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La Beata Laura Vicuña: The Nun's Version, Corrective of García Márquez's

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This paper identifies América Vicuña, the name given to the ill-used Lolita of García Márquez's Love in the Time of Cholera, as a reference to Laura Vicuña (1891–1904), a turn-of-the-century Chilean teen declared venerable (the sainthood process's third-to-last step) by Pope John Paul II in the same year as Cholera's publication (1985). About the author, the allusion's identification reveals these facts: his continued animus against the Catholic Church, in particular, the pique raised in him by the Church's sexual ethics; also, the allusion points up the centrality and durability of the issue of desire's burden in the shelf of his work, as well as the likelihood that his focus on this issue diverts his otherwise remarkable vision. As regards the book, the allusion's pursuit calls into question the América Vicuña episode's most circulated interpretation, wherein América's lethal affection for her grand relative, the Old World's arch-romantic, and the old man's exploitation of that affection are thought to represent the "destruction which over the centuries has been wreaked on the (female) body of America by various predators, domestic and foreign alike" (Fiddian). To the contrary, in the allusion's light it is clear that América is neither charmed nor exploited by the Old World's courtly deceptions. Instead, her spontaneous sexual behavior bespeaks the author's effort to wreck inherited literary notions of female sexual discretion, just as the same behavior, with a saint's name pinned to it, bespeaks his intention to mock the Church's chastity ethic.

Lastly, the paper argues that García Márquez's understanding of the Laura Vicuña history as a death-rather-than-sex parable is regrettably narrow. Focused on the Church's sexual ethics, he fails to see that her story is also about caste and about the struggle between civilization and barbarism on the nineteenth-century Latin American frontier; about female self-determination, and about a woman's right to keep and/or share her body as she sees fit. In short, the story is about themes handled by works descriptive of her proximate historic reality, among them, Orrego Luco's Casa Grande, Sarmiento's Facundo, Jorge Icaza's Huasipungo, Allende's House of the Spirits.

Affiliations: 1: Edinboro University of Pennsylvania


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