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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The Old Storyteller

The old storyteller sets up this frame narrative by explaining her background and the significance of oral tradition. She was trained in storytelling by her grandmother, and her grandmother was trained by her own grandmother. So, in effect, the old woman narrates, she has become one with the stories of her heritage:

I am most highly honored because I have told stories for two hundred years.

Her grandmother has trained her to be fiercely loyal to the story that needs to be told and to offer no explanations; in the end, the "silence will speak." Each listener will create meaning from their own experience. For a storyteller to provide meaning is to rob the listener of their own blank page, the need to create their own story. The old woman speaks indirectly, giggling at her own antics. She is comfortable in her abilities and confident in her message. And then she leads into her story, disappearing from the plot itself.

The Carmelite Sisters

The Carmelite order to which the sisters in the old woman's tale belong has existed for hundreds of years and has transformed over time. The order once consisted of many noblewomen and thus had much money; it is reported that many miracles once took place at the convent. However, over time, "highborn ladies grew less keen on fasting and prayer," and now only a few humble sisters live in the remains of their former grandeur.

These sisters have been tasked with growing the finest flax and producing the most luxurious linens in Portugal. These linens are given to princesses to use on their wedding nights and are then displayed in the convent. These women display the creativity of the female spirit. From their own hands, they plant seeds that will become a visual canvas to represent the evidence of a princess's virtue. They take pride in the creation of this canvas and the story it will tell. Women have the power to create together, to create the blank page for each other, and to honor the stories of other women.

The Princess of the Blank Canvas

This character is intentionally left a great mystery. Who was she? Why is her story not told? Did she choose to remain unmarried? Did she die on her wedding night? Did the linens prove her unchaste? This blank canvas with the unwritten tale is what captivates women as they stand before it, and they are thus free to allow this blank canvas to weave together stories in their own minds. The power of storytelling is ultimately demonstrated by a mysterious character who is given no story at all.

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