Since its initial publication Modesto de Castro's prose work Ang Pagsusulatan ng Magkapatid na si Urbana at Felisa (1864)hasbeen highly regarded as a privileged text for a number of reasons. Firstly, de Castro's work was one of the longer prose narratives written in Tagalog. Thus, it joined Miguel Lucio Bustamante's Si Tandang Bacio Macunat, another original work in the native tongue, in the select group of discourses which proved that Tagalog could be used to explore facets of experiences other than those delineated in the awit and corrido or the pasyon.
Against a context where pnvilege was bestowed on texts written in Spanish, the language of power, Urbana at Felisa was no mean achievement even as it created a space for a lengthy treatise which constituted a wide range of experience in the language of the colonized. Secondly, Urbana at Felisa has been credited as a precursor of the novel, a significant source of influences especially on the Tagalog novel which would emerge and flower in the first decades of American rule.
This proto novel is notable, from a literary point of view, for its awareness of its own fictionality, of its being an artifact carved out of the raw but culture-bound experiences of a middle class family in the first half of the nineteenth century (see for example, Almario 1974, 1-38; Mojares 1976, 46-54; and Reyes 1982, 6-7). Thirdly, the book has been traditionally regarded as a repository of lessons meant not only for nineteenth-century readers, but also intended for twentieth-century readers.
Critics have emphasized the number of times the text has been reprinted-1877, 1889, 1907, 1925, and 1938--and the different translations in Ilocano (by Jacinto Caoili), Bicolano (by Fruto del Prado), and in Visayan (Alzona 1939, 4). Its popularity could be traced to its appeal not only in the Tagalogspeaking areas but in other places as well. PHILIPPINE STUDIES Lastly, in a society where the cast of characters was dominated by men, Urbana at Felisa featured two female characters as the heroines of the discourse.
In hindsight, the central position assigned to these women, even if limited to the world of fiction, must have provoked some questions in the minds of those used to following the adventures of saints and sinners, of adventurers and fortune hunters. In Urbana at Felisa the voices allowed to speak came from two young women--articulate, authoritative, and gifted with intelligence. In retrospect, Urbana at Felisa was popular for at least one hundred yearsstarting in the second half of the nineteenth century and peaking in the first few decades of American rulefor at least five generations of readers.
At present, the work is alive in various textbooks in Philippine literature as a significant nineteenth-century text that promoted good manners and right conduct among its readers. But as a cultural artifact, except in some critical essays, the book is treated fondly as a quaint anachronism from a bygone era, and is to be studied as part of a long forgotten past with its system of values and beliefs. However, as late as 1938, when the last edition of the book was published, a number of critics still looked at the text as a document worthy of being read for the words of advice that could be extracted from it.
As these critics averred, the book was relevant not only to the reader of the nineteenth century. Because of its power, it was significant to the twentieth century reader desirous of leading a morally purposeful life. Urbana at Felisa was a guidebook that presented models of exemplary conduct and behavior worthy of emulation by everybody. Encarnacion Alzona (1939, 4), a foremost historian and social critic, typified the scholar who looked favorably at the text:
Ang aklat na ito ay ukol sa pagsusulatan ng dalawang binibini na nagngangalang Urbana at Felisa; at sa pamamagitan ng mga sulat na nasabi ay ipinabatid ni Padre de Castro ang maiinam na asal ng tao na dapat sundin ng lahat, bata at matanda, babae at lalake, sa kanilang pakikipagkapwa-tao. Ipinalalagay ng marami na ang mga ugaling nasasaysay dito ay maringal na kailangang maging huwaran ng tunay na mga Pilipino at di dapat na ikahiya kahit na sa mga araw na ito.
Ang mga Pilipino ay hindi na nangangailangan ng isang Emily Post upang magturo sa kanila ng ukol sa pakikipagkapwa-tao, sapagkat mayroon na tayong isang Padre de Castro na nag-iwan sa atin ng mga gintong aral na dapat ugaliin ng mga Pilipino hindi lamang sa mga nakaraang araw kundi sa ngayon man at sa hinaharap. Urbana at Feliza (This book is about the exchange of letters between two ladies named Urbana and Felisa; and through these letters Fr.
Modesto de Castro made known the desirable behavior that everyone-young and old, women and men-should observe in dealing with other people well. It is thought by many that the ideal conduct described in this book should be emulated by Filipinos and should not be cause for embarrasment even in these days. Filipinos do not need an Emily Post to teach them good manners because we already have Father de Castro who left behind golden rules which Filipinos ought to follow not only then but even now and in the time to come.
For Alzona, de Castro's discourse contained all that was praiseworthy about the Filipinos' character and personality-respect for elders, their penchant for cleanliness, their fidelity to their vows, their circumspection and innate modesty. She argued that the behavior of the present generation of Filipinos-vulgar, loud, hypocritical-had been a reprehensible influence of American culture and did not therefore have roots in the indigenous way of life.
Writing when the process of Americanization had made inroads into the Flipino's psyche and behavior, Alzona saw Urbana at Felisa as a text to heighten the radical differences between the past, powerfully constructed in the book, and the present, shaped by American materialism. After close to four decades of American influence, the world of Urbana and Felisa was almost unrecognizable (see, for example Lardizabal 1959, 105-6; Robb 1963, 3246).
A similar view was put forward by Julian Cruz Balmaseda (1938, 1-11; all subsequent quotations from the text will be taken from this edition), a noted poet, fictionist and dramatist of the period, who in the Preface to the 1938 edition of Urbana at Felisa flatly stated: Sa panahong ito ang ating mga lipunan ay pinamamayanihan ng mga bagong ugali at pati ng mga batas sa loob ng tahanan ay nabago na rin at natatangay ng hagibis ng bagong kabihasnang hatid sa ating dalampasigan ng bagong panahon, ngayon, higit kailan man ay
kinakailangang pagbalikan natin ang lumang kahapon sa manakanaka; di upang tayo'y maghubad pa ng panibagong bihis na dulot sa atin ng mga bagong uri ng pagsasamahan, kundi upang salaminin man lamang ang tubig na hubog ng isang kaayaya at kabigha-bighaning kahapon. Ang pinagdanasan ang nagsulat sa aklat ng buhay ng ganitong mga Talata-"Ang hindi lumingon sa pinanggalingan/Di makararating sa paroroonan."(In these times when our societies are dominated by new patterns of behavior and when even laws governing the home have changed and been swept away by the winds buffeting our shores brought about by Western values, now, more than at any other time, there is a need to return to the past periodically. This is not to strip ourselves bare of new ways which we have donned in entering into new relationships, but to see mirrored in the waters glimpses of a beautiful and glorious past.
What we experienced is inscribed in the book of life thus: 'Those who fail to look back at the past/will never arrive at their destination. ") Like Alzona, Balmaseda appeared to mourn the death of what was perceived as good manners, especially among the youth who were enamoured of Western values which older Filipinos viewed as inimical to the people's interest and well-being. In both authors, Urbana at Felisa became a means to foster the indigenous and in the process infuse the book with an aura of nationalism.
It is clear that a nineteenthcentury text, canonized over the years, was being invoked to stem the systematic onslaught against traditional beliefs. Its importance must be stressed because the present, mesmerized by the mind-boggling influences from the West, was starting to ignore it. In a gesture, both evocative and defiant, the two voices of authority had set up Urbana at Felisa as a foil to the present with all its vagaries, confusion and unceasing and sometimes contradictory movements and processes.
At this historical juncture, deep into American colonization, the text was a weapon, a tool for those who wished to see the return to traditional values by those who had turned their backs on the past. In 1938, Urbana at Felisa was not merely a book of etiquette but a whole way of life presented as an alternative to the chaos and turmoil of a colonial society. The Context of Urbana at Felisa Almost a century after its initial publication, de Castro's Urbana at Felisa was, in the view of an influential sector in society, a text that possessed the power to shape the consciousness of the people.
From it could be extracted guidelines for daily living and to help correct the gross materalism society had fallen into. Offered to the reading public in 1938, the book was intended to be read/consumed by an audience several times removed from the moment and milieu in which it had originally emerged. As an object of formal study in URBANA AT FELISA the 1990s, Urbana at Felisa has now become much further removed from the original moment of production and consumption.
The question is: how does a contemporary reading approximate the rich meanings the text has generated through the years? 2 In this article, I would like to discuss the context and circumstances which determined the book's production, not to attempt to recuperate the text's intended meaning (the author as the source of meaning) nor to locate the meaning in the reader. This is an almost impossible feat. What I wish to do is to pinpoint the possible ideological underpinnings which shaped de Castro's work by examining the wide range of contexts which could have infuenced the author.
The following questions will be asked: Who was the producer of the text? Who was the text's intended/ideal reader? What were the historically specific and culturally rooted experiences explored in the text? What were the recurring strands that constituted certain structures of meaning in the text? What tentative conclusions can be derived regarding the relationship between de Castro's work and history? The Priest as Producer of the Text Modesto de Castro was a Filipino priest from Binyang in Laguna which was one of the richest provinces in Luzon.
It is said that he studied at Colegio de San Jose run by the Jesuits (Javellana 1994, 576). He became a parish priest in several places such as the Manila Cathedral and in Naic, Cavite. Considered a master of prose work, he wrote a number of books such as Pldsticas Doctrinales (1855,1864,1878), Exposicio'n de las Sietes Palabras, Collecciones de Semones en Tagalog, Novena de San Isidro en Tagalog, and Novena de San Pedro. It has been conceded, however, that Urbana at Felisa was his most popular and enduring work.
Modesto de Castro was first and foremost a priest and his writing was determined by his calling as God's minister. He was primarily a writer who dealt with ideas that constituted Christian beliefs. He was an individual who explored a language, bereft of power and prestige in a colonial society, in order to create a discourse that sought to reinforce and systematically strengthen the gains the Church had made by the second half of the nineteenth century (see, for example, Corpuz 1989,502-14; Constantino 1975,14045).
This power must be consolidated and protected from various threats from within and without located in other ideologiesboth suppressed and emergent-that could challenge the primacy of the Church and Spanish hegemony. Indeed, this author/priest should be seen as an influential voice not only within the structure of the Church but as importantly, within the structure of the lay community to whom his numerous texts were addressed. Modesto de Castro was unarguably vested with tremendous power and authority by virtue of his priesthood and his writing, the dissemination of which would further increase his power and influence.