, if it ben’t very Silly. This will do; for without doubt, Sir, the Ladies will credit you; and the unknown Author hath but lost his labour, in thinking to forestall you, and be satyrical first; he’ll bemoan the loss of so much pains; and ten to one the next Novel he writes, you will read in the Preface that he hath either hang’d or drown’d himself to put the thoughts of it out of his mind…

(For what it’s worth, I can’t find that Cox ever did publish a second novel…)

The second part of Lisarda opens with the unhappy Ricardo slowly recovering from his wounds, but much tormented by his kinsman, the Corregidor, and other friends who keep trying to cheer him up. Finally, when he is able, Ricardo decides to go travelling. He heads first to Barcelona, and from there embarks; his ultimate destination being Rome.

On board the ship on which he is travelling, Ricardo meets another gentleman as miserable as he is; and since misery truly does love company, the two of them immediately fall into a “My Sufferings Are Worse Than Yours” contest; while the reader is presented with a clear indication that Lisarda has shifted into the realm of the picaresque with the appearance of our old friend, or at least acquaintance, the Interpolated Narrative:

My name is Enrique Thomas de Guanches Fernandez Ysugo, my Country Barcelona, the Metropolitan of the noble Principality of Cattalonna, my Quality of the Most Illustrious in that State; my Estate, though not of the largest, yet enough; and my Age thirty four years: There dwelt in the very next House to my Fathers a young Lady, whom I lov’d as I grew in sense and years, beginning from my Childhood: I mistake, I should say ador’d…

Don Enrique and Donna Estefania marry young, with the blessing of their respective parents, and at first all is well; very well indeed:

Whoever says that Marriage gluts, and consequently impairs Love, certainly must be such dull Souls, who more like Brutes than Men, are but satisfying their sensual Appetite, while I’m sure all refin’d Spirits, who by the continual Enjoyment, have daily the Experiments of the Wit, the Modesty, the pleasing Behaviour, affording daily fresh supplies to edge his Appetite…

But alas for our Refin’d Spirit, disaster was looming:

…but who would think it, Don Ricardo, that with all these visible signs of Love, (I am asham’d to say it) that Estefania should offend my Honour, that she should defile my Bed, rejoicing in a Strangers Arms; at least in desire if not in deed; and who would think, that I being who I am, should live to own it, and that grief for the loss of my Honour should not deprive me of Life: I will not, my Dear Friend, nor will my Honour permit me to speak ill of that Sex, since we owe our Births to them, with the dangers of their own lives; but laying these natural Obligations aside, and to speak how firm they ought to be, and how constant: Tell me what trust can a Man put in that Sex, or who can sleep secure of their Treasons, since Estefania could be false?

My sex thanks you for the sour persimmons, Don Enrique, while also noting that little loophole about in desire if not in deed: could this by any wild, improbable chance be another instance of an over-emotional Spaniard jumping the gun on flimsy-to-non-existent evidence??

Enrique and Estefania have a son, and because he cannot bequeath the boy as large an estate as he would wish, Enrique begins manoeuvring to acquire him a title. Esefania throws herself into the plan with enthusiasm, pressing Enrique to travel to Madrid, to the Court, to pursue the matter. Though he expects to encounter many difficulties, in fact the king is very gracious, and Enrique achieves his purpose very swiftly and hurries home ahead of the expected time. Not far out, however, he is caught in a violent storm and takes refuge at an inn, where he finds himself sharing quarters with another gentleman, a certain Don Federico, who also has cause to bemoan the delay, as he was in eager expectation of having his pursuit of a certain lovely lady come that night to fruition.

Once the servants have gone, Enrique asks Federico for more of his story—merely to pass the time, and never dreaming of the shock in store. Federico has mentioned that his would-be lover’s name is “unfortunate”, and Enrique picks up this point:

…but no sooner did I see our selves alone, but with as impertinent a Curiosity, as malicious, and designedly to know the Lady’s Name, I told him, I thought no Name in Spain unfortunate, because they are Names of Saints that are always given in Spain. To this he answer’d, That ever since in Castile there was a Lady named Estefania, who was Kill’d by her Husband, without ever offending him, only by the deceit of a Servant, That it was a vulgar Attribute of the Estefania’s to be Unfortunate. According to this your Lady is called Estefania said I, a little alter’d: And he answer’d, Having told you the Story first, it would be a folly to think to hide her Name now: So craving leave to sleep, he turn’d himself, and left me not altogether free from a villainous suspicion of being Horn’d…

…and to dwell on one detail in that story to the exclusion of another.

The next day, Enrique rushes on his fate, pressing Federico for all the details of his amour: the accidental meeting, the pursuit, the encouragement, the lady’s fear for her reputation, and finally a capitulation to the point of allowing Federico into her house. Federico explains how, by questioning some chair-men about a certain livery, he learns that the servants he described belonged to Donna Estefania de Arcosty Fuentes; while his further description of the lady’s house seems to settle the point. From that moment there is only one thought on Enrique’s mind:

At the crossing of a very thick Wood, where for many Years the Branches of the Trees hid the Roots from the heat of the Sun, I drew my Sword and gave him so strong a thrust through the Breast, that without speaking he fell on the Ground, where lighting from my Horse I gave him many Blows, that in a short time I put him past offending me, or defending himself; he begg’d me not to kill him, but to give him time to confess, not knowing me, nor why I used him so cruelly: I then thinking it would be too much Rigour, not to spare him so much time, since in it though his Body was beyond the Art of Chirurgery to heal, his Soul might be cured; I left him alive; for one thing it is to revenge my Honour as a Gentleman, and another thing to be a Christian…

Enrique’s first thought is to serve Estefania the same way, except that this would make his dishonour known to the world; finally he decides that he will never see her again. He tells his servants that he and Federico had a falling out and fought a duel, and that as a consequence he must leave the country—gaining their assistance to disguise himself and to cover up when he left Madrid. Without looking back, he embarks upon a galley to Naples…and loses no time in blurting out the whole thing to Ricardo.

The two bereft men decide to travel on together, and after seeing Rome and the Vatican, they move on to “Loretta” (Loreto) to see the Basilica. There Ricardo is suddenly accosted by a man in a state of emotional collapse and, after a moment, realises who it is…

(Ricardo remembers; our author, Mr Cox, not so much: first he misspells Fulgencio’s name as “Fulgentio”, then he renders the duplicated part of his name as Antonio, instead of Ricardo!)

Then of course it’s time for another Interpolated Narrative, as Fulgencio catches us up on his various misfortunes—which we might well consider he deserves, since it turns out that it was he (with a band of paid bravos) who engineered the abduction of Lisarda!—after first, of course, ridding himself of the unfortunate Clara:

…giving Clara a thousand sweet words lest she obstruct my Design, I left her in the Village…

This seems to be a recurrent theme for poor Clara.

Fulgencio and his goons then ride off with Lisarda’s coach:

I hoping by this to confirm her in the Belief of your Infidelity; and if not to get my own Ends at least, to dispose her never to make you happy. While we were on the way I used my Rhetorick, with all the Vows and Protestations imaginable, after my endeavours of disswading her from you; then I told her that ’twas in my power whither I carried her, and how I’d dispose of her; and therefore she had better comply than venture the Displeasure of a cholerick Man: But all this produc’d nothing but Scorns and Slights from her, telling me no Man should ever have her, save Ricardo, who, however the Misfortune happen’d that Night, she was sensible he lov’d her, and was one deserving her love. I told her you were kill’d in the Skirmish…

The effect of this upon Lisarda isn’t quite what Fulgencio expects. Sure, there’s a Flood of Tears, but then—

…he is dead, said she, and the Cause so near me yet lives! Snatching my Dagger from my side, gave me a Wound in my Breast, that had certainly kill’d me had her Arm had but a little more Strength…

Fulgencio then carries Lisarda to an isolated country house of his, where he imprisons her—

—to see if I possibly could gain her by all the Endeavours that Love and Kindness could invent.

So I guess it’s true what they say: hope springs eternal in the human breast that has just had a dagger stuck into it.

More sensibly, Fulgencio absents himself for a while to let Lisarda cool down; and, with nothing else to do, he passes the time dallying with Clara—with surprising results:

…Clara, who daily so endeavoured to make me love her; and considering I was married, and that I had best to make my Life as easie as I could: In two Months time seeing no hope of prevailing on Lisarda, Clara had so far gain’d me, that I really felt Motions of the greatest Tenderness for her; and as they say, Love begets Love, so was it with me; I left plying Lisarda with Letters, and began to forget her…

But at least – at least – Fulgencio gets around to telling Lisarda the truth about Ricardo: that he did recover, and then went travelling; and this off his conscience, he has her conveyed back to her father’s house.

Ricardo and Enrique dine with Fulgencio, and afterwards he tells them the rest of his story.

Fulgencio and Clara were very happy for a time—though not as happy as her family, with their erring daughter achieving respectable wifehood—but then…well, you know those Spaniards!

But as I lov’d her, so did I grow Jealous of her, remembering she had been faulty, and leaving one Night stay’d out, the next Morning a Servant told me he had seen a Man enter into my House, that was but just gone before my coming, who with all their Privacy in bringing him in and out, could not escape his Eyes: I without any further assurance, thought it must be Clara that was faulty, and there-withal going to her, though she lay asleep, wak’d her with a thousand Reproaches, upbraiding her with her former Life; and maugre all the Assurances and Protestations she made, to such a height my Choler grew, that I struck her… At last putting on her Night-Gown, she came near a Table where a Pen-knife lay, and taking it up, gave herself several Stabs…

At this rather critical moment, Clara’s maid enters the room; and, inevitably—

‘Twas I brought in the Man last night, who is my Husband…

It’s too late for poor Clara, however, though at least she dies vindicated; and in the wake of what he likes to call “the Misfortune”, Fulgencio sets out on a pilgrimage to Loretta.

Leaving Fulgencio to do his penance, Ricardo and Enrique set out for Andalusia; though they go a longer way, via Monserrat, so that Enrique will not be endangered by passing through Barcelona. The city is crowded due to a large influx of pilgrims to an image of the Virgin Mary known as Our Lady Of Monserrat. The two men are watching events from the window of their room when Enrique sees a familiar face—none other than Federico, not dead after all. It is clear, too, that there is a lady in his coach; and it takes all of Ricardo’s tact and persuasions to stop Enrique doing – yet again – something stupid. Finally he promises to look into it himself and goes out to investigate; sensibly locking Enrique in their room first.

Sure enough, Federico and Estefania it is; but they are not alone: Estefania’s sister, Donna Angela, is with them; and it does not take Ricardo long to establish that (i) Estefania is innocent; (ii) she has done nothing for the past two years but search for her missing husband; and (iii) it was Angela whom Federico was pursuing, and to whom he is now married. Moreover, discovering after he had recovered that the story of Enrique’s attack upon himself and Estefania’s supposed adultery was being gossiped about, Federico took pains to make sure everyone knew the truth, and that Estefania’s honour was re-established.

And so Enrique and Estefania are reunited. Meanwhile, Ricardo gets his reward from Angela:

Then Donna Angela desired to know if she might be acquainted with his Mistresses Name, which he told her was Lisarda, O then, Sir, saith she, you may safely depend on your Marriage, for by her name I guess yours to be Don Ricardo Antonio, the only person she hath told me should be her Husband; for about three Months ago I came acquainted with her here, she having vowed the Romery for your Prosperity; we became so intimately acquainted lodging in the same Inne together, that she told me the whole Story of your Loves…

Ricardo immediately sets out for Andalusia, where we discover than some people never learn anything:

…perceiving some Gentlemen at the Door of Donna Clara Lisarda’s House, tuning their Instruments, by which he knew they had a mind to Divert some Lady; he at a distance alighted off his Horse, desirous, if it was possible, to know who these were, serendaing, as he thought, his Mistress… No sooner ended, but he heard the Lady shut her Window; the Company took leave of one another, and one who seemed to be the Master of this Treat, mounted a Horseback: Don Ricardo, though tired with a long Journey, and very desirous to see Don Pedro de Vargas the Corregidor, was yet more desirous to see his supposed Rival…

Seriously, Ricardo? SERIOUSLY!?

Following his, sigh, rival, Ricardo is attacked by bandits, from whom his, sigh, rival rescues him—turning out to be none other than Don Pedro, who is delighted to see his cousin and takes him home for the night. The delight isn’t entirely mutual, but I’ll spare you Ricardo’s tossings and turnings and torments (at least he refrains from trying to kill anyone!), and cut to the chase: even more inevitably that poor Clara’s “lover” being nothing of the kind, Don Pedro is courting Lisarda’s cousin, Donna Maria, who happens to be staying with her.

Perversely enough, it turns out that the band of goons hired by Fulgencio were from amongst Donna Maria’s vassals; but between the letter which Fulgencio wrote to the Corregidor, taking all the blame onto himself, and Maria’s pleading for her people, they got off lightly. Don Pedro was immediately captivated by Maria, but soon discovered that he had, sigh, a rival: a story that of course requires an Interpolated Narrative.

The, sigh, rival is Don Roderido Vasques, a man who has acquired a reputation for courage and daring without doing anything to earn it—much to the annoyance of Don Pedro, who has earned the same reputation the hard way. The two men get put to the test when Maria’s house catches fire. It is Pedro who saves her, but Roderigo who manages to be there when Maria recovers from her inevitable swoon.

Wow! That chestnut’s even older than I imagined!

The grateful Maria promises to marry Roderigo:

    He with a feigned Modesty, said, That truly he had done nothing for their Service, at least, it was so little, as did not deserve Thanks from her Mouth, much less so great a Blessing as her self; but it was too Good to be refused, and that he now trusted to her Word.
    The next day it was all about the Town that Don Roderigo had ventur’d through the Fire, and rescu’d Donna Maria: This was every bodies story which did not a little vex me. I affirm’d the Action to be mine, and said that he ly’d who said the contrary. Don Roderigo said, Yes it was I did it; but that with such a false Smile, such a feigned Dissimulation, and with such Equivocating words, that he own’d the Action more in his Denial, than I in all my Affirmatives.

Luckily for Pedro, and for Maria, during his rescue of her he took a ring from her finger, which he could not have gained possession of at any other time. This backs up his claims, and Roderigo retires, as they say, disconsolate.

Which sorts out all our immediate romantic problems; and allows Mr Cox to wrap up his story of insanely jealous foreigners in a one brisk paragraph of happy-ever-afters:

…the Joy Lisarda had at the sight of Ricardo, cannot be exprest, no more than his at the sight of her. But to be short with you, and to make an end, both his Marriage with Lisarda, and his cousins with Donna Maria were concluded, and to be Celebrated both the following Sunday; on the day before the Marriage, Don Enrique and Don Federico, with their Ladies Arrived, so that they had a full House, great Entertainment, and a long continued Feast for Joy, and living very lovingly and happily all the Days of their Lives.

…or at least until some poor SOB looks the wrong way at Lisarda…

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08/09/2016

Lisarda; or, The Travels Of Love And Jealousy (Part 1)

lisarda1b“I find it hard to marry a Man who woos not me but my Estate; and yet could I bear with this, (for Ambition is so grown into the World, that there must be a new Creation to find disinteress’d men:) who can assure their selves of their manners, where there are so many Cheats. In the time of wooing the most vicious appears a Saint, and detests all Vice: with what protestations doth the inconstant at that time avouch his Constancy? and how assured of his Mistress’s Vertue is the Gallant, who many times afterwards, he proves murderously troublesome with his Jealousy; and all, how false soever, call Heaven to witness the sincerity of their Love: O! how they Adore, Admire, Esteem, with many other such like terms, till they have got their aim. His friend stiles him vertuous, good, &c. His Relations will say that for him, He is good-natured, and given to no remarkable Vice; another as a gallant young Gentleman; Nay the Maid, the young Ladies Confident, hath had the itching of her Palms answer’d, to give her good word, and all this to her cost, who takes him for better or for worse; and gives her hand and heart to an Enemy…”

So I made it to 1690.

{Insert slow, sarcastic hand-clapping.}

We’ve touched previously upon some of the events of 1690, and I imagine they’ll be cropping up in the Chronobibliography in due course; but our current work, Lisarda; or, The Travels Of Love And Jealousy by one “H. Cox” (a gentleman, his title page reassures us) has nothing to do with politics, or indeed with anything serious. Despite its title (and noting that “travels” is an archaic rendering of “travails”), this is a mostly humorous short work about various young Spaniards at romantic cross-purposes that serves as another illustration of the shifting position of fiction in England as the country entered the final decade of the 17th century.

The Puritan resistance to fiction, which retarded the development of the English novel, saw local writers frequently compromise by setting their stories in foreign countries—whether they were writing actual fiction, or political allegories disguised as such, as per the numerous romans à clef which we have already considered. In the former case, it was a way of dodging criticism, since the works in question could be pitched as cautionary tales about foreigners and how lucky everyone was to be English.

What is chiefly interesting about Lisarda is that, while it is set in Spain, there is no sense at all of this being a defensive tactic: rather, it simply suited Mr Cox to take advantage of the differences (real and perceived) between Spanish customs and those prevailing in England: another “cautionary tale” if you like, but one with its tongue tucked into its cheek.

This attitude is made clear from the very outset, in the book’s dedication to The Honourable James Levinston, Esq., wherein Cox speaks for his anxious heroine:

That, Sir, I hope will excuse my Presumption of Introducing Lisarda to you; A Lady, who though Vertuous to a Superlative, yet Unfortunate, till the Consummation of her Marriage with Don Ricardo, and the greater Happiness of attaining the Honour to be Presented to you; fearful least her Misfortunes might follow her here into England, and that many might blame that here, for want of knowing the Customs of Spain, which there is not felt a fault, no not a venial one: She fears our Ladies might be offended with so much Forwardness in Spanish Women, which for want of a Spanish Confinement, they are not Guilty of themselves: These thoughts are what troubled her, till now that I assur’d her, You were too Courteous to refuse your Patronage to a Lady…

Cox then moves on to address the reader directly, offering an amusingly clear overview of the state of the English novel, and the English novel-writer, circa 1690.

This may, in fact, be the most important aspect of this short novel. We are so accustomed to pointed dedications, to writers with political intent declaring their allegiances and/or showing that they have friends in high places, that the absence here of any such addendum – or rather, the substitution of a bit of prosaic reality – acts as a measure of how completely things had changed in England during the comparatively brief period between the “Glorious Revolution” and the publication of Cox’s work: fiction is longer necessarily about a political agenda, but about entertainment; it is also about the serious business of making a living, one opposed by the emergence of a new enemy. The main thing that writers of fiction had to fear was no longer The Law, but—The Criticks:

I have offer’d you this Book without the Commands of any Person of Quality, or the urgent desires of any friend, only for my own Pleasure, and perhaps a little for my Profit; besides, I think it a pleasant thing, though I shall no impose this Opinion on any one, nor think myself oblig’d to him who favours it; do but buy it, and let the Bookseller take your money; then Curse it, Damn it, and the Author, and throw it away, or what you please. Nor have I omitted my Name for fear of the Criticks, who I desire to have no more mercy on the Book, when once bought, than they have of their own unpitied Souls, who likely they may damn, by way of affirming the poor ignorant Author for a Blockhead, a Dunce, and Fool, with a long Et cætera of their ironical Titles; a thing that he’ll but smile to bear, so that his Expectations are but answer’d, and the Book sells…

Though Cox is clearly joking, the inference that it is no longer necessary for writers of fiction to publish anonymously is also significant.

The reader is then introduced to Clara Lisarda, a beautiful and virtuous sixteen-year-old with an equally attractive fortune. Naturally such a prize is much courted; but although eager for love and marriage, she hangs back, only too aware that she must be the target of fortune-hunters as well as honourable gentleman, and that courtship is often a matter of flowery falsehoods. The matter is becoming one of urgency for Lisarda, since among the throng of her admirers, her fancy has lighted upon one Don Ricardo.

Among many other public events to mark a new alliance between Spain and France, a bull-fight (sigh) is arranged to allow the gentlemen of Seville to display their courage. A certain Don Fulgencio nearly loses his life when he and his horse are attacked by a bull and, at this appalling sight, Lisarda faints. Thus she misses Don Ricardo rushing bravely to the rescue, dispatching the bull and saving Fulgencio’s life.

When the dust settles, Ricardo looks up at the spectators’ boxes to see how his actions have impressed Lisarda:

Ricardo lighting from his Horse, lookt up to the Window where Lisarda sate; but his Servants telling him that they saw her carried away in a swound when the Bull so fiercely attacqued Fulgencio, he concluded he was the Chosen from among the Crowd of her Adorers, and running to help him up, taking him by the Arm, said, Sir, Your fall to you is like that of Saul, for it hath made known your Election; and so retir’d extreamly discontented to his Lodging: where we’ll leave him complaining of his hard Fate…

…because, after all, who could get sick over a little thing like a horse getting disembowelled?

This moment sets the tone for an entire comedy of misunderstanding, wherein Cox’s characters are constantly leaping to ridiculous conclusions and taking drastic (and I mean drastic) action on the strength of evidence so flimsy it can scarcely be called “evidence”—and sometimes on the strength of no evidence at all.

Recovering at home, the dismayed Lisarda learns that Ricardo intends that afternoon to fight a bull on his own account. After struggling with herself, she decides to send him a letter begging him not to risk himself again, though she can only justify her action by admitting to him that she loves him.

When Ricardo – whose full name, we now learn, is Don Ricardo Antonio – receives Lisarda’s letter, however, the outcome is not exactly what she intended, though not through any fault of hers:

…he knew not what to make of the Letter; the Directions he knew to be Lisarda’s writing, but never having receiv’d, nor heard that she had ever writ to any of her Lovers before, he conjectur’d it was to discard him: since she had made her choice of Fulgencio, least she might give him Ombrage, or cause Jealousy, by entertaining still her old Suitors, she had writ to them all to forbear their vain Endeavours. This now past for granted, and he was resolv’d not to open the Letter, least it might draw Effeminate tears into his Eyes, therefore retaking his Poniard, he said, Come welcome steel, thy sharpness is much easier to be endur’d, than to see the happiness of my Rival; end my Misery; and as he was going to strike, says he, No. Though thy Charms hath made me miserable to that degree, that to avoid that succeeding Chain of Miseries that must needs follow, I will end my life. Yet in my last hour such is my Constancy, I will kiss thy Name, paying my last devoir to the sign of my cruel Sentence, submitting— More he would have said, but having open’d the Letter to kiss the name, he could not so confine his sight…

Yyyyeah: I generally find it is a good idea to find out what the contents of a letter are before killing yourself over them…

Having answered Lisarda’s letter, Ricardo does as she asks and refrains from participating further in the bull-fights. He attends, however, and Fulgencio invites him to sit in his box—which happens to be next to that occupied by Lisarda. The two spend the afternoon making goo-goo eyes at each other, so openly that Fulgencio can’t avoid noticing:

…at this he was in so great a Passion, that with much difficulty could he contain himself within the compass of Discretion, Envy, Jealousy, Anger, and a thousand other Passions tore his Breast; in short, he found them prevailing over his Reason, and least by seeing more it should be overpower’d, and that not being a fit place for a quarrel or disturbance, he slunk away…

With marriage to Lisarda on his horizon, Ricardo’s thoughts turn to how best to rid himself of his mistress—whose name, uncomfortably enough, is also Clara—Donna Clara Euphegenia. We learn that she is of good birth, but was seduced and abandoned by another man, and turned to elegant prostitution after being cast off by her family. She sincerely loves Ricardo, and it is soon clear to him that she isn’t going to go quietly:

nor would she hear him speak, but threatened to tear Lisarda to pieces; this urg’d Ricardo to think of another course, so that saying nothing, he went Streight to the Corregidors, or Governour of the Town who was his kinsman, and one that really lov’d him, to him he told the whole, and desir’d his assistance to get rid of her, which he promis’d; then they agreed; that the ensuing night, about eleven a Clock, the Corregidor should come with a Coach and Guards, and with a feign’d Warrant seize her, and send her in a Coach to Madrid, where the Guards should leave her…

Ricardo is on his way home from this highly honourable mission when he runs into Fulgencio, who by now has worked himself into a real state, and insists that they fight. Ricardo tells him, in essence, that he’s too busy just now, but he’ll be happy to fight him later, when he’s finished getting his mistress deported on trumped-up charges. A busy boy, Ricardo then calls upon Lisarda and makes his vows and proposals to her, before returning to Clara Euphegenia and dissembling his intentions, in order to keep her placated until the Guards arrive. He does it very thoroughly:

…he din’d with her, and staid with her till near four of the Clock, in which time he show’d so much love, and Caress’d her so handsomely, that she could not doubt but he was sincere…

—a little too thoroughly: Lisarda’s parents are away (thus she has been able to meet with Ricardo and answer him directly), and now, as she spots Ricardo, returning to the celebrations as she thinks, but in fact going back to Clara’s house for a second round of, ahem, placating, she follows him, meaning to join him, but finds herself outside a house which her servant is able to tell her belongs to him:

…she went in, but being in the first room, the door of the second stood half open, from whence our Lady heard these words; Ah, my dear Clara, Don’t imagine or think, that I can be false to thee; It is to have little Confidence in thine own Charms; Knowing this voice to be Ricardo’s, she carefully lookt the opening of the door, and saw her Lover lying on Clara’s Lap: O, Ye juste Powers! said she to herself, Is this possible! Could silly, easy Lisarda have believ’d it, had not her Eyes and Ears been Witnesses of his Ingratitude: Here she stopt hearing Ricardo speaking thus: My dear Clara, I don’t deny, that for my Friends satisfaction I gave out, and pretended to love Lisarda, but that was, that I might with secrecy give a full scope to my wishes, and thy Dear Embraces. What is Lisarda comparable to thee, but as a False Glass to a Diamond…

Lisarda can’t take any more, and rushes into the room—telling her startled rival that she’s welcome to Ricardo:

…I assure you, I have no design, if I could, which would be impossible, he being withheld by your all-powerful Charms, to rob you of the Gallant, who so justly enjoys your good will, that you ought to love him for his many good Parts, I mean as to his Body, for as to the rest, Heaven never fram’d a man so False, so ungrateful a Creature…

And in the middle of this scene, Ricardo hears the signal from Fulgencio, reminding of their appointment to fight. Worried about what might happens in his absence, he bundles Clara into another room and locks her in, then hurries downstairs to ask Fulgencio if they can put it off for an hour or two, as he has rather a lot on his plate; but Fulgencio isn’t in a mood to be put off, so they go off to duel. Meanwhile, hearing voices and now calm enough to worry about consequences, Lisarda throws on her veils to conceal herself from any newcomers—and thus finds herself under arrest and being carried off to Madrid…

The real Clara, meanwhile, escapes out of a window with her maid, and in the darkness encounters Fulgencio returning from the duel. He mistakes her for Lisarda and begins upbraiding her:

Madam, Might I never be so happy in any other Woman, I would not exchange the Hell wherein you have put me, not for that happiness: And she mistaking him for Antonio, I thought you would not have been in pain while you possest my heart; at least you have often told me so: He perceiving she mistook him for t’other was overjoy’d, not knowing he himself was mistaken , but on the contrary, by having seen her in the street go into Antonio’s; her discourse of having seen him that night, and his seeing Antonio go in just before her, had not any scruple, but really thought it was the Person he took her for; and since she took him for his Rival, not being able to worst Antonio by the Sword, he thought now to revenge himself by a trick, and so proceeded.
Well, Madam, said he, Since we love sincerely, let me beg of you, before we go further, to give me the assurance, you’ll ever be mine: How shall I do that, replied Clara? Why, Madam, for several urgent reasons, for your advantage as well as mine, we may be married now, and keep it private till— Here cutting off his words, not having power to contain her self for Joy, said, Ay, my Antonio, I Consent, You know I can refuse you nothing. So presently they went to a Priest, who was at Fulgencio’s Devotion, or rather was devoted to the gold he expected, who married them by the light of one single Lamp that hung i’ the church, so that neither perceived their mistake…

Amusingly enough, our author feels obliged to interject here—having reached levels of ridiculousness that, evidently, he considered too great even for a bunch of Spaniards. He has, of course, already made it clear that our ladies’ names overlaps; now he clarifies:

What cover’d extreamly the mistake was, as in all Foreign Countries, having two Names, Fulgencio could answer by that of Ricardo, and designedly did so, Clara was the first Name of Lisarda’s as well as hers, whom we call by that Name…

Meanwhile, Ricardo – whose disarming of Fulgencio in the duel is mentioned only in passing – returns to Clara’s house and there learns what has befallen Lisarda. He dashes off to the Corregidor, gets an order rescinding the warrant, and rides off after the coach, calling upon it to stop. Instead it goes faster, which prompts Ricardo to start firing his pistols after it. Someone fires back, and they keep it up until both are out of bullets—at which point, Fulgencio calls out to Ricardo, and before we know it, the two are in the middle of another duel, which ends exactly as the first did, much to Fulgencio’s mortification:

…when he came to examine the business, it was the discovery of a double deceit: First instead of Lisarda, whom both thought was in the Coach, they found Clara Ricardo’s late Mistress, and to Fulgencio’s great perplexity, his now Wife; he no sooner knew who t’was but he would have disown’d her, but in vain, for he had told Ricardo in his Capitulation, that on Condition he would not meddle with a Lady in the Coach, who he had that Night Married, he would surrender, but without that Promise, Disarm’d as he was, the Dispute should continue, and assuring him it was no Person sent by Command of the Corregidor, and consequently not the Person he sought for; Ricardo had granted his Request, deliver’d him his Sword, and went to wish the Lady Joy; when, Gods! what a surprise was it to him to see Clara; had he been capable to have receiv’d any Pleasure amidst that throng of Vexations, undoubtedly this would have been a great one to see himself rid of so troublesome a Mistress…

Washing his hands of that mess, Ricardo returns to the chase, and finally overtakes the government coach. The guards acknowledge their new orders and obligingly offer Ricardo a seat in the coach, inviting him to stay wherever they put up for the night. He accepts, although there is still a deathly silence within the coach, as both parties try to figure out what to say to one another, when the coach is suddenly held up by a band of men, who shoot three of the guards before Ricardo can finish making a speech:

Madam, I am far from being sorry for this occasion, of shewing how tenderly I love you; if I live I hope to clear my self of what things have happen’d to night; but if it is my misfortune to be kill’d, let me beg you to entertain a Charitable Opinion for me…

Ricardo manages to kill one of the band, but is shot and injured himself as the carriage is driven away. He expends what he honestly believes to be his dying breath on making yet another speech, a distinctly self-pitying one, only to be rescued by some locals—Cowardly Bores, we are assured—who heard the shots but kept well clear until the fight was over, and in fact only show up now to rob the corpses. They get a shock when one of the dead men starts resisting them, and Ricardo in danger of his life yet again when more guards show up, these dispatched from the nearest town where word of the fight and abduction was also carried.

Ricardo survives his ordeal, but is left in complete ignorance of Lisarda’s fate and can only fear the worst.

Meanwhile, we discover that this town has a short way with boring people:

…the Bores were carried before the Corregidor, who committed them to Gaol…innumerable were the imprecations laid on the Bores…the poor Bores were loaded with Irons, and laid in a Dungeon…

[To be continued…]

31/01/2015

A Duchess And Her Daughter

mason1b    Even in far off Spain, when the news of the Duke of Valenzuela’s death reached there, a year after the event, the King and the Spanish Cardinals tucked away in a corner of their minds the question of the future husband of the new Duchess. Now the question of the future husband had emerged from its corner and was beginning to occupy the centre of the stage. King and Cardinals weighed the merits—more often the demerits—of a score of young noblemen who burned with chivalric zeal to make the young heiress—and themselves—happy. Two or three of these young men slipped out of Cadiz and were already on the high seas bound for Caracas. Also on the high seas was the King’s order that the marriage of the Duchess should await the Royal decision. And then—
    And then a rumour, a fantastic story, an impossible tale, crept along the Orinoco in canoes, plodded over the plains and climbed the Andes on mules, galloped through the streets of Caracas on horses. It was first whispered, then said, then shouted that while King and Church and State were deciding who was to marry the Duchess of Valenzuela, that headstrong girl had decided the matter for herself; had married; and had married a nobody…

If I were “the best woman in the world, M. K. W. M.”, I don’t know that I would be particularly flattered by having Alfred Bishop Mason’s A Duchess And Her Daughter dedicated to me: this is a strange and rather unpleasant work of historical fiction; “historical” in that it is set in the past, anyway—predominantly in 18th century Venezuela, a choice unusual enough to make it somewhat disappointing that the novel is not really “about” that, with the Spanish colony simply providing an exotic backdrop for the characters. As for the characters themselves, as far as I have been able to determine they are entirely fictional, which makes the whole exercise seem a little—well, pointless.

This is, as its title suggests, the story of a mother and daughter; but not their lives together: A Duchess And Her Daughter is a novel of two halves. The first half is tough going indeed, partly because Dolores – the Duchess of the title – is such a nasty bit of work, and partly because of the degree of violence in the story, including sexual violence. The second half, focusing upon Alegra, the daughter, is more interesting in a number of ways – Alegra is a far more engaging individual than her mother – but just because we do like her, the direction of the narrative is difficult to take.

A Duchess And Her Daughter begins in the middle of the 18th century, when the Conde de Arcetri is banished from Spain to the wilds of Venezuela for the heinous sin of marrying a woman “as good as she is beautiful”—but not noble. The two have a child, the fair and lovely Dolores, who grows to young womanhood chiefly under the care of the servants, and puts her own spin on her mother’s character by being as selfish and wilful as she is beautiful. When she is sixteen her parents die as a result of a spotted fever epidemic, and Dolores falls into the clutches of the Duke of Valenzuela.

On the principal of it being better to rule in hell than serve in heaven, the Duke of Valenzuela chose to exile himself to Venezuela after being ruled against in a matter of court precedence, his family deemed to rank below that of Medina-Sidonia: “The heralds-at-arms had been bribed and bought.” (This is the Duke’s point of view: the real family of Medina-Sidonia holds the oldest dukedom in Spain, whereas the dukedom of “Valenzuela” is fictional; although the family name of the marquisate of Villasierra is “Valenzuela”.) The Duke is an unhappy man for many reasons, not least his wife’s failure to give him the son and heir he craves. His only minor consolation is that he has succeeded in acquiring “a younger son of a younger son” of the family of Medina-Sidonia as his chaplain, gaining a morose satisfaction out of Father Josè’s subordinate position in his household.

So far from the government seat in Caracas, the Duke’s power is absolute, and there is no-one capable of interfering when he takes an interest in a woman – with or without her consent; a father who tries is tortured to death. When the death of her parents leaves Dolores alone, the Duke turns up in the guise of a respectful mourner and potential guardian, bringing an invitation from his Duchess that Dolores should make her home with them. Longing to escape from her lonely existence and ugly surroundings, Dolores accepts—and soon realises that she has made a terrible mistake. The Duchess is not at home, nor is she expected for some days…

After the first shock, Dolores takes her rape surprisingly well; disturbingly well. She is more upset by having to confront the Duchess when she returns from her visiting. The Duke, however, has already had a word with his wife:

    “You were a fool to come here without knowing I was here. A man must have his diversions. Mother-of-God, what else could pay him for living in this dreary country? Make the best of it. He is mad for a son of his own. If I could have given him one , he would have been as good a husband as a great gentleman can be. Bear him a son. The boy will be baptised as mine. Then we will adopt you as our daughter. You can go back to Spain with us and I will make a great match for you there. It is hard to follow my advice? He will make you follow the first part of it. Stop your silly sobs. Remember your race. Be proud that you are to mother the next Duke of Valenzuela.”
    The great lady leaned back in her chair of state, languid and silent. The Duke had told her what to say and she had said it. She did not wish to be further bothered with the affair…

And so Dolores becomes the third point of a ménage à trois. The Duke grows increasingly obsessed with her, sexually and as the potential mother of his son; but as soon as his fixation upon her gives her the ascendancy, Dolores grows bored with him. Instead she turns her eyes in quite another direction:

    Amid all his flock, Don Josè felt akin only to this flower-like girl and his very soul was shaken by the thought of her sin. She had, indeed, been forced into it, but was she really repentant? She had confessed the sin, but in a strange way. She had asked for absolution. He had told her he must think it over. Outside the confessional she had pouted over the delay. She was really adorable when she pouted. At this point in his pastoral meditation, Don Josè made a gallant, but unsuccessful, attempt to remember that he was not a man, but a priest.
    The confession had been rather startling, not only in substance, but in detail. Priest and penitent were separated as usual in the confessional, but they saw each other many times a day and perforce knew each other well. Even with a pierced plank between them, they were acutely conscious of each other as man and woman, young man and young woman. And when the penitent seemed to assume that the priest was a sexless Methusaleh and went into amatory detail with a frankness that left nothing unsaid, Father Josè had had a terrible tussle with Don Josè…
    Dolores had much enjoyed that confession. It was piquant to talk to a man about such things, especially to a man as handsome and as well-born as Don Josè. If the Duke were only like Don Josè, she mused…

Father Josè is devoutly religious and committed to his calling. He is also a man of great courage, which earns him the respect – and more importantly, the restraint – of Juan Paez, the local bandit chief, the son of an Indian woman and a runaway slave, who encourages the practice of “the old religion” and leads period raids against the Spanish settlers. But in battle with Dolores, Father Josè stands no chance. The girl stalks him, teasing and tormenting him until he is almost driven mad with his desire for her. He tries to avoid her, praying constantly for strength and even locking himself in his cell; but the end is inevitable:

The third night—it was four days before the Duke and Duchess were due—she came softly into his sala, put her finger on her lip, held him back with her left hand, and turned into the chapel. He followed as if he had been her dog. The moonlight fell upon the altar and across the ledge of stone in front of it, the ledge with the rich Moorish rug. In front of the altar she kissed him. In front of the altar she let fall her outer garment. In front of the altar her glorious arms and her marvellous breasts gleamed. She lay herself prone of the altar-rug…

The affair continues for some weeks but finally the tortured Father Josè tears himself away, withdrawing  from the Valenzuela household, retreating to an isolated Dominican monastery. In answer to the Duke’s request for a new confessor, he sends Fray Federigo, “a fat and aged friar”—much to Dolores’s amusement. Already certain she is pregnant by the priest, she announces the glad tidings to the Duke and Duchess; glad tidings for both, he because of his yearning for a son, she because the end of her Venezuelan exile seems finally in sight. But fate has other things in store for both…

Upon entering the Valenzuela household, Dolores is reunited with her foster-sister, Maria, an Indian girl, who was sent away when Dolores was ten and taken into the service of the Duchess—whom she hates. She learns to hate her even more for Dolores’s sake. Maria’s grandmother was a medicine woman, who was burned at the stake for witchcraft, but not before passing on her knowledge. Just before Dolores is due to give birth, the Duchess is taken violently ill and dies. Torn between her horror of what Maria has done and her soaring ambition, Dolores insists upon the Duke marrying her immediately and legitimising their child. Almost before the cowed and frightened Fray Federico can complete the hurried ceremony, Dolores is in labour. The child is—a girl.

The Duke is not really disappointed: the title and estates of Valenzuela may be inherited directly by a daughter in her own right, and if the right husband is found the title of Duke can be bestowed upon him. The Duke, indeed, is devoted to the lovely Alegra. When the child is five, Sister Isabel of Santa Clara, a convent in the town of San Fernando, arrives bearing credentials from the Archbishop of Caracas. The warm-hearted Alegra soon loves her instructress, and begins calling her “tia”, “aunt”—to which Dolores takes exception, on the grounds that they know nothing of the nun’s antecedents:

    The sister picked up the gage of battle that had been flung at her feet. “Before I made my vows,” she said, “I was the Countess of Estramadura; I was born a Medina-Sidonia; I am the sister of a holy man, formerly a priest, now a Dominican monk, who used to be chaplain here. It was probably before Your Grace’s time. He was Father Josè when he was at San Fernando.”
    Sister Isabel said this with a placid saintliness of face and of manner. There was no suggestion in her beautiful eyes of any hidden knowledge of the past. But the Duchess changed colour…

For five years life continues placidly; too placidly for Dolores, who longs to be queening it in Caracas instead of trapped in the middle of nowhere; she is bored with her life and doubly bored with her husband. However, the Duke is an old man now and reluctant to take his beautiful young wife into society, as so keeps reneging on his promises about visiting Caracas. The Duchess is just beginning to lend a willing ear to Maria’s dark counsel regarding her marriage when all plans become redundant. Juan Paez and his followers are on the warpath, sweeping across the Spanish settlements in an orgy of bloodshed and torture. Before the raiders reach San Fernando, Alegra and Sister Isabel are successfully concealed in a secret room in the church; but after their resistance is overborne, both the Duke and Duchess meet a gruesome fate…

Juan Paez, too, is killed during this final confrontation, and subsequently there is peace in the district. Alegra, now Duchess of Valenzuela and owner of vast wealth and estates both in Venezuela and Spain, continues to live in her father’s house under the care of Sister Isabel. As she grows into womanhood, she takes upon herself the management of her property and of the many branches of her trading businesses, by which she sends her goods to all corners of the globe, and by which she becomes almost unimaginably rich. She also devotes herself to the welfare of her peons—although the church firmly dissuades her from schemes for their education.

Naturally, Alegra represents a marital prize of the first order. She is herself aware of this—and also that it is only a matter of time before a husband is forced upon her by the King of Spain, eager to keep a grip on her vast possessions. Unless, of course, she can find a way of forestalling her fate…

Alegra begins to make frequent visits to the tiny village of Yriarte, which is near to the river-port town of Angostura, one of the centres of Alegra’s business interests. Overtly she is calling upon a native of Yriarte, a woman called Juana who, though clumsy and unattractive, has a rare skill for embroidery. Sister Isabel grows suspicious of these visits, certain that Alegra is up to something but unable to imagine what—and what could she be up to in a muddy hole like Yriarte? Like everyone else at San Fernando, Sister Isabel is staggered and disbelieving when Alegra finally does return home—because she does not come alone:

The nun seized the wedding-certificate, read it, looked with amazed eyes at the winner of this matrimonial prize, tried to congratulate her ward, broke down and left the room. The groom, meanwhile, had stood in awkward silence. He was, thank God, of unmixed Spanish descent, but there all thankfulness ended. He was almost as plain as his wife was beautiful. Despite his size, he did not look at all manly. His tiny moustache was no larger than many Spanish women had then and have now. A peasant and a very lout.

Sister Isabel is so profoundly offended by the marriage, the fact of it and Alegra’s secrecy, that she makes it her excuse to withdraw and return to her convent, in spite of Alegra’s pleas that she stay:

    When she said good-bye, the Duchess clung to her and cried, but the nun’s chill aloofness never left her. So long a companionship between two noble souls ended. So the love between them seemed to end, at least on Sister Isabel’s side. But love has its “ashes of roses” and within those ashes embers may live long, and may sometimes be fanned into flame again.
    There is no record of the nun’s first meeting with her brother, Don Josè de Medina-Sidonia, prior of the Convent of St Dominic, at Caracas…

News of Alegra’s marriage to Juan de Mendoza travels across Venezuela like an earthquake, and explodes like a bomb at the Court of Spain—but what can they do? – a marriage is a marriage, no matter how scandalous. As for the happy couple— Alegra goes back to running her estates and her businesses, while Juan fills much of his time in hunting up in the mountains; an acceptable pursuit for a man in his position. Eyebrows are raised, however, and tongues begin to wag, when during his time at home, he takes up embroidery.

The main difference in Alegra’s life brought by her marriage is that she is able to receive many more guests into her home. The world outside is changing; more visitors come every day to Venezuela, and those that arrive in San Fernando and in Angostura inevitably call upon the beautiful and gracious Duchess. Some are invited to stay. One of these is John Winthrop, the owner of a thriving commercial concern based in Salem, who has decided to spend some time in command of one of his own trading sloops.

The attraction between the handsome young American and the beautiful Duchess is immediate and deep, but of course the entire situation is impossible, as they equally recognise: she is a married woman, and he is a heretic. Winthrop is well aware he should leave, but day by day – then month by month – he lingers in Angostura. Meanwhile, Winthrop’s second-in-command, Henry Lyman, strikes up an unexpected friendship with Juan de Mendoza; the two begin taking lengthy hunting trips together up into the mountains, staying away for weeks on end. From one of these trips, Lyman returns in a panic, urging Winthrop to leave Angostura—then revealing that he must leave, and not alone:

He hesitated a long time, then let out a torrent of words. “This Don Juan, the Duchess’s husband, as you think and as everybody thinks, isn’t her husband, or anybody’s husband. He couldn’t be anybody’s husband. He’s a woman. And he—she—is with child by me. I must take her home and marry her and make an honest woman of her. And to do that we must start straightaway.”

As Lyman’s urgency indicates, he has in fact delayed his departure with Juan – Juana – past the point where it is safe for anybody; and although Winthrop immediately arranges for the couple’s departure, Juana goes into labour before they are well clear of the territory and Lyman must dock the ship and go in search of a midwife. Naturally, the news gets out. And if the story of the Duchess’s scandalous marriage rocked both Venezuela and Spain, it was as nothing compared to the fallout from this belated revelation about her “husband”. But before anyone has even had a chance to absorb the implications of the situation, yet another shockwave emanates from Angostura: the Duchess of Valenzuela has married a heretic…

To John Winthrop’s way of thinking, the revelation about Juana clears his path to Alegra, but for her the matter is hardly so simple. Winthrop, though he cannot promise conversion, does promise that he will study the matter; further, that he will never interfere with Alegra’s own religious practice, and that their children may be raised in the Catholic faith. Even so, Father Felipe, Alegra’s confessor, refuses to marry them—at least at first. The headstrong Duchess, having already bullied one frightened priest into “marrying” her to Juana Godina, now resorts to blackmail: she will either be John Winthrop’s wife or his mistress—Father Felipe may choose. Knowing Alegra, the priest also knows this isn’t a bluff. Consoling himself with the reflection that, occasionally, exceptions have been made and such marriages permitted, he does as the Duchess demands:

A year passed by. The lovers knew well the recipe for a happy marriage, to go on making love after marriage as before it. They practiced the recipe. Only those few happy souls who have known a great love can imagine what that year was. Its joys were worth more than all the sorrows that followed it…

And that, in a nutshell, is my problem with A Duchess And Her Daughter: twelve months of marital bliss are skipped over in five sentences, and then we return to our previously scheduled ugliness and violence.

Alegra and John get their year simply because both communication and decision-making are slow processes. While the Duchess’s first marriage was a scandal, and the circumstances of its subsequent dissolution grounds for ribald laughter and obscene jokes, her marriage to a heretic – and the danger of her vast property passing into the hands of that heretic – is an outrage not to be borne. Spain begins to make plans for dire retribution, and gets as far as having the marriage annulled via a papal decree; but before it can take further action it is forestalled by Caracas, where the Inquisition holds ultimate power. Without warning, John Winthrop is arrested and imprisoned; a token trial ends in a unanimous vote that he be burned at the stake during the upcoming auto-da-fè. The Grand Inquisitor at this time is none other than our old friend, Don Josè de Medina-Sidonia.

Despite her many transgressions, Alegra maintains her standing as a Grandee of Spain, and on this basis she obtains a private interview with the Grand Inquisitor. She offers him a bargain: if he will save John Winthrop’s life, she will enter a convent and  donate her entire possessions to the Church. At length Don Josè accepts, conniving at Alegra’s scheme to fool Winthrop with the lie that she will join him in a few days: she knows he will not leave otherwise. By the time he learns the truth, she will be beyond his reach forever.

Of course, there’s just one problem with this plan: the people of Caracas have been promised the burning of a heretic. Not to worry:

    The chief role in the procession, a role that eclipsed even those of the Grand Inquisitor, the Archbishop and the Governor, that of John Winthrop, English heretic, was played by a man as amazed as he was scared, a certain low-class Spaniard, Juan Galapagos by name, who had been awakened that morning from a sound sleep and advised to dress quickly, breakfast quickly and confess quickly, because he was to be burned alive. As the offence imputed to him had been only that of presenting himself with unclean hands at the communion service, it had never occurred to him that he ran the slightest risk of such a fiery doom. In fact, it was another man whom the Grand Inquisitor had remembered as a truculent ruffian…
    When he realised from the maledictions showered upon him that he was supposed to be Winthrop, hope came back to him, poor fool that he was. It was all a mistake; he would explain it and be set free. His manacled hands forbade the tearing off of the yellow bonnet with a peaked top that hid his face, but he began shouting: “I’m not the Englishman! I’m Spanish! I’m Juan Galapagos! Let me out! It’s a mistake! I’m not the Englishman!”
    A lay-brother deftly gagged him with a long scarf. When he threw himself upon the ground, he was prodded to his feet by sword-pricks, while the crowd roared approval and cursed the English heretic for his cowardice. A moment later he was bound to the stake that had awaited Winthrop. It so happened, doubtless because the foreign heretic was the wickedest of all the victims, that when the tiny flames were but beginning to crackle at the feet of the others, they had crept to his shoulders. When the mounting fire licked away the scarf that had gagged him, his screams and blasphemies made the exit of the heretic Englishman to hell deeply gratifying to the pious folk of Caracas. “I did not know the Englishman knew so much Spanish,” said the Governor laughingly.

The circumstances of their separation are more easily borne by Alegra, who is sustained by her faith. Over the years that follow she becomes celebrated for her tireless work amongst the poor and the sick—“Santa Alegra”. She dies loved and mourned by multitudes. But she has one last shock in store, one final act of defiance:

    When she was being arrayed for the great function of her burial, her shocked sister nuns found affixed to the back of the crucifix she always wore the miniature of a man, of a man who had been condemned to the stake for heresy and who, they thought, had died at the stake. They sent in haste for Don Josè de Medina-Sidonia, prior, bishop and Grand Inquisitor, and showed him the awful thing. “What shall we do with it, Reverend Father?” they asked.
    “Do with it? Leave it as it is and bury it with the saint who wore it.”

It is some time before John Winthrop can accept that he has lost his wife forever but, after several bouts of near-fatal illness, and some equally dangerous attempts to see Alegra, he finally tears himself away from Venezuela. He returns to his old life in Salem, but he is not the same man. His business thrives but emotional life he has none. His experiences have left something inside him crippled.

Many years later, Salem is startled by the arrival of a monk—and even more so when the monk takes up residence with John Winthrop.  Unable in his pride to keep the secret of his relationship to “Santa Alegra”, Don Josè has been stripped of everything and exiled. He carries to Winthrop the news of Alegra’s death, and her last message to him—her plea that he convert so that they might meet again. As he promised Alegra he would while begging her to marry him, Winthrop begins to study her faith.

It is very difficult to be sure how the concluding stages of A Duchess And Her Daughter are supposed to be taken. The novel is shot through with anti-Catholicism – the “narrow-mindedness” and “bigotry” of the characters is mentioned again and again, while the plot repeatedly turns on what is presented as the “moral flexibility” offered by confession and absolution; and that’s before we start dwelling on the horrors of the Inquisition – and yet the story concludes with its hero’s conversion; albeit that we get here one of the few glimmers of humour to be found in this grim tale:

Then came the event that startled Salem as the old town had never been startled before. John Winthrop made a public profession of his new faith in the little Roman Catholic chapel in a by-street of Salem. It was a thunder-clap. Friends of a lifetime fell away from him. Widows and maidens stared aghast upon this lost soul. It was suggested that the community should cease to do any business with him. The two banks of Salem, in the first flush of the shocked hostility, agreed not to lend him any money, but they did not tell him so, partly because he had not borrowed any money for years and partly because each feared the withdrawal of the ample funds that stood to his credit on its depositors’ ledger. He was a merchant prince who financed his own ventures. Moreover his Midas touch did not seem to have deserted him. The grim New England God seemed to hesitate about punishing a Winthrop…

And what are we to make of what we must assume to be John Winthrop’s vision of his reunion with Alegra?

In the chapel to the right of the great doorway of the cathedral at Caracas…John Winthrop lies in peace, his skeleton feet some eighteen inches from Alegra’s, awaiting the Last Trump, when he and she are again to spring up triumphant, face to face, eye to eye, heart to heart, throbbing with love, pulsating with joy…

Really? Granted, I’m no expert; but I always thought of the afterlife as being a lot less—well, fleshy. Then it occurred to me to wonder—is that what Don Josè told John Winthrop to get him to convert?