In Vino Veritas: Wine, Sex, and Gender Relations in Late Medieval and Early Modern Spanish Literature

2019-08-14T15:09:36Z (GMT) by Minji Kang

Alcohol has been present in almost every society throughout history, and so has a double standard around alcohol usage: women are stigmatized far more than men for excessive drinking. In this dissertation, I explore the intimate association between wine consumption and gender relations in Spanish late medieval and early modern literature. In late medieval and early modern European society, distinctions of gender, age, class, religion, and occupation were reflected in what one chose to eat and drink. Wine was undoubtedly the most popular and highly regarded beverage, especially in the Iberian Peninsula and the rest of southern Europe. Wine has always been deeply integrated into the Spaniards’ lives, not only as a daily beverage but also as a marker of individual and group identities. While references to wine have flowed through Spanish literature, thorough examinations of women’s drinking have surprisingly been left unexplored.

This study fills that gap, analyzing representations of female drinking in Spanish literature, specifically the ambivalent approach to wine as it relates to the construction of gender identities. This study analyzes the representation of female drinking throughout the Spanish literary canon, especially focusing on the Libro de buen amor (ca. 1343), the Arcipreste de Talavera (also called as Corbacho, ca. 1438), and the Tragicomedia de Calisto y Melibea (also known as Celestina, 1502) with the purpose of demonstrating how wine consumption constitutes, reflects, and questions normative gender roles. In medieval and early modern Europe, gender identities were either masculine or feminine, attached to rigid, stereotypical gender roles for men and women. Drunken women, therefore, presented a threat that needed to be contained. During the Middle Ages, while drunken women were represented as personifying gluttony and violating both moral and gender norms in didactic, moralizing treatises, there were literary fictions that depicted female drunkards who openly enjoyed wine, praised its virtues, and socialized by drinking with other women. The gender ideology of Spanish patriarchy created masculine anxiety around unfeminine women, like female drunkards, who were unsuited to a life of purity and chastity. I argue that this anxiety, evident in the extreme condemnation of drunken women, paradoxically reveals the contradictions underlying the patriarchal agenda. I also interpret female drinking practices as performative acts of resistance against normative gender roles. Drawing on the notion that gender is a performative act, alcohol drinking by women can be understood as a subversive act that transgresses and reconfigures social norms around gendered identities in late medieval and early modern Spain.