The Revolver (El Revólver) by Emilia Pardo Bazán, 1895
THE REVOLVER (El revólver)
by Emilia Pardo Bazán, 1895
Emilia Pardo Bazán's "The Revolver" ("El revólver") addresses, however obliquely, issues related to the status of women in nineteenth-century Spain. As in other of her works in which these questions are broached—in novels like A Wedding Trip (Un viaje de novios) and La Tribuna and elsewhere in her stories—Pardo Bazán uses the narrative of "The Revolver" to explore the oppressive environment in which women of necessity live in relationship to men at the same time that they are subject to masculine desires. Yet what results in the few pages of this story is neither as simple as an exposure of patriarchy's destructive force nor as reductive as mere summary would serve to indicate.
"The Revolver" opens with an unidentified narrator's observation of a sickly 35-or 36-year-old woman. This woman, who is linked to nature by means of the name Flora, displays all of the characteristic symptoms of the nineteenth-century "female" illness of hysteria: "The woman suffering from heart trouble told me about her illness, with all the details of chokings, violent palpitations, dizziness, fainting spells, and collapses, in which one sees the final hour approach." The narrator shrewdly notes that physical illness rarely induces the intense suffering experienced by the woman and begins to probe for other possible causes by initiating a discussion on the inevitability of death. Flora responds with a curious suggestion: "Nothing is anything…. Nothing is anything … unless we ourselves convert this nothing into something."
This line of thought proves crucial to understanding "The Revolver," for it bears directly on Flora's illness, both on the origin of her malady in her relationship with her husband Reinaldo and on his crippling jealousy. As Flora tells the narrator, she married a much older man who at first took great pleasure in his wife's vivacity. Gradually, however, his personality changed, and he became irrationally jealous of his wife. Reinaldo's desire for Flora is so powerful and confining that the two begin to spend their time at home alone. Flora neither goes out with her friends as before nor entertains at home, and she withdraws from Reinaldo too: "I often wept, and did not respond to Reinaldo's transports of passion with the sweet abandonment of earlier times."
Reinaldo's solution to the dilemma is cunningly simple. Showing Flora a revolver that lies in a drawer in their bedroom, he tells her that she is free to do as she likes: "But the day I see something that wounds me to the quick … that day, I swear by my mother! Without complaints or scenes, or the slightest sign that I am displeased, oh no, not that! I will get up quietly at night, take the weapon, put it to your temple and you will wake up in eternity." This draconian threat has its intended effect. Flora immediately faints from mortal fright. When she returns to her senses, she begins to live a haunted existence. Reinaldo never threatens her, never reproaches her, never expresses any disapproval. But this apparent passivity in and of itself terrifies Flora, who is paralyzed with fear despite her love for her husband.
For four years she lives in fear for her life, experiencing symptoms of hysteria. Her torture comes to an end when Reinaldo is thrown from a horse and dies instantly. At this point Flora, who sends the servant to remove the revolver, learns that the gun was never loaded. Reinaldo's was quite literally an empty threat. Flora realizes that "an unloaded revolver shot me, not in the head, but in the center of my heart, and believe me when I tell you that, in spite of digitalis and all the remedies, the bullet is unsparing."
It is tempting to see in "The Revolver" yet another instance of a woman's suffering at the hands of a man and a male-dominated society. Flora, the creature of nature, experiences the world around her with an enviable delight, only gradually to find herself imprisoned by her husband's corrosive jealousy. Acting from what he himself admits is a feverishly overweening love, Reinaldo threatens his wife and turns her into an emotional invalid with all too real physical symptoms. Only with Reinaldo's death is Flora free of the immediate threat of death, yet she continues to live as an invalid, unable to shake off the ills of the past.
It is important, however, to note how first Reinaldo and then Flora create "something" from "nothing," how in essence Reinaldo's unfounded suspicions fed on his wife's innocent pastimes and how Flora's fear turned an unloaded gun into a potential instrument of revenge and death. As "The Revolver" is about the status and role of women in nineteenth-century Spain, it is also about the questionable powers of observation, of the ways in which we often can see only what we most fear or desire. Pardo Bazán, a quintessential realist writer, asserts in these brief pages a possible critique of realist texts as mirrors held up to the world even as she suggests the dangers of unrestrained imagination and unchecked fabrication.