We are pleased to offer below the winning entry in the 2022 Bulletin of Advanced Spanish Sixth Form Essay Competition, written by Thomas Hilditch, a Year 13 student who hopes to study French and Spanish at University. Thomas writes:
‘I was drawn to Bazán’s ‘El Revólver’ whilst reading a collection of Spanish short stories. I was particularly struck by its sympathetic depiction of Flora (the protagonist) and its twist ending, which reminded me of one of my favourite authors – Maupassant. I had not previously explored the depiction of mental abuse in my study of literature, and so I was keen to explore a new theme.’
The Physical Consequences of Mental Abuse in Emilia Bazán’s ‘El Revólver’
Emilia Bazán’s short story El Revólver is an unforgiving examination of marital abuse. Set in a spa town, the narrative follows a widow – Flora – describing the cruelty of her former husband, who threatened to shoot her if he ever suspected her of infidelity. These threats left Flora in constant fear and powerless to the ‘whim of her husband’ – Reinaldo. Nevertheless, Flora had always loved her husband and it transpires after Reinaldo’s death that the gun had never, in truth, been loaded. Through both the observations of the narrator and Flora’s own recollections, this poignant short story analyses the impact of mental abuse, highlighting the debilitating physical consequences which arise from this form of maltreatment.
Bazán uses the narrator’s perception of Flora’s physical weakness to demonstrate the permanent damage of Reinaldo’s ‘mental torture.’ This unnamed narrator notes that physical illnesses ‘no bastan para producir’ Flora’s ‘marasmo’ and ‘radical abatimiento’: mental illness is depicted as more severe than its physical counterpart – causing Flora to become ‘estropeada por el padecimiento.’ The reference to ‘estropeada’ suggests that Flora has lost her youth and vitality as a result of the ‘celos violentos (e) irrazonados’ of Reinaldo. Her ‘humor de chiquilla’ has been dampened by the unfounded suspicions of her husband: Reinaldo’s torment has ‘aged’ his wife. Indeed, the narrator observes that Flora ‘habría sido hermosa’ – the conditional perfect emphasising the influence of Reinaldo in causing this loss of Flora’s beauty. Similarly, the reference to ‘hermosa,’ whilst an obvious link to her appearance, may also be indicative of her character: her virtue and child-like innocence shattered by the insatiable jealousy of her husband. Not only has Reinaldo’s mental torment damaged the physical appearance of his wife, but it has also defiled her character. Whereas previously she was ‘alegre, animadísimo,’ now she is said to ‘relucir de locura.’ There is a certain irony in that the victim of another’s insanity is now described as ‘mad’ herself, perhaps suggesting the ongoing influence of Reinaldo on Flora even after his death. Clearly, some part of the character of the abuser lives on in the abused, reinforcing for the reader the long-lasting effect of mental abuse.
Nor is this depiction of the link between physical suffering and mental abuse limited to the revelations of the narrator. Flora herself recognises the continuing effects of Reinaldo’s mistreatment. She regularly bemoans the ‘palpitaciones’ experienced ever since Reinaldo had first threatened her. By the time that she discusses her problem with the anonymous narrator, they have become ‘violentas.’ The death of Reinaldo caused Flora’s illness to grow even worse.
Similarly, whereas her friends previously ‘envidiaban’ her, she quickly finds herself ‘separada’ from these same ‘amigas.’ She is socially isolated as a consequence of Reinaldo’s jealousy. It is noticeable, and perhaps ironic, that the only person with whom she spent any meaningful length of time during her marriage was a husband supposedly intending to kill her. The pathetic nature of her situation is clear. Indeed, Reinaldo’s suspicions have a continually debilitating impact upon Flora’s quality of life, even when the abuse stops. She cannot sleep, but instead ‘despertaba sobresaltada:’ the imperfect tense suggesting the repetitive nature of this issue. Reinaldo’s unfounded suspicions have robbed his wife of the ability to rest and function. Merely talking about this mental abuse causes Flora to ‘asfixiarse’ – she cannot breathe. Reinaldo’s mental abuse has a disruptive, enduring and physical influence on Flora’s life, consigning her to seeking respite in spa towns and lamenting her plight to strangers. She cannot escape the legacy of Reinaldo’s abuse.
El Revólver is an unforgiving short story and emotionally challenging to read. The protagonist is so maligned and mistreated that the reader inevitably sympathises with her unenviable predicament. By exposing the reader to such themes, Bazán draws attention to the plight of such women – abused by their husbands and unable to escape – a problem which tragically continues to this day. Even after Reinaldo dies and Flora’s torture ends, the mental and physical scars linger. However hard she tries to cleanse herself of her husband’s mistreatment, it can never be forgotten.
- Cuentos Españoles, Edited by Angel Flores, Dover Publications, 1987
- Abuse, Exposure and Female Agency in the Short Stories of Emilia Pardo Bazán, Kathryn Lee, 2014, Baylor University
Abuse, Exposure and Female Agency in the Short Stories of Emilia Pardo Bazán, Kathryn Lee, 2014, Baylor University, p.34