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ArribaAbajoEl amigo Manso and the Game of Fictive Autonomy

John W. Kronik

Allowing, as his more recent heirs have, that art is a game, Galdós in El amigo Manso has chosen to play with the game that art is and invites his reader and critic to join him in that game118. The game in this case revolves about a protagonist who functions as a purportedly autonomous character, that is, one who is himself aware of his fictional status and by virtue of that awereness gains a degree of independence from his creator119. That independence is projected at the start when Manso, after revealing that he is the evocation of a conjurer-novelist who is a friend of his, recounts:

Este tal vino a mí hace pocos días, hablome de sus trabajos, y como me dijera que había escrito ya treinta volúmenes, le tuve tanta lástima que no pude mostrarme insensible a sus acaloradas instancias. Reincidente en el feo delito de escribir, me pedía mi complicidad para añadir un volumen a los treinta desafueros consabidos. Díjome [...] que sabedor de que yo poseía un agradable y fácil asunto, venía a comprármelo [...]. No me pareció mal trato, y acepté.

(I, 2-3)120                

El amigo Manso won little esteem from its contemporaries: a novel without plot or action, they called it; Clarín, to the best of our knowledge, failed to review it; and Unamuno pretended not to have understood it. Early critics paid little attention to the fact that Chapter I and Chapter L constitute a frame that establishes Máximo Manso in his own words as a lie, a fictive invention. These critics read the novel as an autobiographical account or as a disquisition on «krausismo» and late nineteenth-century educational theories121. Even Casalduero, in his predilection to classify, still labels El amigo Manso as a naturalistic novel in which Galdós exposes society to objective, scientific observation122. Vast as Galdós' readership has been, Galdós has yet to find his readers. The more recent commentators have tended to recognize the importance of the play on autonomy in this direct antecedent of Niebla, but in limited contexts or as a subservient component of the novel. Peter G. Earle, though concerned with other matters, has expressed well Máximo's duality as a creation: «El amigo Manso es la novela en que Galdós mejor sitúa a su protagonista en la circunstancia del novelista mismo. Es un espíritu autónomo que lleva su 'apariencia humana' en calidad de prestada»123. Robert H. Russell has pointed to Manso's awareness of himself as a writer of fiction and says cautiously: «It is not entirely imprudent to suggest that El amigo Manso is as much concerned with literature as it is with education»124. However, he prefers to hover above Galdós' game as a knowing non-participant, assumes that the unnamed character in the novel to whom Manso refers as his creator is Galdós, and, collating his reading of the novel with the author's career, limits his thesis to Galdós' discovery that the humanity of his fictional creations is deepened if his own ideological posture does not obtrude onto their reality. Gustavo Correa has understood and insisted more than any other critic that Galdós projects his artistic   —72→   consciousness as a thematic strain into his own novels. By that token, Correa has captured El amigo Manso's dimension as a novel about novel writing125. Even so, rather than fixing on it as an end in itself, Cornea treats the self-conscious aspect of Galdós' artistry as a feature of the novelist's construction of the illusion of reality. Many of the most perceptive readers of El amigo Manso have, in fact, responded to the work's suggestive treatment of the nebulous frontiers between reality and fiction.126

Máximo's apparent autonomous nature also has led the critics into social and ontological considerations -for good reasons, to be sure. Máximo's dual existence as the product of his creator and as an independent entity willy-nilly invites examination of the grey area between fact and fiction, reality and illusion. The autonomous character metaphorically raises the question of the split that exists between man as a social being with social dependency on others and man as endowed with the power to form and determine himself. Manso articulates that issue in his pithy utterance: «es ley que el mundo sea nuestro molde y no nuestra hechura». On another level, man's relation to God is suggested (the novel's second paragraph establishes the parallel), or more broadly, man's subjection to fate -the uncontrollability of human actions. A further form of subjection that man is seen to suffer is the power of his psyche. If Máximo Manso is not the puppet of his creator, he is, then, under the control of his «mansedumbre»: he may be a free character, but he is not free of his character. The self and the other are in pernicious contest. From the author's position, the autonomous character -Máximo in this case- can be seen as a projection of the author's subconscious. Yet another reading of the novel turns it, like Niebla, into an attack on reason. Máximo, as an intellectual, a philosopher, a teacher, has the power to autonomize himself through thought. So defined, he functions as both subject and object, as an eye on society and as matter for examination. His failure, his apparent ingestion into the bourgeois mode, represents from this standpoint the collapse of the cerebral way.

The presence of these important questions in El amigo Manso over and above its documentation of a social transformation and its ironic representation of a theory of education is testimony to the novel's richness. Beyond that, whether or not Máximo is, in fact, a truly autonomous character is in itself a root problem for critics. If he is autonomous, who made him that way? Who gave him his name? How can he be autonomous and such a perfect little bourgeois? Doesn't the structure of illusion within an illusion simply amount to fabrication? The problem is worth discussing.

But whether or not Máximo is autonomous -namely, free by appearances- is secondary to the illusion that he is. Though proportionately in greater view, the human disposition of Máximo Manso is always subservient to his fictional substance. The readers who fail to perceive that fact have ignored or forgotten the first chapter and many details of the narration. They have accepted all too readily Manso's invitation, «Vedme con apariencia humana» (1, 2), and disregarded with equal alacrity his admonition that he speaks without possession of a voice and writes though he has no hands. The narrative trick that makes Máximo appear transcendentally   —73→   conscious of his fictionality and therefore not to be Galdós' creation makes the novel appear to be Máximo's creation. El amigo Manso is therefore a metanovel -a novel that investigates the nature of the novel, art about art. The autonomous -or supposedly autonomous- character in El amigo Manso raises not so much the question of Galdós' bold novelistic technique in this particular work (a major concern of the critics who have paused to comment on the device), but the whole broad problem of fiction, its birth, the relationship of its constitutive elements, its power, and its immortality127. Galdós' novel strikes beyond its evident link with Don Quijote to display the artistic self-consciousness that is so very much a twentieth-century phenomenon.

Lest El amigo Manso be taken as a momentary aberration, a measure of Galdós' whimsicality in 1882, it is well to recall that throughout his career he made manifest directly within his novels his preoccupation with the creative process. In the last chapter of Fortunata y Jacinta, in the funeral scene, one sentence stands out for its bizarre timbre in the context of a mimetic narrative: «En el largo trayecto de la Cava al cementerio, que era uno de los del Sur, Segismundo contó al buen Ponce todo lo que sabía de la historia de Fortunata, que no era poco, sin omitir lo último, que era, sin duda lo mejor; a lo que dijo el eximio sentenciador de obras literarias que había allí elementos para un drama o novela, aunque, a su parecer, el tejido artístico no resultaría vistoso sino introduciendo ciertas urdimbres de todo punto necesarias para que la vulgaridad de la vida pudiese convertirse en materia estética» (V, 544)128. This delicious morsel of artistic self-revelation is Galdós' commentary on his way as a novelist and on his belief that there is stuff for a novel in every one of us. The sentences that follow the one quoted are a midway compromise between Galdós' positions in his Observaciones sobre la novela contemporánea en España of 1870 and his 1897 entry speech to the Academy.

On a larger scale, in one of his earliest works, La sombra, the creative process is literalized when Paris, an «ente de imaginación», comes to life out of a painting. At the same time, as Harriet S. Turner has indicated, Galdós produces the illusion of Anselmo's fictional autonomy by allowing Anselmo to assert his independence in a series of confrontations between character and narrator-as-character129. «The daydreams of Isidora in La desheredada, in which, influenced by her readings of romance, she constructs herself into a fictious heroine, are a form of inner recreation. As well as a commentary on a specific type of narrative, they are a commentary on fiction in general, a complicated but not uncommon case (Madame Bovary and La Regenta are well-known examples) where fiction fosters fiction. Another instance of reflexivity is Tormento, which, from a certain perspective, is the creation of José Ido del Sagrario as outlined at the end of El doctor Centeno»130. In Lo prohibido, José María Bueno de Guzmán undertakes a literary venture in the writing of his memoirs. The God-visions of Luisito in Miau constitute an interior duplication of the creative process, so much so that Luisito replaces Galdós as the all-knowing power that determines Villaamil's suicide. Manolo Infante's last letter in La incógnita posits that   —74→   reality is incomplete without its fictionalization, where the soul of truth lies, and so Realidad is born. The letter also questions generic distinctions in literature and the authorship of the literary creation. The name that her mother bestows on Tristana is, as the narrator explains it, an act of literary recreation that imposes, from the mother's viewpoint, the harmony and nobility of art on «nuestras realidades groseras y vulgares» (V, 1546). Her protector, for his part, is converted into a theatrical figure by acquaintances who call him Don Lope de Sosa, while he, himself, has engaged in a similar fictional self-recreation: «Andando el tiempo, supe que la partida de bautismo rezaba don Juan López Garrido, resultando que aquel sonoro don Lope era composición del caballero, como un precioso afeite aplicado a embellecer la personalidad»; and the name, it turns out, suits him so well «que el sujeto no se podía llamar de otra manera» (V, 1541). Nazarín, thanks to its peculiar structure, is a statement on the act of writing. And in Misericordia, the whole puzzling episode of Don Romualdo can be explained only, but quite easily, as a manifestation of fiction's miraculous powers of creation.

All these instances reflect the concern on Galdós' part with the problem that Erich Kahler in his interesting little book, The Disintegration of Form in the Arts (New York: Braziller, 1968), considers a mark of our times. He says: «more recently the problem of how to render the bewildering complexity of out reality has become the very subject matter of certain works of art. [...] [This] means the presentation in a work of art of the artist's struggle with his task -a kind of artistic epistemology» (p. 6). The French «new» novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet, avowed enemy of art that signifies anything external to art, expresses the same thought: «What constitutes the novelist's strength is precisely that he invents, that he invents quite freely, without a model. The remarkable thing about modern fiction is that it asserts this characteristic quite deliberately, to such a degree that invention and imagination become, at the limit, the very subject of the book»131. El amigo Manso is at the least a venerable example of what Wellek and Warren call the «romantic-ironic» mode of narration132. More than that, it is Galdós' most expansive statement on the problematic nature of fiction.

Chapter I, with Chapter L at its heels, is the structure that shapes the entire novel. In fact, the two chapters are the unit that comprises the novel in question here: the story of fiction. Between them, they contain a fictional story. The outer novel serves to distance the interior novel from itself and from the reader, along lines that turn out to be as Brechtian as they are Cervantine. The interior novel, if framed, must occupy a space inside and lesser than the framed whole (that is, Chapters I through L span more pages than Chapters II through XLIX). At the same time, the interior novel is perceived by the reader as a contained image. But in its function, the frame of a novel is quite unlike a picture frame, which one might rather compare to the covers of a book. The physical frame of a picture is normally an adventitious, externally imposed element, which the modern painter regularly prefers to suppress, leaving the picture to be bound by its natural limits. The novel's frame is an intrinsic member of the imaginative construct and does not outline decoratively the image it contains nor simply circumscribe   —75→   that image spatially; instead, it infuses the construct with meaning and delimits that meaning. It is a sign superimposed on another sign, which latter can no longer be perceived independently of its informing structure. In other words, the novel cannot be reduced to what the frame contains: a social portrait of late nineteenth-century Spain or the dialectic between thought and action. The story of Máximo Manso is bound by a structure that forces a wedge between the bourgeois reality of the inner novel and the reader's own bourgeois reality all the while as it passes sentence on bourgeois reality. The two-tiered structuring compels in the reader a critical awareness of what the novel is about and what the novel is.

Roman Jakobson in a celebrated essay isolated the six factors that constitute a speech event: addresser, addressee, message, context, code, and contact133. Reading a novel can be considered a speech event. The function that language, or here the novel, takes on at any moment, explains Jakobson, depends on which of these elements is emphasized. In the bulk of El amigo Manso -in the interior novel- focus is on the message in its context, and so the novel's function is largely referential. The frame or outer novel shifts the attention of the addressee (reader) to the novel's code, and its function thus becomes self-referential, that is, metalingual or reflexive134. The frame, being a statement on fictionality, imposes that theme on the inner structure and colors the thematic statement of the inner structure with its exposure of fictionality.

«Yo no existo» are the novel's opening words (I, 1). «Yo soy Máximo Manso» is the title of the second chapter. There are two ways to interpret this transition. It can be said that Máximo emerges from nothingness (Ch. I) to assume carnality and identity (Ch. II). The novelistic process, here laid bare, demands, first, imaginative invention and, secondly, shaping of the invented object. An idea is fashioned into a character. Máximo, portrayed as conscious of himself as a text, actually reads himself the way the reader reads him. In telling his own story, he creates himself -again as the reader creates him by reading him. This way of looking at the initial chapters and the book confirms fiction as its subject.

The other perspective sets a value on the subject of fiction. «Yo no existo» is a flagrant declaration of Máximo's fictionality. The words are immediately corroborated: «Soy [...] una condensación artística [...]. Quimera soy, sueño de sueño y sombra de sombra, sospecha de una posibilidad» (I, 1-2). But paradoxically, the cry of «Yo no existo» can be uttered only by a being existentially aware of himself. «Yo no existo», which says «I am a fiction, a dream», means «I exist». It is as much an averment of existence -more so perhaps- as Augusto Pérez's climactic «Yo soy yo». When the second chapter proclaims, «Yo soy Máximo Manso», that then needs to be read as «I do not exist». More accurately, the statement says: «I exist because I do not exist». The passage from «Yo no existo» to «Yo soy Máximo Manso» is the affirmation of non-existence, that is, the apotheosis of fictionality. Manso's opening protest against any possible investiture «de los inequívocos atributos de la existencia real» must be taken literally. Later the text is dotted with efforts to project onto the reader Máximo's intuition   —76→   of his fictional otherness: «Me veía como figura de pesadilla, o como si yo fuera otro y con ese otro estuviera soñando en la plácida quietud de mi cama» (XIX, 116). Midway into the novel, Manuel Peña characterizes Manso to his face with words that most analysts of El amigo Manso feel constrained to quote: «-Usted no vive en el mundo, maestro [...] 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» (XX, 124). The meaning of these words in the context of Manolo's thought/action, theories/deeds, ontology/fife dichotomy is clear. They are, beyond that, the novel's most explicit internal link with its frame. What Manolo takes to be a character portrayal of his teacher is a description of his fictional essence that matches his self-appraisal. The play here is complex: Galdós' autonomized creation's autonomized creation recreates his creator coincidentally with the latter's self-creation. What I am saying -what Galdós is saying- is that Máximo Manso exists because he is a fiction, just as Unamuno exists not because he wrote Niebla but because he is a character in Niebla. Máximo as a non-existent entity acquires an existence that he could not otherwise have. Living in the bourgeois social atmosphere of Restoration Spain, Máximo as a man, even as a thinking man, is part of it; but as a fictional creature he transcends it. He exists in space and time in a way that Castelar's mother or Galdós' third brother -or Galdós himself- do not.

Once his fictive autonomy is certified, Máximo can say: «Es que alguien me evoca, y por no sé qué sutiles artes me pone como un forro corporal y hace de mi un remedo o máscara de persona viviente» (1, 2). Máximo's friend who evokes him -suppose, if you wish, that his name is Pérez Galdós- does not, in fact, exist prior to the narrative as his capacity to «evoke» Manso might imply. He exists only thanks to Manso, who creates him within the narrative. So, the character evokes the author, the creation creates his creator; and one may ask, as twentieth-century writers so often have: who creates whom, who owes his existence to whom in the fictional relationship? The answers are as ambiguous as the question is intriguing.

Manso, ever gentle and good, is everybody's friend. For his part, Galdós as narrator is often the friend of his «criaturas». But never is the friendship so close as it is between «el amigo» Manso and Galdós. Why? Because, like the best of friends, they are inseparable. If Manso cannot pinpoint the «subtle arts» of his creation, it is because the miracle of artistic birth cannot be defined or described with precision. The creator/creation dichotomy, when carried beyond the obvious and subjected to analysis, becomes so blurred that no order of sequential precedence between its two factors seems possible. As a consequence, a character like Manso endowed with the illusion of autonomy assumes a duality whose two sides the reader might forcibly isolate from each other if he wishes but which operate conjointly at every moment in the book. It is not, as Gullón would have it (p. 88), that part of Manso's narrative «I» participates and part contemplates: all of him does both at the same time. He is poet and empiricist, histor and eye-witness   —77→   wrapped into one135. That is why Manso can first talk of someone who conjures him (Ch. I: birth as a fiction) and then go on to speak calmly of his father and mother, to whom he owes his life and all that he is (Ch. II: birth within a fiction). Truly, an imagined entity should not be depending on a bowlful of chickpeas for his sustenance. It should be sufficient for a reader to read him. Yet, in that paradox lies the secret of fictional creation, which must live out this tension of being and not being autonomous. Of course, it is easy to envision the protests against such a reading: You can't have it both ways! You can't have Máximo creating a creator who has created him! But that is precisely the beauty of fiction, as Galdós fully realized. Its delectable ambiguity not only allows us to have it both ways, but forces these paradoxes upon us. Wordsworth's dictum, «The Child is father of the Man», seems appropriate to the case. Naturally, we know that there is no such unfathered creature as an autonomous character in the world of fiction. A character who is a paradox, a game, an irony, a phantom, is, in the end, impossible. Therefore, the question as to whether or not Máximo Manso or Grau's puppets or Capek's robots or Pirandello's homeless half dozen or Don Quijote are truly autonomous is beside the point when we acknowledge its illusoriness. The significance of the issue lies in our capacity to apprehend simultaneously that illusion of their possible autonomy and our knowledge of their dependency. The questions that follow upon that illusion constitute an inquiry into the nature of fiction through the problematic relationship between author and character. To the extent that he is known to us as an invention of Galdós, Máximo Manso here serves that investigative aim. And as happens regularly when the question matters more than the answer, the investigation produces no findings. At the end, in successive paragraphs, Máximo appears to will his own death -«Y tal era mi anhelo de descanso, que no me levanté más»- while yet dependent on his conjurer to effect it -«El mismo perverso amigo que me había llevado al mundo sacome de él» (L, 307, 308).

Máximo's death fits this scheme. Some critics have expressed puzzlement or sought vain explanations for his death from natural causes at the age of 35. But how old is Máximo Manso; how old is he now? Is he 35 as stated in the novel and therefore 35 forever? Is he 94, the age of the novel at this writing? Or is he 129, the sum of the two? The point, of course, is that Manso does not die; his story merely comes to a close. To borrow Nimetz' felicitous turn of phrase: «Although a mirage, Manso never quite disappears»136. Manso's death is not physical; it is, like his birth, a conjurer's act. A text cannot die. It can only reach its natural end, at which point, with one stage of the creative act completed, it lies in a continued state of dormant existence until it is read, reread, recreated, reexperienced. Manso can presumably die in his role as creator, though not as creation, a fact which actually assures him of survival on both counts: as creator, he lives through his creations, as Galdós does through Manso, even if his earthly traces disappear and his creations -Manolo, Irene- also autonomize themselves; as creation, there is no way in which he can suffer mortality, for a «yo sin carne ni hueso» (I, 1) is pure spirit.


In the novel's opening paragraph, Manso designates himself as a myth. A myth exists eternally, and a mythical figure enjoys life and significance beyond that of the ordinary human being. Novel writing is myth creation. Thus, when Máximo dies, he does not simply vanish from the earthly scene. His death is a signal that the process of his mythification has been accomplished. That is, he dies because the fictional mission has been realized: his story has been told; he has been created. He is now ready to pass into eternity. How is it he can tell us about his own demise? As subject and object, as teller of his tale, as creator of himself, he stands both outside and inside the fiction. He is a fictional being who is witness to his own fictionalization. From Máximo's perch outside the process of which he is the protagonist, his consciousness -his fictional consciousness- can embrace both the beginning and the end of that process. Again like the reader, he can read the text that he is -the whole text.

Furthermore, Máximo's death is not a disappearance into memory. His death is a very part of his existence, of his continuing existence. With his death, Máximo does not pass from existence into non-existence, but from process into state. The act of writing has come to an end; but the text exists, waiting to be read. What Manso imagines Irene telling him near the end of his development, we can all say quite literally: «Te leo, Manso; te leo como si fueras un libro escrito en la más clara de las lenguas» (XLVIII, 299). Máximo is recreated every time El amigo Manso is read; he can be recreated at will. I, as a critic, am now replaying that process of recreation. The rest of us, when we die, cannot aspire to that degree of immortality. Gullón (p. 83) recognizes, as do characters in the novel, that Máximo is different from the rest, that he appears not to participate in this life as they do. Gullón has done well to seize upon this distinctiveness of Máximo and to interpret it as the abyss which separates the man of action from the contemplative soul. There is no doubt that the text must be read in this fashion; but the text with the same words also alerts us to the distinction between a being of flesh and a fictitious creation. These two readings together allow us to superimpose onto Gullón's elucidation of the ending -Manso's happy escape into limbo from the regions of life's demands- the view that his «death» is a manifestation of his superior cognitive powers and his open reassumption of them137. Newton (p. 123) explains the close of the novel as a retreat into literariness on Manso's part after he was denied, because of his passive, analytical personality, entry into the world of action. If it is a retreat, it is a return to the fictional heights whence he had emerged. More accurately, perhaps, it is not a retreat, but an ascension. Certainly, though, literariness is the shape of Manso's immortality. His discovery of his uselessness and his subsequent secession from life constitute his existential self-realization as a fictitious character. Such is the implication -or one of them- when he complains: «Yo no era yo, o por lo menos, yo no me parecía a mí mismo. Era a ratos sombra desfigurada del señor de Manso» (L, 306). Only at that final point has the process of self-creation been consummated. At that point it makes full sense that at the start Manso should have seen himself existing, as myths do, in infinite time and that   —79→   -«recreándome en mi no ser» (1, 2)- he should have taken pleasure, as readers of novels do, in the contemplation of an invention.

The examination of the nature of fiction and of the problem of fictive autonomy is accorded yet a deeper dimension in El amigo Manso through a secondary structure that duplicates the primary one. Máximo's relationship with Manuel Peña and Irene is parallel to Máximo's relationship with his creator, for Máximo in turn becomes Manolo's and Irene's creator, and they, as soon as they are shaped, declare their independence of him.

As a first-person narrator, Manso is naturally the creator of all the characters in the book. Doña Javiera, for example, does not exist for us until Máximo writes: «Voy a hablar de mi vecina» (III, 13). The account he then presents of her appearance, speech habits, and personality traits is the process of novelistic creation. Lica, for her part, is ingenuous, delicate, and kind, as Manso sees (makes) her, and not the unpolished peasant girl that she is in the eyes of Madrid's high society. In the cases of Manolo and Irene, Manso's creative involvement is redoubled, because not only is he responsible for their presence in the novel, he is internally the catalyst for the particular shapes they assume. Manolo is his pupil, and Irene is his mental construct of an ideal.

The chapter that marks Manuel Peña's entry into the novel (IV) is entitled «Manolito Peña, mi discípulo». Since Manuel's discipleship breached the constraints of a purely formal academic education and Manuel before and after his contacts with his mentor was not the same person, «mi discípulo» can be read as «my creation». That stands as fact not only for the reader, but also for Manso, who, interestingly, defines that relationship in artistic terms. Initially he says: «Mi complacencia era igual a la del escultor que recibe un perfecto trozo del mármol más fino para labrar una estatua» (IV, 22). Assessing the raw material, Manso quickly determines that the esthetic terrain would be the most propitious for forming Manolo's character, a decision he smugly qualifies as «Excelente plan» (IV, 23). Later, with his task behind him -on the occasion of Peña's successful debut as an orator- Manso returns to the same idea: «yo había dado a sus dones nativos la vestidura del arte» (XXVIII, 171)138. Irene, too, in the chapter in which she is introduced (VI), is presented as raw material, full of potential, that can be misshapen or admirably developed, according to the creative circumstances. She, too, is estheticized: «la tristeza que despedían [...] sus bonitos ojos, aquella tristeza que a veces me parecía un efecto estético, producido por la luz y color de la pupila, a veces un resultado de los fenómenos de la expresión, por donde se nos transparentan los misterios del mundo moral, quizás revelaba uno de esos engaños cardinales en que vivimos mucho tiempo, o quizás toda la vida, sin darnos cuenta de ello» (VI, 39). Irene is projected not as a creature of flesh, but as a phenomenon of esthetic, linguistic expression. The statement also adduces that art, here in the shape of Irene, is the affirmation of life's mysteries and that arts deceit, its ambiguity, is inherent and sustains us. That power of art forges the supernatural oneness that exists between creator and creation. «La llevaba conmigo», writes Manso of Irene in terms even more explicit than his expressions of solidarity with Manuel. «Era como si la naturaleza de ella hubiera   —80→   sido inoculada milagrosamente en la mía. La sentía compenetrada en mi, espíritu con espíritu» (XVII, 104). The long conversation between Máximo and Irene in which the details of her relationship with Peña are revealed is for all intents and purposes Irene's confession, but it comes from the mouth of Manso. It is as if he were reciting a drama whose script he had composed. This retrospective account that abounds in evidence of Manso's omniscience prompts Irene to exclaim twice: «-Sabe usted... más que Dios...»; «-Usted lo sabe todo... Parece que adivina...» (XLI, 256, 258). The reader is not so surprised.

The creator's control over his creation, however -whether that creation is a pupil, an ideal, or a fictional character- is tenuous. Through Manolo, the pupil (the idea) is portrayed as potentially willful and rebellious, and the teacher (the artist) must conquer and tame in order to shape. In the course of the educational process, Manso discovers that he needs to adjust to his pupil's innate gifts. He cannot squeeze polished writing out of oratorical talent, and he cannot fan speculative interests where pragmatic inclinations persist. Even the name by which Manolo is most frequently called, Peñita, is given him by someone else and in spite of Manso's distaste for it. Small incidents these, yet proof that the artistic raw material is refractory from the start and subject to the interference of third parties. In Irene's case, too, Manso constructs her in a given fashion, as a woman of the North, free of his society's enervating moral climate: «He aquí la mujer perfecta, la mujer positiva, la mujer razón, contrapuesta a la mujer frivolidad, a la mujer capricho» (XIII, 77). Yet Manso is prompted to wonder: «¿Acaso la conozco bien? No; cada día noto que hay algo en ella que permanece velado a mis ojos» (XVI, 100); and he recognizes how easy it is to portray an individual's unchanging traits variably as defects or perfections. Moreover, he is confused by the tension between his powers of observation and artistic dictates. After Irene's attack of hysteria and fever, he asks: «¿La debilidad y la pena aumentan su belleza o la destruyen casi por completo? ¿Está interesantísima, tal como el convencionalismo plástico exige, o completamente despoetizada?» (XL, 252)139. Galdós, Manso, art, nature, society: whose is the guiding hand here? Manolo's (mis)use of his education to join the ranks of the petty bourgeoisie is an act of independence or of rebellion, depending on the vantage point; in any event, a destruction of the mold in which he had been cast. As for Irene, her revelation to Manso of her true character is her profession of autonomy. There is no rebellion in her case: «¡Error de los errores!» (XLII, 266): Manso's ideal Irene simply crumbles as she assumes a form at variance with the one he had imagined for her.

Here is a man who lives by order and by reason's absolute law, who boasts of method in his every act and defines life as a solemn plan, yet cannot control his creations. Small wonder, then, that he is given to self-doubt. When, contrary to all his habits and at Manolo's insistence, he finds himself confronting some churros and brandy in a «buñolería», he muses: «¿Quién se llamará dueño de sí [...]?» (XX, 119). It would appear that the individual has so little sway over his order (whether it is social, ontological, or fictional) that the order imposes itself on him even though   —81→   he has created it. Several times in the novel's pages Manso confesses himself to be his creations' creation and inferior to them140. So formed by his pupil is he that for a moment he rebels against analysis and knowledge and exalts the man of action over his own ways. Of Irene he says: «La que fue maestra de niños [...] después lo había sido mía en ciertas cosas», and he imagines her echoing: «Las maestras de escuela sabemos más que los metafísicos» (XLVIII, 298, 300). When at the end he says: «He dado mi fruto y estoy de más» (L, 307), he is signaling not only the realization of his own fictionality, but Irene's and Manolo's and his acceptance of their autonomous status.

Why does Máximo lose control over Manolo and Irene? In accordance with life's patterns, although they owe their existence to the thinker-teacher-writer-artist Máximo, they, not he, determine their actions as they embrace the society in which they dwell. In the light of fiction, once created, they too become texts that others read and recreate. Their ultimate identity depends on these readers' recreation of them. Art is as relative to the beholder as reality is, and since the creator's perspective is no more than the perspective of yet another beholder, the creation's flight from its creator's particular perception of it is built into the creative act. Perhaps it lies in the nature of art that the artist, unable to sense the texture of his creations and powerless to track their future, simply programs their autonomy.

Máximo Manso's eruption into the novel, his death, and his education/idealization of Manuel Peña and Irene are the three principal phases of Galdós' structuring of the theme of fictionality in El amigo Manso. To complete the picture, one must mention that the book brims over with direct and oblique references to the literary art. On the one hand, the frequent touches which signal that a writer is writing expand the work's self-referential dimension as art, fiction, and novel. On the other hand, specific literary styles and practices come under mischievous scrutiny.

From the beginning Galdós pokes fun at the artistic process, but with the double irony that informs the whole novel. That is to say, the ironic tone that subverts the object presented in this light is itself subverted by the measure of seriousness with which it must be read. Consequently, when Manso writes: «soy un ejemplar nuevo de estas falsificaciones del hombre que desde que el mundo es mundo andan por ahí vendidas en tabla por aquellos que yo llamo holgazanes, faltando a todo deber filial, y que el bondadoso vulgo denomina artistas, poetas o cosa así» (I, 1-2), derision and exaltation are indistinguishable. If he is disrespectful of his progenitor, he does not disown him, for he declares himself openly as an artist (XIV, 84); and playful as the self-revelation is, it is nonetheless a revelation. The mysteries of the nature of fiction are outlined in Chapter XL, aptly entitled «Mentira, mentira»141 -to wit, fiction. It begins with the sentence, «Dígolo porque ahora trae mi narración unas cosas tan estupendas que no las va a creer nadie» (XL, 247), and goes on to establish the following series of paradoxical facts: 1) this is a narration, my narration (fiction); 2) fiction is unbelievable; 3) fiction is truth attractively garbed; 4) truth is unbelievable; 5) I, the creator, am confused by my creation. With fiction's   —82→   complexity thus posited, the ensuing irony is less jolting: at the very moment when Máximo awakens from a dream to a recognition of the creative power of rational consciousness, he also becomes fully aware (Chs. XL and XLII) of his loss of power over his creations. The autonomy of events and characters from their creator and the chasm that exists between them, as well as the illusion of reality that this autonomizing process bestows on the fiction, are expressed in words that could not have been lost on Unamuno: «Después de tal inverosimilitud, viene la más grande y fenomenal de todas las de aquel día. Esta sí que es gorda. Estoy seguro de que nadie que me lea tendrá tragaderas bastante grandes para ella; pero yo la digo, y protesto de la verdad de su mentira con toda mi energía» (XL, 251).

Manso's narration also draws attention to itself as fiction through the device of contrasting its potential and its actual course. Immediately after confronting Manuel about his relationship with Irene, the narrator sets up a dichotomy between what the conventions of sentimental literature would demand under the circumstances and the strange truth of his reactions:

No puedo, al llegar aquí, ocultar un hecho que me pareció entonces, y aún hoy me lo parece, rarísimo, fenomenal y extraordinario. Bien quisiera yo, al contar que comí, aparecer conforme con lo que es uso y costumbre en estos casos, es decir, pintarme desganado y con más ánimos para vomitar el corazón que para comerme un garbanzo; pero mi amor a la verdad me impone el deber de manifestar que tuve apetito, y que comí como todos los días. [...] Bien se me alcanza que esto resulta en contradicción con lo que afirman los autores más graves que han hablado de cosas de amor, y aun los fisiólogos que han estudiado el paralelismo de las funciones corporales con los fenómenos afectivos; pero sea lo que quiera, como pasó lo cuento, y saque cada cual las consecuencias que guste.

(XXXIX, 242-43)                

The reader of these lines is forced into an open consideration of the literary art; he becomes ally to the narrator in passing judgment on conventions that run contrary to the realities of life; and he is prevented from sentimentalizing the action by having his attention thrust on the mechanism of the narration exactly as Manso's craving for food brakes his emotional response. When that response does arrive, it has been rendered as bookish as the books under attack.142

Accompanying El amigo Manso's perambulations through the mysteries of fiction and its relation to reality is a series of reflections on the ways of the novel. Again operating on the dual plane of paradox, Galdós can have Manso cry, «Orden, orden en la narración» (1, 2), at the same time as he unabashedly subverts narrative order and with the next breath jabs at readers' expectations of chronology, motivation, background, context, and sequence. It is suggested that the novel has its own order, a private, non-chronological order (e. g., VI, 40), so private, in fact, that the reader of El amigo Manso is led to ruminate all at once the need for and the absurdity of novelistic order. Máximo divulges his method as he proceeds: «Ocupándome ahora de lo externo, diré [...]»; «Estoy impaciente por hablar de mi ser moral [...]» (I, 5, 10); and the opening of Chapter XXII is a description of narrative progress through plot complication and of the narrator's alternatives as witness and participant. All the while that he does what is expected of a narrator, Máximo says with a twinkle, «I'm doing   —83→   this because that's what's expected in a narration». Or he warns us when he departs from the expected. In either case he is telling us that this is a novel.

In its declared status as work of art and novel, El amigo Manso is also, at moments, an expression of esthetic concern and a disquisition on style. The difficulties of creation and the inadequacy of words to express certain ideas and emotions are underscored: «son cosas muy distintas sentir la belleza y expresarla» (IV, 24; see also Ch. XVI). Manso as a writer is self-conscious: «Las ideas sobre lo bello llenaban mi mente y se revolvían en ella» (III, 16), he says; and he complains bitterly about Manuel's stylistic insensitivity (VII, 40). After learning of Irene's clandestine friendship with Manuel, Máximo writes a paragraph of resounding reproaches in the best declamatory style, but he then represents that outburst as hypothetical and opts for simplicity, thereby slapping at the practices of others. When Manso's taste lapses or when he takes liberties with his own standards, then the text's self-consciousness turns his self-consciousness into self-parody, as in the following jocular displays: «Doña Javiera era... (me molesta el sonsonete, pero no lo puedo evitar) viuda» (IV, 21); «Esto le dije; estuve elocuente, y un sí es no es sutil o caballeresco» (XXXIV, 209); «Usando una figura de género místico y muy bella, aunque algo gastada por el uso de tantas manos de poetas y teólogos, diré que algún ángel había descendido a mí y consoládome durante mi sueño» (XXXIX, 244-45).143

If El amigo Manso is an examination and revelation of its generic self, it is natural that its parodic component should also be directed against the novel and the novel's medium, language. Throughout the work Galdós satirizes the commonplaces and the spent formulas of novel writing. The surprising shape he gave to El amigo Manso -not his most deeply human novel but certainly his most brilliant tour de force- is his cry for originality and for renovation of the genre144. In its focus on its own raw material, this novel already demonstrates its literariness, and in its relentless attack on the rhetorical tradition, it subjects the word to destruction through the word. It annihilates the signifier that has suffered the loss of its signified (a social commentary via language) and thereby subverts the sign on which the novel is dependent (a literary commentary). On the rubble of the destruction he has perpetrated for readers of El amigo Manso to contemplate, Galdós is to build a new type of novel that has been linguistically cleansed.

Galdós throughout his career unleashed his venom at the ingrained Spanish penchant for rhetorical expression and in particular at the nineteenth century's oratorical tradition. In El amigo Manso that posture surfaces in several ways. As the novel's only narrative voice, Manso bears the sanitizing responsibility, and he carries it out both by default and actively. He himself becomes the unwitting butt of Galdós' satire when he falls into pedantry and jejune rhetoric in his writing145. Conversely, it is he who descries the incompatibility between lucid ideas and rebellious language. «No hay nada más difícil que hablar poco de una cosa grande», he says (XXIV, 145), and in the preparation of his speech for the charity gala, he voices his awareness of three requirements: to style the speech in such a fashion as   —84→   to achieve a harmonious structure; to make it clear, direct, and brief so that it will be really grasped; and to banish from it the surface effects of dazzling oratory. His own guilt notwithstanding, he hammers away at those who neglect these ground rules. «Ante todo, España es el país clásico de la oratoria», he says sarcastically (XVII, 105), and oratory sits enthroned where its damage is greatest: in the political arena. José María's entry into politics provides the opportunity for repeated attacks on the debasement of language, which Máximo sums up twittingly: «Nuestro Congreso, que tan alto está en la oratoria, tiene también su estilo flamenco» (XV, 93). Ramón María Pez, the political orator, is subjected to the most merciless satire in this terrain146, and the effects of his emphatic phrases on Máximo are graphically portrayed: «sus huecos párrafos [...] resonaban en mi espíritu con rumor semejante al de un cascarón de huevo vacío cuando se cae al suelo y se aplasta por sí solo» (XII, 72). Manuel Peña's fustian speech in the theater is enough to assure his political and social future and catapults him into prominence, though even José María is impelled to comment: «¡Lo que vale aquí la oratoria brillante y esa facultad española de decir cosas bonitas que no significan nada práctico!» (XXXI, 1891-90). As pervasive as political oratory is, poetry has not escaped the damaging touch of rhetoric either. Galdós' frequent derision of poets, from La Fontana de Oro on, for the sins they have visited upon the Spanish language is well known. In El amigo Manso, Francisco de Paula de la Costa y Sainz del Bardal, to whom Máximo refers as «Este tipo» (XII, 71), is the poetaster who thrives on a doting and tasteless moneyed class. From his name to his beard to his health to his character to his address to his talents as a versifier, this «caballerito ignorante» is unrelentingly caricaturized. The pompousness of his self-esteem is comparable only to that of his odes.147

The reflexive nature of El amigo Manso filters through this attention to the word to a consideration of literary styles. Manso knows that his brother's house is six minutes or 560 paces away from his, and he phrases his report about Doña Javiera thus: «un día se metió en mi casa (tercero derecha) sin anunciarse»; «cuando entraba en su casa (principal izquierda) [...]» (III, 14, 15). Along with the ridicule these details heap on Manso's exaggerated sense of precision, they also show Galdós laughing at his way as a novelist, at the realistic novel's insistence on exactitude in its descriptive technique. More frequently, however, it is the romantic style that the author of Marianela chooses to burlesque148. Time and again in his narration, Manso adopts romantic postures and language only to collapse them by exaggerating149, by announcing them as hypothetical150, or by revealing them for what they are. The flowery, metaphoric language that Manso uses to describe Irene's first contacts with Manolo is immediately reduced to parody when he interjects: «No dirá usted que no estoy poético» (XLI, 255)151. The reader perhaps swept up momentarily by the attractiveness of the language is roughly returned to his circumstance as reader of a text and made to reflect on the options of artistic expression. The mock epic language used to describe Doña Cándida (IV) and the derogatory assessment of the declamatory style of the contemporary theater (XIV, XV) are further elements of this anti-rhetorical stand, while Máximo's   —85→   death is the positive highpoint of that posture: a simple exit, with no gestures, no drama, no bombast. In all these instances, El amigo Manso exposes itself as a fiction about fiction, and the text assumes the power to create and to destroy through the word, one in the process of the other.

Manso, for that matter, is a word, a sign. He/It signals an apparent deficiency. In terms of the characterization in the inner novel, Manso is no man of action because he is a philosopher, a cerebral person. At that level, one can read his declaration of non-existence as the accurate self-assessment of an individual so meek that his existence has no significance. From the other perspective, that of fictionality, Manso's distance from vital existence is consistent with his proclaimed non-existence because he is a creature born of thought who, by the standards of tangibility, remains a thought. Part of Galdós' game is to imbue the imagined flesh-and-blood figure he has penned with the very nature of fictionality. As a result, Manso is a rare character in that his personality as a man does not transcend his fictionality but rather is determined by it. Clearly, the individual living out the patterns of a predetermined existence (his autonomy is predetermined) and who harmonizes, as Manso does and as Manuel does not, with the particular cosmic scheme responsible for his nature is by definition meek. Accordingly, if we sit in condemnation of the abulic philosopher who lionizes the symbols of bourgeois values, as Nimetz suggests that Galdós does (pp. 60-61), we miss the mark. Galdós knew full well that when the Book of Psalms proclaims that «the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace» (37: 11), it establishes an equivalency between the meek and the righteous in opposition to the wicked. The biblical promise, furthermore, is that the Lord will beautify the meek with salvation (Psalms 149: 4). On both the interior and the framing level of the novel, Manso has been so beautified. In the novel-within-the-novel, Manso's retreat is the deliverance of the righteous from the wicked. After having been sucked for a period into the sullied terrain of the petty bourgeoisie, he meets a fate that corresponds to the moral and intellectual distinction of his character and is permanently distanced from that besmirched world. Through the framing structure, Manso's lord and master has accorded his meek-willed invention the beauty and salvation inherent in the artistic creation.

Gerald Gillespie has defined Manso as a disabused intellectual who in his «real» existence lives in anguished alienation152. «To be sure». But the spatial parameters of this alienation encompass two directions: not only the usual conception of existing «outside» but also the idea of «above». Modern literature's alienated characters exist in an ironic zone where their apartness tends to demean their worth in the eyes of those who share their fictional world but causes in the reader a recognition of their superiority. That superiority, which unfortunately does not preclude insufficiency in the face of life's demands, is at least visible in the power of their intellect. Had he not himself been an ironist, Manso might have written his notes from underground and foreshadowed an Aschenbach, a Roquentin, or a Meursault. Gillespie poses what is perhaps the most important question that the reader of El amigo Manso can ask: whether or not Manso's understanding in a   —86→   state of alienation is a kind of liberation. The answer without a doubt is yes. If later on the instinctively vital Benina achieves a success and wreaks the miracle denied to the powers of Manso or of Nazarín, that does not prevent Manso (or Nazarín) from being superior to his circumstance, first in social-ethical terms and ultimately by virtue of his self-conscious fictionality. Redemptive powers lie in both spheres.

Perhaps sadly the superior moral posture here accrues to the individual whose fictionality is what defines his special worth and whose morality therefore lies outside social realities, but his moral distinction is diminished neither by the fact of his fictionality nor by the idiosyncratic weaknesses that lead to his passing entrapment by society. It is too easy to forget that, despite the bias of a first-person narration, Máximo is serious, honest, generous, and good. Celibacy, cleanliness, and an ordered existence are surely not moral defects. An individual whose professional duty it is to lecture to a class on the subject of the reciprocal relationship between moral conscience and the will may be lacking a strong will but cannot be oblivious to the demands of a moral conscience. Whatever his reformist incapacities, Manso is better able than anyone else around him to «distinguir la patria apócrifa de la auténtica» (IX, 59). By the standards of Máximo's far more reasoned perspective, a society that still has recourse to the duel can seem nothing short of barbaric, regardless of whether the contest is played out tragically or farcically. Manso's failure as an orator juxtaposed with the enthusiasm bestowed on Peña merely shows the audience's gullibility and ignorance. Manso exists in but stands apart from a society, the one that Manolo joins, where «el devoto del bien, o se hace inmune cubriéndose con máscara hipócrita o cae redondo al suelo, muerto de asfixia» (XLIX, 305)153. In this structure, life is on the side of disorder, existence conflicts with ethics. If the victory in this world, in this novel, is not Máximo Manso's, it belongs to his creator, but certainly not to Manolo or to José María, appearances notwithstanding. By temperament and talent Máximo was unable to enter the reigning bourgeoisie's power structure: that is to his credit.

We must of course concede that this morally and intellectually superior individual is constitutionally defective in terms of the demands placed on him by his historical circumstance. As a man of his time, measured by his practical achievements, among which the acquisition of a new wet nurse is probably his most momentous, Manso does not loom large. When we fathom the narration's ironic distance, however, Manso's insignificance can be taken at face value no more than the assertion that this book is «un trabajillo de poco aliento» (1, 3), for he is never fully disengaged from his literariness. If Manso's trajectory describes the self-creation of a fictional character, then his fictionality is the realization of a goal. To transcend that fictionality into life would devalue it. Newton, in her study (p. 125), already sensed El amigo Manso's overriding implication: that literature carries with it an immanence of meaning that lived experience cannot hold154. Correa accurately conveys the idea contained in the text:

Finalmente, una vez establecida la naturaleza de su ser de ficción, surge la pregunta fundamental y paradójica, de si acaso su inexistencia no sea una manera más plena de existencia, precisamente por abarcar en forma comprensiva los atributos generales del ser [...]


De esta manera, queda esclarecido uno de los aspectos más importantes del ser de ficción consistente en su carencia de tangibilidad concreta, si bien dotado, al mismo tiempo, de una forma de existencia que es susceptible de una potencialidad significativa y existencial, superior a la de los seres vivos de la tierra.

(pp. 101-02)                

The game of autonomy ¡s the instrument that projects this notion as it casts the character in the roles of both creator and creation.155

When Manso complains of having lost control over his disciple/creation and sees him assuming strange shapes, Manolo protests: «-¡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...» (XX, 121). The irony that lurks behind the hollow rhetoric and in the accompanying gestures does not diminish the truth of these words as they pertain to the fictional creation and to the power of the creator. Manso gives full vent to the significance of his role in man's order in a series of pronouncements where philosopher and artist are interchangeable terms:

El filósofo actúa en la sociedad de un modo misterioso. Es el maquinista interior y recatado de este gran escenario.[...]

El filósofo descubre la verdad; pero no goza de ella.

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.

(XXXIX, 245-46)                

Which of the two plucks more enjoyment from life is clear, but if the formula is valid, it is also clear whose contribution is the greater. Manso plainly affirms the power of the creative spirit: «Desde su oscuro retiro, el sacerdote de la razón, privado de los encantos de la vida y de la juventud, lo gobierna todo con fuerza secreta. [...] La conciencia es creadora, atemperante y reparadora. Si se la compara a un árbol, debe decirse que da flores preciosísimas, cuya fragancia trasciende a todo lo exterior» (XXXIX, 246). These words, like all of El amigo Manso, need to be read simultaneously with their opposing connotations: as a rationalization that turns Máximo into the object of irony and as a serious evaluation of the cerebral being's creative function. The thinker, the philosopher, the artist gives life, invents the existence of others. The reason for his being is the existence of those he has created. The philosopher and the artist create so that others might understand and enjoy. The objects -ideas, fictions, characters- through which these others gain understanding and joy then exist alone for the reader or perceiver, autonomously, while their creator, essential though his role has been, fades from existence.

When Manso feels his spirit suffused with Irene's, the sentiment causes him to say that everything appeared beautiful and gratifying to him, like a projection of himself. The wonder of creative inspiration, here the encapsulation of an ideal, confers upon the artist the power to transfigure reality while reality appears transfigured in his eyes. Nothing is what it is and everything transcends what it is. The artistic imagination not only improves on reality, but gives birth to a new circumstance. When Manso from his   —88→   vantage point in limbo talks of the earthly «desgraciadas figurillas» disdainfully as playthings that entertained man in his childish state, he is, among other things, seeing them -«¡Pobre gente!» -from the creator's perspective as insignificant objects designed for a moment's distraction. Supremely powerful, he conjures them at will as Galdós conjured him.156

If the artist as creator sits with God and with Nature in his possession of a singular authority, his invention -both the fiction as such and the fictive creature- wins uncommon prominence. The creator may berate his creations in their symbolic state as mortals, but the autonomy device allows neither the reader nor the creator to forget that the mortality of the fictional creation is not nearly so fragile as theirs. A character not granted such fictional self-awareness is real in his own world and therefore, from the inner perspective of the work itself, no more immortal than the real characters of the real world. In other words, special as Manso may be for his creative capacity, he is more special yet as a fiction. It is well to recall that, by contrast with Niebla, in El amigo Manso the creator approaches the creation: «Este tal vino a mí hace pocos días» (I, 2). Moreover, Manso's tone before his creator -«este tal»- is condescending at worst and compassionate at best, superior in either case: «le tuve tanta lástima que no pude mostrarme insensible a sus acaloradas instancias» (I, 3). But the fictional creation's superiority is not limited to his condition relative to his inventor; it is absolute. A mythical creature who can say in truthfulness, «no soy, ni he sido, ni seré nunca nadie» (I, 1), may in his earthly function wear the mask of a Don Nadie of woeful mortality and carnality, but he can make such a statement precisely because he is quite the opposite of that. In his autonomous modality he is conscious of his transcendence, so that he can follow up the initial declaration with what amounts to an affirmation of that transcendence: «me pregunto si el no ser nadie equivale a ser todos, y si mi falta de atributos personales equivale a la posesión de los atributos del ser» (I, 2). Pirandello's characters echo this sentiment when they loudly proclaim their superiority over people who breathe and wear clothes. A product of the imagination, barring a coincidence or a miracle, is not palpable, and Manso's greatness is as non-existent, yet every bit as existent, as he is. The likes of Doña Javiera, to whom Manso addresses the words, «Invisible es todo lo grande, toda ley, toda causa, todo elemento activo» (L, 307), are not blessed with the sensitivity that the special status of fiction demands for its recognition. We, on the other hand, are, and we can join him in his happy state.

The game of literary reflexivity in which Galdós luxuriates in El amigo Manso is a component of the novel which any reading of the book must embrace. That the novel should undertake an appraisal of its own constitution is enough to dispel the charge of gratuitousness that might be burled at this absorption in game playing. The metanovelistic undertaking, however, is judged as sterile by those convinced that its view onto itself excludes the world, that which really counts. In El amigo Manso, though, the game is not gratuitous because the work's investigation of fictionality and the socialideological planes are fully integrated. The reader's acquisition of consciousness   —89→   of the problematics of fiction permits him to capture all the more readily the corresponding social structure that evolves in the context of this self-examination of fiction. Doña Cándida is an example. «Llena de pomposos embustes» conceived «en su mente soñadora», she lives a lie in her new house: the silverware is not silver, the champagne is cider, the table is missing a leg. But she believes in her own creation. «De su infeliz estado hacia ridícula comedia» (V, 29). A fiction has overtaken the reality from which it sprang. Like Doña Cándida, the members of this bourgeois society are fictional beings not only in the sense that they are the inventions of Galdós, but in that they have created themselves into something they are not and function in a society structured on such fictions. In the same way that any novelistic creation is given life through language, José María's family's birth into a new social role is legitimized in its fictionality by the members' adoption of new linguistic signs (Lica > Manuela, Belica > Isabel, etc.). The purchase of titles of nobility is the crowning step in their creation of a fictional identity. Máximo himself, who is ostensibly -but only ostensibly- independent of his creator, is also only ostensibly independent of this society where the clock strikes eleven at the hour of five. But just as the failure of Nazarín's peculiar evangelism is a measure not simply of his ineptitude but of the spiritual sterility of nineteenth-century bourgeois society, so too is Manso's sense of uselessness and ultimate withdrawal an indictment of a society in which the gentle, the learned, and the morally pure have no place.

Any judgment of Manso's nature that leaves his circumstance untouched falsifies the relationship between the two. Still, as we have shown, through the device of fictive autonomy Galdós distances the reader of El amigo Manso from Máximo and his bourgeois world. In doing so, he draws attention to the workings of the esthetic object that is at once his creation and his medium. He causes the reader to fasten not on the social signification alone, but on the novel as signifier. His endeavor, like any metalingual enterprise, is semiotic and epistemological at the same time: it ventures in the telling of the tale to unravel that tale's system of signs and to probe the nature of knowledge dressed as fiction. In this art that exposes itself, the child in us that is normally swept into the game of belief is suppressed. That level here is literally reserved for the child, as when Pepito María hides his face in terror at the sight of the devil on stage. We are pitched, rather, into a more sophisticated game for adults. In words that Ortega was to echo some forty-five years later, Manso exalts the child's ingenuous faith before the work of art over the analytical process: «¡Ni qué cosa humana habrá que a tal análisis resista! Pero es una desdicha conocer el amargo placer de la crítica, y ser llevado por impulsos de la mente a deshojar la misma flor que admiramos. Vale más ser niño y mirar con loco asombro las imperfecciones de un rudo juguete [...]» (XIV, 85). In this by no means rough-hewn plaything, Galdós has us not live the novel but view it as object, constrains us to become aware of ourselves as readers/players, and even edges us into a critical analysis of our awareness. In composing a novel that takes its own creation as its theme, Galdós joins a host of twentieth-century writers of metanovels, Proust, Gide, and Beckett among them. He makes a Pirandello   —90→   play look much less astonishing than it did at first blush. He connects with the modern cinema's penchant for reflexiveness: Fellini's 8 ½ and Bergman's Persona come to mind immediately. lf these names seem to constitute odd company for the likes of Don Benito «el garbancero», one must keep sight of the fact that there is a difference between Galdós and the others. The nineteenth century's ever-increasing isolation of the artist from its social currents has pushed the modern writer to take refuge in an artistic hermeticism. When Galdós creates a self-referential art and leads his readers to experience a specific novel as an examination of the novelistic genre, he does so without jettisoning the bourgeoisie. Like Máximo Manso, he is not estranged from, or even by, the practices and values of the bourgeois society to which he belongs. He too is critical subject and corruptible object of his petty circumstance. El amigo Manso therefore functions both in the sphere of socio-political commentary and in the hermetic realm of esthetic introspection.

The radicality of Galdós' procedure in his time lies in the fact that, narrators' interventions notwithstanding, the realistic novel does its best to hide its identity as a novel, while Galdós in El amigo Manso creates an illusionist art that signals the coming break with illusionism. «You think El amigo Manso is life?» he asks us, straight in the tradition of Cervantes. «Don't deceive yourselves! This is a novel!» We must remain awake to the fact that when we read a novel we are engaging in a game. Children play games to fill their time, to learn and grow. So do adults. Reading novels is one of our games. We know the rules beforehand; we learned them long ago. To play El amigo Manso requires a few new rules, because it is a game that plays with the game that it plays. The critic's game is to discover that game and its rules.

Cornell University

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