Last week I read Emilia Pardo Bazan’s The House of Ulloa (1886) and a passage sadly reminded me of the contemporary debate about consent and rape culture.
The protagonist, a nobleman whose country state has seen better days, travels to a nearby town to find himself a wife among his cousins. He needs a son who isn’t a bastard, you see. While staying with his uncle trying to decide which one out of his four daughters would make a better wife, he develops a crush on Rita, the oldest one.
The fact that Rita is different is implied from the beginning when she introduces herself to the Marquis addressing him using the colloquial “tú” instead of the more formal “usted” used by her sisters. Rita is described as lively and provocative, non-ladylike qualities that the abhors and loves at the same time. Ah, double standards. She looks at men when they go out for walks, which to the Marquis means she’s sexually active. What a whore, right?
Anyway, during his stay this dude loves joking around with his cousins in a way that comes across as creepy even before what I am about to describe takes place. One day, he is chasing these four ladies around the house (as grown men do) and he follows one of them into a dark room. Uh-oh, I see where this is going. Believing the girl to be Rita, he proceeds to touch her without her consent. The physical details are not described, but the girl’s screams of horror are. He only stops when he realises he’s abusing the wrong woman. Nucha, the youngest one out of the four girls, is religious, quiet and submissive. Upon realising it’s Nucha he’s molesting, he apologises and says he shouldn’t have treated a woman like her in that way. You know, implying that if a girl looks at men you can sexually abuse her. Nucha tells him off, saying that he shouldn’t treat any girl like that.
And here I am, in 2018 and wanting to clap at this until my hands hurt at something a woman wrote in the 19th century. Feeling a mixture of delight at seeing a writer so ahead of her time and disgust at how little we have advanced in some aspects.
I enjoyed the book when it was about relationships, not so much when it was about country politics. Overall I’d give it 3 stars out of 5. If you read Spanish, this twitter thread about Pardo Bazán is a solid 5 stars.