Gossip, Gender, and Genre in Memorias de un solter¨®n by Emilia Pardo Baz¨¢n
From academia to our own front porches, gossip is alive and well. We indulge in dramatized versions of the bland stories around us. While this activity is usually frowned upon, many recent studies have shown the positive effects of gossip in society, which range from female bonding to a voice that tells the history of a community.1 Because gossip occurs in every society (Rosnow 52), and because of the nature of gossip, there exists a special relationship between gossip and literature. This relationship is especially relevant with respect to the novel in that both gossip and the novel are fictions created about the lives of others (Chambers 212, 220; Meyer Spacks). Moreover, it is extremely relevant to the realist novel, for as Susan Sniader Lanser has stated, ¡°One project of the realist novel . . . is to accommodate the contradictions between knowing and judging¡± (85). In what better light is there, then, to view gossip? Gossip vacillates between knowing and judging as it is often made up of half-truths and concerns a good deal of moral judgment. Therefore, the gossip discourse becomes a perfect metaphor for the problematics of the realist novel¡¯s agenda.
An understanding of gossip as a narrative technique then becomes essential to understanding plot, theme, and narrative dynamics of Memorias de un solter¨®n (1897). More specifically, in Memorias it is used as a narrative technique that causes deviations in conventional notions of gender and genre. Gossip enters into this novel in two ways: first, it is used by the characters in non-traditional ways that point to a questioning of gender limits, and second, its presence creates deviations in genre including point-of-view, narrative authority, and the narrator/narratee relations.
Gossip and Gender
Gossip has long been associated with females and thought of in highly negative terms. Gossip¡¯s etymology reveals that indeed it originally meant ¡°of god,¡± and later meant ¡°godparents¡± because the godparents were responsible for announcing the birth of the new child. The word gossip then evolved to mean what it does today: ¡°trivial talk often involving personal or sensational rumors¡± (American Heritage Dictionary).2
Patricia Meyer Spacks¡¯ wonderful book on gossip explores several of the pertinent aspects of gossip discussed in this paper. Her book focuses on gossip and women in relationship to Anglo-American literature, touching on several genres, and includes several chapters on the novel. Her focus emphasizes the relational aspects of gossip in order to ¡°validate a set of assumptions long associated with women¡± (259). She points out that ¡°serious gossip,¡± the kind that occurs in a very small group and refers to an absent party, actually fosters closeness among the gossips (5). She also details the curious relationship between ¡°public¡± and ¡°private¡± in gossip. That is, gossip almost always takes place in a private space (if we do not consider scandal magazines and such), and its subject matter is necessarily private. Yet it is this subject matter¡¯s becoming public that makes gossip something to be feared (6). Moreover, ¡°women, long relegated to the private sphere, have laid claim to [gossip]. By tradition, talkers have assumed private talk as their special province¡± (259). She also notes that part of the desire to participate in gossip comes from the fact that ¡°gossip bears about it a faint flavor of the erotic¡± in that it is a type of voyeurism (11).
On the other hand, the discourse of gossip often has a moral base. For example, a gossip often tells of another¡¯s doing because he or she disapproves, from a moral point of view, of the absent party¡¯s actions. This aspect of gossip may hold the key to understanding why women are most often associated with gossip, because they are expected to follow the moral standards of a community more closely than men. At the same time, women are generally repressed from receiving other sources of erotic information or even from enjoying what stimulus they may receive. Therefore, gossip is the one sphere in which they may truly delight, because on the one hand, they are upholding their socially given role of moral guide, while at the same time they are allowed to participate in an erotic exchange of information. Meyer Spacks concludes, ¡°Gossip thus becomes a mode at once of moral declaration and of sexual titillation¡± (130).
Julianne Burton, who looks at the question of gender and gossip in the works of Federico Garcia Lorca, sees, like Meyer Spacks, the role of gossip as a discourse which empowers women:
Gossip is a rewarding occupation, for it is one of the new paths to power open to women. Their guardianship of local morality through public commentary occasions an intense and hypocritical preoccupation with the el qu¨¦ dir¨¢n on the part of their fellow townspeople. This occupation also confers on the womenfolk the important role of ¡°historians,¡± shaping popular opinion and perpetuating local tradition. (Burton; cited in Vernon 211)
Robin Lakoff points to questions of power as well: ¡°The malice often attributed to women¡ªcattiness, bitchiness¡ªis a direct consequence of being deprived of power and autonomy, rather than an outgrowth of anatomical necessity¡± (206).
So, in light of all this research that shows women to be the predominant gossips, what are we to make of a novel in which we mostly see men gossiping? Male gossip is documented in sociological studies3 so its occurence is not really extraordinary. Moreover, Bergmann has noted that male-dominated spaces such as bars and barbershops are hot spots for gossip in Spain (15). In Kathleen Vernon¡¯s study on gossip in Gald¨®s, she claims: ¡°[en la novela de Gald¨®s] el chisme es cosa seria, demasiado seria para dejarlo en manos (o en bocas) de mujeres. La masculinizaci¨®n del chismorreo efect¨²a su legitimizaci¨®n como forma reconocida del poder¡± (212). Once one learns to adopt a discourse, one can use that discourse as a tool for power. It follows that if men become gossips, they empower themselves with the same weapons as women.
Memorias in its use of gossip takes part in the questioning of gender ideology. By dabbling with and obviously reversing stereotypical gender characteristics, Pardo Baz¨¢n forces her reader to reevaluate these stereotypes. Beth Weitelman Bauer has already pointed out many of the ¡°gender benders¡± in the novel, especially those related to clothing and narrative voice. If we view gossip in this light, we can see that at a minimum, the fact that men are the major gossips in the novel works to the main theme¡¯s advantage.
Mauro, the ¡°solter¨®n,¡± is a man greatly affected by and preoccupied with gossip. Mauro reacts to and participates in gossip, yet he wants to control it by either preventing the spread of ¡°wildfire¡± or denying the gossip all together. This hypocritical attitude leads to Mauro¡¯s failure in most cases to control the talk, but serves in the novel to create an intimate relationship between Mauro and the narratee, who becomes the recipient of his gossip. Mauro mentions that his hangout, a bar called ¡°La pecera,¡±4 is where he goes to see his friends. This image of the fishbowl has implications for gossip in that from the inside Mauro and the other men look out at the world. Furthermore, a fishbowl affects vision, either enlarging or shrinking while simultaneously distorting, which is in turn a wonderful metaphor for gossip. In fact, Mauro alludes to this when he says, ¡°El cristal de mi Pecera es un microscopio¡± (20). In other words, he sees small details or hidden truths that others may not.
Mauro admits early on to enjoying gossip even though at other points in the novel he condemns it: ¡°Yo confieso que soy aficionado, no precisamente ¨¢ arrancar ¨¢ tiras el pellejo, pero s¨ª ¨¢ llevar una alta y baja de observaci¨®n de las vidas ajenas¡± (19). Mauro is mainly concerned with controlling gossip in order not to be the victim of it. In a comical scene in which Fe¨ªta comes to his house to use the library and Primo Cova, ¡°la lengua m¨¢s afilada de Marineda¡± (113), unexpectedly calls on Mauro, he urges Fe¨ªta to hide in the closet. And although Mauro claims to be worried about ¡°la buena fama de una muchacha¡± (113), one could argue that Mauro¡¯s concern is only in part for Fe¨ªta¡¯s reputation. He mainly fears that he will become the ¡°blanco del chisme,¡± becoming part of the ¡°they¡± and no longer part of the ¡°we¡± (Meyer Spacks 5), or rather, that he will become a source for erotic pleasure and moral judgment, a fear which is based, of course, on his own experiences with gossip. Mauro has felt the wrath of gossip. He has been wrongly accused of being a Don Juan by the town ladies and wishes to avoid any further incidents that may add fuel to the fire.
In another incident, Mauro argues with Primo, the towns¡¯ most revered gossip, about the morality of gossiping. While out walking together, they come upon the Neira house and discover Rosa sending a secret signal to her suitor to come over because her father is out. Mauro tries to convince Primo not to narrate the scene, pleading with Primo not to spread the gossip:
Entonces . . . ¿no lo divulgar¨¢ en la Pecera? ¿Me lo promete? Porque, bien mirado, Primo ¿no conoce usted que es terrible eso de que por una palabra que se nos escape quede infamada una familia? ¿Qu¨¦ nos importa ¨¢ nosotros, despu¨¦s de todo, lo que haga Rosa ni lo que haga nadie? Considere usted que somos hombres honrados, que nos preciamos de caballeros. . . . (150)
Mauro explicitly states that gossip is not for men, ¡°somos hombres honrados . . . caballeros¡± (150). Primo argues back with Mauro; he understands the mechanisms of gossip much better than Mauro seems to:
Nos metemos porque somos, usted y yo, y los dem¨¢s, una entidad que se llama la opini¨®n . . . y la opini¨®n no se compone nunca de los dos ¨® tres ¨¢ quienes puede afectar real y verdaderamente la conducta de una mujer, sino de los cien mil ¨¢ quienes en realidad deber¨ªa serles indiferente. Representamos lo colectivo, la justicia social. . . . (150)
Primo proposes that the moral bases that gossip expresses are vital to the communty¡¯s well-being. Moreover, he knows that this information is ¡°hot¡± even for those whom it does not affect because it is, indeed, erotic. Mauro¡¯s response to this is curious as well because his answer displays his own moral outrage: ¡°no cre¨ª a Rosa capaz de tanta ligereza, ni ¨¢ Sobrado tan falto de aprensi¨®n. ¡Qu¨¦ t¨ªo!¡± However, these lines of dismay are directed at the narratee, not toward another character, showing once again, Mauro¡¯s self-contradiction: he condemns gossip, but is ever-willing to gossip with us.
Men are not the only gossips in town, however. Rosa, for example, is often the subject of gossip among the town ladies. We first hear of her through Mauro and then learn of gossip being circulated about the number of dresses she owns. Mauro reproduces for us through a direct quote what the ladies are saying about Rosa:
¡°Nunca lleva dos veces seguidas el mismo traje,¡± suspiraban levantando los ojos al cielo. ¡°Ah¨ª est¨¢¡ªañad¨ªan¡ªRemedios Veniales, que ha tenido la curiosidad de contarle los trajes ¨¢ Rosa Neira, y ¿cu¨¢ntos dir¨¢ usted que resultan? Resultan quince, ¡quince!, todos de seda ¨® de raso; y ¨¢ proporci¨®n, los abrigos, los gorros, (a¨²n hay en Marineda quien llama as¨ª ¨¢ los sombreros), los guantes, los abanicos, el calzado y todo lo dem¨¢s. . . . Me consta (aqu¨ª bajaban la voz las noticieras) que compr¨® en La Ciudad de Londres¡ª¿no sabe usted? ¿esa tienda que dicen que facilit¨® para ella los fondos Sobrado? . . . ¡C¨®mo est¨¢ el mundo, hija! Pasman las cosas que se ven. . . .¡± (58)
Even here, Mauro could not resist adding gossip about the ladies who are gossiping. He gossips, once again to us, the narratees, telling us of the unfashionable ladies that still call ¡°sombreros¡± ¡°gorros.¡± He also is very specific in relating to us the physical gestures of the ladies as they gossip, emphasizing the fact that this information is quite titillating, and morally scandalous: ¡°suspiraban levantando los ojos al cielo¡± and ¡°aqu¨ª bajaban la voz.¡± ¡°Bajan la voz¡± for the tantalizing details that reveal the real scandal: Rosa is using her suitor¡¯s money to buy the dresses, which suggests a sexual relationship between the two. The women then roll their eyes in moral disdain, looking towards God and exclaiming, ¡°¡C¨®mo est¨¢ el mundo, hija!¡±
What is intrinsic in Mauro¡¯s gossip session superimposed on the ladies¡¯ session is Mauro¡¯s usurping of power by use of the gossip discourse, as well as a debunking of the authority inherent in the ladies¡¯ gossip. Mauro explains to us where the ladies have gone wrong: ¡°los quince vestidos contados por Remedios Veniales, en realidad no pasaban de seis.¡± Furthermore, he explains to us the confusion. Mauro claims to know much about fashion and the like: ¡°entiendo de trapos¡± (58). In fact, he seems to know much more than the ladies in town, for he knows that ¡°la maña de Rosa consist¨ªa precisamente en disfrazarlos con tal arte, que nadie pudiese [distinguirlos]¡± (59). Ironically, Mauro does not understand the underlying motives for the gossip surrounding Rosa. He believes this gossip is about clothes, and therefore addresses just that. But for the women, Rosa¡¯s clothes are only a pretext to discuss Rosa¡¯s relationship with Sobrado. When Mauro does find out later, through Fe¨ªta, about the affair Rosa and Sobrado are engaged in, he is dumfounded.
Mauro continues to deauthorize by showing that the ladies are highly mistaken not only about how many dresses Rosa owns, but also about their value in the fashion world: ¡°Rosa . . . iba mal, rematadamente mal; para alguien entendido y exigente en achaques de gusto, tan mal, que era un dolor¡± (59). The word deauthorize here functions in two ways: Mauro takes away their authorship and takes away their authority. Ironically, we find out later that she really did have many dresses so in the end Mauro fails in this debunking attempt. But by authoring new gossip using the town ladies as subjects, Mauro, at least temporarily, seems to debunk their authority totally. He claims they have little knowledge on the subject matter and are motivated by jealousy.
Still, what is implicit in these gossip sessions (the session the ladies have with each other and the session Mauro has with us) is a questioning of gender limits. The fact that Mauro is a true gossip at heart, even though he claims to understand its evils and tries to prevent it, breaks gender rules, for conventionally, gossip has been the linguistic domain of women. Furthermore, Primo Cova, another male, is the most revered gossip in town. Finally, the information in the gossip points to gender constraints. Mauro is quick to demonstrate his professed wide knowledge on fashionable women¡¯s clothing. He knows that this is unusual, ¡°Aunque es fama que los hombres no entienden de trapos¡± (58), but openly states his position: ¡°Declaro, pues, y vengan cuchufletas, que entiendo de trapos, y s¨¦ perfectamente cu¨¢ndo, c¨®mo y porqu¨¦ va bien ataviada una señora¡± (58). Gossip, then, serves to question gender roles. This fact can be seen both in that Mauro and the other males in the novel gossip, as well as in the information that the gossip conveys. Because Mauro uses gossip to his advantage, and tries to control gossip when he sees it as morally damaging or wishes to show authority, he adopts one of the only discourses available to women to exercise their power in this society. In turn, he tries to rob them of this discourse by discrediting their claims. Finally, by creating his own gossip about them, he employs the power inherent in the discourse of gossip and uses it against them.
Unlike the town ladies, Fe¨ªta does not allow anyone to debunk her authority. Fe¨ªta¡¯s main concern is not preventing the spread of gossip, but rather preventing its authorship, especially when she is the subject. She knows that her actions will likely be a spark for gossip¡¯s kindling. But rather than hide behind the ¡°puerta de escape¡± as Mauro would suggest, Fe¨ªta insists on facing the situation. In the scene where Primo finds her at Mauro¡¯s house, she forces Primo to promise not to mention a word about her. To do this, she first reveals Mauro¡¯s fears to Primo, explaining to him the ridiculousness in his asking her to hide. By doing so, she admits the threat of gossip is in the air. Secondly, Fe¨ªta effectively uses the accusation of Primo¡¯s being the town gossip to manipulate him into denial. Therefore, he must answer, ¡°¿Qu¨¦, qu¨¦ es eso de murmurar? . . . ¡Si yo no murmuro! ¡Si soy un inocente!¡± But Fe¨ªta insists on his promise and even threatens him with a ¡°soplamocos¡± if he doesn¡¯t keep it. This in turn, works to urge Primo into an even further state of denial about his public image as a gossip. Fe¨ªta secures her reputation and Primo goes so far as to promise that not only will he not gossip about her, but defend her as well : ¡°voy ¨¢ ser su defensor en todas partes y contra todos los follones y maladrines que la roan ¨¢ usted los zancajos¡± (118). Therefore, while Fe¨ªta recognizes the power of gossip, especially in the mouths of men, she effectively turns it around to her advantage by not only preventing its authorship and forcing Primo to disseminate, but also by creating what might be called anti-gossip. So, while Mauro gossips, tries to control gossip by preventing its narration, and finally robs women of the discourse, Fe¨ªta manages the reverse: robbing men of gossip by preventing its authorship and moreover, creating a new discourse highly in her favor.
Gossip, then, works with and against traditionally prescribed gender roles in this novel. As we have seen, gossip is a discourse of power, traditionally adopted by women as one of their only courses of exercising power in a community. By examining the role of gossip in the novel, we can reevaluate the slips in gender that Pardo Baz¨¢n presents as well as explore the background for the realist novel experiment in which gossip serves as a metaphor for the problematic of narrative authority.
Gossip and Genre
Many of the mechanics that constitute the formulations of gossip and of the novel are similar. For example, both gossip and the novel imply the existence of an author, a narrator, and a recipient, for without any one of the three, the form and the function are lost. The author of gossip is the person who creates the story or stories about the lives of others and must in turn be the original narrator as well. In contrast with the traditional novel, with gossip the recipient can later take pleasure from his or her role as a narrator, and in turn experience the other side of the power structure¡ªthat is, evolve from a recipient to a narrator. Gossip also differs from the novel in that we often times vow never to act as narrators, adding an element of the forbidden from which the novel does not always benefit. These characteristics are what Pardo Baz¨¢n explores in her use of gossip in Memorias.
Meyer Spacks adds that we act on a desire to know in both gossip and in the novel: ¡°novelistic narrators often arouse in readers the kind of interest in personal detail that gossip generates, and they may attempt to establish with their readers a kind of relationship approximating that of gossip¡± (10). Moreover, she states:
Fictional characters relate to one another in ways sometimes analogous to those generating gossip, and readers relate to characters, to narrators, to biographical subjects, to recipients and senders of letters. Gossip as a phenomenon raises questions about boundaries, authority, distance, [and] the nature of knowledge. . . . (12¨C13)
In this way, just as in reading a novel, to participate in gossip is to act on a desire to know what is missing or unknown much like the technique a detective novel uses to draw in the reader. Mauro, in reference to his gossip sessions in La pecera admits that gossip, ¡°ofrece sorpresas m¨¢s entretenidas que novela alguna¡± (19). Even Mauro alludes to the curious connection between the novel and gossip, privileging it over the novel. Mauro¡¯s comment is, of course, ironically and strategically placed inside a novel in which Mauro, the narrator, gossips with his narratee,5 which serves as a technique both to ¡°foster closeness¡± and to excite the reader.
However, there is some truth to the argument that every novel works through this dynamic. Nevertheless, Mauro is especially gossipy when communicating with his narratee. This ¡°especially gossipy¡± discourse includes, not only the topics of conversations, but also his tone and style of speaking to the narratee. Deborah Jones, focusing only on women¡¯s gossip, claims ¡°housework (cooking, cleaning, sewing, interior decoration, etc.); child-rearing; and the wifely role (sexuality, appearance, psychological expertise)¡± are often the topics of gossip (245). All of these issues are present in the gossip Mauro tells us about Fe¨ªta as well as in Mauro¡¯s discussions with us about his own daily hygiene. Finally, Jones looks at a few formal features of gossip noting, ¡°its characteristic note is the rising inflection, sometimes accompanying a tag question, the implicit reference to common knowledge, common values¡ªthe group values¡± (246). Mauro oftentimes uses this formula to follow up his gossip sessions. For example, after defending himself against the Don Juan charges he asks, ¡°¿No es cierto, señores, que mi pueblo peca de injusto y de poco reflexivo al excomulgarme por actos en el fondo tan inofensivos y tan defendibles?¡± (31). This particular section is intriguingly ironic: Mauro complains of the injustices of gossip by using gossip: ¡°¿No ser¨ªa peor, es decir, no ser¨ªa realmente malo, que yo asaltase, ¨¢ guisa de ladr¨®n nocturno, la paz y la dicha del hogar y anduviese, como Ramiro Doval, deseando y requiriendo ¨¢ la mujer del pr¨®jimo . . .?¡± (31). In other words, he further defends himself by using gossip against another male who is apparently guilty of what Mauro is accused.
Other genres that are similar to the gossip construct are the detective novel, the historical novel, the roman-¨¢-clef¡ªthe novel form in which actual persons, places, or events are depicted in the fictional guise. Also to be considered are the roman d¡¯analyse, the case-study, and the novel of social observation (Chambers 231). Each of these genres supposes a piecing together of details in order to construct a story. Meyer Spacks points to the genres of fiction, pastoral, and drama to draw conclusions about the nature of gossip (12). So, much is to be said about gossip and genre, especially in a novel which purports to be ¡°memorias,¡± in which we find various references to gossip as a topic, as occurring between characters, and as a basis for establishing a relationship between narrator and narratee.
Genre lines are often blurred in this novel due to the gossip element. Rosnow has shown in his study that gossip is largely a result of our gaps in knowledge (4). Or, as Meyer Spacks puts it, ¡°People like to [gossip] because they thus achieve an effortless illusion of understanding¡± (17). That is, gossip is the story we invent when we do not know the truth; gossip is the link in the missing information. In the following example, Memorias seems much more like a detective novel. Mauro begins to suspect something strange about Luis Mej¨ªa, the Governor. Mauro takes three clues: Mej¨ªa¡¯s watch with the initials L and R, his clothing (which Mauro sees as an indication of ¡°desorden moral¡±), and his reaction to Mej¨ªa¡¯s comment that, ¡°nadamos en un mar de mentiras.¡± With these clues Mauro creates a story, both for himself and for his reader. He authors a piece of gossip: ¡°Mej¨ªa era dos hombres: uno que el p¨²blico ve¨ªa y respetaba en su posici¨®n actual, y otro que anteriormente se llam¨® de distinta manera y vivi¨®, sabe Dios d¨®nde y c¨®mo¡± (85). He authors and narrates that gossip to us, the narratees, but not to the other characters. Mauro sensationalizes the information by inferring that his fabrication will cause a dramatic reaction in us: ¡°apartar¨¢s los ojos, lector, con verdadero hast¨ªo¡± (86). As Mauro spreads gossip, he condemns it. Two pages after he invents the story about Mej¨ªa, he morally states, ¡°Sab¨ªa que la mitad m¨¢s uno de los disgustos que se sufren en pueblos chicos, viene por la lengua, y que la palabra es una peste, y oro el silencio¡± (87).
At many other points in the novel, genre lines are crossed. Beginning with a novel titled ¡°memorias,¡± we are faced with a hybrid. Given that, there are many points at which the novel diverts from the memoirs genre. Memoirs would suggest that the narrator is an older version of the protagonist and assumes a point of view of higher understanding. Yet in this novel, ¡°Mauro Pareja narrator¡± is hardly separable in time from ¡°Mauro Pareja protagonist,¡± which is a situation that corresponds to the diary genre,6 conventionally, associated with feminine writing and therefore, we have another example of how Memorias crosses gender lines. Indeed, at the beginning of the novel, Mauro Pareja (an ironic, but fitting last name) is a single and highly confirmed bachelor while at the end he is happily married. Yet, in the beginning of the novel, the narrator makes absolutely no mention of what is to happen, nor does he reflect on the past. That is, we do not find the apologetic tone we may expect in memoirs, such as ¡°I used to think . . .¡± or ¡°when I was a foolish lad. . . .¡± This voice does not come out until later in the narration when the narrator switches to the past tense. After the first five chapters, the narrator only uses the present when addressing the narratee. So during the first five chapters of the novel, we are under the impression that they are indeed written by a single man¡ª¡±soy solter¨®n¡±¡ªyet the genre would insist that they be written by the older, married man.
These slips between genres in Memorias de un solter¨®n are directly or indirectly related to gossip. The technical goal of the narrator is to establish with his narratee a relationship in which he can gossip, making us feel privy to the information he holds. This kind of relationship implies trust, intimacy, and one of the authority of knowing. Bergmann declares, ¡°it is only through [the gossip recipient¡¯s] having a specific relationship to the gossip producer and the subject of gossip that a conversation finally becomes gossip¡± (67). Therefore, without the slips into the diary genre (especially notable in the first five chapters) we cannot establish a relationship with the narrator because if we only know that voice that reflects on a past identity, we can not know the voice representing the present identity. So to establish a solid, intimate relationship with the narratee, the narator speaks to us using the present immediate and also addresses the narratee in this tense. Furthermore, when reading any kind of diary, ¡°there is a feeling of the voyeur, peeping around the pages as if they were curtains, searching out the secret thoughts and life recorded on the private page¡± (Duyfhuzen 171). These feelings greatly further the goal of the gossip technique.
Secondly, the memoirs genre at times slips into the traditional realist novel in that our narrator converts into one of a distanced omniscience, narrating scenes he was not present for as well as, narrating others¡¯ feelings and thoughts. This is especially evident in the highly dramatic scenes. The scene in which El compañero confronts his father as well as the scene between Neira and Mej¨ªa are both examples. When the narrator converts to the omniscient, we are faced with a question of verisimilitude. Mauro simply could not have attended the scenes he narrates, and more importantly, we cannot account for his descriptions of feelings and thoughts. Having established earlier that gossip is largely a product of that which we do not know, we can view these scenes as Mauro¡¯s gossip creations. That is, Mauro narrates the scenes to the narratee in the form of gossip. He fills in the details, spicing up the story for us. Because this is disguised as omniscient narration, the narrator hides the gossip-quality of the narration and in this way, manages to make the narration seem more true or real. This technique allows the author to let us presence an important scene that could not have plausibly been seen by the narrator. Moreover, the slip to the omniscient narrator begins to close the gap between ¡°knowing¡± and ¡°judging¡±¡ªso problematic in the realist novel. Hence, if we view gossip as a discourse acting on genre, we can see that slips in Memorias are related to questions of time and plausibility.
Furthermore, gossip acts on technique specifically relevant to narrative authority in Memorias. Discursive authority as defined by Lanser is ¡°intellectual credibility, ideological validity, and aesthetic value claimed by or conferred upon a work, author, narrator, character, or textual practice¡± (6). We can see varying degrees and shifts in narrative authority in Memorias relating to slips in genre, the narrator¡¯s presentation of himself, and the narrator¡¯s relationship to the narratee. These shifts in narrative authority are related to the presence of gossip.
The diary genre in and of itself requires less narrative authority (Martens). However, in this novel the gossip discourse leads to even more narrative insecurity. On the one hand, Mauro Pareja tries to establish authority, inherent in auto-referential acts, by gossiping with his narratee. On the other hand, he looses a part of this authority when he reveals himself as an extremely self-conscious character and narrator, often worried about what the reader will think of him. The tag questions, mentioned earlier, imply a lower position of power as found in sociological studies by Lakoff.
The diary genre sets the stage for gossip because of the kind of relationship gossip requires. By using gossip as a mode of communication between narrator and narratee, a relationship of power is established. The narrator plays the part of ¡°he who has the information¡± that we the narratees want very badly because of its ¡°erotic¡± nature and also, perhaps, because of what it can teach us. This works especially well when Mauro disproves a certain set of rumors and then displays his own truth, from a position of authority: ¡°entiendo de trapos, y s¨¦ perfectamente cu¨¢ndo y c¨®mo y por qu¨¦ va bien ataviada una señora¡± (58).
In addition to using the diary genre to manipulate narrative authority, Mauro directly addresses the narratee. Robyn Warhol adresses the issue of women writers and engaging narrators: ¡°[r]ealist novels provided opportunities for women to speak through their narrators to ¡®you,¡¯ in a serious, nonliterary way seldom practiced by male Victorian novelists¡± (vii), which explains her findings that, ¡°engaging interventions7 dominate the women¡¯s texts and distancing interventions dominate the men¡¯s¡± (18). In Memorias, these interventions occur in two instances: when Mauro comments on himself as a narrator and when he comments on himself as a character, or rather, to comment on narrative process and to comment on the characterization of the protagonist. Mauro Pareja, our narrator, addresses the narratee to comment on the narrative process because of his obsessive worries about el qu¨¦ diran, or rather, he worries that the narratee will gossip about him precisely because of the slips in genre. His insecurities can also be seen in his constant shifts in the way in which he addresses the narratee, at times using Uds, at times using vosotros, and finally at other times using t¨². Some of his worries as a narrator are as follows:
¿C¨®mo te har¨ªa yo comprender bien, oh sesudo y morigerado lector, lo que era la tal Fe¨ªta, en lo f¨ªsico, en lo moral, en lo intelectual? (75)
Sospecho que antes de llegar aqu¨ª habr¨¢ dicho cien veces el prudente lector: vamos ¨¢ cuentas, señor memorista; ¿lo que nos relata usted, son sus memorias, sus verdaderos recuerdos ¨ªntimos, ¨® los de la apreciable familia Neira? . . . Lector que as¨ª hablas, reflexiona, reflexiona antes de acusarme de deserci¨®n de mis banderas. . . . (153)
The first quote expresses Mauro¡¯s inability to describe effectively, at once gaining the sympathies of the reader and showing his weaknesses as a narrator. The second quote first shows Mauro Pareja¡¯s acknowledgment that his memoirs are slipping into other genres. Furthermore, by voicing the narratee¡¯s concerns and suspicions, he hands power over to the narratee and pleads with the narratee not to misinterpret him. By Mauro¡¯s voicing our concerns and ventriloquizing our thoughts, we participate in the gossip discourse as narrators, from a position of authority. So here, the harming potential of gossip lies in the hands (lips), of the narratee. Implied in this process is the reader¡¯s role of active participant.
Mauro Pareja is also extremely preoccupied with gossip about him as a character. Many times he engages the narratee in an effort to prevent the narratee from misinterpreting him, largely because his society has already done so; the first line of the novel is ¡°A m¨ª me han puesto de mote el Abad¡± followed by the question, ¡°¿Qu¨¦ intentan significar con eso de Abad?¡± In fact, the whole diary section of the novel is filled with disclaimers: ¡°por eso se crea que soy de los que andan cazando la ¨²ltima forma de solapa¡± (6); ¡°No crean, señores, que me acicalo por afeminaci¨®n¡± (6); ¡°Yo no soy como aquel Gede¨®n¡± (11); ¡°llaman ego¨ªstas ¨¢ los que como yo piensan¡± (11); ¡°No me tengan usted por glot¨®n¡± (18); and ¡°aseguro ¨¢ ustedes que yo tambi¨¦n soy juguete de la naturaleza¡± (34). He ends chapter four with a question: ¡°¿Comprendes ahora, lector delicado, lector psic¨®logo, poeta lector, por qu¨¦, aparte de todo ego¨ªsmo, me infunde horror, dentro de la sociedad actual, la santa coyunda?¡±¡ªdefinitely the most ironic phrase in the novel, which at the same time reveals a truth about the hierarchy of marriage that places women at a disadvantage in the late nineteenth century. Once again, by expressing his obsessive worry about the narratee¡¯s opinion, Mauro transfers power to the narratee, using the threat of gossip to de-establish narrative authority. Pardo Baz¨¢n, then, does not adopt a masculine narrator to establish an authorial voice,8 but rather the opposite, as Wietelmann Bauer has suggested, ¡°to deauthorize the male voice and undermine the mystique of male superiority¡± (25). Furthermore, ¡°the use of a male narrator in Memorias functions as a strategy through which Pardo Baz¨¢n effects a destabilization of gender roles by means of the simultaneous adoption and subversion of male authority¡± (26).
By analizing the gossip element, both in its use as a topic and as a technique, we can see how Pardo Baz¨¢n raises questions of gender roles and explores new genre configurations. Gossip, then, in Memorias works effectively to represent the struggles for gender identity and roles as well as explore relationships between author, narrator, and text, or more specifically, between narrator and narratee, both major preoccupations at the turn of the century. This novel is an excellent example of an alternative way in which a woman author can adopt a male narrator for other than authoritive-gaining motives that companions its theme of the alternative to traditional marriage, one in which gender roles are flexible and authority is shared.
Bergmann, Jorge R. Discreet Indiscretions: The Social Organization of Gossip. New York: Aldine De Gruyter, 1987.
Chambers, Ross. ¡°Gossip and the Novel: Knowing Narrative and Narrative Knowing in Balzac, Mme de Lafayette and Proust.¡± Austrian Journal of French Studies 22¨C23 (1985¨C86): 212¨C33.
Duyfhuizen, Bernard. ¡°Diary Narratives in Fact and Fiction.¡± Novel 19.29 (1986): 171¨C78.
Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Trans. Alan Sheridan. 1975. London: Lane, 1977.
Jones, Deborah. ¡°Gossip: Notes on Women¡¯s Oral Culture.¡± The Feminist Critique of Language. Ed. Deborah Cameron. London: Routledge, 1990.
Lakoff, Robin. Talking Power: The Politics of Language in Our Lives. New York: Harper Collins, 1990.
Lanser, Susan Sniader. Fictions of Authority: Women Writers and Narrative Voice. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1992.
Martens, Lorna. The Diary Novel. New York: Cambridge UP, 1985.
Meyer Spacks, Patricia. Gossip. New York: Knopf, 1985.
Pardo Baz¨¢n, Emilia. Memorias de un solter¨®n. Obras completas. 1897. Madrid: Porruas, 1911.
Rosnow, Ralph L., and Gary Alan Fine. Rumor and Gossip: The Social Psychology of Hearsay. New York: Elsevier, 1976.
Tannen, Deborah. Talking Voices. New York: Cambridge UP, 1989.
Vernon, Kathleen M. ¡°Chismograf¨ªa en las novelas de Gald¨®s: La inc¨®gnita y Realidad.¡± La Torre 3.9¨C12 (1989): 205¨C19.
Warhol, Robyn. Gendered Interventions: Narrative Discourse in the Victorian Novel. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1989.
Wietelmann Bauer, Beth. ¡°Narrative Cross-Dressing: Emilia Pardo Baz¨¢n in Memorias de un solter¨®n.¡± Hispania 77.1 (1994): 23¨C30.
1See Bergmann, Meyer Spacks, and Rosnow.
2For the etymology of the word ¡°gossip,¡± see Meyer Spacks (25), Rosnow (vix), or Bergman (55). Vernon states in a note that ¡°chisme¡± from Latin ¡°cisma¡± was also related to the idea of godparents and synonymous to ¡°comadreo, de comadre¡± (211).
3See Bergmann (9¨C17) for an ethnographic inventory including who gossips, where, and about what. In contrast, Tannen claims that, ¡°I observe that women are more inclined than men to report details of daily events and conversations to friends and intimates.¡± However, Tannen also finds that men do tell details when the conversation is on sports, fishing, etc.
4Joyce Tolliver has pointed out the connection that could be made between ¡°la pecera¡± and the image of the ¡°panopticon¡± in Foucault¡¯s theory in Discipline and Punish. The implication would be that gossip serves as a controlling device in the society, as symbolized by the imagery of the eye (personal communication).
5Mauro switches his term of reference for the narratee at various places in the text using Ud, Uds, vosotros, and even t¨². There is a general tendency towards a more intimate treatment as the text proceeds, but it is not consistent.
6According to Martens, the diary novel has fallen in and out of fashion. She refers to French and German literature, but I believe because we are dealing with Pardo Baz¨¢n, who is usually connected with the Naturalist movement, the following statement is still of interest: ¡°The diary novel did not begin to come back into vogue until the period one critic calls that of the ¡®crisis of the novel,¡¯ the period that began with attacks on Naturalism in France in the early 1880¡¯s. The form gained a new foothold, in other words, precisely in the period from 1885 to World War I . . . throughout continental Europe, intimate journals began to be published in considerable numbers starting in the 1880¡¯s¡± (115).
7For differences between engaging narrators and distancing narrators see Warhol (33¨C44).
8Lanser addresses the question of women who write using male narrators, ¡°women writers¡¯ adoption of overt authoriality has usually meant transgressing gendered rhetorical codes . . . [when] women¡¯s access to public discourse has been curtailed, it has been one thing for women simply to tell stories and another for their narrators to set themselves forth as authorities. Indeed, authorial voice has been so conventionally masculine that female authorship does not necessarily establish female voice . . . ¡° (18).