La ilustre fregona is one of the least studied of Cervantes' Novelas ejemplares, and yet, with its apparent simplicity of action and its lack of an overridingly memorable image, it brings all the more clearly into focus the issues of identity and social order that in fact underlie all of the Novelas.66 In each of these texts, a disturbance in society's rules and structures, along with a case of mistaken or displaced identity, provides Cervantes with his point of departure. Thus, in some of the —40→ Novelas ejemplares we find that women kidnapped as children or else temporarily robbed of their social and personal integrity must regain or discover their true identities, while in others, men wander through adventures, madness, or disguise, or else detour from their appropriate moral rectitude or social place, with the similar imperative that questions of social and personal identity be clarified and resolved as the novela concludes.67 As a provisional generalization, one could say that the resolution of each of the novelas leads, in the comedic and positive cases, to the restoration of the main characters to their proper places, and, in the more ironic and negative cases, to the pathetic isolation of the protagonist when and as he (it is always a he) comes to realize that his previous concept of self has been a delusion or that his true identity cannot be harmoniously assimilated into the society that surrounds him.68
The entire collection of novelas can, I would suggest, be viewed as a varied but essentially coherent set of lessons or «readings» that issue —41→ from this question of identity and that reflect a basically comedic and conservative vision of social order. By this I mean that the actions and implications of the Cervantine novela respect and validate, rather than question, the basic rightness of the relationships between and among persons, both horizontally (personal identity) and vertically (identity in terms of rank within a social hierarchy). For, whether comic or ironic in intent, the fictional world of a given novela tends to be an unapologetically non-ideal presentation of rigid social classes and privileged justice.69 The conservative, comedic ideology of these texts is to no small extent manifested in the fact that social order, symbolized by marriage and by the return of a lost person to his or her true identity and place, is central to their narrative logic. In this light, La ilustre fregona is surely a most exemplary novela ejemplar, for it must be stressed that, by «social order», I am referring not only to the obvious theme of restored social harmony and the new microcosmic «fortunate society» symbolized by the marriage of Costanza and Tomás (and the two other young couples), but also to the structural and typological implications of «societies» as Cervantes has deployed them in this novela. Moreover, while one could perhaps understand the social in La ilustre fregona by saying that the text implicitly images a total, complex society composed of numerous levels and sectors among which the main characters wander, one could also argue that, against the permanent and «real» society of their past and future lives in Burgos, Cervantes sets the temporary and complexly «fictional» counter society of Toledo and the inn. One result of such juxtapositions is to underscore a particular vision of the right ordering of relationships not only between two or more individuals (love), but between an individual and the larger defining group (the social rôle).
On a first reading, however, there seems to be something ill-organized and out of focus about La ilustre fregona. In particular, the two young men whose adventures and desires dominate the narrative bring with them two very different kinds of action and hence two distinct generically determined tendencies of discourse. As Harry Sieber has stated, «La ilustre fregona es una de las novelas ejemplares más curiosas. Hay en realidad dos novelas de dos amigos: las aventuras picarescas de Diego de Carriazo y la historia de amor de —42→ Tomás de Avendaño».70 Sieber's mention of the picaresque element of the text reminds us of the peculiar and rather problematic ways in which the essentially negative and narrowing aspects of the picaresque perspective and its usual modes of discourse are modified as they are incorporated into a Cervantine text.71 And, as we find in La ilustre fregona, the total composite of its picaresque and comedic-amorous actions serves less to establish the limited perspective of the pícaro than to allow the necessary juxtapositions of individuals and social ranks which will, in turn, suggest more a world as it is than an optic that magnifies only society's hypocrisies and the problems of its marginalized persons and groups.72
But perhaps the most important point raised by Sieber's observation is the problem of the text's heterogeneity, the markedly free and almost arbitrary manner in which Cervantes incorporates into this single novela certain elements of picaresque narrative, on the one hand, and, on the other, the central action of a tale of love grafted on to a larger comedy of loss and restoration.73 Some readers, however, have seen the picaresque elements as a crafty distraction, —43→ masking the text's quite different generic nature. As Robert M. Johnston has suggested in his essay on «Picaresque and Pastoral in La ilustre fregona», the principal setting of the novela (the inn), along with a good deal of the ways in which the characters interact and talk to each other, allows us to see this text as a kind of pastoral -understood in a loosely Empsonian sense.74 La ilustre fregona is not, of course, the full-blown, conventional Renaissance pastoral of Cervantes' own Galatea, but rather it seems to belong to that group of more open-ended and ambiguous forms wherein the «pastoral» space exists within the text and does so in a way that reveals its edges, both its separateness from and its points of contact with contingent and surrounding societies.75 There are, however, some fundamental, if intriguing, difficulties in an approach that sees La ilustre fregona as mainly pastoral. In particular, the quintessential thematic focus of conventional Renaissance pastoral -the discussion of the nature of love- is not really present. Romantic love plays a part in this text and is given some notable passages, but it exists as a necessary given of the story, not as the central, dominant theme.76
By raising this point, I do not mean to deny the pastoral elements of the text, but rather to suggest that the pastoral has been incorporated in a partial and somewhat problematic manner. In effect, if we grant the presence of the pastoral -e. g., in the intercalated verse and in the conventional motif of courtship- we must also note —44→ that a kind of pastoral discourse has been intertwined with the language of the picaresque and with the familiar comedic discourse of loss and recovery, sin and restitution. What La ilustre fregona therefore seems to embody is that plurality and coexistence of discourses which, under the concept of heteroglossia, M. M. Bakhtin has proposed as a fundamental defining feature of the modern novel.77 Thus, in our attempt to deal with the curious generic diversity of the text, we must understand how, while the comedic-amorous component serves as the essential organizing principle of the main part of the novela, the low-comic and picaresque episodes, however much they may seem assignable to the status of sub-plot, retain an importance that resists their subordination to mere supporting or digressionary rôles. Furthermore, this heterogeneity of actions is reflected and emphasized in the related linguistic diversity that we find manifested in the juxtapositions of verse fragments and courtly formulas alongside the slang of muledrivers and less-than-chaste serving-girls.
This combination of distinct types of discourse representing different social strata is appropriately and necessarily embodied in the principal structural-thematic devices of the text: the concept of excursions, understood literally as travels and, through a loosely figurative extension, also as disguisings, and the richly suggestive and familiar Cervantine device of the inn, a place that both allows the ambiguities of disguise and also promotes the ultimate reunions and revelations which, in turn, resolve old problems and establish the new, «fortunate» society.78 As in Don Quijote, Part I, the posada del —45→ Sevillano in Toledo not only provides the plausible place for actions ranging from the farcical to the sentimental, but also establishes what Sieber (speaking of an element fundamental to all the Novelas ejemplares) has called the «parenthetical space» into which people may enter freely and in which the novelistic action can unfold.79 What these parenthetical actions, within the parenthetical space of the inn, create is an interlocking series of wanderings and displacements -and also a textual matrix within which juxtapositions of persons and of their respective languages can take place. From this construct of subtle textual heterogeneity, not only can the problems of identity and of immoral actions (on the part of the elder Carriazo) be resolved, but in addition, the interaction of these disparate genres (picaresque, pastoral, comedic) and languages will leave, as a residue, a sense of a larger exterior society that in itself seems more verisimilar than the fortunate but improbable coincidences and adventures of the principal characters of the novela.
Appropriately, the novela begins with the narrator identifying the main characters, first the two fathers and then their sons, with special attention given to social rank: «En Burgos, ciudad ilustre y famosa, no ha muchos años que en ella vivían dos caballeros principales y ricos: el uno se llamaba don Diego de Carriazo, y el otro, don Juan de Avendaño. El don Diego tuvo un hijo, a quien llamó de su mismo nombre, y el don Juan otro, a quien puso don Tomás de Avendaño» (p. 139). Although such an opening passage is quite conventional, in this case the close linking of fathers and sons -particularly of the two Carriazos, who are given the same first name- and the emphasis on social position respond to the structural exigencies of the novela. For the two youths' relatively innocent excursions and disguisings will correspond to and help to redeem the previous moral detour of Carriazo senior. Likewise, the evocation of —46→ an «ilustre y famosa», aristocratic Burgos is particularly significant since, although the city does not figure directly in the novela, it is presented at both the beginning and end invested with a special emblematic weight, as the locus of the main characters' «real» lives as well as of the values of sobriety and decorum, orderliness and wealth.80
The interactions and implicit contrasts of personality of the two young men, Diego and Tomás, are also important to the indirect, allusive evocation of a real but textually absent, external world; the two youths -in a sense, the doubling of the young male lover rôle81- also allows greater complexity of comedic plot and, most significantly, makes the final recognitions and restorations more inclusive and, as it were, more social. But given the fact that the young Carriazo will not play the part of Costanza's suitor (he is, as we will learn, her half-brother), his importance in the novela might at first seem secondary. In light of the basic thematic questions of identity and social order, however, he in fact has a central rôle, for his complex personality and his semi-picaresque adventures subtly remind the reader that the meaning of what one does in this particular world is not simply determined on its own merits as an action, but rather in the context of the social identity of the person who does the action.82 The summary of Carriazo's first period of —47→ wanderings, which begins with the second paragraph and occupies the first several pages, establishes this context of valuation. In this section, the narrator emphasizes the willful deliberateness, along with the curiously distanced innocence, of Carriazo's decision to leave home and of his subsequent adventures: «Trece años, o poco más, tendría Carriazo cuando, llevado de una inclinación picaresca, sin forzarle a ello algún mal tratamiento que sus padres le hicieron, sólo por su gusto y antojo, se desgarró, como dicen los muchachos, de casa de sus padres, y se fue por ese mundo adelante» (p. 139). His voluntary excursion into the picaresque world is not, however, his transformation into the conventional pícaro since the essence of his more noble identity continues to manifest itself, as the narrator stresses: «a tiro de escopeta, en mil señales, descubría ser bien nacido» and «En fin, en Carriazo vio el mundo un pícaro virtuoso, limpio, bien criado y más que medianamente discreto» (p. 140). Thus, Carriazo's dominance of the introductory section sets the stage, opening up the possibilities of place and language, for the larger question of the relationships between one's origin in the social hierarchy and one's individual, autonomous -or perhaps not fully autonomous- virtue and moral character.
In addition, Carriazo's seemingly arbitrary picaresque inclination serves to connect the temporarily severed threads of a larger plot pattern. For the young man not only convinces Avendaño to leave home and join him in his second excursion -thus setting up the encounter of Tomás and Costanza- but also Carriazo's willful wanderings from his home, his social rank, and his true identity can be seen to echo, in a significantly modified way, the moral wanderings of his father in the latter's rape and abandonment of the unidentified aristocratic woman, who from this dishonorable act becomes pregnant and subsequently bears Costanza. In the symbolic moral implications of this relationship of father to son, the marked differences in the spirit of their respective actions are difficult to overlook. For the wandering of the father's lust demonstrates the man's weaker, baser side, while the exuberant wanderlust of the son serves to underscore his virtue (as, contrastively, his noble character shows forth -or so the narrator suggests- even more against the backdrop of the plebeian, picaresque settings) and, ultimately, to set off the chain of events that will bring together his friend Avendaño and the fregona.
But Carriazo's significance to the structuring of the novela goes beyond his rôle as an initiator of actions necessary to the —48→ comedic-amorous development of the plot. He also leads his friend Avendaño -and along with Avendaño, the reader- through different worlds of language. Carriazo himself is presented as a master of more than one particular social discourse, for such mastery is crucial to his successful disguising and his skillful navigation through the lower reaches of society. The presence of the distinctive and socially differentiating discourses through which Carriazo leads us is, moreover, subtly interactive and dialogic in nature.83 This is to say that the heterogeneity of language is not only manifested, as one would expect, in the separate discourses of persons from distinct social sectors, but that even within a given character's «speech» there can be seen the interpenetration of different discourses.
A revealing instance of such discursive interplay occurs early on in the novela when Carriazo and Avendaño meet the two Andalusian mozos de mulas, one of whom describes the beautiful fregona of Toledo. The muledriver who has seen Costanza and whose gross advances have been fittingly rebuffed describes the girl, in part, as follows: «Es dura como un mármol, y zahareña como villana de Sayago, y áspera como una ortiga; pero tiene una cara de pascua y un rostro de buen año: en una mejilla tiene el sol, y en la otra, la luna; la una es hecha de rosas y la otra de claveles, y en entrambas hay también azucenas y jazmines. No te digo más sino que la veas, y verás que no te he dicho nada, según lo que te pudiera decir, acerca de su hermosura» (p. 148). The language of this supposedly crude mozo combines an expectedly low-level, colloquial register with a brief and sudden shift into a more poetic, if rather clichéd and shop-worn, metaphoric style. Such shifts contribute in part to the subtly satiric and undercutting effect of the mozo's comments, as is evident when the man, acknowledging Costanza's unattainability, pays her his highest compliment; «En las dos mulas rucias que sabes que tengo mías la dotara de buena gana si me la quisieran dar por mujer; pero yo sé que no me la darán: que es joya para un arcipreste o para un conde» (p. 148). The allusion to the illicit amorous activities of an arcipreste strikes the chord of a familiar (picaresque) topos and thus clearly falls into a certain satirical —49→ convention, however «unironically» it may have been intended by the mozo. Equally ironic and undercutting, moreover, is the implicit placing of Costanza into such a dishonorable and picaresque context. Thus, through this peculiarly heterogeneous discourse, the girl is in effect being both valued and devalued by the ambiguous resonances of this seemingly maladroit rufianesque language.
Costanza herself presents a problem of recognition and valuation for others in addition to the rustically comic muledriver. For nearly everyone in the novela, the evident disharmony of her beauty, grace, and discretion, on the one hand, and her emphatically plebeian duties and environment, on the other, is more than a little disconcerting. Even for young Avendaño, whose love-at-first-sight response to the fregona is very much a necessary, unambiguous given, the incongruity of such a beautiful woman in such a mundane setting is a problem. Avendaño cannot overlook, or fail to mention, the issue of the difficulties implicit in the difference of their social positions; as he says to Carriazo: «Mira, amigo: no sé cómo te diga... de la manera con que amor el bajo sujeto desta fregona, que tú llamas, me le encumbra y levanta tan alto, que viéndole no le vea y conociéndole le desconozca» (p. 164; emphasis added). Thus, for Avendaño, although love conquers all -or so it would seem- the caste distinction hardly goes unnoticed by him, and in fact by acknowledging its very existence, the boy seems to emphasize and validate the force and sincerity of his love.84
Carriazo's reaction to his friend's declaration of love for Costanza, in turn, is marked by a tone of good-natured mockery. As Carriazo states: «¡Oh amor platónico! ¡Oh fregona ilustre! ¡Oh felicísimos tiempos los nuestros, donde vemos que la belleza enamora sin malicia, la honestidad enciende sin que abrase, el donaire da gusto sin que incite, y la bajeza del estado humilde obliga y fuerza a que le suban la rueda de la que llaman Fortuna!» (p. 165). His apparently joking allusions to «Platonic love» and to the convention of Neo-Platonic pastoral, moreover, resonate with even deeper irony, given the comedic-amorous core of the novela, since a good deal of such neo-Platonic values and of the novelesque machinery of Fortune will indeed prove to be operative. What is perhaps most significant about this passage and about the relationship of speaker to discourse, however, is the way in which Carriazo ironically gives this —50→ mock-pastoral apostrophe, clearly marking it off as an «artificial» discourse, even while the reader's wider comprehension of the text has already grasped the unintended if partial validity of this statement. In addition, this passage and its larger context also demonstrate the by now familiar Cervantine tendency to juxtapose strikingly distinct discourses, with the final effect, in this case, being less a sense of romantic artificiality than an intimation of the plausibility of a world in which such languages -as devices of disguise, desire, persuasion, or wit- are so variously deployed.
The central section of the novela seems both peculiarly static and frenetically busy. This is to say that not much of great significance to the main comedic-amorous plot appears to happen after the two boys decide to stop off at Toledo in order to see the beautiful young fregona. Once the two youths arrive at the inn and Avendaño is smitten by Costanza's beauty, the narrative becomes dominated by this apparently random, episodic world. Things do happen, of course, since this inn, like any other, is a quintessentially «parenthetical» space where people stop off for indeterminate periods of time, meeting by chance or on purpose, and where disguises and deliberate or accidental confusions of identity are likely to occur. The posada del Sevillano, moreover, is a kind of theatrical space in the sense that, as much as non-verbal actions and gestures, the games of language and the interplay of contrasting discourses become of prime importance.85 Kinds of language will be the vehicles by which people play rôles, try to introduce themselves or verify their true identities, and, finally, seek to uncover and verify the central, mysterious identity: that of Costanza.
Given these characteristics of the inn (a place of random encounter, ambiguous identity, and complex verbal games), it is fitting that this should be the temporary world of Costanza, the still unidentified, or mis-identified, child of the likewise unidentified señora peregrina. Although remarkably passive and uninvolved in the action of the story, Costanza emerges as the unifying thread, linking the past (the lust-inspired, illicit acts of the elder Carriazo) with the future —51→ (the virtuous love interest of young Avendaño). But while the development of the love interest between Costanza and Tomás -a sentiment that appears far more lively on his side than on hers- dominates much of the center of the novela, the courtship that takes place is a peculiar one. For one thing, it involves very little direct interaction and no special tasks or challenges for the young man. Rather than the series of tests and tribulations as found in La gitanilla, La española inglesa, or El amante liberal, courtship is here rendered as the process of a gradual revelation of identity (Avendaño's) and, relatedly, as the working out of a larger structure of dialogic interplay. For example, it seems that Avendaño's greatest success in gaining Costanza's genuine interest comes when he reveals, in writing, his true aristocratic rank. Likewise, when the aristocratic lineage of the girl is revealed -through the «oral» discourses of the inn-keeper and of Carriazo senior and in the reuniting of the key text, the divided parchment- the heretofore relatively silent and non-involved Costanza is finally free to exercise an autonomous will, paradoxically affirming her own identity by accepting Tomás' marriage proposal.86
The first meeting of Avendaño (or «Tomás Pedro», as he has renamed himself) and Costanza, however, is marked by both deliberate and unintended confusions of identity. To the girl's innocent question about who the young man is -«¿Es por ventura criado de alguno de los huéspedes de casa?»- Avendaño wittily replies that «No soy criado de ninguno, sino vuestro» (p. 150). But this declaration of interest is met with apparent indifference by the girl. Then, as the comic episodes multiply and as he realizes that he has a serious rival in the person of the local Corregidor's son, Avendaño, in an attempt to emphasize and authenticate the sincerity of his sentiments, expresses his intentions in a letter that begins by clearly stating his true rank, thus moving from the ephemeral spoken word to the peculiarly authoritative realm of the written text. The first half of this letter states: «Señora de mi alma: Yo soy un caballero de Burgos; si alcanzo de días a mi padre, heredo un mayorazgo de seis —52→ mil ducados de renta. A la fama de vuestra hermosura, que por muchas leguas se extiende, dejé mi patria, mudé vestido, y en el traje que me veis vine a servir a vuestro dueño; si vos lo quisiéredes ser mío, por los medios que más a vuestra honestidad convengan, mirad qué pruebas queréis que haga para enteraros desta verdad; y enterada en ella, siendo gusto vuestro, seré vuestro esposo y me tendré por el más bien afortunado del mundo» (p. 178).87 Costanza, who had been told by Tomás that the note was a prayer efficacious for curing toothache, reacts in a discreet but ambiguous way by tearing up the letter and telling the youth, evasively, that «tu oración más parece hechicería y embuste que oración santa...»; but Tomás is slightly encouraged since she neither rejects him outright nor does she denounce him to the «authorities» (i. e., the innkeeper). The implication of this crucial but curious moment in the narrative seems to be that this partial revelation of identity cannot yet fully resolve the question of love and union, for not only has Avendaño, or Tomás Pedro, not yet returned to his true personal and social place, but more importantly Costanza has not been restored to her proper place either. Equally significant here are the candor and specificity of the letter's content, in which Avendaño bluntly states his wealth as well as his social rank. While, in one obvious sense, this information can be seen as simply another way to gain the woman's interest, one cannot overlook the sense in which it also represents a natural part of Avendaño's definition of his identity -that it is yet another necessary aspect of his most fundamental concept of self.
The full and final revelations and restorations of identities, in true comedic fashion, await the coming together of all the principal characters. The climactic moment comes soon after the arrival of the two fathers, Carriazo and Avendaño; but first, an important step in the process of revelation occurs when the local Corregidor comes to the inn, also in search of the fregona. The Corregidor's motive is to meet and see for himself the young woman who has rendered his son so totally lovestruck. After he meets her, he questions the innkeeper about her origin, and the man fills in a substantial part of the rest of the history (pp. 186ff). Following this narration, the innkeeper produces the incomplete gold chain and the jaggedly cut parchment —53→ with its cryptic string of letters (p. 190). The combining of this fragmentary document with its missing half, soon to be supplied by the elder Carriazo, will, of course, reunite the father with his long abandoned daughter. And once again, it is appropriate that a text, a document of identity -one simultaneously more ambiguous and yet more «authoritative» than Avendaño's letter- plays such an indispensable rôle. This is to say that while the establishment of Costanza's true identity might have been possible through a simple deductive review of the circumstances, in the dynamics of this novela the revelation must proceed through a sequential process of two complementary, intercalated historian followed by a final, culminating textual seal of authenticity: the uncovering of the truth demands the subtle and various interventions of discourse.
When, soon after the appearance of the Corregidor, the two fathers, Carriazo and Avendaño, arrive on the scene (p. 191), it turns out that they have come, at Carriazo's insistence, not in search of their missing sons, but rather -evidently moved by a long overdue twinge of conscience- in search of Carriazo's illegitimate child. The elder Carriazo brings the crucial items that will «prove» the relationship: the missing links of the gold chain and the corresponding half of the parchment, whose fit with the other half validates the blood relationship by reuniting and literally restoring sense to a long divided sentence: «ESTA ES LA SEÑAL VERDADERA» (p. 193). What follows is the predictable comedic scene of anagnorisis and reunion: the elder Carriazo recognizes (in the sense of openly acknowledging) his daughter, the two fathers recognize their errant sons, and as a result, both the younger men and the long-lost young woman recognize (realize) their appropriate and foreordained rôles and places in society. The familial, institutional resolution of the story is embodied in a rather complex «mass marriage»: Tomás Avendaño marries Costanza; young Carriazo marries the Corregidor's daughter (who seems to have magically appeared for just this purpose); and the disappointed son of the Corregidor is conveniently paired off with a daughter of the Avendaño family.88 And, needless to say, everyone lives happily ever after.—54→
Near the very end, the narrator sums up the fortunate finale in the following way: «Desta manera quedaron todos contentos, alegres y satisfechos, y la nueva de los casamientos y de la ventura de la fregona ilustre se extendió por la ciudad, y acudía infinita gente a ver a Costanza en el nuevo hábito, en el cual tan señora se mostraba como se ha dicho. Vieron al mozo de la cebada Tomás Pedro vuelto en don Tomás de Avendaño y vestido como señor; notaron que Lope Asturiano era muy gentilhombre después que había mudado vestido y dejado el asno y las aguaderas» (p. 198). The resolution of the fundamental problems of identity and social displacement is thus presented here in a way that highlights appearance and the signifying function of costume, as we see especially in the emphasis on Costanza's «nuevo hábito». The vestments do not, as it were, simply transform their wearers, but the clothes do symbolize and reinforce the rightness of the given person's return to a preordained social place. In a similar way, the resolution of the ostensible main problem -the return of Costanza to her rightful place and the appropriate uniting of her and Tomás as husband and wife- is further «dressed» by the simultaneous weddings of the two other couples. And through this perhaps excessively festive conclusion, Cervantes deliberately enlarges the focus of the restoration theme, beyond the limited and individual, and outward toward the social.
A good deal more could be said, and further examples could be adduced, to show how Cervantes has achieved in La ilustre fregona one of his most deceptively subtle yet most broadly representative works, a text in which the thematics of individual identity and social order, along with the structural elements of generic and discursive heterogeneity, emerge, on a careful rereading, as the prime defining features of the novela and in so doing effectively present a conservative, if benevolent and forgiving, ideological perspective.89 The sense of humane forgiveness in the conservative Cervantine —55→ vision of social order is manifested -and, it could be argued, ironically destabilized- in the various kinds and levels of freedom implicit in La ilustre fregona: the freedom of the two young men to change identities and play rôles, the relative moral freedom of the elder Carriazo to sin and then, quite late, to make seemingly adequate restitution, and the freedom with which aristocratic families can make amends and reconstitute social harmony through the deploying of their wealth and power and through fortunate, if hastily arranged, multiple marriages. The basic ideological need for such an affirmative resolution, or so one might suspect, requires these authorial manipulations, with all their fortunate improbabilities, a denouement whose willful artifice is impossible to overlook.
But, once again ironically, a work that might appear so authorially contrived and so playfully heterogeneous in form, nonetheless ends by projecting its own peculiar sense of conviction and verisimilitude. For the temporary center of La ilustre fregona (the posada in Toledo) -with its comic contrivances, transparent fictions, and highly improbable coincidences- validates by contrast the plausibility and reality of a world partially glimpsed in the text but largely distant from the immediate center: the «real» world of Burgos. In La ilustre fregona, the posada -as a stop-over on the excursions of life and identity- takes on its sociocritical significance, ironically, because it is not society, because one returns from it to the familial home. Thus, when all the excursions have ended, when the golden chain has completed its circle of authenticity, and when the text has been reunited into sense, then the historia can disappear -or rather, the persons of the novela can in a way disappear from the historia, to return (in the reader's complicit imagination) to the real and external society of Burgos.
The novela ends with the very much distanced narrator giving a summation of the happy future lives of the main characters, while also presenting deliberate echoes of the past events and of the abandoned, marginal worlds which these same characters temporarily experienced. Yet, while the allusions to the characters are quite clear, the persons themselves seem, at this point, curiously absent, as if already replaced into their proper world. The final sentence of the text is a peculiar and deliberate mixing of discourses and worlds: «Dio ocasión la historia de la fregona ilustre a que los poetas del dorado Tajo ejercitasen sus plumas en solenizar y en alabar la sin par hermosura de Costanza, la cual aun vive en compañía de su buen mozo de mesón, y Carriazo ni más ni menos, con tres hijos, que sin tomar el estilo del —56→ padre ni acordarse si hay almadrabas en el mundo, hoy están estudiando en Salamanca; y su padre, apenas ve algún asno de aguador, cuando se le representa y viene a la memoria el que tuvo en Toledo, y teme que cuando menos se cate ha de remanecer en alguna sátira el «¡Daca la cola, Asturiano! ¡Asturiano, daca la cola!» (p. 198). These concluding words of the novela reiterate the attenuated but still present picaresque element in their allusion to the clever, roguish trick of Carriazo / «Lope Asturiano», the non-rogue. But since young Carriazo has been forgiven and reintegrated into his proper world, the subtle effect of this final colloquial fragment is the indirect validation of Carriazo's authentic belonging to the aristocratic world of Burgos to which he and the others have already returned. This final voice thus seems to be left echoing in a now abandoned space, and similarly is the reader left with the intimation of the harmonious but conservative social vision to which Cervantes, throughout the Novelas ejemplares, ultimately returns.