Leopoldina's Dream (Los Sueños de Leopoldina) by Silvina Ocampo, 1959
LEOPOLDINA'S DREAM (Los sueños de Leopoldina)
by Silvina Ocampo, 1959
As in so many of Silvina Ocampo's short fictions, in "Leopoldina's Dream" ("Los sueños de Leopoldina"), collected in La furia in 1959, the possible and the impossible are brought together so effortlessly that the reader is forced to question what he thinks he knows about possibility and impossibility. The narrator is Changuito, who tells the story of a family in which all of the women's names begin with the letter L, from the youngest, Ludovica and Leonor, to Leopoldina, who by her own estimate is about 120 years old. There is a significant generation gap between the oldest and the youngest. Leopoldina lives in a world in which miracles are commonplace. Ludovica and Leonor believe in miracles, too, but their faith is more worldly, more practical. Early on, they imagine their fame if they were to have a vision of the Virgin Mary.
For Leopoldina, however, miracles are simply a way of being in the world, not a way of getting ahead in it. Like so many of Ocampo's characters, she has the gift of prophecy. For 30 years she has not left the house, and yet she knows everything that is going on outside even before it happens—when the rains are coming or when the crops are ready for harvest.
Leopoldina's special gift is her ability to dream and often to bring objects out of her dreams and into the real world. Her dreams are modest, and so are the things she brings forth—stones, branches, or feathers. No one has ever considered her ability to be of any particular value, but Ludovica and Leonor see the potential in it. They want her to dream of "precious stones, of rings, of necklaces, of bracelets. Of something that's good for something. Of automobiles."
At first the girls are content to watch over Leopoldina as she naps in her wicker chair, hoping that something valuable will turn up. When this does not happen, they encourage her to spend more of her time asleep by giving her heavy meals and strong wine and eventually by threatening to give her injections of narcotics. Her dreams change, but she still does not manage to bring forth anything of interest to the girls.
When Ludovica and Leonor threaten her again, Leopoldina dreams a final dream, though she comes out of it apparently with nothing. The girls want to know what she dreamed about, but she and the narrator simply leave the house in silence. In that instant, without warning, a devastating storm sweeps across the land, destroying livestock and crops and carrying Leopoldina and Changuito away, out of the material world, like saints ascending into heaven.
Did Leopoldina foresee the storm, or did she bring it out of her dream? Is the future already here, waiting for us, or is it something we create, willingly or unwillingly? Ocampo raises such questions often in her writing, but they are questions she never answers. It seems clear, however, that miracles, if there are such things, are not solely for our benefit and exploitation. Leopoldina knows how to live with miracles and feels no need or desire to question them. For her the gift is exactly that, a gift given freely for no purpose and received as such. When she is no longer permitted to accept the gift for what it is, she escapes, perhaps by her own choice, perhaps because of a higher power, or perhaps by chance.
There is another dimension to "Leopoldina's Dream." At the close of the story Changuito informs us that he is Leopoldina's lapdog and the author of the story in his mistress's dream, and so it seems that the pages she brought out of the dream are the very pages we have been reading. Is this another miracle, a dog that can write? But who is the author here? Not Changuito, certainly, for he "wrote" the story only in a dream. Leopoldina? Again, this is not a question with a simple answer. She dreamed the story, her own story, the story that creates her as a character in a fiction, but was the dream her own creation or another gift?
Ocampo is raising an interesting question about the very process by which literature comes into being. Perhaps the writer is not responsible for his or her stories, as Leopoldina is not responsible for her dreams. Perhaps the stories that create the writer as surely as the writer seems to create them are written by another, by a character in a dream, as Changuito writes the story of his mistress. Perhaps the writer's job is not necessarily to be creative but to be receptive, to receive the dream and bring the pages out into the waking world.
There is something viciously circular in all this. It is the writer who in some sense makes the dream, the dream that makes the story, and the story that makes the writer who makes the dream. As readers, perhaps our task is to read the stories as we have read Leopoldina's story and so to learn to dream for ourselves, to discover our own stories written there, and to bring those stories out into the world, where they will create us. As Ocampo has said, "What matters is what we write: that is what we are, not some puppet made up by those who talk and enclose us in a prison so different from our dream."
—Welch D. Everman