Ana Ozores’s nerves
Resina, Joan Ramon
In the first days of May of 1897, after returning from a trip to Nuremberg, Freud sent four letters with extensive notes to his friend Wilhelm Fliess. In these notes, entitled “The Architecture of Hysteria,” Freud laid out what he, drawing on the architectural metaphor, called “the structure of hysteria.” He likened projected fantasies to defensive structures (Schutzbauten) and outworks (Vorbauten) that prevent access to the memories of primal scenes. Impressed by Nuremberg’s medieval architecture, Freud was drawing a parallel between the city’s fortifications and hysterical symptoms. In the second installment of notes, which Freud mailed to Fliess on May 25, he added a diagram of the disease that looks like a sketch of the Nuremberg towers (“Architecture” 203).
Aside from the spatialization of hysteria implied in the notion of structure, what I find most interesting in Freud’s recourse to architecture is the temporal background of the metaphor. His inspiration in an architecture as densely historical as that of Nuremberg is well suited to a definition of hysteria that seeks to account for layers of experience concealed by symptoms.
Nuremberg’s architecture, explains William McGrath, translates into form the contest between the city’s ruling lord, the Burggraf, and the middle class. In 1377 the citizenry erected a tower on the eastern wall to spy on the activities in the Burggraf’s fortress. Later, the descendants of the Burggraf responded in kind, and in the fifteenth century his fortress “was equipped with a peaked roof and wooden balconies” which allowed his men to keep watch on the city “while the city’s men on their lookout were watching the Burggraf” (McGrath 192-94). In Freud’s diagram, those peaked roofs represent the hysterical fantasy, an apparently static structure arising out of a dynamic power struggle.
The reader will have guessed that I am about to relate this bit of Freudian lore to the famous description of the Cathedral tower in the opening scene of La Regenta. I am not advancing a Freudian reading of this great novel, nor am I about to restate, for the umpteenth time, the pseudo-Freudian wisdom that Vetusta’s tower is a phallic symbol, among other reasons because symbols gather their significance from their contexts. And it is far from clear that Clarin’s description of Vetusta’s municipal geography transcribes the Magistral’s repressed sexual desire.
Freud’s recourse to the towers of Nuremberg to theorize a psychic malady that was taxing doctors’ ingenuity in the last decades of the nineteenth century is useful for other reasons. One of these reasons is that his architectural metaphor refers psychic conflict to a historical clash that appears congealed in architectural form. It is no coincidence that Freud was inspired by medieval architecture. As a Jewish scientist living in an increasingly anti-Semitic Vienna, he shared Jean-Martin Charcot’s view that medieval religious culture was the cause of widespread hysterical manifestations (McGrath 196). So, despite Charcot’s oft-quoted “c’est toujours la chose genitale,” a phrase often cited in ignorance that it was reported by Freud (History 48), the young Freud introduced a dimension of social struggle in his description of the psychic mechanism of hysteria. This dimension identified social struggle with the power of vision. To see, to penetrate alien secrets is to master the owners of those secrets. To resist, to obstruct the searching gaze, to retreat from scrutiny and to camouflage behind symptoms is the strength out of weakness deployed in hysteria, an elusive or, as the English doctor Thomas Sydenham had called it (qtd. in Janet 18), a Proteus, an ever-changing disease.
From its inception, La Regenta focuses on this type of conflict. Like Nuremberg’s towers in Freud’s diagram, Vetusta’s tower is both a symptom of a hidden morbidity and the place from which secrets are intruded upon. Up there, the Magistral sees himself as “el amo espiritual de la provincia” (I: 462). But the province soon becomes coextensive with Ana Ozores’s body, and his spiritual mastery becomes complicated by the fact that this body is already possessed, that it is, in modern psychiatric terms, subject to neurotic disorders.1 Thus, la Regenta’s hystericized body becomes a site of resistance to the Magistral’s domination of the Vetustan moralscape. It also becomes his greatest obsession. The Freudian metaphor of defensive structures reappears when Ana’s rationality is compared to a proud torrecilla crumbling in front of the faith newly fortified by the Magistral (II: 70). Rounding out the parallelism between psychic and urban processes, the conflict between desire and discipline is described in terms of a popular revolt, as a “motin general del alma” breaking out when the spiritual lord is out of sight (II: 77).
By stressing conflict as the object of Clarin’s opening gambit, I do not deny the significance of sexual deprivation in La Regenta. It is too obvious a motive to be ignored, and if I had my pick of a phallic symbol in the novel, it would not be the stony tower but the half-smoked cigar, which Ana contemplates as an index of Victor’s lack of staying power.
However, the emphasis on vision in the opening pages of La Regenta is too stark to pass over. The effect of visual power is quickly established by two urchins whom we see perched on the belfry: “Aquella altura se les subia a la cabeza a los pilluelos y les inspiraba un profundo desprecio de las cosas terrenas” (I: 128). This is Clarin’s version of Certeau’s scopic god on the top of the World Trade Center, another proleptic analogy which, just as eerily as the Nuremberg towers, inspired theory before succumbing to man-made destruction. The belfry objectifies the will to control and the arrogance of the strategist. It is also symptomatic of an inner compulsion. “En todos los paises que habia visitado habia subido a la montana mas alta, y si no las habia, a la mas soberbia torre. No se daba por enterado de cosa que no viese a vista de pajaro, abarcandola por completo y desde arriba” (I: 137).
Perusing the urban tissue through his spyglass, the Magistral is compared to a scientist who observes the minutest forms of life through the microscope, but also to Velez de Guevara’s devil lifting house roofs in order to violate the privacy of the homes (I: 463). Later, the Magistral compares himself to a hygienist, harking back to the narrator’s simile of the scientist examining microbes. There is irony in this, for while training his spyglass on Vetusta, he is himself the pathogen that violates the city’s inner life.
It would be possible to interpret this recourse to scientific metaphor as evidence of the regulatory lead taken by science in the second half of the nineteenth century. One may even be tempted to read it as proof of the Magistral’s (or Clarin’s) intellectual modernity. It is also possible to argue that the conflation of the languages of science and religion indicates resistance to a full-fledged secularization. Nool Valis has recently shown instances of such a resistance in the debates around the secular interpretation of mystical states, especially those of canonized figures like Saint Teresa (“Hysteria” 335). At the distance of more than a century, the interest of those debates does not lie so much in Clarin’s position as in what his novel discloses about the conflict betweensecularism and clericalism in nineteenth-century cultural representations.
Hysteria is the name of this epochal conflict in its impact on the minds and bodies of vulnerable individuals. It stands for the uncertainties plaguing an agitated period, which saw a spectacular rise not only of people diagnosed as hysterics, the vast majority of them women, but also of miracles and religious visions. The nineteenth century was not only the classic age of social rationalization and scientific progress but also “the golden age of the confessional” (Corbin 549). To the doctors examining symptoms and diagnosing ailments, confessors responded by scrutinizing behavior and assigning guilt. To the priests’ accusations of godless materialism, doctors responded with the suspicion that many of the women confined to the asylums were victims of the priestly rigorism in moral and especially in sexual matters.
Confessors were unpopular not only among scientists but also among workers, who resented their spying on families. Through their influence on women, priests could interfere in marital relations and in family plans, for example by discouraging the marriage of a daughter. The priest might abuse his position to seduce women, as anticlerical literature did not tire of asserting (Corbin 557). All of these topics turn up in La Regenta, condensed in the Magistral’s hypnotic hold over Ana. Clarin’s indictment of the clergy is, however, more nuanced than ordinary anticlerical novels. In order to understand Ana’s vulnerability, one must look beyond Fermin’s innate powers to her thwarted desire, for that is the reverse of her keen tendency to idealize. Clarin seems to anticipate Freud in relating the inordinately high standards exacted by hysterics in love to the shadow cast by the father figure. The cause of this extravagant idealization is, according to Freud, “the immense elevation from which the father condescends to the child’s level” (Origins 190). No sophisticated analysis is required to understand that Ana’s orphaned childhood caused her to idealize her father and, eventually, to seek substitute emotions of a similarly refined nature. The Magistral had his work cut out for him.
The father’s role is, however, ambivalent. As long as he maintained his seduction theory, Freud claimed that the over-idealized father figure reappears in dreams as a threatening monster (McGrath 172). Eventually, he came to suspect the veracity of the seduction stories elicited by analysis and disavowed his seduction theory. From then on he believed that those traumatic stories were devised to disguise the child’s auto-eroticism (History 52). He would have concurred with dona Camila that her ward’s behavior was sexually significant. Unlike her, he would not have confused fantasy with reality.
As a pre-Freudian, Clarin did not build upon a theory of the phantasma. Ana’s imagination is exceedingly active, and she mistrusts her faculty of recall. But her emotional deprivation, the accusations of precocity, and the sexual provocation by dona Camila’s friend are supported by the narrator. The trauma is real enough. And it throws up a resistance to painful evocations. Ana’s failure to confront certain scenes of her past opens onto the “pozos negros” that plague her consciousness.2 It allows her to plunge into darkness some painful knowledge about herself, of which only the emotion remains: “Aquellos recuerdos de la ninez huyeron, pero la colera que despertaron, a pesar de ser tan lejana, no se desvanecio con ellos” (I: 277). This form of mental dissociation is Freudian repression avant la lettre. The effort exacted by this task is proportional to the emotional charge of the suppressed content. It is this investment of energy to hinder a flood of consciousness that constitutes Ana’s hysteria. For hysteria is an unsuitably somatized emotion, revealed in this case by the suffocation that blocks her memory at the moment of danger.
Something more than repression takes place in this scene. At the point where the film of memories is cut off, the surge of emotion loops back and attaches itself to the last image. Thus is Ana’s shame transferred to her mother in the form of guilt. From now on one emotion converts automatically into the other. This is how the narrator describes her train of thought: “Sin enterarse bien de lo que oia, habia entendido que achacaban a culpas de su madre los pecados que le atribuian a ella” (I: 211). On the surface, Ana’s continual agonizing over rumors overheard in childhood shows that she has not mastered a childish emotion. Yet her compulsive return to the past indicates the persistence of a need to rationalize her shame. A half-understood or misunderstood conversation between grown-ups does not suffice to explain her traumatizing emotion. Whence, then, the intolerable shame? There is only one possible answer. It must derive from some other representation that is concealed by the available memory. But the notion of displacement begs the question: from where does the enduring shame draw its strength? Could it be from the knowledge that she, Ana, does indeed have a libido? In his analysis of Dora, Freud stated that repression is often achieved by means of an excessive reinforcement of the thought contrary to the one which is being repressed (Dora 72). By underscoring her mother’s innocence through the wrath evoked in her by an unacceptable affect, Ana seeks to refute her own sexuality.
She is thus shown to be at odds with her desire, which she fears for what it might disclose about her self. As the daughter of an Italian dressmaker who married into the local aristocracy, Ana is canvassed for evidence of a hereditary taint. Ever since evolutionary theory began to modify ideas about heredity, the elite had policed its genetic patrimony, which it saw threatened-like the rest of its property-from below. In a Catholic milieu, that anxiety would have been strengthened by the belief in the natural depravity of children, which, as Valis informs us, was popularized in the second half of the nineteenth century by Father Antoni Maria Claret’s widely used manual for confessors (“Aspects” 113). Although the threat posed by Ana’s sexuality is expressed in moral terms, what la clase fears is the transmissibility of sexual perversion and the attendant social disgrace. For the provincial Ozores sisters, an Italian dressmaker is no different from a Parisian grisette, the epitome of the licentious working-class woman. Nymphomania is the unspoken name of the perversion she is suspected of inoculating into the Ozores’s blood. That assumption underlies the accusations of precocity brought against Ana and resurfaces when the scandal of her adultery breaks out.
Ever since the publication of Philippe Pinel’s Nosographie philosophique ou la methode de l’analyse appliquee a la medecine (1798), nymphomania or furor uterinus had been classed together with hysteria under the “genital neuroses of women.” Pinel believed that these neuroses displayed their first symptoms at the time of puberty (Veith 179). Ana suffers her first nervous crisis when she reaches puberty, as if to confirm the nineteenth-century belief in hereditary neuroses. Vulgarized and out-of-date, these medical notions crop up in the conviction with which her governess quarantines her: “Se la habia separado sistematicamente del trato intimo de los hombres, como se aparta del fuego una materia inflamable. Dona Camila la educaba como si fuera un polvorin” (I: 247).
By the second half of the nineteenth century, the assimilation of nymphomania to hysteria was ready for inclusion in Flaubert’s Dictionnaire des idees recues: “HYSTERIE. La confondre avec la nymphomanie” (qtd. Link-Heer, “Nervositat” 114). Carin does not miss the opportunity to add this confusion to the many displays of ignorance by Vetusta’s elite. By the end of the novel the members of this class echo priestly denunciations of “perversion” and “extravios babilonicos” (II: 572) and read them back into Ana’s religious exaltation. Walking barefoot in the Easter procession reverts to a symptom-“malorum signum,” says the Marquise (II: 573). For all that, Clarin does not relinquish the connection between hysteria and sexual desire. If he satirizes these allusions to Ana’s sexual perversion, he also traces her neurosis to a form of sexual trauma. By pronouncing her a nymphomaniac and repressing her sexuality, dona Camila prepared the conditions for Ana’s hysterical attacks, which, after the onset, of sexual maturity, came regularly “con todo el aparato nervioso de costumbre” (I: 214). A bad diagnostic produces the emotional trauma that later precipitates the disease.
Although Clarin is explicit about Ana’s innocence, he equivocates on the issue of heredity, and for good reason. Since the middle of the century heredity had been gaining ground as an explanation for the etiology of mental disease. Noticing that daughters of hysterical women were especially prone to become hysterics, Paul Briquet, a doctor at the Charite Hospital in Paris, asserted that the malady was transmitted matrilineally (Evans 17). Ana’s sensibility, her poetic flights, her aloofness from the provincial mediocrity, her unquenchable need for transcendence; are they not traceable to the Italian dressmaker? Twenty years later, Thomas Mann would attribute Tonio Kroger’s artistic temperament to the Southern blood inherited from his Italian mother.
Clarin’s position on determinism is a moot question. There is no evidence that he accepted, like Zola, Lamarck’s claim that acquired traits could be transmitted by parents to their offspring. Still, being acquainted with Charcot’s work, as Simone Saillard has demonstrated,3 he could hardly have dismissed the French doctor’s belief in heredity as a factor in neuropathology. Charcot was the undisputed authority on hysteria in the 1880s. His disciples too considered heredity one of hysteria’s chief causes. Writes Charles Richet: “Si le pere ou la mere a un temperament nerveux, il est vraisemblable que la fille sera predisposee a l’hysterie” (345). Clarin, however, is more interested in the aspects of neurosis that fascinated Freud, namely la chose genitale and the social mechanisms of repression.
The word “repression” is missing from Clarin’s vocabulary.4 That does not mean that the phenomenon is. In La Regenta, repression is an effect of Ana’s carefully detailed social niche. Freud had observed that hysteria afflicted well-defined groups of people: “saints and nuns, continent women and well-brought-up children” (qtd. In McGrath 168). As a sternly brought up child and an aspiring saint, Ana fits into each of these categories. However, it is important not to mistake repression for a simple domestication of the senses. Repression relies on the internalization of the super-ego, and this in turn requires the complicity of the unconscious. Vetustan morality triumphs over Ana’s ego through her rebellious impulses. She revolts by isolating herself emotionally, but she pays for her retreat by internalizing moral standards that deny her sexuality. Her attempt to assert herself as a subject inaugurates the hysteric condition that destabilizes each and every self-identification. “What is hysteria,” asks Slavoj Zizek, “if not the stance of the permanent questioning of one’s symbolic identity, of the identity conferred on me by the big Other?” (115).
Jo Labanyi explains Ana’s lack of self-definition by the absence of a super-ego in the figure of a stern father. In her view, Ana’s lack of a patriarchal model impedes her rebellion and leaves her vulnerable to ego fluctuations in mysticism and hysteria (41). Labanyi’s oedipal explanation, though psychoanalytically plausible, leaves the mother’s absence strangely out of the account. Since oedipal relations are triangular, it would seem that Ana’s quandary is that she lacks both cornerstones of the psychic relation to which her ego would supply the dynamic third. Of the two absences, her mother’s seems the more critical one for Ana’s emotional instability. After all, is it not the mother who provides a female child with her most important gender model? Still, Restoration society does not permit super-egos to dissipate. It has them in plentiful supply. Educators, relatives, class co-members, and artistic traditions are all private and public surrogates for the “big Other,” whose supreme embodiment is the Catholic state. Ana’s problem, I submit, is not so much the absence of a model as the fact that her natural model is socially tabooed. As a consequence, Ana cannot resort to the memory of her mother except in the form of an interdiction on her own sexuality. Remembering the Italian dressmaker stirs up shame, and the very love Ana feels for her feeds the pathos of self-coercion. She can only quell the shame by dropping the memory of her mother into one of her black holes and clamping down on her own body, so it will not betray its desires. Thus, when she revolts against her socially imposed identity, she enacts her own symbolic castration.
Fear of the judgment of others leads Ana to act “contradiciendo poderosos instintos de su naturaleza” and to live “en perpetua escuela de disimulo” (I: 241). Dissembling is right, because her erotic desire is an object of universal curiosity, all the more intriguing in that it stubbornly fails to come to light. Ana’s fascination turns around this unknown quantity. The fate of her desire feeds gossip in civil and ecclesiastic society, triggers the admiration and resentment of other women, challenges the local Tenorio, maddens her confessor, and dupes her husband and finally Ana herself. Her singularity and strange behavior, her dissociation of body and soul, her spiritual flights crashing into nervous fits-all of these are narrative incidents that encrypt her desire. Her early training in deceit prevents her from defining it even to herself.
“These things are always secrets d’alcove” said Breuer to the young Freud, summing up the case of a wife who had been diagnosed as suffering from nerves (Freud, History 48). Clarin veils the secrets of Ana’s bedroom. This is not, as Alison Sinclair thinks, due to lack of interest in the etiology of her disorder (154). Almost every character has some idea about what makes Ana tick. And in the narrative there is no scarcity of explanations for her condition. Far from disregarding etiology, the novel multiplies the potential causes and manifestations of a disease about which physicians themselves were far from clear.
It would be wrong to criticize Clarin, or Benitez for that matter, for their ambiguous “diagnostic.” Nearly every nineteenth-century neurologist remarked on the difficulty of neatly defining the morbid affections classified as “nervous diseases.” There was no agreement regarding the preeminence of the genital or the nervous systems. Genital explanations remained popular throughout the nineteenth century. Dr. Auguste Debay, in his Hygiene et physiologie du mariage (1848), an immensely popular book which reached its 125th printing in 1881, considered sexual abstinence disastrous, especially for women. He warned that “hideous neuroses attack the majority of girls who consecrate themselves to chastity despite the ardor of their temperament” (Gay 150). Dr. Anton Nystrom claimed that sexual abstinence induced insomnia, headaches, and hallucinations (Gay 152). And Dr. George M. Beard, the American physician who coined the term “neurasthenia,”5 considered “normal sexual intercourse” as a sedative and a tonic for the nervous system (Gay 164). Whether or not these warnings against sexual abstention derived from the ancient description of hysteria as a female ailment caused by a womb wandering in search of sperm, they throw light on the way the medical profession was out to relax the religious hold on sexuality. The evidence is, of course, ambivalent. At the end of the nineteenth century many doctors were convinced that contraception, which they called “conjugal fraud,” resulted in a variety of female pathologies, including hemorrhages, gastralgias, consumption, enervation, and mental illness. This dire prognosis can be interpreted as patriarchal pressure to keep women pregnant and bound to the nursery. Yet, the fact that all these horrible consequences were thought to be caused by the interruption of the natural process of fecundation indicates that, in the pitched battle for the body, doctors stood squarely on the side of materialism.
In psychiatric circles the genital explanation was in decline. In his Traite clinique et therapeutique de l’hysterie (1859) Briquet had described hysteria as a neurosis of the encephalon. In the 1860s and 1870s, the period in which La, Regenta is set, neurosis overruled the reproductive organs in the etiology of hysteria, although Charcot continued to look for lesions in the ovarian region. His disciple Richet wrote: “Il n’y a pas entre l’hysterie et le celibat une relation de cause a effet, et on peut parler de l’hysterie, etudier ses causes et decrire ses symptomes sans avoir besoin de mettre en latin les passages delicats” (341). As Alain Corbin observes, “the change was important, because for the first time hysteria was linked to the positive qualities of women: only those with the most refined sensibilities succumbed to the disease, to which they were vulnerable precisely because they were capable of experiencing noble emotions and sentiments” (625). Richet had said as much: in hysterics, “L’intelligence est brillante, la memoire sure, l’imagination vive” (345). Ana’s elevated thoughts and literary inclinations (and thus to some extent her class extraction) were warranted by medical speculation.
Benitez, Vetusta’s young doctor, seems to recognize in Ana one of those “neuropathic conditions” that J. Moreau de Tours, in his Psychologie morbide dans ses rapports avec la philosophie de l’histoire ou de l’Influence des nevropathies sur le dynamisme intellectuel (1859), described as consisting in “un besoin imperieux, irresistible, de surexcitation psycho-cerebrale” (qtd. in Link-Heer, “Le mal” 57). It is from some such description of nervous disease that Benitez draws the idea that Ana, who is “extremosa . . . viva . . . exaltada,” needs “mucha actividad, algo que la estimule” (n: 463). He blames her prostration on the tediousness of provincial life. Clarin appears to think that ennui can affect the nervous system in ways that later will be associated with the overexcitation of modern life. Benitez, however, does not rule out genital deprivation from the etiologic guess-work. And he conveys as much to an uncomprehending Quintanar. To the latter’s question “what does Ana need?” the doctor haltingly replies: “Eso. . . un estimulo fuerte, algo que le ocupe la atencion con. . . fuerza. . .; una actividad. . . grande. . . en fin, eso” (n: 463). There is no doubt what “eso” refers to. Benitez, says the narrator, chewed on his cigar and stared at the puzzled don Victor with a meaningful look in which pity and scorn mingled. Don Victor was incapable of smoking up his cigars. The doctor’s allusion is brimming with irony. He infers Ana’s infidelity from her stunning recovery and insinuates as much, discreetly putting into Latin the delicate diagnostic: “ubi irritatio ibi fluxus” (II: 464). Ana is stimulated, hence her body is functioning normally.
Without committing himself to a precise etiology, Clarin hints at the existence of a relation between Ana’s nervousness and her enforced chastity. “Alli no hay sexo,” says Obdulia after inspecting Ana’s bedroom (I: 200). Sexuality is of course not absent but displaced to her bodily symptoms, the attitudes passionnelles that Obdulia gleefully recounts to Mesia (I: 397). It is also implied by the fetish on which Ana discharges her craving for sensuality: the tiger hide. This hush of the senses befalls the husband as well. Quintanar himself is under pressure by the medical lore of the period. In a rare moment of sexual excitement prompted by Ana’s desire to have a child, Victor feels the physical call but declines. “Pero no se atrevio” (I: 216), says the narrator laconically. Making sure the meaning of this retraction is not lost on the reader, Clarin immediately subjects don Victor to the test a second time. Tempted by the maid, to whose charms he is not indifferent, don Victor refuses yet again.
Victor’s pusillanimity exemplifies the anxiety of an aging man obliged to husband his physical resources. Even the profligate Mesia must reckon with the threat of sexual bankruptcy in one of the most hilarious passages in the novel. Both men deplore Ana’s docility to the Church, yet are themselves beholden to medical myth. In the late nineteenth century, while physicians considered seminal irrigation a condition of women’s wellbeing, they also warned men against depleting their spermatic reserves. After a certain age, which many doctors set at 50, the medical profession advised men not to indulge in intercourse. Doing so was supposed to hasten death (Corbin 591).
In this theory lies the root of Quintanar’s tragedy. His bad conscience on account of his unfulfilled marriage sets him up for the abject role of the husband who pushes his wife into the arms of another man. His grotesque blindness foreshadows Freudian self-delusion and the death instinct. Without admitting it to himself, he is willing to pay the price of his wife’s infidelity to preserve the comfortable life that her hysteria threatens to disrupt. With the dictum “Salvense los principios” (I: 217) he sets his conscience at ease. Yet conjugal fraud catches up with him, and he pays for his inhibition with his life. Philosophy and religion, that is, the moral expression of civilization, restrain in him the will to survive that directs Mesia’s bullet. In the end, Victor is the dupe of his principles. Fetishized, like the heavy chain that reminds him of a fleeting moment of achievement, they loom larger than life. In his way, Victor too is a sublimator.
On the issue of Clarin’s relation to naturalism, it is important not to lose sight of his recourse to parody. Just as Vetusta parodies the holy city, the Magistral is a parody of Christ. Where Jesus parried temptation, Fermin falls before World, Flesh, and Devil. Tempted by the world he sees at his feet-“Vetusta era su pasion y su presa” (I: 139)-he is tempted again when he feels the urge to jump from the tower. He would have jumped, we are told, had he been certain of flying (II: 161). And, of course, he commits simony, turning the stones of the temple into food for his ambition. He falls, in other words, to the three temptations withstood by Jesus in the wilderness. Spiritually, the Magistral is a fraud. He is compared to Mephistopheles (II: 455), but even this Satanic dimension is somatized in afflicted body regions: “El Provisor sintio una carcajada de Lucifer dentro del cuerpo; si, el diablo se le habia reido en las entranas . . . !y aquella risa profunda, que tenia raices en el vientre, en el pecho, le sofocaba. . . y le asfixiaba. . .!” (II: 518). Driven by an idee fixe, he runs down a path that begins with neuralgia, involves sexual intemperance, including masturbation, and winds up in hysteria. When he emerges from his confessional in the last scene, quivering and staring at Ana with dazed, burning eyes, he is in the grip of a hysterical attack. The arms suddenly contracted on his abdomen and the fingernails sunk on his neck replicate the passionate attitudes in Charcot’s “grande attaque hysterique.” Specifically, the Magistral’s threatening mien recalls the attitude designated as “menace” in Bourneville and Regnard’s Iconographie photographique de la Salpetriere, a three-volume work published between 1877 and 1880 which Clarin might have known. In addition, he could have consulted Paul Richer’s Etudes cliniques sur la grande hysterie ou hystero-epilepsie (1881), which contained a synoptic table of the grande attaque showing the various poses, including the hands contracted around the neck (cf. Didi-Huberman fig. 46, 114-15). That Clarin is pathologizing religion is verified by the comparison he establishes between Fermin, at the moment of his seizure, and the altar Christ, the very icon that he had earlier described as a hystericized figure: “los ojos de cristal, tristes, brillaban en la oscuridad; los reflejos del vidrio parecian una humedad fria. Era el rostro de un anemico; la expresion amanerada del gesto anunciaba una idea fija petrificada en aquellos labios finos y en aquellos pomulos afilados, como gastados por el roce de besos devotos” (1: 152).
While Clarin makes Ana the object of medical discussion, he is busy constructing Fermin’s case as well. Unlike some nineteenth-century doctors, he was not deluded by etymology into thinking of hysteria as an exclusively female disease. This attitude is mocked in Misterios del hospital (1882-1883), a novel contemporary with La Regenta, which Valis has studied recently. In this narrative, a male patient assures his doctor that “todo mi mal depende de la matriz.” A joke is made, but, as Valis points out, a hysteric condition is nonetheless implied (“The Hospital” 13). The persistence of this ancient prejudice is also attested by Freud, who shortly after settling in Vienna as a specialist in nervous diseases in 1886, searched for cases of hysteria of both sexes in the city’s hospitals. An old surgeon rebuked him: “But, my dear sir, how can you talk such nonsense? Hysteron (sic) means the uterus. So how can a man be hysterical?” (Freud, Autobiographical 26).
In making the Magistral a case of male hysteria Clarin is not feminizing him (his sturdy body is given full play), but following Charcot in interpreting religious phenomena in the light of pathology. Not only the Regenta’s ecstasies and dreams, but also the Magistral’s idee fixe are linked to a physical condition vaguely referred to as “nerves.” His possession begins, fittingly enough, as he starts to lose his self-possession. One night, while he is waiting impatiently for the carriage that brings Ana back from the Vegallanas’ country estate, a bat, flying around him in narrowing hoops, nearly touches his head with its “alas diabolicas” (1: 600). Here the devil’s encroachment has a touch of the gothic, an odd feature in a realist novel. Mixing styles to ironic effect is of course Clarin’s trademark, which he was to intensify in Su unico hijo, but here it serves to insert the Magistral into the tradition of the grotesque. This is achieved by bringing his elevated viewpoint down to earth in the image of a toad. Allusions to his double nature appear as early as the first chapter, when he enters the cathedral and his face is drenched in a pale whitish green light (I: 152). Subliminally, Ana associates him with an amphibian when she sees a toad watching her just as she is thinking about the Magistral (I: 413). The toad’s stare reminds her of the priest’s hypnotic eyes. Ana had already noticed their “singular sparkle” under eyelids that were fleshy like a toad’s (I: 197). Once established, this association retains enough force to motivate the transference of tactile impressions from the toad to the priest. Thus, when Ana senses his carnal desire, she imagines herself touched by a lowly creature: “‘!La amaba un canonigo!’ Ana se estremecio como al contacto de un cuerpo viscoso y frio” (II: 383). And in the novel’s last scene, she can finally see Fermin’s eyes for what they are: the eyes of a madman, certainly, but also those of a toad. “[P]inchaban como fuego, fijos, atonitos” (II: 585). Here the toad rejoins the demonic, confirming a popular association that Valis has been able to trace to Asturian folklore (“Sobre la ultima frase” 800).
Possession is a form of transference. In La Regenta various characters are made to serve alien intentions while others invade their wills. This is true not only of the Magistral, who acts through others and is in turn acted upon by dona Paula. It is also the case with Quintanar, who delegates his marital duties to Mesia. And it is true of minor characters like Visitacion, who pushes Ana into Mesias’s arms in search of vicarious gratification of her own infatuation with the provincial Don Juan. Another such case is Pompeyo Guimaran, Vetusta’s official atheist, who forces on don Santos (again Clarin’s irony) the godless death that would have been his. But it is Ana’s possession, of course, that provides the novel with its argument.
Possession fascinated the nineteenth-century imagination. Freud was intrigued by the recurrence of sexual intercourse with the devil in medieval witches’ confessions, interpreting it as a hystericized transformation of an idealized father figure. This is exactly the mutation undergone by the Magistral in Ana’s psychic economy. He takes possession of her in stages, advancing from the role of spiritual brother and kindred soul to “padre del alma” (II: 196) and finally to consort, in which he asserts conjugal rights, including the right to avenge her adultery (II: 545). There is a touch of evil in this arrogation. Ana is being kissed by the devil. But the Magistral is too dignified to cut the figure of an incubus and so that grotesque role devolves on Celedonio, who doubles for the Magistral, as John Kronik has noted (523). Celedonio is identified with the priest at the beginning of the novel, when he is seen on the tower as a gargoyle spitting on passersby (Kronik 521). This identification returns at the end when Ana, in a swoon, is kissed by the acolyte and feels the cold, slimy touch that she associates with the Magistral.
What is this reference to medieval phantasmagoria doing in a realistic novel? Above all, what does it prove, or disprove, about Clarin’s share in the naturalist preoccupation with the springs of human behavior? The question may not be dodged by resorting to a subjectivist stance and reabsorbing the grotesque into Ana’s hysteria. That would be only a half truth. There is no doubt that the Magistral’s transformation depends on the symbolic circulation of the “cold and viscous” sensation that has stuck to Ana’s mind, as is shown by its recurrence in her dream (II: 183). But it is no less true that the association of that sensation is embedded in the narrator’s objectifying discourse. Ultimately it is impossible to draw a line between rationalism and fantasy, pretending that it can delimit narrative styles. Furthermore, doctors at la Salpetriere commonly drew a parallel between Satanism and clinical phenomena. Charcot compared the contortions of one of his patients to the convulsions of those who were said to be possessed by the devil (Evans 23). And his assistant Charles Richet, at the end of three long articles titled “Les Demoniaques d’ajourd’hui” and “Les Demoniaques d’autrefois,” which Alas would almost certainly have read in the Revue des Deux mondes (1880), wrote that “Les symptomes qu’ont presentes les ursulines de Loudun, les religieuses de Louviers, les demoniaques exorcisees dans les eglises, sont les memes symptomes qu’on voit journellement chez les hysteriques enfermees a la Salpetriere. Les unes et les autres ont la meme maladie qui se manifeste par les memes effets” (861). Clarin’s interest in these articles would have been all the stronger for the fact that in the first one Richet discussed recent literary representations of hysteria and described Madame Bovary as “la plus vivante, la plus vraie, la plus passionnee” of all hysterics ever described by a novelist (348). Ready-made in this article was the conjunction between Clarin’s most evident literary influence and the central extra-literary motif governing La Regenta. Hysteria, a legendary malady, had come full circle and become literary subject matter once again.
In the nineteenth century hysteria was a collection of body signs without a unifying formula. In La Regenta Ana’s body is an admired and interrogated surface. Those who struggle to possess her also try to fathom her enigma.6 As an object of interpretation, the body could be considered a sign for the text itself. Valis, who proposes this approach, relates the desire to reveal the body’s truth to confession (“Aspects” 106). There can be no doubt about the importance of the confessional mode of self-production in this novel. I would like to extend Valis’s insight by pointing to the clash between the sacramental model of meaning-extraction, based on guided self-production, and the empirical techniques deployed in the realist-naturalist mode. If Ana can be seen as a sign for the text, that means that her hysterical body turns the body of the text into a surface pulsated by processes that must be sought in its cultural embedding. The most burning of these processes was the struggle for authority over the body-over its laws, functions, and teleology-between a still powerful Church and secularization spearheaded by science. Although the Restoration had checked the secularizing movement, science’s political significance transpires in dona Anuncia’s contempt for the clinical explanation of her brother’s death: “El medico decia que algun derrame, algun vaso. . . Materialismo puro” (1: 261). Don Carlos had been punished by God, and the bottom line was that he had been punished for consorting with people like the doctor. “!Que gentes trataba mi hermano!-decia poniendo los ojos en blanco” (1: 262).
The literary text, like Ana’s body-or her father’s, for that matter-is symptomatic of conflicts that played themselves out in the social and political arena as much as in the privacy of the personal conscience. Hysteria rose to prominence in the last decades of the nineteenth century because it condensed the tensions unresolved in each of those spheres. In the literary field those conflicts sealed the polemic around naturalism, the palpitating question of its day, in Emilia Pardo Bazan’s adaptation of the phrase “la question palpitante du jour,” which previously had been used in reference to hysteria (Goldstein 209, n. 2). The appropriation of this turn of phrase tells us something about the status of the text as a hystericized body-as a collection of signs without a wholly ascertainable meaning or structure. At least we can say with reasonable certainty that the palpitating question that naturalism came to represent was the question about the legitimate authority over the sources of human behavior.
Critics who dispute Clarin’s acceptance of determinism find themselves up against the fact that Ana’s fall is narratively overdetermined. Clarin carefully devises a social bubble where each impulse, wherever it may originate, builds up the momentum of her “fall.” This is not the genealogical determinism of Zola, but it is nonetheless one that stresses the individual’s dependence on his or her milieu. It is also necessary to take into account the primacy of the medical leitmotif in the weft of discourses. Ursula Link-Heer rightly notes that without the superposition of the modern problematic of the nerves on the traditional subject matter of religious mysticism, Ana’s fall would not strike the reader as realistic and socially determined (“Pastiche” 178).
To what extent the young Clarin believed in “genuine” religious phenomena is a moot question. But one thing is clear: he classified mysticism under the nervous phenomena, exactly like Charcot and Bourneville before him. Frigilis voices the conviction that Ana’s exaggerated religiosity is a serious disease, even though he could not classify it (II: 268). His diagnostic is supported by the narrator’s testimony: “Aquellos accesos de religiosidad[,] que ella habia creido revelacion providencial de una vocacion verdadera, habian desaparecido. Ellos determinaron la crisis violenta que puso en peligro la vida de Ana, pero al volver la salud no volvieron con ella: la sangre nueva no los traia” (I: 272).
Frigilis comes as close as Clarin will allow to functioning as an analogue of the author. If he is incapable of classifying Ana’s illness, he is nonetheless integrated in the epochal discourse. Borrowing an image from the newest technology to explain Ana’s “nervous” problems, he warns Quintanar: “bastara con que la espantes con tu noticia para que Ana caiga de espaldas y le estalle dentro una de esas cosas en que tu no crees, pero que son para la vida como los alambres para el telegrafo” (II: 542). Without knowing it, Frigilis is resorting to a speech form that pervaded neurological discourse in the late nineteenth century. Dolf Sternberger showed that in that period the language of telegraphy came into play whenever the nervous system was described (25). But Frigilis is not speaking about a concrete physiological apparatus. “Una de esas cosas en que tu no crees” refers not to the dissectionable nervous fibers but to a psychologically vital structure.
It may seem ironic that the positivist Frigilis should speak about an immaterial vital principle. But he is well within the bounds of clinical knowledge. Failure to locate the somatic causes of hysteria led some psychiatrists to rethink the malady along non-anatomical lines. Pierre Janet could later say that hysterics of the type described by Charcot had disappeared with him (21). Speaking to a Harvard audience of medical students in 1907, Janet summarized the previous 20 years in psychiatry as a correction of the “regrettable errors” stemming from Charcot’s narrow focus on physiological causes (17). If Frigilis confesses that he does not know how to classify Ana’s disorders, Janet, two decades later, will admit that hysteria is difficult to describe because of its vague limits and the variety of its symptoms (18). Ana’s disease is so unclassiflable that she individualizes it by identifying with it. Her condition is for her “el fondo de su ser, lo mas suyo, lo que ella era” (II: 89). The disease is she and she is “it.” Next to such intimacy, Dr. Robustiano Somoza’s nebulous diagnostic of “nerves” is patently inept. How could she be cured without undoing her life story, her affective memory, and the interplay of subjectivity and social prejudice that constitutes her as a sufferer? We are told that the fashionable Somoza cured with good words, but his is not the “talking cure” of psychoanalysis. It is at best the administration of faith through the magic use of terms. “Anos atras, para el todo era flato; ahora todo era cuestion de nervios” (I: 492).7 The younger and more studious Dr. Benitez seems to understand Ana better. He prescribes a depaysage, ostensibly to provide her with controlled stimulation, in truth to deprive her fixations of renewed excitement. The method seems to work. Quintanar is delighted, but Benitez cautions him not to mistake symptoms for causes.
La Regenta is a ferociously anticlerical novel. I will not delve into the question of whether Clarin, at this stage in his life, was anti-Catholic. His rejection of such charges was lame in any case: “?Yo anti-catolico? ?Por que? A mi no me gusta el conejo, ?por eso me he de llamar anti-conejista?” (qtd. in Oleza, ed., La Regenta I: 130, n. 16). Regardless of his subjective relation to Catholicism, in his novel the Church is pitilessly delegitimized. Yet the novel’s modernity does not lie in its anticlerical stance but in the overlay of the clerical worldview with the language of nervous disorders. The ascendancy of science is revealed by the Magistral’s appropriation of medical language to describe confession as “hospital de almas” and himself as “medico higienista” (I: 406).
His recourse to medical tropes has nothing to do with the search for a synthesis between science and religion that is often attributed to Clarin. It is, rather, an opportunistic use of the enemy’s weaponry to reassert the efficacy of the traditional institutions. In La Regenta hostility between science and the Church is necessarily confined. Somoza is no scientist and Benitez is discreet. Vetusta could hardly be the stage for an open confrontation, but in France the swords were drawn. In 1868 the annulment, under pressure of the Episcopal members of the academic Council, of a doctoral dissertation presented by P.-J. Grenier at the Faculty of Medicine had political resonance. In his dissertation Grenier had denied the existence of free will (Goldstein 226). Six years later, the clergy forced the suppression of instruction in psychiatry at the Paris municipal asylums. Medicine countered with Bourneville’s campaign to laicize the public hospitals, which succeeded in 1883 (Goldstein 231). In Spain a comparable tension existed. In her study of Misterios del hospital, Valis refers to the conflict between the Barcelona public hospital and the Faculty of Medicine over the availability of cadavers for autopsies. Public hospitals were still run by the Church, which was unwilling to condone the manipulation of human organs, fearing the disappearance of the soul amid body parts. The author of this novel insinuates the need for medical supervision of the hospitals (Valis, “Hospital” 16).
La Regenta is strictly contemporary with the struggles for the laicization of medical care and of the field of knowledge. Clarin’s position in these debates may be less forthright than, say, that of a Bourneville or a Zola, but in the midst of his general indictment of Vetustans a position on the relative merits of dogma and experience appears in outline. The Jesuit Fermin de Pas had been among the staunchest supporters of the dogma of Papal infallibility when it was declared in 1870 to counter the deleterious effect of modern “errors” on the faith. Clarin is hardly matter-of-fact in his description of Fermin’s enthusiasm for the decree: “Era el valor, la voluntad energica, la afirmacion del imperio, una aventura teologica, parecida a las de Alejandro Magno en la guerra y las de Colon en el mar” (I: 467). In his ardor, Fermin unwittingly translates spiritual authority into the more prosaic passion for temporal domination. But not only does he give away the Church’s imperialism; he also discloses the target of the Papal decree: “Confirmabase al fin de solemne modo la doctrina del cuarto Concilio de Constantinopla que dijo: Prima salus est rectae fidei regulam custodire” (I: 467). Literally: “the principal [condition of] health is to watch over the norm of the true faith.” In other words: faith as defined by its curators, not experience, is the legitimate source of knowledge.
In light of this contest for the hearts and minds-as well as the bodies-of men and women, it becomes clear why Clarin chose Ana’s body as the terrain for the conflict of the faculties. Hysteria, says Jan Goldstein, “contained within itself implicitly all of the rudiments of an anticlerical campaign” (238). Valis has argued that at the end of the novel Ana Ozores is consigned to a worldly hell (“Sobre la ultima frase” 807). This is so, and Clarin lays the ultimate responsibility at the Magistral’s door. His diabolical hubris has turned his boasted hygiene of the soul into its opposite. In the last scene la Regenta sinks definitively into the hysteria against which she has struggled all along. The delirium from which she awakens leaves a trace in the form of a sensation which the novel’s last sentence resolutely links to the anxieties of a fevered imagination.
Copyright University of Pennsylvania, Romance Languages Department Spring 2003
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