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ArribaAbajoGaldós's use of the Christ-symbol in Doña Perfecta

J. B. Hall

An important element in many of Galdós novels is his portrayal of characters possessed by noble and unselfish ideals whose fate it is ultimately to be humiliated, thwarted or killed; figures such as Ángel Guerra, Villaamil in Miau, Nazarín, or Benina in Misericordia are familiar examples of protagonists whom their creator more or less openly likens to the suffering Christ,306 and at times his abiding interest in abnormal psychology leads him to establish parallels with Quixote, as is the case with the monomaniac Villaamil, or Daniel Morton in Gloria, whose mother compares his frenzied religious researches to the obsessive reading of the «gran caballero español» (661).307 It is the aim of this brief study to show that in Doña Perfecta we find a central character, Pepe Rey, who presents analogies with Christ considerably more extensive than has generally been supposed.

In a valuable recent study Jennifer Lowe has indicated that the important theme of death and decay in Doña Perfecta includes the concept of Pepe as a victim tortured -as he himself puts i- -on «la peña de su martirio» (439), and whose references to crucifixion and quotation of Christ's words on the cross (442) suggest the inevitability of the death that finally overtakes him, the Biblical parallel being reinforced by Father Inocencio's «Yo me lavo las manos» (491).308 The full import of these obvious links between Pepe and Christ is perhaps only seen, however, if we realise that there are in fact many other less apparent ones throughout the novel, and that the pattern of Pepe's experiences in Orbajosa is in numerous respects very similar to the pattern of Christ's life upon Earth.

From the opening page of Doña Perfecta it is obvious that Galdós hero is a very special character; he is, for instance, «el único viajero de primera que en el tren venía» (407), which immediately establishes him as someone out of the ordinary in that part of Spain to which he has come. His name means «king». The reason for Pepe's journey from Madrid to Orbajosa is a projected marriage with his cousin Rosario; although it is possible that Galdós had in mind here the familiar Christian concept of the Church as the Bride of Christ, this is not developed, and more significant is the fact that Pepe has come to Orbajosa at the command of his father, who strongly desires this marriage to take place: «Porque la idea fue mía..., sí, hace tiempo, hace tiempo que la concebí...» (415). Pepe is handsome, fair and bearded, as Christ is conventionally represented in religious art, a likeness which Galdós also attributes to Daniel Morton, hero of his next novel, of whom Mundideo says «se parece a Nuestro Divino Redentor... se le parece en la cara» (554). Furthermore, Pepe is destined to die at the same age as Christ, Christ's crucifixion being traditionally supposed to have taken place when He was thirty-three, while of Pepe we are told that «frisaba la edad de este excelente joven en los treinta y cuatro años» (416), so that (although the point is made obliquely) he too is thirty-three. The significance which the number has for the Christian is mirrored also in the novel's   —96→   having thirty-three chapters, as has the second part of Gloria, which concludes with a description of Jesús, the child of the Jew Daniel Morton and the Roman Catholic Gloria Lantigua, to whom Galdós turns in hope of some future reconciliation between the hostile families and faiths of the late parents:

Hoy juegas y ríes e ignoras; pero tú tendrás treinta y tres años y entonces quizás tu historia sea digna de ser contada, como lo fue la de tus padres.


For his cousin Rosario, Pepe seems to have supernatural, miraculous powers of healing and resuscitation; in a clandestine interview his words «Levántate y sígueme», which recall Christ's «Damsel I say unto thee arise» when He raised the daughter of Jairus,309 have an immediate effect upon the feverish girl:

¿Sabes que me siento bien? ¿Sabes que no tengo ya fiebre, que recobro las fuerzas, que quiero correr y gritar, que todo mi ser se renueva, y se aumenta y se centuplica para adorarte?... Tú sólo posees el extraño poder de devolverme la vida. Oyéndote, resucito. Yo creo que si me muriera y fueras a pasear junto a mi sepultura, desde lo hondo de la tierra sentiría tus pasos.


A little earlier, Rosario had said to Pepe that «en esta oscuridad, donde no podemos vernos las caras, una luz inefable sale de ti y me inunda el alma» (456). As Jennifer Lowe has pointed out, Galdós consistently identifies Pepe with light and his opponents with darkness; thus, among many examples, Father Inocencio is surnamed Tinieblas, which leads María Remedios, despairing of their family's ever prospering, to remark bitterly that «tenemos un tenebrario en nuestra casta y nunca saldremos de la oscuridad» (488), an allusion to the Holy Week office of Tenebrae which recalls the darkness that covered the land from the sixth to the ninth hour on the first Good Friday.310 This antithesis between light and dark is another element in Doña Perfecta which looks back to the Gospels, so that Pepe's dawn arrival in the decayed, crumbling city of Orbajosa recalls such passages as St. Matthew, 4, v. 16: «The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death, light is sprung up». When Rosario dreams of how she had secretly met Pepe who was disguised in the blue uniform coat of his officer friend Pinzón (478), her most vivid impression is of the gleaming metal buttons which «brillaban en su cuerpo... como sarta de lucecillas»; Rey himself appears strangely as «un hombre azul», which colour, the colour of the sky and commonly symbolic of holiness, provides another link with the divine.

Like Christ, Pepe arrives in a very proud community that is suspicious and hostile towards outsiders whom it considers decadent, that is bitter at being subject to a hated external authority (in this case the 'pagan' government of Madrid), and longs to throw off the yoke; the inhabitants of Orbajosa see themselves as a kind of chosen race, live in memories of a glorious past, and maintain that among themselves alone is true religion to be found; their religious beliefs and practices are in reality formalistic and hidebound, and Pepe incurs their wrath (as Christ incurred that of the Scribes and Pharisees) by pointing this out, and insisting that true piety and goodness have little to do with external show. The friends whom Pepe makes in Orbajosa -Don Tafetán and the Troya sisters- are generally considered to be people of immoral life and a source of scandal to the more respectable members of the community, who are as shocked by such a relationship as Christ's opponents were by His   —97→   association with publicans and sinners. In a sense Pepe, with his tolerant, scientific outlook, his practical engineering skill and his keen intelligence, might have been the «saviour» of poor, backward Orbajosa -he comes for instance with permission from the Government to prospect for minerals in the region- but, like Christ, he falls foul of the local religious and legal authorities, is rejected, and finally put to death. The kind of qualities the people of Orbajosa admire are rather those displayed by the petty brigand Caballuco, much as the crowd before Pilate clamoured for Christ to die and for Barabbas -a rebel and a murderer- to go free.

There are further analogies between Pepe's experiences in Orbajosa and the events of Holy Week in addition to those that have already been indicated. Shortly before his betrayal and death at the end of the story, Pepe turns for advice to his father, draws great consolation from the last few letters which he exchanges with him (491-493) and is confirmed in his resolution not to use force to achieve his aim of rescuing Rosario:

Haré lo que usted me manda, es decir, renunciaré a la colaboración un tanto incorrecta del amigo Pinzón; destruiré la solidaridad aterradora que establecí con los militares; dejaré de envanecerme con el poder de ellos; pondré fin a las aventuras, y en el momento oportuno procederé con calma, prudencia y toda la benignidad posible. Mejor es así. Mi coalición, mitad seria, mitad burlesca, con el Ejército ha tenido por objeto ponerme al amparo de las brutalidades de los orbajosenses y de los criados y deudos de mi tía. Por lo demás, siempre he rechazado la idea de lo que llamamos intervención armada.


In Pepe's intimate correspondence with Juan Rey and his determination to avoid violence at all costs, Galdós would seem to be drawing a parallel with Christ's prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane, and His rebuke later to the disciple who wounded the servant of the high priest -«all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword» (St. Matthew, 26, v. 52). Pepe wishes to be a man of peace.

After His arrest, false witnesses testified against Christ, their most damning evidence being that He had claimed to be able to destroy the Temple,311 a charge reflected in the slander put about by Pepe's enemies that he was planning to demolish the Cathedral of Orbajosa. We find this first mentioned by the Troya girls:

-¿Este es el caballero que dicen ha venido a sacar minas de oro? -preguntó una.

-¿Y a derribar la Catedral para hacer con las piedras de ella una fábrica de zapatos? -añadió otra.


Returning to his aunt's house later, Pepe, who has just been ordered to leave the Cathedral during a visit there, hears a similar accusation from Perfecta:

-El señor obispo -dijo Pepe Rey- debía pensarlo mucho antes de arrojar a un cristiano de la iglesia.

-Y es verdad; yo no sé quién le ha metido en la cabeza a su ilustrísima que usted es hombre de malísimas costumbres; yo no sé quién le ha dicho que usted hace alardes de ateísmo en todas partes; que se burla de cosas y personas sagradas, y aun que proyecta derribar la Catedral para edificar con sus piedras una gran fábrica de alquitrán; yo he procurado disuadirle; pero su ilustrísima es un poco terco.


Later still, the alleged plot to destroy the Cathedral is used to incite Caballuco to lead a rebellion against the soldiers from Madrid:


-Dicen que la semana que viene comienza el derribo de la Catedral -indicó Frasquito.

-Supongo que la derribarán con picos y martillos -dijo el canónigo sonriendo-. Hay artífices que no tienen esas herramientas, y, sin embargo, adelantan más edificando. Bien saben ustedes que, según tradición piadosa, nuestra hermosa capilla del Sagrario fue derribada por los moros en un mes y reedificada en seguida por los ángeles en una sola noche... Dejadles, dejadles que destruyan.


Finally, one of the letters of don Cayetano with which the novel closes, mentions a visit paid by the three Troya girls to Pepe's graveside, which is presumably meant to recall how, on the first Easter Sunday, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, came to Christ's sepulchre:312

Don Juan Tafetán y yo fuimos los únicos que acompañamos el fúnebre cortejo. Poco después fueron allá -cosa rara- esas que llaman aquí las Troyas, y rezaron largo rato sobre la rústica tumba del matemático. Aunque esto parecía una oficiosidad ridícula, me conmovió.


The presentation of the Christ-figure in Doña Perfecta is, although thorough, for the most part obliquely and subtly handled. The archetypal parallels emphasise not so much the teaching and example of Christ (which is the case later with novels like Ángel Guerra, Misericordia, Nazarín), as the story of His life on Earth, with especial reference to the events of Holy Week. It is not clear how far we should take the implications of these analogies; is the reader intended to conclude that, although the novel ends in tragedy with Pepe's death and Rosario's insanity, the ultimate message may yet be one of hope, however faintly glimpsed? Is Galdós suggesting that although Pepe will not rise from the dead, the ideals he represents may yet triumph in time, just as Christianity flourished despite the death of its founder? What does seem to be incontrovertible is that in Doña Perfecta Galdós is warning the opponents of such ideals that future generations may well condemn unreservedly their attempts at suppression. In the nineteenth century the Church still tended to regard the Jews as deicides -an accusation levelled by the bishop don Ángel against Daniel Morton at the end of the first part of Gloria (587); in Doña Perfecta Galdós seems to be casting the opponents of Pepe, who see themselves as the defenders of an endangered faith, in the role of Christ's enemies, and implying that history may pass upon them a judgement equally unfavourable. Here would appear to be a further example -perhaps the most striking- of that irony which is so important a feature of this novel.

University of Wales, Swansea

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