Don Quixote 14: Testing a virtuous wife

Ricardo Balaca (1844-1880), Illustration for 'El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha' (1880-1883), vol 1, Montaner y Simon, Barcelona, Spain. Wikimedia Commons.

In the previous episode, the group escorting Don Quixote from the mountains had been steadily descending as the knight and his squire repeatedly argued. Dorotea, pretending to be the Princess Micomicona, had restored peace only for the pair to break into bickering again. Sancho Panza’s donkey was recovered from its thief, and he invented an elaborate account of his meeting with the Lady Dulcinea which had never taken place. When they stopped for water and a rest they met a young man whom Don Quixote had previously tried to help, but learned that the knight’s intervention had made his life worse. To Don Quixote’s embarrassment, the man told him never to come to his aid again.

Ricardo Balaca (1844-1880), Illustration for ‘El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha’ (1880-1883), vol 1, Montaner y Simon, Barcelona, Spain. Wikimedia Commons.

The following day, the party reached the inn where Sancho had been tossed high into the air, where they were received cordially and Don Quixote went straight to bed. The innkeeper’s wife tried to repossess her tail which the barber had been wearing as a beard, but at first he wouldn’t let her have it back. He eventually returned it, as they did with her borrowed clothing.

The priest ordered a meal for them, which they ate while Don Quixote slept upstairs. Afterwards their conversation turned to his madness, and the innkeeper and his family revealed how much they too enjoyed books telling of the adventures of knights. The priest asked to see his collection, and condemned most of them. The innkeeper then revealed his knowledge of their stories, which seemed second only to that of Don Quixote.

The priest then found a manuscript titled The Tale of Inappropriate Curiosity, which they all agreed was well worth reading, so the priest started to read it aloud.

[Cervantes next tells this story within the story of Don Quixote. Those familiar with Renaissance literature should recognise it.]

Two rich and well-known bachelors, Anselmo and Lotario, lived in the city of Florence, and were known as ‘the two friends’. They were of the same age and had common interests, although Anselmo was the more amorous, and Lotario keener on hunting. When Anselmo fell in love with a beautiful young noblewoman, it was Lotario who acted as go-between and arranged their marriage. Anselmo’s bride, Camila, was overjoyed.

After they had married, Lotario continued to see his friend for a while, but then cut his visits back, in deference to the couple’s new life together. Anselmo told his friend that wasn’t his intention, and that they should continue to remain close friends just as when he was still single. They therefore agreed that Lotario would dine with the couple twice a week and on holy days.

Ricardo Balaca (1844-1880), Illustration for ‘El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha’ (1880-1883), vol 1, Montaner y Simon, Barcelona, Spain. Wikimedia Commons.

One day when the two friends were walking together, Anselmo revealed in greatest confidence his bitterness and anger over an overwhelming desire to discover whether his wife was as virtuous and perfect as she seemed. He argued that when there was neither opportunity nor temptation to stray, that wasn’t much of a test, rather that she should be subjected to the desires of an attractive man. Only if she could avoid succumbing to that would Anselmo be able to know that Camila was truly the perfect virtuous wife.

Anselmo then asked his friend Lotario to be the instrument of that test, and in complete secrecy to make himself Camila’s temptation.

Lotario couldn’t believe what he had heard, and told Anselmo that he must have changed. He compared Anselmo to Moors who couldn’t see the errors of their ways in rejecting Christian faith. He pointed to the contradictions in his friend’s argument which confirmed that Anselmo already knew that his wife was virtuous and principled. He urged his friend to consider his wife as a fine diamond, and not to try to destroy it in testing its quality. He also pointed out the great dishonour that he was being asked to perform, and how this would destroy the tranquillity of Camila’s life.

Anselmo, though, had made up his mind and invited Lotario to at least make a start, and if he did meet the resistance that they both expected, then he could stop before any damage was done. As Lotario could see his friend turning to others in his quest, he reluctantly agreed to go along with Anselmo’s plan.

The two friends agreed that Lotario’s campaign to tempt Camila would start the following day, when he would speak with her alone, bring poetry praising her, and provide her with money and jewels. Lotario went home with a troubled mind, until he thought of a way to deceive his friend and respect his wife.

After the three had lunched together, Anselmo used the pretext of going on urgent business as a way of leaving his friend and his wife together. Lotario then feigned tiredness and asked if he could sleep until Anselmo returned. Camila offered him a more comfortable place, but he dozed at the table. When Anselmo got back he found his wife in her room, and his friend asleep where he’d been sitting.

The two friends went out to consider Lotario’s account of what had happened. In that, he claimed that he had made gentle overtures towards her by praising her beauty, but Camila had shown no signs of weakness. Over the following days, Lotario continued this deception, repeatedly saying the he had tried with Camila but in reality doing nothing further. Anselmo decided to increase the temptation from words to money and jewels, saying that if his wife resisted those, he’d be content that she had passed the test.

When Anselmo left his friend and wife alone the following day, instead of leaving the house he locked himself into an adjacent room so that he could watch Lotario’s attempts at seduction through the keyhole. He realised that all Lothario had told him had been deception, and when the two friends walked together afterwards he accused Lotario of betraying his trust.

Anselmo next arranged to be called away to a friend in a nearby village for a whole week, leaving Lotario to care for Camila in his absence. She was understandably reluctant to follow her husband’s instructions to treat his friend as she would her husband, but Anselmo insisted.

The day after Anselmo departed, Lotario went to Camila, who was assiduous in avoiding any situation in which the two might be left alone together. For the first three days, Lotario didn’t say a word to her, and Camila kept her maidservant Leonela at her side at all times. Although Lotario kept his peace, as the days went by he couldn’t help but become more attracted by her great beauty. He tried to suppress these feelings, but his loyalty to Anselmo failed too. After three days of internal turmoil, Lotario made his first pass at Camila, who was so confused that she went straight to her room. She sent a letter to her husband that night.

Ricardo Balaca (1844-1880), Illustration for ‘El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha’ (1880-1883), vol 1, Montaner y Simon, Barcelona, Spain. Wikimedia Commons.

That completes the thirty-third chapter of the first book of Don Quixote.

Further reading

List of characters
English translation by John Ormsby (1885)

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, trans John Rutherford (1604, 2000) Don Quixote, Penguin, ISBN 978 0 140 44909 9.
Roberto González Echevarría (2015) Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Yale UP, ISBN 978 0 300 19864 5.
Roberto González Echevarría (ed) (2005) Cervantes’ Don Quixote, A Casebook, Oxford UP, ISBN 978 0 19 516938 6.