Selecciona una palabra y presiona la tecla d para obtener su definición.
Anterior Indice Siguiente

  —[88]→     —89→  

ArribaAbajo The Element of Time in Misericordia

Gordon Minter

It is forty years since Joaquín Casalduero first drew attention to vagaries in the chronology of Misericordia151. His explanation that «psychological» time displaces linear time in the last eleven chapters and the finale of the novel seemed to resolve an intriguing critical question almost in the act of posing it. Subsequent commentators have overtly or tacitly accepted Casalduero's findings, and the main thrust of scholarly studies has been directed elsewhere. As a result the defence of temporal anomalies in a major work has been allowed to rest on the assertion that Galdós made purposeful use of chronological imprecision. The evidence provided for such an assertion is, however, questionable. It may well be that Galdós has imposed a subtle and far more precise chronology on Misericordia than has been suggested -a chronology, moreover, with important thematic implications.

Casalduero makes his main points about the element of time in Misericordia succinctly:

La novela comienza la mañana de un 24 de marzo (no se indica el año), hasta el capítulo XX han pasado sólo dos días; en el mismo capítulo empieza el tercer día, y en el capítulo XXIII pasamos al cuarto día. Se datan los días quinto y sexto en el capítulo XXVII, y en el XXIX, el séptimo. Para los once últimos capítulos y el «final» se abandona la cronología.

(p. 221)                

One rectification is immediately required: the sequence of present action which has occupied seven days up to Chapter XXIX is carried over to the morning of the following day in Chapter XXX152. The specific time-span stretches over the octave from the 24th March to the 31st March (which includes the Feast of the Annunciation). It is also misleading to assert without qualification that after Chapter XXIX Galdós abandons chronology. It is true that for the remainder of the novel «Galdós se sirve de frases como "una noche", "días antes", "a los quince días", "al mes poco más o menos"» (Casalduero, p. 221), but it is equally true that these are not the only allusions made to time. Galdós counterbalances the studied vagueness which he introduces into his time-scheme -and to which Casalduero properly refers us- in two important ways. He provides a network of consistent cross-references between events, which serves to establish their relative position in time. Additionally, while overt dating virtually ceases in Chapter XXX, Galdós continues to determine the duration of most of the incidents which go to make up the ensuing action. By careful consideration of these alternative time indicators, the attentive reader can deduce a probable overall chronology for the novel.

There is a break in temporal continuity of unspecified -though not necessarily unspecific- length after the eighth day of the current action until Benina's arrest for begging in an unauthorised area «un sábado por la tarde».


This consecutive sequence of incidents, which covers a period of three days, is interrupted in Chapter XXXVI. References to duration at this juncture become not so much conspicuous by their absence as difficult, in isolation, to integrate into an unbroken time-scale with the events which precede and follow them. Even here the greater part of the narrative is nonetheless taken up with happenings for which a time lapse of roughly twenty-four hours spread over two days is allowed. Once Frasquito Ponte has returned from a shopping expedition which he makes «una tarde» (p. 783), the action runs on in a continuous span for the rest of Chapter XXXVI. The afternoon fades into evening in Chapter XXXVII, where it eventually gives way to the following morning (p.785).

Another temporal hiatus -the third and last in the novel if the epilogue is excluded- occurs at this point. Within a few lines of text, «un domingo» has been specified, however, and henceforth incidents are once more consecutive. The release of Benina from el Pardo, her return to the Calle Imperial, her brutal rejection by Doña Paca, and her departure with Almudena to spend the night at Bernarda's doss-house (Chapters XXXVII-XXXIX) all take place on that same Sunday. It is only in Chapter XXXIX that the action proceeds into the following day, where it remains until Chapter XI, (p. 793). It is on the day after that -Tuesday- that the final incidents of the concluding chapter of the main text, culminating in the death of Frasquito Ponte, are worked out. Interestingly the finite action of Chapters XXXVII-XL, like that of Chapters XXXI-XXXV, unfolds over a comparable period of three days.

The short epilogue, set approximately one month after Ponte's death, deals with matters both present and retrospective. In its current concerns it too covers a definite period: from the morning when Juliana seeks out Benina in the carretera de Toledo until early the following morning, when she returns to enlist Benina's aid in allaying her obsessive fears about the state of her children's health.

Galdós is obviously at pains, despite his abandonment of precise dating in Chapter XXX, to indicate the duration of much that happens in the remainder of his narrative. The events described in detail in the last ten chapters of Misericordia -like the dated events of the first thirty chapters- occupy some eight days. This total is the sum of discrete spans of three, two, and three successive days, which are distributed within a longer time-scale. Linear temporal continuity is made indeterminate on only four occasions: for part of Chapters XXX-XXXI; in Chapter XXXVI; briefly in Chapter XXXVII; and between the end of the main body of the text and the epilogue. It may be added that on these occasions -with one exception- there is no dislocation of time sequence: these indeterminate intervals of time are merely intercalated between the fixed periods of the action so as to protract its overall   —91→   duration. It is possible, by careful consideration of Galdós's system of internal textual cross-references, to estimate that overall duration within fairly narrow limits.

Before dating is suspended in Chapter XXX, certain things happen which are to have swift repercussions in the interim from Wednesday, March 31st, up to the arrest of Benina on a subsequent Saturday. On Friday, 26th March, Benina, in sore need of ready money, approaches an old acquaintance, La Pitusa, for financial aid. She secures the loan of two rings which she pawns after giving a solemn undertaking to redeem the pledges and return the jewellery within eight days. On that same Friday she takes Frasquito Ponte, who has suffered a violent seizure, to recover and convalesce at her home in the Calle Imperial. Don Romualdo pays his first call to see Doña Paca on Sunday 28th but, failing to gain admittance, leaves a message that he is setting out for Guadalajara that very afternoon. On the following Tuesday -the 30th- Almudena is struck on the head by a stone, receiving the injury which necessitates his overnight stay with the points-keeper and his wife. On her way home after parting company with him, Benina, mulling over her mounting problems, monetary and otherwise, sadly realises that La Pitusa's jewellery must shortly be redeemed and returned. Her difficulties are further compounded when she learns later that Obdulia has fallen ill with fever and delirium. All these things conspire to beset Benina with anxieties when she goes out to beg at the church of San Sebastián on the morning of the 31st March. In face of adversity heaped upon adversity, time now seems insignificant to her; and its relative unimportance is reflected in its relegation to a secondary plane in the text. This marks the beginning of the «psychological» time of which Casalduero speaks. Nevertheless the march of linear time is not entirely overlooked. A commonsense chronology can be worked out despite the nominal break in temporal continuity.

Benina takes to begging more frequently to increase her meagre income. References made to various mornings, afternoons, and evenings on which she does so show that a number of days have clearly elapsed from March 31st to the end of Chapter XXX. Concurrently Almudena has not recovered as quickly as originally anticipated, so that his overnight stay with the points-keeper has had to be extended over several days. That it is only a matter of days is implied at the beginning of Chapter XXXI. It is stated there (p. 767) that Almudena is back in circulation, having shaken off both the ill-effects of his wound and the worst of the quasi-mystical melancholia which had afflicted him «días antes».

Meanwhile, it has been revealed in Chapter XXX that just prior to this Frasquito Ponte is sufficiently restored to have accompanied Doña Paca on a visit to Obdulia one afternoon; and Obdulia's health is slowly but steadily improving. The supposition must be that this visit, to accord with time factors mentioned earlier and to keep safely within the bounds of medical probability, takes place within a week of Obdulia falling ill -that is, by Monday, April 5th. In which case an additional piece of information supplied in Chapter XXX -that Don Romualdo has arrived back from Guadalajara on the afternoon previous to the visit- would date his likely return by Sunday, April 4th, a week after he had set out.


It is not till Chapter XXXI that Benina gets her first glimpse of Don Romualdo in the flesh «one morning» at the church of San Andrés where Almudena has resumed his begging. This particular morning, in terms of the chronology we have thus far connived at, would fall on or shortly after April 6th. Such a dating would allow an adequate seven days or more for Almudena's recovery and be inconsistent neither with the notion of his illness lasting days rather than weeks nor with the fact of Don Romualdo being about his duties again.

After her sight of Don Romualdo, Benina is thrown into confusion when she mentally compares the persona of the imaginary cleric of her invention with the living priest who is his namesake. She returns home downcast to brood on the nature of reality: «pasaron dos días en esta situación sin más novedad que un crecimiento horroroso de las dificultades económicas» (p. 768; italics mine). At this juncture one of Benina's primary financial worries concerns La Pitusa's jewellery. Her old acquaintance threatens to inform the authorities should her rings not be returned promptly. If it is remembered that Benina pawned the rings on Friday, 26th March with an undertaking to redeem them by Friday, 2nd April, the strident demands of La Pitusa could reasonably be expected to have reached this pitch by Wednesday, 7th Friday, 9th April, the date limits indicated by the provisional chronology postulated.

The next thing which ensues is Benina's arrest «un sábado por la tarde». There is nothing to preclude this Saturday from being the 10th April, a date which fits appropriately enough into the commonsense time-scheme adopted for the period since Wednesday, March 31st. The circumstantial case for this Saturday being April 10th, however, is greatly strengthened by temporal cross-references which are made elsewhere in the novel.

Don Carlos Moreno Trujillo summons Benina to his home at 8:30 on the morning of March 25th to discuss Doña Paca's financial affairs. Having delivered his habitual sermon on the virtues of good book-keeping and judicious control over almsgiving, he allocates certain moneys payable to Doña Paca under strict conditions. He tells Benina: «Le señalo dos duros al mes y todos los días veinticuatro puede usted venir a recogerlos, hasta que se cumplan los seis meses...» (p. 714). It would be quite out of character for Benina (who makes it abundantly clear at all times in the novel that she disdains no alms offered her) to pass up these regular cash instalments153. Yet by the time of her arrest one Saturday afternoon in April for begging in a forbidden area, she has not returned to collect a further allowance nor announced her intention of doing so. Indeed, Galdós emphasises that Benina despairs of human charity during this critical period and that a duro loaned to her by Juliana represents her only income apart from the alms she begs154. Since Benina is under extreme financial pressure, which Trujillo's two duros would do much to alleviate, it must be concluded that this Saturday afternoon falls before April 24th, when the next payment is due.

Of the three available Saturdays between March 31st and April 24th on which Benina could have been taken into custody, two are effectively ruled out in the light of further textual cross-references. Galdós specifies   —93→   that Benina is released from custody on a Sunday, which is definitely not the day immediately following her enforced detention. She is confined in the asilos of San Bernardino and El Pardo for at least a week. If that confinement had begun on Saturday, 17th April, she would still be interned by 24th April, when the next socorro from Trujillo can be claimed. Doña Paca, anxious to find Benina, does not send to enquire of Trujillo whether Benina has appeared at his home to claim the allowance promised her. It cannot be that Paca has forgotten Trujillo's existence in the midst of heady excitement following on the heels of crisis, because she invokes his name and his financial principles regarding the proper administration of her newly acquired funds (p. 777). She makes no allusion to his allowance in connection with Benina, even though -since Antoñito has suppressed his knowledge that Benina is interned- she has no reason to believe that Benina is not free to go and claim the money.

Antoñito visits Benina for the first time at El Pardo on a Monday subsequent to her arrest, though he does not inform her of Paca's inheritance, reserving that information until the Sunday of her release. At the time of her detention Benina's overriding concern, as always, is the practical repercussions of her separation from Doña Paca. When she is released, it is apparent that thoughts of Doña Paca's predicament are still uppermost in her mind, so much so that her reaction to Antonio's news about Doña Paca's change of fortune, on his second visit, is sceptical: «Nina desconfiaba, creyendo que todo era broma del guasón de Antoñito, y que en vez de encontrar a doña Francisca nadando en la abundancia la encontraría ahogándose, como siempre, en un mar de trampas y miserias» (p. 787). Despite this unwavering preoccupation with Doña Paca's plight, Benina herself does not raise the question of Trujillo's duros on either of Antonio's visits. Given her scrupulous attention to detail in all matters concerning the welfare of others, it is to be expected that Benina would remind Antoñito that money is payable to Paca on the 24th so that arrangements can be made for it to be picked up155. That she does not do so is indicative that no such payment is due until after the date of her release and that she must therefore have been arrested before Saturday, April 17th.

Saturday, April 10th is left as the only available Saturday which can realistically be put forward as the date on which Benina is detained. The one preceding it -April 3rd- would simply not allow sufficient time for the various events which have crowded in since March 31st. Besides, it is clearly rendered impossible by another specific time reference made in the course of a subsequent chapter.

It has already been established that once the Saturday of Benina's arrest is reached the action runs on consecutively until the following Monday. On the Sunday immediately after the arrest, Don Romualdo pays his third visit to the Calle Imperial to inform Doña Paca of her inheritance under the will of Rafael García Antrines. During their conversation he states that García Antrines died on February 11th (Chapter XXXII, p. 771). Elsewhere he outlines the terms of the will to Paca and Frasquito Ponte, explaining that the executors, mindful of the parlous financial position of the beneficiaries, have authorised interim monthly payments of fifty duros while the estate   —94→   is being wound up. He adds a little later that two months' payments are now owed them. Two months then have passed since the death of Rafael García Antrines on February 11th; and even if Don Romualdo's words are not construed literally, the Sunday on which he divulges the news of the legacies cannot fall before the 11th April. If, on the other hand, his words are construed literally, it can be asserted that this Sunday is April 11th; and in consequence the previous day on which Benina has been taken into custody is confirmed as Saturday, April 10th. Other remarks made in conversation by Don Romualdo, Doña Paca, and Frasquito Ponte provide extra support for this proposition.

Don Romualdo rounds off his explanation of matters relating to the inheritance with the observation that Doña Paca and Frasquito Ponte would have received their windfall sooner had he not experienced such difficulty in tracking them down. In a statement in which there is an element of deliberate exaggeration he affirms: «Creo que he preguntado a medio Madrid..., y por fin... No ha sido poca suerte encontrar juntas en esta casa a las dos piezas, perdonen el término de caza, que vengo persiguiendo como un azacán desde hace tantos días» (pp. 773-74). The general tone of Don Romualdo's remarks attests to his frustrated desire to discharge his obligations to the legatees at the earliest opportunity. He already knew of Doña Paca's whereabouts by Sunday, March 28th, when he paid his first unsuccessful call on her; and he has been quick to resume his efforts to locate her after his unavoidable absence from Madrid.156 If he has not managed to make contact with her until April 11th, a fortnight after his initial visit, his comment that he has been pursuing his quarry «desde hace tantos días» would contain the appropriate degree of ironic understatement without raising doubts as to his assiduousness in seeking her out.

Doña Paca, bemused by Don Romualdo's denials that Benina is in his employ, questions him to ascertain whether the priest is, in fact, the person of whom she has heard so much from Benina. The mixed affirmative and negative responses which her queries elicit prompt her eventually to ask: «-¿Y tampoco es cierto que hace días le regalaron a usted un conejo de campo?». To which Don Romualdo jocularly replies: «Podría ser..., ja, ja..., pero no recuerdo» (p. 774). Paca's whimsical enquiry recalls an exchange in a dialogue involving herself and Benina which is recounted in Chapter XXII of the novel and which took place on Friday, 26th March (p. 743). That Paca should still retain a clear memory of one of Benina's expedient minor fabrications as something from the recent past lends weight to the view that not much more than a fortnight has passed between the original incident and this retrospective allusion to it.

Frasquito Ponte makes his contribution to the fixing of time limits when the conversation turns to the subject of Benina's conduct. When Doña Paca indignantly refutes Don Romualdo's allegations that Benina has been begging alms and keeping company with Almudena, Ponte, pricked by conscience, is moved to say: «que no hace muchos días, pasando yo por la Plaza del Progreso, la vi sentada al pie de la estatua, en compañía de un mendigo ciego, que por el tipo me pareció... oriundo del Rif» (p. 774). It is on the morning of Friday, March 26th that Benina and Almudena sit together for the second   —95→   time on a bench at the foot of the statue of Mendizábal in the Plaza del Progreso. Yet Ponte -who must here be referring to this particular occasion157- states that he has seen them there only a few days previously. If the Sunday on which he makes this claim cannot fall before April 11th, for reasons given earlier, it surely cannot fall after that date without making a complete nonsense of Ponte's statement.

Benina's arrest one Saturday -in all likelihood the 10th April- signals the end of the first indeterminate period of time in Misericordia. After the arrest in Chapter XXXI, both the conversations which tend to corroborate its dating and further incidents of the plot are contained within a definite time sequence which carries the action of the novel forward over another two days and three chapters. Antoñito, Frasquito Ponte, and Polidura are in the figón de Bota laying plans to secure the release of Benina as Monday evening, and Chapter XXXV, draw to a close. The opening of Chapter XXXVI transfers the reader's attention from this group of characters to Doña Paca and Obdulia, whose respective reactions to aspects of their changed situation, coupled with the ironies of their reciprocal influence on one another, are deftly conveyed by Galdós -but not placed within an immediately apparent time context. This is the second point at which duration and continuity become uncertain in Galdós's text.

Chapter XXXVI begins in the wake of the Zapata family's peripeteia. Doña Paca is, by turns, elated at her good fortune and the presence of her family to share in it, yet disconsolate at being deprived of Benina's company. She accedes to her daughter's request to come and live with her at the Calle Imperial; Obdulia moves in; and they make preparations to set up more permanent and decorous house together elsewhere. How long all this takes and exactly when it occurs remains vague until Paca, infected by Obdulia's mood of wilful extravagance, falls prey to the temptation of acquiring superfluidades dispendiosas. One such luxury is an ornate candelabrum for her dining-room, which she commissions, together with some carpets and pieces of furniture, from Polidura. In the previous chapter of the book both this candelabrum and the other furnishings have already figured as a casual topic in the dialogue at the figón de Bota late on the evening of the Monday after Benina has been taken into custody. Antoñito, talking to Polidura about Juliana, suddenly digresses:

-¡Ah! ya no me acordaba: mi madre quiere comprar una araña...

-¡Una araña!

-Sí, hombre, o lámpara colgante para el comedor. Me ha dicho si sabemos de alguna buena y vistosa, de lance...

-Sí, sí -replicó Polidura-. En la almoneda de la calle de Campomanes la tenemos.

-Otra... También quiere saber si se proporcionarán alfombras de moqueta y terciopelo en buen uso.

-Eso, en la almoneda de la plaza de Celenque. Aquí lo tengo: «Todo el mobiliario de una casa. Horas, de una a tres. No se admiten prenderos».

(p. 781)                

It becomes clear that the happenings briefly summarised in the opening to Chapter XXXVI, and which antedate Paca's expressed desire to possess a candelabrum, must occupy the afternoon and evening of the Monday of this   —96→   dialogic exchange. They are, in effect, largely contemporaneous with the events involving Frasquito Ponte described in far greater detail through Chapters XXXIV and XXXV158.

Monday has seen Obdulia move in with her mother, so that when Galdós mentions the first two days of their new life together he has brought his action forward as far as the Tuesday after Benina's arrest. This is separately substantiated when Galdós makes his second pointed reference to the first two days of their new life together. Galdós lets it be known that on these two days Doña Paca has had to rebuke Frasquito Ponte for his failure to obtain a libro de cuentas which she has asked him to buy for her. But in Chapter XXXIV, Galdós has been careful to include a short discussion between Paca and Frasquito Ponte on Monday afternoon about the advisability of keeping accounts. Paca rounds it off by saying:

-Ya que Dios nos ha favorecido, seamos ordenados; yo me atrevería a rogar a usted que, si no le sirve de molestia y va de compras, me traiga un libro de contabilidad, agenda o como se llame.

And Galdós adds:

¡Pues no faltaba más! No un libro, sino media docena le traería Frasquito con mil amores; y prometiéndolo así, se lanzó a la calle, ávido de aire, de luz, de ver gente, de recrearse en cosas y personas.

(p. 777)                

Galdós then has purposely intimated that it is on Monday that Ponte initially sets out with every intention of performing this service for Doña Paca. It can be deduced, as a result, that the two days on which Paca chides Ponte for being remiss in fulfilling his promise are the Monday and Tuesday following Benina's detention.

The vagueness surrounding the time context at the outset of Chapter XXXVI is dispelled by textual cross-references: part of the action is synchronous with that of earlier chapters; and when the overlap ceases, the action is carried forward to Tuesday, April 13th, the day after the one on which the preceding chapter came to its end.

If continuity has not in fact been sacrificed up to the moment at which Paca taxes Ponte with his forgetfulness for the second time, it appears to be broken immediately thereafter. The motif of the account book is elaborated, and it is stipulated that Ponte makes amends for his oversight -which he blames on his many preoccupations-by arriving home with the book on a subsequent afternoon159. Galdós does not bother to pinpoint where this afternoon stands in time, though the nominal break in continuity does not deter him from reestablishing duration imperturbably in his narrative once it is reached. Thus the action progresses uninterruptedly from the unspecified afternoon of Ponte's shopping expedition into the next day. Paca's scrutiny of Ponte's purchases; Ponte's explanations to satisfy her curiosity about them; the arrival of Juliana and the assertion of her dominant will imperceptibly over Paca; the consequent imposition of Hilaria as criada para todo under the aegis of Juliana, and that of Daniela as a rival doncella at Obdulia's behest -all these things happen within a consecutive   —97→   time span which stretches over the remainder of Chapter XXXVI and part of Chapter XXXVII.

There is no further dislocation of time sequence until Frasquito Ponte has removed from the Calle Imperial to new lodgings at Concepción Jerónima, 37, on the day following his shopping expedition. His imminent change of address has been anticipated by Doña Paca in Chapter XXXVI on the previous afternoon. In response to Juliana's strictures on the «orangután mal pintao» (at present out shopping but still resident in her mother-in-law's household), Paca has observed: «El pobre Ponte se va mañana a su casa de huéspedes» (p. 783). Ponte's departure on schedule in Chapter XXXVII not only validates Paca's prediction but also prefaces the third and final disruption of temporal continuity in the main body of the text of Misericordia. Galdós, while keeping the narrative focus concentrated on Ponte after that worthy has taken leave of Paca, skims rapidly over an indeterminate number of days before settling firmly on a particular, if undated, Sunday: «Fiel a la estimación que a doña Francisca debía, la visitaba Ponte diariamente mañana y tarde, y un sábado anunció para el siguiente domingo la excursión al Pardo, en que se proponía reverdecer sus aficiones y habilidades caballerescas» (p. 786). The ulterior motive for this excursion to El Pardo is to secure the release of Benina from custody. Once the rescue operation has been set in motion, there is a resumption of specific duration and the action runs on continuously from this Sunday to the conclusion of the narrative proper in Chapter XL.

Between the Tuesday after Benina's arrest and the Sunday of her release lies a nebulous area of time whose full extent is indicated directly by Galdós only in part. Yet again an indirect framework of cross-reference is supplied to define the time scale of this section of narrative more closely. The key indicators which insinuate its location in time are set on either side of it at some remove from one another. In Chapter XXXI, Galdós emphasises that Benina despairs of human charity in the critical period just before her arrest; and that a duro loaned to her by Juliana represents her only income apart from the alms she begs. The subject of this duro is revived in Chapter XXXVIII. Juliana, who has played no small part in influencing Paca to reject Benina callously, makes a hollow if well-intentioned gesture to mitigate Benina's sufferings as she ushers her unceremoniously out of Paca's life:

-No se apure, señá Benina, que nada ha de faltarle... Le perdono el duro que le presté la semana pasada, ¿no se acuerda?

-Señora Juliana, sí que me acuerdo. Gracias.

(p. 789)                

In addition to underscoring with savage irony the rank injustice of the treatment of Benina, these remarks fix the overall limits of the undefined period between Benina's detention and her release. If Juliana, on the Sunday of Benina's return to the Calle Imperial, absolves her from repaying a week-old debt incurred before she was interned, that internment itself can only have lasted a week. It is therefore possible to affirm that Benina, who has been taken into custody on Saturday, April 10th, is set at liberty on Sunday, April 18th, and that intervening incidents of seemingly uncertain duration and position in time must occur in the interim between those dates.


With the twin benefits of hindsight and date limits, it is relatively easy to draw up a timetable for these events which Galdós has slyly invested with a temporal vagueness that is more assumed than real. Four days are available to embrace that part of the action which begins «una tarde» in Chapter XXXVI when Frasquito Ponte goes shopping and ends «un sábado» in Chapter XXXVII when he announces his proposed excursion for «el domingo siguiente». Two consecutive days are taken up with matters described in detail from the afternoon of Ponte's shopping expedition to the following morning when he removes to new lodgings. Thereafter Galdós stresses that Ponte returns to visit Doña Paca twice daily up to the Saturday on which he makes his announcement; and this argues that Ponte has departed from the Calle Imperial before Friday. Yet Thursday is the earliest day on which Ponte can have moved house: it is Tuesday when Paca delivers her second rebuke to him for not obtaining an account book; and at least two more days must elapse to accommodate his shopping expedition on a subsequent afternoon as well as the ensuing train of events which persists into the next day. As soon as these constraining factors are taken into consideration the supposedly atemporal section of narrative is revealed as an orderly sequence of incidents which spans the period from Wednesday, April 14th to Saturday, April 18th. The undesignated «una tarde» on which the action purports to have drifted into temporal limbo after the Tuesday succeeding Benina's arrest can only be the afternoon of the next day, Wednesday. The proceedings which fill that afternoon and evening are prolonged into the following day, Thursday. It is on Thursday that Ponte departs for Concepción Jerónima, 37; and it is on Friday and again on Saturday -when he gives notice of his planned trip to El Pardo- that Ponte pays his daily courtesy visits to Doña Paca. The excursion, which takes place on the next day, Sunday, brings the release of Benina and the restoration by Galdós of unequivocal duration and continuity to Misericordia160. The remaining action of the novel (excluding the epilogue) is played out in an uninterrupted flow over Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday (April 18th-April 20th).

Under the veneer of temporal uncertainty deliberately laid by Galdós over his text at certain points, there is a solid infrastructure of time references after Chapter XXX, where, to all intents and purposes, dating has virtually ceased. The evidence presented would suggest that the last ten chapters of Misericordia occupy a time-span of approximately three weeks. Some eleven days must pass between Chapter XXX, when a harassed Benina goes begging on Wednesday, March 31st, and Chapter XXXI, when a crestfallen Benina is arrested on a Saturday which -although Galdós nowhere states it directly- can only be April 10th. Two more days unquestionably go by in the aftermath of that arrest up to the conclusion of Chapter XXXV in the figón de Bota on the evening of Monday, April 12th. A further five days are needed to carry the action forward as far as the imminent release of Benina from custody in Chapter XXXVII, heralded when a high-spirited party of travellers with an order for her discharge has foregathered to make its way to El Pardo on Sunday, April 18th. A final two days are specifically taken up with the dénouement of the main narrative after this fateful Sunday; thus it is that an apoplectic Frasquito Ponte falls from a landing down   —99→   a flight of stairs to bring himself and Chapter XL to an abrupt end on Tuesday, April 20th.

«Psychological» time may, as Casalduero asserts, take precedence over linear time in the latter stages of Misericordia, but linear time is not supplanted nor is chronology simply abandoned. The overt chronology which characterises the first thirty chapters of the novel is substituted thereafter by a covert timing and dating system founded on an interlocking network of direct indicators of duration and indirect temporal cross-references. With the aid of Galdós's system of alternative timekeeping after Chapter XXX, it can be claimed that Misericordia as a whole boasts a finite chronology and that the main narrative action extends over a lunar month from Wednesday, March 24th, the eve of the Annunciation, to Tuesday, April 20th, the day on which the fabric of the building shakes as Ponte falls to his death with an ¡ay! angustioso.

In keeping with the prevailing spirit of Misericordia, the abandonment of chronology in the later part of the book proves to be more apparent than real. Yet Galdós's painstaking provision throughout his work of a time scheme strict enough to admit of the last ten chapters being dated in defiance of a surface texture of temporal vagueness seems strangely at variance with another startling omission to which Casalduero also draws attention: the year in which the novel is set is not indicated. With the precedent of Galdós's oblique chronological technique as a guide, it may be worth questioning whether this is indeed the case. Some readers have sensed a distinctive fin de siglo atmosphere in Misericordia and have presumed that it is a work set, as well as written, in the last decade of the century161. Their intuition is objectively supported by hard evidence to be adduced from Galdós's text.

Benina and Paca are elderly women in their sixties when Galdós embarks on his tale of the world they now inhabit. In the course of a full account of Doña Paca's origins and earlier existence -in Chapters VII-IX- Galdós charts the ups and downs of their long-standing association in four phases. Paca, widowed with slender means and a young family, has acquired the services of Benina by 1870. The two women spend most of their lives together in shared adversity between 1870-1880. From 1880-1885 the balance of their continuing relationship shifts subtly as fresh problems and privations oblige Benina to assume responsibility for the welfare of Paca's benighted household. After 1885 Benina maintains Paca by resorting to a sporadic mendicant life which, years later, she is still pursuing as the current story of Galdós's novel unfolds.

The depiction of the previous association between Benina and Paca in four separate phases has at least three functions: it acts as a sounding-board for the present action; it guarantees that the present action post-dates 1885; and it discloses minutiae which are instrumental in particularising the year of the present action. Details supplied at one level for the purpose of realistic verisimilitude are used at another as parts of a complex of cross-referential corroboratives which cumulatively delimit the main narrative in time.

The biographical sketch of Benina's mistress begins, in Chapter VII, with the information that Doña Paca, now over sixty, was married young to Antonio Zapata, a military man twice her age. She did not set up home   —100→   in Madrid until her husband, who had been on active service in Africa, was posted there after the battle of Wad-Ras (1860) (p. 701). But Doña Paca has already been introduced as an active participant in the story in the previous chapter, where she is in conversation with Benina and where Galdós observes of her that her «acentillo andaluz persistía, aunque muy atenuado, después de cuarenta años de residencia en Madrid» (pp. 698-99; my italics). Unless this remark is consigned arbitrarily to the realm of authorial oversight, it would seem to encourage the reader to assume -given Paca's current age and the year in which she took up residence in Madrid- that the present action of Misericordia is set in the same year as that in which the book was written, 1897162. There are many additional grounds to justify such an assumption.

Galdós reminds us on several occasions that both Paca and Benina are sesentonas; yet when their association begins circa 1870, Paca has «dos hijos de corta edad» (p. 701). Benina, who helps to nurse them through serious illnesses between 1870 and 1880, has to coax them into taking their medicines, keeping quiet, sweating out their fevers and sticking to regular mealtimes -all of which emphasises that Antoñito and Obdulia are still children (p. 702). They do not enter into their turbulent adolescence until the 1880's, wherein a progressive need arises for Doña Paca to move to ever less fashionable addresses in the interests of economy. The family had already forsaken the Calle de Claudio Coello for Olmo in 1880 (p. 702), and from 1880-1885, «Fue preciso hacer nuevas mudanzas, buscando la baratura, y del Olmo pasaron al Saúco, y del Saúco al Almendro» (p. 703). It is in the Calle del Olmo (and in Chapter VIII) that Obdulia first strikes up her teenage relationship with Luquitas, son of an undertaker and indolent university student, who lives opposite. Their love affair survives the hostility of both sets of parents until their enforced marriage. When they run away together, Obdulia is no longer living in Olmo but in Almendro (p. 705). This places the elopement at the end of the period 1880-1885, by which time Obdulia has not attained her majority. Scarcely had Doña Paca recovered from her disappointment at having to agree to her daughter's shotgun wedding when her older son, Antoñito, «entró en quintas». As if to confirm that he is on the verge of manhood, after he has been fortunate enough to draw a high number in the sorteo and remain «de reserva», he announces his intention to marry with or without his mother's consent. Earlier snippets of information about Antoñito's upbringing demonstrate that this cannot realistically occur before 1885. The decline of his behaviour into delinquency runs in tandem with the decline of the family fortunes through the changes of residence from Olmo to Saúco to Almendro. It is stated that at sixteen he was prepared shamelessly to deceive Paca and Benina, while at nineteen he had got into bad company and was totally beyond their control (p. 703). Since he cannot figure in the call-up lottery or marry without permission until he is in his twenty-first year, and it is shortly after the draw has been made that he declares his plans for matrimony, a five-year span of his life is involved from a starting-date after 1880. In the light of this primary and ancillary evidence, it is clear that Doña Paca gives birth to her children in the late 1860's. Because she is herself over sixty when her enduring relationship with Benina is approaching   —101→   its distressing conclusion, the probability that the present action of Misericordia is set in 1897 is enhanced. Even on the basis of such a dating Paca would not have become a mother until approximately the age of thirty. While her child-bearing years might stretch well beyond this limit, it does not seem likely that someone married young to a much older man of sufficient means would have deferred having a family until she was on the threshold of middle age. Galdós does not indicate directly whether or not Paca bore her children comparatively late in life; instead he confirms by other means that she was thirty or so when she started her family.

In Chapter XXV Frasquito Ponte, previously brought by Benina to the Calle Imperial to recuperate after his seizure, unwittingly piques Doña Paca into a fit of jealousy by displaying a deferential coolness towards her which stands in sharp contrast to his unqualified, grateful praise of her criada. At bedtime, feeling rancorous, Paca reproaches Benina for bewitching their invalid guest. She taunts her companion with the errors of her ways in their chequered past together and with her failure to disabuse Ponte of his illusions about her. Having first deplored her servant's propensity for petty theft, Paca goes on, in Chapter XXVI, to chide Benina for her moral laxity: «Confiesa tu grave falta de aquellos tiempos cuando contabas treinta y cinco años..., y ten valor para decirle: "Señor don Frasquito, yo quise a un guardia civil que se llamaba Romero, el cual me tuvo trastornada más de dos años, y al fin se negó a casarse conmigo..."» (p. 753). When no verbal response is forthcoming from Benina, Paca pursues her carping theme. She recalls various aspects of the love affair, insisting that she needs no one to tell her about it since she was a witness to it all. Benina was working for her, so that Paca has first-hand knowledge of most, but not all, of the story. For instance, she did not know whether there was any substance in the rumour that Benina had borne a child by her lover, a rumour which Benina firmly and tersely denies (p. 753).

It will be remembered that Benina and Paca are of an age and that the former does not enter the latter's service until 1870. As Benina was in Paca's employ during the foregoing love affair, it follows inexorably that the servant -and, by extension, her mistress- are in their mid-thirties only after that date. Paca is certain that the affair lasted over two years but uncertain as to whether Benina became pregnant or not. It is hard to believe that such a pregnancy, running to its full term, would not have become readily apparent -unless the two women were separated for a time. Chapter VII informs us that they are estranged on two occasions between 1870 and 1880 when «cuestiones agrias entre ama y sirviente» result in dismissals for Benina (p. 701). Her second dismissal comes at the end of this period: she is fired and reinstated within the year in which Paca's family suffers that «bajón tremendo» in its finances which precipitates the move, at Benina's instigation, to the Calle del Olmo (p. 702). Her first dismissal comes much earlier in this period: the children are young enough to miss her to the extent of crying over her departure; and it is said of them that they are «pequeñuelos locos de alegría» on her return three months later (p. 702). Either temporary separation of Benina from the Zapata family would plausibly account for Paca being unsure whether an illegitimate child had been the by-product of   —102→   her servant's emotional entanglement in her mid-thirties. In particular, if Benina's first dismissal coincides with her alleged pregnancy, it would argue chronologically for Paca being thirty-five in the early 1870's and having her own children in the late 1860's at about the age of thirty. Equally it would not militate against the two women being over sixty in 1897, thereby strengthening the case for that year as a tenable date for the present action of Misericordia.

That case is substantiated by other cross-linking material relating to the same sequence of events. It is established (p. 701) that Benina joins Paca shortly after her spendthrift new mistress has been widowed. Galdós forebears to mention the year in which Antonio Zapata has died of pneumonia «el Viernes Santo por la tarde». This lacuna is filled later in the novel when a discussion takes place from which it can be deduced that Zapata must have died in 1869. In Chapter XXIII Paca questions Frasquito Ponte guardedly about Don Francisco Morquecho and Don José María Porcell (two figures from her past life who have appeared to her in a prophetic dream to apprise her that Ponte and her two children are beneficiaries under the will of the late Pedro José García de los Antrines, her husband's uncle). Frasquito, to whom Paca is careful not to reveal her dream, dredges up from the depths of his memory the fact that García de los Antrines «se había muerto el año de la Revolución» (i. e., 1868)163. He also confirms, in response to a further query from Paca, that don Francisco Porquecho and don José María Porcell were indeed the executors of the will of her husband's uncle. Previously, in Chapter XXII, while conversing with Benina, Paca has recalled that these executors «se murieron hace treinta años, cuando yo era novia de Antonio» (p. 744). Several inferences can be drawn from all this. Since Paca was still married in 1868, Antonio Zapata could not have died before that year. Furthermore, since she does not associate her husband's death with the demise of his relative, García de los Antrines, it becomes unlikely that Don Antonio died during 1868. On the other hand, it is incontestable that Benina, who did not enter Paca's service until after her husband's death, had joined Paca by 1870. The conclusion that Zapata «pasó a mejor vida» in 1869 seems therefore unexceptionable. More importantly, the events of 1868 are retained in the mind of Paca (and of Frasquito) as memories of thirty years ago. This betokens yet again that the past is being viewed retrospectively from the vantage point of 1897.

If Frasquito Ponte's recollections of certain incidents at a remove of several decades serve a significant chronological purpose in this instance, they give a comparably valuable guide to dating elsewhere. The eerily prophetic dream of Doña Paca is transmuted into a kind of reality when Don Romualdo arrives, in Chapter XXXII, to break the news of her inheritance from the late Rafael Antrines, son of José García de los Antrines. Don Romualdo, reminiscing about Rafael, reveals to Paca that his friend of many years' standing died on the 11th of February in the present year at the age of 55 (pp. 771-72). In the following chapter, Don Romualdo repeats the news of Rafael's demise to Frasquito Ponte, also a beneficiary under the will of the deceased, to which Ponte responds: «-¿Falleció?... ¡Ay, no lo sabía!... ¡Pobre Rafaelito! Cuando yo estuve en Ronda el año 56, poco antes   —103→   de la caída de Espartero, él era un niño, tamaño así» (p. 772). These separately remembered but equally specific time references from Don Romualdo and Frasquito Ponte, respectively, dovetail to show that Rafael Antrines, who had died in February aged 55, was only a lad in 1856. The dating of the current action in 1897 would make Rafael Antrines an acceptable fourteen years of age when Ponte was in Ronda shortly before the fall of Espartero164.

Even if Galdós had not enabled his readers to deduce from this system of biographical cross-referencing that the action of Misericordia is set in 1897, his evocation of fin de siglo Madrid is studded with sufficient topical allusions for such an assumption to be made.

In Chapter I, the blind beggar Pulido muses about the savage drop in the charity dispensed to underprivileged persons like himself. He privately laments that while there are still individuals prepared to succour the needy, what with subscriptions for victims, charitable organisations, and press campaigns, the will to give has been sapped from the majority of almsgiving Christians. These remarks are far from being general and casual. The newspapers El Imparcial and El Heraldo had opened appeals in 1896 for the victims injured and maimed in active service in Cuba, where the native population was rebelling and trying to throw off Spanish rule. The newspapers considered it a disgrace that no compensation was being offered by the government to soldiers wounded in the service of their country and, in many cases, incapacitated for life with no prospects of gainful employment. They invited subscriptions from the general public to a fund set up to alleviate the hardships of ex-servicemen and their families. The grumble of Pulido is given added force when it is realised that by March 24th, 1897 (which is the date when he makes his observations, if the novel is accepted as being set in that year) El Imparcial was reporting that it had collected the sizeable sum of 915,454.46 pesetas. Not only that, but the other claims on people's purses of which Pulido complains were also real enough in 1897. Poverty was widespread and organisations, run mostly by wealthy aristocratic and middle-class ladies to salve their consciences and make them feel they were fulfilling their Christian duties, proliferated. One critic of such organisations at the time wondered why the ladies who formed the committee of the conferencias de San Vicente de Paúl did not bother to visit their establishments to see for themselves the abuses that were going on there in the name of charity165. Pulido does not mention that organisation by name, but another character, the waspish beggarwoman La Burlada, does. In Chapter III she implies that Eliseo Martínez is profiting from the sufferings of the poor because he has made an arrangement with the ladies under which his rent is paid and his wife takes in their ironing: «ten también metimiento con las señoras de la Conferencia, para que te paguen la casa o la cédula, y den plancha de fino a tu mujer...» (p. 692). Such allusions have a distinct fin de siglo ring to them, as do others made in seemingly throwaway lines in the text.

In describing Frasquito Ponte's appearance in Chapter XVI, Galdós refers to his ancient and lovingly preserved top-hat, of which he says, in passing, that it was so old it was almost modern (p. 725). This theme is reiterated in Chapter XXXV when Antoñito chaffs Ponte about his antiquated   —104→   headgear, referring to it in pejorative terms and urging him to pension it off. Ponte retorts that yesterday's fashions are constantly being revived. La Ilustración Española y Americana published a brief article on the 30th January 1897 about the centenary celebrations overseas for the top-hat. The article comments that in Spain

La plebe le denigraba con los nombres de chistera, chapeo, gabina, y otros que en nuestra juventud nos parecían denigrantes. Sabido es el motín contra el sombrero de copa y su fracaso, no obstante capitanearlo D. Sebastiano Olózaga y escritores de nombradía... Los que en Londres se rieron del extravagante que se puso con un sombrero de esa forma delante de su casa, no sabían que se burlaban del signo y representación del siglo XIX. ¿Qué sombrero le destronará en el siglo XX?

These remarks are close in spirit to those in Misericordia, and the attention drawn to Ponte's chisterómetro underscores the topical reference to 1897166.

Another throwaway line in the text occurs in Chapter II when Galdós is describing the routine of Carlos Trujillo on his daily round of visits to hear Mass and dispense ritual alms to various groups of the poor. Trujillo invariably stops to chat with co-adjutor or sacristan about the weather, how bad times are, and why the water of the Lozoya is cloudy. That last innocuous subject of conversation refers to a Madrid phenomenon that was much discussed at the end of the century. The water supply to Madrid was woefully inadequate. One of the main sources was the river Lozoya, but it was a notoriously undependable one. It tan over reddish clays so that after a dry summer, when the levels dropped, the winter rains which replenished it washed in deposits which made it very cloudy and often undrinkable. This is what happened after deluges in January of 1897. Under the heading «La turbia» El Imparcial reported that

La dirección del Canal ha hecho circular el siguiente aviso: «Desde hace algunos días se encuentra completamente turbia el agua del río Lozoya, y estando para agotarse la que contienen los depósitos, tendrá que darse en el estado que venga desde el domingo próximo».

(January 9th, 1897)                

Regular bulletins on the state of the water-supply were issued by the press: there was good reason for Trujillo to make the Lozoya a topic of his small talk in Misericordia.

The same applies to a different kind of allusion which is made in Chapter XXXVII. When Antoñito and Frasquito Ponte go with others to secure Benina's release from El Pardo, incidents involving bicycles figure prominently. Although bicycles were not commonplace among the lower classes in Spain before 1900, contemporary magazines show that there was widespread general interest in the latest developments of the machine. In the early months of 1897, they carried illustrated reports about the introduction of the pneumatic tyre, as well as technical information regarding designs for front forks, new transmission devices such as gears, and improvements in braking systems. More significantly, one article observes that there are cycling competitions for both amateur and professional championships currently being staged in Spain. This lends a contemporary relevance to Galdós's comments   —105→   about the «match» between Ponte and his horse and the bicycle riders. When he says: «Uno de los ciclistas, que era campeón laureado, iba y venía, adelantándose a los otros, y todos corrían más veloces que el jamelgo de Frasquito» (p. 786), there is a precision in the observations which relates closely to technological developments and a popular pastime at the turn of the century167.

One of the most intriguing of all the end-of-century references -because it is totally unlikely and unexpected- comes in the conversations between Frasquito Ponte and Obdulia much earlier in the book (Chapter XVIII). They reminisce as Ponte recalls life in his heyday thirty to forty years previously. It does not seem that this evocation of mid-century can be anything to do with the fin de siglo as Ponte remembers the Empress Eugénie and her family life at the palacio in the Plaza del Ángel before she married. It is apparently no more than a nostalgic reliving of the past as an excuse to flatter Obdulia by saying she reminds him of Eugenia de Montijo. Yet nostalgia was in the air in 1897. Blanco y Negro ran a series entitled «Crónicas Retrospectivas» in the belief that its readership would be interested in an earlier epoch in which there was a touch of glamour missing from the contemporary scene. On the 23rd of January a lengthy article appeared about the Salones de Madrid, with illustrations of some of the leading society ladies. This included a section on the salon of the Condesa del Montijo in the Plaza del Ángel during its apogee, which Ponte's reminiscences distantly echo168. A wistful look at a bygone era of splendour was a feature of life in 1897 which Galdós incorporated skilfully and unobtrusively into Misericordia.

If Pulido grumbling about the decline in the level of charity in Chapter I cues the reader in to topical events, in Chapter XV he provides further insights into current affairs when, together with the burrero, he conveys some of the latest news to Benina: «y ambos le dieron dos noticias muy malas: que iba a subir el pan y que había bajado mucho la bolsa, señal lo primero de que no llovía, y lo segundo de que estaba al caer una revolución gorda, todo porque los artistas pedían las ocho horas y los amos no querían darlas» (p. 723). Pulido and the burrero are speaking at the end of March. There had indeed been a hot dry spell since February; bread prices were constantly rising; there were fluctuations on the Stock Exchange; and the battle over working conditions and limitation of hours was already being fought in 1897. A few lines later the burrero adds «que pronto se quitaría todo el dinero metálico y no quedaría más que papel» (p. 723). Not only has the increase of paper money in circulation at the end of the century been mentioned by historians, but Blanco y Negro, on the 20th February 1897, carried an ironic piece headed «La nueva moneda de oro de cien pesetas», in which official reluctance to release the new coinage was noted169.

Galdós has created, with almost clinical accuracy, in what are little more than asides in his story, a powerful impression of fin de siglo life. There are a host of other corroborative topical allusions scattered throughout the text of Misericordia. One more at least deserves a mention because it effectively confirms that the current action of the novel must take place in 1897.

La Burlada, in her ungrateful diatribe against Eliseo Martínez in Chapter III, reminds him sarcastically of the circumstances in which he had encouraged   —106→   her to come and beg at the Church of San Sebastián: «Cuando me cogió el coche en la calle de la Luna..., fue el día que llevaron a ese señor de Zorrilla... pues como digo, mes y medio estuve en el hespital, y cuando salí, tú, viéndome sola y desamparada, me dijiste: "Señá Flora, ¿por qué no se pone a pedir en un templo, quitándose de la santimperie, y arrimándose al cisco de la religión?"» (p. 691). The «señor de Zorrilla» to whom she refers is the dramatist José Zorrilla, who died in 1893. His mortal remains were removed from their resting place and transferred to Valladolid three years later: «El Municipio vallisoletano cumplió la última voluntad de Zorrilla trasladando sus restos a la ciudad castellana desde la Sacramental de San Justo, donde yacían, el 2 de mayo de 1896»170. Since La Burlada does not take up begging at San Sebastián on her own admission until a month and a half after this event (i. e., in June 1896), it seems an inescapable conclusion that the unspecified March in which we encounter her in conversation with Eliseo Martínez and others is, in fact, March of the following year, 1897.

Galdós, while never explicitly mentioning the year in which the current action of Misericordia takes place, is nevertheless able to convey adequately to the reader that it is 1897. His use of what can best be described as a temporal grid map, on which the present can be located by measuring off from various fixed points in the past, offers one means of dating; the incorporation of topical fin de siglo allusions into his text, another. A third is concealed within the apparently motiveless convention of specifying the day of the week as well as the date of the month on which current incidents occur, until Chapter XXX of the novel. When Galdós is largely to abandon overt timekeeping thereafter, it seems incongruous that he should be concerned to state that his story begins on Wednesday, 24th March and to trace its development day by named day through to Wednesday, 31st March. It seems doubly incongruous when he nowhere reveals the year to which this chillingly precise calendar of events belongs. But just as Galdós's meticulous dating of many sections of his narrative enabled an accurate estimate to be made of the place in time of the remaining chapters in defiance of their calculated impression of vagueness, so the naming of the day of the week in conjunction with the date of the month obliquely identifies the year of the current action which Galdós refrains from acknowledging directly. The Almanack for 1897 gives proof that the 24th of March fell on a Wednesday and that the subsequent series of days and dates recorded in Misericordia tally with it exactly. Such a congruence is not to be found in any other year throughout the 1890's. Because of the regularly changing annual chronological cycle which characterises the perpetual calendar, the 24th March had not fallen on a Wednesday since as far back as 1886 nor would do so again until 1909. The weight of evidence presented earlier demands a year in the 1890's to accommodate the present action of Misericordia: the only one which is fully consistent with the detailed date references given by Galdós in his text is 1897. In the absence of any real grounds for believing that these references are anachronistic or that their use is purely arbitrary, the conclusion must be that they offer a reliable guide to the specific year in which the narrative is set and that the year concerned is 1897.


Galdós, in Misericordia, has gone to great lengths to devise a beguiling chronology which, like the Church of San Sebastián described in the opening to the novel, has dos caras. Clock time is contrasted with time estimated subjectively in the mind. The primary focus changes from the one to the other as traumatic experiences upset the familiar daily routine, heighten the sense of unreality, and dull the horological awareness of the main participants in the story. One practical effect of this is to create the illusion of «tiempo psicológico» superseding linear time in the latter stages of the work. While that illusion is important -particularly as regards the underscoring of Benina's transition from the temporal to the spiritual plane- it does not, pace Casalduero, entirely obscure the reality of the clock-face.

It must be presumed, in consequence, that Galdós fully intended that his readers, unlike his principal characters, should remain acutely aware of the passage of time, work out a timetable of events, and relate it to the year in which his novel is set, 1897. Any reader who does so immediately becomes conscious that the action of Misericordia, appropriately, coincides with important events in the religious calendar. As stated at the outset of this study, the narrative begins on the eve of the immovable Feast of the Annunciation (March 24th). It runs on continuously from that date through Holy Week -which in 1897 fell between the 11th and 18th of April- reaching its conclusion on Easter Tuesday (April 20th). The epilogue takes place a month or so later, bringing it close in time to the Days of Rogation and Ascension Day. There are a number of suggestive links between incidents in the narrative and the religious festivals and Saints' days against whose tacit background they are played out. Provisionally it can be stated that in Misericordia Galdós has reverted, albeit in a far more subtle and tangential way, to a practice adopted in Gloria and elsewhere of establishing loose parallels between his fiction and the celebration of the great Christian mysteries. He has deliberately drawn on both the Gospel Cycle and the Saints' Cycle -the former associated with the life and works of Christ, the latter with the spread of Christianity after the gift of the Holy Ghost- in constructing his story. Such parallels add important overtones to the text, overtones which may ultimately be of as much help in elucidating its meaning as the realisation that «psychological» time takes precedence over linear time in the latter stages of the work171.

Galdós does not need to be defended against the charge of chronological imprecision in Misericordia. As has been demonstrated, far from losing interest in accurate timekeeping after Chapter XXX, he takes the utmost care to maintain a dual temporal perspective in which time perceived subjectively and objectively run in tandem. The tension between the two is imaginatively exploited to give extra resonance to his story of a contemporary secular saint whose experiences privately at the hands of insensitive, uncomprehending ingrates in March and April of 1897 reflect those of Our Lord and His Saints publicly being commemorated, offstage as it were, by the nominally Christian community of which she is a part.

University of Bristol

Anterior Indice Siguiente