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The House of the Spirits; Rosa the Beautiful 
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Post The House of the Spirits; Rosa the Beautiful
The House of the Spirits
Isabel Allende

Rosa the Beautiful



Mon Oct 31, 2011 1:55 pm
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Post Re: The House of the Spirits; Rosa the Beautiful
I am posting this post at the eleventh millisecond of the eleventh second of the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of the eleventh month of the eleventh year of the new millennium. Eleven being, as all know, a magical number, this timing is intended to be auspicious.

Esteban Trueba was smitten the moment he laid eyes on Rosa the Beautiful. Despite his conservative instincts, her flashing eyes and floating hair wove a circle round him thrice, for she on honey dew had fed and drunk the milk of paradise.

“More than half a century has passed, but I can still remember the exact moment when Rosa the Beautiful entered my life like a distracted angel who stole my soul as she went by… Unable to take my eyes off her perfect nape, her round neck, and her soft shoulders caressed by the green curls that had escaped from her coiffure … I was in a dream. Suddenly she swept down the aisle and as she passed me her astonishing gold eyes rested for a moment on my own. Part of me must have died. I couldn’t breathe and my pulse stopped in its tracks.” (House of the Spirits, pp 35-36)

Esteban and Rosa are the first love affair, and the first tragedy.


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Last edited by Robert Tulip on Thu Nov 10, 2011 7:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.



Thu Nov 10, 2011 7:11 pm
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Post Re: The House of the Spirits; Rosa the Beautiful
This opening chapter sets the scene for some of the themes of the novel. I have already mentioned the love of Esteban for Rosa. As I mentioned, Rosa has green hair and eyes of liquid golden flow. She is a mermaid, which introduces the magic realist idea, evoking the Sirens on the rock, singing each to each, with Ulysses straining at his ropes as he hears their magical beauty. Mermaids are a symbol of the danger of beauty.

We also meet Clara, Rosa's clairvoyant young sister, who will be the central character of the book, and her strange dog Barrabas, who comes as a mangy pile of near dead bones by sea, but rather like Cerberus, seems likely to grow to the size of camel.

Father Restrepo, the priest, helps to set the tone of traditional insanity. His extreme anti-communist conservatism introduces a recurring theme in the book, that Marxism cannot work in Latin America because it is incompatible with a magical world view. Clara, the most magical of all, makes herself a pariah when as a small girl she announces in church for all to hear, "Psst, Father Restrepo! If that story about hell is a lie, we're all fucked, aren't we..." (p17)

The theme here is that respectability involves acceptance of absurd conventions, and when people note that the tradition is ridiculous they cause uproar and affront, and get shunned forever more. Clara's observation to the priest, which Allende says is spoken "in all its purity", certainly introduces a jarring note of cultural conflict. Like Cassandra, she says what many feel but no one says.

Even here at the beginning, the florid madness of the priest is a premonition of the culture war which turned into a civil war, between the camps of faith and reason who stood in total incomprehension of each other. It makes me wonder how the war has gone subterranean since the end of fascism in Chile, and where it will erupt again.


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Sat Nov 12, 2011 6:25 am
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Post Re: The House of the Spirits; Rosa the Beautiful
In this chapter Rosa was almost a mystical being. Her great beauty was unworldly and her green hair and golden eyes made her a such a rarity. She was called a mermaid several times making her appear all the more magical. Speaking of magical, Clara was a clairvoyant who had powers even she did not understand.

The characters were unique and varied. The uncle was the eccentric of the family. Clara really connected with him. The moment in church where Clara made her outburst was almost funny. I could just see the stuffy priest. It was a shame he accused her of being possessed by the devil.

This chapter had great tragedies. The worst was Rosa being poisoned. Estaban was a tragic figure. He had nothing before he met her and with her death he lost what he might have gained. He loved her so much. Then the uncle died for the second time.

I enjoyed reading this chapter getting to know this unique family and I look forward to reading more.



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Robert Tulip
Sat Nov 12, 2011 5:44 pm
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Post Re: The House of the Spirits; Rosa the Beautiful
Hello all. This is my first time with a book club. I have read the first couple chapters of the book and am excited to read the rest.

One thing that I struggled with was if Rosa really was a mermaid or the author was just using that to create a description of some of her attributes. Thank you Robert for clearing it up, that yes she was a mermaid. It brings more magical attributes to the characters now. Although if the priest was so concerned with Clara having special powers why wasn't there any religious judgement about Rosa being a magical creature? Maybe I missed something.

Having the story told from different people gives the story line extra depth. I will admit I had to read it twice because I was lost the first time.



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Robert Tulip
Sun Nov 13, 2011 12:53 am
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Post Re: The House of the Spirits; Rosa the Beautiful
Hi Wanett, welcome. Actually, you are right, Allende is very ambiguous, deliberately in my view, about whether Rosa is a mermaid. I admit I thought it was just a dream, and after all she has a human father and mother who are prominent public identities. So perhaps the men who fall in love with her imagine she is a mermaid because of her green hair and her ravishing beauty, and Allende presents their imagination as a magical reality. I will need to look more carefully at the text. What do others think? Is Rosa a mermaid?

Come to think of it, in the autopsy after she dies of strychnine poisoning, I seem to recall the doctor confirmed she was not actually a mermaid when they cut her open. As well, real mermaids cannot walk and catch busses, except with temporary daggers in their feet. However, it may be possible that mermaids revert to human form after death in magical reality.

Hans Christian Anderson explains some of this quite well in The Little Mermaid. Rosa is a creature from another world, too beautiful for this vale of tears.


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Last edited by Robert Tulip on Sun Nov 13, 2011 1:20 am, edited 1 time in total.



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Post Re: The House of the Spirits; Rosa the Beautiful
Death and resurrection are strong themes in this chapter. Barrabas, the puppy arrives on the Feast of the Passover, along with the dead Uncle Marcos, who has died once before, been ‘resurrected’ and has died once again.
Barrabas, it will be recalled, was the thief condemned to crucifixion, along with Jesus. On the Feast of the Passover, one condemned man was to be released, and the crowd chose Barrabas over Jesus.
While the whole family appear to have atheist convictions, using religion for political and social acceptance, they nevertheless are firm believers in the spirit world and the afterlife. Clara’s ability to move objects and foretell the future is taken as perfectly normal, but phenomena to be concealed for reasons of acceptance by the community. The Pastor, however, is seen as a perfectly legitimate foreseer of the future.
The faithful followed him from parish to parish, sweating as he described the torments of the damned in hell, the bodies ripped apart by various ingenious torture apparatuses, the eternal flames,…. (p13)
One has to wonder why people are attracted to this sort of preaching. Is it the same as the attraction to horror films and stories?
Estaban is totally besotted with Rosa the Beautiful, but she is ambivalent towards him, ‘She rarely thought about her fiancé’ preferring to fantasise upon embroidering the largest tablecloth in the world ‘creatures that were half bird and half mammal….’ Something like herself? (p15).
Rosa’s beauty is often compared to that of a mermaid but her ‘maritime grace’ is definitely human.
There was something of the fish to her (if she had had a scaly tail, she would have been a mermaid), but her two legs placed her squarely on the tenuous line between a human being and a creature of myth. (p.15)
The psychic abilities in the family seem to come down from Nivea’s side, for she ‘had a premonition that her daughter was a heavenly being, and that she was not destined to last very long in the traffic of this vulgar world’(p16). But for all her unearthly beauty, Estaban is shocked to discover that she is indeed, mortal. ‘The only thought that had never crossed my mind was that Rosa could be mortal’. (p47) and he wants her to ‘rise like Lazarus from her deathbed’.
Rosa’s laying out on a slab of marble recalls scenes from the tale of Snow White ‘Rosa naked and asleep on the kitchen table, her long hair sweeping to the floor in a cascade of green’ But there is no Prince to kiss her back to life, only the mortuary assistant, who kisses her ‘on the lips, the neck, the breasts, and between the legs;’ (p54).
As I haven’t read the whole book yet, I’m confused by whose voice we are hearing. Someone not yet born? Certainly on page 33 we have Estaban’s voice. Can’t wait to read more.


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Post Re: The House of the Spirits; Rosa the Beautiful
heledd wrote:
I’m confused by whose voice we are hearing. Someone not yet born? Certainly on page 33 we have Estaban’s voice.

Occasionally through the book the narration switches without warning or explanation from third person to first person, with the story told by Esteban. This is a rather extraordinary literary device that I have never encountered before. It is rather disorienting, and seems almost like one of those Picasso cubist paintings of the sorrowful woman where she is both in profile and front on. We get used to Esteban as a character, and suddenly he is the narrator.

Quote:
Barrabas, it will be recalled, was the thief condemned to crucifixion, along with Jesus.


Since Barrabas the dog is such a lovable, clumsy oaf, and the priest who represents Christ is such an evil monster, perhaps the name of Barrabas invites us to think that Allende is questioning the place of Christ as savior, and finding redemption in the story of the lost thief who was chosen by the crowd in place of Jesus?

Quote:
the tenuous line between a human being and a creature of myth

I think the memories of Rosa later in the book again compare her to a mermaid. I'm sorry I confused these memories somewhat. Allende does not cross this tenuous line with Rosa, but she certainly does with Clara and her psychic abilities.

Quote:
why people are attracted to this sort of preaching
In a poor country, a big part of the purpose of religion is to make people accept their situation within the prevailing social order. The teaching of the church, often reinforced by bitter experience, leads people to internalize the conservative belief that rocking the boat is dangerous. The church is in alliance with the rich to defend the status quo and warn people that any doubt is sinful. Over time, one can imagine that this style of preaching would gradually become more extreme.

To jump ahead to the bigger story, Allende seems to present this mad fury about hell as prefiguring and rationalizing the irrational fury of the fascist coup, opening the question how could it happen. The emotional conservative response is that the communists deserve their extreme punishment by the army. If doubt sends you to hell, why not speed up the process by dynamiting bodies in a football stadium?


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Post Re: The House of the Spirits; Rosa the Beautiful
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Since Barrabas the dog is such a lovable, clumsy oaf, and the priest who represents Christ is such an evil monster, perhaps the name of Barrabas invites us to think that Allende is questioning the place of Christ as savior, and finding redemption in the story of the lost thief who was chosen by the crowd in place of Jesus?

Perhaps you are correct. But I was wondering. Barrabas the dog is also a thief who would ‘steal into the dining room and slink around the table, removing with the greatest delicacy all his favourite dishes….’ That got me to thinking what had Barrabas actually stolen for him to end up in prison? Was it the theft of something trivial? Sources seem mixed. Some accounts say that he was a robber and a murderer. Others that he was a rebel and rabble rouser.


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Mon Nov 14, 2011 7:02 am
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Post Re: The House of the Spirits; Rosa the Beautiful
Quote:
In a poor country, a big part of the purpose of religion is to make people accept their situation within the prevailing social order. The teaching of the church, often reinforced by bitter experience, leads people to internalize the conservative belief that rocking the boat is dangerous. The church is in alliance with the rich to defend the status quo and warn people that any doubt is sinful. Over time, one can imagine that this style of preaching would gradually become more extreme.

But this type of preaching also occurs in richer countries. I remember my grandmother taking me as a 'special treat' when one of these hellfire preachers came to town. I was terrified and had nightmares for weeks, but the adults would all be awestruck afterwards, barely able to wait until the next hellfire preacher came. It was a form of entertainment. And don't forget, the Bishop personally intervened to curb Father Restrepo's excesses


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Post Re: The House of the Spirits; Rosa the Beautiful
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Barrabas the dog is also a thief

So we find that the characters are parables. Rosa the Beautiful is like a parable for Chile, a beautiful country that was surreptitiously poisoned by a military coup. Rosa's autopsy reminds me of The National Commission for Truth and Reconciliation Report although this happened after The House of the Spirits was written.

I mentioned earlier that the Gospels are within the genre of magical realism. So I don't believe that Barrabas was a real person.


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Post Re: The House of the Spirits; Rosa the Beautiful
I'm having trouble seeing Rosa and Esteban as a tragic love affair. I find Rosa quite vacuous, beautiful but with no substance. She certainly doesn't seem to have any love for Esteban - it's as though she really has no thoughts or feelings of her own at all. And Esteban's professed "love" seems like little more than a desire to possess something beautiful - certainly it doesn't seem as though there is any real love for Rosa the person. I can't seem to empathize with either of these characters - is it just me?



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Post Re: The House of the Spirits; Rosa the Beautiful
I think you're right kelstan. Esteban lusts after Rosa, but that's not really love. 'Damn her! she slipped through my hands!' Esteban says after Rosa dies. I've almost finished the book now, and to be honest, I do empathise with Esteban in the later chapters.
Robert - I don't think it matters whether Barrabas was a real person or not. It's interesting to know what part of the myth Allende chose to portray. Somehow I thought it was important, because his is the very first word uttered in the book.


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Post Re: The House of the Spirits; Rosa the Beautiful
Esteban Trueba is hard to empathize with given his extreme right wing politics and atrocious behavior. He ends up the loneliest man in the world. His attitude to Rosa is pure infatuated stalking. He holds the idea of perfect Rosa for ever in his mind as his One True Love. No one loves Esteban, because he destroys all his relationships through his focus on power and wealth, his furious temper and violence, his blank remorseless insensitivity to how others see him, and his contemptuous desire to use and control people for his own selfish ends. He prefers to be feared.

The parable of the stalking of Rosa is like the conservative old style rulers of Chile had a romantic dream of the natural beauty of the country, but they did not allow that dream to be affected by evidence and observation, preferring to keep their imagination unsullied by reality so they could justify to themselves their traditions of oligarchic control. The oligarchs are still people though, and need a sense of aesthetic redemption, which they obtain through the myth of the pure virginal beauty of the motherland. Like belief in the Blessed Virgin Mary, conservatives ignore real beauty and instead displace their attention into an imagined alien myth which they worship in order to avoid engagement with reality. This attitude stores up a tectonic separation between fantasy and reality. Only reality can win in the end, albeit after major upheaval and conflict.

Just like the infant Clara telling the church we are fucked if the stories about hell are lies, the death of Rosa from strychnine poisoning introduces a jarring note. People seek to create a beautiful dream, regardless of reality, but reality intrudes to point out that the dream is self-serving.


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Post Re: The House of the Spirits; Rosa the Beautiful
The problem is, I could not read the book as a parable, because I simply did not know enough about the coup in Chile, and for a while was not even sure that it was set in Chile. (Peru is mentioned in one of the first chapters) So I read it as a work of fiction, and to be honest, this made the culminating chapters even more horrific. I was as shocked as the characters in the book that these events could actually have taken place. Perhaps someone could recommend a good historical account of the Chilean coup? Perhaps we could discuss it as a non fiction book?


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