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ArribaAbajoThe unheroic tragic hero: some general considerations

Anthony Matthews

Society, as portrayed in the 'novelas contemporáneas', is pervaded by a permeating sense of spiritual vacuity and unheroic mediocrity of the general kind which characterized the world depicted by nineteenth-century post-romantic novelists as a whole. The Galdosian presentation of contemporary life is not concerned, however, merely with the portrayal of the negative socio-moral ethos of the 'clase media'. Its chief concern, rather, focuses upon the portrayal of individual human nature and it is precisely the complexity and depth of the Galdosian vision of and involvement with the fictional creation and study of human character which constitutes the principal elevating feature of his work. The effect of tragedy proper, that is, insofar as the tragic proper can be attributed to the nineteenth-century novel form, is achieved in the novelistic series primarily through the presentation of individuals whose character, situation and experience reveal rare qualities of dignity, nobility and heroism in suffering. Such individuals whose lives and, indeed, whose very existence, define a world of opposition to the general social and moral condition of society at large, merit recognition as the tragic heroes of the Galdosian novelistic series.

It is, of course, true that modern tragedy does not require a hero in the precise and strictest application of the term. Within the Galdosian context, however, the hero is of particular importance precisely because he actually is an heroic character and not simply a protagonist. The novelistic conception and representation of this heroic figure as a character of 'imaginación', noble aspiration and tremendous natural strength underlines Galdós' sense of the sustained presence of the heroic in contemporary man and the degree of prominence accorded to these heroes in the series infuses the underlying tragic vision with an enriching element of positive grandeur. The condition of tragic heroism, within the novelistic series, is embodied at its highest level by such characters as Isidora Rufete, Fortunata, Ángel Guerra, Nazarín and Benina149 and the changing situations of these heroic figures constitute landmarks in the evolution of the Galdosian vision, as the author endeavours, in art, to make sense of the pressures of contemporary life upon the exceptional individual.

In addition to the fact that the infusion of a sense of the heroic into the Galdosian vision serves to heighten rather than to mitigate the intensity of the overall tragic effect, it must also be recognized that both the nature and the primacy of these individuals entitles them to consideration as one of the most peculiar and singularizing aspects of the total vision. In the respective situations and experiences of Ramón de Villaamil and Maxi Rubín, however, another fundamental, and nonetheless peculiar, aspect of the novelistic tragic vision is revealed and it is upon this facet that our present attention shall   —90→   henceforth be exclusively focused. As distinct from their tragic heroic counterparts both of these individuals are manifestly weak beings whose efforts to come to terms with the world in which they live are steeped, like themselves, in irony and pathos. Nevertheless, in spite of their innate debility, they exhibit a closer moral affinity with characters such as Isidora and Fortunata than with types such as Rosalía de Bringas, José María Bueno and Francisco de Torquemada for whom we can retain little or no admiration or respect on account of the fact that they personify the negative moral condition of society at large.

For a character to be tragic in the heroic sense, suffering by itself is not enough; there must be active resistance to it and neither Villaamil nor Maxi actively resist. The former, for example, whilst he does not descend to the depths of absolute pathos and ironic foolishness, except in the eyes of the novelistically discredited social vision as embodied within abhorrent individuals such as Doña Pura, Víctor Cadalso and Guillén, does not rise either to the hallowed level of positive, foolish splendour that one finds, with varying degrees of quality, in such characters as Galdós' own Nazarín, Dostoevsky's Prince Myshkin and, of course, Cervantes' Don Quijote. In each of these the foolish simplicity and ineffectuality is decisively counterbalanced by noble and heroic elevating qualities. Neither Villaamil nor Maxi, in contrast, translate their noble character traits into any direct form of heroic action or active opposition. In consequence, not only are they not heroic but neither can they be easily assigned to either of the broad and convenient categories of characters mentioned above: those whom we admire and those whom we condemn. They do not fit into either category and it is precisely for this reason that they occupy a very special place in the expression of the Galdosian tragic vision.

The following description by Edward Bullough of the essential defining qualities of the tragic hero holds as good for the nineteenth-century Galdosian version of this rare literary species as for any other and it is significant that the characters of neither Villaamil nor Maxi comply with it: «The exceptional element in tragic figures... is a consistency of direction, a fervor of ideality, a persistence and driving force which is far above the capacities of average men».150 Like the new breed of post-romantic literary protagonist, Villaamil and Maxi are characterized by weakness, ineffectuality and a sense of pathos. Their distinctive feature or quality, however, derives from the fact that they personify a novel and peculiarly Galdosian concept which, in the light of the considerations outlined above, can be described only in paradoxical terms as the concept of the unheroic tragic hero.

All heroic characters, it might be said, Galdosian or otherwise, are heroic in basically the same way but unheroic characters are unheroic after their own fashion. For example, Isidora, Fortunata, Ángel Guerra, Nazarín and Benina, although successful in varying degrees in achieving a level of positive spiritual triumph over the morally sterile world in which they are material failures, all succeed in broadly the same fashion, that is to say, through strength of character, force of will and persistent loyalty to noble ideals. Villaamil and his unheroic counterpart Maxi, however, are losers who exhibit varying forms as well as degrees of failure. Whereas the former is propelled neither by an ideal nor a natural force of will, the narrative experience of Maxi could almost   —91→   be described as one of relentless, if ineffectual, striving. As individuals, therefore, it must be remembered that these two characters differ in more respects than they are similar.

In relation to society and the world at large, however, they are linked by a common bond of weakness and tragic failure and by their common conception as the incarnation of an unheroic yet curiously noble condition. Indeed, the question posed by A. A. Parker as to whether Villaamil is conceived as a «tragic victim» or a «comic failure» is equally applicable to Maxi Rubín.151 Essentially, however, they are both individuals in their own right and as such merit separate consideration as the personification of the notion of the unheroic tragic hero. Whilst viewing Villaamil as primarily a tragic character, Professor Parker rightly recognizes the comic dimension -the term being applied in its broadest sense- to his failure. Seemingly reticent, however, about labeling him as tragi-comic he defines him as a tragic victim whose comic dimension, if anything, serves to enhance the tragic effect. However, to conceive of Villaamil in terms of an unheroic tragic hero (and the same, of course, applies to Maxi) not only more neatly reconciles the notions of tragedy and comedy within him, a problem to which Parker is obviously highly sensitive, but also affords an even fuller appreciation of the nobility of soul and ultimate moral superiority of his character.

The entire landscape of Miau is permeated by an oppressive and negative sense of moral corruption and spiritual vacuity. The most disturbing aspect of the novel, however, and upon this depends the intensity of the overall tragic effect, resides within the character, situation and private experience of Villaamil himself. Only through the deepest appreciation of all the ingredients of his personal suffering can the total reality of the tragedy of Don Ramón be fully comprehended. The omniscient narrator functions as the reader's window opening into the very soul of Villaamil and through him, in a direct evaluative description such as the following, a deeper and hidden aspect of the inner reality of the insipid social nonentity is revealed: «El tigre inválido se transfiguraba. Tenía la expresión sublime de un apóstol en el momento en que le están martirizando por la fe...» [OC, 2, p. 989a]. This reference strikes us immediately, as Eamonn Rodgers has remarked, as one which is rich in debunking irony.152 Nevertheless, whilst recognizing the existence of such irony and according it due recognition, it is also essential to distinguish it from the kind of cruel and superficial ironical light in which Don Ramón is viewed by society at large. Admittedly the direct comparison between the agony endured by Don Ramón in this momentary transfiguration and that of the martyred Saint Bartholomew contains a weighty potential for an effect of ironic incongruity. The effect, however, is complemented and, to a certain degree, counteracted by the underlying seriousness and reality of Don Ramón's suffering. Likewise, the subsequent abrupt disturbance of the venerable saintly image by the narrator in order to expose the social identity of Villaamil, reminding the reader that «este Villaamil era el que en ciertas tertulias de café recibió el apodo Rameses II», produces no decisively derogatory effect. It is true that the label of Rameses II is as ironical and debunking in effect as the epic epithet of «nuestro buen Thiers» which is attached to Francisco de Bringas. Nevertheless, it is once again highly significant that   —92→   in the latter instance it is the attitude of the narrator to the character that is reflected whereas, in he former, it is entirely the attitude of the novelistic society to the character that is exposed.

In the direct comparison of Don Ramón with San Bartolomé there is, as we have stated above, a measured quantity of comical, deflating irony. Significantly, however, the reference is bereft of the brand of ridiculous extravagance which characterizes Bringas' epic title. In actual fact, when one recognizes the masterful and precise control of irony demonstrated by Galdós both in this novel and elsewhere, and especially in view of the subsequent enlargement of Villaamil's character later in the narrative, one is tempted to see in this momentary transfiguration a trace of one of those rare moments which encapsulate a pure and unadulterated sense of tragedy of the kind that may have inspired A. W. Schlegel to the following view: «No doubt, wherever the proper tragic enters everything like irony immediately ceases;... [as also] where the subjection of mortal beings to an inevitable destiny demands the highest degree of seriousness».153 In spite of our awareness that both Villaamil and Maxi Rubín are presented in a light composed of three perfectly compatible ingredients of irony, seriousness and tragedy -all three being essential to their realistic representation- one can, nevertheless, appreciate the relevance of Schlegel's view to the specific passage quoted above.

Furthermore, when a sense of comic irony is deliberately applied in relation to Villaamil the context in which it occurs rarely leaves it unaccompanied by a profounder and more serious tragic implication as, for example, in the image of the revolutionary Don Ramón proclaiming, «-¡Qué mundo es éste! ¡Cuánta injusticia! ¡Y luego no quieren que haya revoluciones!...» [OC, 2, p. 996b]. Villaamil, of course, as we are quite well aware, even at this early stage, is the individual least likely to cause any kind of stir let alone instigate a revolution. The element of humour generated by this situation, however, (and a similar pattern becomes progressively more visibly defined throughout the rest of the narrative) is heavily overshadowed by the reality of Villaamil's desperate psychological compensatory need to vent such grievances, by the objective truth inherent in what he says and by the general tragedy of his personal situation. Admittedly, at this point, his innate virtue is still dormant and his outbursts are more the product of a sense of injured merit than of a genuine impassioned moral indictment of society. The objective truth of his views remains intact, nevertheless, and Villaamil subsequently develops to a stage of genuine recognition and moral defence of it in the end. Until that stage, one continually retains the impression that Villaamil would renew his pact with society if given the opportunity and it is precisely in the light of this recognition that the following assessment by Eamonn Rodgers seems accurate: «If Villaamil's story has some of the depth and seriousness of tragedy, it is not because he is unjustly excluded from a post he deserves to have, but because he is so totally absorbed in the pursuit of his goal that he cannot see that it is unworthy of such single-minded dedication...».154

The character of Don Ramón, however, gradually outgrows this unawakened condition of blindness and childish bitterness and, by implication, this kind of assessment, not totally and not in any sudden heroic fashion but through a realistic, gradual process of awakening under the cumulative effect   —93→   of the pressure of mounting internal crisis. As a general rule, it can be affirmed that, throughout the course of the narrative, those virtues of Villaamil's character which attest his moral and spiritual superiority evolve from a purely passive, dormant existence to a more active role and, in consequence, are treated with an increasing and appropriate degree of seriousness and respect by the narrator. Again, however, one is obliged to emphasize the totally unheroic manner in which this effect is actually achieved. Nevertheless, the development is real and, unquestionably, the supreme illustration of the existence and increasingly active importance of the noble, tragic dimension underlying Villaamil's comically pathetic image resides in the multiple and developing connotations of the nickname «Miau». For society at large it begins as an epithet which signifies the cursi, cat-like Villaamil women and is then subsequently extended by Guillén and the office employees in a similar derogatory tone to Villaamil himself in a manner which makes cruel mockery of both him and his ironically initialled four point economic plan for the nation. As the reader alone observes, however, the term «Miau» eventually comes to acquire a ritual significance as the emblem which denotes a tragic martyrdom for which the world at large is responsible and yet to the intensity and full significance of which it is also tragically blind. Indeed, the deeper our penetration into the narrative the more aware we become of the fact that Villaamil's tragic suffering is a consequence not simply of his weakness and lack of heroism but, to an equal degree, of his honourable nature and nobility of soul which comes, increasingly, into sharper focus.

The key to an understanding of the real character of Villaamil, moreover, and equally to the secret of his successful artistic portrayal, is lodged in our recognition and appreciation of the effect of the technique of multi-perspectived narrative presentation. By this method of «complex seeing»155 we perceive, with genuine Unamunean flavour, Villaamil as others see him, as he himself would like to be and, ultimately, as he really is, «conocido sólo para su Hacedor».156 The total reality of the individual is exclusively encompassed by neither the one nor the other but rather through a synthesis of all three perspectives. It is true that if we look into this novel as a mirror we are more likely to see someone else in Villaamil rather than ourselves but equally we do not gaze down upon him with a cold and superior sense of Olympian detachment. Such a perspective would render Don Ramón tragic in his own view but comically pathetic in ours, given the nature and failure of his unheroic attempts at survival. One must avoid the error, therefore, of overestimating the comic potential in his character and behaviour or, conversely of failing to recognize the development of the noble and tragic dimension to his character.

Even when viewed from this broader angle of vision, however, Villaamil is, admittedly, still anything but a positive character precisely because his noble characteristics are not translated into any form of constructive action. Indeed, with a characteristic flourish of irony, when these qualities do eventually provoke a response it manifests itself in the most negative form possible -self-destruction. The situation also acquires additional irony, not altogether bereft of a sense of black humour, from Villaamil's ultimate inability to decide upon the most fundamental issue of all, namely, whether to be or not   —94→   to be. In the view of Michael Nimetz, however, Villaamil's suicidal act does not constitute the ultimate form of negative response. Rather, claims Nimetz, because it is based upon the assurance that God wants him, it signifies «a movement away from rejection and toward acceptance... suicide is not so much an escape as a liberation».157

This attitude, however, whilst commendable for its interpretation of the suicidal act as something other than negative despair, embraces too positive a vision in that it approaches the opposite extreme of viewing Villaamil's death as a kind of tragic affirmation. The reality of the situation, surely, is that Don Ramón, having reached a «stalemate» situation with society and the world where resistance, even if it were possible, is fruitless, turns upon himself in a manner which exhibits neither heroic defiance nor simple weak, escapist despair.158 The situation is infinitely richer in complexity and, on one level, it is presented as a climactic psychological need to unburden so that even his rationalization of his proposed action in his declaration that, «más vale que me despache yo, emancipándome y yéndome con Dios...» [OC, 2, page 1113a], displays all the ingredients of a final unsuccessful attempt to be genuinely positive. Yet, in the end, his course of action, whilst not one of heroic affirmation, is not «a vain act of false martyrdom» as Professor Ribbans asserts159 and he does exhibit, albeit in a most curiously unheroic fashion, the dignity of a tragic as opposed to the pathos of a purely ironical and foolish, comic character. The sense of ennoblement, in the end, derives not just from a catalogue appraisal of Villaamil's abstract virtues but from his developing consciousness which summons up all the qualities of his inner being into a concrete posture of defiance. In his final stance of detachment from society he demonstrates a keen insight into the nature of the world at large, his own private life and his place within both. This constitutes his supreme moment of tragic anagnorisis which, on the strength of the truth that it embodies and the nobility of the suffering that underlies it, and despite the unheroic, boyish antics which enshrine it, succeeds in commanding an elevating sense of respect as well as sympathy for his character.

In L'Etranger, Camus asserts that the antithesis of the suicidal man is precisely the man who is condemned to death and, viewed from one particular and very obvious angle, the situation of Villaamil resembles that of a man who has been fatally condemned and rejected by a society in which he is a tragic misfit. In the end, moreover, as a consequence of developing consciousness, self-awareness and self-enlargement born of a suffering which, if generally ironical and always unheroic, does ultimately produce an ennobling effect, he comes genuinely to reject the society which rejected him. There is brought into play, as mentioned above, a certain measure of ironical undermining which lowers the tone of his final glorious detachment but, in the end, Don Ramón's self-proclaimed superiority to, and ultimate scornful rejection of, the world must be accorded seriousness and respect in spite of it. Indeed, the recognition of an awakening or birth of consciousness within the character of Villaamil is wholly incompatible with the concept of suicide unless this action is considered liberating to some degree. However, i is precisely only to the extent that we have already outlined that it may be viewed, as Nimetz implies, as an act of «liberation». The Unamunean distinction   —95→   between what he defines as the positive notion of «querer no ser» and its negative counterpart, «no querer ser», serves, I feel, as a most useful aid to an understanding of the redeeming hint of something positive in Villaamil's act of suicide. As opposed to the negative condition of passively not wanting to be, Don Ramón actually wants not to be and his suicide may, on one level, be construed as the positive realization of this desire. As if in direct accordance with this view, Unamuno further asserts, «el que quiere no ser, no es, ¡claro!, un suicida».160

Death, in the end, represents the bridge between the transience of human existence and the permanence and harmony of the universe which is reflected so poetically in the final reflections of Villaamil against the backcloth of the world of nature and the clear blue sky. Until this stage of acute consciousness, his existence has been defined in the most narrow sense by his domestic life and the world of the Administration. Consequently, his final desperate declaration of «Muerte... Infamante... Al... Universo» is not the epic utterance of a bold hero effectively at odds with the universe but rather that of an unheroic little man emotionally reacting against a pathetic existence which he, ironically, elevates onto a universal plane. At least, however, at this stage, his sense of rebellion itself can be treated with full seriousness. The portrayal of this final phase of «liberation» is aesthetically impressionistic and descriptive and this is significant because the mood is one which is experiential as opposed to rational. Expressed as the culmination of a series of spontaneous, disjointed, liberated sensory impressions and instinctual motivations, it acquires meaning not merely as Villaamil's psychological response to an empty and tortured existence but, in a more complex way, as the consequence of the emotional reaction of his entire being. In the end, it is his natural, instinctive and only possible course of action. It is, indeed, a radiantly splendid and uplifting aspiration within him that directs his vision towards the blue of the heavens and away from the «puerca tierra» and «la muy marrana Administración». In no sense, however, except an unheroic tragic one, can his suicidal act be conceived of in terms of an heroic assertion of opposition to a world in which he does not belong. Ultimately, it is the combination of ennoblement through suffering with his peculiarly weak and negative response to it that renders him an unheroic tragic hero.

It is through precisely the same combined process that Maxi Rubín comes also to embody this paradoxical condition of being and hence, instead of growing «ever more diminished as we go on reading», as Gilman asserts,161 he actually grows in stature. It is admittedly true, however, that from the strictly objective angle of vision the basic psychology of Maxi's situation constitutes that of a spiritual, idealistic nature being frustrated by an undetachable physical incompetence and ending up in a disillusioned and fragmented state of retreat. Viewed strictly from such an angle as this, Maxi emerges as a tragically sympathetic and pathetic instance of total human frustration, a victim of the impersonal cruelty of nature and the world but nothing more. Maxi, however, is arguably the second most outstanding creation in a novel which is peopled by a multitude of fine character creations and it is precisely those qualities and features which render him outstanding that also elevate him to the status of a noble, tragic figure. Ultimately, he ranks, within the   —96→   hierarchy of novelistic characters, high above the notion of a sad, insanely frustrated, pathetic fool which the society responsible for his confinement in Leganés narrow-mindedly misconstrues him to be.

In the process of an analysis of the historical development in literature from the traditional concept of tragic hero to the more prevalent concept of tragic victim, Raymond Williams alludes to the «many forms» in which the tension of tragic conflict has manifested itself and Maxi Rubín, like his unheroic counterpart, Villaamil, may be viewed as the embodiment of one such form.162 Whilst approximating closer to the pole of tragic victim than that of tragic hero neither of these characters can be said to exclusively belong to either the one or the other. From the outset, Maxi, like Villaamil, is not a vital force but he does mature, nevertheless, as a developing character. When first introduced into the narrative he is receiving external stimulants which induce him to fantasize and daydream. He is not fully awakened to life because although, as the result of his being in the period of biological transition from adolescence to manhood, he can sense its call, he must ignore it and does so, satisfactorily, until the sudden fateful appearance of the aptly named Fortunata. Her immediate effect is catalytic in that, unknowingly, she provokes in him the release of those hitherto repressed forces which eventually destroy him. Henceforth his life is one long attempt at self-assertion and in the course of this struggle he grows in moral stature and his innate grandeur shines through his outer ridiculousness.

Essentially there are only two breeds of character who would launch into such an overtly incongruous relationship in the belief that all will he well: the heroic and the foolish. Now, since Maxi instinctively, rather than with calculated deliberation, ignores the reality of the basic physical irreconcilability between himself and Fortunata in order to fabricate an illusory world in which her immorality constitutes the sole barrier, his behaviour can scarcely be viewed as either heroic or courageous. By the same token, however, it is equally inaccurate and over-simplistic to conceive of him purely as a fool. His action may, indeed, appear more akin to folly than to heroism but we are given to understand, clearly, rather than implicitly or speculatively, that this course of action is the emotional response, as well as the compensatory psychological consequence, of his being who he is. Hence, what appears as sheer, unmitigated folly to the detached observer constitutes for Maxi the most natural and logically satisfactory line of recourse to personal self-enlargement and fulfilment. Almost immediately, therefore, the gulf between the subjective and the objective points of view is underlined and it is precisely through this dual perspective that the total reality of Maxi's complex nature is unfolded. Thus he emerges from the outset as a being of wider sophistication and depth than is implied in the narrow, objective, one-dimensional vision of him as a weak and piteous fool who embarks upon a course of predestined destruction.

In addition, the fact that he is desperately engaged in the pursuit of an ideal infuses his existence with a sense of purpose and direction. His imaginative dreams of future idyllic happiness, based upon a noble if also unrealistic, rose-tinted vision, may be as ironically humorous as his underdeveloped physical appearance but there is also an elevating dimension to them which   —97→   points to the inherent spiritual grandeur of his character. Once captivated by the beauty of Fortunata, Maxi is gradually transformed into a character of greater interest and deeper significance and the transformation is marked by an expansion of the range of the narrative focus upon his aspirations. Henceforth, it is not simply the psychologically compensatory and escapist nature of Maxi's dreams that is highlighted. Fundamentally, he is still the same character pursuing a dual existence -one of bread and the other of dreams- as is symbolized in the disparity between his idealized subjective image of Fortunata and the objective one. The fact, however, that there is a profound if ironical truth in that splendid vision of the inner woman conjured up by Maxi's imagination signals an indication of some positive element in him, especially in view of the fact that this truth becomes progressively more clearly defined as the narrative develops. The supreme testimony to the mysterious accuracy of his deified vision of Fortunata is recorded in our recognition of the validity of her claims, in the end, to the status of angel.

The positive dimension to Maxi, in the eyes of Fortunata, derives from his genuine virtues of decency and respectability which she interprets as his sole redeeming feature. More profoundly, however, the positive element is engendered by the nature of his vision of her. The fact that he is ultimately seeing in her only that which he wants to see is, of course, ironical. The ironic element, however, tends to be effectively counteracted by the eventual revelation of Fortunata, in contrast to Manso's Irene, as a being who is as innately noble as her lover imagines her to be. It is true that the psychological explanation of his tendency to idealization is as clear as that, for example, which explains why Don Quijote's windmills are giants. As with the great knight, however, we do not concern ourselves only with the psychological explanation but rather with the significance of the idealism itself and its intrinsic value as a reflection of the elevating honour and nobility of the bearer's own soul.

From the moment of Maxi's first encounter with Fortunata, the narrator informs us that, «todo él fue idealismo, nobleza y buenas acciones. ¡Qué diferencia entre él y los perdularios en cuyas manos estuvo antes la pobrecita!» [OC, 2, p. 610b]. It is significant that the potential for irony which is inherent in this observation is deliberately underdeveloped, reminiscent of that which characterized the saintly-martyr portrayal of Villaamil referred to earlier. Of even greater significance, however, is the fact that as Maxi's character develops and expands this noble conception of him proves increasingly more fitting. Just as Don Quijote himself is always a caricature of the knight errant of chivalresque romance so too Maxi is always and never ceases to be, on one level, a cruel parody of the figure of the traditional romantic lover. However, just as the insane old knight transcends his unheroic condition through the pursuit of noble ideals, so also does Maxi evolve and emerge as a character of intrinsic grandeur. The precise nature and extent of the development which takes place within him during the course of his narrative experience is sharply defined in a comparison of the character that he is initially with the character that he is in the end. At the climax, he is an even more dramatically unfortunate and pitiful specimen than he is during what might be described as his pre-Fortunata period, in the sense that he is a   —98→   spiritually rent and psychologically disintegrated being. Paradoxically, however, he stands, in the end, as a nobler and more admirable character than at the outset. Whilst laying stress upon the prevalence of his negative condition, we must also simultaneously duly accord to him an element of the kind of superiority associated with the more familiar paradox of the tragic triumph, even if, as in this particular instance, it is manifestly unheroic.

Irony is the principal device by which Maxi is debunked and it is revealing to observe the change in the tone of its occurrence in relation to him at various intervals along the itinerary of his character development. In the initial stages the tone is humorous and playful in complete accordance with the awkwardness of expression of Maxi's newly awakened hopes and aspirations as he epically breaks open his piggy bank, messianically casts himself in the role of Fortunata's saviour and unsuccessfully tries to assert his superiority and authority over Papitos who proves more than a match for him. Subsequent to just such a series of ironically humorous and deflating events the narrator himself, in similar vein and acting as the voice of Maxi's consciousness, cannot resist the temptation to debunk him by proclaiming, «Él era hombre, ¡y qué hombre!» [OC, 2, p. 617b]. As the narrative progresses, however, the tone of the irony in which situations are couched becomes increasingly less playful and more sympathetically and seriously pathetic until it eventually borders upon the tragic.

For example, the scene on the night of the honeymoon which depicts Maxi pale, weak and helpless and being nursed in the arms of Fortunata «como un niño», is more intensely lined with pathos than with irony. The autor, if he had so desired, could have introduced a series of cruel, ironically deflating and comically incongruous references to underscore the disparity between the elevated, romantic aspirations of Maxi and the objective reality of his infantile helplessness and impotence. His restraint in this matter, however, denotes a posture of tenderness rather than cruelty, sympathy rather than mockery and seriousness rather than humour. A similar brand of restraint is demonstrated in the scene resulting from his uncontrollable outburst of jealous emotion which provokes his unheroically pathetic attack upon Juanito. The scene demonstrates, in the end, «la enorme distancia que en su ser había entre los arranques de la voluntad y la eficacia de su desmayada acción» [OC, 2, p. 718b], and whilst it is essentially pathetic and appropriately ironic, the impulses underlying it evoke a serious and tragic, as opposed to a mocking or comic effect. In conjunction with this increase in undiluted sympathy for Maxi there is also a growing element of genuine respect afforded to him which is symptomatic of his personal expansion and development in an upward direction.

Even at a relatively early juncture when the narrator informs us that both the teacher and the students «se pasmaban de que Rubinius Vulgaris se hubiese despabilado como por ensalmo» we no longer feel that the old nickname is wholly appropriate for Maxi. Eventually, like Don Quijote, he emerges as a man with a mission in life and in the same way as the old knight comes increasingly to live up to the nobility of his assumed title, in the sense that its significance as an ironic epithet is reduced, so also does the heroic name of Maximiliano resound with a little less irony. The process   —99→   through which he develops is, ironically, a gradual recourse to desperation involving a sense of despair which manifests itself in a variety of forms all of which represent attempts to resolve it. Within Maxi, the power of imagination, despite its elevating effect, functions also as a basic survival mechanism. Reality, in the form of a genuine relationship with Fortunata is always impossible to come to terms with and fantasy provides the sole defence against unbearable suffering. When viewed with the objectivity of total detachment his retreat into the world of his own imagination signifies an unquestionably unheroic response rather than a positive course of action. Even the fact that he does not have recourse to the act of suicide, though he often toys with the notion, will also underline, when viewed from such an angle, yet another facet of his unheroic nature. The failure to realize his suicidal fantasies, assessed from the purely external point of view, indicates a character whose lack of heroic fibre is defined, in a stroke of supreme irony, by his inability to take his own life, that is, to follow even the most negative and unheroic recourse of a living being. However, an essential complementary issue of significance which the purely objective assessment fails to appreciate but which is integral to the fullest appreciation of Maxi, stems from a recognition of the fact that, within the limitations of his own being, that is to say, from the purely subjective angle of vision, Maxi's final stance amongst the stars constitutes a form of heroic gesture.

In consequence, the peculiar, paradoxical effect produced by a combination of the two conflicting narrative perspectives upon Maxi's character, may in the end be appreciated in its totality only through the vision of him in terms of an unheroic hero. The paradoxical and disturbingly contradictory general flavour of the ethos of the period dominated by Maxi's insane fixation for logic and labelled appropriately as «la razón de la sinrazón» most effectively reflects the peculiar essence of our equally self-contradictory vision of him in these terms. At this stage, in genuine Quixotic manner, he demonstrates himself to be insane almost to the point of genius. Wisdom of this nature, nevertheless, is not of itself synonymous with, nor does it involve, heroism on the part of the character in question. Thus it does nothing in itself to polish Maxi's unheroic image. Yet such wisdom, born as it is of the experience of turbulent psychological and spiritual torture, does signify an inherent nobility of soul and an indirect yet desperate struggle for survival both of which intensify and elevate the nature of the bearer's tragic experience. The real tragedy derives not so much from the condition of insanity itself as from the causes which underlie it.

In the end, even Fortunata herself explicitly crystallizes the peculiar sense of ambivalence embodied by Maxi in her allusion to him in terms of «un verdadero santo», followed by the immediate reflection that «[...] si le canonizaban y le ponían en los altares, ella le rezaría y le escupiría» [OC, 2, p. 956b]. This attitude exhibits a curiously evenly balanced mixture of feelings of admiration and scorn directed towars his tragically noble spirit and lofty idealism and his unheroic, pathetic nature respectively. It is, in my view, precisely such a peculiar and fine balance of noble imagination and unheroic response which being worked out experientially makes Maxi, like Villaamil, an unheroic tragic hero as opposed to merely a pathetically tragic victim. The dramatic   —100→   situation portraying Maxi as a madman on the loose with a revolver ends with a characteristically unheroic anti-climatic effect which leaves him locked up in his room, a howling lunatic. Since, however, throughout the course of the narrative, Maxi is always more than a pathetic madman it would be entirely incongruent to the process of his upward development to see him as any less than this at the end. Hence it would be, at the very least, quite illogical for the narrative to bid farewell to him in this howling condition of insanity and it is significant that it does not do so. It is Maxi himself who asserts, «he sido un mártir y un loco» and we find ourselves totally in accord with this view. To have left him as a howling madman locked up in his room would have presented a sorrowful image of him as a poor victim but not as a martyr. A victim is someone upon whom unnecessary and unmerited suffering is imposed whereas a martyr is a person who sacrifices himself for an ideal and who, in this respect, may be considered to partially incur his own destiny.

It is, nevertheless, true, as Gilman asserts, that Maxi ends up living «la pura idea» and, furthermore, that the portrayal of this condition constitutes «a final flourish of Galdosian irony».163 An interpretation of the ending purely and simply in this ironical light, however, would amount to a very narrow comprehension of the ultimate significance of Maxi's role within the novelistic vision. As opposed to creating a tragic situation and inviting us to laugh at it, Galdós creates an initially ridiculous situation and makes it end in noble, tragic disintegration. The paradox of the unheroic nature of Maxi is ultimately best defined by Olmedo, a character who, ironically, is of minimal significance in the novel. Olmedo sympathizes with Maxi's insanity and yet, simultaneously, finds himself reacting with a curious, paradoxical sense of admiration towards the nobility of his aspirations: «porque Rubín podía ser un tonto; pero no era un tonto vulgar, era uno de estos tontos que tocan lo sublime con la punta de los dedos. Verdad que no llegan a agarrarlo; pero ello es que lo tocan... a él, Olmedo... no se le había pasado nunca por la cabeza una majadería de aquel calibre» [OC, 2, p. 624a]. This view is expressed at a very early stage of our narrative acquaintance with Maxi but the nature and outcome of his subsequent evolution attest its profound validity.

In conclusion, it is perhaps worthwhile to allude to a comparison between the lofty aspirations of even an unheroic Galdosian tragic hero like Maxi, who, in the end, can assert: «resido en las estrellas» and twentieth-century tragic man who, ever conscious of his increasingly diminishing stature in the universe, has become the victim of what might be described appropriately as astronomical intimidation.

The Queens University of Belfast

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