—65→ —66→ —67→
La desheredada, of course, occupies a special place in Galdós' series of novels dealing with contemporary society. According to the majority of critics -and Galdós, who himself coined the term «segunda manera» in relation to this particular novel, would seem to agree with them -it: marks a decisive new orientation, a shift away from ideological preoccupations and towards a more realistic portrayal of society in the naturalist manner.119 A prominent feature of this «nueva manera» is the emphasis placed on psychological degeneration as the result of heredity and environment- both major elements in the novels of Émile Zola. We know, of course, that naturalism was widely discussed in Madrid literary circles long before Pardo Bazán's La cuestión palpitante.120 The success of Zola's L'Assommoir in 1877 had considerable repercussions in Spain and Galdós himself possessed four novels of Zola, all in editions of 1878, in his library.121 Galdós' use, in a literary framework, of concepts derived from contemporary medical and psychological theorists, therefore, clearly owes much to the influence of Zola. An examination of the medical background to La desheredada, however, suggests that much of Galdós' medical documentation for the novel was drawn from Spanish sources. The nature of some of this source material gives it a certain minor interest in itself. However, since much of it relates to the characterisation of Mariano Rufete, generally considered to be the most Zolaesque element in the novel, it also has a bearing on the whole question of naturalism in La desheredada and may perhaps help to explain why in so many important respects Galdós' naturalism is different from that of his French contemporary.
The medical and psychological theories which provided the basis for the portrayal of the members of the Rufete family are the familiar stock-in-trade of Zola himself. In the period 1860-1885 psychiatry was dominated by the belief that mental illness was invariably a symptom of degeneration. This belief, based on the prevailing physiological bias of mid-nineteenth century psychology and the application to psychiatry of the hereditary principle then much in vogue, derived from the theories of a leading French aliéniste, B. A. Morel.122 Morel held that all neuroses -a term which at that time could include anything from mere nervous excitability to out-and-out epilepsy- were interrelated and, in nine cases out of ten, transmitted by heredity. As the hereditary progression continued, it also tended to get worse, so that the grandson or great-grandson of a mildly neurotic person was quite likely, if the progression were not arrested by adequate medical treatment, to be born an epileptic or even an imbecile. This theory enjoyed considerable prestige right up to the end of the century and Morel's ideas were accepted by the majority of contemporary writers on mental illness.
Galdós was clearly interested in medicine and psychiatry long before he wrote La desheredada. In his first novel, La sombra, written in 1867, he refers to an unspecified «tratado de neuropatía»123 and both Marianela (1878) and La familia de León —68→ Roch (1879) bear witness to his relish for medical detail. The part played by medical concepts in La desheredada, however, is much greater. Although in part this stems from the influence of Zola, it is also due in no small measure to the fact that at this time Galdós became acquainted with Dr. Manuel Tolosa Latour, a man destined to become one of Galdós' closest friends. The first known correspondence between them is a letter of Tolosa dated January, 1883.124 Their friendship, however, clearly began much earlier. In a recent article in Anales Galdosianos Ruth Schmidt has argued that Tolosa Latour was in fact the real-life model for Augusto Miquis.125 Montesinos126 disagrees, but the case nevertheless seems to me to be a convincing one.127 In any case, there is concrete evidence to show that their relationship began long before 1883. Tolosa Latour edited a medical journal called El Diario Médico and in this publication, from December l7th, 1881 to February 10th, 1882, he published the first chapter of La desheredada, a fact which would seem to suggest that by that time they were rather more than mere acquaintances. This in itself is significant, since we know that Tolosa Latour supplied Galdós with much of the medical information that found its way into the novels.128 Even more significant, however, is the fact that through his friendship with Tolosa Latour Galdós would certainly also have become acquainted at this time with Dr. José María Esquerdo, the most prominent Spanish psychiatrist of the day.129
Esquerdo first achieved prominence when the universities were freed after the Revolution of 1868. He had been a student of the most eminent psychiatrist of the previous generation, Dr. Pedro Mata, and in 1869-70, in his capacity as «profesor libre», he gave a course on what was still generally known as «frenopatía» at the Hospital General in Madrid. Esquerdo was noted for his oratory and by all accounts his personality was magnetic. Such was his personality that in this one brief year of teaching he gathered around him a group of young doctors many of whom were destined to become some of the most distinguished names in Spanish medicine -including Tolosa Latour himself, who, of course, was later to become a distinguished paediatrician; Luis Simarro, who was to be the first professor of experimental psychology at the University of Madrid; and Ángel Pulido, who later became life secretary of the Real Academia de Medicina. Among these Esquerdo was the acknowledged master and, through the Tolosa Latour connection, Esquerdo was also to leave his stamp on La desheredada.130
The novel begins in the asylum of Santa Isabel de Leganés. The description of the asylum, is itself significant, since it clearly shows that Galdós was personally acquainted with the place. Even more revealing, however, is his decidedly critical attitude towards it. He speaks, for example, of «un corral más propio para gallinas que para enfermos» and of «locales primitivos, apenas tocados aún por la administración reformista».131 The material deficiencies of the buildings are second only to the moral deficiencies of the attendants:
There follows an equally hostile description of the cold shower meted out to Tomás Rufete:
It is not difficult to discern behind these criticisms the influence of Esquerdo and Tolosa Latour. The reform of Spanish asylums, most of which lagged well behind the standards currently prevailing in the rest of Europe, was a cause dear to the heart of Esquerdo and his disciples.132 Leganés itself was opened in a converted country mansion in 1851 and was designed to be Spain's manicomio modelo. At that time the director was a priest and there was no resident psychiatrist, the local village doctor being responsible for the medical care of the inmates. In succeeding years the psychiatric fraternity pressed repeatedly for the establishment in Leganés of a genuine manicomio modelo which would serve as a centre for the practice and teaching of scientific methods of treating the mentally ill. Their model, of course, was the famous Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris, where at this time Charcot, at that time the greatest living expert en neuroses and disorders of the nervous system, worked. Few of these aspirations were realised, however, for with only minor modifications to the existing structure, Leganés was definitively adopted as the nation's manicomio modelo in 1885 and even then overall responsibility for the establishment was in non-medical hands. The situation in Leganés was thus the scandal of the psychiatric fraternity. Their attitude is summed up in the following comment of Jaime Escuder, who was a disciple of Esquerdo:
Allí ni se ha hecho un solo trabajo científico, ni se ha escrito un libro, ni se hacen historias clínicas, ni autopsias, ni nada que huela al menor asomo de psiquiatría.133
The situation in Leganés was diametrically opposed to Esquerdo's ideas of what an asylum should be. Esquerdo himself was something of a radical innovator in this field. While in most Spanish asylums the inmates were kept in the kind of conditions described by Galdós, Esquerdo, in the asylum which he founded in Carabanchel (with a country house offshoot in Villajoyosa, Alicante), believed in surrounding his patients with as many physical comforts as possible and in allowing them, the maximum freedom compatible with their particular ailments. This earned him fulsome praise from Tolosa Latour and Angel Pulido. Writing in 1882, they contrasted Esquerdo's asylums with similar institutions elsewhere, describing these in terms which bear such a close resemblance to Galdós' own description of Leganés as to suggest that Tolosa Latour, who probably wrote the passage in question, actually had a copy of La desheredada in front of him when he did so.134 Esquerdo was also hostile to the use of therapeutic baths. This form of crude water torture, —70→ otherwise known as hydrotherapy, was common practice in the asylums of Europe at the time and is recommended by all the standard writers of the treatment of mental illness. In his attitude to this particular form of treatment, therefore, Esquerdo was clearly something of an exception and the hostile view which Galdós takes of it in La desheredada points once again to his influence.135
These, however, are minor details, of interest only insofar as they provide clear evidence of the influence of Esquerdo on the novel. Much more significant is the influence of Esquerdo and Tolosa Latour as it relates to the character of Mariano Rufete. One of Esquerdo's many interests was the reform of the Spanish criminal code. The latter, though it made provision for a plea of diminished responsibility on the grounds of the defendant's insanity, defined insanity in very narrow terms. Only when the criminal act in question could clearly be shown to have been committed while the defendant was manifestly raving could such a plea be accepted. Hence the forms of insanity known variously as «locura lúcida» and «locura moral» -states in which the victim's reasoning powers preserved an outward appearance of normality or were only intermittently impaired- were not recognised by the courts.136 Moreover, the practice of the courts in such matters was such that the expert testimony of a psychiatric specialist carried no more weight than that of a nonspecialist. As a result, the opinion of psychiatrists in such cases was consistently rejected in favour of the testimony of ordinary doctors or even the impressions of the judges themselves. This state of affairs was attacked by Esquerdo as early as 1878.137 In 1880, however, the problem ceased to be an academic debating point for medical and legal specialists as the result of two prominent trials which, in addition to bringing the issue to the attention of the public as a whole, also raised Esquerdo himself to the status of a public figure almost overnight. The first of these trials was that of Francisco Otero González, a young would-be regicide who was the real-life model for Mariano Rufete.
On December 30th, 1879, Otero fired two shots (both of which missed) at Alfonso XII as the king, at the reins of his own carriage, was returning from a drive with his bride of two months. The nature of the crime itself, of course, would have been more than enough to generate widespread public interest in Otero's trial. The trial, however, became a source of controversy for other reasons as well. The major part of the defence's case rested on a plea of diminished responsibility on the grounds of Otero's alleged mental derangement. Esquerdo was the principal expert witness for the defence and his findings were contested by two medical experts, both non-specialists, appointed by the court, who testified that Otero, though of low intelligence, was perfectly sane. It was their opinion that the court chose to accept. The Otero trial thus exemplified the defects in the criminal code and court procedure which Esquerdo wanted changed.
Esquerdo was not one to waste the splendid opportunity for publicising his case which the Otero trial, with its attendant publicity, presented him with. He immediately launched a major campaign for the reform of the criminal code, his own principal contribution to which was a series of four lectures, under the general title of Locos que no lo parecen, the first two of which he delivered in May, 1880. By that time, however, public opinion was already mobilised, the desirability of granting a reprieve in the case of Otero having been the subject of widespread debate. As with most issues at the time, opinion tended to divide along political lines, the liberal press supporting Esquerdo's stand and arguing the case for a reprieve while —71→ the conservatives deployed the traditional arguments in favour of exemplary justice and the paramount importance of maintaining law and order. El Liberal printed an editorial on 11th April, the day before the cabinet was due to decide Otero's fate, appealing for a reprieve on humanitarian grounds, an act of temerity for which the edition was seized and the paper itself subsequently suspended for thirty days. These attempts at suppression, however, seem not to have been very successful for on the day of the cabinet meeting we are told that placards demanding a reprieve went up, in shops, bars, the carriages driving up and down the Castellana and one even made an appearance in a window of the parliament building itself.138 Despite the personal intervention of Alfonso XII on Otero's behalf, the conservative cabinet of Cánovas del Castillo refused to grant a reprieve and Otero was executed on April l4th, 1880.
Esquerdo's campaign did not die with him, however. Shortly after Otero's execution, the trial of Francisco Díaz de Garayo, alias el Sacamantecas, a man responsible for a series of particularly revolting sex murders in the province of Álava, began in Vitoria. Once again the defence rested on a plea of insanity and Esquerdo was the principal defence witness. As in the case of Otero, his testimony was rejected in favour of the opinion of the non-specialist medical witnesses appointed by the court. Garayo was sentenced to death and, after this sentence had been confirmed at a retrial, a reprieve was once more refused and Garayo was executed. Esquerdo renewed his series of lectures, this time while the case was still sub judice, and achieved something like a personal apotheosis, at least in liberal circles. The last two lectures in the series were even more successful than the first two had been and at the final one the auditorium was so full and the excitement so great that Esquerdo was forced to cut the lecture short for fear of accidents.139
The Otero case, therefore, had a major impact on public opinion in the period immediately prior to the planning and writing of La desheredada and Otero was clearly the main source of inspiration for the character of Mariano Rufete. Apart from the fact that they both attempt to assassinate the king, there are many other similarities between the two. Their age, for example. Otero was nineteen years old at the time of his attempt on the life of the king. When we first meet Mariano he is described as being about thirteen (chapter III, p. 51). This is in late 1872 (the Christmas which follows shortly afterwards is the one prior to the abdication of Amadeo I, which took place in February 1873) and Mariano's assassination attempt takes place in late 1876 or early 1877, which would thus make him about sixteen or seventeen at the time. Mariano's general background also reveals many similarities with that of Otero. The latter came from a poor Galician family. His father had been dead many years and although his mother was still alive and living in Galicia, Otero's family ties do not seem to have been particularly strong. Mariano's background, of course, is very different from that of his sister. While Isidora was dreaming dreams of future ennoblement and splendour under her quixotic uncle's roof, Mariano was confided to the none too tender mercies of his aunt- the redoutable and decidedly earthy Sanguijuelera-. His background, therefore, is clearly working class and like Otero his family ties are weak and get progressively weaker in the course of the novel.
Certain features of Mariano's personality also derive from Otero. Esquerdo's trial report defines the latter as «un imbécil intelectual y un idiota moral» and relates his mental deficiencies to hereditary epilepsy.140 Mariano, too, is clearly an epileptic —72→ and his epilepsy finally reduces him to the same level of imbecility as that described by Esquerdo. These similarities appear to extend even to the realm of psychological motivation. Here of course we are faced with a difficulty. Nineteenth century psychiatry, under the influence of the prevailing physiological and positivistic bias, tended to regard any explanation of mental illness in purely psychological terms as unscientific. Consequently Esquerdo's official trial report on Otero confines itself to the hereditary aspects of the problem and is couched in the classificatory jargon of the day -a classification which has more to do with the description of symptoms than with the diagnosis of their causes. This is not to say, however, that there was no awareness of the role of purely psychological factors in producing mental disturbance, merely that such questions were not considered sufficiently objective to merit scientific recognition or enquiry. Esquerdo himself, who was reputed to have a highly developed intuitive understanding of his patients, would almost certainly have been aware of them and a similar awareness is apparent at the level of «popular psychology» as represented by contemporary press accounts of the events leading up to Otero's crime. These press accounts suggest that Otero's act stemmed from a sense of personal failure and the resentment that this aroused in him.
Otero had come to Madrid, like so many other provincial youths of the time, in the hope of bettering his fortune. A relative living in the capital established a cake shop and put Otero in charge of it. This business failed to prosper, however, and the management of the shop was taken from Otero's hands. This setback seems to have been the immediate cause of his derangement, for he took to frequenting taverns and «casas de mal vivir», where he spent his time bemoaning his bad luck and threatening to commit suicide. A chance remark by one of his drinking companions, to the effect that he should kill the king instead, since that way at least he would go down in history, was taken seriously by the now unbalanced Otero and was apparently responsible for the decision to assassinate the king.141
There are obvious similarities between what we know or can deduce of Otero's motivation and that of Mariano. Like Otero, Mariano is a ne'er-do-well whose working life is a complete failure. He too resorts to alcohol and spends most of his time prior to his crime in taverns and worse establishments. Mariano, moreover, is clearly a victim of his own sense of failure and his resentment towards the society which, in his eyes, is responsible for denying him the fruits of success. This is made clear in his reflections (the «synthesis» of chapter XXXIV) before carrying out his projected assassination:
Like Otero, he is attracted by the thought of the notoriety his enterprise will achieve:
Galdós, of course, was in a much better position to form an impression of Otero than we are today. The case would certainly have been widely discussed among Esquerdo's circle of friends and, for reasons which will become clear shortly, the social significance of Otero's tragic odyssey would certainly have loomed large in any such discussions. Moreover, it is quite possible that Galdós actually went to Otero's trial. I know of no concrete evidence to suggest that he did but, bearing in mind his interest in such matters and his later court attendances in the case of the famous «crimen de la calle de Fuencarral» and that of the mad Father Galeote, who murdered the bishop of Madrid, it is by no means unlikely that he did.142
These facts, then, clearly establish Otero as the real-life model for Mariano Rufete. Such facts, however, are only a novelist's raw material, used because of some special significance with which in his eyes they are endowed and moulded to form a fictional character who is the novelist's imaginative interpretation of the real one. Inevitably, therefore, Mariano is rather more than a mere replica of Otero, great though the similarities are. Even at the higher level of novelistic theme, however, Galdós' portrayal of Mariano can only be fully understood in relation to the influence which Esquerdo and Tolosa Latour exerted on La desheredada.
Scientifically, Esquerdo, like most of his disciples, was undoubtedly a lightweight. At a time when, elsewhere in Europe, research into the function of the nervous system was proceeding apace and doctors and psychologists stood on the threshold of some of the most important psychological discoveries for generations,143 Esquerdo produced virtually nothing -no original clinical research and scant contribution to psychological theory. Indeed, all that survives of him, at least medically speaking and in print, are a handful of lectures which are perhaps more interesting as examples of nineteenth century Spanish oratory than for their medical content. The latter, in fact, is at best derivative, at worst superficial.144 What Esquerdo lacked in scientific depth and originality, however, he more than made up for in humanitarian zeal -arguably at least as relevant to his country's needs at that time as esoteric scientific research. Nor was this humanitarianism confined to his advocacy of improved treatment for the criminally insane. Indeed, it may truly be said that Esquerdo's humanitarian concern spanned the whole range of human suffering with which his experience as a doctor brought him into contact and his conception of the doctor's role was as much social as scientific. He was particularly concerned with the plight of just such deprived and abnormal children as Mariano. In his Preocupaciones reinantes... he warns of the consequences of failing to give these children the required medical attention:
Deprived children were also a major concern of Tolosa Latour who, like Esquerdo, was an outstanding humanitarian. It was his love for children that led him to specialise in paediatrics -a field in which he was later to become one of Spain's leading practitioners.145 From 1878 onwards Tolosa Latour was an active campaigner on behalf of the deprived and disease-ridden children who roamed the streets of —74→ Madrid in their thousands, one of his main objectives being the foundation of sanatoriums for them at the seaside. He himself was the driving force behind the foundation of one such sanatorium at Chipiona (Cádiz) in 1893.146
All this is clearly relevant to the question of Galdós' «naturalistic» emphasis on the adverse effects of Mariano's environment. His environment, of course, is far from being favourable. Whatever qualities his aunt, la Sanguijuelera, possesses, an over-refined sensibility clearly is not one of them. It is her money-grubbing rapacity which is responsible for Mariano being sent, at the tender age of thirteen, to work in a rope factory, the brutalising effects of which are described by Galdós in manner reminiscent of Zola at his best. Outside of the factory, his companions are the poverty-stricken and rachitic children of the barrios bajos, among whom, to quote Galdós himself
[...] el raquitismo heredado marcaba con su sello amarillo multitud de cabezas, inscribiendo la predestinación del crimen.
Their moral environment is equally deplorable, a point made in the description of the children's play in the course of which their innocent mimicry of the civil war games of their elders turns into nightmarish reality, with lethal consequences for one of their number.
From this environment Mariano never fully succeeds in extricating himself and to it he always eventually returns, in spite of Isidora's attempts to endow him with a modicum of aristocratic polish. He would seem, therefore, to be a clear-cut example of the adverse effects of heredity and environment portrayed in the classic naturalist manner. Galdós' naturalism-if the term naturalism is understood as implying the kind of deterministic pessimism which it originally has in the novels of Zola-is, however, somewhat less wholehearted than this superficial analysis suggests. To begin with, Galdós is far from being a detached observer in the manner of Zola and the portrayal of Mariano's childhood environment, in particular, needs to be viewed in the context of Galdós' blistering attack on the inadequacies of the Spanish social welfare system. Galdós' crusading fervour is most clearly apparent, of course, in the description of the stabbing episode in chapter VI. Here the uncomprehending hostility of the crowd and the self-righteous pomposity of the comisario de Beneficencia combine to transform Mariano's childish fear into something far more sinister:
Cosas tan tremendas como desconocidas para él hasta entonces: la venganza, la protesta, la rebelión, la terquedad de no reconocerse culpable, penetraron en su alma.
The upshot is that Mariano strikes his first blow against society and the victim, significantly enough in the circumstances, is the comisario. The whole episode is thus a perfect illustration, in fictional terms and -as yet- on a fairly minor level, of the point made by Esquerdo -that deprived and potentially delinquent children will repay society's lack of concern with «horribles atentados contra la misma (sociedad)». The throwing of the brick at the welfare official, though symbolically of great significance, is only a prelude to the far greater retribution which Mariano attempts to visit on society later in the novel by his attempt to assassinate the king. In spirit, if not in kind, however, the two episodes are basically the same.—75→
This use of the character of Mariano as a vehicle for direct, rather than implicit, social criticism clearly differentiates Galdós from Zola and reveals once again the debt which La desheredada owes to Esquerdo and Tolosa Latour. To the medical humanitarianism of the latter, however, Galdós adds a dimension peculiarly his own. Mariano's material deprivation, and the failure of society to remedy it, pale into insignificance beside the long saga of moral subversion to which he is subjected in the course of the novel. Like Otero, Mariano is lacking both in intellect and moral fibre, as a result of which he is more than usually receptive to the external influence of his moral environment. This is unfortunate, for the environment in question is one where the morality of the «quick buck» reigns supreme, where fraud, refined prostitution and the bleeding of the exchequer are the sole passports to material prosperity and social acceptance and where, in consequence, the virtues of hard work and common morality nowhere get a look in. This is the society represented by Isidora herself, the Pez family, Melchor Relimpio and, worst of all, the infamous Gaitica. Each of these characters is responsible for depositing a few drops of their own moral poison in Mariano's weak and untutored mind-even the worthy Juan Bou, whose mindless revolutionary rhetoric contributes to the turning of Mariano's head and nullifies Bou's own attempts to instil into him a respect for the rewards of honest labour.
This critique of society implies the existence of a concept largely alien to the Zolaesque canon -that of moral choice. Galdós is frequently at pains to emphasise the moral perfectability of Mariano. We have already seen that it is the hostile reaction of the crowd after his stabbing of Zarapicos which transforms his fear into resentment. Another example is his first visit to the theatre, from which he returns transformed. Isidora is not slow in drawing the correct conclusions from this change:
Contenta Isidora de esto, comprendió cuánto influye en la formación del carácter del hombre el ambiente que respira, las personas con quienes tiene roce, la ropa que viste y hasta el arte que disfruta y paladea.
Significantly, however, there are no more visits to the theatre because Isidora runs out of money. Isidora, in fact, is incapable of providing Mariano with the kind of moral environment needed to counteract the effects of his early upbringing. Her own vain pretensions, the vacuity of which Mariano is perceptive enough to realise (chapter XV), loses her initial ascendancy over him and he leaves home. Though he returns intermittently later on, Isidora never regains any semblance of authority over him. Mariano has taken the first, and perhaps the most important, step on his road to the gallows, a road marked at regular intervals by many similar moral failures on the part of those who might have been expected to give Mariano, who after all is only a minor -and a rather feeble-minded one at that-, some kind of moral lead.
Mariano, therefore, is rather more than a simple victim of the arcane laws of physiological heredity or the inexorable processes of environmental determinism. Indeed, in the novel Galdós almost seems to soft-pedal on the hereditary element. To the reader versed in the nineteenth century concept of hereditary transformational neuroses, there is an obvious link between the ravings of Tomás Rufete in the Leganés asylum, the psychological quirks of Isidora and the epileptic degeneration of Mariano. Galdós, however, seems more interested in the symbolic value of this link than he is in using it to emphasise the importance of heredity in Mariano's downfall. The —76→ immediate cause of Mariano's epilepsy, or rather of the brain fever of which it is the product, seems, in the context of the novel, to be the unhealthy nature of the life he had been leading prior to its onset rather than heredity. Environment -at least in the sense of the kind of «low life» environment so beloved of Zola- is also only one factor among the many which are responsible for Mariano's ultimate downfall.
Galdosian naturalism, as exemplified in the case of Mariano Rufete, is thus different both in scope and purpose from that of Zola. In part, at least, these differences -and this is particularly true of the marked element of social criticism- stem from the nature of the source material on which the portrait of Mariano is to a large extent based and the significant influence exerted in this context by Esquerdo and Tolosa Latour. Despite the derivative nature of so much of his raw material, however, Galdós' end product is characteristically his own. By his extension of the concept of environment to include the moral and psychological environment of a network of personal relationships, Galdós uses Mariano's personal tragedy to illustrate a point already implicit in the case history of Martín Muriel, the hero of El Audaz, and made explicit in the following comment from the same novel:
En el fondo de todos los grandes delitos existe una lógica misteriosa y tremenda que los enlaza a otros crímenes, quizás mayores y más imperdonables.147
Like Muriel, Mariano is more sinned against than sinning -a victim of the pernicious society in which he lives- and as such, despite the trappings of naturalism which surround the portrayal of his character, he bears witness to the essentially moral vision which is a characteristic feature of Galdós' novels.
Gonville and Caius College. Cambridge University