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The House of the Spirits

Isabel Allende

Chapter 3, Clara the Clairvoyant

Chapter 2, The Three Marias

Chapter 3, Clara the Clairvoyant, page 2

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Severo and Nivea call in all sorts of doctors to find out why Clara has stopped talking. Doctor Cuevas is unsuccessful. The Rumanian Rostipov, who peddles all sort of magical cures, is called in to examine her. Rostipov determines that Clara's only problem is that she does not want to speak. Nana then decides that the best cure would be to frighten Clara so much that she is forced to cry out for help. Over the ensuing nine years, Nana invents a countless number of disguises and traps to try to scare Clara into talking. Nana only succeeds in turning Barrabas into a nervous wreck.

Clara's muteness forces her to be removed from school and taught at home. She is an avid reader and begins a lifelong practice of filling "innumerable notebooks with her private observations". She also carries a chalkboard with her through which she communicates. Once Honorio the gardener tells Clara a dream he has had, which she interprets successfully, helping him to win eighty pesos gambling. The news circulates and soon everyone is asking Clara to interpret their dreams. Instead of losing her abilities as she gets older, as Nana had predicted, Clara becomes more clairvoyant. She predicts deaths and natural disasters, reads cards, and plays the piano with the cover down. Severo dislikes his daughter's eccentricities and forbids her to use her powers, but this only increases her activities until Nivea steps in and gives her free reign. Clara accompanies Nivea in all of her daily activities, from sewing to suffragette protests. In Clara's silence, Nivea tells her countless stories about the family. On her nineteenth birthday, Clara announces that she will soon be married to Rosa's fiancé. Everyone is so amazed that she has begun speaking again that they pay little attention to her prediction.

Esteban arrives home to find the house falling apart and Ferula greatly aged and embittered, but he is still in time to say goodbye to his mother Dona Ester. Dona Ester tells Esteban that she will die in peace if she knows he is going to settle down and get married. Esteban promises his mother that he will do as she wishes. While he is at the del Valle house looking for a bride, Dona Ester dies.

When Esteban asks Severo and Nivea if they have any daughters "of marriageable age and condition," they have only Clara to offer him. They warn him of all of Clara's eccentricities. Esteban concludes "that none of these things posed any obstacle to bringing healthy, legitimate children into the world" and asks to meet Clara. Esteban likes Clara but is awkward and shy around her. At the end of that first meeting, Clara asks Esteban if he wants to marry her. He does, overjoyed that such a young, beautiful girl would fall in love with him on first sight. Esteban does not know that Clara does not agree to marry him out of love, but in accordance with what she has seen of her own destiny. Esteban and Clara court for a few months and become officially engaged. During the engagement party, someone stabs Barrabas in the back. He staggers to Clara and dies in her lap, precipitating a quick end to the festivities.

In the following year, Clara's family prepares her trousseau, and Esteban builds what everyone calls "the big house on the corner," as their home in the city. Ferula learns to her great joy that Clara is incompetent in the domestic sphere, and informs Esteban that she ought to live with them. Esteban neither objects nor agrees, prompting Ferula to go straight to Clara. Before Ferula even raises the subject, Clara assures her that not only will Ferula live with the newlyweds, but the two women will live like sisters. Ferula is incredibly moved, and a deep friendship is established between the two women.

As soon as the big house on the corner is completed, Esteban and Clara are married. During their three month honeymoon in Italy, Esteban falls ever more desperately in love with Clara. At the same time, he realizes that she does not really belong to him. Shortly after they settle down in the city, everyone knows that Clara is pregnant. Ferula cares for Clara much as Nana had when she lived at home.

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