—47→ —48→ —49→
The critics have generally tended to explain La de Bringas as a novel about «Rosalía's moral degradation»91 or even to extrapolate this interpretation to impose upon Rosalía Bringas the burden of symbolizing the Isabeline monarchy, and by extension, the entire spectrum of Spanish society.92 Such an interpretation leaves no room for explaining the Revolution of 1868 as anything more than a momentary aberration, a wrinkle in the whole cloth of history. But if we read the ending carefully, it is difficult to see the same kind of symbolic relationship between Rosalía's infidelity and the fall of Isabel II, and the parabolic symbolism of La desheredada in which Isidora's first step down the road to prostitution coincides with the historical moment and place of Prim's assassination.93
At the beginning of Tormento, the narrator informs us that the history of the Bringas family (and Amparo) is being written sixteen years later, a decade after the Restoration. And he insists that «la variación en diez y seis años no ha sido muy grande» (p. 20).94 We can therefore legitimately interpret Tormento and La de Bringas as a critique of both Isabeline and Restoration society. The glimpse of the future which the narrator provides permits us to know that it is Bringas, not his wife, who will fail to survive the Revolution. Rosalía, on the contrary, having profited by her experience with Manuel Pez, in wisdom if not in hard coin, eagerly anticipates the social upheaval brought on by the overthrow of the monarchy:
Still, Rosalía' ability to adapt to revolutionary times does not mean that she is a symbol of the revolution, any more than she is a symbol of the corrupt Isabeline monarchy, although she certainly shares in common with its court-followers their love of status and ostentation as well as their moral and intellectual vacuity. It is only possible to interpret Rosalía Bringas as a symbol by disregarding all of the important nuances in her specific history and in the process reducing this history to a hackneyed imitation of the tale of the adulterous wife -the theme that so obsessed the great nineteenth-century novelists and their reading public.
Rosalía Bringas has been indicted as the main, if not the sole villain in a world that nevertheless abounds with singularly unappealing characters. Montesinos calls her «una mujer odiosa, la más odiosa que quizás inventara Galdós».95 And Joaquín Casalduero, although certainly more charitable, maintains —50→ that she fails in «todos sus deberes de madre, de esposa».96 Much of this censure results from an uncritical acceptance of her husband by the critics as a man who embodies the domestic virtues and who is perceived as a victim of his wife's unseemly love for finery and status. In addition, Rosalía commits the unpardonable sin of cuckolding her husband, not, like the great heroines of Tolstoy and Stendhal, for passion, but for profit.
But in order to perceive the husband as victim, the reader must accept uncritically Francisco Bringas' exercise of authority in the home. The relationship between Bringas and his wife mirrors the paternalistic authoritarian model envisaged by Manuel Pez as the ideal relationship between the state and the people (p. 177). Their domestic world is a microcosm of bureaucratic proliferation as Rosalía tries to obey «las prolijas reglas que afluían sin cesar de aquel inagotable manantial de legislación doméstica» (p. 174).
Bringas is not, however, an exception to a generally more tolerant rule. He is merely conforming to the patriarchal customs current during the nineteenth century. According to one historian:
[...] the one-family household was both a patriarchal autocracy and a microcosm of the sort of society which the bourgeoisie as a class (or its theoretical spokesmen) denounced and destroyed: a hierarchy of personal dependence.97
The rhetoric of the period emphasized the wife's authority in the home and her spiritual function in creating an atmosphere of peace and harmony, but the moral authority of the «ángel del hogar» did not traditionally include a participation in material decisions. Bringas' iron control over household expenditures -«aquella soberana función, que es el atributo más claro de la autoridad doméstica» (p. 166)- is reinforced by a daily routine of relentless investigation into his wife's managerial practices.
In order to maintain his position of absolute authority during his illness, Bringas converts his customary scoldings into a public chastisement of Rosalía's faults:
[...] mandábala venir a su presencia, y allí, con ademanes, ya que no con miradas de juez inexorable, hacía pública ostentación (solía estar presente Torres o algún otro amigo) de su soberanía doméstica.
By punishing his wife in front of his friends, Bringas draws his own map of private and public domains. The exercise of authority over his wife in their home is shared with his intimate friends at the expense of his wife's need to be respected by their mutual acquaintances, and, of course, negates the function of the home as Rosalía's private refuge from the officious vigilance of «el qué dirán». The luxury of privacy, then, is not only a question of class and the economic power needed to gain access to privately controlled physical space; it is also a question of male-female relationships of power and dependency within the institution of the family.
Like the criminal who flees the authority of the police, Rosalía contrives to live a clandestine life, evading her husband's importunate surveillance, But unlike the recourses of the public criminal, within the physical and social confines of matrimony, the only sure evasive tactic is systematic hypocrisy:—51→
Since Galdós is careful to provide us with an abundance of monetary facts, we are able to evaluate fairly precisely the family's economic limitations by measuring Bringas' salary against a variety of socio-economic yardsticks. In Tormento, we learn that Bringas earns 20,000 reales (p. 29), more than three times the 6,000 earned by the nightwatchmen and streetcleaners (p. 198), but less than half the 50,000 reales enjoyed by the prosperous Manuel Pez (p. 155). More revealing are the figures found in the column of expenditures. Milagros Tellerías owes 10,000 reales for an intimate supper party, 2,000 to her dressmaker for one gown (not including the fabric) and 1,500 for its trim (p. 158).98
It is within this explicit social context that Rosalía, accompanied by her friend the Marquesa, falls from grace in the shop of Sobrino Hermanos and purchases (on credit) a Parisian cape of velvet and corduroy worth 1,700 reales or approaching 8-1/2% of the family's yearly cash income. This incident occurs early in the novel (Chapter X), and Galdós' masterful description of the act of purchase illuminates many of the emotional elements inherent in the relationship of the consumer with any expensive commodity.
First of all, the purchase of the cape has been preceded by a habit of virtuous economy sustained under duress and experienced as constant and painful deprivation. This feeling of deprivation has been heightened by the custom of shopping with an apparently wealthy friend whose authoritative manner with the shop attendants awes the timid Rosalía much in the same way that Manuel Pez's voice and attire seduce her with their insinuation of power. But if Rosalía is eager to look up to the mighty bureaucrat, she is just as eager to consider herself on an equal footing with the Marquesa.
She can demonstrate her equality by imitating the Marquesa's extraordinary power to satisfy her caprices to command the attention of servile attendants, to sign her name with a flourish to enormous bills, to say, at least once, «I think I'll take it», to say yes. The intensity of her desire to possess the fabulous cape elevates her to a state of exquisite physical sensibility:
Rosalía hubo de sentir frío en el pecho, ardor en las sienes, y en sus hombros los nervios le surgieron tan al vivo la sensación del contacto y peso de la manteleta, que creyó llevarla puesta.
The first shy kiss of two impassioned lovers could not be more erotic.
The narrator-commentator explains Rosalía's passion for trapos in accordance with the folklore of the period, that most women -for there are few «good» women- are born with an instinct for adornment that necessitates some form of external repression, since women are not capable of controlling themselves.99 One taste of the forbidden fruit, and «adiós modestia» (p. 141). But Galdós structures his novel so as to gainsay the superficial and forced explanation that Rosalía's dormant passion is awakened by the gratuitous inheritance of Amparo's lush dowry (p. 119).—52→
Rosalía's gowns and finery -«aquellos pedazos de su corazón» (p. 161)- receive the attention and affection she cannot feel for her husband who has given her four children without engendering much less satisfying any sexual desire:
In effect, we are given a clear picture of what was considered the optimal relationship of a typical marriage of the period, in which the couple are bound together by economic necessity, love for their children and, in the absence of sexual desire, at least some form of respect or affection born of habit and shared experiences.100
Rosalía's wardrobe is more than a substitution for sexual fulfillment, however. Her finery is also a visible manifestation of a new and precarious albeit secretly experienced autonomy. In addition, each dress, each bonnet is a tangible link to her friend Milagros, proof that the much cherished intimacy with the aristocratic lady does indeed exist.
Until the moment when Rosalía gains access to the family treasure, her plan of emancipation from her husband's tutelage is limited to vague feelings of dissatisfaction accompanied by even stronger feelings of guilt. Her growing intimacy with Pez and her role as his «paño de lágrimas» (p. 180) is kept within the boundaries of decorum, but she is sufficiently uneasy about their relationship to lie automatically to her husband, representing Pez's frequent visits to the house as a burdensome social obligation performed only to oblige her busband. (Insists Bringas: «Es preciso oír con paciencia todo lo que Pez nos quiera contar...» And the narrator informs us with consummate irony: «Hizo, al fin, Rosalía lo que su esposo le ordenaba» [p. 180].)
The circumstances which permit Rosalía to penetrate the mysteries of the strongbox are very important to out understanding of the novel as a whole because they constitute a documented confutation of the naturalistic reading that interprets the sequence of events as a progressive and inexorable tale of moral degeneration. Unlike Emma Bovary or Rosamond Vincy in Middlemarch, who are capable of destroying their husbands with a terrifying attitude of laissez faire, Rosalía Bringas oscillates between a desire to satisfy her own ambitions, and the guilty realization that her husband has provided for her and the children to the best of his ability, and in fact, has provided a stable and secure family environment almost exceptional among her beleaguered acquaintances:
When Bringas suffers a relapse, Rosalía is filled with genuine pity and concern. This reversal of fortune acts to bring out the best in her character and she dedicates herself night and day to her husband's comfort. It is this —53→ demonstration of tenderness which inspires Bringas to turn over to her the key to the money box.
Galdós has by now built up a great deal of suspense, and the reader is not defrauded. We find that Bringas has scraped together over the years more than 20,000 reales, the equivalent of one year's salary. Rosalía can now consider how she might effectively exert some semblance of control over her own and her family's destiny. Although she still feels the effect of long years of submission, her husband's unaccustomed praise and her own belief that she could manage more productively their communal property combine to rationalize the loan of 5,000 reales to her friend, the Marquesa.
At this point, Galdós moves definitively away from what might have been a Zolaesque treatment of women's fascination for «el lujo». Unlike the fatal trajectory of events in L'Assomoir or Nana, Rosalía's plunge into the world of conspicuous consumption -her purchase of the cape- had not been followed by ever more expensive or numerous purchases. Rather she had attempted, by robbing Peter to pay Paul, to incorporate the purchase into a more or less realistically calculated assessment of the family's financial situation.
Her loan to Milagros Tellería satisfies Rosalía's entrepreneurial ambitions because it enables her to enter into the public sphere through the door of what she perceives as capital investment, a door generally reserved for males, rather than the traditional side-entrance for middle-class women -the nonproductive and therefore passive role of consumer. In addition, by granting her friend this favor she attempts to bind Milagros to her with the shackles of obligation, first and necessary step in the exploitation of friendship for profit. When Milagros defaults on her loan, and Rosalía turns to the great Pez to save her from the coils of Torquemada, the novel becomes a veritable comedy of errors. Rosalía had not understood that a profitable return on her loan required the sine qua non of the borrower's solvency. It hadn't occurred to her to check Milagros' credit rating. Similarly, when she solicits a «loan» from Pez after putting down the necessary collateral, she not only takes it for granted that he will be glad to reward her for the privilege of bedding a lady with such aristocratic ties; it also never occurs to her that she may be nothing more than an additional pearl in a professional Don Juan's long string of conquests.
But it is Pez himself who gives us the last laugh, for he possesses every Don Juan's Achilles heel, a naive and smug belief in his own seductive charm that blinds him to the possibility that he can be exploited by women, just as he exploits them: «Él, no obstante ser muy experto, contaba más con la fuerza de sus gracias personales que con otro medio de combate» (p. 193). Pez does not understand that it is the masculine «protector» that attracts Rosalía, his power, not his person (p. 193). Lest we tend to sympathize with Pez as victim of Rosalía's maiden voyage into the demi monde of the professional courtesan, the narrator recounts to us a conversation in which Pez discusses the progress of his pursuit, shrewdly describing Rosalía as a woman who is sexually underdeveloped, whose reserves of passion are spent on fashion, not men: «Dijo... que era como los toros, que acuden más al trapo que al hombre» (p. 193).—54→
Since Rosalía's obsession with dress is not motivated solely by a desire to experience gratuitous pleasure, it comes as no surprise that she does not plunder the domestic treasury when she does gain control. Her obsession is a result of her awareness that social status is defined by the capacity to conform to a standard of fashionable decorum -«juzgaba que su decoro y el contacto con altas personas le imponían deberes ineludibles» (p. 154). Class status permits access to power, which is, in turn, the prerequisite for entering into the game of power. Dress is therefore a necessary investment for this woman who longs to play «the woman behind the man», seeing in Manuel Pez a possible Bonaparte to her Josephine (p. 155).
Prevented by both her sex and by economic circumstances from entering directly into the process of creating wealth, Rosalía has developed the inevitable characteristic of the ambitious and insecure social climber. Throughout the novel, each of her mistakes can ultimately be traced to the fact that Rosalía Bringas is a snob. In the words of Virginia Woolf:
The essence of snobbery is that you wish to impress other people. The snob is a flutter-brained, hare-brained creature so little satisfied with his or her own standing that in order to consolidate it he or she is always flourishing a title or an honour in other people's faces so that they may believe and help him to believe what he does not really believe -that she or he is somehow a person of importance.101
Rosalía's snobbery manifests itself as arrogant disdain towards her supposed inferiors.102 Inevitably, this disdain is linked to a servile worship of rank and authority. The Marquesa is able to exploit Rosalía because she understands that snobbery is a form of emotional bondage. She understands well the value Rosalía places upon their friendship.
Part of the process by which the elite creates and maintains class consciousness is through the privatization of social existence. The most obvious form of this privatization is the social function in the home. Even though the Marquesa may serve only the shank end of the ham, Rosalía is flattered by an invitation to her soirée. The fact that the Marquesa confides to her the Machiavellian machinations that enable Milagros to place the supper upon the table only intensifies Rosalía's sense of belonging.
But the power to carve out privatized social space only begins with the private home. Of even greater importance to the arriviste mentality is the ability to penetrate the sacred space appropriated by the privileged from the public domain. The custom of buying season tickets to the theatre, for example, guarantees permanent access to a public function, but more important, assures a separation between the private box and the public gallery. The enjoyment of the private theatre box is derived from the existence of the people in the gallery. Their location at a distance from the privatized space is testimony to the elite of whom they are not, and therefore reassures them of who they are.
Galdós criticizes the pretenses of Madrid's middle class in Tormento by creating his own model of bourgeois virtue, Agustín Caballero, who condemns the practice of theatre subscriptions as «una inmoralidad, la negación del hogar...» (p. 81). The bourgeois ideal of domesticity is a standard of comfort that prefers «lo útil a lo brillante» (p. 75) -consumption for personal use —55→ rather than the aristocratic tradition of consumption to enhance public status. In Madrid, the underdevelopment of an authentic and autonomous bourgeoisie manifests itself in the syndrome of «querer y no poder» and the consumption of endless cocidos in order to finance the outer appearance of respectability.
The sacrifice of the children's diet, health and general welfare on the altar of fashion -a constant theme in Galdós' novels- is in turn a reflection of the underdevelopment of the values inherent in the ideology of the child-oriented bourgeois family. The essence of the bourgeois domestic ideal lies in the social autonomy of the nuclear family unit, structured around the importance of the child's physical and moral education.
Manifestly absent in the Bringas household is any concept of the emotional satisfaction to be derived from «a quiet evening at home with the family». In Tormento, Rosalía's description of their flat on the Costanilla de los Angeles is «un coche parado» (p. 19), a metaphor that expresses succinctly her social aspirations -to live in the public eye, but effectively protected from the lower class by privilege, symbolized in the private and exclusive space of the upper-class carriage.
Galdós brings into comic relief the historic inadequacy of Madrid's hybrid elite in the scene towards the end of Tormento in which Bringas discovers that the sacred Royal Palace has been violated by sinister forces that have dared to abscond with his brand-new overcoat. «Parece mentira que cierta clase de gente se meta en esas solemnidades augustas» (p. 118), he complains.
The lack of definitive class contours inevitably results in a precarious and unstable process for defining privileged status through the exclusion of «outsiders», i.e., the pueblo, the masas, the lower classes. During the tedious heat of the long Madrid summer, the aristocracy and the haute-bourgeoisie abandon the city, and Rosalía's solitude becomes the prison of isolation as the streets are reappropriated by the lower class:
The pueblo -like the «noble worker», the «noble savage» of the «ángel del hogar»- can only be idealized from the safe distance of a secure status of privilege. The distinction between civilization and barbarism is a class distinction. Rosalía pulls back her skirts in horror, for her sense of class identity has dissipated, has been overwhelmed by the commanding presence of the lower classes. Madrid, without her circle of friends to vindicate her place in society, is Africa.
Her desperation grows with the tedium of reclusion together with her determination to maintain her social pretensions, and a terror of returning to the ancien régime of «los principios Bringuísticos» -«el rancio sistema de un trapito atrás y otro delante, y las infinitas metamorfosis del vestido melocotón...» (p. 206).
But before Rosalía can offer herself to her potential savoir, Manuel Pez, she must make the moral adjustment that comes with placing oneself on the —56→ market. She learns to penetrate the façade of appearance and to calculate the worth of her male acquaintances in the only true measure of value, hard cash (p. 205).103 Two additional lessons must be learned in order to prepare herself for her new career. She must give up the romantic ideal of the male protector in order to avoid the emotional involvement that might lead to her own exploitation. Pez teaches her this lesson: «¡Qué hombres! Ella había tenido la ilusión de figurarse a algunos con proporciones caballerescas... Ignominia grande era venderse; pero ¡darse de balde!...» (p. 211). And we can assume from the concluding hints of the narrator that Rosalía has learned her second necessary lesson. Indeed, she probably remembered her husband's advice: never deal in credit.
La de Bringas ends with the well-known confrontation scene between Rosalía Bringas and Refugio, and a final chapter in which the narrator reappears and from his vantage point within the newly established government of the September Revolution, sums up for the reader the history of the Bringas family.
Galdós' assessment of the September Revolution is inserted into his analysis of the relationship between individual existence (personal history) and the collective experience (History), and the relationship between private and public historiography. By developing the convention of the memoir Galdós emphasizes the fact that any record, oral or written, private or public (chismografía or historiography) will always be mediated by the inevitably subjective viewpoint of the author's consciousness. Galdós has built into the structure of these realist novels the demythification of realism's ideal, the author's position of objectivity. Retracing the final chapter, we find this illuminating comment: «Las nuevas trazas de esta señora (Rosalía) no están aún en nuestro tintero» (p. 223). Obviously, the literary companion, the muse who shares Galdós' inkwell, his native informant, as the anthropologists would say, is none other than José Ido. Ido's reappearance, or rather the merging of the two narrative perspectives into one, is both a statement about the creative process and an oblique comment upon the September Revolution. José Ido comes to represent that romantic element in Galdós' total perspective that cannot be easily integrated into a unified and coherent interpretation of contemporary nineteenth-century Spain. In order to analyze more efficiently this romantic tendency within himself, Galdós exteriorizes and objectifies it, and José Ido -self-confessed romantic- is born. In Tormento, Ido's dime novels are the apex of a degenerate romanticism: passion cheapened into sentimentalism, idealism brought down to the level of selfrighteous preaching and moralistic cant in the service of neo-Catholic conservatism. Ido interprets reality through a filter of sentimental and moralistic optimism and the result is bad art. Thus, the intrusion of José Ido's linguistic signature into the narrative becomes a final exclamation point attached to Galdós' statement upon the inadequacy of the Gloriosa.104
And when History is transmitted through the mentality of a Manuel Pez, it becomes «un sinfín de anécdotas personales» (p. 146). If History (historiography) is commonly understood to be the public record of that part of the collective experience that transcends the passage of time, the essence of the anecdotal is precisely the opposite. The anecdote is by definition non-transcendent, —57→ tied down to its temporal and spatial uniqueness. The anecdote is a stone that sinks to the bottom of the pond that is collective memory because it has no integral relationship to a larger pattern of social forces. The writing of Spanish history cannot take place until Spain produces an Historian able to perceive and interpret events in relation to the historical forces that shape both the individual and the collective destiny. Until that moment, experience (both individual and collective) will be interpreted and transmitted by the biased and opportunistic Peces and distorted by the false optimism of the Idos.
Rosalía Bringas has gained some insight into the relationship between personal idealism and the reality of her specific economic circumstances. «La necesidad -se dijo- es la que hace los caracteres» (p. 204). But she wears her middle-class mentality like blinders and is incapable of recognizing or sympathizing with these same sentiments if they originate from a different class perspective: «Asegúrame la comida, la ropa, y nada tendrás que decir de mí», exclaims Refugio (p. 45). «¿Estás bien comida, bien vestida? pues ahora... venga moralidad», is Rosalía's bitter thought as she contemplates selling her much-prized virtue (p. 205).
The characterization of Refugio in the confrontation scene causes us to regret that we have not been permitted to know her better. Refugio will reappear in Fortunata y Jacinta, but she will be sadly reduced from the fiery young woman who confronts Rosalía's arrogance with her own unbreakable pride and a penetrating intelligence that will not be blinded by her guest's self-satisfied posturing. Refugio knows what she is and how society perceives her, and she also knows that her place in society is a result of the actions of others who presume to be morally better than she. Therein lies her strength and the moral outrage that sustains her:105
Grandísimas... (les digo para mí), yo no engaño a nadie; yo vivo de mi trabajo. Pero vosotras engañáis a medio mundo y queréis hacer vestidos de seda con el pan del pobre.
It is not only Refugio's eloquence that persuades. The reader knows -having journeyed to the end of this history- that an endless line of unpaid seamstresses, shopkeepers, servants (like Amparo and Refugio) support and maintain the appearance of wealth that constitutes respectability and forms the class barrier separating the two women.
Not until this scene are we permitted to see the coming revolution from a different class perspective, and to know what the revolution may have signified to certain sectors living outside the protective custody of the Queen. There is hatred and a desire for revenge. Exclaims Refugio: «ya le ajustarán las cuentas... habrá libertad, libertades» (p. 216). But the door that has opened so briefly to reveal this profound hatred and resentment against the Spanish monarchy slams quickly shut. Refugio will take personal revenge when she uses the powerful weapon of gossip to inform Rosalía that the Marquesa -Rosalía's intimate friend- has derided her as cursi to none other than the much despised Refugio. A bitter wound, an effective revenge, but one that is without any transcendent significance. The revolt of one individual does not constitute change.—58→
The revolutionaries themselves are seen only from the perspective of the palace denizens. They are not the embodiment of evil, the dreaded horde of sans culottes, the atheistic communistic masonic horned devils that populated the nightmares of the traditionalists. But neither are they the Byronic heroes that people the landscapes of Delacroix. They are merely «unos pobrecillos... unos angelotes» (p. 221). If History is the record of those moments which transcend the anecdotal because they change or influence the course of events, the historiographical subject also tends to take on the aura of transcendence. In the nineteenth century, the perspective of posterity tended to aggrandize, rather than diminish the heroes and villains of the past. But even though the narrator is writing his history sixteen years after the revolution, the narrative perspective remains frozen in the quotidian. The reader is stuck like a fly on jam in the immediacy of the present moment. The Gloriosa is reduced to one more anecdote -another story in the abundant supply of gossip that circulates from café to salon, from parliament to bedroom and substitutes for History in nineteenth-century Spain. Without the vision of a future -and the means to realize it- a future cannot be created and the present becomes a permanent prison. The revolutionaries, viewed in Madrid's morning sunshine are neither destroyers nor redeemers, they are «one of us», buena gente, mediocre. At best, they are (like José Ido) that romantic element in all of us that must be shunted aside when daily life is taken in hand.
The concluding chapter constitutes a bitter indictment of the ineptitude of the revolutionary struggle in Spain. The septembrinos are incapable of managing the practical aspects of the revolution and must rely on political opportunists like Pez and his cohorts to guide them through the bureaucratic maze. They will soon be submerged into the bureaucratic machinery that becomes a kind of deus ex machina, chewing up well-intentioned but ingenuous revolutionaries and spewing out «caras pisciformes» (p. 222). The Spanish State embodied in its governing bureaucracy is a permanent and static monolith that will swallow up the naive who dare to presume they can change the balance of social forces.
Galdós has created a middle-class world in which the line between public and private has been erased. Everything that is usually considered private business has become public knowledge -as Rosalía discovers to her chagrin when she visits Refugio. But since there is no private life, public life loses the aura of formality, ritual and transcendence that distinguishes it from the transient quality of everyday life.106 Because there is no difference between private and public -between individual existence (biography) and the collective experience (history)- what remains is the sum total of an infinite number of subjective perspectives, neither one distinguishable from the other by its historical significance.
Rosalía overthrows her own private tyrant. But her haughty arrogance and her identification with the power of the throne insulate her from any sympathy for the revolutionary project, even though her personal problems of poverty and patriarchal repression have their roots in Spain's political and economic bankruptcy. The revolutionaries' attempt to restructure collectively the state is interpreted by Rosalía and others of her mentality as «social disorder». And Rosalía's attitude towards Refugio's inability to know her —59→ place in the social hierarchy typifies the reactionary's solution of the mano dura to the «problem» of rebellion and revolution:
Por ese descaro... por ese cinismo con que tú hablas de señoras cuyo zapato no mereces descalzar, se te debía arrancar esa lengua de víbora y luego azotarte públicamente por las calles, desnuda de medio cuerpo arriba, así, así, así...
But Rosalía does possess one characteristic that defines both her own personal future and that of the revolution. Her sense of opportunity reflects the political opportunism of the peces who will ultimately come to control the revolutionary process. Galdós explains in part the failure of the revolution as the direct consequence of a lack of preparation and organization on the part of its leaders, who are not the pueblo (noble or otherwise) but political hacks who will be forced to rely on an entrenched power that is only interested in lining its pockets. The collective effort of the revolution will desintegrate into the satisfaction of individual and personal ambition. Rosalía will sell her virtue to build her private future and the future of the revolution will be sold out.
A private solution to a collective problem can never transcend the level of anecdote. At the end, when Galdós directs the reader to consider, not the future of the revolution, but the future of Rosalía Bringas, he is placing the revolution on the same level of historical significance as that of the personal biography of the Bringas family. Sixteen years may pass, but historical time stands still. The revolution, seen from behind stage rather than in the glare of history's spotlight is only one more anecdote to enliven Doña Cándida's tertulia, to be repeated and then forgotten, for ultimately, nothing has happened and nothing will change.
University of California. San Diego