Doctors’ Visits and Adultery in Late Nineteenth-Century Narrative

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Abstract

This article examines the narrative of adultery by placing two apparently unrelated texts into dialog the North American legal case Emile C. Berckmans v. Sara E. Berckmans (1865), and the Venezuelan novel Mimí (1898) by the writer, lawyer and politician Rafael Cabrera Malo. Although the legal case and novel function in different contexts and are governed by different codes, each tells the true story of a woman who suffers a mysterious illness and commits adultery. Loaded with allusions and allegories, these narratives are not as transparent as they seem. Both texts respond to the realities and necessities of matrimonial law and engage with nineteenth-century ideas of gender, mental illness, bourgeois codes of decency, and the institution of marriage. Moreover, perhaps because of their pretensions to objectivity, these narratives resort to melodrama to voice the impossibility of delimiting, controlling and classifying bodies. This article proposes that melodrama, despite its apparent focus on the personal sphere, highlights the necessity of sociopolitical change. Through narrative and linguistic excess, this genre points out blind spots in the legal discourse, and thus contributes to its revision and perfection, which is vital to the formation of the nation.
Original languageEnglish
JournalRevista Hispánica Moderna
Volume65
StatePublished - Jun 2012

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