Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 9: No 2) >> Home and Wilderness in Simms's Vasconselos >> Page 23

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Page 23

Secondary Scholarship | 2001, 2002
Transcription innocent child among forests of vines and flowers the fancy became
sensible of a condition, in which life can offer nothing more grateful, or
more fresh; and, to be sure of which always, ambition might well be
satisfied to lay aside his spear and shield forever (177-78).

Groves spread their pleasant fragrance far and wide, and the comfortable sea breeze
feels like "the most blessed of all the angels who take part in the destinies of earth."
The tranquil and comfortable climate is that of the American forest which absorbs
the white Americans'"energies and exertions" (178).
The residence of Olivia is situated "happily" (24) at a height which
commands a fine view of Havana and the sea. In "this happy empire" surrounded by
"[fruits of every luscious variety, flowers of the most golden and glorious hues and
perfumes, vines and leaves of all most grateful descriptions," all the passions are,
"whether drooping or triumphant... at home" (24). The expression "dolce far niente"
used to describe the Havana Bay is applied to Olivia's cottages, which symbolize
"vagabondage,""the stagnation, if not the savageism, of the aboriginals," and "a
dream, rather than a performance" (178). In short, the charm of Cuba means the
negation of performance "where living implies no anxiety, acquisition no toil,
enjoyment no cessation" (178).
Olivia displays the distinctive characteristics of her namesake in Twelfth
Night. Noble in origin and deportment, she is surely created by Simms with
Shakespeare's Olivia as her model, a fact which is demonstrated by the epigraph of
Chapter 4 of Vasconselos. Yet she also wears an aspect of the American prototype
of women with dark hair such as Cooper's Cora, Hawthorne's Hester and Melville's
Isabel. Her "dark, glossy hair," and "an attitude equally graceful and voluptuous"
(30) represent her as "a pale, proud beauty" (28), and "that `drooping darkness of
the Moorish eye'. .. is still capable of such sudden lightnings as consume at the
single flash" (28). Dismissing Christian chivalry such as faithfulness to women and
with valor lapsed into decadence, she declares that the love advocated by chivalry
merely demands bondage in women, and sings "in the perverse spirit of the Moor"
(51): "I will not brook a peril, / That sounds of joy the knell; / And will not yield my
heart to love, / Because I love so well" (50).
Olivia's grace, dignity and intellect are similar to those of Edith Colleton in
Guy Rivers and Mary Easterby in Richard Hurdis, but Olivia does not "estimate
those conventional and improved forms of social life...which belong only to
stationary abodes, where wealth brings leisure, and leisure provokes refinement.17
She neither thinks nor acts in conformity with the chivalrous culture emphasized by
cavaliers. Scarcely more than seventeen, she is marked by "an earnestness, an
intensity of gaze and expression, which denoted a maturity of thought and feeling
quite beyond her years" (28). Simms compares her passion to that of Medea.

But, as she recognized the accents of Don Balthazar, she schooled her mood

17 William Gilmore Simms, Richard Hurdis: A Tale of Alabama (Chicago: Donohue, Henneberry
& Co., 1890), 21.