Short summary - The Portuguese Letters: Love Letters of a Nun to a French Officer - Gabriel de Guilleragues

French literature summaries - 2021

Short summary - The Portuguese Letters: Love Letters of a Nun to a French Officer
Gabriel de Guilleragues

The lyrical tragedy of unrequited love: five letters from the unfortunate Portuguese nun Mariana, addressed to the French officer who left her.

Mariana takes up the pen when the acute pain of separation from her beloved subsides and she gradually gets used to the idea that he is far away and the hopes with which he amused her heart turned out to be "treacherous", so she is unlikely to wait for an answer to this from him now letter. However, she had already written to him, and he even answered her, but that was when the mere sight of a sheet of paper that had been in his hands aroused great excitement in her: “I was so shocked” “that I lost all my senses more than three hours. " After all, only recently she realized that his promises were false: he would never come to her, she would never see him again. But Mariana's love is alive. Deprived of support, unable to conduct a gentle dialogue with the object of her passion, she becomes the only feeling that fills the girl's heart. Mariana “decided to adore” her unfaithful lover all her life and “never see anyone again”. Of course, it seems to her that her traitor will also "do well" if he does not love anyone else, for she is sure that if he manages to find a "more beautiful beloved", then he will never meet an ardent passion like her love. But should he be content with less than he had beside her? And for their separation, Mariana reproaches not her beloved, but cruel fate. Nothing can destroy her love, for now this feeling is equal to her life itself. Therefore, she writes: "Love me always and make me suffer even more torment." Suffering is the bread of love, and for Mariana it is now the only food. She thinks that she is committing "the greatest injustice in the world" in relation to her own heart, trying to express her feelings in letters, while her lover should have judged her by the strength of his own passion. However, she cannot rely on him, because he left, left her, knowing for sure that she loves him and "deserves more loyalty." Therefore, now he will have to endure her complaints about the misfortunes that she foresaw. However, she would be just as unhappy if the beloved had only love-gratitude for her - for the fact that she loves him. “I would like to owe everyone to your only inclination,” she writes. Could he renounce his future, his country and stay forever beside her in Portugal? She asks herself, perfectly understanding what the answer will be.

Every line of Mariana breathes a feeling of despair, but, making a choice between suffering and oblivion, she prefers the former. “I cannot reproach myself for wanting even for one moment not to love you anymore; you are more pitiable than I am, and it is better to endure all the suffering to which I am doomed than to enjoy the wretched joys that your French mistresses give you, ”she proudly declares. But her torment does not diminish from this. She is jealous of two little Portuguese footmen who were able to follow her lover, "for three hours in a row" she talks about him with a French officer. Since France and Portugal are now at peace, could he visit her and take her to France? - she asks her beloved and immediately takes her request back: "But I do not deserve this, do as you please, my love no longer depends on your treatment of me." With these words, the girl is trying to deceive herself, for at the end of the second letter we learn that "poor Mariana is fainting when she finishes this letter." Starting the next letter, Mariana is tormented by doubts. She alone endures her misfortune, for the hopes that her beloved will write to her from each of her stops have collapsed. Memories of how lightweight were the pretexts on the basis of which the beloved left her, and how cold he was at parting, suggest that he was never "overly sensitive" to the joys of their love. She loved and still madly in love with him, and from this she could not wish and suffer for him the same way as she suffers: if his life were full of "similar worries", she would have died of grief. Mariana does not need the compassion of her beloved: she gave him her love, not thinking about the anger of her relatives, or about the severity of the laws against the nuns who violated the charter. And as a gift to such a feeling as hers, you can bring either love or death. Therefore, she asks her beloved to treat her as harshly as possible, begs him to order her to die, because then she will be able to overcome the “weakness of her sex” and part with life, which without love for him will lose all meaning for her. She timidly hopes that if she dies, the beloved will keep her image in his heart. And how nice it would be if she never saw him! But then she herself accuses herself of lying: "I realize, meanwhile I am writing to you, that I prefer to be unhappy, loving you, than never to see you." While reproaching herself for the fact that her letters are too long, she nevertheless is sure that she needs to say so many more things to him! After all, despite all the torment, in the depths of her soul, she thanks him for the despair that gripped her, for she hates the peace in which she lived until she recognized him.

And yet she reproaches him for the fact that, once in Portugal, he turned his gaze on her, and not on another, more beautiful woman who would become his devoted lover, but would quickly be comforted after him departure, and he would leave her "without guile and without cruelty." “With me, you behaved like a tyrant, thinking about how to suppress, and not like a lover, striving only to please,” she reproaches her beloved. After all, Mariana herself experiences "something like a reproach of conscience," if she does not devote every moment of her life to him. She hated everyone - relatives, friends, the monastery. Even the nuns are touched by her love, they pity her and try to console her. The venerable dona Britesh persuades her to walk along the balcony, which offers a beautiful view of the city of Mertola. But it was from this balcony that the girl first saw her lover, therefore, overtaken by a cruel memory, she returns to her cell and sobs there until late at night. Alas, she understands that her tears will not make her lover faithful. However, she is ready to be content with little: to see him "from time to time", while realizing that they are "in the same place." However, she immediately recalls how five or six months ago, a lover with "excessive frankness" told her that he loved "a lady" in his country. Perhaps now it is this lady who is preventing his return, so Mariana asks her beloved to send her a portrait of the lady and write what words she says to him: maybe she will find in this “any reason to be comforted or to grieve even more” ... The girl also wants to get portraits of her beloved brother and daughter-in-law, because everything that is "in any way touched" to him is extremely dear to her. She is ready to go to him as a servant, just to be able to see him. Realizing that her letters, filled with jealousy, can irritate him, she assures her beloved that he can open her next message without any emotional excitement: she will no longer repeat to him about her passion. It is not at all in her power not to write to him: when the lines addressed to him come out from under her pen, she thinks that she is talking to him, and he "approaches her somewhat." Here the officer, who promised to take the letter and hand it over to the addressee, reminds Mariana for the fourth time that he is in a hurry, and the girl, with a pain in her heart, finishes pouring out her feelings on paper.

Mariana's fifth letter - the end of the drama of unhappy love. In this hopeless and passionate message, the heroine says goodbye to her beloved, sends back his few gifts, enjoying the torment caused by parting with them. “I felt that you were less dear to me than my passion, and it was excruciatingly difficult for me to overcome it, even after your unworthy behavior made you yourself hateful to me,” she writes. Unhappy shudders at the “ridiculous courtesy” of the last letter beloved, where he confesses that he received all her letters, but they did not cause "any excitement" in his heart. Bursting into tears, she begs him not to write to her anymore, for she does not know how she can be cured of her immeasurable passion. "Why do blind attraction and cruel fate strive, as it were, to deliberately force us to choose those who would be able to love only another?" - she asks a question that obviously remains unanswered. Realizing that she herself brought on the misfortune called unrequited love, she nevertheless blames her beloved that he first decided to lure her into the web of his love, but only in order to fulfill his plan: to make her love himself. As soon as the goal was achieved, she lost all interest for him. And yet, absorbed in her reproaches and the infidelity of her beloved, Mariana nevertheless promises herself to find inner peace or to decide on "the most desperate act." "But am I obliged to give you an accurate account of all my changing feelings?" - she finishes her last letter.