Rhi Johnson

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There is so much pleasure in the memory of a first love: the prickling blush of excitement at even thinking of that special person, the furtive glances that become searingly intense when gazes actually cross, the passed notes and faded flowers that evoke the first profession of sentiment. These ephemera of love, whether in real life or in literature, are a common mediation of the metaphysical discourse of love; the particular instantiation may vary, but the relationship between specific ideations and the universal holds true. This construction of sentiment or metaphysics through physical objects is crucial to the construction of the love between Efraín and María in Jorge Isaacs’s María (1867). Their love is built of material and sensorially experienced objects, namely flowers and hair. Enrique Anderson Imbert named these two attributes as constitutive of a “fetichismo amoroso” (102) in his 1954 discussion of the novel, but their import exceeds this mark. Indeed, these tokens are not only exchanged throughout the novel as a sexual proxy, rather, they are textually coded as love and as sex itself. What is more, the metonymic associations between these elements and the characters with whom they are correlated prefigure María’s death. In this way, the inescapability of the heroine’s fate is an intrinsic element of the representation of the novel’s central romance. Furthermore, that very predestination, in conjunction with what Anderson Imbert calls the “líneas gruesas de la emoción” (99-100), is what makes the text so pleasurable to read. While Anderson Imbert actually suggests that these broad strokes that form the romance between María and Efraín make it superficial and less credible, he does then reaffirm that the reader’s desire is to see the how and the why of María’s death in the face of its imminence: “[s]abemos que María ha de morir, pero queremos saber cómo; y queremos saber lo que será de Efraín. La novela renuncia a desplazamientos por el espacio, a aventuras e intrigas, y en cambio nos dramatiza la madurez de los personajes en el tiempo” (99). In The Pleasure of the Text, Roland Barthes describes this very type of story, whose end the reader already knows, as one that leads most easily to bliss: it is the process of the arrival of an expected emotion through the anticipation of a foreseen ending that gives a work the power to create the most intense emotional and physiological responses in its readers (47-48). The very desire that is the foundation of María’s narrative, through its embodiment of the metaphysical in material culture, beyond its establishment of an empathetic connection with the reader, makes the romance a constant referent and memorial to the heroine’s death.