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Spanish Literature  
 
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The tradition of representing homosexuality in Spanish literature is neither as extensive nor as progressive as in the other major Western European literatures. It is, indeed, largely a twentieth-century phenomenon, with the great bulk of frank discussions of homosexuality emerging in the liberal post-Franco decades.

Medieval and Renaissance Treatments of Homosexuality

Medieval allusions to homosexuality, for example, tend to be more legalistic than literary. The thirteenth-century code of law, compiled under the supervision of King Alfonso X and known as Las siete partidas (The Seven Laws), specifies the death penalty for what it terms "sins against nature."

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The statute appears in the seventh section of the inventory, which also deals with the presence of Jews on Spanish territory, tellingly associating same-sex sexual relationships with heresy and alienness. Las siete partidas does not mention female-female sexuality; the compilers probably found lesbianism either inconceivable or insignificant.

It is not clear to what extent the medieval laws were enforced, but there is no doubt that the religious and civil prohibitions against homosexuality have for centuries both reflected and helped perpetuate prejudice against gay men and lesbians in Spanish life and literature.

One of the first significant Spanish portrayals of homosexuality occurs in Francisco Delicado's La lozana andaluza (The Lusty Andalusian Woman [1528]), a dialogued novel, with the author's personal commentary and explanations interspersed throughout the text.

The "lozana" of the title is a sexual libertine who, along with her cohorts, preaches a philosophy of free love. The characters exhibit no inhibitions in their sexual exploits. Their desire is for a world in which everyone can act sexually in the manner of his or her choosing. Hence, it is not surprising that both lesbianism and male homosexuality appear in the text.

Delicado's intentions have been debated. The author presents himself as a friend of the protagonist and frequently interrupts the action to justify her conduct. Some critics have simply dismissed the work as obscenity, whereas others have read it as a condemnation of the moral and social corruption during the age of Charles V.

Little is known of Delicado's life, but he may have come from a family of converted Jews. If so, this background may have led him to identify strongly with other marginalized people during the Spanish Inquisition.

In the pastoral novels of the Spanish Renaissance, homosexual love is hinted at via the confusions of cross-dressing and . However, the cross-dressing and androgyny presented in these novels are usually subsumed in apparently innocent, adolescent games. Playing with gender roles facilitates the awakening and exploration of sexual desires, but those desires are invariably heterosexual in the end.

Hence, the implied homosexuality of these texts is merely a phase through which the characters pass on their way to "mature" heterosexuality. Curiously, however, this configuration privileges homosexuality as the original sexual orientation. Many moralists of the era found these games less than innocent, charging that they signaled the coming decadence and effeminacy of Spanish society.

The literature of the Renaissance is also filled with pseudo-androgynes. One popular form is that of the female transvestite who recurrently makes her way onto the stage of Golden Age drama. Although some of the portrayals harbor lesbian undertones, this character type usually dresses like a man not to express her sexual nature, but to obtain privileges denied to her because she is female.

A Nineteenth-Century Treatment of Homosexuality

Homosexuality is an important presence in the nineteenth-century naturalist classic, La Regenta (The Regent [1884]), but in a very unpleasant way. In this novel, Leopoldo Alas (also known as Clarín) conducts a scathing critique of the ethical, social, and sexual perversions of the fictional town of Vetusta.

The narrative revolves around Ana Ozores, known to all the townspeople as "la Regenta" because of her husband's previous political position. Through the collusion of the hypocritical members of her upper-crust circle, Ana, the pinnacle of moral righteousness, succumbs to the depravity that Vetusta fosters and celebrates by having an affair with the local Don Juan--one Álvaro Mesía, a superficial libertine and dandy.

When her confessor, Fermín de Pas, falls in love with her, the affair becomes a tragic love triangle, ending with the death of Ana's husband, Víctor, in a duel with Mesía that the jealous and manipulative de Pas partially orchestrates.

The heterosexual transgressions of the main plot are, however, placed in perspective by Celedonio, one of the most famous gay male characters in Spanish literature. He has the dubious distinction of opening and closing the door to this Asturian town. The character barely exists in the text, appearing rather as an almost subterranean presence that constantly threatens to resurface.

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