Against Gracias: The Poetics of the Erotic Gift in Early Modern Spain

Bogard, Sarah, Department of Spanish, University of Virginia
Weber, Alison, Department of Spanish, University of Virginia

The present study highlights literary representations of gift objects and gift exchanges, engaging the early modern discourses of love, sex, marriage, and courtship with recent scholarship on gift theory, social capital, and the novella genre in order to explore the points of tension between anxious reciprocities and unequal power relationships within the Spanish Baroque imaginary. Góngora's Fábula de Polifemo y Galatea foregrounds how discourses of courtesy and courtliness become juxtaposed textually with notions of obligation, debt, and gratitude. In this erotic exchange, the gift of male sexual restraint is equivalent to the gift of female sexual consent. In Lope de Vega's La Dorotea, the quid pro quo is interrupted by a rival suitor whose flashy New World wealth eclipses the impoverished poet's gift of romantic verse. Society's usual collective willingness to "misrecognize" gifts as spontaneous gestures with no strings attached, loses its tenability here. The female protagonist's agency in the gifting game proves limited as her entire community-in this case, parents, servants, friends, neighbors-all work to sell her off to the highest bidder. Each love gift is exposed as somehow self-interested, which ultimately arouses suspicion and cynicism around all amorous exchange in the text. For author María de Zayas, the crumbling of the gift's façade means increased knowledge and power for women. In fact, she claims that women should not participate in socially-constructed, gendered expressions of gracias if those very expressions only work against women. Her social critique of female powerlessness at the hands of violent and irresponsible males gives the thesis its primary title: Against Gracias. The final author studied in this project, Mariana de Carvajal, continually references courtship gifts between men and women in her amorous tales, yet, in comparison with de Zayas, erotic gifts serve the more innocent purpose of nurturing the amorous bonds between lovers. Nonetheless, Carvajal's representation of gift exchanges also rehearses dominant ideologies of gender, social class, and ethnic and religious difference, which in turn shows how gifts can be marked as strategic and self-interested tools for the social elite.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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