Independent women in the 17th Century?


Published in 1615, the novel Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes is proving to be a surprising work. I’ve been listening to the audiobook for a couple of weeks now.

I was expecting old-worldly language and sentence structure that would have me ruminating for hours trying to decipher just what the author was trying to say, but it is turning out to be really easy to understand. That being said, I feel I must insert a disclaimer here: I’m reading an English translation so I realise my impression might be different if I were to read it in the original language it was written in (Spanish).

The story is a comical tale of an eccentric gentleman who is looking for adventures under the delusion of being a knight errand. So far, it has been entertaining and charming but also, I think, ahead of its time.

There is a speech in Part 1, chapter 14 made by a young woman which struck me as incredibly forthright, sensible and modern. I’m not a scholar on women’s rights but I do remember learning that women’s suffrage didn’t come on the scene until the late 19th century, so reading how the male author of Don Quixote wrote such a dignified speech for one of the female characters in his book was an encouraging surprise. It provided a little bit of evidence to something I have often suspected, that throughout history there have been thugs and there have been gentlemen, men who respected women and men who mistreated them. No doubt, this would have been true of women’s views of men, except of course society’s bias no doubt made it harder to be a woman than a man.

All that aside, have a read of this extract and let me know what you think:

On the summit of the rock… there appeared the shepherdess Marcela, so beautiful that her beauty exceeded its reputation. Those who had never till then beheld her gazed upon her in wonder and silence, and those who were accustomed to see her were not less amazed than those who had never seen her before.

But the instant Ambrosio saw her he addressed her with manifest indignation, “Art thou come by chance cruel basillisk of these mountains to see if in thy presence blood will flow from the wounds of this retched being thy cruelty has robbed of life? … Tell us quickly for what thou art come, or what it is thou wouldst have, for, as I know the thoughts of Chrysostom never failed to obey thee in life, I will make all these who call themselves his friends obey thee, though he be dead.”

“I come not, Ambrosia for any of the purposes thou hast named,”replied Marcela, “but to defend myself and to prove how unreasonable are all those who blame me for their sorrow and for Chrysostom’s death; and therefore I ask all of you that are here to give me your attention, for will not take much time or many words to bring the truth home to persons of sense.

Heaven has made me, so you say, beautiful, and so much so that in spite of yourselves my beauty leads you to love me; and for the love you show me you say, and even urge, that I am bound to love you. By that natural understanding which God has given me I know that everything beautiful attracts love, but I cannot see how, by reason of being loved, that which is loved for its beauty is bound to love that which loves it; besides, it may happen that the lover of that whichis beautiful may be ugly, and ugliness being detestable, it is very absurd to say, “I love thee because thou art beautiful, thou must love me though I be ugly.”

But supposing the beauty equal on both sides, it does not follow that the inclinations must be therefore alike, for it is not every beauty that excites love, some but pleasing the eye without winning the affection; and if every sort of beauty excited love and won the heart, the will would wander vaguely to and fro unable to make choice of any; for as there is an infinity of beautiful objects there must be an infinity of inclinations, and true love, I have heard it said, is indivisible, and must be voluntary and not compelled. If this be so, as I believe it to be, why do you desire me to bend my will by force, for no other reason but that you say you love me?

Nay—tell me—had Heaven made me ugly, as it has made me beautiful, could I with justice complain of you for not loving me? Moreover, you must remember that the beauty I possess was no choice of mine, for, be it what it may, Heaven of its bounty gave it me without my asking or choosing it; and as the viper, though it kills with it, does not deserve to be blamed for the poison it carries, as it is a gift of nature, neither do I deserve reproach for being beautiful; for beauty in a modest woman is like fire at a distance or a sharp sword; the one does not burn, the other does not cut, those who do not come too near.

Honour and virtue are the ornaments of the mind, without which the body, though it be so, has no right to pass for beautiful; but if modesty is one of the virtues that specially lend a grace and charm to mind and body, why should she who is loved for her beauty part with it to gratify one who for his pleasure alone strives with all his might and energy to rob her of it?

I was born free, and that I might live in freedom I chose the solitude of the fields; in the trees of the mountains I find society, the clear waters of the brooks are my mirrors, and to the trees and waters I make known my thoughts and charms.

I am a fire afar off, a sword laid aside. Those whom I have inspired with love by letting them see me, I have by words undeceived, and if their longings live on hope—and I have given none to Chrysostom or to any other—it cannot justly be said that the death of any is my doing, for it was rather his own obstinacy than my cruelty that killed him; and if it be made a charge against me that his wishes were honourable, and that therefore I was bound to yield to them, I answer that when on this very spot where now his grave is made he declared to me his purity of purpose, I told him that mine was to live in perpetual solitude, and that the earth alone should enjoy the fruits of my retirement and the spoils of my beauty; and if, after this open avowal, he chose to persist against hope and steer against the wind, what wonder is it that he should sink in the depths of his infatuation?

If I had encouraged him, I should be false; if I had gratified him, I should have acted against my own better resolution and purpose. He was persistent in spite of warning, he despaired without being hated.

Bethink you now if it be reasonable that his suffering should be laid to my charge. Let him who has been deceived complain, let him give way to despair whose encouraged hopes have proved vain, let him flatter himself whom I shall entice, let him boast whom I shall receive; but let not him call me cruel or homicide to whom I make no promise, upon whom I practise no deception, whom I neither entice nor receive.

It has not been so far the will of Heaven that I should love by fate, and to expect me to love by choice is idle.

Let this general declaration serve for each of my suitors on his own account, and let it be understood from this time forth that if anyone dies for me it is not of jealousy or misery he dies, for she who loves no one can give no cause for jealousy to any, and candour is not to be confounded with scorn.

Let him who calls me wild beast and basilisk, leave me alone as something noxious and evil; let him who calls me ungrateful, withhold his service; who calls me wayward, seek not my acquaintance; who calls me cruel, pursue me not; for this wild beast, this basilisk, this ungrateful, cruel, wayward being has no kind of desire to seek, serve, know, or follow them.

If Chrysostom’s impatience and violent passion killed him, why should my modest behaviour and circumspection be blamed? If I preserve my purity in the society of the trees, why should he who would have me preserve it among men, seek to rob me of it?

I have, as you know, wealth of my own, and I covet not that of others; my taste is for freedom, and I have no relish for constraint; I neither love nor hate anyone; I do not deceive this one or court that, or trifle with one or play with another.

The modest converse of the shepherd girls of these hamlets and the care of my goats are my recreations; my desires are bounded by these mountains, and if they ever wander hence it is to contemplate the beauty of the heavens, steps by which the soul travels to its primeval abode.”

With these words, and not waiting to hear a reply, she turned and passed into the thickest part of a wood that was hard by, leaving all who were there lost in admiration as much of her good sense as of her beauty.


Thoughts on… becoming a bookworm

Artist, music buff, portuguese, crafty, gypsy, hippie, weird, nice, gap-toothed etc etc…

Of the many boxes I’ve been metaphorically put into during my twenty four years on the planet, bookworm has not been one of them. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always liked books, I love to visit old libraries and have a romantic attachment to bookcases, occasionally I’ve had phases of getting so immersed in a novel that I’m pretty much dead to the world, but a bookworm? My idea of a bookworm is the same as Merriam-Webster’s:


As much as I liked the idea of being that kind of person, I can’t in all honesty say I ever was.

My big brother is. Well, he is what you might like to call a booksnake, not a real term but if it is ever coined his photo will be pasted next to the definition. He always has at least one book to read on his person, wherever he goes, and he is not shy about taking it out and reading it when he loses interest in what is going on around him. On my wedding day, at the top table, after finishing his food, he sat for a long time reading a comic book. He’s not much of a group events person so to be honest I was just glad he came!

Anyway, I’m not about to become an introvert to the extent of my brother – at least not any time soon – but I have observed that in the last year or so I’ve caught the reading bug like never before. Or perhaps it was there all along, a dormant gene that is overactive in my brother.

The initial symptoms were innocuous. In summer 2015, a good friend lent me The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and I was gripped in the throws of a familiar bout of infatuation with a book – addicted to it and reading it at every opportunity, neglecting the majority of non-essential activities – but, of course, that book was part of a trilogy, so the affair was repeated with Catching Fire and Mockingjay causing my near-reclusive behaviour to be extended over almost a month.

My husband was extremely tolerant, he never complained, but when I guiltily remarked on how antisocially I was behaving he tittered and resumed whatever he was doing – I understood his lack of objection as affirmation that this indeed bothered him a bit but not enough to make an issue over. However, I was enjoying my little world so much that I took this as consent to carry on as I was, until the trilogy ended that is.

Some months passed while I borrowed and read mostly non-fiction self-help books while I worked on overcoming various issues with dieting, comfort eating and self-esteem. Apart from a few travel books the only fun book I tried to read was The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson which I got from the local library in June 2015, I dipped in and out of it, renewing it repeatedly until January 2016 when I gave up and took it back.

To the untrained eye, it would seem that any bookworm potential in me had dried up, but my affair with The Hunger Games was very much alive in my mind, that trilogy introduced me to the dystopia genre which gripped and thrilled my imagination in a way I hadn’t experienced for several years, so I was very much open to another book-love affair – it just had to be with the right one.

I read 1984 by George Orwell which I enjoyed even though it was a little hard going at times but I felt like it initiated me more fully into dystopia. Sadly, though, another dry spell of reading followed. I’d never made a reading list and I wasn’t aware of apps like Goodreads so it was usually a recommendation or pure chance that caused me to stumble upon the next read.

In April 2016 I remembered a conversation I’d had with a good friend who had made it her aim to become acquainted with the classics in literature. This memory along with an inactive social life and a strong inclination to isolate myself prompted me to read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I’d loved the TV adaptation I’d watched so it seemed like a good bet that I might like the book. Imagine my delight when I realised it was brilliantly written and not very hard to read! I was grateful to have the eBook version since it allowed me to look up definitions of words instantly, but the plot was so well paced that I didn’t mind having to look up some of the words.

While I was still reading Jane Eyre the reading bug spread and I started to compile a reading list. Suddenly, committing to reading a book without being absolutely sure I’d enjoy it didn’t seem like such a big deal – I just wanted more and more to read. I was beginning to relish in the entire experience of reading, retreating into a world of my imagination, feeding my mind with ideas and thoughts, training myself to stick to a book for several chapters irrespective of how “hooked” I was to begin with.

I thought hard of recommendations I’d received in the past, even ones I’d not been sure of at the time – I was longing for more reading material, finding much more fulfilment in wasting away 3 hours with my nose in a book (or iPad, I borrow a lot of eBooks from my library’s website) than wasting away the same amount of time mindlessly watching a movie or TV show.

Unlike moving pictures, reading thoroughly entertains me. When watching something (unless it is something I really want to see) I find myself in a concurrent state of boredom and amusement – it is easy so I keep doing it but I find myself looking for other things to do at the same time, usually I end up snacking mindlessly. With reading, I’m fully captivated.

Is it just me? Or are other people likewise simultaneously bored and entertained by TV and movies? I don’t mean to say all TV and movies, sometimes I really fancy watching something and then when I watch it I really enjoy it and it gets my full attention, but when I’m just watching something to pass the time, it rarely captures me like reading is able to.

So, friends, I think this is it, if there is a bookworm virus, I’ve caught it. If there is a bookworm gene, mine is active and replicating.

Everything I’ve read since May 2016 to July 2016 (the last 2 to 3 months)

Paperbacks and eBooks

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo
The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
The Maze Runner 
by James Dashner
They Eat Horses Don’t They? by Piu Marie Eatwell (unfinished)
The Death Cure by James Dashner
The Scorch Trials by James Dashner
Divergent by Veronica Roth
Insurgent by Veronica Roth
Allegiant by Veronica Roth
Four by Veronica Roth
Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman
Breathe by Sarah Crossan
Resist by Sarah Crossan
Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J Ryan Stradal (unfinished)
Room by Emma Donoghue
Someone Else’s Skin by Sarah Hillary
Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka


Running Like a Girl by Alexandra Heminsley
The Year of Living Danishly 
by Helen Russell
Making it Up as I Go Along by Marian Keyes
11.22.63 by Stephen King

Currently reading:
The Runaway Jury by John Grisham

Currently listening to:
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

Maybe I need to calm down a little bit…

The Psychological Benefits of Writing Regularly

Recently received a link to this great article through Pocket, an app which collects great articles from around the web. As somebody who carries a lot of brain static around with her but often doesn’t use writing as her first response to cope with it, this article gave me plenty of reasons to put pen to paper even without the intention of ever publishing or sharing what I write. Writing doesn’t have to have any greater purpose than clearing brain static, that in itself is a worthy reason to make time to write.