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Juan Valera (1824–1905). Pepita Jimenez.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.

Part I.—Letters from My Nephew

April 20th

April 20th.

YOUR last letters, dearest uncle, have been a welcome consolation to my soul. Benevolent, as always, you admonish and enlighten me with prudent and useful reflections.

It is true my impetuosity is worthy of reprobation. I wish to attain my aims without making use of the means requisite to their attainment; I wish to reach the journey’s end without first treading, step by step, the rough and thorny path.

I complain of an aridity of spirit in prayer, of inability to fix my thoughts, of a proneness to dissipate my tenderness on childish objects; I desire to elevate myself to and be absorbed in God, to attain at once to the contemplation of essential being; and yet I disdain mental prayer and rational and discursive meditation. How, without attaining to its purity, how, without beholding its light, can I hope to enjoy the delights of divine love?

I am by nature arrogant, and I shall therefore endeavor to humiliate myself in my own eyes, in order that God may not suffer the spirit of evil, in punishment of my pride and presumption, to cover me with humiliation.

I do not believe that it would be easy for me to fall into a lapse from virtue so shameful and unexpected as the one you fear. I do not confide in myself; I confide in the mercy of God and in His grace; and I trust they will not fail me.

Nevertheless, you are altogether right in advising me to abstain from forming ties of friendship with Pepita Jiménez; I am far enough from being bound to her by any tie.

I am not ignorant that, when those holy men and saints, who should serve us as models and examples, were bound in close intimacy and affection with women, it was in their old age, or when they were already proved and disciplined by penitence; or when there existed a noticeable disproportion in years between them and the pious women they elected to be their friends, as is related of St. Jerome and St. Paulina, and of St. John of the Cross and St. Theresa. And even thus, even with a purely spiritual affection, I know it is possible to sin through excess; for God only should occupy the soul as Lord and Spouse, and any other being who dwells in it should do so but as the friend, the servant, the creation of the Spouse, and as one in whom the Spouse delights.

Do not think, however, that I vaunt myself on being invincible, that I despise danger, and defy and seek it. He who loves danger shall perish therein. And if the prophet-king, though so agreeable in the sight of God, and so favored of Him, and Solomon, notwithstanding his supernatural and God-given wisdom, were troubled and fell into sin because God turned His face away from them, what have not I to fear, miserable sinner that I am, so young, so inexperienced in the wiles of the devil, and so wavering and unpractised in the combats of virtue?

Filled with a salutary fear of God, and imbued with a fitting distrust of my own weakness, I shall not be forgetful of your counsels and your prudent admonitions; and I shall pray meantime with fervor, and meditate on holy things, in order to abhor the things of the world, in so far as they deserve abhorrence; but of this I may assure you, that, however deeply I penetrate into the depths of my conscience, however carefully I search its inmost recesses, I have thus far discovered nothing to make me share your fears.

If my former letters are full of encomiums on the virtue of Pepita, it is the fault of my father and of the reverend vicar, and not mine; for at first, far from being friendly to this woman, I was unjustly prejudiced against her.

As for the beauty and physical grace of Pepita, be assured that I have contemplated them with entire purity of thought, and, though it cost me something to say it, and may cost you a little to hear it, I confess that, if any cloud has arisen to dim the clear and serene image of Pepita in the mirror of my soul, it has been owing to your harsh suspicions, which for an instant have almost made me suspect myself.

But no; what thought have I ever entertained with regard to Pepita, what have I seen or praised in her that should lead any one to suppose me to have any other feeling for her than friendship, and the admiration, pure and innocent, that a work of art may inspire, the more especially if it be the work of the Supreme Artist, and nothing less than the temple wherein He dwells?

Besides, dear uncle, I shall have to live in the world, to hold intercourse with my fellow beings, to see them, and I can not, for that reason, pluck out my eyes. You have told me many times that you wish me to devote myself to a life of action, preaching the Divine law, and making it known in the world, rather than to a contemplative life in the midst of solitude and isolation. Well, then, this being so, how would you have me act in order to avoid seeing Pepita Jiménez? Unless I made myself ridiculous by closing my own eyes in her presence, how could I fail to notice the beauty of hers; the clearness, the roseate hue, and the purity of her complexion; the evenness and pearly whiteness of her teeth, which she discloses with frequency when she smiles; the fresh carmine of her lips, the serenity and smoothness of her brow, and a thousand other attractions with which Heaven has endowed her? It is true that for one who bears within his soul the germ of evil thoughts, the leaven of vice, any one of the impressions that Pepita produces might be the shock of the steel against the flint, kindling the spark that would set fire to and consume all around it; but, prepared for this danger, watching against it, and guarded with the shield of Christian prudence, I do not think I have anything to fear. Besides, if it be rash to seek danger, it is cowardly not to be able to face it, and to shun it when it presents itself.

Have no fear; I see in Pepita only a beautiful creation of God, and in God I love her as a sister. If I feel any predilection for her, it is because of the praises I hear spoken of her by my father, by the reverend vicar, and by almost every one here.

For my father’s sake it would please me were Pepita to relinquish her inclination for a life of seclusion, and her purpose to lead it, and to marry him. But were it not for this—were I to see that my father had only a caprice and not a genuine passion for her—then I should be glad that Pepita would remain resolute in her chaste widowhood; and when I should be far away from here—in India, or Japan, or some other yet more dangerous mission—I might find a consolation in writing to her of my wanderings and labors. Then, when I returned here in my old age it would be a great pleasure for me to be on friendly terms with her, who would also then be aged, and to hold spiritual colloquies with her, and chats of the same sort as those the father vicar now holds with her. At present, however, as I am but a young man, I see but little of Pepita; I hardly speak to her. I prefer to be thought bashful, shy, ill-bred, and rude, rather than give any one the least occasion for thinking that I feel toward her as I ought not to, or even for suspicion or for gossip.

As for Pepita herself, not even in the most remote degree do I share the apprehension which vaguely you express. What projects could she form in respect to a man who, in two or three months more, is to be a priest! She, who has treated so many others with disdain—why should she be attracted by me? I know myself well, and I know that, fortunately, I am not capable of inspiring a passion. They say I am not ill-looking, but I am awkward, dull, shy, wanting in amiability; I bear the stamp of what I am—a humble student. What am I, compared with the gallant if somewhat rustic youths who have paid court to Pepita—agile horsemen, discreet and agreeable in conversation, Nimrods in the chase, skilled in all bodily exercises, singers of renown in all the fairs of Andalusia, and graceful and accomplished in the dance? If Pepita has scorned all these, how should she now think of me, and conceive the diabolical desire, and the more than diabolical project, of troubling the peace of my soul, of making me abandon my vocation, perhaps of plunging me into perdition? No, it is not possible. Pepita I believe to be good, and myself—and I say it in all sincerity—insignificant; insignificant, be it understood, so far as inspiring her with love is concerned, but not too insignificant to be her friend, to merit her esteem, to be the object one day, in a certain sense, of her preference, when I shall have succeeded in making myself worthy of this preference by a holy and laborious life.

I ask you to forgive me if I have vindicated myself too warmly from certain half-expressed suspicions in your letter—suspicions that sound like accusations, or like prophetic warnings.

I do not complain of these suspicions: you have given me judicious advice, the greater part of which I accept and intend to follow; if you have gone a little beyond what is just in your suspicions, it is owing, without doubt, to the interest you take in me, and for which I am grateful to you with all my heart.