Kiss of the Spider Woman (novel)

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Kiss of the Spider Woman
First US edition cover
Author Manuel Puig
Original title El beso de la mujer araña
Country Argentina
Language Spanish
Genre Novel
Publication date
1976
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)

Kiss of the Spider Woman (Spanish: El beso de la mujer araña) is a novel by the Argentine writer Manuel Puig. It is considered his most successful.[1]

The novel's form is unusual in that there is no traditional narrative voice, one of the primary features of fiction. It is written in large part as dialogue, without any indication of who is speaking, except for a dash (-) to show a change of speaker. There are also parts of stream of consciousness. What is not written as dialogue or stream of consciousness is written as metafictional government documentation. The conversations between the characters, when not focused on the moment at hand, are recountings of films that Molina has seen, which act as a form of escape from their environment. Thus there are a main plot, several subplots, and five additional stories that comprise the novel.

The author includes a long series of footnotes on the psychoanalytic theory of homosexuality. The footnotes act largely as a representation of Puig's political intention in writing the novel: to present an objective view of homosexuality.[2] The footnotes include both factual information and that given by the fictional Anelli Taub.[3] The footnotes tend to appear at points of the greatest misunderstanding between Molina and Valentín.[4]

The novel can be read as an indictment of a disengaged aesthetic perspective in the context of a world where people have to take sides. Valentín, the Marxist protagonist, has risked his life and willingly endured torture for a political cause, and his example helps transform his cell-mate into a citizen, someone who will enter the world. Likewise, Molina's love of aesthetics and cultural life teaches Valentín that escapism can have a powerfully utopian purpose in life: escapism can be just as subversive and meaningful as overt political activity.

The novel was adapted into a stage play by Puig in 1983 (English translation by Allan Baker). It was also made into a film (1985) and a Broadway musical (1993).

Historical background[edit]

Puig started Kiss of the Spider Woman in 1974 starting with Molina, who was an experiment in imagining a romantic female. From there the rest of the notes sprouted into the novel.[5] At first the only country that would publish the novel was Spain.[6] Upon publication it was included on a list of novels that could not be consumed by the population of Buenos Aires, along with novels such as "Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter" by Mario Vargas Llosa.[7] Puig feared the publication of the novel would affect his family negatively. Despite this it was entered in the Frankfurt Book Fair.[8] It remained banned until 1983 when the Raúl Alfonsín government took control.[9] The English translation of the book was started even before its official publication in Spanish in 1976.[10] Some of the translation proved problematic for Puig including Molina's speech which he could not get to portray the proper sentimental aspects of the voice.[11] The English translation appeared in 1979.[12] The French translation also proved problematic as the publisher edited out some scenes for their explicit nature.[13] In 1981 "Kiss of the Spider Woman" won the best Latin American novel of the year from Istituto Italo Latino Americano in Italy.[14]

Plot[edit]

Two prisoners, Luis Molina and Valentín Arregui, share a cell in a Buenos Aires Prison. It is estimated that the timeframe in which the story takes place is between September 9, 1975 through October 8, 1975.[15] Molina, an effeminate gay window-dresser, is in jail for "corruption of a minor," while Valentín is a political prisoner who is part of a revolutionary group trying to overthrow the government. The two men, seemingly opposites in every way, form an intimate bond in their cell, and their relationship changes both of them in profound ways. Molina recounts various films he has seen to Valentín in order for them both to forget their situation. Toward the middle of the novel the reader finds out that Molina is actually a spy that is sent to Valentín's jail to befriend him and try to extract information about his organization. Molina gets provisions from the outside for his cooperation with the officials with the hopes of keeping up appearances that his mother comes to visit him (thus making a reason for him to leave the cell when he reports to the warden). It is through his general acts of kindness to Valentín that the two fall into a romance and become lovers however briefly. For his cooperation Molina is parolled. On the day he leaves, Valentin has him take a message to his revolutionary group outside. Little does he know that he is also being followed by government agents, trying to find the location of the group. Molina dies in a shootout between the police and Valentín's group. In the end of the novel we are left in Valentín's stream of consciousness after he has been given an anesthetic by a doctor following a brutal torture, in which he imagines himself sailing away with his beloved Marta.

The First Film[edit]

The first story Molina recounts, and which opens the novel, is based on the movie Cat People (1942).[16] During the narration, the reader finds out that Valentín sympathizes with the secretary because of his long lost love, Marta.

The Second Film[edit]

The second story Molina recounts is based on a Nazi propaganda film. Unlike the first, it is unclear whether or not this is an actual movie, but may be a composite of multiple Nazi films and an American film called Paris Underground (1945).[17]

In the film a French woman falls in love with a noble Aryan officer and then dies in his arms after being shot by the French resistance. The film is a clear piece of Nazi propaganda, but Molina's disinclination to see past its superficial charms is a symptom of his alienation from society, or at least his choice to disengage from the world that has rejected him.

The Third Film[edit]

The third film concerns a young revolutionary with a penchant for racing cars who meets a sultry older woman and whose father is later kidnapped by guerrillas. With his paramour's aid the boy attempts to rescue his father, who ends up dying in a shootout with police. Disillusioned, the young boy joins the guerrillas. The end of this particular film foreshadows the end of the novel, in which Molina meets his fate during a shootout between the police and Valentín's comrades.

The Fourth Film[edit]

Based on the film I Walked with a Zombie (1943), the fourth story concerns a rich man who marries a woman and brings her to his island home. There his new bride discovers witch doctor who has the ability to turn people into zombies. It is eventually revealed that the man's first wife was seduced by the witch doctor and turned into a zombie. Reunited with his first wife, the man proclaims his love for his first wife, but is ultimately killed by the witch doctor. In the end the man's second wife sails away from the island, again foreshadowing the end of the novel, in which Valentín sails away in his conscious.

The Fifth Film[edit]

The fifth film Molina recounts is a love story in which a newspaper man falls in love with the wife of a Mafia boss. Love struck, he stops his newspaper from running a potentially damaging story about the woman. They run away together but are unable to support themselves. When the man falls ill his lover prostitutes herself so they can survive. Valentín is forced to finish the story despite Molina recounting it. In the end the man dies and the woman ends up sailing away. The way that Valentín chooses to end the story is very similar to what happens in his own stream of consciousness narrative in the end of the novel.

Characters[edit]

  • Molina – One of the protagonists and the prime story teller. He is a gay window dresser put into prison for having "sex with a minor".
  • Valentín – The other protagonist, and main implied listener. He is a revolutionary who is put into prison for belonging to a leftist organization that is trying to overthrow the government.
  • The Warden – The warden is one of the antagonists in the novel. He sets up Molina to spy and retrieve information from Valentín and gets regular reports about it.
  • Gabriel – The waiter that Molina befriends and acts as Molina's main love interest throughout the novel.
  • Marta – Marta is the love interest of Valentín that he lost in order to remain serious about his organization. She only appears in memories and streams of consciousness in the novel, but never physically.

Criticism[edit]

The novel received mixed reviews. The Hudson Review stated that "Puig is a master of narrative craftsmanship" (1979),[18] while The New York Times Book Review asserted that "Other than these film synopses, there's not much here".[19]

Major Themes[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Titler, Jonathan. "Manuel Puig". page 47.
  2. ^ Tittler, Jonathan. Manuel Puig. page 51
  3. ^ Tittler, Jonathan. Manuel Puig. page 51
  4. ^ Levine, Suzanne Jill. Manuel Puig and the Spider Woman'. page 258.
  5. ^ Levine, Suzanne Jill. Manuel Puig and the Spider Woman pages 254–258 .
  6. ^ Levine, Suzanne Jill. Manuel Puig and the Spider Woman page 258.
  7. ^ Levine, Suzanne Jill. "Manuele Puig and the Spider Woman" page 302)
  8. ^ Levine, Suzanne Jill. "Manuel Puig and the Spider Woman". page 282.
  9. ^ Titler, Jonathan. "Manuel Puig". page 52.
  10. ^ Levine, Suzanne Jill. "Manuel Puig and the Spider Woman". page 277.
  11. ^ Levine, Suzanne Jill. "Manuel Puig and the Spider Woman." page 304
  12. ^ Titler, Jonathan. "Manuel Puig". page vix
  13. ^ Levine, Suzanne Jill. "Manuel Puig and the Spider Woman." page 305
  14. ^ Levine, Suzanne Jill. "Manuel Puig and the Spider Woman." page 317
  15. ^ Kerr, Lucille. "Suspended Fictions". page 184.
  16. ^ Levine, Suzanne Jill. Manuel Puig and the Spider Woman page 260.
  17. ^ Levine, Suzanne Jill. "Manuel Puig and the Spider Woman." page 305
  18. ^ Park, Clara Clairborne. "Review of Kiss of the Spider Woman." Contemporary Literary Criticism. 28. Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research Co. , 1984. Print.
  19. ^ Coover, Robert. "Old, New Borrowed, Blue" Contemporary Literary Criticism. 28. Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research Co. , 1984. Print.

References[edit]

Levine, Suzanne Jill. Manuel Puig and the Spider Woman: His Life and Fictions. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2000. Print.

Tittler, Jonathan. Manuel Puig. New York: Twayne Publishers. 1993. Print.

Kerr, Lucille. Suspended Fictions: Reading Novels by Manuel Puig. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1987. Print.