Looking Back

Rizal and Josephine outside of marriage

/ 12:50 AM February 19, 2016

The reaction to my Valentine’s Day column on Jose Rizal and Josephine Bracken was quite encouraging because people want to know more about their relationship. I often wish that Filipinos would be as interested in Rizal’s writings as they are in his love life, but that is probably demanding too much. Some people were shocked at the way Rizal described Josephine’s learning of domestic chores—like darning his socks, minding his nephews, or making bagoong—because these seem out of tune with the modern Filipino woman. After reading Rizal’s glowing description of Josephine’s talents, someone asked if he wanted a wife or a domestic helper.

One must not forget that Rizal grew up in a house full of women. He was the seventh child in a brood of 11; he only had one elder brother, Paciano, and nine sisters: Saturnina, Narcisa, Olimpia, Lucia, Maria, Concepcion, Josefa, Trinidad and Soledad. Add to this mix a strong mother, Teodora Alonso, and equally strong-willed elder sisters he had to address politely as “ñora” (short for “señora”)—and it may explain why the docile Josephine was a natural companion during his Dapitan exile.


Their relationship was not easy because Rizal’s mother did not approve of the fact that they were living together outside of marriage. Josephine tried to leave him once in 1895 and again in 1896. She wrote to him while he was imprisoned on board the ship Castilla moored on Manila Bay shortly before the outbreak of the Philippine Revolution against Spain that would, in part, be blamed on him. In the letter dated Aug. 13, 1896, Josephine says:

“My dear Joe,


“This morning at half past eight Sra. Narcisa received a letter from you, I am very sorry that I have made a mistake of your [clothing,] not sending your pants and waistcoat, but as you said you are not in great need of it. I only send you some more collars and cuffs. You ask in your letter for mangoes, cheese, tyrines and some lansones. I hope I can fulfill your wishes in sending the things, mangoes I am sure I can send to you, but the other things I am not very sure. Yet we send Antonio to see if we can get the cheese, lansones and tyrines.”

After the catalogue of requests, she states her difficulty with Rizal’s family and says she is breaking off their relationship:

“Ah; my dear, I am suffering a great deal with them in Trozo (house of  Teodora Alonso), it is quite true they ought to be ashamed of me as they say in my face & in the presence of Sra. Narcisa & their children because I am not married to you. So if you hear that I don’t go to Trozo any more don’t be surprised. 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 [and] you see any one of your fancy you better marry her, but dear, hear me, better marry than to like what 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. Yours Affect. Josephine Bracken.”

In a postscript she adds that she will send foie gras, cheese and 100 sweet santol, saying: “If you are not ashamed of me alright the same.”

Then, on Aug. 17, 1896, Josephine writes:

“My darling Love,

“I received your most kind and most welcomed letter dated the 10th Wednesday. I am very much surprised not hearing anything about if you have received the three tyrines of foie gras: well! Perhaps you have not received any other letters that I have written to you. I went to the Governor General today but unfortunately he is laid up with a severe cold but his aide came [and] told me to go back in three days to receive an answer from him.


“Dear I would like very much to go with your dear family, but; you know what I have written to you, I would like to go alone, so I can speak to you better for in your family’s presence we [can’t] be very free to each other.

“I know my dear it breaks my heart to go and bid you good bye! But! Dear what can I do; than to suffer until the Good God brings you back to me again? Your sister Choling came to visit me yesterday and she wants to give me her daughter Maria Luisa… [S]he says she had great confidence in me, well I told her for my part I am quite willing, and satisfied but I have to communicate with [you] first if you are willing, I have also many pupils about fifteen three dollars each and I am also studying Piano 4$ a month in Sra. Maria’s house one of my pupil, Dear. I have to do something like that because I am always sorry thinking of you oh! Dear how I miss you. I will always be good & faithful to you, and also do good to my companions so that the good God will bring you back to me. I will try all my best to be good to your family especially to your dear old parents ‘the hands that we cannot cut lift it up and kiss it or adore the hand that gives the blow’ How it made the tears [flow] in my eyes when I read those few lines of you. Say darling say it makes me think of our dear old hut in Dapitan and the many sweet [hours] we have passed there.

“Love I will love you ever, love I will leave thee never, ever precious to thee never to part heart bound to heart or never to say good bye. So my darling receive many warm Affection and love. From Your Ever faithful and True till death Josephine Bracken.”

It’s a pity that we learn about Rizal only through textbooks and hearsay, because he left 25 volumes of writings for a nation that does not read him.

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 Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: Jose Rizal, Josephine Bracken, Marriage, Valentine’s Day
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