Friday, February 6, 2015

Characters in The Manuscript Found in Saragossa: Rebecca de Uzeda

Note: This blog entry contains some spoilers. If you have not read all of The Manuscript Found in Saragossa, you might want to skip this one. 

One of the problems that the male characters in The Manuscript Found in Saragossa struggle with is how to determine the true character of the women in their lives. I don't see much real misogyny in the book — in playing the game of love, both male and female characters use strategies of flattery, seduction, and deception, and women and men are portrayed as being equally capable of faithfulness and infidelity.

Many of the men who are most confident in their assessment of women's characters are completely mistaken — often with tragic results. The Conde de Rovellas furiously disowns his pregnant wife Elvira, sure she has been unfaithful to him with Don Sancho de Peña, when actually the closest the young man ever got to her was singing outside her window before she was married. Similarly, the jealous Marqués de Val Florida unjustly accuses his wife Leonor of infidelity with Hermosito when he finds them together, minutes after the two friends from childhood have been reunited after years apart.

At the other end of the spectrum we have Señor Cornádez, who never realizes that the ghosts plaguing him are part of a scheme concocted by his wife Frasqueta and her lover, in order to humble the husband, and also get him to conveniently leave town. Throughout this part of the story, her married lover, the Duke of Arcos, has been disguised as a pious neighbor woman, whom Cornádez trusts to act as a chaperone for his pretty young wife.

All this brings us to Rebecca de Uzeda, by far my favorite female character in the whole book. It's true that Rebecca remains something of a mystery. Is she really a reformed cabbalist who has rejected her father's plans of marriage for her, to "the two Thamin which the Greeks knew by the name of Dioscuri and the Phoenicians Cabirir, in other words, the celestial Gemeni"? Or is all this a fiction, her role in the great conspiracy arranged by the Great Sheikh of the Gomelez, in order to continue his ancient family's bloodline?

Does she really love Velásquez the Geometer, or is it all an act in order to bring about the marriage and offspring desired by the Great Sheikh? When she changes her name to Laura, is it because she is rejecting her identity as a cabbalist and establishing herself as a mere mortal, content to love a human husband, or is she just playing a new role?

   "I would willingly entrust to you the secret of my name," said the Jewess, "if I did not have to fear the results of your absent-mindedness."
   "There is nothing to fear," interrupted Velásquez. "Through the frequent practice of substitution in calculations I have acquired the habit of always designating the same values in the same way. As soon as you have given me your name you couldn't change it even if you wanted to."
   "Very well," said Rebecca. "Call me Laura de Uzeda."
   "With the greatest pleasure," said Velásquez. "Or fair Laura, clever Laura, charming Laura, for there are many mathematical exponents of your base value."
The Manuscript Found in Saragossa, Day 12

Even if every word she speaks throughout the novel is a lie (and it well may be), it would be hard not to like Rebecca. She's the only character we meet who is educated and intelligent enough to keep up with Velásquez's calculations and complex reasoning. Her gentle teasing makes it clear that she is fully aware of the mathematician's eccentricity, but she is careful never to humiliate him. Even if her relationship with Velásquez is part of the great Gomelez conspiracy, I have to think they'll both enjoy married life together.

This character is introduced in Day 9.