Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Disabled Bodies in Early Modern Spanish LiteratureProstitutes, Aging Women and Saints$

Encarnación Juárez-Almendros

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781786940780

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.5949/liverpool/9781786940780.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM LIVERPOOL SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.liverpool.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Liverpool University Press, 2022. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in LSO for personal use.date: 02 July 2022

The Artifice of Syphilitic and Damaged Female Bodies in Literature

The Artifice of Syphilitic and Damaged Female Bodies in Literature

(p.56) Chapter II The Artifice of Syphilitic and Damaged Female Bodies in Literature
Disabled Bodies in Early Modern Spanish Literature

Encarnación Juárez-Almendros

Liverpool University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines the literary depiction of the broken and contaminated corporality of female prostitutes as illustrated in Francisco Delicado’s La Lozana andaluza [Portrait of Lozana: The Lusty Andalusian Woman] (1528), Miguel de Cervantes’s Casamiento engañoso [The Deceitful Marriage] (1613), La tía fingida [The pretended aunt], a novel attributed to Cervantes, and Francisco de Quevedo’s satiric poetry written in the first half of the seventeenth century. These works share a common representation of syphilis as a gendered metaphor of physical and moral decay that functions in opposition both to male embodiment and to the ideal of the integrity of the female body, expressed in the concept of virginity and chastity. Furthermore, they exemplify the development of the syphilitic trope through the century as well as the diverse solutions to taming alterity.

Keywords:   syphilis, female prostitutes, virginity, Delicado’s La Lozana andaluza, Cervantes’s Casamiento engañoso, La tía fingida, Francisco de Quevedo’s satiric poetry

Chapter I provided an overview of various early modern medical texts, public health regulations and moral debates to demonstrate their role in creating and establishing concepts about the inferiority and imperfection of women’s bodies in the Iberian Peninsula. Such discourses also informed the social practices and conditions of poor, impaired females, while validating suspicions of any woman who veered from conventional behavior. At every rank of society, from wealthy courtesans to destitute prostitutes, women always fared worse because of their sex. With the spread of syphilis from the late fifteenth century, gendered connotations of the disease became increasingly misogynist as men were portrayed as innocent victims of the women who allegedly contaminated them. The added blame and spectre of contagion further supports the conclusion that in Spanish culture the ostensibly defective female is a master trope for disability in the period.

This chapter examines the literary depiction of the broken and contaminated corporality of female prostitutes as illustrated in Francisco Delicado’s La Lozana andaluza [Portrait of Lozana: The Lusty Andalusian Woman] (1528), Miguel de Cervantes’s Casamiento engañoso [The Deceitful Marriage] (1613), La tía fingida [The pretended aunt], a novel attributed to Cervantes,1 and Francisco de Quevedo’s satiric poetry written in the first half of the seventeenth century. These works share a common representation of syphilis as a gendered metaphor of physical and moral decay that functions in opposition both to male embodiment and to the ideal of the integrity of the female body, expressed in the concept of virginity and chastity. Furthermore, they exemplify the development of both the syphilitic trope and the (p.57) diverse solutions to taming alterity through the century. In reading these texts I take into account the complex relationship between creators and their characters, which entails a heteronormative and ableist position of the male authors and their need to transfer patriarchal anxieties to the polluted bodies of women. These writings reveal a flexible understanding of the nature of disease, impairment and creativity according to gender and social status. They also develop issues concerning queerness, gazing, voyeurism, pleasure, fear and apprehension in dealing with difference. The symbolic disabling of female characters is ultimately the result of multiple factors, including literary traditions, concrete ideologies and historical circumstances as well as personal crises affecting the writers.

Although brothel literature has a long tradition in European letters it was not until after the syphilis epidemic had affected Europe from the late fifteenth century that the characterization of prostitutes and lower-class women acquired symptoms of the disease. The visible physical signs of this deforming condition, along with the fact that it was a contagious ailment associated with sexuality and pleasure, produced ambiguous reactions in mainstream society.2 In sixteenthcentury Europe syphilis was understood from a moral, xenophobic and heterosexual perspective. Initially social constructions attributed the source of the disease to the Other—Native Americans, women, Jews, foreigners—but they also represented syphilis in relation to enjoyment and blamed promiscuous young courtiers for propagating it. Later in the century the affliction became a metaphor of the repulsive, stigmatized and abject female condition that affected males, the victims.3 The “medical heteronormative” promulgated the idea that syphilis was transmitted from women to men, avoiding naming other ways of sexual contagion such as sodomy (Berco, “Syphilis and the Silencing” 108).

Female characters affected by syphilis are ubiquitous in Spanish literary works and reflect this progressively more unfavorable attitude over time. In the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries syphilitic female characters are portrayed as relatively strong, freer and more literarily developed. The deforming consequences of the disease are suggested but not emphasized. For instance, at the end of fifteenth century the reference in Celestina to the unhealed nose scratch of the old protagonist insinuates her venereal disease without further elaboration. In the first quarter of the sixteenth century the symptoms of characters affected by the morbus gallicus in Portrait are relatively mild. However, the frequency and negativity of these constructions intensified over the course of that century to the point that by the (p.58) seventeenth century figures of syphilitic women are at times horrendous, monstrous and completely devoid of humanity.

Delicado’s Portrait of Lozana, one of the earliest Spanish texts to deal with syphilis, exemplifies the ambiguous perception of the disease that characterized attitudes during the first decades of the sixteenth century. Written in 1524 and published anonymously in Venice in 1528, this work belongs to the tradition of La Celestina, by Fernando de Rojas, who developed the character of the old prostitute and procuress Celestina in the late fifteenth century.4 While syphilis in Celestina was a “hidden and unmentionable disease, hanging like a dark pall over human sexuality” (Michael, “Celestina 119),5 Delicado’s preoccupation with and open treatment of the disease reflects the more advanced stage of the pandemic by 1524, adding to the ambiguities and complexities that critics have observed in this work.6 The writing is the product of a syphilitic author who seems to both accept and undermine the binary construct of the disease, resulting in a blur of gender and disability representation. The merging of diseased-author/ diseased-protagonist results in a malleable understanding of the syphilitic phenomenon.7

Portrait narrates the life of Lozana, originally called Aldonza, an ingenious, attractive Spanish prostitute, whose main physical traits are her open and profuse sexuality and her symptoms of syphilis.8 Born in Cordoba, Andalusia, in humble circumstances, Lozana is sexually initiated very early in her life. She leaves Spain to follow her lover/pimp, the Genoese merchant Diomedes, to various places in the Near East and, after being sequestered and abandoned by Diomedes’ father, moves to the Spanish neighborhood of Pozo Blanco in Rome, where she lives most of her life working as a prostitute, bawd, healer and beautician. The life of Lozana is somewhat reflective of that of her creator: both are exiled Andalusians from converso families, living in Rome, and affected by syphilis. Francisco Delicado, or Delgado (born c. 1475–1489), an Andalusian priest probably of Jewish descent, moved first to Rome, where he lived until 1527 (the date of Charles V’s attack on the city), and then to Venice, where he published several books, including Portrait. In his writings Delicado admits to have been suffering from syphilis for twenty-three years and that he composed the story of Lozana while recovering from the disease, most likely in the Santiago de las Carretas (San Giacomo degli Spagnoli) Hospital of the Incurables in Rome.9 He also reports that he has written other books about the venereal disorder—De consolatione infirmorum (unknown today), with the intention of comforting passionate ill men like him, and the short treatise El modo de adoperare el legno de India (p.59) Occidentale (Venice, 1529), in which he explains the discovery and use of the Guayaco, guaiacum wood, a tree from the West Indies that was considered the best medication at the time to cure syphilis. These writings evidence Delicado’s involvement and preoccupation with the disease as well as the figurative constructions of the condition.10

Portrait maintains the conventional binary opposition of condemned infected women/innocent cured men in the iconographic and written story, but many elements of the composition blur this dichotomy: the author conceals his name (publishing his work anonymously), attributes features of his own identity to the female protagonist and inserts himself into the fictional world of Lozana as an actor.11 The Spanish prostitute seems to reflect a distorted image of Delicado, a safe way of representing a frail transgressive feminine aspect of his personality that he carefully veils in what could be characterized as a symbolically transgender act. Delicado needs to maintain the inconspicuous normative and naturalized positions dictated by heterosexuality and able-bodiedness. As part of the dominant group he lacks the marks of the socially excluded but nevertheless needs the “embodied, visible, pathologized” others (McRuer, Crip 2).12 In Portrait the syphilitic author remains partially invisible, unmarked and above the imperfections of the residents of Pozo Blanco. He artistically visualizes their disordered sexuality, damaged bodies and marginalization, while concealing his own body (gender) troubles.

The story of Lozana illustrates the ambiguities of a social disease that affects everyone and, yet, not everyone has an excuse for having it or deserves a cure. This contradiction is found in well-known European writings on syphilis that argue that the disease can be treated and even cured when it affects powerful people, usually men, but when dealing with the contaminated poor majority population it is understood as a punishment for social or individual disorders.13 These contrasting understandings of the ailment may be observed in the woodcuts that illustrate Portrait and El modo de adoperare. The frontispiece illustration of Portrait shows Lozana, with the marks of syphilis on her face, sailing on the Ship of Fools. The allegoric image of the boat was usually complemented with the Tree of Vanity, as in Hieronymus Bosch’s Ship of Fools (1490–1500), but in Portrait the tree motif is revealed in the written discourse as part of Lozana’s dream in the last mamotreto of the story (lxvi).14 In this way folly frames the narrative. In Bosch’s painting the mast in the center of the Ship of Fools becomes the tree in which a menacing owl or skull can be seen. The motif of the tree also appears in the woodcut illustration in the frontispiece of Delicado’s El modo de adoperare, but here it is (p.60) converted into the guaiacum wood, also called sacred wood or palo santo, and, unlike the anonymous laughing tree keeper in Lozana’s dream and the mysterious menacing figure in Bosch’s painting, this tree is crowned by an image of the Virgin Mary. The sacred wood divides the drawing into two equal parts: Saint Jacob (the same saint as that of the hospital where the author is cured) appears to the right of the palo santo and Saint Martha, patron of Martos, Delicado’s adopted hometown in Andalusia, to the left. Near Saint Jacob, in the extreme lower right corner, Francisco Delicado kneels devotedly with his hands together in prayer thanking the Virgin, Saint Jacob and Saint Martha for curing him.15 In a game of superimposition of images, Delicado’s self-representation in a sanctified and redemptive atmosphere is also reminiscent of the plate in Joseph Grünpeck’s treatise on syphilis (Augsburg 1496), in which the Virgin with the Christ child sending miraculous curative rays to syphilitics is similarly positioned in the upper center of the illustration.16 In contrast with the blemished Lozana embarking on the Ship of Fools, Delicado depicts himself in his clerical garb, kneeling and looking up reverently to the saints and virgin, consoled, cured and saved, while his syphilitic character is exiled and condemned to die from the disease.

The image of the Ship of Fools visually introduces the disposition toward syphilis in Portrait as a justifiable penalty and stigma for disorderly marginalized women. In the book, the disease is confined to prostitutes and their clients.17 The main character, Lozana, symbolizes the kind of body and behavior that was typically associated with the malady in literary constructions. The narration accentuates the excesses and weakness of her physicality: her precocious sexuality at the young age of eleven, her discharge of fluids in the form of urine (Mamotretos vii and xix) and menstruation (Mamotreto xlii), her impure blood as a converted Jew (conversa), and her syphilitic body marked with a scar/star [estrella] on her forehead and a collapsed nose.18 Thus polluted liquids, uncontrolled sexual impulses and decay constitute her corporality. The symptoms of the venereal disease as well as her ethnicity socially label her and determine her marginality. Upon arriving in Rome she is openly identified as a syphilitic: “can’t you see she has the pox?” an older woman says after meeting her (20). Lozana herself recognizes that the blemish in her face disfigures (“deforms”) her (26), a defect acknowledged by other characters. For instance, the Jew Trigo, who rents her a house, comments that the mark of her disease is her flaw: “if it weren’t for that fly bite on your forehead, everything about you would be perfect” (70). The French disease is a persistent and fundamental feature of her distinctiveness, (p.61) since, as her servant and lover Rampín explains, Lozana was never able to rid herself of the illness (72), despite her knowledge of invocations to repel it (76).

Syphilis in the ghetto of Pozo Blanco, where Lozana resides, is the expected outcome rather than an avoidable or treatable illness.19 The community of women living there speaks of the origin, development and lethal consequences of the epidemic that looms over all of them as an avoidable punishment. Older prostitutes in the story, such as the toothless bald washerwoman from Nájera and the old consumed Divicia with her false teeth, mention that the beginning of their career coincided with the outbreak of the incurable French plague in Naples. One of Lozana’s first clients explains that there are numerous prostitutes living in Rome from different countries and at the end of their careers all of them have a “French friend”—a euphemism for syphilis—who accompanies them to their death (95). Silvio, a character who duplicates the author’s voice, also comments that all women are hounded by “the illness that comes to them from Naples” (105). When, later in the book, the aged Lozana decides to give up her trade because “it’s been a bad year for whores” (194), she bemoans the fact that, although some prostitutes are successful, many others are unfortunate women that end up poor and ill, with their “bodies wasted and worldly goods dispersed” (196–97). In Portrait, the gloomy future of and final retribution for this group of segregated uncontrolled women reflects the opinions of the period and, yet, the voice of Lozana denouncing the outcome of poor women who endeavor to subsist, many through prostitution, unsettles the conventional wisdom of the time. The following quote is a poignant description of the miserable lives of women whose bodies are a way of survival but also the source of suffering and abjection:

And they used their bodies as shields and their ears as helmets, struggling on their own and paying their own lodgings, both night and day. And now, how are they rewarded? For some, broken arms; for others, bodies wasted and worldly goods dispersed; for others, scars and pains; for others, bearing children and then abandoned. Some who were ladies are now maids; others ply their trade on the street corners; some are washerwomen, or stable women, or whores in the service of other whores; still others are bawds, midwives, or women for rent; others weave and are not paid; others beg from those who once begged from them and serve those who once were in their service; some fast because they have nothing to eat, and others because they can’t. (195–196)

(p.62) For the narrator, poor women use their bodies as a “shield,” a protective matter that provides their subsistence, but that also represents a material that disintegrates with age and generates pain, disfigurements and even the need to abandon children—the fruits of their corporality. The collapse of their bodies parallels their social degradation. These women end their lives begging, in unpaid servitude or in questionable professions. Some just starve. Even when Lozana’s friend, Silvano, responds by telling her that the city hospital (San Giacomo) provides shelter for syphilitic women, the protagonist’s lament reflects the sad reality of abandoned and emaciated, diseased prostitutes as documented in historical sources and illustrations.20

Syphilis is a gendered, stigmatizing and penalized disease in the text that contributes to supporting the traditional concepts of female embodiment. This work centers on the body as source of pleasure, contagion and wickedness. Even Lozana’s additional activities, such as beautician, hymen mender and healer, are linked to her main profession and the need to maintain the matter upon which women’s survival depends.21 Once their youth and their health disappear, all prostitutes, rich courtesans as well as poor whores, become vulnerable and have a wretched end, as in the case of a famous Portuguese courtesan who appears in the story begging for alms on street corners. The wasted courtesan is a frightening example for all women in the profession. According to a male character named Herjeto, the ruin suffered by such women is the consequence of not placing God before their desires (Mamotreto xlix). In Portrait, disease, poverty and destitution are divine punishments with a hopeless outcome.22 Earlier in the text, the aged prostitute Divicia suggests the possibility of curing syphilis with new treatments, such the ones proposed by the author: “They’ve already begun treating it with aloeswood from the West Indies. Sixty years after it began, it will end” (232). However, according to Lozana, who represents the reality of living in the prostitution district, venereal disease is incurable and divinely fated: “there’s no physician as asinine as the one who wants to cure the pox since God makes man have the disease” (252). This inescapable fact is underscored in the last chapter of the novel, when Lozana remarks on the doomed destiny of whores [“three kinds of people end badly: soldiers, whores and usurers” (276)]. The disease is terminal for prostitutes because they cannot afford to pay for the remedies the author has received. While Delicado recovers in the hospital, he creates a protagonist who laments the lack of government provisions and shelters for destitute women (198). This complaint about the unequal treatment of indigent women adds to the complexity of a text that demands multiple readings.

(p.63) Many critics consider that Lozana is portrayed with positive features and is not morally judged; and, yet, it is important to recall that the author chooses a female to represent syphilis.23 Lozana is tied to the destiny of her peculiar embodiment (impaired Jewish woman) and punished for her subversive way of living (prostitution). Although she seems to be constantly on the move and has a voice, she is marginalized and circumscribed to closed geographical quarters inhabited by prostitutes, courtesans, pimps and self-indulgent clients. Indeed, the syphilitic prostitute is the origin and the center of the story, but she can never be integrated to society.24 At the end of the story, Lozana retires to the isle of Lípari, a kind of penitentiary in the north of Sicily (Allaigre 139), and, in this way, the aged protagonist is excised from the community, thus preventing the revelation of the disastrous physical effects of aging and illness. Her fictional life parallels the function of the narration itself, to entertain and to divert attention from the tribulations of the protagonist and from the invisible ordeals of the author.25 In his Letter of Petition to “an honorable Lord,” included at the beginning of Portrait, the writer consigns “to discreet readers the pleasure and enjoyment that reading about Mistress Lozana may well bring them” (3). In the author’s imagination the deformed and diseased Lozana will continue giving pleasure to the readers without complaining about her own suffering. The book is in essence a sort of carpe diem that incites men to enjoy the virtual obscene body of the prostitute; in this way it functions as a kind of literary voyeurism without risk of contamination, and without exposing the woman to her final corporeal condemnation and destruction. By poetically gendering decay, impairment, marginalization and exile, Delicado controls a fiction of the disease that preserves his heteronormative status.

Three decades into the pandemic Delicado openly discusses syphilis in his literary creation by feminizing and restricting the experience of the malady to a ghetto in Rome for Spanish converso prostitutes, a place that male clients visit, become contaminated and have the opportunity to leave and be cured. By the end of the sixteenth century and the beginning of the seventeenth, the figure of the syphilitic prostitute is pervasive in many baroque texts and permeates diverse areas of the urban environment. It reflects common preoccupations of the period in relation to poverty and the stigmatizing social response to unrestrained women. In the two short novels I examine next, Cervantes’s The Deceptive Marriage and the attributed The Pretended Aunt, female disease and impairments appear immersed in the net of social relations of Counter Reformation Spain. In these works, the damaged physicality of unrestrained women questions traditional institutions (p.64) such as marriage and virginity that demand female normative bodies and behavior.

The portraits of promiscuous women in the works of Miguel de Cervantes (1547–1616) are characteristically negative, although not all of them manifest symptoms of venereal disease.26 In Don Quixote, Maritornes illustrates the extreme ugliness and impairments with which the lower-class maids that appear in rural inn scenes are depicted, a frequent convention in picaresque novels. The women who appear on Monopodio’s patio in Seville in the short novel Rinconete and Cortadillo illustrate the typical characterization of prostitutes: heavily made up, with vulgar manners, and physically abused by pimps.27 Some of these figures are syphilitic, such as la Pericona, the aged prostitute in the entremés “Rufián viudo” (The Ruffian Widower). They also reflect the preoccupations of the time over the need to improve the social health of women and to remediate the intolerable plague of “young female wanderers” that filled hospitals and contaminated men.28 In The Deceptive Marriage syphilis plays a central role in exposing complex issues in relation to female sexuality, pollution and poverty. It also creates the symbolic exclusion from society of diseased women through a failure to attain the honored married status.

The novel is the story of a relationship of reciprocal deception between the ensign Campuzano and Doña Estefanía de Caicedo, a courtesan. The two characters, after a seductive encounter in the inn of La Solana in Valladolid and eight days of courtship, negotiations and promises of mutual economic contribution, get married. Following six more days of blissful honeymoon during which Estefanía acts like the perfect domestic and submissive wife, the reader learns that her alleged property holdings were a sham (the well-furnished house where she takes her husband belongs to her friend). Finally, after six subsequent days of quarreling, Estefanía, intimidated by Campuzano’s threats, disappears with his trunk and costume jewelry, leaving the soldier infected with syphilis.

Unlike the case of Lozana, who openly discloses the marks of her diseased body and talks about her life, Estefanía is a tapada, a veiled woman with no voice.29 It is Campuzano, the affected victim, who offers a progressive revelation of her life and the secret constitution of her body, the object of his desire.30 Estefanía is a thirty-year-old city courtesan approaching an age when prostitutes start worrying about their future, as we have seen in Lozana’s account.31 She openly confesses her profession to Campuzano and states her desire to marry him in order to gain a more stable and secure life. Probably because she is poor and unable to secure a decent marriage she lies about her (p.65) dowry, but the ensign also lies about the value of his gold chain and garments, both perhaps with the sincere intention of obtaining a situation that will improve their present existence (Márquez Villanueva, “Novela” 616–617).32 However, Estefanía also conceals her venereal disease, a significant factor connected with her corporality that elucidates the development and denouement of the story.

In effect, the story begins with an anonymous narrator describing the physical frailty of Campuzano immediately after leaving the Hospital of the Resurrection, on the outskirts of Valladolid,33 where he has been receiving the remedy of sweating out the “bad humors” of the morbus gallicus for twenty days.34 The purge has left the soldier pale and weak, to the point that he needs to use his sword as a cane. On his way to the city he encounters his old friend the licentiate Peralta, who, shocked by the soldier’s appearance, asks him about the reasons. Campuzano’s unexpected physical decline demands an urgent explanation and reparation, a fact that supports one of the usual functions of deviant literary figures to stimulate the narration (Mitchell and Snyder, Narrative 53). Marrying Estefanía de Caicedo has resulted in his sicknesses and emasculation, as Peralta suggests by using language that connotes verticality and flaccidity: from bearing lances in Flanders, Campuzano is now dragging his sword (522). The soldier—ideal emblematic embodiment and defender of patriarchal society—has been damaged in the story by the dangerous sexuality of a woman. By symbolically castrating the soldier, Estefanía, the Woman, becomes the voiceless real threat to the system. She has been the object of male desire and has offered the fleeting pleasure of the submissive wife,35 but when she disappears Campuzano is left pelón, hairless and penniless, sick and impotent; she leaves behind the marks of her polluted body, and yet she is also the source of his creativity.36 Gossy has indicated that “the germ of the text is located in Estefanía’s body,” and that the trace of syphilis she leaves when she disappears permits Campuzano to become the author of the narration (The Untold Story 61, 69). Certainly, Estefanía is “a figure of undecidability” (between marriage and prostitution) because she does not adjust to the rigid code of patriarchal honor; however, it is important to underscore that it is the discovery of her disabled dejected body that impedes the desired integration. Once she is unveiled and possessed, Estefanía passes on the intolerable stigma of vulnerability and decay. This instability needs to be symbolically fixed. In effect, just as we have observed in the case of the negotiations of the syphilitic Delicado in relation to his creative work Portrait, Lieutenant Campuzano not only needs to purify (sweat) the bad humors he caught from the Woman but, during (p.66) his painful convalescence—a period of cleansing his body of her infection—he experiences literary inspiration. His flaccid sword becomes a creative pen. This burst of imaginative fertility occurs during a feverish night in the Hospital of the Resurrection of Valladolid, when he hears, or dreams about, a conversation between two dogs, which the soldier recreates in what will be the next novel in the collection of Exemplary Novels, The Dialogue of the Dogs [Coloquio de los perros].37 In the same way that Lozana retreats to an island, in The Deceptive Marriage Estefanía is condemned to live on the fringes of society. In overcoming the female menace, patriarchal society remedies emasculation and is reinforced by the narrator’s creativity. Impaired dissolute women are shunned in the narrations but the traces of the ailments they leave behind become nevertheless fundamental to sustaining the patriarchal fictions of controlling the uncontrollable.38 The idea of normalcy and male integrity needs the disabled female.

Estefanía lacks the physical and moral integrity demanded by the institution of marriage and the honor codes, closely connected to the concept of female virginity, a topic explored in the short novel attributed to Cervantes, The Pretended Aunt. In early modern literature, the hidden impairment of having a broken hymen generates the greatest stigma and rejection a woman could suffer. This novel adds the issue of female somatic deficiency to the theme of infection in what I call the politics of virginity.39

The story of The Pretended Aunt deals with the typical pairing of the aged retired sick prostitute, Doña Claudia de Astudillo y Quiñones, and an eighteen-year-old disciple, doña Esperanza de Torralba, Meneses y Pacheco. The story takes place in 1575 in the university city of Salamanca, where the women, along with two maidservants and a squire, have just arrived. Their shuttered rented house of ill repute, as well as their public composure, display a behavior typical of honorable women and entices the curiosity of two Manchegan students. Having seen the beautiful Esperanza and suspecting the real business of the group, the students unsuccessfully accost her with a nocturnal serenade and, finally, ask a friend, don Félix, for help in conquering Esperanza. Don Félix, by bribing Grijalba, one of the lady’s maids, discovers that the young Esperanza is in fact a concealed courtesan. Later that day, Grijalba hides don Félix in Esperanza’s room with the consent of the young woman, who agrees to meet him after her aunt Doña Claudia retires to bed. From his hiding place, don Félix hears a conversation between the aunt and niece about their profession. Claudia gives Esperanza a series of recommendations on the most profitable ways to attract clients and on the characteristics of potential (p.67) male customers in Salamanca. The niece, after reminding her aunt that she has frequently heard her advice, adds that this time she will not tolerate suffering the pain involved in surgically reconstructing her virginity. At that moment, due to an incontrollable sneeze, don Félix is revealed, much to the consternation of Claudia, who attacks the servant Grijalba with her shoe. Responding to the women’s altercation and screams, a magistrate (corregidor) and twenty other men that have also been hiding and listening to the graphic conversation emerge; among them are the two students that accosted Esperanza at the beginning of the novel. The magistrate and his men take the women to jail but the students manage to rescue Esperanza and bring her to their hostel. In their room, the young men quarrel about their prerogative to sexually possess the young woman. The story concludes when one of the students decides to marry Esperanza in order to acquire the undisputable right over the enjoyment of her body, while the magistrate, accusing Claudia of stealing and exploiting girls and of being a witch, penalizes her with four hundred lashes, public exhibition and humiliation.

In The Pretended Aunt, the corporality of the female characters reflects masculine anxieties around somatic fragmentation and disorder. The story reveals male fears and perverse curiosity about the enigma and ambivalence of an embodiment that is the object of both their pleasure and disgust. After the discovery and revelation of the secret of the women’s bodies—they are deceptively broken and infected—the plot adopts the customary solution of controlling, penalizing and confining them. In the pairing of old and young courtesans, the portrait of Esperanza is linked to virginity and a lost hymen, while the characterization of the experienced Claudia follows the literary tradition of syphilitic older procuresses and healers. As was the case of Doña Estefanía in The Deceptive Marriage, the dynamic of The Pretended Aunt moves from veiling to revealing, from the initial depiction of Claudia and Esperanza wearing fashionable and decent clothing at the beginning of the narration to the later disclosure of their imperfect bodies. The narrator, in describing Esperanza, emphasizes the customary characteristics of a young woman with a beautiful face and fashionable coiffure and clothing. In addition to her elegant appearance, the third-person narrator adds that she carries herself with grace and modesty: with “dignified bearing, honest gaze, elegant and noble stride” [“[e]l ademán era grave, y el mirar honesto, el paso airoso y de garza” (628)].40 Esperanza is the image of decorum that fulfills the expectations of a young beautiful decent girl. Her “honest gaze” is a feature connected with virginity in some medieval medical (p.68) texts; however, her stylish silver-colored hair [“cabellos plateados y crespos por artificio”] and her alluring expensive shoes [“chapines de terciopelo negro con sus claveles y rapacejos de plata bruñida”] seem to be inviting attention.41 Later in the narration we learn that the young woman has sold herself three times as a virgin and seems to accept without reservation her profession, as she talks to her aunt about their future plans of traveling to Seville, where the fleet will arrive, bringing plenty of clients and profit. Critics have mentioned her passivity, as her body functions as merchandise for her aunt and an object of desire for men (Martín, An Erotic Philology 8); however, the young woman becomes a speaking subject when she asserts the state of her body and tells Claudia that she cannot endure again the torture of repairing her virginity. Reconstructing her hymen has been a painful and distressing way of recovering a useless provisional worth. She explains that her sensitive flesh should not be sewn like a textile and should not be fictionalized and recreated as complete. Her remarks corroborate that fiction and representation are framed in the context of physical bodies that feel pain. In her conversation with Claudia, she crudely describes the surgical procedure she has endured to reconstruct her broken hymen with silk thread and needle (“sirgo y ahuja”).42

Repairing hymens with red silk thread is a typical occupation of Celestinesque procuresses. It is one of the main occupations of Celestina, Lozana and Aldonza Lorenzo, the mother of Pablos in Quevedo’s picaresque novel El Buscón.43 In literary works the procedure is presented as immoral and deceptive, but the restoration of lost virginity, which was called sophistication, was a common theme in ancient and medieval gynecological texts that include prescriptions. The method was used to assist in saving women’s honor and virtue, but also to increase sexual pleasure or to assist in conception.44 Although the practice may have been performed frequently in real life and often mentioned in literary texts, the first-person description of this excruciating experience is unique to The Pretended Aunt.45 In effect, the protagonist’s openness and candor in explaining this procedure caused a “critic scandal” in male readers (Gossy, “‘The pretended’” 255), who consider the discourse obscene (Martín, An Erotic Philology 26), and also created an obstacle for accepting the authorship of Cervantes.46 In my opinion, what makes this work so obscene and so uncomfortable for readers is not only the topic but also the frank talk about the fallacy of virginity. Hymens, the membranes that preserve the myth of female undamaged flesh, are fictional veils that can be manipulated. Virginity was an expected state for unmarried young women with social, legal and moral implications in the period. It usually meant that the woman (p.69) had no sexual relations and that she had maintained her body, as well as the purity of her thoughts, intact. It guaranteed female corporeal wholeness, a quality expected in maidens at the point of transfer of legal guardianship from their fathers to their husbands. The loss of virginity, understood as the tearing of the hymen, devalued females at all levels of the economic exchange, and the reconstruction of virgos was a means of maintaining the worth of both virtuous women and prostitutes.47 Claudia needs to create the oxymoron of a “virgin whore” in Esperanza (Gossy, The Untold Story 97) in order to certify a clean and safe flesh to the potential buyer during a period when prostitutes were blamed for spreading venereal diseases. The twenty-two hidden voyeurs in the story, as well as the male readers outside the text, observe with extreme concern how Claudia and Esperanza are dismantling the social illusion of bodily integrity, described by the niece as “an entire, intact and never touched garden.”

The anxiety felt by the male subjects as they overhear the truth about Esperanza’s incongruous corporality reveals important aspects that explain the rejection of the disabled. From the point of view of psychoanalysis, the repudiated defective body is not an external thread but a repressed experience of a disintegrated, de-unified and uncontrollable embodiment.48 Claudia and Esperanza’s revelation of their efforts to conceal physical incompleteness in order to meet patriarchal demands (and to provide female profit) stirs profound unease in the male voyeurs in relation to their refusal to see their own vulnerabilities and created myths. Another reason for consternation is observing the dismantling of a social fabrication. Claudia’s surgical sewing, repairing Esperanza’s torn flesh, exposes the instability of virginity, the very foundation of the structure of the honor system.49 For men, it is disturbing to acknowledge that, just as prostitutes alter their bodies to increase their market value, other privileged women can do the same to secure their worth. Women sell men the illusion of stable signs, when in fact the meaning of the hymen itself, a membrane that is situated in-between and that breaks down dichotomies, reveals the undecidability and instability of valuing symbols. In the case of The Pretended Aunt, as well as that of Doña Estefanía in The Deceptive Marriage, fashionable clothing and constructed virginities function as veils, as fictions that cover the diseased and incomplete bodies of unrestrained women.50 Claudia, the hymen mender, becomes an accomplice of a society that demands virginity, but she, as with other aged Celestinas, also uses her knowledge of the female body to subvert and take advantage of a system that stigmatizes the sexually active woman.

(p.70) The details of Claudia’s surgical procedure are unclear, but data from several scientific articles about current medical practices attest firstly that the presence or absence of the membrane called the hymen, as well as the anticipated bloodstains after the first intercourse, in many cases have nothing to do with virginity. It is a fabrication. Furthermore, current scientific literature indicates that the surgery to reconstruct the hymen by sewing small flaps of vaginal skin is risky if performed by non-professionals and can create numerous health problems, as well as leave “significant scarring” that causes chronic pain during intercourse (Raveenthiran 225).51 In The Pretended Aunt, Esperanza seems to allude to this scarring when she says that her flower (vagina) is already “negra de marchita,” black and withered. The lacerated and wilted genitals mark Esperanza’s still young body with disease, corruption and death; her future will be similar to that faced by Claudia, as the next revelation in the story suggests.

In reality, syphilis is Claudia’s hidden secret. Following the conversation between the aunt and the niece about Esperanza’s “open door”, there is an altercation in which the lady’s maid Grijalba pulls off Claudia’s headdress to reveal a piece of dangling false hair over her bald scalp, an outcome of syphilis that made her look ugly and repulsive [“quedó con las más fea y abominable catadura del mundo” (646)]. In fact, Claudia, as with many other old procuresses in literature, displays the usual pejorative signs of an imperfect and decayed body through the metaphorical use of syphilis.52 In the novel, the apprehensive male curiosity seems to discover what women conceal.

In the three works examined, male authors expose the incomplete, deformed and threatening bodies of women living at the edge of social norms to a voyeuristic audience both inside and outside the texts. Once they have unveiled the bodies of their female protagonists, the male writers close their narration by removing them from society: Lozana is isolated on an island, Estefanía disappears, Claudia is punished and jailed and Esperanza is trapped in a forced marriage with a rapist. The show is over, the threat reduced. From the male point of view, which includes that of the authors, male characters and readers, the final ending is indeed a happy one, in fiction and desires.53

Nonetheless, the dichotomy of heterosexual abled men versus diseased and deformed women is blurred in these texts, which reveal the complexities and instability of the signs of the construction of disability. In Portrait the author Delicado both constructs and crosses the barriers of the division. He feminizes disease and subversive behaviors but this fabrication also allows for the amalgam of representations of gender and disability: the syphilitic Lozana is the reflection (p.71) of his cured self, the approved social trope to express the experience of a devastating, reviled disease. Unlike Delicado’s disguised persona, the protagonist of The Deceptive Marriage, ensign Campuzano, openly appears cursed by his contact with a syphilitic woman. The result of female contamination is impairment and feminization. Both Delicado and Campuzano find creativity in the process of purging the disease, or the Woman. The stories they envision while they are cured in syphilitic hospitals expose community and individual difficulties, suggesting the universality of human suffering. Finally, in The Pretended Aunt, the topic of broken/fabricated hymens questions the wholeness of bodies and their conventional worth. The disclosure of the flawed female flesh covered by veils produces an aggressive reaction in the male voyeurs, who use their authoritative control as a way to cover their own fears and vulnerabilities. The elimination of the “problem” at the end of each of the stories is also a futile move, as the female and the somatic flaws will continue to resurface in the male imagination.

Delicado and Cervantes’s complex treatment of syphilis, impairments and gender in the novels discussed are absent in other works, where the symptoms of syphilis become a standard trope for female moral and physical degradation. Among seventeenth-century writings, the most extreme, obsessive and unambiguous rejection of female corporality may be found in the satirical works of Francisco de Quevedo (1580–1645). His pen frequently emphasizes the syndrome of syphilitic women with morbid intensity and detail: alopecia, missing teeth, putrefactive secretions, sores and foul smells. Infected poor women are horrendous examples of society’s abjection and the excesses and detritus that should be eliminated in order to maintain the status quo. Quevedo’s literary exercise is an aggressive attack on women’s bodies that converts them into dehumanized and grotesque figures. As a privileged aristocratic conservative male, his literary violence against the Other (women, Jews, blacks, Venetians) can be read as an extreme intent of disassociation from the weakness of femininity.54

Quevedo’s representation of the female body follows the traditional division of women’s physicality based on conventions of literary genres. His lyric love poetry adopts Petrarchan and Neoplatonic patterns in the construction of the idealized woman: noble, young, beautiful, chaste and angelical.55 In contrast, the lusty, ugly, sick, poor, old and evil female is at the center of his burlesque poetry. In fact, in both poetic genres, lyric and festive, and consistent with the poetics of the time, the intention is not to describe a realistic and individualized body or, much less, to express particular ways of being, but to show the reaction and feelings of the male poetic voice through the creation (p.72) of clever images. The represented female is an excuse, a motive, a topic and an object to display in his brilliant compositions; yet the caustic figuration of female physicality has deeper motivations.

In the burlesque category, defective female corporality is constructed in a continuum of figures of different ages and states that share lewd conduct and threatening sexuality. The sick prostitute and the emaciated hag are key characters in the series.56 The majority of critical analyses of Quevedo’s satires and burlesque poems employ historical and philological approaches in order to find the sources and features of the negative characterization of women in misogynous time-honored Greco-Roman, Patristic and European discourses (Arellano and Schwartz LIII).57 Nevertheless, reducing the poet’s attacks to female figures to a brilliant poetic exercise of wit based on imitatio not only exculpates the responsibility of the author but also eludes questioning the deep-seated political and social attitudes and ontological anxieties that underline his artistic expressions. There is too much obsessive vehemence in the Quevedean satire to reduce it to a mere inventive play (Iffland, Quevedo vol. 2, 269).

Reading Quevedo’s negative construction of women’s corporality through feminist and ageist theories of disability adds new critical perspective to the phenomenon of the misogynist satire. The intensity of the poet’s violence and rejection of women should be understood in correlation with inner crisis and efforts to defend and maintain the solidity of the ideal model, since the existence of the model depends on the abjection of others (Butler 3). In the extreme devaluation of the syphilitic young prostitute and the monstrous old hag, two of his iconic figures, Quevedo projects discomfort, fear and aggressiveness, the same feelings that characterize society’s dismissal of different embodiments. In his burlesque poetry, the syphilitic prostitute and the ugly hag are the dregs of society, judged, degraded and destroyed because they transgress the desired order and introduce chaos. These figures show existential experiences shared by all human beings: pain, sickness, desire and death. They reveal human malleability and physical vulnerability and challenge the concept of the control, limits and integrity of the prescriptive body. Ultimately, they represent threatening powers from which society needs to protect itself, provoking the need for their elimination.58

Quevedo’s harsh invectives against women reveal his anxiety and preoccupation with physical deterioration and death. In his creation of abhorrent grotesque figures he uses witty humor and the ingeniousness of his conceptual style to cover his intense aggressiveness towards the different groups he detests, such as the Jews ( (p.73) Iffland, Quevedo vol. 2, 188, 221–231), but he seems particularly vehement in relation to sexually active lower-class females.59 Because traditionally women have been related to the materiality of the flesh, Quevedo’s poetic hostility towards them focuses precisely in imagining characters with ulcerated and corrupt bodies as agents of contamination and social danger. The author’s misogynist imprecations reveal his inner anxiety and his need to shield himself from women. He denounces the irresistible sexual attraction of young prostitutes that jeopardizes the integrity of the underpinnings of the patriarchal system: corporeal, moral and economic health.

In the prose works analyzed earlier in this chapter syphilis marks female characters, but the signs of the disease are not accentuated. These protagonists preserve the essential characteristics of human beings who move, feel their body, have desires and relate to others. Moreover, venereal disease in those novels functions as a narrative device that determines the dynamic of the story, reflects contemporary issues and affects the author’s persona. In contrast, the use of syphilis in Quevedo’s burlesque poetry is highly reductive: it focuses on an exhaustive scatological description of the diverse symptoms of the French disease.60 The human body is fragmented and dehumanized. The objective of the satiric and burlesque poetry is to produce laughter (Arellano and Schwartz, Un Heráclito lii), but the emphasis on different symptoms of syphilis—buboes, disfigured noses, alopecia, inflammation of the joints and pain—provoke disgust and hatred. The spirit of the character disappears and women are reduced to a materially damaged commodity.61

The distorted female bodies that Quevedo creates are objectified into contaminated marketable flesh used dangerously for masculine pleasure.62 They are reminders of decomposition and death; prostitutes are dead meat, carne mortecina (Un Heráclito, Poem 252, vv. 37–40).63 The stage of their venereal disease, in addition to their ethnic origin—they are new Christians, contaminated with Jewish or Moorish blood—determines their economic value and the fragility of the buscona’s world (Un Heráclito, ballad 278). There is no hope or redemption for them. For instance, the sweating treatment for the diseased young Marica (Un Heráclito, romances 253 and 254) in the hospital of Antón Martín in Madrid becomes an excuse to illustrate her body’s disintegration and to condemn her immoral behavior. These depictions underline the superiority and separation of the male voice/creator that presents the ruined female bodies as the paradigm of what he is not. Marica is devalued with a stigmatizing disease that places her in the same historical, political and mythological parameter that has (p.74) ambiguously defined the disabled body as excessive, polluting, malignant and dependent (Shildrick, “The Disabled” 756). In Quevedo’s satirical and burlesque poetry, impaired female characters are a degenerate and dehumanized group that threaten the establishment and need to be punished and eradicated.

This analysis of the selected early modern Spanish literary works published during the century when syphilitic epidemic was rampant has shown that the symptoms of this disease became an important metaphor for describing a conception of women’s bodies as defective and chaotic. In 1524 the morbus gallicus in Delicado’s work seems to be a distant problem for many reasons. Syphilis is contained within the limits of a specific group—exiled converso woman of low economic and moral standing—living in a marginal neighborhood of Rome. The fact that Portrait was published anonymously and did not become familiar in the Spanish letters until the discovery of the text in the nineteenth century increases the feeling of remoteness. Nonetheless, Delicado already outlines what would become a common device in later works: the figurative division between impaired pollutant women and the victimized abled (cured) men. This earlier work also introduces the negotiation of gender through metaphorical veils and transferences. Contrary to the remoteness of Portrait, the two short novels attributed to Cervantes are fully immersed in the climate and concerns of Counter Reformation Spain. The narratives reflect anxieties about the castrating outcomes of venereal disease in the emblematic male soldier, the cracks in the fundamental social institutions of marriage and virginity and the endemic poverty that forces young women into prostitution. The Deceptive Marriage and The Pretended Aunt show that diseased and defective physicality is a feminine attribute that negatively affects the rest of society, but, similarly, they suggest that established social structures that subordinate women as well as the inability of the system—including the artistic realm—to find solutions also create their disability. These works show that the veil of Doña Estefanía, the fabricated hymen of Doña Esperanza and the wig of Claudia cover poverty, impairment, suffering, pain and vulnerability. The ambivalence toward syphilitic figures in Delicado’s and Cervantes’s stories disappears in the works by Quevedo, however. The skillful demands of this linguistically superb poetry partly justify the immense separation between the male poetic voice and the imperfect creatures. By creating this distance, the proud Quevedo, wearing the noble signs of the Order of Santiago, also shows a fervent defense of the Spanish heterosexual, abled and aristocratic masculine values menaced by the chaotic incongruous embodiment of the feminine and others outside privileged society. (p.75) Although each author relates to venereal disease in different ways, it is clear that in early modern Spanish literature syphilis is connected with the defective female body and used as a significant trope to express alterity and rejection of difference in the period.


(1) These two novels are included in Cervantes, Novelas ejemplares.

(2) Sixteenth-century drawings of syphilitics exhibit disfigured people with crutches and bodies covered with pustules, some of them begging, similar to the stereotypical representations of the disabled. See plates 8.1, 8.14, 8.15, and 8.17 in Arrizabalaga et al.

(3) These responses to this disease were common in Early Modern Europe. See Berco, From Body, chapter 1; Poirier 167–171; Schleiner, “Moral Attitudes” and “Infection.” Although initially considered incurable, the pox was later perceived as treatable (Arrizabalaga et al. 231).

(4) The most accepted opinion in Celestina’s criticism is that an earlier author elaborated the first act and Rojas completed the work (Serés 369).

(5) For the affinities among Rojas, the doctor Francisco López de Villalobos, and Delicado see Bubnova. In addition to the direct reference to Celestina in Portrait, Delicado probably published the Rojas’s work in 1531 while living in Venice (Gernert, “Prólogo” xxxiv).

(6) For the linguistic ambivalences see especially the introduction by Claude Allaigre to his edition of La Lozana andaluza.

(7) The concept of genderqueer, defined by the online Oxford dictionary as “a person who does not subscribe to conventional gender distinctions but identifies with neither, both, or a combination of male and female genders,” can be associated with this phenomenon. For further definitions see Roxie. For the relationship between Disability Studies and Queer Theory see Mark Sherry and the works by Robert McRuer and Abby Wilderson.

(8) The name Aldonza changes to Lozana, a word connected with her sexual body, in Mamotreto IV.

(9) Delicado describes his case as an example of the healing properties of Guayaco wood in his treatise El modo de adoperare el legno de India Occidentale: “e presenta neo remedio contra il mal françoso, dal quale per vintitre anni, siando io stato infermo, ne mai per niun altro remedio, saluo che per il preditto legno, guarito” (Damiani, “El modo” 256). There were ten beds for superior or recommended patrons such as Francisco Delicado in The Hospital Incurabili in Rome (Arrizabalaga et al. 187, 202).

(10) For further information on Delicado’s life consult Gernert, “Prólogo” to the edition of La lozana andaluza, xxix–xxxiv.

(11) For the role of the author as actor in Portrait see Beltrán.

(12) According to McRuer, “compulsory able-bodiedness and compulsory heterosexuality are interwoven” because those identities, using Judith Butler’s queer theory, need repetitive performance to maintain their hegemony. The problem is that “this repetition is bound to fail, as the ideal able-bodied (p.76) identity can never, once and for all, be achieved.” McRuer calls this difficulty “ability trouble” (Crip 9–10).

(13) Bruce Boehrer reaches this conclusion after analyzing the rhetorical language of major sixteenth-century texts on syphilis by William Clowes, Joseph Grünpeck and Girolamo Fracastoro: “Syphilis in fact, comes into being as a treatable ailment only when it is associated with [those] figures at the heart of the political and social order [—with cardinals, popes, electors, and later with ‘the superior order of the bourgeois.’] When identified with the poor and socially undistinguished, the disease almost ceases to be a disease at all; instead, it emerges in its concomitant character as an instrument of discipline and punishment” (209, his emphasis). See also Schleiner, “Infection.”

(14) Lozana concretely refers to the “árbol de la locura” and “árbol de la vanidad.” See Allaigre, “Introducción” 133.

(15) The woodcut image can be seen in Damiani’s transcription of El modo de adoperare. For descriptions and interpretations of the picture see Recio Veganzones; and Allaigre (152–154), who also connects the motif of the tree with the poplar of Martos (“alamillo de Martos”) illustrated in Mamotreto xi and described in Mamotreto xlvii.

(16) According to Michael, Grünpeck’s image showing the curative approach is a modification of the woodcut [Flagellum Dei] in the Basel verse broadsheet of 1496 that shows the retributive view of the disease (Celestina” 115).

(17) The quotations in Spanish are from the Jacques Joset and Folke Gernert edition. The English quotations are from Bruno Damiani’s translation.

(18) In the polysemic language of Portrait the scar or star in her forehead can be interpreted as a sign both of syphilis and of Jewishness. Allaigre suggests that the scar or chirlo in Celestina’s face inspires the infamous mark in Lozana (129).

(19) For the topic of exile in connection with the converso and Jewish origin of the community of women of Pozo Blanco, as well as with Delicado, see Costa; and Wolfenzon.

(20) For instance, Arrizabalaga et al., after examining the clothing that patients wear at San Giacomo’s admission (the same hospital where Delicado was “cured”), conclude that “women appear to have been poorer than the men,” which seems to be the case in other hospitals as well (216–217). The plates of syphilitic women begging on the streets included in the book [Plate 8.17] corroborate Lozana’s description.

(21) For Lozana’s inefficient role as healer and ensalmadora, see Dangler’s Mediating, chapter four.

(22) An Italian illustration that appeared in a popular broadsheet “The history of the prostitute” depicts the story of a prostitute courted when very young by gentlemen and ending her life reduced to misery and death in a hospital, and then being condemned to hell for eternity (which Arrizabalaga et al. include in The Great Pox as Plate 8.1). It certainly resembles the story and moralistic determinism expressed in Portrait.

(23) Among the critics that believe Lozana is a positive portrait see García-Verdugo (La Lozana 35) and Bubnova (“Villalobos” 246–247), while Cruz, (“Sexual Enclosure”) and Dangler, (Mediating), denounce the misogyny of Portrait.

(24) Eradication of disability is the usual literary solution (Mitchell and Snyder, Narrative 56).

(p.77) (25) Enriqueta Zafra seems to reach the same conclusion: “el texto vendría a proveer un espacio donde el descontrol sexual no viniera acompañado de bubas” (129).

(26) Even when Cervantes usually chooses female secondary figures belonging to lower classes to represent sickness and ugliness in connection with immoral behaviors, he, nevertheless, includes hidden signs of bodily corruption in other, nobler characters. Such is the case of the duchess who appears in Part II of Don Quixote. In chapter 48 Doña Rodríguez, a lady’s maid, informs Don Quixote in relation to the young Altisidora and the Duchess that “all that glitters isn’t gold” because the Duchess owes her health and good looks “a dos fuentes que tiene en las dos piernas, por donde se desagua todo el mal humor de quien dicen los médicos está llena” (Don Quijote II 48, 1021– 1022). According to Alcalá Galán, the Duchess’s fountains in her legs—open wounds produced in the flesh to expel bad humors—were a medical procedure probably done to cure her sterility. The wounds of the noble woman as well as the foul smell of Altisidora’s mouth are textual marks that identify the morbid and putrid interiority of the two women (30). Both the practice of bloodletting and phlebotomy (bleeding) in the legs to evacuate bad humors were commonly performed in women who suffered amenorrhea, mal de madre or other diseases, including syphilis. Díaz de Ysla, in his treatise on the “mal serpentino,” says that “Cuando a las mujeres dolientes de la segunda especie no les viene la regla, en este caso, además de la untura universal [de mercurio], muncho les ayuda la flobotomia del tovillo una vez o dos en passando el fluxo por la boca” (25v). Díaz de Ysla also explains that the legs of women that had been cured from the venereal disease remain with unhealed sores: “Assi mismo a munchas personas que han padecido por largos tiempos ulceras graves en las piernas y sanan dela enfermedad, et mediante los munchos años que acostumbraron yr las materias del cuerpo a salir por la pierna que padece ulceraciones … les quedan en las piernas unas ulceras redondas las quales jamas se acaban de consoldar” (26v). Since Cervantes does not give any explanation about the original need to perform the lacerations in the Duchess’s legs, the episode is open to interpretation. What is clear is the general tendency to connect women with the decay of the flesh.

(27) I use the García López edition of Novelas ejemplares for quotations in Spanish.

(28) Expressed by the dog Berganza in Coloquio de los perros “Yendo una noche mi mayor a perdir limosna en casa del Corregidor desta ciudad, que es un gran caballero y muy gran cristiano, hallásmosle solo, y parecióme a mí tomar ocasión de aquella soledad para decirle ciertos advertimientos que había oído decir a un viejo enfermo deste hospital, acerca de cómo se podía remediar la perdición tan notoria de las mozas vagamundas, que por no servir dan en malas y tan malas que pueblan los veranos todos los hospitales de los perdidos que las siguen; plaga intolerable y que pedía presto y eficaz remedio” (Novelas 621).

(29) The sumptuary female custom of covering the face or part of the face with a veil was very controversial. It was recommended as a way of enhancing women’s modesty and respectability, but it was also used by courtesans to disguise their identity and as a tool of seduction (Hsu, Courtesans 42). According to Bass and Wunder, Doña Estefanía wears a transparent, fine (p.78) mantle draped over her face (108). The use of veils was the object of a long treatise published by Antonio de León Pinelo (1641), who says “son muy diestras las Cortesanas, cuando van Tapadas” (Velos 124v). For an extensive explanation of the fashion and its implications see Bass and Wunder.

(30) Among other critical studies of El casamiento for the elaboration of this section I have consulted Aylward, El Saffar, Forcione, García López, Gossy, Hsu, Lloris, Márquez-Villanueva, Rodríguez Luis and Sáez.

(31) Amezúa y Mayo suggests that the depiction of Estefanía, a “dama del tusón” is very realistic. Those women were frequently found in Valladolid, including the Cervantas, the women of the writer’s family (Cervantes vol. 2, 391). Courtesans practiced their profession in a discreet way and distinguished themselves from the public whores living in mancebías under the paternal direction of a father of the brothel. Foreign visitors gave testimonies of the amount of courtesans in Valladolid during the court of Philip III in the city (Hsu, Courtesans 33–34). In relation to early modern prostitution in Valladolid and the founding of the Casa de Recogidas by Magdalena de San Jerónimo in 1605, see Torremocha (16–24). For the study of the figure of the courtesan see Amezúa, El casamiento 208–209, and Hsu, “Estefanía de Caicedo.”

(32) Many poor women were unable to marry because they could not afford a dowry (Perry, Crime 183, 185). Marriage and the dowry system “buttressed men’s control of women” (Schlau 150).

(33) The Hospital de la Resurrección specialized in the cure of syphilis, as did the hospitals of Antón Martín in Madrid; San Cosme y San Damián in Seville; and Santiago de los Caballeros in Toledo. These hospitals accepted the infected poor, such as Campuzano (Amezúa, El casamiento 413–414), and perhaps were not able to accommodate the cure of prostitutes. For instance, San Cosme y San Damián in Seville had only twelve beds for women in the second part of the sixteenth century (Perry, Crime 228). The Hospital de la Resurrección housed a brothel (mancebía) during the fifteenth century until 1553. In 1591, the order of San Juan de Dios took charge of the hospital for the cure of the morbo gálico. During his years in Valladolid (1603–1605), Cervantes’s house was located near this hospital (Amezúa, El casamiento 73–77).

(34) Andrés de León (Practico de morbo gallico) and Pedro de Torres (Libro que trata de la enfermedad de la bubas) describe the cure of making the patient sweat twice a day in a small room heated with braziers and blankets. This therapy was complemented by drinking concoctions made with Guaiacum wood, and by following a strict diet, the same treatment that Delicado recommends. Mercury was also a common remedy used for the drying of pustules with terrible side effects (Berco, “The Great Pox”).

(35) Campuzano confesses that he has been seduced by the promise of pleasure, a feeling expressed frequently in the vocabulary of his narration: “seis días gocé del pan de la boda” (527). See also El Saffar, Cervantes 26.

(36) Hairlessness or alopecia, a side effect of the mercury treatment, is an observable and public sign of pox with a multiplicity of readings. In men it suggests emasculation (see Berco, “The Great Pox” 233–236). Alopecia, together with other deforming symptoms, is a common feature of infected females.

(37) Male literary fertility can be contrasted with the alleged infertility of prostitutes, even though that is not the case of Lozana. According to medical explanations of the period public women cannot conceive because their (p.79) organs are obfuscated and weak thanks to the amount and diversity of seeds received (Compendio XXII).

(38) During the process of ridding himself of the female infection Campuzano’s imagination (or feverish nightmare) creates a monstrous story of talking dogs. At the center of the tale the figure of the old witch Cañizares exacerbates the filthy embodiment of Doña Estefanía, as we will see in the Chapter III. See Garcés 303.

(39) This novel was found in 1788 in the manuscript Porras de la Cámara, a compilation of seventeenth-century works that includes other well-known Cervantes short novels, Rinconete y Cortadillo and Celoso extremeño (García López C-CII). In the authorial debate around the The Pretended Aunt, the opinion of Aylward, who rejects the possibility that Cervantes had written this immoral novel, sums up the attitude of some male critics: “why would an aging but formally virginal Cervantes—the same Cervantes who regretted the explicit carnality of La Celestina—sit down and write a story that makes Rojas’ bawd seem prissy by comparison, with no discernible purpose except to wallow in ribaldry? (57–58, my emphasis). In the same spirit, the nineteenth-century English translation by Walter Kelly (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1855) eliminates the conversation in the novel about hymens altogether.

(40) Here are the details of her appearance: “Delante venía su sobrina, moza, al parecer, de dieciocho años, de rostro mesurado y grave, más aguileño que redondo: los ojos negros rasgados, y al descuido adormecidos, cejas tiradas y bien compuestas, pestañas negras y encarnada la color del rostro: los cabellos plateados y crespos por artificio, según se descubrían por las sienes: saya de buriel fino, ropa justa de contray o frisado, los chapines de terciopelo negro con sus claveles y rapacejos de plata bruñida, guantes olorosos, y no de polvillo sino de ámbar” (628).

(41) An English medieval physician states that the signs of virginity in a girl are “a faultless gait and speech, approaching men with eyes cast to the side” (Lastique and Lemay 66). This is how Dorotea walks before being violated by Fernando in Don Quixote I. In contrast to the tantalizing look of Esperanza, the moralist Juan de la Cerda (1599) affirms that a maiden should protect her virginity by being humble in her walk and look, and by avoiding conspicuous attire: “En la doncella cristiana la verdadera guarda de la virginidad es que sea verdaderamente humilde, y que no se precie mucho de sí, ni de ser muy loada ni tenida por hermosa, ni ser vista ni acatada, ni se precie de ir muy arreada y compuesta, ni en su andar haga continentes pomposos ni soberbios, ni traiga vestiduras señaladas ni trajes que den muestra de locura” (Libro intitulado, 2010 edition, 28).

(42) “Mas una sola cosa le quiero decir, para que de ello esté muy cierta y enterada, y es que no me dejaré más martirizar de su mano, por toda la ganancia que se me pueda ofrecer y seguir. Tres flores he dado y tanta vuesa merced ha vendido, y tres he pasado insufrible martirio. ¿Soy yo, por ventura, de bronce? ¿No tienen sensibilidad mis carnes? ¿No hay más sino dar puntadas en ellas como en ropa descosida o desgarrada? Por el siglo de la madre que no conocí, que no lo tengo más de consentir. Deje, señora tía, ya de rebuscar mi viña, que a veces es más sabroso el rebusco que el esquilmo principal; y si todavía está determinada que mi jardín se venda cuarta vez por entero, intacto y jamás tocado, busque otro modo más suave de cerradura para su postigo, porque (p.80) la del sirgo y ahuja, no hay que pensar que más llegue a mis carnes” (Novelas ejemplares 641–642).

(43) The character Pármeno in La Celestina explains the materials used by the old procuress to mend hymens: “Esto de los virgos, unos hacía de vejiga y otros curaba de punto [by sewing]. Tenía en un tabladillo, en una cajuela pintada, unas agujas delgadas de pellijeros, y hilos de seda encerados, y colgadas allí raíces de hojaplasma y fuste sanguino, cebolla albarrana y cepacaballo. Hacía con esto maravillas, que cuando vino por aquí el embajador francés, tres veces vendió por virgen una criada que tenía” (Celestina, Lobera et al. ed. 60–61).

(45) The historical case of Isabel de Urbina, who was incarcerated in Madrid in 1656 for being “alcahueta y remendadora de doncellajes desgarros,” confirms the existence of the practice in seventeenth-century Spain (Granjel, La medicina española del siglo XVII 120–121).

(46) Even feminist critics have misinterpreted the despairing ending of the story because, according to Gossy, “[t]he faltering feminist is the one whose readings are hobbled by the unconscious imitation or residue of patriarchal critical structures” (“The Pretended” 259). Ironically, in her apology, Gossy continues to subscribe to patriarchal structures when she uses an array of disabling terms, such as the expression “hobbled.”

(47) Virginity could be lost in different ways. For instance, the doctor François Ranchin (1565–1641) considers that pollution, the accepted therapy of masturbation given to women usually by midwives in order to relieve them of the retained semen that causes hysteria, may spoil virginity (Schleiner, Medical 120).

(48) Lacan observes that human illusion of an integrated self conceals the experience of a fragmented embodiment before the mirror stage (Shildrick, Dangerous 90–91).

(49) The name Claudia comes from the Latin claudo, -ere, to close, “to close hymens” (Gossy, Untold 95). Present-day hymenoplasty continues to be more controversial compared with other plastic surgery procedures, perhaps because it perpetuates misogynist myths about virginity.

(50) Patriarchal expectations of women’s virginity continue to be a contemporary social phenomenon in many parts of the world, including the United States, as Ellen Goodman, a columnist for The Boston Globe, attests in an essay written in 2008 about the abstinence-only movement that enforces virginity and, as a result, the trend among women from certain cultural groups “to have their hymens restored for the marriage market.” These uninterrupted practices are the results of societies where female bodies are the property of fathers and husbands and where doctors are not only accomplices of private deceptions but also “accomplices to those who keep the reins of sexuality out of women’s own hands” (Goodman, “The Hymen”).

(51) For the history, description and repercussions of the practice today, see Cook and Dickens; Reganathan et al.; Raveenthiran; and Roberts. Clinics performing hymenoplasty can easily being found on the web in many western countries, including Spain.

(52) In addition to her alopecia, the philological meaning of Claudia’s name in Greek, skanzo or scandal, “alludes to a faltering or wavering, and to lameness” (Gossy, “The Pretended” 258).

(p.81) (53) Through marriage, Esperanza’s body becomes subjugated to a more cruel and absolute male power, where honor is “dependent upon appearances” (Gossy, The Untold 96).

(54) Ironically, Quevedo was scorned for being a lame person. Some Venetian political libels mocked him for his feminine look for wearing student robes. In his personal life he seems to have been more attracted to men, especially his admired Duque de Osuna, than to women. See Juárez, Italia 74.

(55) All references to Quevedo’s poetry come from Lía Schwartz and Ignacio Arellano’s edition (Un Heráclito cristiano). In parenthesis I indicate the number of the poem in this edition. The few poems dedicated to historic women consists in inscriptions and burial compositions in honor of illustrious ladies such as the Duchess of Nájera (254), the Duchess of Medinaceli (255), the Infanta Sor Margarita de Austria (260), doña María Enríquez, Marquise of Villamaina (265), doña Catalina de la Cerda, consort to the Duke of Lerma (268, 269, 290), and a funerary silva to an illustrious beautiful and dead lady (278). All these poems extol their greatness, nobility, beauty, dignity and sanctity of life. The attractiveness of these women is suggested through the use of Petrarchan images. The idealized body, disconnected from any existential contingency, usually disappears transformed in a list of elevated natural elements such as the sun, stars, flowers, colors, light and jewels.

(56) In the satire of prostitutes, old women and lady’s maids, Quevedo continues a misogynous tradition, but in some of his poems he also introduces a new trend inaugurated by the Italian baroque poet Gianbattista Marino and his contempories that consists in accentuating the beauty in difference (Bettella 128–133). The writer follows this trope in some poems dedicated to the beauty of cross-eyed (315), one-eyed (316) and blind females (317). See also Cacho, “Entre.”

(57) There are numerous and valuable critical studies of Quevedo’s poetry. For this section, I found specifically useful the works by Arellano, Cacho, Huergo, Iffland, Mas, Querillacq and Schwartz.

(58) In the poetic corpus of Quevedo, Woman represents an ontological problem that eludes definition. The inability to describe a woman is observed in sonnet 170, entitled Desnuda a la mujer de la mayor parte ajena que la compone [Undressing the woman of most foreign parts that make her up]. In this poem, when the protagonist Filena strips off the visible elements that decorate her—facial cosmetics, false teeth, pompous garment (guardainfantes), high clogs (chapines) and the big bun of her hairdo—she disappears. The poetic voice concludes that if you consider a woman only in terms of what she wears it would be better to go to bed with a bale of what she puts on: “Si cuentas por mujer lo que compone/a la mujer, no acuestes a tu lado / la mujer, sino el fardo que se pone (vv. 12–14). Without these coverings the female body remains a ghostly object, elusive and without meaning. The satire alludes to the vice of female hypocrisy, but indeed the sumptuary items (guardainfantes, excessive embellishments, high clogs and bun) are devalued—in opposition, for instance, to the prestigious male sign of the Order of Santiago’s cross that Quevedo exhibits. Filena is a woman without value, just a “big bundle of clothing.”

(59) According to Malcolm Read, Quevedo embraces the neo-stoic philosophy that elevates the spirit in detriment of the body, which is the Woman, considered dirt and excrement. For the poet, the body and physical deformity are the (p.82) matter of comedy, but paradoxically his satirical look recovers what society represses (64, 60–62). See also Shildrick, Embodying 30–31.

(60) Syphilis appears in his anti-Petrarchan parodies. See, for instance, ballad 271, a parody of a scene in Eclogue I by Garcilaso de la Vega, where the character Benita suffers the typical effects of the disease alopecia (vv. 33–36). She is yellow and thin, has a blunt nose, a horrible smell from her lower parts, sunken eyes and a hermit tooth (only one).

(61) For instance, in ballad 282 the pícaro Villodres laments the high price charged by young prostitutes and envisions a future with a cheaper woman of fiftyfive and with both suffering from the venereal disease: “Dentro de muy pocos años / le llegará su agüelismo: / y si yo la alcanzo de bubas / juntaremos zarza y gritos” (vv. 99–100).

(62) Many of his anti-Petrarchan poems include female figures essentially reduced to material parts devoid of any positive characteristic or function except providing pleasure to men (Un Heráclito, sonnet 210, ballad 265). The dangerous female sexuality is expressed in destructive body parts, such in the case of a fifteen-year-old tramp with eyes like swords “Ojos tengo de la hoja” (Un Heráclito, letrilla 250, v. 13) and enormous mouth and feet reminiscent of a vagina dentata, the toothed vagina that swallows men “al mayor hombre de el mundo / lo meteré en zapato” (vv. 39–40).

(63) According to Arnold Rothe, even in the cannibalistic tendencies that can be observed in works such as El Buscón men are generally made of better flesh that the inferior food of women’s flesh.