Cecilia Valdés or The angel’s hill by Cirilo Villaverde

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The complete empathy that Cuban readers feel for the characters and conflicts of this novel has attached it in our collective memory deeply. Myths, as they synthetize eternity and archetypes, renew themselves on the present-day reality. The immutability of problems like the myth of Oedipus, the synthesis of the realities it announces, is what stimulates different authors of all times to review it over and over again despite social and historical outcomes. And Cecilia has also become a myth to Cubans: the mulata. Although the historical reality portrayed on the novel doesn’t have a universal nature, it does synthetize our national distinctiveness: mestizas like Cecilia are religion, traditions, lifestyles, idiosyncrasies, Cuban culture as a whole. The reasons why Cecilia Valdés became an “unforgettable novel” and achieved to go beyond its context could be found, firstly, on the very text. Cecilia… is, truly, as many critics have pointed out “the exquisite fresco of the 19th century Cuban society. But, although the specifics of its time has passed, what has actually allowed this novel to fix deeply in our cultural memory is the Villaverde’s synthesis on behaviours, attitudes, habits and very revealing notions of our particular idiosyncrasy. Through the love conflict between the mulata Cecilia, Sir Leonardo and the mulato José Dolores Pimienta, Villaverde criticized the society of his time. Slavery, imposed as a socioeconomic system by Spanish colonialism for many years, set up racial issue in Cuban reality. The skin-color corresponded with manifest differences between entre social classes. White race, the dominant social strata, discriminated and marginalized blacks and mulatos for years. Nevertheless, Sin embargo, ethnical differences not only existed between different social classes, but also between common people existed the self-discrimination. The blacks and mestizos’ desires of escalating on the social scale, of getting recognition, brought as a result the introduction of artificial ways and imitation of habits from the dominant class. The ethnic stigma became a kind of guilt complex and created resents against their own race; as a result, it was intensified negative conceptions against blacks in the people’s idiosyncrasy. After the abolition of slavery as a regime established by institutions on the Island, and after the Independence wars and even the neocolonial times, the ethical perspectives and prejudices against blacks and mestizos stated through characters and the plot of Cecilia Valdés, have lasted to our days. About this issue, the well-known Cuban playwright, Abelardo Estorino said: There it is the shaping of the nationality, all conflicts of the 19th century, and there is something very important of Cuba, that is the mulato myth, in this case: mulata. We know we are a mestiza nation, and that is present in the novel, as well as the contradictions implicated. Many of the prejudices of Cirilo Villaverde’s epoch still exist, because racial prejudices can’t be stopped by laws; it is a conscience problem and in many consciences it still exists. That permanence of Villaverde’s work has brought about that many artists, from their particular language, have made this huge legacy of our national literature of their own: the lyric art, newspaper and radio serials, soap operas, cinema, ballet, plastic arts, narrative and theatre, have been the echo of Villaverde’s story. Among these examples we can mention the score by Gonzalo Roig that provided guidelines for the script from 1932 by Agustín Rodríguez and José Sánchez Arcilla, and that was the basis for the zarzuela by Roberto Blanco premiered on 1979; also the films Cecilia Valdés (1950) by Jaime Sant-Andrews and Cecilia (1980) by Humberto Solás; the plastic recreations “Cecilia 1” and “2” by Cosme Proenza; the iconographical book Cecilia Valdés (1982), which included engravings by Antonio Canet; the puppet theater Cecilia Valdés (1975), by Modesto Centeno; the choreography by the National Ballet of Cuba entitled Mestiza, performed by Alicia Alonso; the novels Cecilia after or ¿why the Earth? (1984) by Félix Mondéjar, The Angel’s hill (1985) by Reinaldo Arenas, and The adventures of gentleman Narciso (1994) by Alfredo Antonio Fernández; the play She seems white by Abelardo Estorino, produced by its author on 1992,as well as the most recent adaptation for puppet theatre The Bronze Virgin (2001) by Norge Espinosa.

Joanna Castillo




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