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ArribaAbajoGaldós and the aesthetic of ambiguity: Notes on the thematic structure of Nazarín146

Peter B. Goldman

The body of criticism which accompanies Nazarín is interesting and at the same time contradictory. Not long ago, for example, several fine essays in vol. II of the Anales suggested that in writing Nazarín, Galdós was inspired variously by Renan, by Tolstoy, by the Passion of Christ as novelizable narrative content, and by Christ as a novelizable figure147. Other criticism has concentrated on the themes of charity and Christian humility in the novels of Galdós, and in that connection cogent reference has been made to the protagonist of Nazarín as embodying such characteristics148.

It would be presumptuous to attempt a critique of the fine work of scholars such as Scatori, Correa, Pattison149 and Parker, to name but a few. Rather, I should merely like to add a few observations of my own, gleaned from several readings of Nazarín, and thus attempt to integrate some of my own ideas about Galdós into the general body of Nazarín criticism.

Recently, in an examination of Galdós' newspaper and magazine articles written during the last 15 years of the 19th century, it was suggested that Galdós had developed what was called «an aesthetic of ambiguity»150. It was further emphasized that Galdós' skill as a reporter, and even more so as a novelist, lies precisely in his grasp of the ambiguous, in his ability to see and portray all points of view, all contradictions, all conflicts within a single personality or class. Ambiguity and conflicting impulses became the cornerstones in the thinking of the man and the reporter as he saw the 19th century coming to an end without the resolution of any of the gnawing social problems of the time. The failure of Restoration Spain and its liberal middle class ethic, it was pointed out, was clearly stated in Galdós' essays. In «Confusiones y paradojas», written in 1893, he observed151:

Hemos luchado por las libertades, conquistadas al fin con mil sacrificios. ¿Estamos contentos? No. Con tantas franquicias vivimos como antes, rodeados de injusticias, de desigualdades, de monstruosas aberraciones del sentido moral.


To this we must add an earlier reflection, written in 1885:152

[...] resulta que la tiranía subsiste, sólo que los tiranos ahora somos nosotros, los que antes éramos víctimas y mártires, la clase media, la burguesía, ... los desheredados de entonces se truecan en privilegiados.



How is it, Galdós seems to be asking, that yesterday's oppressed are today's oppressors, that last year's victims are this year's victimizers? Why have the measures liberating one class been, at one and the same time, the instruments for increased subjugation of another class?

Such contradictions, basic to the life of his time, also provide the starting point for his later novels, particularly the three works -which I firmly believe must be considered a trilogy, an evangelical trilogy- Nazarín, Halma and Misericordia. And therefore the contradictory nature of existence in Spanish society, and the resolution of that situation on both the individual and social levels, lie at the very heart of the evangelical trilogy. As such, the trilogy represents a continuation of Fortunata y Jacinta and Ángel Guerra, but it also exceeds them, since salvation and redemption may now occur, indeed must occur, within the social structure both figuratively and in reality. Salvation and redemption are no longer alternatives if they occur outside the social structure, e.g., the death of the protagonist or his/her madness, as in the earlier novels. In a sense, the trilogy represents the rebirth in society of Fortunata, and may be seen as an attempt by Galdós to work out some of the answers to existence and to the social dilemmas of his day. This should in no way be construed as an attempt to deny or de-emphasize the enormous aesthetic richness of the three novels. I would therefore agree with Russell that the trilogy is the fictional record of Galdós' progressive preoccupation and experimentation with specific social and novelistic problems153. On the other hand, I would differ with him to the extent that I cannot consider Nazarín or Halma to be «failures» as novels. They are merely the first and second stages, rather successful ones at that, in a progression which ends with Misericordia, wherein the agonizing ambiguities of the first two works are resolved by Galdós. The trilogy, furthermore, is not united by character but by an idea, and hence the dominant character alterations from Nazarín to Misericordia, which occur in typically dialectical fashion. The shift from Nazarín to Benina is made possible precisely because of the lack of a dominant protagonist in Halma, as well as by the introduction of a female on an equal footing with Nazarín.

Let us now state the basic motivating premise or idea of the trilogy, and then suggest how Galdós deals with it in Nazarín. That basic premise is enunciated by Nazarín himself during his interview with the reporters. Explaining why he behaves as he does, Nazarín observes:

No sé más sino que a medida que avanza lo que ustedes entienden por cultura, y cunde el llamado progreso, y se aumenta la maquinaria, y se acumulan riquezas, es mayor el número de pobres y la pobreza es más negra, más triste, más displicente.

(1687, b)154                

The correspondence between this point of view and Galdós' opinions as stated in the articles just cited is evident. However, we must proceed cautiously, on two accounts. First, because in the novel no single character speaks for the author. Nazarín is voicing preoccupations similar to those of Galdós, but we must not therefore equate Nazarín with Galdós, or even assume that Nazarín will, for more than this moment, be Galdós' voice. Our second reason for proceeding cautiously is that Nazarín's statement is above all else ideological, and is not necessarily buttressed by the literary fact. That is to say, the reader   —101→   must discriminate between what is said and what is done in the novel, between Nazarín's proclamations and his subsequent behavior. On the basis of this distinction between word and deed we may say that there are at least two levels of novelistic development in Nazarín. One level is verbal or ideological, and corresponds to the theoretical deliberations on the problem of life in society as stated by the protagonist. Another is the novel's functional level. It consists, among other things, of Galdós' presentation of the novel to the reader, and of his introduction of the characters to us, especially Nazarín. The reader's task is to understand the implications of this presentation, by considering not only how Galdós' characters seem to exist on the ideological level, but also how they function and interact within the narrative, the literary framework of the novel. Nazarín, after all, is the creature of a master craftsman whose stock in trade consists, among other things, of humor and irony, the very stuff of which ambiguities are made. And in fact, the functional level frequently undercuts the ideological level, giving us, rather than a Christ-like follower of quintessential Catholicism, a good-hearted but nevertheless misguided bumbler, who sometimes degenerates into an egocentric and unselfconscious hypocrite.

I. The Birth

First of all, let us consider the author's presentation of the protagonist to the reader, which we may term the novelistic birth of the protagonist155. The birth comprises all of Part I of the novel, and exhibits a pattern of movement from concreteness and typification to fluidity and the confusion of reality with illusion.

Everything about these first pages tells us that things are not what they seem. In the dimension of space, we first come upon the calle de las Amazonas «cuya mezquindad y pobreza contrastan del modo más irónico con su altísono y coruscante nombre... (1679, a)». There then follows a brief temporal excursus into the historical derivation of the street's name, something which at first glance might seem unnecessary, a threatening diversion of our attention from the action of the novel. Yet nothing is ever gratuitous in Galdós' novels; in this case, the «official» history of the name deals with a celebration during the reign of Philip II, in which matrons dressed up as Amazons to do honor to the Queen. Whereas the «official» history speaks respectfully of these women, our author-narrator states «Tengo yo para mí que las amazonas de que habla el cronista de Felipe II, muy señor mío, eran unas desvergonzadas chulapas del siglo XVI... (1679, b)». Chronicles lie at worst, exaggerate at best, our narrator implies; something which we ought to keep in mind since the narrator also considers Parts II-V as a chronicle156.

After the discussion of the derivation of the street name we see before us the rooming-house of Chanfaina. But we are told that it is simultaneously less than a rooming house and more than one:

No tome nadie al pie de la letra lo de casa de huéspedes que al principio se ha dicho, pues entre las varias industrias de alojamiento que la tía Chanfaina ejercía en aquel rincón, y las del centro de Madrid, ... no hay otra semejanza que la del nombre.

(1679, b)                


As we pass through the main gate of the building into the patio, we enter a fantastic world of ill-defined realities, of incomplete and dislocated existences157: a building which is a «broma arquitectónica: ventanas que querían bajar, puertas que se estiraban para subir... (1680, a)»; openings in walls which can be «boca de una cueva» as easily as «puerta» or «aposento» (1680, b); violins which have only half their complement of strings and are therefore not violins at all.

It is here that Galdós again moves from the dimension of space back into that of time. Now, however, temporality does not take the form of historical discourse; it is merely a seemingly insignificant recollection of a date: «Un martes de Carnaval, bien lo recuerdo... (1680, a)». Yet, as just stated, nothing is ever gratuitous in Galdós' novels: this offhand remark fixes, indeed defines our spatial dimension. For what was Carnival, if not the suspension, however temporary, of the accepted limits and definitions of reality?158 Carnival in Galdós' Spain was the one time of year when reality was invested with total fluidity159 and when masks, which hid or altered the reality of the face and body, were customary. Masks could, of course, be used not only to confuse or hide the reality of the individual, but also to provide a new identity160.

It is in fact the confusion of physiognomic reality which next confronts our reporter-narrator. After the temporal fixing of the world of Chanfaina's rooming house, the spatial context is centered in its occupants. The narrator moves across the patio, among the people preparing for the festivities. Their most striking feature is their costumes, particularly the masks (1680, b - 1681, a). Some, rather than use masks, paint their faces or blacken them with soot, and two of these individuals strike the narrator's eye because they are women dressed as men (1680, b)161. Finally, the reporter and his companions meet the ama de casa. She is in fact the androgynous incarnation of Carnival itself162, reigning over the strange world of her establishment, massively concrete by virtue of her size which defeminizes her in the eyes of her beholders:

[...] vimos a Estefanía en chancletas... la panza voluminosa, los brazos hercúleos, el seno emulando en proporciones a la barriga y cargando sobre ella, por no avenirse con apreturas de corsé; el cuello ancho, carnoso y con un morrillo como el de un toro...

(1681, a-b)                

Up to this point, despite the confusing array of people and things, the narrator has been able to distinguish their true identities and define the paradoxical and contradictory aspects of their reality. Now, however, just after meeting Chanfaina, he sees some women of the house, about whom

[...] habría podido creerse que eran máscaras, y el colorete una forma extravagante de disfraz carnavalesco... pero no tardé en conocer... que vivían siempre en Carnestolendas.

(1682, a)                

The narrator has, for a moment, been unable to distinguish the reality of these grotesquely made-up women from his own pre-conceived ideas, i.e., his illusion, about them163, and at that instant reality and illusion therefore become one. Finally, the attention to space is concentrated on the person of Nazarín himself, and we are told that


[...] vimos que se abría una ventana estrecha que al corredor daba, y en el marco de ella apareció una figura, que al pronto me pareció una mujer. Era un hombre.


The reporter is completely deceived by physical appearances. Reality and illusion do not merge here, as in the preceeding incident: illusion actually replaces reality. Furthermore, it is an illusion generated not by the preconceived ideas of the beholder, the reporter who sees Nazarín, but by Nazarín's own appearance.

Thus, at the very beginning of the novel, we have been witness to a point-counterpoint movement in the narrative between the dimensions of space and time. This pattern continues: the narration now moves back to the temporal dimension as the narrator-reporter recalls the interview he has had with Nazarín. The ambiguous physical reality of Nazarín is now related to an equally ambiguous spiritual reality.

The interview deals with Nazarín's character, his views on society, his motivations for behaving as he does, etc. The impressions of our reporter go first from humorous scepticism to non-commitment and finally to agitated doubt concerning Nazarín's integrity. At first, «le tenía más bien por un humorista de los que cultivan la originalidad (1687, a)». Then, «Tan pronto el buen Nazarín me parecía un budista, tan pronto un imitador de Diógenes (idem)». The spiritual image of Nazarín thus begins to lose concreteness and takes on a more fluid form. With the interview over, the narrator's doubts as to whether Nazarín is an impostor or a saint are intensified:

Pues yo, esperando aún más datos, y mejor luz para juzgarle, sospecho o adivino en el bienaventurado Nazarín una personalidad vigorosa.

(1689, a)                

But this position is confused even more by the extreme opinions others have about Nazarín. The reporter's friend is convinced that the priest represents «la ausencia de todo carácter y la negación de la personalidad humana (idem)». Chanfaina and the old gypsy, on the other hand, think Nazarín is a saint (1690, a, b). The narrator is completely befuddled:

De la indiferencia desdeñosa con que mi amigo hablaba de él colegí que poca o ninguna huella había dejado en su pensamiento. A mí me pasaba lo contrario, y días tuve de no pensar más que en Nazarín, y de deshacerlo y volverlo a formar en mi mente, pieza por pieza...

(1691, a)                

And he does not know how much of his conception of Nazarín is a figment of his imagination, and how much, if indeed any at all, is due to his precise grasp «del verdadero y real personaje... (idem)».

Finally, time is focused on the story of Nazarín which is to follow. Is it a true story, or

[...] una invención de esas que por la doble virtud del arte expeditivo de quien las escribe, y la credulidad de quien las lee, resultan como una ilusión de la realidad?

(1691, b, italics mine)                

Indeed, the narrator even questions from whose viewpoint the story of Nazarín is written, that is,who the true author is; he asks himself, «Ha sido   —104→   usted, o el reportero, o la tía Chanfaina, o el gitano viejo? (idem)» And the reporter-narrator can only answer that he does not know.

This latest movement through time has led us from the accepted reality of a concrete person who reported an interview which actually occurred, to the confused story of uncertain authenticity written by an unknown author. We are presented with an apocryphal novel within a novel164. And while the truth of the outer novel is unquestioned by our narrator, that of the inner, apocryphal novel is completely questioned.

We have, consequently, a most unusual beginning. As we penetrate the spatial and temporal world of Nazarín, we move along a trajectory taking us from readily discernible, concrete realities, to complete ambiguity, the fusion of reality with fiction or illusion. The novelistic birth, furthermore, is filled with documentary pretense, from the discourse concerning the name of the street and the documented (and quixotic) uncertainty of the names of the characters165, to the presentation of Parts II-V as a chronicle of unknown authorship. Both Ruiz Ramón and Nimetz have commented on this latter aspect, the separation of the author from the novel. They note that this leads to what Ruiz Ramón calls the «independización del personaje (194)». In cervantine fashion, the creation has begun to develop itself. Nimetz also points out that such a separation had two effects which puzzled him: first, a «dilution» of objectivity by means of the ironic undercutting of the subject matter, and the consequent introduction of levity; secondly, what Nimetz calls the «forcible» detachment of the reader from Nazarín in spite of the fact that the subject matter ostensibly requires the reader's identification and empathy166.

This puzzling situation dissolves, however, if we reconsider the earlier remarks made concerning the functional versus the ideological levels in the novel. What Nimetz had noted was nothing less than the tendencies of these two levels to conflict. The entire beginning of Nazarín in fact announces Galdós' intentions. Galdós does not want the reader to identify with the protagonist any more than he, Galdós, does. By not identifying and yet not being alienated, the reader may remain aloof, to use Nimetz' term, and therefore analize Nazarín and his adventures in Parts II-V. For as was suggested earlier, Nazarín as a novel is merely one in a series of fictional experiments, and we as readers must study its development, not only on the ideological or theoretical level, but also on the practical, or in novelistic terms, functional level. In Parts II-V, the latter is nothing less than the narrative itself: the protagonist's practical application of his theoretical formation; not what Nazarín says or professes to believe, but his actions, what he does in his dealings with others. The ambiguous quality of his novelistic birth at once separates us from Nazarín and makes us wary; it warns us against taking anything at its face value, or making precipitous judgements. The contradictory nature of the hero will resonate throughout the novel as a cautionary device, as a constant reminder that things and people are not what they seem to be. Furthermore, the preponderance of ideological content in Part I is emphasized by the stationary nature of Nazarín, who remains in his rooms in the casa de vecindad and is visited by others. In Parts II-V, the protagonist is physically active and the functional content dominates the   —105→   narrative, undercutting (as will be shown) rather than obscuring the ideological level.

Opening his novel in this way, Galdós thereby challenges his audience to read the apocryphal inner novel in Nazarín, to move among its strands of «fact» complexly woven with illusion. In terms of the Carnival metaphor, Galdós is daring us to discriminate true faces from among the masks, and also to distinguish those masks which hide faces from those masks which have become the faces of their wearer. At the outset of the novel, Galdós, in the guise of a narrator-reporter, does not present the reader with any personal opinion regarding the veracity of the chronicle which is about to be related. But in the last three sentences of the novelistic birth, i.e., Part I, we are informed that the chronicle which is to follow was indeed written with a specific intent by its unknown author:

No respondo del procedimiento; sí respondo de la exactitud de los hechos. El narrador se oculta. La narración, nutrida de sentimiento de las cosas y de historia verídica, se manifiesta en sí misma, clara, precisa, sincera.

(1691, b)                

By implication we are also told that we must approach what follows without any preconceived notions concerning Nazarín's character. His own behavior as he confronts people and situations, the narration, in other words, of his encounter with life, will tell us everything we need to know. Our task is therefore to proceed from the theorizing Nazarín of Part I to the activist of Parts II-V. We must examine Nazarín from the point of view of the implementation of his ideals and determine whether his actions are in harmony with them.

II. Nazarín in Practice: Belmonte

Let us now analyze what some readers may well consider Nazarín's most spectacular achievement: the «taming» of the leonine Don Pedro de Belmonte.

This is the first time that Nazarín goes in search of a sinner. Yet contrary to appearances, he is not intent on saving the soul of Belmonte but rather seeks to encounter «algún padecimiento grande, o cuando menos, castigos, desprecios y contrariedades, ambición única de su alma (1721, a)».167 To the women accompanying him, this seems excessive, gratuitously dangerous. The women draw the fine distinction between facing up to trouble which comes one's way, and the active search for self-mortification. But Nazarín only continues to view the encounter as a confrontation with a dragón, as he puts it (1721, a; 1724, a).

Once the two men meet, something in Nazarín's countenance strikes Belmonte, and instead of mistreating him Belmonte curiously questions the priest about his Semitic appearance. Belmonte's reaction immediately throws Nazarín into a state of confusion; as the following passage demonstrates, he had expected to be beaten and killed:

Ahora -pensó Nazarín- este buen señor coge la escopeta y me destripa de un culatazo, me da con el cañón en la cabeza y me la parte. Dios sea conmigo.

(1722, a)                


On the other hand, Belmonte does abuse his servants mercilessly (1723, a), and Nazarín feels constrained to deliver a sermon in which he likens Belmonte first to Goliath, then (for the second time) to a dragon (1723, b - 1724, a). Again, contrary to Nazarín's expectations Belmonte reacts peaceably. It is as if Nazarin had scolded Belmonte with the intention not of reforming him, but of exciting his ire:

Grande fué la sorpresa de Nazarín al ver que el señor de la Coreja no sólo no se enfurecía oyéndole, sino que le oía con atención y hasta con respeto...

(1724, a)                

In a daze, Nazarín is led into a room in Belmonte's house, where he is instructed to wait; we are told, «Pues, señor, seguía sin entender la casa, ni el dueño de ella, ni nada de lo que veía (1724, b)». Finally, Nazarín is summoned. He does not know where he is being led, and tries to imagine his fate:

¿Para qué me querrán? -se decía [...]- Dios sea conmigo, y si me llevan por aquí para meterme en una mazmorra o arrojarme en una cisterna, o segarme el pescuezo, que me coja la muerte en la disposición que he deseado toda mi vida.

(1724, b)                

Tersely and matter-of-factly Galdós undercuts our protagonist, commenting ironically:

Pero la mazmorra o cisterna a que le llevaron era un comedor espacioso, alegre y muy limpio, en el cual vió la mesa puesta con todo el lujo de fina loza y cristalería que se estila en Madrid, y en ella dos cubiertos, no más, uno frente a otro.


During the meal the two men discuss the problems of contemporary society, and Nazarín again repeats his analysis of its ills (1725, b)168. As he speaks, he begins to regain his composure. The meal comes to an end, and Belmonte now informs Nazarín of the reasons why he had treated him so well. Nazarín, Belmonte explains, is wearing a «cristiano disfraz (1727, b)». Nazarín is not a poor beggar but the bishop of Armenia, patriarch of the Armenian Church, who after surrendering his authority to that of the Pope, gave up power and wealth; thereupon, continues Belmonte, this same bishop, disguised as a beggar, began a «santa peregrinación (1727, b - 1728, b)». He has been wandering for two years (1727, b), and the women accompanying him are also «santas»: «La una es dama principal, canonesa de la Turinga; la otra, una sudanita descalza... (1730, a)». Nazarín's protestations to the contrary only make Belmonte more certain; in utter dismay, Nazarín finally leaves la Coreja (1730, a).

Once again, we are confronted by a spectrum of disorienting elements. There is, first, a fusion of reality with illusion; there is, secondly, a purported disguise, i.e., the beggar's outfit worn by Nazarín; and there are realities so misunderstood that they are considered to be disguises: the clothing Ándara and Beatriz wear is so pitiful because they could not afford to buy anything better (Nazarín, it must be remembered, chose his clothes [1706, b - 1707, b; v also n. 14 above]). The reader also encounters mistaken identities and people who are not what they appear to be169. The irony of the situation is heightened by the fact that if Belmonte knew who Nazarín really was, he would probably have made short shrift of our ermitaño andante. The taming of the lion has been a sham. It was   —107→   his own good luck, not his faith which saved Nazarín from Belmonte's wrath. Also, Galdós takes pains to point out, Belmonte is possessed of a startlingly quixotic vein of madness, for after leaving la Coreja, Nazarín and the reader meet señá Polonia who provides the following data (1730, b):

Cuentan que [Belmonte] se pasó mucho tiempo en tierras de moros y judíos, y que al volver acá se metió en tales estudios de cosas de religión y de tiología, que se le trabucaron los sesos... Cuentan que cuando le hablan de las cosas de religión católica, o pagana, o de las idolatrías... es cuando pierde el sentido, por ser esta leyenda y el revolver papeles de Escritura Sagrada lo que le trastornó.

We are immediately reminded of Don Quijote and his reactions to the mention of the topic of chivalry.

We must also keep in mind that Belmonte will still treat other people brutally, for he admits to Nazarín that one of his pleasures is «el pelearse con la servidumbre... (1729, b)». Indeed, throughout the episode Nazarín has been passive, a blind beneficiary of circumstance. Even though Belmonte treats him with respect, he is left humorously unincited by Nazarín. In a post-prandial stupor, he murmurs

La pobreza..., ¡qué hermosura!...; pero yo no puedo, no puedo... ¡Qué delicia!... Hambre, desnudez, limosna... Hermosísimo...; no puedo, no puedo.

(1727, a, Galdós' punctuation)                

And following Nazarín's final admonition prior to taking his leave:

Créame a mí: cuando al pobre cuerpo le queda poco más que vivir, es crueldad negarle aquello a que está acostumbradito... Todo ello es inocente. La vejez necesita juguetes como la infancia. ¡Ah! Cuando tenía algunos años menos, se pirraba por otras cosas..., las buenas chicas, por ejemplo... De eso sí que le he privado en absoluto... No, no, ¡no faltaba más! Prohibición radical. Que se fastidie... No le dejo más que las fruslerías del pecado, el comer, la bebida, el tabaco y el pelearse con la servidumbre...

(1729, b)                

What appears to be a conquest of faith is due merely to an ironic quirk of fate. Nazarín's inability genuinely to convert Belmonte, placed in the context of ambiguous identities, of Nazarin's constantly frustrated expectations and subsequent confusion, and of Belmonte's madness, makes Nazarín appear as a gentle, sincere bumbler. The irony of the episode generates a pathetic image of Nazarín.

More serious, however, is the possibility that Nazarín may also have perverted the Gospel. Despite his professed aim of saving not only himself but others170, the unavoidable fact is that Nazarín sought out Belmonte in order to test his own strength of character; he courted suffering in order to prove his humility. He had no true interest in saving the soul of Belmonte. His sermons, designed to alienate it appears, are unheeded and ineffective because they are unimaginative, formula-ridden monologues, vacuous examples typical of Galdós' Spain. Even Nazarín's humility is forced, self-conscious, and in fact a source of pride171. That Nazarín registers dismay and confusion when Belmonte listens instead of lashing out, suggests that Nazarín would prefer Belmonte to react more violently and give him the opportunity to test his fortitude. Clearly, Nazarín did not want or expect to be well-received.


It has been suggested in the foregoing paragraphs that Nazarín is not what he seems. Although essentially good-hearted and well-meaning, Nazarín is not a saint or Christ-like paradigm and does not have the capacity for becoming one. If we listen only to his words and fail to penetrate beyond the general outlines of his conduct, if we do not examine closely the details of his actions and behavior, the very texture of the novel, we too will discern only what Belmonte sees: a man who gives up everything and by choice becomes a mendicant, a man about whom, in Belmonte's words, «se susurró que había hecho milagros! (1728, a)». The miracles of Belmonte's fictional patriarch are no more real than the miracles attributed to Nazarín172. Only a close textual analysis will permit us to elucidate the real Nazarín. A careful examination of his behavior reveals him as a creature of ambiguous proportions, neither a saint nor a huckster: as suggested above, Nazarín is simply a well-intentioned individual, deeply disturbed by the problems of life in society, and, with one notable exception (v n. 32 below), both unwilling and incapable of dealing with them except by evasion. How evasive and unsaintly indeed is the utterance «¡Cuán hermosa la Naturaleza, cuán fea la Humanidad! (1705, a)».173

If we take our lead from the incisive yet somehow ignored observations on Nazarín by César Barja174, we come closer to a beginning:

Pobre y vagabundo, practicando el bien, indisciplinado y soñador, su figura expresa en forma contradictoria lo que en la vida y la actitud místicas puede haber de buen sentido y de locura, sin que el novelista se pronuncie resueltamente por uno ni por otra. Representa el mayor esfuerzo de Galdós para la comprensión de la ideología mística y cristiana, más cristiana que mística; y en total, por la oposición que en la sociedad y la iglesia encuentra el héroe, y por lo infructuoso de su carrera, la obra envuelve una crítica del cristianismo social y militante, (italics mine)

Galdós is an independent observer, trying to puzzle out an ambiguous situation: the problem of survival, both individually and collectively, in 19th century Spain. It is this ambiguity and its resolution which unites the three novels Nazarín, Halma and Misericordia into an organic whole.

Such a resolution is embodied by the Christ figure. But the latter cannot be efficacious, however, if it is allowed to be defined merely by the configuration of a deliberately glorified, unspontaneous individualization of an impersonal ideal (Nazarín). This posture is formalistic: it is not enough for Nazarín to bear that name, to appear Christ-like, and to suffer. The form of Christ without the content, Galdós tells us ironically, is insufficient, in the same way that an «anonymous» chronicle bearing the title «Nazarín» may not necessarily be about a truly evangelical figure175. We must not attempt to recreate through formalistic imitation the historical Christ, but rather, in our own selves and in our own behavior, reify the principles which the historical Christ personified. The Christ figure then becomes important to Galdós and his readers because it provides a model for individual action in a collaborative social effort (Benina). If humanity does not emulate the model, it will perish, becoming merely Juanito Santa Cruz made flesh. Personal salvation in this context retains its total connection with   —109→   the salvation of society. Nazarín, seeking his own salvation while turning away from Ándara and the rest of society, can only fail. Halma likewise is unsuccessful, for in serving others she neglects herself and denies her humanity (in her refusal to become a wife and mother). Benina is the dialectical synthesis176.

Galdós does not say then that we should all fashion ourselves after the model of the Biblical Christ. The significant question for Galdós and his readers is neither Morón Arroyo's «How may one achieve a formal, pietistic delineation of the historical Christ?» nor Parker's «How would the Passion be re-enacted if He were to return to the world in 19th century Spain?» It is, rather, «How may we, mere humans, implement Christ's teachings in order to save ourselves and our world? What actions, in the world of the industrializing 19th century, would be most consonant with His doctrine? How, in other words, are His principles to be adapted to meet the exigencies of modern society?» In seeking to define his model for society, to be emulated by all men and women, Galdós proceeds from a quixotic character who unwittingly proves that all attempts to be an orthodox, individualistic imitatio Christi are doomed to failure; he next experiments novelistically with a progressive, outward directed and self-effacing democratic Christian, finally developing a truly Christian soul who does not separate herself from society or humanity; Benina accepts them as part of herself. Don Manuel Flórez, in many ways the incarnation of the attitude of acción católica, is, I believe, Galdós' spokesman in framing the problem (1814, b; 1815, b):

Cada tiempo trae su forma y estilos de santidad... Yo soy social, él [Nazarín] individual; [...] Cierto es que si miramos a la doctrina pura y a su aplicación a nuestras acciones, él aparece con ventaja, y yo con desventaja; pero miremos a los resultados prácticos de una y otra forma de ejercer el ministerio, y entonces, ¿cómo dudar que la supremacía está de la parte acá?... Señor, Señor, llevar a la práctica la doctrina en todo su rigor y pureza, no puede ser, no puede ser. Para ello sería precisa la destrucción de todo lo existente. Pues qué, Jesús mío, ¿tu Santa Iglesia no vive en la civilización?

The evangelical trilogy then is not an examination of what would happen if Christ walked the earth again and repeated His works. The three novels show us that dogmatic imitation of Christ is obsolete and counter-productive; that Christ, if He were on earth in 1895, would do not as Nazarín but as Benina. In agrarian Palestine, for example, Christ would seek out His people and carry out His mission in the countryside. But in a fast urbanizing Spain177, He must come to and remain in Madrid. Galdós is saying that the teachings of Christ must be put into a more contemporary form -into an up-to-date vocabulary addressed to current problems, without sacrificing the eternal principles178. In Nazarín, therefore, Christ is not destroyed as some aver179; as Barja and Russell suggested, Nazarín is only a poor imitation180.

Queens College. The City University of New York

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