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Love, the Spanish way

Saint Valentine is here and, although most Spaniards take this date a purely commercial event, we all know that in every man and woman of this country beats a passionate and romantic heart. And this has been so since the world began. In fact, we can say that in the Spanish literature there are many types of love present. But let’s stop theorizing and give some examples.

Maybe the best known, and for many the most dramatic, is the impossible love. One of the most renowned stories about this type of romance is that of the “lovers of Teruel”. It was in the XIII century when Juan Martínez de Marcilla and Isabel de Segura fell in love. The problems came when her family found out that his didn’t have any properties or wealth, so they set an arrangement by which Isabel would marry Juan only if he was able of putting together a small fortune in a certain time. He went to war and got rich, yes, but when he returned the time limit had expired, so he found out that Isabel had already married someone else. Juan secretly visited his beloved and asked her for a kiss; she refused, for she was already a married woman. The disillusioned lover died of sadness and he was buried. Isabel attended his funeral dressed in black, mourning. She approached the casket crying, kissed Juan’s corpse on the lips, and automatically dropped dead. We can visit their mausoleum in San Pedro de Teruel, in Aragon.

The Lovers of Teruel

This is a well-known story for Spaniards, and we could say that it is something like the “Spanish Romeo and Juliet”. In fact, many playwrights have rewritten this story for theatre.

Less “truthful” and more lustful was Calisto and Melibea’s love, the main characters in ‘La Celestina’, by Fernando de Rojas. Published in 1499, it tells the story of Calisto, who recurs to the arts of Celestina, an old prostitute, to conquer Melibea. She resists, but finally succumbs to the bawd’s tricks and ends up lying with Calisto. Nevertheless, and due to a misunderstanding, he ends up falling down the stairs that took him to Melibea’s room, and dies. It can look like an impossible love story, but if we read the book well we discover that the only thing that moves the characters is personal joy and pleasure. Whether Fernando de Rojas wrote the play with a moral intention or to denounce the “carnal hypocrisy” of the society of the time is still a matter of debate… and a headache for literature students.

We move on: from consummate love to sublimated love. In the most famous work of our literature, Don Quijote de la Mancha, we see an example of this platonic love. The mind of the poor hidalgo, deranged by the reading of cavalry books, turns a young peasant girl called Aldonza Lorenzo in the beautiful lady “Dulcinea del Toboso”. Don Quijote will never encounter her, but in her name he commits all kinds of crazy acts. In any case, we think he wouldn’t have liked seeing that his lady actually “had the best hands for salting pigs than any other woman in La Mancha”. This history serves as an example of the excessive and disastrous idealization of the loved being.

Some live the battles of love as a prank: in Italy we have Casanova, in France the viscount of Valmont… and Don Juan in Spain. The character was created by Tirso de Molina in the 17th century, but the best known version of his adventures is owed to the romantic author José Zorrilla. In both cases Don Juan is a beau, a bully lady-killer who recreates himself not so much in the satisfaction of his wishes as with the love games prior to the conquest. It could be said that it is like a cat that plays with the mouse before killing it, a game which doesn’t normally end up well for the seduced woman, although the “hunter” ends up feeling something sincere for his prey. Nevertheless, Don Juan himself has turned into the archetype of the repentant sinner that in his maturity regrets all the evil done.

Even though the term is modern, in Spanish literature there is also a “toxic love”. It can be well seen in the play “El perro del hortelano” (The gardener’s dog) of the playwright of the Spanish Golden Age Lope de Vega. The title refers to an old saying that states that “The gardener’s dog doesn’t eat or let others eat”. In it, we see the poor Teodoro, secretary of the Countess of Belflor, suffers for the love –sometimes corresponded and sometimes not- of his beloved. The countess despises the affection of her employee because he is of a lower social range, but doesn’t stand the idea of him falling in love with another woman. This is how this “sitcom” goes, between many “yes” and “no”, until it is discovered that Teodoro is of noble origin and love (as well as the established social order) triumphs. For the critics, the happy ending in this play hides a certain glorification of masochism.

Larra and Dolores Armijo

We will finally come back to the Spanish Romaticism (19th century), but not to tell the argument of a literary work, but the deadly fate of an author that personified the ideal of romantic love better than any oeuvre. We talk about the journalist and writer Mariano José de Larra. In 1831, he started a turbulent relationship with Dolores Armijo, the wife of a well-known lawyer of Madrid. Larra was also married, but his wife divorced him when she knew of the infidelity, and also after sending some sompromising letters to the husband of Dolores. The relationship between Mariano and Dolores finally broke up when she decided to return with her husband. In order to delete all proof of their relationship, she asked Larra to give her back her love letters. Larra, totally torn-apart would shoot himself in the head (some say in the heart). Some believe that Mariano did that because he was possibly influenced by the reading of “The sorrows of young Werther”, by Goethe; a novel in which the main character also ends up committing suicide because of non-corresponded love.

What very people know is that, as any good tale from the romanticism era, the story ends with a cruel hit of poetic justice: the ship on which Dolores was travelling to Manila to return with her husband sank. There were no survivors.

There are many more examples of authors and literature prone to love in Spain; but these are probably the strangest and more studied cases. Although, to be honest, we should have also quoted an oeuvre of the 14th century called “The Book of Good Love”, written by the Archpriest of Hita, in which all the previously described forms of love are included. But we will let you discover this book yourselves….

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