In her review of Ángel Guerra, Doña Emilia Pardo Bazán twitted readers who judged novels in terms of weight and bulk. A public easily bored by a lengthy narrative exposed the deficiency of its esthetic criteria. Concerned lest the three volumes of Galdós' novel be hastily dismissed, the Countess took elaborate pains to distinguish between the extension of the work and the fault she found with it, namely, the distracting nature of so many subordinate characters and episodes.30
Leopoldo Alas subscribed to her view, but minced no words in calling prolixity a major defect of the book.31 Alas, however, cleverly observed a reason for this breadth of material in the way Galdós portrayed Ángel: «La psicología de Guerra no se estudia dentro de él principalmente, sino en el mundo que le rodea. Por eso tienen tanta importancia en esta novela las calles y callejuelas de Toledo, los tabiques y ladrillos más o menos mudéjares, las capillas de la catedral, las iglesias de monjas y las desgracias y lacerías de los miserables» (pp. 244-245). The development of Ángel's character seems always to unfold in response to external stimulation, as if the motives of his life did not spring from some inner will of his own. This has been studied by Sherman H. Eoff32 and, in more detail, by Francisco Ruiz Ramón,33 both of whom carefully observed the changes brought about in him by settings or other characters. A point which has not been made is that Galdós uses external factors to put the reader at an affective distance. The novelist knows how to portray a mother's death, a thwarted love, a spiritual conversion with that gift of «comunión» which Amado Alonso hailed as a mark of his genius;34 nevertheless he manages to render such moving events as objective spectacles. Galdós' art regularly seeks to foster judgment of Ángel rather than to elicit sympathy for him.
The dramatic pages which begin the book offer every possibility for high emotional response. Ángel returns to the little apartment he shares with his sweetheart after an attempted military uprising has met with utter defeat. The young man rages at the betrayal of some, and worries about the safety of others. He fears for his own security, grieves for the blood he helped to shed, and chafes at the realization of his own stupidity. Throughout, Dulcenombre tries to soothe and comfort her anguished lover. Galdós, however, does not confine the scene to the revolutionary and his mistress, but introduces into the room a bee whose constant droning exasperates Ángel beyond control. The insect is not simply another irritant, a negligible element in the episode. Dulce's pursuit of the little pest is described partly as if drawn from a military history, and partly as if exploits recited in ballads.35 The exaggerated diction reserved for this minor happening betrays the author's intention to mock the vain heroics of Guerra, at the same time that he details his suffering.
Galdós uses a chapter heading to cast in a wry perspective the next painful events. The substance of the episode is Ángel's desire for reconciliation with his dying mother, who has long sternly disapproved of his political and amorous activities. Parent and son meet at her bedside, both torn by devotion and obstinacy. Each voices the words of familial harmony while inwardly commenting on the other's hypocrisy. The whole —40→ confrontation is brilliantly executed with subtle revelations of guilt, love, and willfulness; but the novelist derives humor, from what are grievous and strained circumstances, by setting the congruity of their true, unspoken thoughts against the apparent harmony of their phrases. Esthetic distance is further conveyed by his choice of the title, «La vuelta del hijo pródigo», to embrace what is neither repentance nor forgiveness.
Galdós in effect makes explicit the warning not to take the characters at their evaluation of themselves. Ángel, at thirty years of age, was forced by failure to see his role in the cuartelada as fanatic and quixotic.36 In this chapter, he inveighs against the Pharisees and vulgar money grubbers who lead society,37 and cannot see that his view of morality falls short of Christian excellence for want of charity. Ángel's reforming impulse calls for the total destruction of the existing order so as to quicken the good instincts of man in a labor of regeneration. The blend of violence and idealism in his exaltación humanitaria (p. 1269) is thrown into relief when in a conversation some pages later, Leré, the governess of Ángel's daughter -Ángel is a widowerdecries the need for governments, armies, or for any social institution if these require one man to kill another. All the instruments which have been devised to establish communal order have no value unless they are guided by Christian principles. Her humanitarismo exaltado (p. 1286) affirms the divine origin of human dignity as the basis for social improvement, and is not, with respect to Ángel's views, merely an inversion of adjective and noun in the designation.
The technique of creating a contrast to the main line of narration or description becomes more evident as the author develops Ángel's spiritual conversion in Books II and III from the seeds of frustration, sorrow, and dissatisfaction planted in Book. In general, Galdós reveals the degree of Ángel's growth in virtue by setting off the moral thinking of other characters as a foil. A specific example is the theme of religion as a soothing balm. The young man is at a nadir of spirituality when the idea is first mentioned. Deeply grieved by the death of his daughter which followed soon after that of his mother, Ángel is drawn more closely to Leré who shares his double mourning. Ángel observes that Leré, however much afflicted, at least has the consolation of her faith: «El consuelo era difícil, sobre todo para Guerra, privado de aquel recurso de la religión, bálsamo por la virtud esencial de las creencias, bálsamo también por el entretenimiento y ejercicio que proporcionan los actos del culto» (p. 1284). Her firmness and strength become desirable to Ángel, and he increasingly admires the girl's modesty and good sense. When Leré announces her decision to leave his household and enter a religious order, he realizes that he has fallen in love with her. With sudden urgency, Ángel seeks to please the governess, to mend his ways and end his liaison with Dulce since it is now impossible for him to think of marrying her. Accordingly, he explains to his former mistress that he will continue to provide maintenance, but must leave her; and then, he departs.
Dulce becomes furious, and is on the verge of throwing herself off the balcony when her uncle, Don Pito, arrives and manages to subdue her. The old mariner effectively calms Difice, however, when he gets her to drink a «gin cocktail.» He holds out the liquor to Dulce, saying: «Tómate este bálsamo de Dios, y verás cómo se te aclara el celaje» (p. 1301). The preparation is of such soothing virtues that the rejected girl soon cannot do without it. While the novelist has Don Pito style the cocktail a «bálsamo de Dios» in a colloquial turn of phrase, he wrote the words with a broader intention. Galdós signals his design by using the key noun in the —41→ title of this chapter in which uncle and niece are together, «Herida. -Bálsamo.» Dulce takes to drink simply to alleviate the unbearable torment of losing the man she loves. Her «balm» is inferior to the faith which begins to attract Ángel; nevertheless, we see the hero's «balm» also a means to palliate bereavement, although in addition, a means possibly to hold the woman he loves. At the end of Book I, religion is not an end in itself for these two characters.
The scene shifts to Toledo, and Book II portrays the influence of the city in lifting Ángel out of the depths of his depression to a commitment to the Church. It also describes the return of Dulce to Catholicism from the abyss of alcoholism, a conversion of which Guerra first learns from Dulce's brother, Arístides. The latter speaks of the physician who treated her body, and the priest, Padre Juan Casado, who administered to her spirit; he concludes: «Te digo que es otra mujer. Figúrate que ha tomado afición a la iglesia, y confiesa y comulga, y reza rosarios y letanías. No se puede dudar que la religión es un bálsamo, pero un señor bálsamo» (p. 1399). Arístides has already been exposed as something of a brute, and his admiration both for the healing virtue of religion as well as for Dulce's unexpected devoutness is not altogether sincere. Even with this shading, Galdós is not content to restate his theme; he deploys it to new purpose in the chapter, «Bálsamo contra bálsamo», which begins immediately afterwards.
This chapter opens at an earlier point to show how Padre Casado, summoned by Dulce's mother, came to guide the unhappy girl. With brusque good humor, Casado takes charge, telling Dulce she has nothing to fear now: «El diablo me conoce, perro maldito, y cuando me ve entrar en una vivienda, ya está él cogiendo sus bártulos para largarse» (pp. 1402-03).38 In brief pages, the narrative returns chronologically to where the preceding chapter ended, and recounts the first meeting of Guerra and Dulce after their respective conversions. Beginning calmly, she claims that the sight of Ángel kneeling in church gave the finishing touch to her love for him. «Ya estoy curada, curada de todo, de todo; fíjate bien» (p. 1407), Dulce declares, exulting at her recovery from the pangs of disappointed love and from alcoholism. The aggressiveness with which she subsequently scorns his piety betrays that she has not progressed as far as she thinks, for one perceives that her taunts reflect jealousy over the influence of her rival, who is now Sor Leré.39 Nevertheless, Dulce does not succumb again to drink, and does not lose her satisfaction in worship. What her religious commitment consists of is expressed by this remark to Ángel: «Si, yo soy también algo piadosa, y desde que pasé aquella crisis he rezado mucho al Cristo de las Aguas, no ofreciéndole lo que me sería difícil cumplir, no metiéndome en muchas honduras, sino contentándome con el triste papel de persona afligida que quiere ver calmados sus dolores» (p. 1408). Dulce seeks no height of spiritual experience, and does not long to attain a perfect virtue. Her goal is limited to the possible; and at the end of the novel, she has made a good marriage, and will live on in modest happiness.
In the face of Dulce's jibes, Ángel barely dominates his anger. Sharp retorts come to his lips, but he substitutes conciliatory phrases. The powerful temptation to return insult for insult when Arístides joins Dulce in baiting him shows how thin is the measure of his control, but a Christian mastery of self prevails. Each of the former lovers has accepted the balm of religion, and gains, in different degree, a needed stability. That Guerra has reached a higher level is conveyed in the concluding paragraphs of the chapter. Arístides, provoked by Ángel's passivity, derides him in a mockery of the Crucifixion: «Abur, maestro. Acuérdate de mi cuando estés en el —42→ Paraíso» (p. 1410). The parodied Christ remains silent. Dulce restrains her brother, «Dejadle... Es hombre muerto», and the novelist appropriates her epithet to describe how the «hombre muerto» took his leave with outward tranquility, and inner pride, at this victory over his passion. The brother and sister's family name is «Babel»,40 and it is all the connotations of Babylon -the world, sinfulness and confusion- to which Ángel seems «dead». The irascibility and pride which one notes just beneath the surface of his calm make clear that the hero is far from the goal of imitating Christ. Still his dignified bearing makes possible the parody, and proves his superiority to Dulce. The rubric, «Bálsamo contra bálsamo», indicates Galdós' intention to use one conversion as a touchstone to reveal the true nature of the other. Scenes of emotional intensity skilfully lead to clearer judgment of the protagonists.
A later echo of the theme of religion as a balm enables us to follow Ángel's spiritual trajectory to its last stages. It reappears in the first chapter, «El hombre nuevo», of Book III. Guerra has advanced beyond those early successes to a deeper Christian piety. While still moved by love of Leré and partly motivated by vanity and ambition, Ángel more fully embraces the example of Jesus. This greater spiritual height becomes evident in response to Don Pito's query whether he will have to forego liquor if he accepts shelter in Ángel's proposed religious asylum for the needy. Galdós distantly recalls Christ's language in writing Ángel's answer to the old man's question: «'Cuando estés conmigo' le dijo Guerra tuteándole por primera vez, 'no te faltará nada de lo que necesites para vivir. Cada edad, cada estado, cada naturaleza tiene su sed. Unos la aplacan en este vaso, otros en aquél. El tuyo no es bueno; pero no seré yo quien te lo quite'» (p. 1425). Man's thirsts are many, and even alcohol is allowed if it can help to make life less brutal and more bearable. In the charitable view now held by the protagonist, the two bálsamo's draw closer together.
Ángel's religious aspirations and achievements can be measured through other interconnections of theme and characters. We saw above that Dulcenombre set for herself modest spiritual tasks. Similar limitations on difficulty circumscribe the ambitions of Leré's uncle, Padre Francisco Mancebo. He is a likable man despite his materialism.41 The Toledan priest works hard to support Leré's family, and he never tires of recounting the tribulations this entails. He dotes on the purse of savings which he has painstakingly amassed, and is alert to any opportunity to increase his income. The appearance of Guerra as an eligible, wealthy suitor for his niece's hand strikes Mancebo as a gift from heaven; but he fails to consider the eventuality that Leré might reject matrimony for religious vows. Exasperated with this unexpected resistance to so neat a solution for his problems, he tells the girl in mock resignation: «No, si yo no me quejo. Coman todos, y vivan, y engorden, y gracias sean dadas al Señor. Pero nos convendría mejorar de fortuna, créelo, y eso depende de quien yo me sé. El mayor de los errores en estos tiempos de decadencia es empeñarnos en dejar lo fácil por antojo y querencia de lo difícil; hay personas tan obcecadas que desprecian lo bueno por correr tras de lo sublime, y lo sublime, hija de mi alma, lo sublime -con cierta inspiración- hace tiempo que está borrado, no sé si provisional o definitivamente, de los papeles de esta pobrecita Humanidad» (pp. 1330-31). Mancebo appears sympathetic because he becomes Ángel's ally in the latter's pursuit of his beloved; however, Don Francisco's scorning the sublime for the advantages of marriage calls attention to his limitations and self interest. The priest means well, but feels so pressed by daily necessities that he cannot entertain illusions of higher attainments. Thereforehe sees in gossip which has been aroused by Lerés conversations with Ángel a reason for —43→ his niece to give up the life of a religious for that of wife and mother; and he comments: «Ella se irá al Cielo, si muere, porque es buena; pero ¿entrará como santa canonizable? ¡Quia! Buenos están los tiempos para andar en esos dibujos» (p. 1416).42
The times are equally prosaic for Leré, but she seeks to rise above their insipidness and welcomes whatever opportunities chance provides for sublime acts of Christian devotion. Almost as if in answer to Padre Mancebo, Leré says of her malicious critics, «Los perdono de todo corazón, y casi, casi les agradecí la injuria, porque me proporcionaban lo que tanto deseo: ocasión de martirio, que rara vez se presenta en estos tiempos de vida tonta, dentro de la cual no hay drama humano ni divino, ni proporción alguna de hacer grandes méritos» (p. 1420).43
Ángel's religious search falls between the priests' Catholic pragmatism and Lerés quest of perfect spirituality. Modest goals cannot satisfy his restlessness. «Una de las ansias que más me atormentan es la de lo sobrenatural, la de que mis sentidos perciban sensaciones contrarias a la ley física que todos conocemos. La monotonía de los fenómenos corrientes de la Naturaleza es desesperante. Lo sobrenatural, lo maravilloso, el milagro, me hacen falta a mí, y por encontrarlos diera todo lo que poseo» (p. 1458). Ángel's yearning distinguishes him from the two clerics; on the other hand, their sensible outlook stands in contrast to his arrogance. This balance changes as events move towards the end of the novel. Pride and anger are still present at the core of Ángel's character, but he is able to rise to a loftier morality. Thus, when Padre Casado admires the idea behind the institution Ángel plans to establish although warning that it is impractical, Guerra replies excitedly: «Basta, don Juan, basta. No nos asustemos con el coco de la práctica, con ese fantasmón traído a nuestros tiempos por un positivismo huero y sin sustancia. No; la realidad es mejor de lo que usted cree. Cabalmente desea ella, en los desmayados tiempos que alcanzamos, que le echan ideas grandes, ideas sublimes para materializarlas y darles cuerpo y vida, en bien de los humanos y para gloria de quien hizo los astros y el polvo de la tierra» (p. 1509).44
Further evidence of Ángel's greater religious stature in the last third of the story comes in the form of his encounter with a Doppelgänger.45 The opening page of Book III describes how his powerful imagination conjures up a picture of himself already ordained as a priest. Several elements enter this play: the character's oftenstated desire to give his ideas material reality; impatience to realize his ideal; an objectivity which suggests that one part stands aside from the created self. The doubling conveys the artificiality of this exemplary «new» man, designed by Ángel to win Leré's favor. The mental apparition reoccurs several times, but the sequence reaches a dramatic climax when Guerra one evening contemplates his alter ego in the flesh. Leaving the cathedral, Ángel follows the fantastic priest into the darkness when, suddenly, the latter turns around, each puts his hands on the other's shoulders, and both ask together: «Domine, ¿quo vadis?» (p. 1442). These are the words of Simon Peter to Jesus, and when spoken by Ángel, lend him something of the stature of the apostle and his master. One meaning of the Latin question lies in its association with Christ's answer: «Whither I go, thou canst not follow me now; but thou shalt follow me afterwards» (John 13:36). In this way, Galdós communicates Guerra's present failure to achieve his spiritual goal. However, an additional significance arises from a well-known version of the episode contained in the apocryphal Acts of Peter. The legend relates that in order to escape from persecution in Rome', Peter abandoned the city and on his journey met Christ. He asked, «Lord, whither art thou going?» to which Jesus replied, «I go to Rome to be crucified.» The account concludes: «This —44→ was to be done to Peter.»46 In all likelihood, Galdós, by the same crucial words, is foretelling the martyrdom of Ángel. Traditionally, every meeting with a Doppelgänger augurs death, but Guerra's vision of himself as a priest underscores the Christian lesson to be derived from his murder.
Continuing the pattern of variations on a theme, the novelist offers two instances of what could also be termed «doubling.» The first occurs just prior to the narration of Ángel's experience, and centers on Padre Mancebo. The priest has learned from Guerra that Leré is the victim of gossip and, in punishment for her alleged wrongdoing, is to be moved from Toledo to Gerona. Ángel's indignation is so intense that Galdós makes fun of him by describing his ardor for defending the nun in terms of a quixotic knight, who would sternly require all critics to confess the stainless purity of his lady (p. 1415). Mancebo, who holds no such idealistic fantasies, agrees to consult Don Laureano Porras, the chaplain and director for Leré's house; however, he is certain beforehand that Porras will agree with him that Leré should leave the Order and return to the world. Don Francisco's assurance is of a degree that, as his mind wanders in a reverie, he imagines himself visiting the chaplain, and receiving the answer he desires.47 Awakening from his doze, Mancebo goes to meet Ángel, and begins to answer his questions by stating as fact that Porras will not allow the punishment to take place.
In delightful humor, Galdós continues the scene with contrived misunderstandings. Thus, Ángel declares: «Leré, que tanto vale, no puede seguir subordinada a las que debían besar la tierra que ella pisa. Yo quiero que sea madre.» Missing his intention that she be a religious superior, the uncle replies, «'¡Que sea madre!' con júbilo. 'Pues eso mismo quiero yo, ¡zapa!'» (p. 1418). Encouraged, Padre Mancebo tells more of Porras' supposed recommendation that Leré undertake the challenges of married life, and Ángel, overwhelmed, exclaims with unknowing exactness, «Don Francisco, usted sueña.» The end of the episode rounds off the humor by asserting that the report brought by Mancebo's imagined self conformed to a true state of affairs. This is how it appears in the text: «'Tu tío' balbució [Ángel a Leré] al fin 'me dijo que, acobardada ante la calumnia, volvías a tu casa y renunciabas a la vida religiosa.' 'Eso debió decírselo don Laureano, porque el pobrecito no lo había de inventar. Tal fue la idea de nuestro capellán ayer tarde, cuando la madre le dijo que creía en mi inocencia como en el Evangelio'» (p. 1421). The comical touches by which this dream assumes the guise of reality do not hide the fact that Padre Mancebo's proposed solution for Ángel and Leré will be no more successful than Guerra's idealistic way out.
The third instance of doubling seems to offer a sardonic counterpoint to the central love story. The morning after the terrifying hallucination in which Ángel writhes in the toils of his physical desire for Leré, Don Pito makes light of temptation. Old age, he tells Guerra, is sad because it removes the only human joy, which is to love a woman and be loved in return. If only, he muses aloud, the devil would make a bargain with him and exchange handsome youthfulness for his soul, Pito would gladly accede (p. 1486). The casual thought takes on vitality in the concluding chapter of the novel. The aged sailor chances one night upon a stranger walking and conversing warmly with Jusepa, the housekeeper for whom Pito has conceived a senile passion. To his astonishment he recognizes the man as his son, Policarpo, and in a flash guesses that the devil's mischief is at work: «Acepté lo que le dije de volverme joven; y ¿qué ha hecho el muy puerco? Pues rejuvenecerme, no en mi propio ser y substancia, sino inventando un ser que es mi hijo, o como si dijéramos, yo mismo en —45→ edad tierna» (p. 1520). Policarpo does carry out a satanic role in the novel, for he kills Jusepa and inflicts the mortal wound on Ángel.
Don Pito's infatuation with Jusepa, far from distracting, amplifies the main plot. Ángel sublimates his hopeless love for Leré, and «como el caballero andante ante la señora ideal de sus pensamientos» (p. 1383), seeks to make himself worthy in her eyes by accepting a spiritual discipline. While the narrator's comparison to chivalrous devotion is slightly mocking, it does not alter the capacity for idealism which underlies Ángel's actions. Galdós heightens this aspect by the sharper burlesque of pastoral conventions with which he characterizes the old sailor, «soñando con poéticas aventuras y con deleitables encuentros en medio de la soledad nemorosa del monte» (p. 1426). Pito's melancholy and his tender sighs for the brutally coarse Jusepa are stamped with abnormality. His crude ideas, however, lend themselves to a more humorous purpose in related passages. Pito, who needs amorous stimulation to live happily, tries to persuade Guerra that the sexes should not be separated in the projected institution. The example he chooses is that of Brigham Young's amiably polygamous community, the account of which he concludes, saying: «Sí, hombre, decidete, y déjate de simplezas. Pero si lo enamorado no quita lo religioso» (p. 1428). Ángel at first does not know whether to laugh or be angry; but finally, Galdós explains, «Vio a don Pito como un caso admirable para ejercer las obras de misericordia, un enfermo que necesitaba asistencia, y nada más.»
But there is something more in the old man's remark, for the sailor's pithy observation exactly represents Ángel's quandary. The poor fellow cannot admit to himself that all his spiritual plans begin in the frustration of his love for Leré and his physical attraction to her. The Domus Domini he wants to found cannot come into being unless she live there to inspire him. He is above polygamy, but his insistence on a sensible, though chaste, coexistence of men and women is a transparent scheme to have her always at his side.
Don Pito and the others who live at the Guerra home in the cigarrales are connected in an interesting way to Ángel's evolving of the basic theory for the projected asylum. The evening in which he first sets down his ideas is one in which the sailor is regaling Jusepa, Cornejo, one of the hands, and Tirso (or «Tatabuquenque»), a shepherd, with stories about his exploits and travels. Gathered around a huge fire, the three crude and ignorant rustics listen open-mouthed to the colorful yarns Pito knows how to spin. Galdós' account of the scene switches from description to a form of indirect discourse which parodies the reciters of ballads on daring deeds: «Oiríais allí cómo afronta un vapor las mares hinchadas... Oiríais también relatos asombrosos de países lejanos y ardientes...; escucharíais, en fin, ¡me caso con San Bolondrón! la nunca oída fábula de un túnel por debajo de ríos mayores que el Tajo...» (p. 1370). Galdós' jesting manner casts in a warm glow the simplicity and innocence of the group at the same time that the exaggerated diction somewhat belittles them. The scene does not stand by itself, however, but forms a backdrop to Ángel's meditation. Their conversation, the author explains, «lejos de molestarle en su meditación sobre cosas tan distintas de lo que allí se hablaba, servíanle como de arrullo, le llevaban el compás, si puede decirse, marcándole el ritmo para que sus ideas se coordinaran más fácilmente. Así, cuando había una pausa en la conversación de aquellos bárbaros, la mente de Guerra se paraba, como una máquina que se entorpece, y en cuanto volvían a sonar los disparates, la mente funcionaba de nuevo. ¿Qué relación podía existir entre el —46→ pensar del amo substraído y los conceptos de aquella infeliz gente? Ninguna en usual lógica» (p. 1372).
The last two sentences provide textual evidence of Galdós' deliberate interrelating of seemingly different activities and characters. While the camaraderie present among the rustic group around the fire provided a reassuring atmosphere in which Ángel could turn to more profound thoughts, it is possible to discern a second possibility. The mock heroics of Pito hint to the reader that he should suspect Ángel's ideas of being less spiritual and noble than the young man conceives them to be. Relating how the thoughts came to the surface of Ángel's mind in no fixed order, Galdós writes, tongue in cheek, that they resembled «sillares de magnifica veta, con los cortes y el despiezo convenientes para emprender luego la composición arquitectónica.» A desire to build something for Leré and opposition to bourgeois society are the real motives behind the plan. If the nun should decide to pursue moral ills, correct vice and reform prostitution, the author notes with bemusement, Ángel «emprendería una leva de criminales y les llevaría, con sugestiones inspiradas por su fe, a donde hallaran de buen grado los medios de regenerarse.» In a comic reversal of humility, the founder does not pose as the least worthy, but rather, «estimándose el primero entre los desgraciados, entre los enfermos y entre los criminales, se consideraba ya número uno de los asilados...» As for religious practice in the new home, Ángel was willing to accept traditional Catholicism, «por ser Leré católica ferviente» (p. 1373), and not, as one might have expected, from the strength of his own convictions.
Finally the labor of articulating these ideas is over, and, as Galdós describes Guerra's self-satisfaction, one can see how important was the earlier section on the sailor and his audience: «y comparándose con el hombre de antes no pudo menos de despreciar todo lo que fue, y de enorgullecerse por lo que era, vanagloria legítima sin duda, no incompatible con el propósito de anularse socialmente y de llegar a ser, dentro de las categorías humanas, tan humilde y poca cosa como don Pito y Tatabuquenque.» Clearly Ángel's pride and ambition as well as the thinness of his religious faith at this stage are obstacles to his identification with the crude people gathered around the fire. As Pito's stories expose the inflation of his heroism, Ángel's meditation reveals the exaggeration of his virtuousness.
Galdós' narrative, therefore, does not depart from the main plot line when it develops secondary characters and scenes. Apparent digressions can be shown to conform to an orderly construction. Galdós makes use of all his material to shade and color in the story of the central protagonists. What might have been a sentimental tale of spiritual regeneration is given extraordinary depth by the author's affective separation from his character's progress to salvation. Galdós never fails to let the reader perceive that the narrator has a perspective on the events of the novel. In some instances an external agent is the instrument of parody (the droning bee which Dulce hunts; the figure of Christ), but more often the activities of another person serve the same purpose (the balms against wounds; characters and their doubles; the chivalrous or poetic lover). In several cases comparisons with other characters shed light on a state of mind (impulses to social reform; perfectability and the times; innocence and ambition). Pervading nearly the whole book is the novelist's bemusement, frequently at the expense of his hero, the introduction of comic touches to expose his self-delusion. Galdós is not out of sympathy with Ángel because he maintains an objective and judicious distance, but he waits until Ángel can see truly his own life before revealing his interest. Galdós binds the beginning and end of the novel together when he —47→ transmutes the sarcastic reference to a prodigal son into a gentle illumination of Ángel's spiritual greatness, as the young man declares on his deathbed: «De mi dominismo, quimérico como las ilusiones y los entusiasmos de una criatura, queda una cosa que vale más que la vida misma: el amor..., el amor, si iniciado como sentimiento exclusivo y personal, extendido luego a toda la Humanidad, a todo ser menesteroso y sin amparo. Me basta con esto. No he perdido el tiempo. No voy como un hijo pródigo que ha disipado su patrimonio, pues si tesoros derroché, tesoros no menos grandes he sabido ganar» (p. 1531).
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