Living in sin?
Jose Rizal and Josephine Bracken living outside of marriage surely kept the “Maritess” of their time busy and wide awake in the sleepy town of Dapitan, Zamboanga del Norte. After all, Rizal and Josephine were, in the eyes of the pious and judgmental, “living in sin.” So scandalous was their union that at some point Rizal had to explain the situation to his mother—in writing on Jan. 15, 1896:
“You will receive a small quantity of salted fish prepared by the person who lives at my home. She is good, obedient, and submissive. All that we lack is to be married; but, as you yourself say, ‘it is better to be in the grace of God than married in mortal sin.’ Until now we have not quarreled and when I advise her, she does not answer back. If you come and live with her, I hope you will get along with her. Moreover, she has nobody else in the world but me. I’m all her kindred.”
On the same day he wrote a letter to his younger sister Trinidad and declared that he would devote the rest of his life to his parents, sisters, and brother. Rizal was looking forward to his two spinster sisters Trinidad and Josefa joining him in Dapitan. However, due to his living arrangements with Josephine an explanation and the ground rules were clearly spelled out as follows:
“If you want to come, I shall be very glad; but think it over well. You know how I live and who is with me. I assure you that you will not find any one here who will seek quarrels; here all live in peace. If you approve of my present condition, very well. Miss J. is better than her reputation, and since she has been staying with me, her little defects are being corrected.
“She is meek and obedient, and not hardheaded; besides she has a good heart. What we only need is to pay a curate, that is to say, that it is not necessary to us. Until now, we have not quarreled; we are always gay, jesting. The public can say that it is a scandal; without doubt it is. It is very scandalous to live better than many married people. We work and are contented. She will do everything to be your friend, but what will people say? If you come and you do not want to live at my home, you can open a store in the town. The house of Capitán Andres, of wood with a large lot, the best in the town, will be at your disposal. You can open a store upstairs, but it you want to come, it is better to consult with our parents.”
Rizal’s letters from Dapitan in 1896 painted Josephine as a domesticated woman who knew how to cook Filipino food and make salted fish, how to sew, and how to take care of the sons of Lucia and the son of Maria who called her “Auntie.” In reply to a letter from Trinidad, that is not extant, Rizal advised her to remain single: “I believe that you are right in not marrying; the most fortunate woman has to suffer for her husband and risks the danger of dying from giving birth. It is better not to marry.”
Rizal’s entreaties fell on deaf ears and with the exception of Francisco Mercado and Narcisa the rest of the family did not approve of the relationship. Their displeasure prompted Josephine to leave the Rizal home in Trozo, and break up with “Joe”:
“Ah; my dear I am suffering a great deal with them in Trozo, it is quite true they ought to be ashamed of me as they say in my face and in Presenance of Sra. Narcisa and their children because I am not married to you. So if you heare that I don’t go to Trozo any more don’t be surprized, if you like me to send all your things on board of the man of war I can do so. If you go to Spain you see any one of your fancy you better marry her, but dear heare me better marry than to live like who we have been doing. I am ashamed to let people know my life with you but as your dear Sisters are ashamed I think you had better get married to some one else. [Your] Sister Narcisa and [your] Father they are very good and kind to me.”
Rizal’s correspondence makes for engaging reading, particularly Josephine’s unusual grammar and spelling retained above from the original. Their story did not have a happy ending yet Josephine is immortalized in Rizal’s valedictory poem, “Mi Ultimo Adios,” when he bid her: “Farewell sweet stranger, my darling, my delight” (Adios dulce extranjera, mi amiga, mi alegria).
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