PROSE FICTION: This passage is adapted from Pepita Jiménez by Juan Valera (1874).
(1) The dinner at the house of Pepita Jiménez, which I mentioned to you, took place three days ago. As she leads so retired a life, I had not met her before; she seemed to me, in truth, as beautiful as she is said to be, and I noticed that her amiability with my father was such as to give him reason to hope, at least judging superficially, that she will yield to his wishes in the end, and accept his hand.
(2) As there is a possibility of her becoming my stepmother, I have observed her with attention; she seems to me to be a remarkable woman, whose moral qualities I am not able to determine with exactitude. There is about her an air of calmness and serenity that may come either from coldness of heart and spirit, with great self-control and power of calculating effects, accompanied by little or no sensibility; or that may, on the other hand, proceed from the tranquility of her conscience and the purity of her aspirations, united to the purpose of fulfilling in this life the duties imposed upon her by society, while her hopes are fixed, meantime, upon loftier things, as their proper goal.
(3) What is certain is that, either because with this woman everything is the result of calculation, without any effort to elevate her mind to a higher sphere, or, it may be, because she blends in perfect harmony the prose of daily life with the poetry of her illusions, there is nothing discernible in her out of tone with her
surroundings, although she possesses a natural distinction of manner that elevates her above and separates her from
(4) She does not affect the dress of a provincial, nor does she, on the other hand, follow blindly the fashions of the city; she unites both these styles in her mode of dress in such a manner as to appear like a lady, but still a lady country-born and country-bred. She disguises to a great extent, as I think, the care she takes of her person. There is nothing about her to betray the use of cosmetics or the arts of the toilet. But the whiteness of her hands, the color and polish of her nails, and the grace and neatness of her attire denote a greater regard for such matters than might be looked for in one who lives in a village, and who is said, besides, to despise the vanities of this world and to think only of heavenly things.
(5) Her house is exquisitely clean, and everything in it reveals the most perfect order. The furniture is neither artistic nor elegant, nor is it, on the other hand, either pretentious or in bad taste. To give a poetic air to her surroundings, she keeps in the rooms and passages, as well as in the garden, a multitude of plants and flowers. There is not, indeed, among them any rare plant or exotic, but her plants and flowers, of the commonest species here, are tended with extraordinary care.
(6) Canaries in gilded cages enliven the whole house with their songs. Its mistress, it is obvious, has need of living creatures on which to bestow some of her affection; and besides several maid-servants, that one would suppose she had selected with care, since it can not be by mere chance that they are all pretty, she has, after the fashion of old maids, various animals to keep her company—a parrot, a little dog, whose coat is of the whitest, and two or three cats, so tame and sociable that they jump up on one in the most friendly manner.
(7) At one end of the principal saloon is a species of oratory, whose chief ornament is an Infant Jesus, carved in wood, with red and white cheeks and blue eyes, and altogether quite handsome. The dress is of white satin, with a blue cloak full of little golden stars; and the image is completely covered with jewels and trinkets. The little altar on which the figure is placed is adorned with flowers, and around it are set pots of broom and bay; and on the altar itself, which is furnished with steps, a great many wax tapers are kept burning.
(8) When I behold all this I know not what to think, but for the most part I am inclined to believe that the widow loves herself above all things, and that it is for her recreation, and for the purpose of furnishing her with occasions for the effusion of this love, that she keeps the cats, the canaries, the flowers, and even the Infant Jesus itself, which in her secret soul, perhaps does not occupy a place very much higher than the canaries and the cats.
, as used in paragraph 4, is a person that would most nearly be described as: