On the old man’s instructions, Daniel and Fermín finally locate Jacinta. She’s in very bad condition, but still remembers her beloved Penélope. They gain her trust by mentioning Father Fernando. Jacinta says that everyone has conspired to take Penélope away from her.
Although Jacinta is weak, she still has a strong desire to talk about her past. Characters who are willing to explore and analyze history are always helpful in resolving the events of the past and preventing them from repeating.
Another nested narrative begins, with Jacinta as the narrator. Jacinta grew up in Toledo, and as a child was plagued by nightmares due to a dangerous fever. A recurring figure in her dreams was Zacarías, an angel who smelled like sulfur. Zacarías accurately predicts deaths in her family, that Jacinta will never have children, and that her husband will leave her, which eventually turned out to be true.
Jacinta is the novel’s strongest proponent of the idea that all characters’ fates are predetermined. She asserts that destiny is real and active, anthropomorphized through the character of Zacarías. It’s important that for Jacinta, destiny has elements of good and evil; Zacarías has the appearance of an angel, but he smells like sulfur, a characteristic associated with the devil and hell.
Jacinta prayed fervently for God to grant her dearest wish, to become a mother. One day in church, Zacarías approached her in real life and whispered the word “Tibidabo,” at which point Jacinta had a vision that she would have a daughter without a man in her life and that she would find her in a city full of fantastica; buildings. Her parish priest listened to her account of the vision and said the city might be Barcelona, so Jacinta set off immediately.
It’s important that Zacarías appears to Jacinta in real life, as well as her dreams; this episode lends more credence to Jacinta’s theory that her life and the lives of those around her are determined by supernatural forces. Although she’s an elderly and weak woman, she’s so mentally astute and sympathetic that her ideas seem very credible. Notably, “Tibidabo” is the name of the Aldayas’ street, as Zacarías seems to predict Jacinta’s future residence.
In Barcelona, Jacinta eventually found work caring for the pregnant Mrs. Aldaya. Soon after, Jorge was born, and Jacinta cared for him, engrossing herself in the life of the family but still waiting expectantly for the promised daughter. Jacinta moved with the Aldayas to the cursed mansion, which she perceived to be inhabited by Zacarías but did not fear. When Penélope was born, Jacinta cared for her fiercely, especially given that Mrs. Aldaya was distant and aloof. Penélope grew up sharing all her secrets and thoughts with her nurse.
While most families (for example, the Aguilars) privilege sons above daughters, Jacinta provides Penélope the love that even her own mother can’t or won’t. Although they aren’t biologically related, this is one of the few untroubled relationships between a parent-figure and a child, and the only one that centers around women instead of men.
When Penélope became a beautiful teenager, she met Carax, and Jacinta noticed their immediate connection. Even though she recognized that Carax might be dangerous to her charge, Jacinta only desired what Penélope wanted, so she assisted their blossoming affair, passing notes between the young lovers.
Jacinta does differ from a parent in some ways. She’s blindly loyal to Penélope without trying to guide or control her as even a mild-mannered parent might. Moreover, believing that events like the young lovers’ “connection” are destined to occur, she watches them passively rather than trying to influence their course.
In order to see Penélope and be around her in the house, Carax began to feign an interest in banking and to behave exactly as Mr. Aldaya wanted him to. In doing so he felt he was fundamentally changing himself and might not be worthy of Penélope if he could ever obtain her.
The brief period when Carax conforms to Mr. Aldaya’s dogmatic mentorship is portrayed as a pretense that is deeply damaging to his sense of self. This is a direct contrast to Penélope and Jacinta’s relationship, which, if not perfect, is much more loving and equal.
Jacinta also noticed young Javier’s growing obsession with Penélope. One day he stole a photograph of the girl out of her purse, and weeks later he gave Jacinta a disturbing carved figure of Penélope as a gift. Jacinta became close with young Carax, chatting with him when she picked Jorge up from school and even telling him that she saw the licentious Mr. Aldaya chatting up Carax’s mother Sophie once.
While Javier’s behavior is certainly strange, he’s not terribly different from Carax, who also became enthralled with Penélope after a single meeting, slips her tokens through Jacinta, and deceives her family in order to be close to her. It’s interesting that Javier is labeled as dangerously obsessive while Carax is merely gripped by passion.
Meanwhile, Sophie disliked Carax’s increasing absorption into the Aldaya family and growing distance from his own. Fortuny was deeply bitter about this as well, and one day presented himself at Mr. Aldaya’s office to reclaim his son and demand the Aldayas relinquish their hold on him, but Mr. Aldaya only laughed scornfully. Afterwards, Mr. Aldaya blacklisted Fortuny’s shop among his wealthy friends and the business declined sharply.
The difference between Sophie’s and Fortuny’s reactions is important. While Sophie is sad that her relationship with Carax is growing distant, Fortuny is just angry that he’s losing control over his son. Thus, his protest to Mr. Aldaya seems petulant and his resulting business failure fitting.
Mr. Aldaya organized a huge party for Jorge’s eighteenth birthday, to which Carax insisted Javier be invited. Javier declined the invitation, feeling he would be out of place among the wealthy guests, but his status-seeking mother humiliated her son by dressing him up in a sailor suit and dragging him to the party. Skeptical of their appearance, the guards kicked them out of the house while the other guests laughed. At the peak of his humiliation, Javier spied Carax and Penélope kissing against a window.
Carax is unmoved by Mr. Aldaya’s determination to show off his wealth and status. He doesn’t care that he’s not getting a lavish birthday party, and even ensures that the school outcast is invited. His empathy and disdain for power set him apart from other male characters, especially Javier, who is bent on establishing himself as traditionally masculine. He’s thwarted many times at the birthday party: when his mother treats him like a little boy instead of a man, when the other guests refuse to acknowledge him as a young man of their own social circle, and when he sees the object of his affection “possessed” by another man.
The next day, Javier brought a gun to school and attempted to shoot Carax, who was only saved because Miquel jumped on Javier and took away the gun.
Javier’s attempt to murder Carax is an aggressive, hyper-masculine reaction to what he interprets as many characters’ attempts to reduce his masculinity and agency or take them away entirely.
By this time, graduation was approaching. Mr. Aldaya planned to initiate Carax into his firm, while Fortuny plotted to send him to the military out of spite. Carax was too preoccupied with Penélope to think about the future. He was also worried to discover that Sophie sometimes met secretly with Mr. Aldaya, although Mr. Aldaya claimed it was only to consult about Carax’s future.
Although Fortuny and Mr. Aldaya both have plans for Carax, neither have his best interests at heart. Fortuny seeks to punish his son for disloyalty, while Mr. Aldaya plans to reward him for conforming to his wishes. Both men’s egos have corrupted their relationships with a boy they profess to think of as a son.
Miquel encouraged Carax to elope with Penélope and offered to finance the venture, planning a detailed escape to Paris. After finalizing the plans, Carax hurried to tell Penélope, who agreed immediately. The only problem was that they had to deceive Jacinta, who would be too worried to go along with the plan.
In the elopement plan, the men are active while the women are passive. Miquel has more of a role than Penélope, although it’s her life in question. Despite her loyalty to Penélope, Jacinta is so resistant to action and disturbance that they have to keep her out of the loop entirely.
Afterwards, Penélope and Carax had sex on the floor of Jacinta’s room, only to be discovered by Mrs. Aldaya. Carax had to flee the house and wait for the Aldayas to take action. For days nothing happened, and he believed Mrs. Aldaya may have kept the secret, but one day he was summarily expelled from San Gabriel’s. Returning home, Carax saw Mr. Aldaya’s car leaving his family’s apartment building.
It’s notable that both Penélope and Carax and Daniel and Bea consummate their forbidden relationships in the same house. Besides establishing another parallel in the lives of the two men, it’s a foreboding sign for Daniel’s love story, since Carax was discovered and immediately separated from his lover.
Inside, Sophie told him that now Mr. Aldaya was cooperating with Fortuny to dispatch Carax to the army, and that he must flee immediately. On Saturday, Carax went to the train station where he’d promised to meet Penélope, but she never arrived. Miquel promised to keep him abreast of any developments and exhorted him to write books in honor of Penélope.
Mr. Aldaya’s immediate disavowal of Carax after discovering the affair shows how flimsy their relationship always was—it was always motivated by the elder man’s desire to exercise power and control rather than any genuine love for the boy he mentored.
As it turns out, Mrs. Aldaya had confined Penélope to the house and told her husband everything. Mr. Aldaya was so angry that the servants said he was “possessed by all the devils in hell.” He summarily fired Jacinta, forcing her to leave the house where she had lived for so many years without even saying goodbye to Penélope. Later, Mr. Aldaya pulled some strings to have Jacinta locked in a mental asylum for a few years. By the time she was released, the house was abandoned and the Aldayas had disappeared without a trace. After finishing the story, Jacinta begins to sob, and Fermín comforts her.
Mr. Aldaya is described as being possessed by demonic forces, and here he acts unequivocally evil, unlike Zacarías, the devil of Jacinta’s visions, who is neutral and sometimes helpful. Mr. Aldaya shows that humans can be much more villainous than the supernatural entities to whom they attribute blame for their behavior.
Daniel and Fermín leave the hospice in a hurry, planning to regroup in a café, but they are soon stopped on the road by two thugs and Inspector Fumero. Fumero warns that they are behaving dangerously by poking around the hospice, and threatens to torture Daniel if Fermín doesn’t reveal exactly what they were doing. Fermín taunts the inspector, and then Fumero beats him up while the other policemen “laugh dutifully.” Daniel recognizes one of them as the man he saw days before in the café and on the bus. When Fumero finally departs, Daniel rushes to revive Fermín, who insists on being taken to die in Bernarda’s arms.
With his ever-present henchmen, uncanny knowledge of Daniel’s whereabouts, and habit of popping up in everyone’s past, Fumero seems distinctly demonic, although he’s very much rooted in the real world and the evils of humanity. In this way, he resembles Mr. Aldaya. Devilish or evil-seeming characters can often be more benign than they seem, while supposedly “good” characters can be much more menacing.