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ArribaAbajoCharacter creation in Un voluntario realista

William M. Sherzer

Towards the end of the second series of the Episodios nacionales one finds a curious novel with an even more curious protagonist, Un voluntario realista takes the reader far from the political and amorous intrigues which formed the substance of earlier works, and presents him with a main character, Pepet Armengol, or Tilín, as he is generally known, who is rather an antagonist than a protagonist, lacking totally in any noble or intellectual qualities which might qualify him as a hero. Montesinos and Rodríguez have both commented upon the singular quality of this novel, viewing it as removed from the general direction of the series as a whole. In Montesinos' Galdós we read that «todo el episodio Un voluntario realista parece tan fuera de la serie por muchos aspectos, que es como una novela aparte».1 Rodríguez' viewpoint is basically the same:

The novel of José Armengol and Sor Teodora de Aransis is farther removed from the world of the unitive nucleus. The full development of these two characters in Un voluntario realista, which contrasts with Monsalud's adventitious and disguised appearance, results in a degree of plot autonomy that is unusual outside the unitive nucleus of the Series.2

The novel serves to introduce the beginnings of militant Carlism, in the late 1820's, and Tilín serves, basically, to reacquaint one with Salvador Monsalud, who had fled from Spain at the end of Los cien mil hijos de San Luis. Thus the novel itself is somewhat minimal with respect to plot activity -much of the action is simply described, and the novel is much more informative than active- and Tilín is a character who is created as a novelistic device for a particular purpose and destroyed when that purpose is fulfilled. This creation and destruction of Tilín, however, is somewhat ingenious, and, in this writer's mind, presents the reader with a narrative technique which is much more advanced that that found in the novels of Galdós' contemporaries. In what follows I shall show how Galdós, through a very subtle use of narrative point of view, creates a multi-faceted character in Tilín which converts him from novelistic device into dramatic character, thus saving this character from a bidimensionality which would have prevented Un voluntario realista from ever going past the level of a simple transition novel, devoid of real plot development.

The presentation of Tilín goes through constant changes in this novel, depending upon who is perceiving or describing the hero. He is a character who passes through various stages of development, and each stage often negates or transforms aspects of the previous one. He is, at first, simply invented by the author, at the beginning of the story, and brought to Solsona from the   —10→   mountains as a Rousseauian «noble savage», a tabula rasa: «Trajeron a Pepet de las montañas de la Cerdaña, en que se criaba libre y salvaje como los pájaros...»3 He even becomes feverish as a result of the impression caused upon him by this change from mountains to convent. The author implants in the mind of the reader the idea of a being who is without meaningful prior existence and as yet unmolded. And the Mother Superior supports the author with her statement that «Este tierno arbolito será digno sucesor de aquel tronco robusto que se llamaba José Armengol» (12). Tilín's impressionability and naïveté will again be underscored when the young boy reacts so violently to the beauty of Teodora de Aransis and to the subsequent stifling of that beauty through her acceptance of religious vows (the cutting of her hair is perhaps a reverse deflowering, and Tilín's reaction could be interpreted as an early recognition of an unnatural act, since Teodora later shows herself to be insincere in her religious devotion). In subsequent dialogue Tilín finally combines with the author and the Mother Superior to complete the early picture the reader is to receive. He states to Teodora that «La espada que yo deseo no es de caña, sino de hierro» (14). Thus, by the end of the second chapter, the author (through narrative sequences), the Mother Superior and Tilín himself have joined hands to present the reader with the first glimpses of what this character is meant to be -naïve, impressionable, religious, militant- and Teodora de Aransis plays a part in his description by being the active recipient of the most natural and most impressionable aspects of Tilín's character. As the novel progresses, one would expect a gradual, linear development of this «proto-character». But such is not exactly the case, and the author will continue to enlist the aid of various characters to constantly alter what seemed to be an easily predictable novelistic creation.

In chapter III Tilín is described, by the author, as a «modelo de sacristanes», possessing a «castidad absoluta» (14). But at the same time Tilín, in his dialogue, develops the other half of his personality, his militant side, referring to himself in chapter IV as a «sacristán-guerrero» (17), a term which he introduces into the text and which is later used frequently in the author's narration. This authorial narration is directed towards the reader. Tilín's first person narration is not. His audience is the nun, Teodora, and her reaction to his words, here and throughout the Episodio, is a key for the reader to a secondary perception of Tilín aside from the direct author-reader relationship.

In chapter VI another element adds to the perception of our «sacristán-guerrero» -the general populace. When Tilín enlists as a voluntario realista he is the object of general mirth:

-Mejor le sienta la sotana -decían en los corrillos- ¿Adónde va ese holgazán con media vara de cartuchera y un quintal de morrión?... ¡Condenado Tilín! ¡Cómo se reirá de él la tropa! No habrá un solo voluntario que le obedezca.


This paragraph constitutes defining characteristics of Tilín's presence and personality. Anything positive he accomplishes from this point on is not simply a constructive aspect of his personality but a combative element to an a priori antiheroic characterization. And precisely, a few pages later, when Tilín subdues Guimaraens, who had refused to recognize the authority of the apostolic   —11→   rebel Pixola, he surprises the latter, who had originally doubted his ability, and equally surprises Guimaraens, who cannot consider the young man anything other than a harmless sacristán.

-Tilín, Tilín de todos los demonios... ¿Conque es cierto que te has echado a militar? ¡No he visto en mi vida mamarracho semejante! Hombre, vuélvete de espaldas para verte por detrás!... ¡Y tienes bayoneta!... ¿Cómo no te han dado fusil esos pillos? ¡Serías capaz hasta de hacer fuego con él!... ¡Vaya con Tilín!... Hombre de Dios, pues es verdad que así, así, con esa albarda, nadie diría que eres sacristán... ¡Qué demonio! Si ayudas a misa con esa facha, te juro que he de ir a verte. ¿Y qué dicen las Reverendas?


Pixola expresses his acceptance of Tilín's military capabilities, in the beginning of chapter VII, but the language he uses constitutes a continuation of theearlier perception he had of Tilín.

-Me parece que tenemos un hombre. Cuando las Madres me lo recomendaron, le destiné mentalmente a ranchero; pero me parece que ese caballero del esquilón va a picar un poco alto. Le voy a dar el mando de una compañía. Ahí tiene usted un sacristán que valdrá más que cien obispos.


Twice he uses the words «me parece»; he reveals his earlier opinions of the youth, and continues to refer to him as a sacristán.

Tilin's personality and life style do undergo a transformation in the direction of his military desires, and he emulates Pixola and Jep dels Estanys as he rampages through the countryside. But we are always aware of the perception of him found in the eyes of other characters and thus it comes as no surprise when Salvador Monsalud, using the alias of Jaime Servet, totally outwits the young guerrilla. (In fact, the confrontation Monsalud-Tilín is characteristic of a polarization found throughout the entire series -between the brutishness of the reactionaries and the cleverness of the liberals.) Reminded of Tilín's low level of intelligence, the reader finds the way paved for another rejection of the character's credibility as a warrior. Pixola, whose double perception of the «sacristán-guerrero» was noted above, reverses his positive opinion of Tilín as a result of Monsalud's triumph. Tilín is now once more the object of ridicule.

-Ya veo que tienes buenas tragedias -le dijo Pixola, gozoso de humillarle delante de las notables personas, canónigos, frailes, honrados contrabandistas y trabucaires que presentes a la sazón estaban- Valiente papamoscas tenemos aquí... No basta un poco de valor, señor Tilín, para mandar tropa en una guerra como ésta, es preciso tener mucha astucia y cierto pesquis y ciencia del mundo, que no se aprenden en la sacristía de las Reverendísimas.


Tilín, who must now remain in Solsona, has rapidly swung full circle, going from sacristán to sacristán-guerrero to guerrero and back to sacristán. And all of this has been presented through the perspective of other characters.

*  *  *

A second aspect of Tilín's personality now begins to take shape, one which again depends greatly upon the perception of other characters. In chapter XI Tilín pronounces a declaration of love to Teodora. She, who had earlier   —12→   served to reflect the innocent and spiritual qualities of the youthful sacristán now rejects him entirely as a lover and, in so doing, revises her perception of his person:

-Monja, yo te amo.

-¡Jesús Crucificado, ampárame! -gritó la esposa de Cristo llevándose las manos a la cabeza- ¡Satanás, perro maldito, vete!...


Tilín has been reduced, in the reader's eyes through those of Teodora, from a sympathetic character who had fallen into the ridiculous through his military exploits, to a diabolic perverter of the sacred laws of the Catholic religion. Tilín becomes for her «un ser aborrecible, digno de los más crueles castigos». (41).

As Tilín's amorous aspirations continue, and are continually rejected, his disillusion with himself as part of a heroic, romantic fighting force continues also. Jep dels Estanys turns out to be a mockery of the myth that exists in Tilín's mind. Though he is known to be valorous as a rebellious soldier, because of what the author chooses to present to us, Tilín's particular meeting with him brings out a different aspect of his character, which is nonheroic, and which adds to the general rejection of Tilín's credibility as a soldier. Jep dels Estanys greets our protagonist as «el que se ha criado en las faldas de las monjas» (45) and though he claims not to be prejudiced by this fact -he also was raised by nuns- his mention of it, as in the case of Pixola, again maintains this non-militaristic aspect of Tilín's life as a major defining characteristic of his personality. And this introduction is followed by his ordering Tilín to perform menial tasks for him, taking him further from the military vocation he desires. Soon Tilín will voice his total disgust with the very war effort which novelistically is the basis for his heroic upward mobilization:

-¡Cuando yo digo -murmuró Tilín hiriendo el suelo con furibundo pie- que ni aquí hay guerra, ni plan, ni soldados, ni idea ninguna, ni decencia, ni valor, sino una comedia indecente...!


He returns to Solsona and releases the prisoners he was originally charged with guarding, among them Guimaraens and Servet. Thus Tilín's character has again been changed, he takes on yet another personality vis-à-vis the public, and, in freeing Guimaraens, whose conquest led to his first step forward as public figure, he strips himself back down to his original person, with the added negative aspect of his sacrilegious approaches towards Teodora.

*  *  *

This process of restructuration of a character is not limited to Tilín alone. In chapter XVI the reader finds that Teodora's religiosity is lacking in sincerity also. Up until now we have basically seen her as the beautiful and religious figure she assumes in the eyes of Tilín. But through authorial narration we are informed of aspects of her personality which are criticizable. This new portrayal prepares the way for her later infatuation with Servet/   —13→   Monsalud, and, what is more important, it allows for a new perspective towards Tilín, since the character who rejects him is no longer seen on such a high moral plane. Thus, whereas in chapter XVII the author describes Tilín as a soul «sin el sostén de un sentido moral muy puro» (57), in chapter XXVI, while kidnapping a horrified Teodora, the author states, «No era malo por carencia de sentido moral... sino por un extravío que arrancaba de la exacerbación de sus violentas pasiones» (85). Because of the reduction of her religious sincerity, Teodora has become more plausible as an object of Tilín's love. Despite this reprieve the author now refers to Tilín as a «sacristán-diablo» (86), carrying the development of character delineation yet another step further. And Tilín complies with the author's new description as he states to himself on the same page, «Si triunfo, Lucifer tendrá que darme tratamiento de Excelentísimo Señor». Tilín, though acting through the uncontrollable impulses of true love, is willing to accept for himself the diabolic qualities attributed to him by others.

The rest of the plot now depends upon the completion of the reversal of roles of these two characters. Teodora has fallen totally in love, and Tilín is willing to die, as an ultimate sacrifice to his unrequited love for Teodora. He is not aware of Teodora's new unsaintly character, and sees his failure as caused by the sanctity of religion, which he attempted to defile. He has failed as a lover and as a warrior and sees no reason to continue.

-El mundo se acabó para mí. Ninguna de las ambiciones de mi alma he podido satisfacer en él. Lo miro como un lodazal de hielo en el cual no nace ni una yerbecilla... Huir de él es lo que deseo. Dos objetos han llenado mi alma, y cabalgando en ella parece que la han espoleado; ambos han sido un esfuerzo estéril y doloroso como las convulsiones del loco. Ni soldado ni amante, ni la gloria ni el amor... ¡Todo perdido!


In fact, Tilín has not fared so poorly as a lover and warrior. His failures are as much a commentary upon those characters who reject him as they are upon Tilín himself. As a warrior Tilín had many victories. Though he possessed only moderate intelligence and ability, it was also the brutishness of Pixola and Jep dels Estanys which made Tilín's rise to glory impossible. And with respect to Teodora, in forcefully removing her from the convent, to which he has set fire, Tilín is perhaps going one step further than Zorrilla's Don Juan, for in the romantic play the convent fire is simply a lie, invented by Inés' maidservant Brígida. Tilín understands the romantic method. But perhaps Teodora's religious insincerity, and, even more, her deviousness at the end of the novel (she takes advantage of Tilín's desire to die rather than convince him to continue living), portray the nun as unworthy of the pure love Tilín extends to her. In fact, Tilín's entire character portrayal seems to depend upon a series of role reversals in the characters with whom he interacts.

All this must be kept in perspective. Tilín is, as I stated earlier, a novelistic device. It is true that his three dimensional existence in this novel makes him a much more interesting character than would be expected, and the novel definitely benefits from the technique used. But his life and death are necessary because they serve a novelistic purpose. He has introduced into the Episodios nacionales the historical beginnings of a new political movement, and has also helped to reintroduce the character of Salvador Monsalud. Tilín   —14→   must die so that Monsalud may take his place and regain his importance in the fictional aspect of these Episodios. But though this character exists basically as a vehicle towards more profound creations, it is interesting to note how Galdós, using a highly structured and thoroughly modern technique, has maintained interest, plot development and character creation, and thus sacrificed nothing to the technical problems presented by the character of Tilín.

Brooklyn College (CUNY)

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