Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Pepita Jiménez by Juan Valera is essentially a story about the human emotions in conflict with a religious calling. First, it should be noted that Juan Valera has a particular style in his literary work, which is the emphasis on aesthetics. Beauty and high artistic integrity is a recurring theme in Valera's collection of work. Pepita Jiménez is no different. The story involves a few main characters who all correspond with each other. The novel itself is formatted in an epistolary style, particularly in the usage of letters to offer the reader multiple perspectives. However, the two characters that are the heart of the story is the titular character, Pepita, and a young seminarian named Luis de Vargas.
It is important to note that the central figures of the narrative are two people, because the drama of the story lies in the conflict within a duality. In this case, the duality is human emotion and religious purity. As a young seminarian, Luis is getting ready for Catholic priesthood, and therefore he will not be allowed to participate in romantic and/or sexual relations with others.
However, when Luis meets the newly-widowed Pepita, his devoutness is challenged by the sudden passion he feels towards Pepita. In essence, the novel analyzes the tension between primal instincts (i.e. the natural desire for companionship and intimacy) and social constructs such as religion. It is seen as unnatural for humans—unless they are asexual, which is a rare phenomenon—to suppress human emotions and urges. After all, the human body is designed to procreate.
Valera, whether he intended to or not, dissects this contradiction between the flesh and the spirit, between mortal affairs and the journey towards the divine. Pepita herself is portrayed as a simple but lovely woman, and she exhibits the typical characteristics of beauty that artists and writers idealized at the time. This is in line with Valera's concerns about the nature of art. Pepita is essentially turned into a beautiful painting; the highest example of artistic value, but in literary form.