[This post is part of a series on literary works that deserve a wider audience.]
[Spoiler Alert: This post contains plot elements from Cervantes’s “The Jealous Extremaduran.”]
And I’m back, so let’s dive right into it…Here’s another work that deserves a wider audience: “The Jealous Extremaduran” by Miguel Cervantes.
I read Don Quixote a long time ago, back in high school. I found it uneven and a bit loooong. But its central idea, the characters and certain scenes were pure genius. I’d highly recommend it to anyone, as long as you have patience and can lay your hands on a good translation. The novel piqued my interest and I wanted to learn more about Cervantes and his other works. His life reads like something out of the Three Musketeers: He was a soldier who fought at Lepanto, a slave of Algerian pirates, a tax collector, a small-time conman and—last but not least—a writer. In fact, his life was much more adventurous than his famous, befuddled protagonist, Don Quixote. Anyhow, I was looking for other stuff to read from the Spanish master and about the first thing to pop up were his Exemplary Novellas—little tales mostly set in Seville, Spain. Thumbing through the Table of Contents I landed on “The Jealous Extremaduran.”
It is the tale of one Filipo de Carrizales, a Spaniard who makes his fortune in Peru and returns to his native Seville to settle down at the age of 68. He contemplates getting married, but decides against it, knowing he’s far too jealous for such business.
…he was so terrified that he felt like a mist driven by the wind. By nature he was the most jealous man in the world, even without being married; the mere thought of marrying was enough to arouse his jealousy, weary him with suspicions and startle him with imaginary evils, so much so that he resolved at all costs not to marry.
But, as fate would have it, he sees a young girl, Leonora, at a window and is smitten. He falls for her and reasons to himself:
‘She is only a girl; her youth may be sufficient to set my suspicions at rest. I shall marry her; I shall shut her up and train her in my ways, and so that she won’t know anything else but what I shall teach her.’
He approaches her parents, who after some research, agree to the match. Eventually, the parents “hand her over” to Filipo “amid much weeping because it seemed to them that she was being led off to her grave.”
[For you writers out there keeping score: we now have the full set up. Two main characters, a setting in Seville and a plot with an inherent conflict (between Filipo’s desire for control and Leonora’s independence).]
Filipo buys a house for 12,000 ducats with “running water and a garden with lots of orange trees.” He shuts up all the windows facing the street, creating skylights instead. He creates high walls about the level of the roofs of the city so that everyone inside can see only the sky, not the rest of the city. He hires an “old, black eunuch” and servant woman to guard the only entrance to the house: a revolving door. Through this revolving door all food for the household must pass. Filipo locks Leonora away in this fortress inside the city, bringing two girls of her age into the house to entertain her. With that, Filipo locks the door.
By day he would be thinking; by night he would lie awake, patrolling and guarding his house…His whole house had an air of virtue and seclusion; even in the stories which the servants told in the long winter nights by the fireside, nothing lascivious was ever mentioned when he was present.
Time passes and all is well for a time. But a new character shows up, a young man named Loaysa. The narrator explains:
There is in Seville a class of useless, idle people usually known as men about town; these are the richer young men from every parish. Lazy, showy, plausible people, about whose dress and manner of living, and whose customs and rules of conduct a good deal could be said.
“Plausible.” I love that turn of phrase…Loaysa is one of these men, a virote, or young bachelor. Loaysa catches wind of the rumors about the beautiful Leonora and resolves to storm the house “by force or by cunning.” He leaves the town for a few days and returns disguised as a lame beggar with a guitar, stationed in front of the house’s revolving door. He begins to sing “cheerful Moorish ballads” and soon the prisoners of Filipo’s castle like a “flock of doves” come to “the lure of the guitar.”
I won’t reveal what happens in the end, but I found it particularly well-played by Cervantes. Suffice to say that the fortress is breached having tragic consequences for most everyone involved. Being Cervantes can’t help but insert a moral into his story (much like the last 5 minutes of every Brady Bunch episode).
This affair…illustrates how little one should trust in keys, revolving doors and walls when the will remains free.
It’s a trite ending, but “The Jealous Extremaduran” is a great read, full of little details from 16th century Seville and deftly drawn characters. It’s a heavier read than Don Quixote, but well worth your time, especially considering it’s a shorter piece. Check it out at your local library, bookstore or online the next time you’re itching for something new to read.
The track for today’s post isn’t exactly a “Rare B Side.” In fact, it was a number one hit in 1969. Still, it fits the subject matter of this post. So, here we go…Ladies and Gentlemen, The King of Rock and Roll:
See you next time,