Thomas R. Franz

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Pepita Jimenez (1874) traces a religious young widow’s seduction of Don Luis de Vargas, a relatively naïve, young seminarian. The novel utilizes many allusions to literature of the fourteenth through the sixteenth centuries in order to illustrate the type of rhetoric the young man uses in order to obscure his cooperation with her evolving plan (Lott 71-146; Amorós 35-36, 178-79). As Hoff states, “Luis’s writing […] implies that his erotic desires lie hidden, to be discovered or ferreted out by the discerning reader” (215). This deception continues “until it becomes the predominant issue of the novel” (217), ultimately producing the suspicion that, near the novel’s end, Luis “may have succumbed to Pepita’s attractions out of lust” (227). In the second part of the novel, “Paralipómenos,” Valera’s narrator makes several allusions to La tragicomedia de Calisto y Melibea, commonly called La Celestina (1499), in order to show that Antoñona, Pepita’s ama de llaves, uses rhetoric from the work that parallels the rhetoric of Don Luis. The present study attempts to show that the rhetoric of Valera’s novel proceeds not only from the Celestina and Spanish mystical literature, but also, and most pointedly, from the Libro de buen amor (1343), in which the Archpriest of Hita admits his erotic inclinations and urges others to copy his own strategies of seduction.1 Such a revelation complicates the prevalent notion that Don Luis is merely Pepita’s semi-willing victim (DeCoster 96), demonstrating that his motives fall within the parameters of the stereotypical male seducer of much pre-modern literature. Amorós is particularly astute in pointing out Luis’s reference to “algo que hay en mí que no perdona lo que mi madre perdonó con generosidad sublime [en mi padre]” (185). The allusions, of course, are to the rakish past of Luis’s father and to Luis’s own libidinous motives, viewed retrospectively and with only a lukewarm sense of guilt. Luis and Pepita exhibit a superficial shyness and, as Valera’s not always reliable narrators (Luis, the Dean, and the Transcriber) never seem to tire of pointing out, Pepita is “discreta.” Beside this naïveté and charming lack of expertise (a quality discernable in other characters in several early Valera novels) there is in Luis an equal degree of daring and cunning.