Monday, February 9, 2015

Characters in The Manuscript Found in Saragossa: Don Enrique de Velásquez

The Manuscript Found in Saragossa is full of fathers and sons, and the inescapable bonds between them. Zoto's father, a skilled armourer, enters into a life of banditry reluctantly, but Zoto seems born for it and takes to it enthusiastically, from a young age. Don Felipe Avadoro deservedly has "the reputation of being the most serious and methodical man of his age" and is a slave to rigid daily routines; his son, Pandesowna, the gypsy chief, recalls a life that seems to bounce from one adventure to the next, including swapping places with a pretty young girl to allow her to escape an unwanted marriage, and later being mistaken for a corpse and smuggled out of a graveyard. Alphonse van Worden avoids his father's mania for duels but seems almost as obsessed with following a strict code of honor.

Perhaps the closest resemblance is between Don Pedro de Velásquez and his father. When the mathematician describes his father as "earnest, studious, over-sensitive," he could just as easily be describing himself. Don Enrique de Velásquez starts out as a brilliant young man, adored by his betrothed and about to win acclaim from the king for his remarkable analysis of the best way to redesign the country's military strongholds. Enrique is naively attached to his brother, a man "frivolous, rash, and incapable of applying himself to anything" — who their guardian has wisely sent off to France to keep him from messing up the seemingly perfect situation.

But Enrique insists on a reunion with his brother and is ecstatic when it happens. He's so overjoyed that, in a moment of extreme absent-mindedness, he literally signs his beloved, his new title, and his governmental post all over to his frivolous brother. By the time he figures out what has happened and why, his fiancée has fallen in love with his brother's elegant dancing and flashy French style. Brokenhearted, Enrique surrenders the title and the job as well, then has a total breakdown, ending up locked in a cell in a monastery as a madman.

When he eventually recovers, the only government post available to him is commandant of Ceuta, a remote port city on the north coast of Africa. Enrique takes the job gratefully, seeing in it a second chance at life. Overqualified for the simple bureaucratic duties, he devotes his considerable mental powers to improving the lives of the residents, the soldiers, and the political prisoners of Ceuta alike. In time he comes to be revered by everyone in the city, and he ends up marrying the lieutenant-governor's daughter, a young woman who worships him. They have a son, Pedro.

One reason I like Enrique de Velásquez so much is that he loves his newborn son and does what so many of us parents do: he tries to help his child avoid making the same mistakes in life that caused him misery.

   When the weak child that I was first saw the light of day, my father took me in his arms, raised his eyes to heaven and said, "Oh almighty power, whose exponent is immensity, oh last term of all ascending series, oh my God, behold another sensible being projected into space. If he is destined to be as unhappy as his father may you in your mercy mark him with the sign of subtraction."
   Having thus prayed, my father kissed me passionately and said, "No, my poor child, you will not be as unhappy as I have been. I swear by the holy name of God that I will never teach you mathematics but you will know the saraband [a popular French dance], the ballets of Louis XIV and every other form of impertinence which comes to my attention." Then my father bathed me in his tears and gave me back to the midwife.
— Pedro de Velásquez, The Manuscript Found in Saragossa, Day 19

Enrique fails completely at this, of course, which is how we have the pleasure of reading about his son, Velásquez the Geometer.

Only when his son experiences rejection and depression does Enrique come to terms with his son's true nature. His understanding and wisdom gives Pedro the courage and confidence to travel to Spain to take his place in the world.

   "In nearly all men the self is almost never inactive. You will detect their self-interest in nearly all the advice they give you, in the contacts they make, in the friendships they form. They are deeply attached to the things which affect their interests however remotely, and are indifferent to all others, When they encounter a man who is indifferent to personal interest they cannot understand him. They suspect him of hidden motives, of affectation, or of insanity. They cast him from their bosom, revile him and relegate him to a rock in Africa.
   "Oh my son, we both belong to this proscribed race, but we also have our compensations, which I must tell you about. I have tried everything to make you a dandy and a fool. But heaven has not crowned my efforts, for you are a sensitive soul with an enlightened mind. So I must tell you that we too have our pleasures. They are private and solitary but are sweet and pure...."
The Manuscript Found in Saragossa, Day 25

This character is introduced in Day 19.