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Cobwebs of Memory: History Made with Violence in Abelardo Estorino’s La dolorosa historia del amor secreto de don José Jacinto Milanés (1974)

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Abstract

In La dolorosa historia del amor secreto de don José Jacinto Milanés (1974), Abelardo Estorino (b. 1925) draws on the life of a nineteenth century Cuban poet and playwright and explores the correlations between that time period and Estorino’s own in a way that reveals the betrayal, violence and pain that typify Cuba’s literary community in the 1970s. La dolorosa historia, like Dos viejos pánicos, has an uncertain relationship with stage production. It was written in 1974 though it did not premiere until 1985, staged then by the theater group Teatro Irrumpe directed by Roberto Blanco. It is a play that examines the role of violence in the making of history and memory through the life of Milanés, a figure that allows Estorino to enter into the past in order to consider history, memory, and betrayal onstage and simultaneously to allude to the present historical and social moment. The spectacality of the violence that surrounds Milanés’ life within La dolorosa historia refers to the (literally) spectacular violence that was being mounted in the cultural and political context of Cuba in the early 1970s, as was shown in the introduction with the caso Padilla. Just as Piñera explored the prevalence of fear, Estorino’s play affords the playwright a space in which his authorial hand guides the characters and points to the political events that shaped the 1970s through the past. This historical context is one that includes episodes discussed in reference to Dos viejos pánicos, such as the definition of the Revolution, the infamous caso Padilla and the censorship that characterized Cuba in the late 1960s and the 1970s and, thus, highlights the role that spectacle played in the contemporary context through the exploration of Milanés’ life and circumstances.

Keywords

Nineteenth Century White Race Historical Moment Colonial Government Free Black 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    This is, of course, a simplification of the complex and multi-faceted circumstances in which Cuban independence was advocated. Hugh Thomas’s essay “La colonia española de Cuba” in Historia del Caribe offers a much more detailed and richly-hued conversation on Cuba’s continued status as a colony. Hugh Thomas, “Capítulo 2: La colonia española de Cuba,” In Historia del Caribe (Barcelona: Editorial Crítica, 2001) 39–55.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Thomas, Historia del Caribe 47; Tulio Halperín Donghi, The Contemporary History of Latin America, ed. and trans. John Charles Chasteen (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993) 156.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Hugh Thomas, Cuba, or The Pursuit of Freedom (New York: Da Capo Press, 1998) 205–206.Google Scholar
  4. Robert L. Paquette’s Sugar Is Made with Blood: The Conspiracy of la Escalera and the Conflict between Empires over Slavery in Cuba (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1988).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Paul Christopher Smith, “Theatre and Political Criteria in Cuba: Casa de las Américas Awards, 1960–1983,” Cuban Studies/Estudios cubanos 14.1 (1984): 43–47.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Lourdes Casal maintains that Leopoldo Ávila was most likely José Antonio Portuondo, a well-known Revolutionary critic who would also preside over Padilla’s self-criticism at UNEAC headquarters. However, Roger Reed and Fornet himself assert that this was really Luis Pavón, the magazine’s director. It seems likely that Fornet, having written most recently among other factors, would have the most access to up-to-date information. Lourdes Casal, “Literature and Society,” Revolutionary Change in Cuba, ed. Carmelo Mesa-Lago (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1971) 20Google Scholar
  7. Roger Reed, The Cultural Revolution in Cuba (Geneva: Latin American Round Table, 1991) 106Google Scholar
  8. 7.
    For more information on how Estorino’s plays fit into realist theater, see George Woodyard’s essay on Estorino’s theater. In this article, Woodyard examines how Estorino’s plays fit into a realist vein as proposed by Arnold Kettle’s article of Charles Dickens’ Bleak House. George Woodyard, “Estorino’s Theatre: Customs and Conscience in Cuba,” Latin American Literary Review 11.22 (1983): 57–63.Google Scholar
  9. 8.
    The information about Milanés supplied here comes from Salvador Arias’ Tres poetas en la mirilla, Historia de la literatura cubana: Tomo 1, and Max Henríquez Ureña’s Panorama histórico de la literatura cubana. Salvador Arias, Tres poetas en la mirilla (La Habana: Editorial Letras Cubanas, 1981)Google Scholar
  10. Max Henríquez Ureña, Panorama histórico de la literatura cubana (La Habana: Editorial Arte y Literatura, 1978)Google Scholar
  11. 10.
    Milanés’ play is about the Conde Alarcos, who, though Spanish, had pledged his allegiance to the French king, and had consequently been betrothed to his daughter, Blanca. Before Alarcos departs on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, Blanca gives her honor to the count, thus unofficially marrying the two. While in Spain, Alarcos marries and has children with a woman from Seville, Leonor. Nevertheless, he must keep his word to the French king to return to Paris, where it is found out that he has married another woman, being all but officially married already to Blanca. The French king orders him to kill his Spanish wife in order to marry Blanca and, though he detests the chains that bind him to the king and tries to save Leonor, she is killed by an executioner, proving that they are slaves subject to the king’s desires. José Jacinto Milanés, El conde Alarcos, In Teatro del siglo XIX (La Habana: Editorial Letras Cubanas, 1986).Google Scholar
  12. 11.
    Antón Arrufat, Virgilio Piñera: entre él y yo (La Habana: UNEAC, 1994) 41–47.Google Scholar
  13. 12.
    Vivian Martínez Tabares, “La dolorosa búsqueda de los recuerdos,” Teatro cubano contemporáneo (Madrid: Sociedad Estatal Quinto Centenario, 1992) 349.Google Scholar
  14. 13.
    Jorge Febles, “Recontextualización poemática en La dolorosa historia del amor secreto de don José Jacinto Milanés,” Latin American Theatre Review 31.2 (1998), 79.Google Scholar
  15. 17.
    Abelardo Estorino, Memorias de Milanés (Matanzas, Cuba: Ediciones Matanzas, 2005)Google Scholar
  16. 20.
    Matías Montes-Huidobro, “El discurso teatral histórico-poético de Abelardo Estorino: entre el compromiso y la subversión,” Alba de América 9.16-17 (1991): 250.Google Scholar
  17. 24.
    All the quotes from “El mendigo” are from Salvador Arias’ collection of poetry from the colonial period, for which I give the page numbers here. Translations are mine. Salvador Arias, ed., Poesía cubana de la colonia (La Habana: Editorial Letras Cubanas, 2002) 77–78.Google Scholar
  18. 32.
    Here the literary men mainly discuss a written theater that would premiere in smaller or less accessible theaters. To understand the workings of the popular theater that was largely seen and available in Cuba during the nineteenth century, see Jill Lane’s Blackface Cuba. In this excellent examination of theater in nineteenthth century Cuba, Lane details and examines the connection between blackface performance, a budding sense of nationalism and populist theater. Jill Lane, Blackface Cuba, 1840–1895 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005).Google Scholar
  19. 35.
    In Torture and Truth, Page duBois’ states that the Greek word for torture “means first of all a touchstone used to test gold for purity; the Greeks extended its meaning to denote a test or trial to determine whether something or someone is real or genuine (7)” This suggests that torture was then used as a way to test if a statement was true, meaning that a slave’s testimony would only be accepted if he or she had been tortured. Page duBois, Torture and Truth (New York: Routledge, 1991) 1–8.Google Scholar
  20. 37.
    Herbert Lindenberger, Historical Drama: The Relation of Literature and Reality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975) 45–46.Google Scholar

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© Katherine Ford 2010

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