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ArribaAbajoGaldós' use of time in La de Bringas

Jennifer Lowe

The particular historical period in which the events of La de Bringas take place and the numerous references to dates which it contains have frequently been mentioned by critics. For example, José Montesinos remarks that «La de Bringas está circunstanciada históricamente con gran escrúpulo y es otra ficción que ocurre en muy breve tiempo. Todo pasa entre febrero y septiembre de 1868».142 Ricardo Gullón expands this idea when he comments: «El cuidado con que se detallan las fechas en que acontecen los sucesos se debe sobre todo al deseo de subrayar el paralelismo entre los trastornos políticos y el cambio en las actitudes e ideas de Rosalía».143 However, no detailed discussion of Galdós's use of time in La de Bringas has been made and I wish here to examine the nature, effect and purpose of the multiplicity of time-references in this novel.144

It is vital that the reader should be aware from the very beginning of the significant year in which the fictitious events of the novel have been set. Thus, we read in the second sentence of Chapter II that Manuel del Pez «había dado a la familia Bringas en marzo de aquel año (1868) nuevas pruebas de su generosidad» (p. 1562).145 The year is mentioned twice more in the following chapter (p. 1565), on the first occasion in a retrospective reference to the month of February, whilst on the second rumours of a revolution «en aquel condenado año 68» are mentioned (p. 1565). Chapters VI and VII contain further references to the year. Having firmly established that the novel is set in 1868 Galdós then proceeds to indicate the relentless onward movement of time to the crucial month of September. The time-checks he provides relate almost exclusively to the private lives of the characters in the novel and, apart from the final chapters, are not specifically linked with historical events.

Galdós tells us that Rosalía's mendacious account of the acquisition of her new mantle is given to her husband in April (p. 1578) and that the unwelcome bill arrives «por los primeros días de mayo» (p. 1578), necessitating financial help from the money-lender Torres. Also in May Pez takes over from Paquito, who is preparing for his examinations, the task of escorting Rosalía home from parties (p. 1583) and «a principios de mayo» Isabelita's health deteriorates and her mother has to take her for daily walks (p. 1587). All this time Bringas has been working on his hair picture and «a principios de junio vimos parte de este trabajo concluido» (p. 1590). On 12 June Torres visits Rosalía in connection with the stipulated repayment on 14 June of the money he loaned her to pay for the mantle (p. 1590). We learn that Pez is to be away from Madrid until 20 June (p. 1590). The passage of time during the second half of the month is conveyed through Milagros's financial difficulties   —84→   which begin with her party on «las mil veces malhadada noche del 14» (p. 1603) and make her increasingly depressed on 20, 22 and 24 June («por San Juan») until on 26 June she confides her troubles to Rosalía (p. 1602), stressing that she needs money to pay her bill by the end of the month and that the income from her property which is due to her will not arrive until 15 July (p. 1603). She returns to see Rosalía on 7 July revealing that she has been granted an extension until 10 July but is still unable to raise the required amount (p. 1615). Having finally succeeded in persuading Rosalía to lend her some money from the cashbox of the now blind Bringas she points out that her agent will be sending her money «del quince al veinte» (p. 1616). She willingly signs an agreement promising to repay «dentro de un mes» (p. 1619),146 and on 22 July she indicates that repayment will not be delayed (p. 1622). The passage of time in July is conveyed also through the various stages of Bringas's cure, it being pointed out that after 20 July the treatment is less painful (p. 1620). After several days of treatment Golfín was able to predict that «en todo agosto estaría el buen señor muy mejorado, y que en septiembre la curación sería completa y radical» (p. 1620). The 25 July «día de Santiago» is marked by excessive heat and Isabelita's nightmare (p. 1623-25).

When, «en la última [semana] de julio» Golfín announces his imminent departure for Germany (p. 1625), Bringas realises the occulist's bill will have to be paid «a principios de agosto» (p. 1626). Milagros leaves Madrid on 29 July, with only half of the loan repaid (p. 1628) but having left instructions that the remainder is to be given to Rosalía «el cinco o el seis del próximo» (p. 1628). Fearful lest Bringas discover that notes are missing from his cashbox Rosalía arranges to see Torres and «sobre ascuas estuvo... todo el día 31 y parte del inmediato» (p. 1630) until he informs her that Torquemada will see her on 2 August to arrange a loan (p. 1630). The period of repayment is, yet again, fixed at one month. Golfín's bill arrives on 3 August and is paid immediately (p. 1631) and then the tension decreases as «deslizábanse después de este día, con lentitud tediosa, los del mes de agosto» (p. 1631). The tedium is punctuated by the arrival of the invitation from Agustín and Amparo on «el día de San Lorenzo» (p. 1633), 10 August. The invitation is eventually declined and Bringas attempts to console his wife by claiming «desde el quince empezará a refrescar» (p. 1635) and with even greater immediacy, «desde el quince ya refresca» (p. 1635).

The statement which opens Chapter XLI not only pinpoints Rosalía's anguish but also condenses in a masterly fashion the platitudinous views of Time which characterize human society: «Con terror vio la ingeniosa señora que pasaban, uno tras otro, los días de la segunda quincena de agosto, porque según todas las señales, tras ellos debían venir los primeros de septiembre» (p. 1638). Whilst the mention of the approaching month of September refers primarily to the possibility of a financial crisis for Rosalía the readers are also alerted to the imminence of the national disaster. After 25 August Rosalía becomes increasingly anxious and on 31 August and 1 September she visits Torquemada to plead for an extension until 9 September, bartering with time rather than money (p. 1640). Bringas has returned to work on 1 September. On 5 September Rosalía visits the dress shop, having been informed that the   —85→   Autumn fashions are now in stock (p. 1641). «El día 6, ya con el dogal al cuello, triste y apenas sin esperanza» she returns to the shop «por distraerse nada más» (p. 1641) and on the way learns that Pez is due back the following day, 7 September. When he visits her she arranges to meet him again on the morning of 8 September (p. 1642). However, it is not until the morning of 9 September that she discovers whether he can and will provide her with funds. On this crucial day the hours of the clock gain particular importance. Having assumed on 8 September that Pez's reply will arrive by ten o'clock on 9 September (p. 1643), when that day comes she revises her estimate to eleven o'clock (p. 1644) and, indeed, the letter does almost immediately follow Bringas's departure for work soon after ten thirty (p. 1644). The letter contains no money so, as the loan must be repaid by three o'clock (p. 1644), at twelve noon Rosalía sets off for Refugio's house (p. 1645). As she waits for the tantalising Refugio to lend her the money she is only too conscious of the onward movement of time. First «ya había dado la una» (p. 1646), then she points out to the leisurely Refugio «son las dos y cuarto» (p. 1649) and with even greater urgency «Debe de ser muy tarde. Las tres menos cuarto, quizá» (p. 1650).147 When she finally rushes into Torquemada's apartment clutching the money «ya habían dado las tres» (p. 1651).

Ten days later, on 19 September, Bringas hears news of the pronunciamientos in various parts of the country (pp. 1652-53). As the rebellion spreads to Madrid «casi le da al buen señor un ataque apoplético el día 29» (p. 1654) but on 30 September he discusses the Revolution with Cándida (p. 1655). Significantly the final chapter of the novel contains no dates.

One effect of these constant time-references throughout the novel is to produce dramatic anticipation. Since the readers have prior knowledge of the dates of the events of the September Revolution as these historical dates come progressively nearer in the fictional narrative, interest centres on how, if at all, Rosalía's personal problems are going to be resolved and to what extent they will be affected by the revolutionary situation. Her surrender to Pez on 8 September is well-timed not only from the practical point of view (it is unlikely that Pez would have been available during the actual period of the Revolution!) but also because behaviour such as Rosalía's was typical of the pre-Revolution era. Thus it is appropriate that her supreme act of immorality antedates rather than coincides with the outbreak of the Revolution.

In addition to this calendar-type of time-reference Galdós presents what may be termed «personal time», namely the attitude of particular individuals to time and the influence it has upon them. Rosalía, for example, appears to be as careless with time as she is with money. Her foolishness is first shown when, breaking her usual custom of paying a tocateja, she is persuaded into extravagance on the grounds that payment can be made at a future date (p. 1577).148 The unexpected promptness with which the bill arrives forces Rosalía to make the vague promise that she will pay «mañana... no, al otro día; en fin, un día de éstos» (p. 1578). Her foolish irresponsibility where time is concerned is thus clearly indicated and is confirmed by her elation when Torres specifies one month as the period for repayment of his loan (p. 1579). Later, when she herself loans Milagros money from Bringas's cash-box   —86→   she attempts to imitate Torres's methods: «¿Usted me firma un pagaré comprometiéndose a devolverme dentro de un mes la cantidad que yo le dé ahora?» (p. 1619). But Milagros is equally irresponsible with time and money and she fails to repay all the loan during the time stipulated. Thus Rosalía has to borrow money from Torquemada and her views on the adequacy of a loan period of one month are now radically different from her earlier rapturous acceptance (p. 1631). But her lesson about time and money is only partially learnt. The second half of the crucial period between 1 and 9 September is recorded day by day and, as we have seen, 9 September is characterized by frequent reference to the actual hour. This enables us to comprehend Rosalía's agony and sense of urgency. Moreover, in this crisis, when even minutes become of such vital importance we can find an ironic commentary on the culmination of the process which began when Rosalía «tranquila descansaba en la idea de lo remoto del pago» (p. 1578) and could exclaim in such a carefree manner «¡Un mes! ¡Qué dicha!» (p. 1579). It is appropriate that when Rosalía finally hands over the money to Torquemada «ya habían dado las tres» (p. 1651).

Rosalía's irresponsible attitude to time is one of the traits which help to make her typical of the females of her class and era, as can be seen through a comparison with Milagros and Cándida. When Rosalía first made a small and spontaneous loan to Milagros, the latter promised repayment «mañana o pasado... En fin, cuando nos veamos» (p. 1580), an attitude reminiscent of that of Rosalía mentioned previously (p. 1578). Milagros's pleasure at the success of her dinner party diminishes in proportion as the date for the payment of the related bill approaches (p. 1602). The ten days' extension she is allowed is as useless to her as such periods were to Rosalía. She continually relies on the prospect of income due to be sent to her. The money is never actually in her possession and the dates on which it is expected are constantly pushed into the future. Equally revealing is the fact that Milagros would like Time to help solve her problems: «A veces digo: ¿No habrá un cataclismo, un terremoto o cosa así antes del día diez? Pienso en la revolución y... desearía que hubiese algo» (p. 1616). Cándida, too, pins her hopes on the future, on the money she will receive «un día de éstos» (p. 1593). When Rosalía lends her ten duros Cándida indicates that is will be a very short-term loan: «cuestión de dos o tres días» (p. 1598). This is an extremely vague expression, similar to the one she used to comfort Bringas at the start of his illness: «Es cuestión de horas o de un par de días todo lo más» (p. 1596). Bringas's illness was a lengthy one; the ten duros were lent on 13 June and when they have not been repaid by the end of August Rosalía realises that «de Cándida no debía esperar más que fantasías» (p. 1638).

All three women are unable to make any rational judgements about time when money is involved. Their inability to estimate accurately the amount of time required to settle a bill or repay a loan and their lack of awareness of the passage of time aggravate the problems caused by their extravagance. By contrast the two money-lenders apparently consider it a matter of personal honour to repay their debts on the agreed date. Torres stresses to Rosalía that «para el día 14 sin falta necesitaba eso. Pero sin que pudiera retrasarse ni un día, ni una hora, porque su honor estaba comprometido» (p. 1590).   —87→   Torquemada makes a similar, though less explicit, claim «porque va en ello mi honor» (p. 1640).

The «personal time» of Bringas is also significant. We are introduced to him in this novel through the hair-picture he is making. He spent «como media semana» (p. 1564) deciding which materials to use and searching for models and then, once started, «Todo el mes de marzo se lo llevó en el cenotafio y en el sauce... y a mediados de abril tenía el ángel brazos y cabeza» (p. 1565). He works steadily and «a principios de junio vimos parte de este trabajo concluido; pero aún restaban varias cosillas» (p. 1590). It is the precise and detailed nature of the work and not a tendency to leisureliness on the part of Bringas which produces the slow progress. The patience which he demonstrates here is not consistently repeated when he becomes blind, despite the fact that this is advised by Cándida (p. 1596), Rosalía (p. 1601) and the doctor (p. 1613). During the early stages of his blindness Bringas persistently peeps out from beneath his bandage (p. 1599) for he is «tan vivo de genio» that, as he says, «la impaciencia, y sobre todo la oscuridad, me mortifican horriblemente» (p. 1601). Impatience produces a relapse which is the result, according to Rosalía, of «querer curarte en dos días» (p. 1614). After this and under the strict supervision of Golfín Bringas is more resigned for now «paciencia no le faltaba al pobre hombre, que en aquella situación inclinó... su espíritu hacia la contemplación religiosa» (p. 1617).

Another important feature of Bringas's «personal time» is his insistence on set hours and punctuality. Rosalía has to abandon her private concerns and hurry home for «era un mártir de los insufribles métodos de su marido, y no podía retrasar su vuelta a la casa, porque si la comida no estaba puesta en la mesa a la hora precisa, don Francisco bufaba...» (p. 1591). On occasions, his concern with punctuality is beneficial to Rosalía who uses it as an excuse to escape from Pez's excessive and embarrassing flattery: «Voy a darle el refresco...; son las siete» (p. 1606). The exact timing of meals is so important to Bringas that it can take precedence over other weighty matters for, while encouraging Rosalía to humour Pez who may aid the family once again, he adds: «¡Ah! No olvides que a las nueve menos cuarto hemos de cenar» (p. 1613). It is hardly surprising that Rosalía feels trapped by her husband's attitude to time for she is a prisoner of «aquella vida matrimonial reglamentada..., una comedia doméstica de día y de noche, entre el metódico y rutinario correr de los ochavos y las horas» (p. 1614). It is ironically appropriate that in his views on time the miserly Bringas is similar to Torres and Torquemada who «aparecieron con usurera exactitud, a la hora fijada» (p. 1630). Moreover, it is significant that on the day on which Rosalía's immoral behaviour reaches its climax she should arrive home when the family, tired of waiting for her, has already lunched (p. 1643). She has offended «aquel Dios doméstico» (p. 1575) in more ways than one.

Bringas's attitude to the payment of bills is diametrically opposed to that of Rosalía and her friends. Whereas they rely on «lo remoto del pago», Bringas actively seeks to hasten the arrival of his bill from the occulist for, when it is imminent, he sends Paquito «a eso de las diez del día 3» and «serían las once y media cuando el joven regresó a la casa, trayendo una carta» (p. 1631). Immediately the money is placed in an envelope and   —88→   Paquito goes to deliver «este segundo recado» (p. 1631). Galdós comments that Bringas's sadness at parting with his money coexists with «la satisfacción honda y viva de pagar. Este placer sólo es dado a las personas de mucho arreglo que, al economizar el dinero, economizan las sensaciones que producen, y de éstas se contentan con gozar las más puras y espirituales» (p. 1631). This remark is equally applicable to his love of chronological precision. At various stages during Bringas's illness and convalescence the possibility of his returning to work is mentioned. He plans to return «desde el primero de septiembre» (p. 1639). This he does (p. 1640). Once he has established a date he adheres to it. An interesting variant occurs on 9 September when Rosalía is awaiting Pez's reply for although «sobre las diez y media iba Bringas invariablemente a su oficina. Aquel día fue menos puntual que de costumbre» (p. 1644). It is perhaps possible to see in this minor deviation from his normal practice a subconscious commentary on Rosalía's deviation from the normal standards of their marriage. Ironically, Bringas has returned to work in the Administration only days before it is torn apart by the Revolution.

The examples adduced in the course of this paper have shown that, through his detailed and widespread time-references in La de Bringas, Galdós has intensified its historical significance and dramatic value. Moreover, the way in which attitudes towards time can be compared and contrasted is an additional aid to the reader in the comprehension of the characters.

University of Edinburgh

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