Máximo Manso: The molde and the hechura103
No reader of Galdós remains long unaware that the important figures in his works bear names with both a real and a metaphoric dimension. Often the authorial comment thus made is obvious but ironic (Don Inocencio, Doña Cándida), sometimes it is clear and direct (Benigna, Víctor), and on occasion the implied comparison is openly explained by the author (Torquemada) or a character (Licurgo). Instances are not lacking when the symbolism is so unambiguous as to be anti-esthetic (José María Cruz, Electra), but then some of these seemingly unsubtle ones (Cruz del Águila) go on to form the basis of the most complex of thematic and structural metaphoric developments. The Shoemaker study of the character of José Ido del Sagrario reveals how elaborate and meaningful such metaphor can be even in the case of a secondary character104. Máximo Manso's name is no exception to such onomastics, and critics have known this from the beginning, at least in a general way. A closer look, however, may reveal more than has been suspected.
If the Diccionario de la Real Academia defines manso as «benigno y suave» and as «sosegado», it also gives us a sixth acceptance that includes «buey que sirve de guía a los demás». The latter can serve as a point of departure toward the enlargement of the term as Galdós conceived it within the context of his novel. The modesty of dictionaries notwithstanding, a popular acceptance of the word (obviously an extension of the buey -not masculine- suggestion) is «cuckold» or «no bravo»; that is, one who is taken advantage of or used by others. Unamuno saw this clearly when he re-elaborated the Galdós material in Niebla. The Augusto Pérez/Eugenia/Mauricio triangle is closely modeled on Manso/Irene/Manuel.105
The «cuckold» meaning is, however, richer than this might suggest. It will be remembered that when Manso accompanied Irene and the children to the theater to see some Christmas plays, one of those witnessed was a travesty entitled El Nacimiento del Hijo de Dios, of which the protagonist-narrator says, «lo más repugnante de aquella farsa increíble era un pastor zafio y bestial, pretendiente a la mano de María, y que en la escena del templo y en el resto de la obra se permitía groseras libertades de lenguaje a propósito de la mansedumbre de San José.»106
Five years after the publication of El amigo Manso, Galdós returned, with Fortunata y Jacinta, to the matter of the mansedumbre of San José in the naming and imagined cuckoldry of José Ido del Sagrario107 in a novel in which the triangle situation is echoed with variation after variation in a series of trios. With his marriage to Fortunata, Maxi invites the cuckolding which soon follows, resulting in a pregnancy he imagines to have a —64→ supernatural cause. The all but identical first names of Manso and Rubín (Máximo/Maximiliano) is suggestive. Part of the novelist's interest in each case -despite the differences between the two characters- is to satirize with the inflated first name and then to portray men who, in important senses, live on the fringes of life and come to grief when they enter into it without full understanding of their own natures and those of others. As their stories begin Maximiliano and Máximo are living the «life of the mind» (pharmacy/philosophy), cared for by a mother figure (Doña Lupe/Doña Javiera). They then enter the affective world through interest of an amorous nature (although not fully understood as such because of their unworldliness) in an inappropriate woman (Fortunata/Irene) whose natural affections turn to a man more suited to her emotional needs (Juanito/Manuel). The competition is unequal and both Maximiliano and Máximo are defeated, whereupon they withdraw once more from the world, the former into lofty, rationalistic madness, the latter into death, i.e., the nonexistence with which the novel began. Maximiliano, in his final wise madness, says: «No contamos con la Naturaleza... Protestamos contra sus lecciones admirables, que no entendemos, y cuando queremos que nos obedezca, nos coge y nos estrella, como el mar estrella a los que pretenden gobernarlo»108. Máximo begins his story with: «Yo no existo» (9). In both characters Galdós is portraying the conflict between the natural and the rational and the two men share both real and figurative mansedumbre. The similarity of names having led us to think of the two men in comparative terms, we can now see that they are, in fact, variations on a single character configuration that recurs in Galdós' work. The structuralistic: resonances of such an insight can then lead us to group other characters in the novelas contemporáneas as multiple incarnations of a single actant.109
When, with his first words, Manso claims «Yo no existo» (9) and shortly thereafter «carezco de buena barba» (12)110, the metaphoric elaboration of his name begins, just as the ramifications of the word Miau begin their growth in Chapter I of that novel and by the end have branched out into the entire world of the work, taking on more and more meaning with each new use. Leaving aside, for the moment, the narrator's relationship to the novel's creator, it is illuminating to note that the character's novelistic «life» begins when, for the first time, he ceases being a philosopher. He leaves his vida sosegada (sosegada = mansa) for the purpose of attempting a direct and personal impact on society through his pupil Manuel (= «God with us»). Very shortly, with the arrival of José María Manso and family from Cuba, the spatial focus of the novel moves to that household, to remain there until sosiego returns after the marriage of Manuel and Irene. It is typical of Galdós' novelistic structures for the action to begin with the introduction of an agent of change into the central character's life, his or her true nature being a given which the author tells us about but does not dramatize. The action of the work then portrays the character struggling to achieve what will be seen as impossible, either because of his own true nature or that of society -or a combination of the two. We are not shown Villaamil being appreciated, or Fortunata being vulgar, or Torquemada being cruel. We must take these matters on faith and then observe the character in action coping —65→ with the opposite condition or the need to change. So it is with Máximo Manso.
Manso's former life is described by Doña Javiera: «¡Un hombre sin trapicheos, sin ningún vicio, metidito toda la mañana en su casa; un hombre que no sale más que dos veces: tempranito, a clase; por la tarde, a paseo, y que gasta poco, se cuida de la salud y no hace tonterías!» (18). Curiously, however, the novel proper portrays him as almost exclusively concerned with trivia involving principally his brother's housebold. Why should this be so?
The narrator calls José María «Bendito José» (72) when speaking of his heading a political party called the Mantistas, but Don José protests, «Todo me lo han hecho..., yo no me muevo... Yo no busco a nadie; me buscan» (73). This mansedumbre is, of course, not valid -as the narrator recognized when ironically using the adjective bendito with its double suggestion- but Galdós has not baptized his character «José» without intent. The Manso brothers' relationship to Manuel Peña is different but pointedly parallel, Máximo providing the rational formation and José María the practical: first education, then life. The end of the novel makes very clear that Manuel turns out to be the foster son of José, not of Máximo:
It is José María, who has «El espíritu reconciliatorio» and who «todo lo transige» (85), advising Máximo to «abandonar de una vez para siempre las utopías y exageraciones, buscando en el ancho campo de mi saber una fórmula de transacción, una manera de reconciliar la teoría con el uso y el pensamiento con el hecho» (88). This much-referred-to characteristic of José María is later brought to bear on Máximo by Manuel when he persuades his mentor to stop at an unphilosophical buñolería at the unphilosophical hour of four A.M.: «Transacción... Procuremos conciliarlo todo, como dice su hermano de usted» (90). It is one of the many ironies of the novel that Máximo transige much more than he ever realizes, although he does speak of the problem on several occasions, particularly in the light of Manuel's duel (105).
The height of Máximo's coming to terms with his society is in his consenting to speak at the velada along with any number of cursis before a popular audience. On this occasion Manuel, the man for the century111, triumphs, and Manso fails, whereupon his brother tells him, «Nunca serás nada... porque no estás nunca en situación. ¿Ves tu discurso de esta noche, que es práctico y filosófico y todo lo que quieras? Pues no ha gustado, ni —66→ entusiasmará nunca al público nada de lo que escribas, ni harás carrera, ni pasarás de triste catedrático, ni tendrás fama... Y tú, tú eres el que hace en mi casa propaganda de modestia ridícula, de ñoñerías filosóficas y de necedades metódicas» (125-126).112
The shifting mixtures of active and passive in the brothers Manso and in their relationship with Manuel reach their apogee in the triple courtship of Irene, in which, of course, the younger man cuckolds the two Mansos, each proceeding according to his established character: José María brutal and unscrupulous, Máximo timid and analytical, while Manuel merely acts with the natural vitality and drama of youth. Later Máximo laments that, unlike Manuel, he was not Adam but rather the methodical angel defending the gates of the paradise of reason (200). The role of Manuel, then, as simultaneous protegé and rival of both the Manso brothers is rather elaborately worked out as part of the mansedumbre motif of the novel. Irene's saying that the two brothers are «el día y la noche» (101) should not mislead us. Galdós has used such complex and superficially contradictory name symbolism elsewhere. The Miau manuscript reveals that the unloved Villaamil sisters, Luisa and Abelarda -the author's draft changes suggest it- take their names from the medieval lovers Héloïse and Abelard, despite the sex change and inappropriate relationship113. The irony of their relationship to Víctor, the unworthy man they both love, it thus expressed. For related artistic reasons Tristana, in the novel of the same name, is not called Isolda.
The morning after Máximo discovers that Irene has given herself to Manuel, the narrator, having regained the emotional control that he had lost for the first time in his life, rationalizes in his class lecture that «El hombre de pensamiento descubre la verdad; pero quien goza de ella y utiliza sus celestiales dones es el hombre de acción, el hombre de mundo, que vive en las particularidades, en las contingencias, y en el ajetreo de los hechos comunes» (180). Indeed, the various mixtures of active and passive -continuation of the mansedumbre elaboration- become the very stuff of the novel, providing its vital principle. Every significant character reflects Galdós' preoccupation with mansedumbre, making the work a fabric of dependency/ independence, use/abuse, doing for and being done unto114. Manso, the thinker, paradoxically spends his novelistic life carrying out the everyday errands of his brother's household. José María, who can bend society to his will -he claims- by letting it use him, must turn to Máximo when a nodriza is needed for the new baby, Máximo meekly complies, inappropriate as the task is to his calling. The nodriza, in turn, becomes an image of use and abuse. The utter dependence upon her of both mother and child turns her into a kind of human cow whose entire family descends upon the Mansos to be fed, lodged, and humored, lest the nodriza leave the family without milk for the baby. When trouble arises, it is Manso who must amansar her father (214). The mansedumbre theme may, in fact, explain the inordinate amount of space given to the nodriza matter in the novel. It does not otherwise seem thematically integral.
No better example of the parasitical, of the actively dependent, could be found than in the character of Doña Cándida, who, spends her vital energy inventing ruses for the use and abuse of others, and principally of the Manso —67→ family. The narrator is used by everyone. «¡Cuándo acabarían mis dolorosos esfuerzos en pro de los demás!... Bienaventurado el que enciende una vela a la caridad y otra al egoísmo» (215). When Máximo is not running errands for his sister-in-law -in whose household he nevertheless becomes just as much a dependent as do Doña Cándida, Manuel, the nodriza and her family, and the political hangers-on around José María- he is solving the problems of others, amansando a Doña Javiera, Doña Cándida, his brother, Manuel, Irene, etc. The latter is herself a part of the paradoxical mansedumbre permeating the novel: «¿Qué habíamos de sospechar, viendo aquella modestia, aquella conformidad mansa, aquella cosita... así...? Pero estas mansas son de la piel de Barrabás para esconder sus líos...» (158).
The work in its entirety is a study of the influence of the individual on his milieu and of it upon him. Earlier critical approaches sometimes brought to the work an a priori belief that the undeniable Krausist ideas expressed in El amigo Manso required a positive reading. Such approaches are now being tempered by interpretations in keeping with Galdós' hope and charity, without requiring him to have faith115. Imagination, the ever-present «loca de la casa» in his works, never triumphs. The other novels that deal with change in the individual and in society -and on the highest level this may be the prevailing theme of all his work- are pessimistic. El amigo Manso is no exception, nor is the author subtle about the matter. In the first chapter Manso claims to be the «humilde auxiliar de esa falange de nobles artífices que siglo tras siglo han venido tallando en el bloque de la bestia humana la hermosa figura del hombre divino» (12), but he admits that «la penetración activa, la audacia fecunda, la fuerza potente y creadora, me están vedadas como a los demás mortales de mi tiempo» (12; underlining ours). Later he states categorically that «es ley que el mundo sea nuestro molde y no nuestra hechura» (69)116. And finally, in the last chapter, his existence concluded, he finds that «de cuánto escribí y enseñé apenas quedan huellas» (224). In the case of Manuel, «Lo que yo le enseñé apenas se distingue bajo el espeso fárrago de adquisiciones tan luminosas como prácticas, obtenidas en el Congreso y en los combates de la vida política, que es la vida de la acción pura y de la gimnástica volitiva» (224). Ironically, José María's career will carry him to the post of ministro -without benefit of the education Manuel had received from Máximo. Only one of the meek will inherit the earth. Máximo -«el pensamiento de la familia» (99)- is last remembered by Doña Cándida when she begs money from Irene to have masses said for his soul, money in fact destined for some more practical purpose.
The reflection of thematic conflict in Galdós' characters and in their interrelationships in the manner here described is frequent and perhaps constant in the novelas contemporáneas. Although the other novels need not be approached through the characters' names, such a method might be revealing in some instances. Miau, like El amigo Manso, reveals a double theme with a positive and a negative component, within which all the characters struggle and relate. As is usual with Galdós, the dual theme has implications for both the individual and the group. In Miau the subject is success vs. failure; in both Fortunata y Jacinta and the Torquemada series it is change —68→ and constancy117, and no reader of Galdós needs to be reminded of the dualities and their elaboration in Doña Perfecta and Misericordia. Recognition of such thematic deep-structuring not only aids specifically in the analysis of individual novels, but also has broader implications for the illumination of Galdós' general creative method.
Studies of El amigo Manso have tended to focus either on the matter of its autonomous character (novelistic technique) or on its Krausism (ideology). The two are in fact -for all their inherent interest as unique phenomena- both aspects of the elaboration of the motif of mansedumbre: action vs. thought, influencing vs. being influenced. When Manso says at the beginning of the -novel «Yo no existo» (9), the statement quickly takes on a variety of meanings, some real, some metaphoric. Manso does not exist because he is a literary creation of the author, not a real person, but he is also at both beginning and end disembodied spirit. Within the body of the work Manso is as firmly rooted in the reality of the novel as is any other character -indeed, more so, since the others exist only as he perceives them. There is no author but he. However, he does not exist in another sense, as a person in a real world. Manuel tells him «Usted no vive en el mundo... Su sombra de usted se pasea por el salón de Manso; pero usted permanece en la grandiosa Babia del pensamiento, donde todo es ontológico, donde el hombre es un ser incorpóreo, sin sangre ni nervios, más hijo de la idea que de la Historia y de la Naturaleza; un ser que no tiene edad, ni patria, ni padres, ni novia» (94). The novel is the story of Manso's gradual approach to the life of action and the emotions, but his failure withdraws him from life once more -again in the double sense. When Manso's story is told, when Galdós has finished with him, he meekly accepts his creator's dictum (unlike his literary descendent, Unamuno's Augusto Pérez) and dies without sufficient natural cause and without resistance. Rather than autonomous, he is its opposite: dependent -the passive agent of Galdós' creative act. Máximo tells Doña Javiera: «He dado mi fruto y estoy de más» (222). When she claims not to recognize his «fruit», he makes his only positive statement, but without clarifying its meaning: «Invisible es todo lo grande, toda ley, toda causa, todo elemento activo» (222). Later he claims -in passages most of which we have already quoted- to have left little behind him in others, while memory of him has faded rapidly away. The passivity/ failed activity/return to passivity structure of his story is complete, and he goes back -so willed by his creator- to what he had called at the beginning the «frío aburrimiento de estos espacios de la idea» (10), or to what is now seen as sosiego (223) as opposed to the dolor (11) of human life.
The ambiguities of the novel largely evolve from Galdós' capacity for combining opposites and his related talent for creating dichotomous characters. The latter include those with whose ideas or way of life Galdós disagrees, but for whom he expresses compassion (Torquemada), and those who are made ridiculous as people, but whose ideas are close to those of the author (Bailón). Such ambiguity is found in El amigo Manso, but more problematic still is the question of Manso as narrator (and therefore interested party) of —69→ his own life. Early statements such as «Adquirí cierta presunción pedantesca y un airecillo de autoridad del que posteriormente, a Dios gracias, me he curado por completo» (15) are disproved by the remainder of the work and reveal the narrator's unreliability. Clarification of the matter is of no less importance for El amigo Manso than it is for that other great experiment in first person narrative voice, Lo prohibido. The temporal perspective of the narrator is also a puzzle in relation to the above. Manso tells us that he is thirty-five and that the major action he will describe occurs in the space of a year (11), yet he dies «naturally» at the end. If the entire novel is narrated after the fact -as it would seems to be- rather than in medias res, interpretative difficulties multiply.
On the night that Manuel had persuaded Manso to accompany him to the buñolería, Máximo's claim that the education being given his pupil was obviously not taking root is followed by «-¡Oh!, no -exclamó Peña con vehemencia, dándose una puñada sobre el corazón y un palmetazo en la frente-. Algo queda. Mucho hay aquí y aquí, maestro, que permanecerá por tiempo infinito. Esta luz no se extinguirá jamás, y mientras haya espacio, mientras haya tiempo...» (92). Manuel is not speaking seriously, of course. The setting, the gestures, and the hyperbole make that clear, but Manso's story makes even clearer that he was occasionally unrealistic enough to believe that the man of thought could remain, could permanently change the world. Galdós knows better, as does Manso -from time to time: «La Humanidad es como la han hecho, o como se ha hecho ella misma. No hay nada que la tuerza» (214). Perhaps the ultimate ambiguity of the work -whether intended or not- is after all in that word manso, from the Latin manere: permanecer.
University of Massachusetts-Amherst