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ArribaAbajoOrbajosa revisited, or, the complexities of interpretation

Brian J. Dendle

For the naïf (or naïve) reader, Doña Perfecta should require little critical attention. It is brief; its thesis -that murderous religious fanatics exist in rural Spain- is explicit; its characters are portrayed without subtlety, and its relevance to the Spanish political situation of the early 1870s is obvious. Nevertheless, despite its apparent lack of complexity, Doña Perfecta has inspired more commentary than any other novel of Galdós, with the possible exception of the much longer Fortunata y Jacinta. Critics have been baffled, even infuriated, by the work. Its liberal protagonist is manifestly inadequate as a paladin of progressive values. The narrator's point of view is by no means clear-cut. The mixture of combative thesis, romantic young love, heavy irony, allegory, symbolism, and occasional buffoonery disconcerts those critics who have preconceived notions of what a «realistic» or a thesis novel should be. Moreover, studies by Ricardo Gullón, Richard A. Cardwell, Peter Standish, Noël M. Valis, and Harriet S. Turner reveal considerable subtlety in this supposedly most evident of Galdós' novels.

Critics divide roughly into two camps: (1) those who object to tendentious or thesis elements in the novel on aesthetic grounds; such critics, ignoring Galdós's experience in writing the Episodios nacionales, tend to accuse Galdós of immaturity as a novelist and miss in Doña Perfecta a «realism», ambiguity, or irony purportedly characteristic of the «mature» works of the 1880s; and (2) those -among whom I count myself- who believe that much nineteenth-century literature is inherently tendentious,15 that a thesis often provides a strong focus to a work of art, and that Doña Perfecta can profitably be considered in the social and political environment of 1876 and in the literary context of Galdós's early career.

Recent Criticism of Doña Perfecta

It would be otiose to discuss fully in the space of a brief article the numerous studies of Doña Perfecta. In these introductory remarks I shall merely summarize certain points made by critics in the last thirty years. I extend my apologies to those scholars whose views lack of space prevents my considering in this schematic outline.

Crucial to arguments that I shall develop later in this essay is C. A. Jones's study (1959) of the variant text, to be found in the serial version published in the Revista de España (March-May 1876) and also in the first edition (that printed by Noguera in 1876), of the letters which conclude Doña Perfecta. In the first edition, Doña Perfecta is to marry a Jacinto twenty-two years her junior. The unfortunate Jacinto, however, slips and falls on a knife, held by his mother, María Remedios, which pierces his heart. For Jones, the Noguera ending «produces a crude and melodramatic effect» (572), «showing   —52→   the protagonist of his book in the worst possible light, removing the principal excuse for her behavior, namely an excess of maternal protectiveness, and revealing her as completely cynical and heartless» (572). «The broad-minded tolerance of Galdós's later work is glimpsed much more in the later version of this novel, which could be interpreted as a plea for moderation on the part of both the conservative and the progressive, despite the survival of the cryptic final chapter. Certainly the later version gives evidence of very much better taste, and of a greater artistic sense» (573).

José F. Montesinos (1968) notes that Galdós attacks in Doña Perfecta the «inautenticidad de la vida española» (175) and the tribal nature of Spanish religion. The negative aspects of Galdós's criticism resemble those of the Generation of 1898. Montesinos's dislike of the novel is intense. The ending of the first edition is absurd («una aberración producida por la prisa y por la fatiga», 178). Pepe Rey is «un mentecato de poquísimo tacto, siempre incapaz de ver más allá de sus narices» (180). The novel offers a one-sided vision, is too schematic, lacks «calor humano» (184), is hastily-written and improvised, and has too many loose ends, internal contradictions, and implausibilities.

Jennifer Lowe (1969) treats themes of light and darkness, life and death, and images drawn from the animal kingdom. She finds in Doña Perfecta «exaggerations and unlikely situations» (53) and that the «story and theme are still far from having the artistically satisfying integration which we find in Galdós's later works» (53).

In a perceptive study of the structure of Doña Perfectaobra trascendente» [51]), Ricardo Gullón (1970) notes the rapid tempo of the novel, its concentration and density, its multileveled meanings, the skill of the narrator (who must not be confused with Galdós), and its all-pervasive irony. The theme of the novel is war. Doña Perfecta, a character both Spanish and universal, is consistently presented and is the axis of the drama (24). The Cervantine influence is omnipresent; Pepe Rey is «el Quijote moderno» (41) who wishes to change the world.

Josette Blanquat (1971) examines the historical context of the thesis of Doña Perfecta (i.e., Galdós's attack on religious fanaticism): Don Carlos's departure from Spain in February 1876; the local violence that accompanied the January elections to the Cortes Constituyentes; and the contemporary debate in the Cortes on the constitutional role of the Church. The Catholic press in Spain, France, and Italy attacked liberalism as anti-Christian, heretical, and immoral. The maladroit Pepe Rey offers no serious defense of liberal thought. The opinions of Doña Perfecta (the archetype of «la mère terrible»), on the other hand, accurately reflect those of high ecclesiastical authorities. Orbajosa is dominated by a figure of myth, «le libéral satanique, ennemi de la religion, de la morale, de la société civilisée» (69). «Le mythe mensonger constitue done le ressort psychologique et le ressort dramatique d'une tragédie qui, à bien des égards, peut être rapprochée de la tragédie classique» (69).

In two sensitive and important studies, Richard A. Cardwell (1971, 1972) emphasizes not ideology but rather the web of complex personal relationships portrayed in Doña Perfecta. Galdós's presentation of Pepe Rey is ironic. Rey, tactless, intolerant, and insensitive to others' hostility, loses control over himself and events. Cardwell's exploration of narratorial point of view and of Galdós's Cervantine use of paradox and questioning of the Romantic novel is original and perceptive.

J. B. Hall (1973), who fails to consider ironic elements in Galdós's portrayal of Pepe   —53→   Rey, examines analogies between Pepe Rey and Christ and suggests that Rey's enemies play the same role as those of Christ.

Claire-Nicole Kerék (1973), placing Doña Perfecta in the context of the Restoration, indicates the abstract reasoning of Pepe Rey (as opposed to the concreteness of the Orbajosans), his intolerance, and his inability to perceive the Orbajosans as they are. Pepe Rey is a pawn without self-control; a man of words rather than of action, he reacts to situations imposed by others. Rather than Galdós's mouthpiece, he represents Madrid's incomprehension of provincial Spain.

The Soviet critic K. V. Tsurinov gives full weight to elements of ideology and class structure in Doña Perfecta. Galdós, writing «as a mature artist, with clearly defined Weltanschauung and method» (64), ruthlesslly exposes the despotism, social stagnation, and hypocrisies of the Spain of the 1870s. Pepe Rey, «an anarchist fighting alone» (77), with his «unceasing vacillations and unforgivable magnanimity» (77), is an inadequate opponent of reaction.

The 1976 Anales Galdosianos commemorative volume brought notable studies by Rodolfo Cardona (whose description of the manuscript of Doña Perfecta supplements Jones's 1959 study of the first edition), Stephen Gilman, Anthony N. Zahareas, Lee Fontanella, and Arnold M. Penuel.

In a wide-ranging essay which purports to fathom Galdós's intent in writing Doña Perfecta, Gilman proposes Balzac as Galdós's «interlocutor».16 Doña Perfecta, Gilman improbably argues, is «anything but a caricature of reaction; she is a noble, wellintentioned, and even attractive lady whose inherited role (that of being an exemplar of communal values or, as is said in English, a pillar of society) shackles and ultimately destroys her -as well as all the lives around her» (19). Doña Perfecta represents, as an attempt to understand «anti-historical fanaticisa» (19) in historical terms, a considerable novelistic advance over the Episodios nacionales and La Fontana de Oro.

In a highly perceptive essay, Anthony N. Zahareas takes issue with critical presumptions which have led to misinterpretations of the text: a preference for tragedy and distrust of melodrama; a favoring of «ambiguity», «incompleteness», «irony», and «neutrality» over «transparency, commitment, tendentiousness or persuasion»; and the disparagement of Doña Perfecta when seen in the light of subsequent Galdosian novels (32).

Zahareas establishes the historical accuracy of Galdós's fictional representation of contemporary socio-economic forces and urban/rural conflicts. Pepe Rey, «Something of a nincompoo» (37), sneering, arrogant, with neither comprehension nor sympathy for conservative, rural values, embodies a liberal ideology of renovation, progress and capitalism» (42); his false consciousness of his situation, his foolishness, and his ultimate failure reflect the similar impotence of Spanish liberals in the 1870s. The much more lucid Doña Perfecta, the well-to-do rural landowner, correctly perceives the nature of the conflict (which is social and political rather than ethical), acts vigorously, and emerges victorious.

Although Zahareas's taking of the ideological claims of Pepe Rey, of Doña Perfecta, and of the narrator at face value is questionable, his recognition that the political situation of the early 1870s could be presented in terms of «melodrama»17 without loss of artistic integrity and that the «thesis» element in Doña Perfecta accurately represented contemporary conflicts offers a refreshing corrective to attacks on tendentious literature «per se». Zahareas also defends the literary value of the text against aesthetic reductionism:   —54→   «Ironically, Doña Perfecta is richer in tensions, subtler in structure, more profound in meaning, and sharper in ideological appraisals than criticism has showd» (50).

Lee Fontanella, bringing a sledge-hammer of reasoning to bear on an ironicallyportrayed minor character, claims that Galdós, a «proper historiographer» as opposed to the «erroneous historian» Cayetano, «communicates a vital sense of history» (65). In the same volume of Anales Galdosianos, Arnold M. Penuel finds novelistic immaturity in Galdós's emphasis on abstraction, in his clumsy and inconsistent characterization of Pepe Rey and others, and in his shifting narratorial viewpoint which misleads the reader. In a later essay (1979), Penuel argues that Doña Perfecta and the Orbajosans are suffering from a «pathological narcissism» (287).

Peter Standish (1977) cogently argues that the apparent clumsiness of technique and incongruities in Doña Perfecta are deliberate and that the self-assertive and conscious author has conceived the novel in histrionic terms. Doña Perfecta, «an author-centred rather than ideology-centred book», «embodies a degree of performance by the author as author and therefore by the characters as his contrivances. Images, mythical allusions, crude symbolism, verbal irony, melodrama, caricature, outrageous metaphors, stylistic posturing -these are some of the skills which Galdós consciously deploys as theatrical artist» (230).

Rodolfo Cardona's text of Doña Perfecta, published by Cátedra. (1982), is based on the tenth edition («esmeradamente corregida») of 1902 and notes variants in later editions published in Galdós's lifetime. Cardona's lucid introduction refers to Gilman's 1976 article on Galdós's intentions, repeats Cardona's study of the manuscript (1976), and places the novel in historical context. For Cardona, the theme of Doña Perfecta is hypocrisy rather than conflicting ideologies. Pepe Reys tragic flaw of pride, evident in his insensitivity to and intolerance of others, leads him to fall into the trap set by Don Inocencio; Reys recognition of his error is evident in his letter of confession to his father in Chapter XXVIII. Finally, Cardona refutes Zahareas's claim that Doña Perfecta is left triumphant at the end of the novel.

Noël M. Valis (1982) brilliantly analyzes Galdós's «visión disléxica de la realidad», as revealed in the garden scenes in Doña Perfecta. The garden is at one and the same time Paradise and Anti-Paradise, «este Edén ironizado donde, en un punto culminante de doble ironía galdosiana, morirá el supuesto antiparadisíaco Pepe Rey» (1033). Galdós's «reality» is «inestable, capaz de metamorfosearse en entidades ominosas y pesadillescas» (1035). The «adelfas» symbolize «muerte enmascarada y amor engañoso» (1036).

In her comprehensive study (1982), María Pilar Aparici Llanas is mainly concerned with ideological context. She finds that Galdós is sympathetic toward Pepe Rey the liberal progressive but ironic toward Pepe Rey in his human aspects (300); Rosario is a «heroína de folletín» (302-03).

Harriet S. Turner (1984) subtly explores a complex text, ironical and self-referential, with a self-conscious narrator who is at once omniscient and limited. Galdós scrambles the narrator's storytelling function «in order to pose the question of reliability, of where truth might reside among the competing fictive shapes devised by Doña Perfecta, Pepe Rey, Don Inocencio, María Remedios, Don Cayetano, and all of Orbajosa» (126).

Germán Gullón (1988) draws attention to the web of passions (amorous, maternal, covetous) that accompany the conflict between progressive and traditional values. J. E. Varey (1988)18 treats Doña Perfecta as a polemical, hurriedly-written, immature   —55→   work. Pepe Rey's and Rosario's love offered a potential of promise for Spain (88-89). Also in 1988, Eamonn Rodgers, while acknowledging Cardwell's argument in favor of Galdós's irony, nonetheless finds in Doña Perfecta an absence of coherence and an inconsistency of purpose, stemming from Galdós's wavering between ideological commitment and «his skill and subtlety in the presentation of complex realities» (61).

Intriguingly, in 1990 Geoffrey Ribbans announced the discovery of yet another ending to Doña Perfecta, a seven-page manuscript, not in Galdós's handwriting, discovered in the Casa-Museo. The manuscript, which, despite its grammatical errors and heavy-handed composition, Ribbans believes to represent an early, dictated draft, expresses in narrative form the epistolary ending of the Noguera text. For Ribbans, the discarded conclusion presents Doña Perfecta as a tragic figure, manipulated by others; it is to María Remedios that Galdós refers in the final chapter («las personas que parecen buenas y no lo son»).

Orbajosa Revisited

In the present study, it is impossible, for reasons of space and of clarity of presentation, to indicate at every point where I agree or take issue with earlier readings. The brief summary above of recent critical opinion must therefore, however inadequately, perform this function. Also for reasons of space I shall concentrate my remarks on certain aspects and episodes of Doña Perfecta that have received insufficient attention.

My textual references to Doña Perfecta are to the 1982 Cátedra edition. I wish at this point to thank Noël M. Valis, of the Johns Hopkins University, and John Wainwright, of the Taylor Institution, Oxford University, for their generous bibliographical assistance and the Taylor Institution for providing access to the Noguera edition of 1876.

(a) The Arrival

Even before commencing the text of Doña Perfecta, the reader is plunged into the universe of the «novela», of fiction, by the chapter headings: «¡Villahorrenda!... ¡Cinco minutos!»,19 «Un viaje por el corazón de España». The chapter headings refer us, not to the world of Cervantes or of nineteenth-century historical novels (such as Antonio Cánovas del Castillo's La campana de Huesca) but rather to the «folletín», to the world of Ayguals de Izco, Ortega y Frías, Pérez, Escrich, and Rafael del Castillo. The chapter headings convey anticipation and excitement-the headings of Chapters V to XX resemble those of a newspaper as a declaration of war approaches. They also signal that the reader will be led in hand, guided, by the narrator in the exploration of the «reality» of Spain.

The first two chapters merit comment. «Villahorrenda», we are told, is «propiedad del autor»; again, the indication is that we are in a world of «fiction», and not one of fiction masquerading as «history». The word «Willahorrenda» is, of course, of ill omen; nevertheless, the reader is almost immediately reassured by a note of mild humor, namely, the «scandalized» protest of the hens at the foul [no pun in Spanish] language of the station master (70). The arriving traveler will also impress favorably a reader of novels:   —56→   he is of social category (the only traveler in first class); his reaction to the cold is expressed in language showing a certain youthful excess but incapable of shocking a conventionally-minded middle-class reader («¡Pero hace aquí un frío de tres mil demonios!»); he speaks «con alegría». The arrival of Pepe Rey is associated with modern civilization and the dawn of a new age: the train from Madrid noisily whistles like a trumpet, awakening -again with a certain playful exaggeration on the part of the narrator- «aldeas, villas, ciudades, provincias». The peasant who awaits Pepe Rey belongs to a lower social order and thus can safely be reduced to a shape («una oscura masa de paño pardo sobre sí misma revuelta, y por cuyo principal pliegue asomaba el avellanado rostro astuto de un labriego castellano»). The haphazard light cast by the station master's lantern, however, foreshadows the narratorial shell-game, namely, the problems of perception and judgment that the novel will raise: «La luz caía sobre el piso del andén, formando un zig-zag semejante al que describe la lluvia de una regadera» (70). First you see it; then you don't.

Chapter II is headed «Un viaje por el corazón de España»; in place of «corazón», the manuscript version reads «interior», which is then corrected to «centro» (Cardona 10). The reader of 1876 would immediately recognize the (perhaps facetious) equivalence with the travels of such African explorers as Samuel White Baker, Richard Button, Henry Morton Stanley, John Hanning Speke, David Livingstone, and Custav Nachtigal whose ventures into «el corazón de África», «el centro de África», and «el interior» were related in the contemporary Spanish press.20

Pepe Rey's obvious tactlessness in Chapter II and throughout the novel has been sufficiently commented by critics to require no further mention here. The chapter smacks of the commencement of an adventure tale; Pepe Rey is armed with a revolver; he wishes to demonstrate his courage in the face of brigands (77-78). Rey's class attitude is manifest in his impertinence in addressing Licurgo as «señor Solón»; the ruling classes in the nineteenth century could, after all, mangle with impunity the names of the lower orders or of natives. Rey's loquacity as he comments unfavorably on the countryside also suggests the «insouciance» of one who is sure of his class superiority. Interestingly, Anthony N. Zahareas, in his excellent analysis of the socio-economic and political factors at work in Doña Perfecta, fails to mention that Pepe Rey is an absentee landlord whose intent is to assert rights never before exercized, to the detriment of those «squatters» who have rendered parts of his lands productive. (Note also Rey's dismissal of the squatters as «tal gentuza», [135], «palurdos», [145]). The execution of bandits by the «Guardia Civil» -the agents of the central government- suggests the summary measures of an occupying or colonial power. It is, however, the narrator who speaks with the «hauteur» of intellectual (colonialist?) superiority as he scathingly remarks the and countryside, its history of battles between Christianity and Islam, and the squalor of Orbajosa.21

(b) Narratorial Perspective

The narrator, playful and ironic, fully controls the narrative. He (I am assuming a male narrator for the purpose of this essay) engages the reader in conversation and refers, in Cervantine manner, to the existence of sources for «la composición de esta historia»   —57→   (116). The reader is alerted to the possibility of a complex «reality» by references to irony, by the narrator's ironical, even sarcastic, distancing from his characters, and by obvious ironies of situation. A similar effect, of inviting the reader's judgment, is obtained by the shifting perspective of the narrator. At times, an omniscient narrator provides overall judgments of characters and enters their minds and dreams. On other occasions, the narrator pleads ignorance of characters' thoughts and intentions. In the presentation of Doña Perfecta, the narrator at first denies himself the virtue of hindsight, as he relates, sharing the naif perspective of Pepe Rey, the loving reception tendered by Doña Perfecta to her nephew; the narrator does not immediately direct the reader -who nonetheless has greater perspicacity than Pepe Rey- to distrust Doña Perfecta's smiles. Only gradually in the course of the novel does the narrator present evidence of Doña Perfecta's perfidy, before reaching the devastating concluding judgment: «Esto se acabó. Es cuanto por ahora podemos decir de las personas que parecen buenas y no lo son».22

(c) Pepe Rey

The reader is also forced to judgment by the curious contradictions in the narrator's presentation of Pepe Rey. The reader is initially predisposed toward a hero who is nalf, handsome, intelligent, physically strong, and thwarted in love by the treachery of a woman who owes her position to the generosity of Rey's father. But the reader is also alienated by Rey's obvious foolishness and insensitivty and by his adolescent desire to mortify the impertinent Don Inocencio. Rey's behavior often offers an ironic contrast to the narrator's statements: «No era de los más habladores» (90), the narrator writes of a character who is overly glib and who loses no opportunity to challenge the beliefs of Orbajosa. Similarly, despite Rey's «mucha prudencia y mesura» (127), he is throughout the novel easily excitable and quick to anger. To establish an ironic distance from the emotionally inept Rey, the narrator refers to him, in moments of stress, as «el matemático» and «el ingeniero»; the narrator also notes the rigidity of Rey's character, «nada maleable, duro y de muy escasa flexibilidad» (138). Pepe Rey's name itself signals an internal contradiction. «Rey» suggests Christ; «Pepe», on the other hand, is jocose and familiar. Pepe Rey's life and death are no more than a frivolous parody of Christ's career; the murder is without transcendental significance.

Rey's concept of his struggle with Doña Perfecta as war is a self-fulfilling, childish exaggeration, which ultimately leads to the tragic dénouement. His direct challenge to, and attempted intimidation of, Doña Perfecta, his scheming with Pinzón, his planning of an elopement, his firing of a revolver against Caballuco when attacked, smack of an adventure tale for adolescents. Similarly, Rey would place us in the universe of the «folletín» when he dreams of the intervention on his behalf of powerful friends: «Se necesitan amigos poderosos, listos, de iniciativa, de gran experiencia en los lances difíciles, de gran astucia y valor» (199).

There is excess, even ruthlessness, in Pepe Rey's treatment of Rosario. From their first meeting, the «sevillano» Rey woos Rosario with extravagant praise. Even Rosario's ignorance is taken by the infatuated Rey as a sign of perfection. He declares his passion the day after his arrival (the chapter in which this occurs is fittingly titled, «A toda prisa»).   —58→   Had she failed to please, Rey would immediately have abandoned Orbajosa: «te juro que si no me hubieras gustado, ya estaría lejos de aquí» (117). His love for Rosario is Romantic, that is, it emanates from the soul and demands immediate acknowledgment: «eres la mujer que desde hace tiempo me está anunciando el corazón» (117). (After swooning, Rosario appropriately responds: «Te quiero desde antes de conocerte» [118].)

At no time in Doña Perfecta does Pepe Rey question his part in the turmoil that his ardent courtship creates in Rosario's fragile nervous system. In Chapter XVI, Pepe Reys rancour is already evident. He treats with sarcasm the benevolent Cayetano (179). He mentally declares war on Doña Perfecta: «La batalla será terrible. Veremos quién sale triunfante» (180). At the end of Chapter XVI, as he enfolds Rosario in his arms, he experiences «una ternura exaltada y profunda». But this tenderness is immediately followed by an uglier desire for vengeance: «surgió de repente como infernal inspiración otro [sentimiento] que era un terrible deseo de venganza» (181). In other words, an amorous tryst becomes also, by the placing of Rosario in a compromising situation, a vindictive riposte against Doña Perfecta. Rey's attitude to Rosario is possessive and egotistic: «No tomo más que lo que es mío», he proclaims to Doña Perfecta (208).

An ostensibly more favourable light is placed on Pepe Rey by the glimpse into his mind afforded, without benefit of ironic narrator, by the confessional letters addressed by Rey to his father in Chapter XXVIII. The letters, of extreme filial piety, contain an admission of anger, loss of emotional control, and deceit, a claim to understand the true meaning of prayer, a justification of his behavior, and an attack on the values of Orbajosa. The formerly priggish Rey has now discovered within himself a capacity for evil («estoy dispuesto al mal y al bien» [274]). Following his father's urgings, Rey will renounce violence and intimidation. The letters may, indeed, be «sincere»; they are also manifestly self-serving. In the final words that Rey pens to Rosario, Romantic excess (as well as dramatic irony) is evident: «Maldito sea yo si no te veo» (278).

Pepe Rey's ideology, in so far as it can be ascertained from the text, seems to be based on little more than the arrogant assertion of his own superiority. His defense of modern civilization is futile, for it is immediately negated by his remark to Rosario: «No me haces caso, primita. Digo estos disparates para sulfurar al señor canónigo» (107). Since Rey's views are not stated, they can only with difficulty be adduced from the text. They are quite unremarkable, if the norm be a smugly progressive, urban liberalism. Rey has a Victorian sense of convention; hence his decision not to associate with the frivolous, although not «immoral», Troya sisters. His economic and social thinking has all the limitations of nineteenth-century liberalism. An absentee landlord who is determined to assert his Property rights, an engineer who represents the advances of technology and who, as Zahareas has so ably demonstrated, makes no effort to understand an agricultural economy and rural, conservative values, Rey has only contempt for the Orbajosans and their «antiquated» ideas: «Aquí privan las ideas más anticuadas acerca de la sociedad, de la religión, del Estado, de la propiedad» (275). Although not the atheist of the Orbajosans' imagination, Pepe Rey has in religion no wider view than the moral code taught by his father. For Rey and the narrator, the doctrine of Divine Providence is seemingly nonsense and the connotations of «mystic» are negative;23 Rey's attack on Biblical miracles, although provoked by Inocencio's hostility, challenges the grounds of Christian faith; Rey has no sense of decorum in church; his declaration of the meaning   —59→   of prayer («una súplica grave y reflexiva, tan personal, que no se aviene con fórmulas aprendidas de memoria» [274]) may represent Rey's «religious» superiority to the Orbajosans but also reveals the Romantic individualism so evident in Rey's courtship of Rosario. Even the criticism of the use of opera music in church and of the clothing of the Infant Jesus in trousers -an adaptation of the non-essentials of worship to local usage- would strike the post-«aggiornamento» critic as more revelatory of the cultural limitations of Pepe Rey than of the Orbajosans.

(d) Rosario

Rosario is presented from the outset as melancholic and fragile. To become a complete person, she needs guidance: «Pero allí faltaba materia para que la persona fuese completa: faltaba cauce, faltaban orillas. El vasto caudal de su espíritu se desbordaba, amenazando devorar las estrechas riberas» (93). Torn by the rival, controlling demands of Pepe Rey and of her mother, unable to practice the deceit necessary for survival, Rosario is reduced to an anguished and hysterical delirium as she confesses to God her hatred of her mother (Chapter XXIV, «La confesión») and to her mother her passion for Pepe Rey (Chapter XXXI, «Doña Perfecta»).

As with Pepe Rey, the narrator distances himself from Rosario. Thus, in Rosario's moment of despair and revolt, he avoids emotional identification by proposing a stylized image of her appearance: «No se ha visto imagen más hermosa de un ángel dispuesto a rebelarse» (284).

(e) Chapter XVII («Luz a oscuras»)

(In Chapter XVI, Don Cayetano has told Pepe Rey of the hereditary madness to which the Polentinos family, including Rosario, is susceptible.)

Chapter XVII («Luz a oscuras») combines religious fanaticism, Romantic exaltation bordering on insanity, and the grotesque. At the beginning of the chapter, Rosario leads Pepe Rey to the family chapel. Rosario, trembling, with burning brow and frozen hands, is sick with fever. Rey wraps her in a blanket; he proclaims, «con exaltación»: «Conmigo... y para siempre» (182). Rosario then takes command and leads him to a dank chamber. Rey, embracing her, bangs his head.

-¿Qué es esto?

-Los pies.

-Rosario... ¿qué dices?

-Los pies del divino Jesús, de la imagen de Cristo Crucificado, que adoramos en mi casa. Pepe Rey sintió como una fría lanzada que le traspasó el corazón.

-Bésalos - dijo imperiosamente la joven.

El matemático besó los helados pies de la santa imagen.


Rosario, weeping, insists that Pepe Rey declare his belief in God. She, pathetically, affirms that Doña Perfecta only desires their good. Rosario proclaims her love with the   —60→   extravagance of Romantic madness: «Quiero volverme loca contigo. Por ti estoy padeciendo; por ti estoy enferma; por ti desprecio la vida y me expongo a morir... Ya lo preveo; mañana estaré peor, me agravaré... Moriré: ¡qué me importa!» (185).

Rey (a pompous doctor of the soul) declares that she can be cured, for, terrified by the pressures placed on her, she suffers only from «una perturbación moral». Christ-like, Rey commands: «Levántate y sígueme» (186). Rey (in a parody of the transfiguration of Christ) is transformed in the eyes of the hysterical Rosario: «una luz inefable sale de ti y me inunda el alma» (186). The fearful Rosario is under a spell («fascinada»): «Terribles ojos me miran y me dejan muda y trémula» (186). But Pepe Rey has the power to restore her to life (186); his shadow had appeared to her as «una aparición divina» (187). The scene then turns to burlesque as Rey again bumps his head and addresses the statue of Christ: «Señor, no me pegues, que no haré nada malo» (187).

Romantic excess, or the extravagance of madness, returns, as Rosario, in «una voz pura, grave, angelical, conmovida», swears to God and Christ that she prefers death to belonging to any other than Pepe Rey. Rey is tempted to take sensual advantage of the emotionally overwrought Rosario:

La prima inclinó su hermoso busto inerte sobre el pecho del primo. Temblaba en los amantes brazos varoniles, como la paloma en las garras del águila.

Por la mente del ingeniero pasó como un rayo la idea de que existía el demonio; pero entonces el demonio era él. Rosario hizo ligero movimiento de miedo: tuvo como el temblor de sorpresa que anuncia el peligro.


Rosario, at Pepe's urging, swears her fidelity, on the ashes of her father, buried beneath her feet (a grotesque irony for, the reader knows, the father had died in an orgy). At 4.00 a. m., Rosario, obviously very ill, returns to her room.

(f) Chapter XIX («Combate terrible.-Estrategia»)

In Chapter XIX, Pepe Rey and Doña Perfecta openly declare war. Rey, who evidently believes that all is fair in love and war, is astute enough to lie to Doña Perfecta that he is unacquainted with Pinzón; however, his threat that the government will exterminate the Orbajosans (201) is foolish. With dignity; but perhaps imprudence, Rey accuses his aunt of hypocrisy and treachery toward him and of endangering Rosario's life with her «encierro inquisitorial» (202-03). A sobbing and increasingly shrill Doña Perfecta, who asserts that she has behaved as a «madre prudente», challenges the perplexed Rey's grounds for passing judgment:

¿Con qué derecho te metes a juzgar lo que no conoces sino por indicios y conjeturas? ¿Tienes tú la suprema inteligencia que se necesita para juzgar de plano las acciones de los demás y dar sentencia sobre ellas? ¿Eres Dios para conocer las intenciones? [...] ¿No es lícito emplear alguna vez en la vida medios indirectos para conseguir un fin bueno y honrado? ¿Con qué derecho juzgas acciones mías que no comprendes bien?


She continues the argument by an appeal to the doctrine of Divine Providence24:


Dios, en quien tú no crees, ve lo que tú no ves ni puedes ver: el intento... Ves el efecto y no la causa. El que no cree en Dios no ve causas. Dios es la suprema intención del mundo. El que le desconoce, necesariamente ha de juzgar de todo como juzgas tú, a lo tonto. Por ejemplo, en la tempestad no ve más que destrucción; en el incendio, estragos; en la sequía, miseria; en los terremotos, desolación, y, sin embargo, orgulloso señorito, en todas esas aparentes calamidades hay que buscar la bondad de la intención; sí, señor, la intención siempre buena de quien no puede hacer nada malo.


Doña Perfecta's reasoning, orthodox when applied to God, less orthodox in her personally assuming the role of the Divinity, is dismissed by the narrator as «esta embrollada, sutil y mística dialéctica» (206).

The subsequent development of the chapter, when Pepe Rey insists to the furious Doña Perfecta that he will indeed marry Rosario, is a stylized parody of Romantic drama. Rey's dignified courage is presented ironically; Doña Perfecta's convulsive shrieking is that of a heroine of tragedy. The dialogue and gestures are those of melodrama:

-Menguado, ¿acaso no hay en el mundo más que ella y tú? ¿No hay padres, no hay sociedad, no hay conciencia, no hay Dios?

-Porque hay sociedad, porque hay conciencia, porque hay Dios -afirmó gravemente Rey, levantándose y alzando el brazo y señalando al cielo-, digo y raped que me casaré con ella.


The parody of Romantic drama is all the more evident when Doña Perfecta paraphrases («¡Oh escándalo y libertinaje!» [208]) the title of Act I of Zorrilla's Don Juan Tenorio on hearing that Rey has dishonored her daughter.25 With relentless irony, Rey turns Doña Perfecta's argument of justification by intent against her: «He procedido según la escuela de usted. Mi intención era buena» (209). Rey will now brutally trample («atropellar» in Doña Perfecta's words) «la autoridad humana y divina»:

Este espectáculo, esta injusticia, esta violencia inaudita es la que convierte mi rectitud en barbarie, mi razón en fuerza, mi honradez en violencia parecida a la de los asesinos y ladrones; este espectáculo, señora mía, es lo que me impulsa a no respetar la ley de usted; lo que me impulsa a pasar sobre ella, atropellándolo todo.


The use of «atropellar» on this and the preceding page again refers the reader to Zorrilla («la razón atropellé», Don Juan Tenorio, Part I, Act I, lines 500, 600; Part II, Act III, line 130. Cf. also the narrator's reference to Rosario as a «paloma» [188] with Don Juan's treatment of Doña Inés as «mansa paloma» and «paloma mía», Don Juan Tenorio, Part I, Act III, line 29; Act IV, line 273.)

(g) The Thesis

Doña Perfecta is, among other things, a novel of combat. Galdós hates Doña Perfecta, with her hypocrisy, emotional coldness, pride, authoritarianism, and bilious temper. Just as Pepe Rey incarnates for Doña Perfecta «la nación oficial», «la blasfemia, el sacrilegio, el ateísmo, la demagogia» (248), so also does Doña Perfecta represent Catholic beliefs, «religious» practices, and behaviour scorned by Galdós. Doña Perfecta and Don   —62→   Inocencio lie to persuade the peasants of Orbajosa to rebel against the government. A terrifying universe of guilt and anathema backs Doña Perfecta's cursing of her daughter: «¡El peso de un pecado!... Añádele encima la maldición de Dios, y prueba a andar con ese fardo, desgraciada» (285). Doctrinal rhetoric masks worldly concerns: María Remedios's class resentments and materialistic, maternal ambitions lead the weary Don Inocencio to second her schemes.

Above all, the charge leveled against the Catholics of Orbajosa is a moral one: of lack of charity. The stranger in their midst, Pepe Rey, is received without love. Only those who are marginal to Orbajosan society -the Troyas, Don Juan Tafetán, the bumbling Don Cayetano- attend Rey's burial in unhallowed ground. Catholic practices are in part responsible for Doña Perfecta's premature aging and vindictive nature:

Su hechura biliosa y el comercio excesivo con personas y cosas devotas, que exaltaban sin fruto ni objeto su imaginación, habíanla envejecido prematuramente, y siendo joven, no lo parecía. [...] No sabemos cómo hubiera sido Doña Perfecta amando. Aborreciendo, tenía la inflamada vehemencia de un ángel tutelar de la discordia entre los hombres. Tal es el resultado producido en un carácter duro y sin bondad nativa por la exaltación religiosa, cuando ésta, en vez de nutrirse de la conciencia y de la verdad revelada en principios tan sencillos como hermosos, busca su savia en fórmulas estrechas que sólo obedecen a intereses eclesiásticos. Para que la mojigatería sea inofensiva, es preciso que exista en corazones muy puros. Es verdad que, aun en este caso, es infecunda para el bien. Pero los corazones que han nacido sin la seráfica limpieza que establece en la tierra un Limbo prematuro, cuiden bien de no inflamarse mucho con lo que ven en los retablos, en los coros, en los locutorios y en las sacristías, si antes no han elevado en su propia conciencia un altar, un púlpito y un confesonario.


Galdós is, of course, preaching to the converted. The liberal subscribers to the Revista de España would immediately recognize the falsity of Don Inocencio's and Doña Perfecta's claim that Catholics are persecuted by the «ateos y protestantes» of Madrid. A rationalist reader would find ridiculous Doña Perfecta's distorted exposition of the doctrine of Divine Providence and Don Inocencio's pious recollection of the rebuilding by angels of the Chapel del Sagrario in a single night.

In contrast with the Catholics of Orbajosa, who in Pepe Rey's eyes have no religion, the narrator (see p. 283, quoted above) and Pepe Rey (see his confessional letters to his father) advocate a religion of simplicity and conscience. There is in the novel no debate between rival concepts of a religious or spiritual life. Pepe Rey hardly develops his ideas; his behavior shows a fair measure of egotism. The Catholics of Orbajosa possess no redeeming features and are presented in terms of harsh caricature. Galdós's contempt for Spanish Catholicism is strikingly obvious in his reduction of the fundamental conflict in the novel to a simple struggle for power, one for which the inexperienced Pepe Rey is singularly ill-prepared.

(h) The Endings to Doña Perfecta

For Jones, the first ending to Doña Perfecta (Revista de España, 1876 Noguera edition) is melodramatic and places Doña Perfecta in the worst possible light; the second ending, more artistic, is a plea for tolerance and moderation. For Zahareas, who impeccably analyzes liberal shortcomings, Doña Perfecta emerges victorious, having smashed Pepe   —63→   Rey (48). Cardona, however, refuting Zahareas, properly points out the air of gloom that hangs over Doña Perfecta's household after Pepe Reys death and Rosario's incarceration.

The melodramatic first ending represents, as Cardona indicates, the intervention of a «deus ex machina» to punish the wicked. The ending is also typical of a «roman feuilleton». In a final sarcasm, Galdós, like Eugène Sue and Ayguals de Izco, simply washes his hands of his characters by slaughtering them. The second ending, with a jaundiced Doña Perfecta's obsessive attention to religious duties and a melancholic Don Inocencio's retreat to Rome, follows much more closely the internal logic of the novel. The religious hypocrites, Doña Perfecta and Don Inocencio, -the instigator and the accomplice of murder- are now hoist with the most Catholic of petards, guilt.

At the symbolic level, the two endings convey slightly different interpretations of history. Pepe Rey, the representative of progress and of the Revolution of 1868, had struggled with rural, Catholic Spain for possession of the soul of the Spain of the future, incarnate in Rosario. Rey, ignorant of where power in Spain truly lies, is doomed to failure; Rosario, the possible Spain in need of guidance, is condemned to madness and an asylum. The first ending, representing Galdós's rather futile wish that the forces of reaction destroy themselves, closes the tale and with it a stage of Spanish history. The second ending, in which Jacinto sets out for Madrid for a career as a traditionalist politician, allows history to continue. In the revised ending, Galdós does not, as jones claims, plead for tolerance and moderation. Rather, he continues the struggle by alerting the liberal reader of 1876 to a present danger: the occupation by Catholic traditionalists of positions of power in Restoration society.


Traditional Galdós criticism has viewed Galdós's literary career in clearly defined stages, as a series of leaps and bounds, rather than as a continuum.26 Claims of Galdós's novelistic immaturity in 1876 are based on either a refusal to recognize the early Episodios nacionales as novels or on ignorance of their self-conscious artistry. I have in a previous study (Galdós 164-65) indicated the presence in the early episodios of ironic juxtapositions, the play of mirrors, the Cervantine interaction of «fiction» and «life», the raveling and unraveling of narrative, the deliberate appeal to the practices and universe of the «folletín», and the emphasis within the text on the act of narration by a narrator who casts doubt on the veracity of his creation.

Doña Perfecta, Galdós's sixteenth novel, is, as Ricardo Gullón, Richard A. Cardwell, Noél M. Valis, and Harriet S. Turner have suggested, a text of extraordinary complexity. Various elements are inextricably confused: a defined, and obviously deeply-felt, thesis, arising from Galdós's hatred of rural Catholicism and of an archetypal «mère terrible»; social criticism of the benighted attitudes of Orbajosa; a questioning, less immediately evident, of the relevance of urban, liberal values to provincial Spain; a tale of adventure and exploration set in an unfamiliar land; a «Romantic» love which, in its excess, turns into a parody of itself, a further parody, of transcendence, in the facetious «imitation» of Christ; a density of metaphorical association (see Valis); a tragic story (which does not produce catharsis) in which the hero is foolish and self-centered and which contains such   —64→   discordant elements as the grotesque (Rey's banging of his head in the chapel scene) and the scatalogical («Ca... Ca... Caballuco» [287]).

The ambiguity of the narrator's stance is, I believe, directly responsible for the bewilderment of critics who seek to explicate the novel. The narrator clearly expresses his disapproval of Doña Perfecta and of the cluster of attitudes associated with her. The narrator, however, ironic and ambiguous, does not correspondingly convey any positive approval of Pepe Rey and liberal attitudes. Rather, as Harriet S. Turner has suggested for Doña Perfecta and as I have proposed for the early episodios, Gloria, and Marianela,27 the narrator forces the reader to judgment, judgment not only of Doña Perfecta, Pepe Rey, the Church, and contemporary Spain, but also of the reliability of narration. All fiction is deceit; the unwary reader of Doña Perfecta falls into the narrator's snares just as surely as Pepe Rey is entrapped by the wiles of Don Inocencio. We innocently believe in the power and judgment of a narrator who can identify evil (Doña Perfecta) and who, like a second Balzac, proposes to disentangle the secret causes of María Remedios's behaviour (254). But, amid a welter of lies and hypocrisies, the narrator forces the reader to ponder where truth is to be found. With only partial guidance from the narrator on how to judge what we read, we are faced with a variety of rhetorical strategies, none of which need necessarily represent «truth»: the manipulations of Doña Perfecta and Don Inocencio; the lying military communiqués of Brigadier Batalla; the irrelevant histories and naïf interpretations of Cayetano; the idyllic vision of rural life of Juan Rey; the extravagant «Piropos» and Romantic exaggerations of Pepe Rey; the narrator's false assimilation of Pepe Rey to Christ; Rey's unquestioning acceptance of the liberal values of Madrid; Rey's and Pinzón's intimidatory threats to Doña Perfecta; the rumours which beset Orbajosa.

The narrator, a skilled «magister ludi», omniscient and ignorant, god-like judge and facetious teller of tales, toys with the reader's sympathies. We learn to hate Doña Perfecta and to despise the mean-spirited María Remedios. But judgment is not always simple. Caballuco may not be intelligent but he is sadly used when Doña Perfecta and Don Inocencio goad him into breaking his word. Inocencio himself merits our pity as he is badgered by his niece. Our initial sympathy for Pepe Rey turns into irritation as we perceive the rashness and puerility of his behaviour. The narrator tantalizes the reader, wilfully withholding information. The reader wants to know more (and in this we know we have escaped the world of the «folletín», in which the collusion between author and reader would allow no existence to characters outside of the novel). Why is Pepe Rey so innocent at the age of thirty-four? We crave details of Pepe Reys childhood, previous loves, and career and of Rosario's life in Orbajosa before Rey's arrival. We long for the Balzacian novel of which Doña Perfecta is only the tip of an iceberg.

Indeed, it is the very distortion of focus -which I believe to be deliberate on Galdós's part- that renders Doña Perfecta so fascinating to the critic. Deceptively, in a further example of the narratorial smokescreens and ambiguities of intent so typical of the Galdosian universe, the narrator blindingly illuminates the most superficial, «thesis» element of Doña Perfecta (i.e., the evil wrought by Doña Perfecta and her supporters), while at the same time, ironic and elusive, he imperfectly profiles the psychological and emotional histories of Pepe Rey and Rosario Polentinos.

University of Kentucky

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