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ArribaAbajoInhabited space in Galdós' Tormento

Lou Charnon Deutsch

Every dwelling, whether richly or poorly furnished, acquires with time certain characteristics which are determined by the personality of its inhabitants. Conversely, a dwelling or house may exert a significant influence over those whose contact with it is constant. Since the house is the witness of so many human experiences, and bears physical testimony to some of them, it may serve as a visual stimulus for those who have lived these experiences. A house may embody dreams of the future, or it may be a grave for forgotten dreams of the past. As Gaston Bachelard has speculated, the house is «one of the greatest powers of integration for the thoughts, memories and dreams of mankind».70

Always cognizant of the most minute details of his art, Pérez Galdós knows well how to integrate the environment with the character he is portraying. There are many types of dwellings described in Tormento, and each one has something important to reveal about its inhabitants. Some of the houses, for example that of Agustin Caballero, have an appreciable effect on all the major characters of the novel. The house of the Bringas family deserves the most attention since it is the scene of so much of the novel's action. But there is a special kind of space created in each house which adds to the density of environment so carefully conceived by Galdós.

Few studies have been written concerning the houses which exist in the novels of Galdós. Chad Wright has studied the symbolism of Isidora Rufete's house in La Desheredada71 and Ricardo Gullón has effectively noted the labyrinthine features of the Palacio Real where Rosalía lives in La de Bringas.72 But a detailed study characterizing the space in Tormento is still needed. The space created in Tormento is primarely interior or inhabited, definable in terms of the physical limits of a house. This study, therefore, concerns itself with the relationship of the physical characteristics to the residents of the house (or those who frequent it), and the encompassing significance of inhabited space in Tormento.

The action of Tormento is concentrated in the Bringas' apartment on Costanilla Street. Rosalía and Francisco Bringas move to this location at the very beginning of the novel, thereby permitting the narrator to reveal interesting aspects of the economic structure of their family. For instance, the reader may be surprised to read that the household boasts such luxuries as oil portraits, bronze figurines, mirrors and expensive draperies, which must be transported with great care. But the narrator is quick to add that these objects are discarded ornaments of the Palacio Real. While preparing to hang the paintings in his hew home, Francisco decides to place a portrait of Christ in the most prominent position. But his wife, Rosalía, insists that the portrait of the Queen hang in the place of honor. Bringas approves the selection of his domineering spouse. Their decision does not reflect excessive patriotism, but rather a sense of duty. It is only natural that a portrait of the Queen should occupy the place of honor in a house-hold   —36→   where most of the furnishings are gifts from her palace. According to the narrator, there are only two important houses for Rosalía: heaven, the «mansión de los elegidos», and the Palacio: «En Palacio estaba su historia y también su ideal».73 But in Rosalia's mind, the Palacio clearly comes before the «mansión de los elegidos». It is irrelevant to her where other portraits are placed, once this heirarchy between Christ and the Queen has been established. Throughout the novel, the reader learns to what extent the Bringas household with its modest salary of 20,000 reales depends upon the generosity of the Queen and upon other wealthy friends. Everything from the silver candelabra to the children's medicine is charity. In this case the furnishings of the house reveal the economic and ethical structure of the entire household.

At the end of moving day Rosalía and Francisco pause to contemplate the «palace» they have so painstakingly arranged. Rosalía is disappointed that no room was found for the genealogical tree of the illustrious Pipaon family, but Francisco is pleased with a certain effect obtained from two pieces of carpet which once decorated the Palace. The overall effect of the apartment is that of a miniature, although somewhat shabby, Palacio. Francisco happily concludes that there is something regal about the study which, viewed from the hall, resembles the Gasparini room.

In the days following the move, tours of the apartment are arranged and Rosalía and Francisco explain with obvious pride the superior qualities of each room. It is particularly significant that Rosalia's friend, Señora de García Grande, does not comment upon the virtues of the house during her visit. The entire tour revolves around a dialogue between Rosalía and Francisco, each one interrupting the other in his desire to praise the house. It is not clear whether such eulogies serve only to impress the friend, or if the couple truly believes theirs is the most beautiful house in all of Madrid. The narrator does explain during the García Grande visit that Rosalía tends to believe her possessions to be superior to all others, so it is possible that she conceive of the new apartment as a veritable palace of good taste.

Gradually the narrator reveals more realistic aspects of the Bringas house which Rosalía would perhaps deny. For example, at one point the house is called a «morada estrecha» (p. 120). Several times the narrator mentions that one or the other rooms is small or dark. Nevertheless, Rosalía feels protected and comfortable in her new home, possibly ignoring its defects, only deploring the fact that she does not live in the Royal Palace itself.74 The reader's reaction to the apartment changes as the novel progresses. In the early chapters the author does not offer subjective, third person commentary to counteract the enthusiastic exclamations of Rosalía and Francisco, therefore the reader is somewhat mislead. At the end of the novel however, guided by the subtle and skillful commentaries of the narrator, the reader's idea of the Bringas apartment is in direct antithesis to that of the owners.

The close relationship between Rosalía and her house is carefully nurtured throughout Tormento and offers a partial explanation for the complicated environment of the novel, for the Bringas house is truly an extension of Rosalía's personality. The reader learns from Rosalía's tour, and from certain qualifying adjectives used by the narrator, that the house is organized like a labyrinth. The narrator (never the characters) uses the word labyrinth on several occasions such   —37→   as: «Rosalía, guiando por aquellos laberintos a la señora de García Grande...» (p. 25). Rosalía passes most of her time with her protégée Amparo in the sewing room, a narrow enclosure filled with shelves, trunks, and bureaus «dejando tan poco espacio para las personas, que éstas, al entrar y al salir, tenían que buscarse un itinerario y muchas veces no lo encontraban» (p. 34).

Perhaps the best image to describe adequately Rosalía's activity inside her labyrinth is that of an ant in perpetual motion. Rosalía knows every corner of her labyrinth and is quite capable of following the thread of a conversation while scurrying from one room to another: «contestaba sin confundirse, tenía que salir y entrar, y sacar cuartos, y dar órdenes, y pasar a la despensa, y dale y vuelve, y otra vez, y torna y vira... Pero no saltaba en medio de su laberinto casero, el hilo de su tema» (p. 38). This turbulent household activity reflects an even more intense mental activity. Rosalía's ambitious thoughts flow through the labyrinth of her mind, constantly searching for profitable solutions to her problems. She is always scheming, always calculating. Her mind is able in a matter of seconds to program an event and calculate the advantages or disadvantages for her. Three times in Tormento she suddenly turns to Amparo with a list of errands for the next day. One can hardly read these lists without marvelling at the computer that is Rosalia's mind:

¡Ah! Mañana me traes dos manojos de trencilla encarnada, y no te olvides del coldcream de casa de Tresvina... Te traes también cuatro cuartos de raíz de lirio, y luego te pasas por la pollería y me compras media docena de huevos... Vaya, no más.

(p. 47)                

¡Ah!, espera. Llevas estas botas viejas de Paquito al zapatero de tu portal para que les ponga palas. Líalas en el pañuelo grande. El lunes no te olvides de pasar por la tienda de sombreros. Luego vas a la peluquería, y me traes el crepé y el pelo, que Bringas me hace los añadidos, y también hará uno para ti.

(p. 62)                

Mañana me traes media docena de tubos. Se acaba de romper el del recibimiento. Te pasas por la Cava Baja y das un recado al de los huevos. Tráete dos docenas de botones como éste y ven temprano para que me peines, porque he de ir a Palacio antes de la una.

(p. 127)                

The purpose of the author in quoting Rosalía's list of errands is two-fold: obviously, he is penetrating Amparo's Cinderella role in the Bringas household; but at the same time, he is revealing the complexities of Rosalía's mind. By imposing these capricious demands on her protégée she creates a turbulence which transcends the boundaries of her apartment, overflowing into Costanilla street.

Often during the first eight chapters of Tormento the reader is made aware of the spatial density of Rosalia's apartment and of the intimate relationship between Rosalía's mind and her maze-like dwelling. Never is this relationship so manifest as when one of Rosalía's thoughts acquires the form of a bat unable to escape the dark room. Pondering the future of her daughter, Rosalía laments that Agustín Caballero is already forty years old and cannot be considered an eligible suitor. «El pensamiento» explains the narrator, «revolteaba por lo alto de la sombría pieza, chocando en las paredes y en el techo, como un murciélago aturdido que no sabe encontrar la salida» (p. 42). The very atmosphere of Rosalía's apartment is replete with her thoughts since they are contained and repulsed by the walls of the house.


The relationship between Francisco and his dwelling differs from that which exists between Rosalía and the house. In a sense it is more intimate because his contact is more physical. Not only is Francisco capable of performing such humble chores as laying carpet, repairing furniture or hanging tapestries, but he dedicates himself to these menial tasks with the same joy and zeal he will apply to the portrait made of hair in La de Bringas. So completely does he immerse himself in his work that the narrator comments, with feigned consternation, on the dignified figure of Bringas down on his hands and knees tacking carpets. Despite this most human relationship with his dwelling, Francisco is not the true head of the Bringas household. The house for him is the scene of many privations, some of them quite extreme. For entire months he is forced to eat his meals without wine, and what is worse, he must dress in darkness every evening so that his son may have enough light to play. Of course it is never a question of similar sacrifices on Rosalía's part. Francisco is clearly a marginal figure, in his home as well as in the novel, always in the shadow of his complicated wife.

Two other important characters come into contact with the house on Costanilla street. Rosalía calls Amparo her protégée, but in reality she is little more than a maid, the only difference being that she is not always paid for her services. Rosalía's apartment rarely affords Amparo a moment of peace. The episode of the moving day is typical of the manner in which Rosalía treats her poor relative (pp. 21-23). When both women are in the sewing room, or any other room of the Bringas house, the narrator rarely permits Amparo to speak in the first person. Rosalía's orders are cited directly while Amparo's docile replies are summarized in the third person. Only when Rosalía is at the theatre and the children are asleep does the house take on an uncustomary calm which Amparo may briefly enjoy. When in chapter eight Agustín finds her for once alone, Amparo is seated peacefully browsing through the family Bible. Until this nervous conversation between the two friends, the longest, and perhaps the only direct quote attributed to Amparo is: «Señores, apartarse. Voy a poner la mesa» (p. 43).

Agustín Caballero is equally uncomfortable during his visits to the Bringas household, even though as a wealthier relative he is treated with esteem. According to the narrator, if he remains for the evening «tertulia» he installs himself in a corner, as if he were attending Mass. His responses to Rosalía's indiscreet questions are short and dry. Never does he dare to speak to Amparo of anything important while Rosalía is near. Only once does he speak freely of his private affairs, in the scene mentioned above when Rosalía is not present.

Only Rosalía is truly at ease in her labyrinth. The narrator, respecting this exclusive ownership, arranges for her to dominate every conversation and direct every domestic activity which takes place in the house. Thus the author helps to reveal the darker side of her character by carefully fusing her personality with the ambient of the Bringas apartment for which she is largely responsible.

Since the situation in the house of her relatives is so unbearable, one would expect to find in Amparo's apartment an air of calm and a refuge far from the labyrinth on Costanilla street. In chapter ten Amparo climbs the steep staircase to her apartment and receives a sour greeting from her sister Refugio. The narrator accompanies her into the hallway and registers its contents with surgical precision: «La salita en que entraron, pequeña y nada elegante, contenía parte   —39→   de los muebles del difunto Sánchez Emperador: un sofá que por diversas bocas padecía vómitos de lana, dos sillones reumáticos, y un espejo con el azogue viciado y señales variolosas en toda su superficie» (p. 63). This graphic personification of the Emperador apartment at first sems to correspond more to Refugio's character, whose actions he is describing, rather than that of Amparo. The narrator is accentuating the unhealthy aspects of the furniture in an effort to communicate a sense of ruination and disease, not respectable poverty. In the same description the reader learns that the dressing table dominates the main room of the house, and the narrator goes into some detail describing Refugio's toilette in front of the mirror.

Entering into the kitchen, the narrator mercilessly describes the cracked dishes and broken silverware. Refugio produces shortly afterwards the evening meal, in a frying pan «de cuya boca salía humo, y cuya panza, cubierta de ceniza, conservaba algunas ascuas que se extinguían rápidamente» (p. 67). Here again, the objects of the house are personified to give a grotesque air to the dwelling. Accordingly the reader is invited to associate the delapitated kitchen and the entire apartment with the dubious moral character of Refugio who is the focus of attention, hile Amparo in the beginning at any rate, appears to be a misfit in her own home.

Besides the «living» pieces of furniture, Amparo's dwelling is haunted by a ghost, a fact wich contributes greatly to the relationship between Amparo and her house. Facing the dressing table in the livingroom hangs a portrait of the deceased father of the two sisters.75 This picture serves two functions in the Emperador house. On the one hand, with its benevolent and sympathetic expression, it is a constant reminder of an honorable and happy past. Amparo frequently recalls that her moral downfall occurred shortly after, and partly due to the death of her father. It also serves as Amparo's conscience. When she decides to confess her sins to a priest even the most rebellious objects of the house applaud her decision and her father's portrait congratulates her as if to say with its «respectable» eyes: «Pero tonta, si te lo vengo diciendo hace tanto tiempo, y tú sin querer entender» (p. 152). Later in the novel, during one of her many fits of insomnia, Amparo imagines she sees the head of her father bowed. Clearly the portrait is a stimulus to good conduct as well as a constant reminder of lost innocence.

Because Amparo's house recalls to mind her complicated past, it therefore cannot be a refuge to her when she has spent a difficult day in Rosalía's apartment. Another contributing factor to the unpleasantness of the Emperador apartment is the strife between the two sisters. Amparo rebels against the slovenly habits of her younger sister. She dreams of a clean and orderly house filled with calm.76 But although her sister's disorderly life is a source of constant worry during the day, late at night Amparo broods over her own problems and past, unable to escape long insomnious nights. While Rosalía Bringas' thoughts escape from her head like bats, those of Amparo, at least on one occasion, seem to emanate from her hair «cual si fueran un fluido emparentado con la electricidad» (p. 71). Thus the air in Amparo's apartment is charged with her electric thoughts, interrupted in intervals by a «sombra negra» which is obviously the memory of her past with Pedro Polo. On another such night, Amparo paces the room imagining the splendid furnishing of Caballero's house which Felipe has   —40→   just described at length. Once again her thoughts seem too heavy to be contained in her mind: «se paseaba por la salita, dando aire y espacio a todo aquel efluvio de pensamientos vanos» (p. 80). As the novel progresses, the reader, perhaps against his will, begins to identify Amparo with her miserable surroundings. As it turns out, she is a hypocrite in her dealings with Refugio, her abandon of Polo is cruel and her secrecy with Caballero a betrayal. It must be accepted that morally Amparo is as ill as her decrepit apartment.

In contrast to the two houses described above is the exceptional house occupied by Agustín Caballero in Tormento. In a time when Spain is experiencing economic upheavals and political instability, Agustín is able to build a completely modern dwelling and furnish it richly. There are no mortgages on the new home and both stories are occupied by Agustín who lives with his servants in comfort and luxury. Since the house is so new, the author permits all the main characters to visit it and to comment about its furnishings. The first accounting is given by Felipe addressing himself to Amparo in chapter 11. The reader learns from Caballero's servant that the house is a curious mixture of practicality and luxury. Such articles as the poached egg server in the shape of a hen laying silver eggs, and a liquor cabinet shaped like a boat complete with sails and loaded with glasses are certainly items of indulgence. But the most outstanding feature of the house is its comfort and practicality which correspond perfectly to Agustin's character. The bathroom and kitchen are the most modern available in Spain, with running hot water and ample space for several families. Every object in the house is carefully arranged since even a notebook out of place displeases Agustín who has a passion for neatness and is mortified by anything «irregular». Although the most benevolent of masters, he often finds cause to chide Felipe for his carelessness about the house: «Felipe, mira cómo está ese candelabro... Felipe, ¿te parece que es ese el sitio de la caja de puros? Felipe, veo que te distraes más de la cuenta... Te has dejado aquí tus apuntes de clase. Hazme el favor de no ponerme aquí papeles que no sean míos» (p. 131).

The narrator goes into more detail about the furnishings in chapter 21 while preparing to relate the visit of Rosalía and Amparo. Felipe's earlier description is enlarged and Agustin's office is described in great detail. Just as in the entire house, the office offers a mixture of the practical with the purely decorative, the primitive alongside the elegant. Beside the bookcases filled with books on commerce and literature are other shelves with Mexican figurines, articles fashioned of jade, wax and cloth. On top of the desk are glass paperweights in the form of fruit. The clock above the mantel is of bronze, made in Paris in the Egyptian style with gold plating. It is evident that these objects so minutely described reveal not only the richness of the dwelling, but the intricate character of its owner as well. Since Caballero wishes his house to be a model of the best possible taste, he has adorned it with elegant Parisian furniture. This corresponds to his desire to Europeanize himself. He has come from Texas to establish himself among the better Madrid families; he intends to marry and live as an honorable member of society. Even though he rarely entertained a devout notion during his long stay in America, in Madrid he decides to embrace the Catholic religion because he feels it represents tradition and stability. Order, peace, and an honorable spouse are the things Caballero is searching for in Europe. But alongside the French decor and the silver and gold objets d'art stands his collection   —41→   of wax figures made by the Mexican Indians. The narrator is unable to resist a rather personal commentary about these figures, revealing an admiration for Indian crafts which Caballero obviously shares: «Nada existe más bonito que estas creaciones de un arte no aprendido, en el cual la imitación de la Naturaleza llega a extremos increíbles, demostrando la aptitud observadora del indio y la habilidad de sus dedos para dar espíritu a la forma. Sólo en el arte japonés encontramos algo de valor semejante a la paciencia y gusto de los escultores aztecas» (p. 132).

When Amparo dreams of the house on Arenal street, she sees it as a scene from a Thousand and One Nights. For her the house is truly Cinderella's palace while for Agustín it is the carefully premeditated incarnation of his hopes for the future. Besides the modern kitchen and luxurious bedroom suites destined for the mistress of the house, there is an undetermined number of bedrooms for the future offspring of the couple. Every possible event has been provided for by Agustín, who, unlike Amparo, looks confidently to the future for happiness.

One month before the wedding a tour of inspection of the new house is given to Rosalía accompanied by Amparo and doña Cándida. The three women are most interested in the «rose» room and the nuptial suite, a «museito muy mono» (p. 174). Amparo, however, doubts the reality of what she sees, preferring to gaze into Agustin's face than to comment on the house's decor. By the time she leaves, she feels extremely uncomfortable because her admiration is tempered by despair and feelings of guilt.

According to Rosalía, the luxury of her cousin's house is insulting and revolutionary. Even before her visit she has had occasion to complain of the useless «chirimbolo» and, as she accompanies her ex-maid throught the rooms she is scandalized by the exorbitant luxury. Neverthelss she cannof help viewing with envy the living and dining rooms filled with bronzes, walnut furniture and precious paintings. When shortly afterwards the wedding between Agustín and Amparo proves impossible, the narrator ruthlessly reveals Rosalía's true opinion of such insulting luxury:

soñaba despierta por las calles. «Es nuestro -pensaba-, es nuestro...» Y después de recebar su imaginación en las hermosuras de la casa de la calle del Arenal, vivienda de ricacho soltero, veía montones de rasos, terciopelos, sedas, encajes, pieles, joyas sin fin, colores y gracias mil, los sombreros más elegantes, las últimas novedades parisienses, todo muy bien lucido en teatros, paseos, tertulias. Y esta grandiosa visión, estimulando dormidos apetitos de lujo, le mareaba el cerebro y hacía de ella otra mujer, la misma señora de Bringas retocada y adulterada, si bien consolándose de su falsificación con las ardientes borracheras del triunfo.

(p. 242)                

During her second visit to Agustín's house, Amparo finds herself once again in the nuptial chamber where she intends to put an end to her life. Felipe is dispatched to buy the lethal medicine while Amparo listens to the shrill pitch of Agustin's mechanical birds. With their «diabolic» mechanism, the cardboard birds are able to move their wings and beaks while they sing. The sound of this invention is so overpowering that Amparo imagines it is contained within her. Its echo, however, can be heard throughout the house. Agustín is surprised to hear it as he passes through the upstairs rooms. The music continues until Ampare, swallows the supposed poison and falls in a faint on the bedroom sofa.   —42→   This eerie backgound music, repeatedly mentioned in chapters 34 and 36, enhances the spatial dimension and emphasizes the drama of the attempted suicide scene. The false birds, singing mechanically in their gilded cage, could also be symbolic of Amparo's tragic situation.

Upon finishing Tormento the reader has the impression that he has visited sinister and dark places. In all the houses of the novel, with the exception of the one just studied, there is evident a conscious attempt to create an obscure environment where often the only light visible is radiated from the faces of the characters. The first chapter of the novel begins with a nocturnal encounter between two characters barely able to distinguish each other in the total darkness. The novel ends in Bringas' office with another nocturnal dialogue. Most of the scenes which occur in between these two dialogues also take place at night. During the García Grande visit to the Bringas household (mentioned in the first part of this article) Rosalía boasts that the lighting in some of the rooms of her apartment is excellent. This statement is pure fiction because the entire house is as dark as the labyrinth it represents. During the evening its inhabitants move in the shadow of the three or four gas lamps. There is one on Rosalía's dressing table, another in the son's room and one or two for use in the kitchen and dining room. Neither Francisco nor his daughter are permitted to have light in the evening.

On one occasion Caballero visits the Bringas family in the early evening before going to the theatre. The narrator describes the scene using chiaroscuro contrasts which characterize the narrative style of Tormento. Francisco and Caballero move together from the dining room to the office and back again to the dining room passing by the son's bedroom. The face of Bringas, lit up by the light from the gas lamp in his hand, is like «el faro de la Historia derramando claridad sobre los sucesos» (p. 45).

On both occasions when Amparo and Caballero find themselves alone in the Bringas house, the sun has already set. During the second meeting the two stare at one another in the darkness of the sewing room, unable to dissimulate their respective emotions. But the eyes of Agustín are charged with rays of light: «Las miradas del indio observando el bulto de su amada en la penumbra bastarían a suplir la luz solar que rápidamente mermaba» (p. 122). Moments afterwards the pair find themselves in the hallway next to the receiving room, a place as dark as a cavern. Next they go together to the living room. At the very moment they are about to embrace for the first time, they suddenly observe a «testigo indiscreto» enter the room. It is the light from the receiving room, carried by Prudencia the maid: «La claridad entró, creció, disminuyendo luego hasta extinguirse, remedo de un día de medio minuto limitado dentro de sus dos crepúsculos» (p. 123). Amparo and Caballero are hiding in the dark room while outside an entire day, consisting of half a minute, passes with the «sun» carried by Prudencia. The relationship between the two is thus symbolically relegated to darkness. When Prudencia inquires if the two wish to have a light, Amparo, preferring to remain in the darkness with Agustín, answers that it is still too early for light.

There is another house in Tormento that is even darker than the Bringas apartment. The stairwell of Pedro Polo's house is appropriately called a «cisterna al revés» (p. 87), since one, climbs it to reach the «abismo». The use of the   —43→   word 'abyss' signifies the complete darkness and gloom of the house on Fe street. Since Pedro refuses to allow Celedonia to sweep or clean, there is greaseand dust everywhere and the rooms are infested with spiders and vermin. Thus the narrator has created a suitable environment for a man whose physical and moral downfall is so complete. Into this abyss Amparo enters like a ray of light: «Cierto día entró inopinadamente en ella alguien que parecía celestial emisario, y aquel recinto muerto y lóbrego tomó vida, luz» (p. 97). While she sets the table for the afternoon meal the sun's rays engulf the room «haciendo brotar chispas de las recién lavadas copas» (p. 98). As to be expected, when she leaves she takes the sun with her: «la tarde avanzaba. El rayo de sol, que entraba en la habitación al mediodía había descrito ya su círculo de costumbre alrededor de la mesa y se había retirado escurriéndose a lo largo de la pared del patio, hasta desvanecerse en las techumbres. La sala se iba quedando oscura y fría» (p. 109). Amparo's second visit to Polo's apartment is less fortunate than her first. Instead of dispersing the shadows she is forced to hide in them to escape the wrath of Polo's sister. However, her feminine presence is so pervading that Marcelina Polo detects she is in the apartment even before the incriminating glove is found in the living room.

It is no accident that in such a dramatic novel as Tormento the background should be a black curtain and that most of the scenes take place at night. Galdós is fully aware of the dramatic function of chiaroscuro description and he uses inhabited space not only to reveal character but to remind the reader that he is reading about a «Tormento». True, Caballero's house is bathed in light since every room, even the hallways, is well lit. But even for Agustín his lavish dwelling is a house of dreams. Its brightness only serves to make the other dwellings of Tormento seem more obscure. In contrast to his Utopian palace are all the other dwellings of the novel where poverty and darkness prevail.

University of Chicago

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