Queering the Literary Canon: Vicente de la Rosa, the Dress Thief in ‘Don Quixote’
Author: Miguel Santana
May 3, 2010
Don Quixote, one of the greatest works of world literature, has been the object of academic studies since the inception of Queer Theory in the critical apparatus. The well-known possibility of Miguel de Cervantes’ homosexuality, the main character’s relationship with his male companion and his idealization of the impossible and inexistent heterosexual love, and other queer aspects of the world’s first modern novel have been intensely and frequently targeted. So, during the writing of my own doctoral dissertation I engaged in a rereading of the novel believing the likelihood of finding something new to “queer” would be a difficult task. I was wrong. There was this man, an obscure protagonist explored in one of the episodes, that clamored to be heard. He was, Vicente de la Rosa, a traveling soldier.
Why was Vicente so interesting to me? Well, it wasn’t the fact that he deviated from the typical portrayal of the Spanish soldier in works of the time (macho, rugged, masculine) in favor of a more sophisticated and fashion-conscious charlatan; it was the fact that after reading the few articles published on the subject, the conclusions had been so heterosexist that I was compelled to respond, not only queering the episode but exposing the inherent heterosexism in its interpretation. Yes, I had found fertile soil in this four hundred year old novel.
Vicente de la Rosa, after arriving in a town where he gathers plenty of attention because of his flashy attire and his exaggerated stories, seduces the most coveted young woman, Leandra. Leandra not only defies her father, who had already selected a husband for her, but runs away with Vicente, who, in turn, abandons her in a cave taking the money she had stolen as well as her dresses. He never touched her, as Leandra later asserts.
So far, nothing particularly queer about this; however, the debate within Spanish Golden Age specialists about why Vicente abandons this woman without raping her so bluntly avoids one glaring reading: the possibility that this soldier was just not inclined toward or interested in Leandra’s jewel; her virginity. The possibility that perhaps he just didn’t want it, was the light I simply had to cast upon the subject. Oh, yes, I see so queerly!
It is not my intent to turn this space into an academic study (the book is in the works), but to highlight how heterosexism whether in literary criticism, or in modern society, obscures and affects us all. In the same manner that academics ramble about Leandra’s lie (Vicente did rape her), or Vicente’s manly honor (he didn’t want to “completely” tarnish the young woman’s reputation), we must find ways to cast light on the possibility of a homosexual transhistorical identity. Maybe, just maybe, Cervantes was pointing to a subject that existed and was known (of course with a different nomenclature) in his world, the homosexual male.
That the homosexual existed in the biological sense is not debatable. It is when we try to point him or her out as an individual with specific social negotiations and networks that we find resistance. As we rescue our historical presence from the heterosexist critical discourse, we are strengthened.