Marcela Speaks

KnightExcerpt from Chapter 14 of Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
Translation by Edith Grossman, transcribed from audio by Recorded Books 2003
(voice by George Guidall)

(As a character, Marcela gave one of the most lucid arguments I’ve ever read against the sexual objectification of women and coerced consent. This book, and by extension this mic-drop worthy monologue, was published in 1605.)

The Shepherdess by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1873)

The Shepherdess by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1873)

There will be no need to spend much time or waste many words to persuade discerning men of truth…

Heaven made me, as all of you say, so beautiful that you cannot resist my beauty and are compelled to love me. And because of the love you show me, you claim that I am obliged to love you in return. I know, with the natural understanding that God has given me, that everything beautiful is lovable—but I cannot grasp why, simply because it is loved, the thing loved for its beauty is obliged to love the one who loves it.

Further, the lover of the beautiful thing might be ugly, and since ugliness is worthy of being avoided, it is absurd for anyone to say, “I love you because you are beautiful! You must love me, even though I am ugly.” But in the event the two are equally beautiful, it does not mean that their desires are necessarily equal, for not all beauties fall in love. Some are a pleasure to the eye, but do not surrender their will, because if all beauties loved and surrendered, there would be a whirl of confused and misled wills, not knowing where they should stop. For since beautiful subjects are infinite, desires would have to be infinite, too.

According to what I have heard, true love is not divided—and must be voluntary, not forced. If this is true, as I believe it is, why do you want to force me to surrender my will? Obliged to do so, simply because you say you love me? But if this is not true, then tell me: If the Heaven that made me beautiful had made me ugly instead, would it be fair for me to complain that none of you loved me?

Moreover, you must consider that I did not choose the beauty I have, and, such as it is, Heaven gave it to me freely, without my requesting or choosing it. And just as the viper does not deserve to be blamed for its venom, although it kills, since it was given the venom by nature, I do not deserve to be reproved for being beautiful; for beauty in the chaste woman is like a distant fire or sharp-edged sword: They do not burn or cut the person who does not approach them.

Honor and virtue are adornments of the soul without which the body is not truly beautiful (even if it seems to be so.) And if chastity is one of the virtues that most adorn and beatify both body and soul…Why should a woman, loved for being beautiful, lose that virtue in order to satisfy the desire of a man who, for the sake of his pleasure, attempts with all of his might and main to have her lose it?

I was born free, and in order to live free, I chose the solitude of the countryside. The trees of these mountains are my companions. The clear waters of these streams, my mirrors. I communicate my thoughts and my beauty to the trees and to the waters. I am a distant fire and a far-off sword. Those whose eyes force them to fall in love with me, I have discouraged with my words. If desires feed on hopes, and since I have given no hope to Gristóstomo or to any other man regarding those desires, it is correct to say that his obstinacy, not my cruelty, is what killed him. And if you claim that his thoughts were virtuous, and for this reason I was obliged to respond to them, I say that when he revealed to me the virtue of his desire, on the very spot where his grave is now being dug, I told him that mine was to live perpetually alone and have only the earth enjoy the fruit of my seclusion and the spoils of my beauty. And if he, despite that discouragement, wished to persist against all hope, and sail into the wind…why be surprised if he drowned in the middle of the gulf of his folly?

If I had kept him by me, I would have been false. If I had gratified him, I would have gone against my own best intentions and purposes. He persisted though I discouraged him. He despaired, though I did not despise him. Tell me now if it is reasonable to blame me for his grief.

Let the one I deceived complain. Let the man despair to whom I did not grant a hope I had promised, or speak if I called to him, or boast if I accepted him! But no man can call me cruel or a murderer if I do not promise, deceive, call to, or accept him.

Until now, Heaven has not ordained that I love. And to think that I shall love of my own accord is to think the impossible. Let this general discouragement serve for each of those who solicit me for his own advantage. Let it be understood from this day forth that if anyone dies because of me, he does not die of jealousy or misfortune, because she who loves no one cannot make anyone jealous, and discouragement should not be taken for disdain.

Let him who calls me ‘savage basilisk’ avoid me as he would something harmful and evil; let him who calls me ‘ungrateful’ not serve me, ‘unapproachable’ not approach me, ‘cruel’ not follow me! Let him not seek me out, serve, approach or follow in any way this savage, ungrateful, cruel, unapproachable basilisk! For if his impatience and rash desire killed Gristóstomo, why should my virtuous behavior and reserve be blamed?

If I preserve my purity in the company of trees, why should a man want me to lose it if he wants me to keep it in the company of men?

As you know, I have wealth of my own and do not desire anyone else’s. I am free and do not care to submit to another. I do not love or despise anyone. I do not deceive this one or solicit that one. I do not mock one or amuse myself with another. The honest conversation of the shepherdesses from these hamlets, and tending to my goats, are my entertainment. The limits of my desires are these mountains, and if they go beyond here, it is to contemplate the beauty of Heaven, and the steps whereby the soul travels to its first home.

Don Quixote by Gustav Dore

Don Quixote by Gustav Dore

Let no person, whatever his circumstance or condition, dare to follow the beautiful Marcela lest he fall victim to my fury and outrage.

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