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ArribaAbajoArtifacts and effigies: the Porreño househoid revisited

Chad C. Wright

Y... la casa declaraba con el expresivo lenguaje de las cosas...

Pérez Galdós, Tristana.                

Me entretenía viendo... algunas cosas grotescas que nos ha legado el prosaico siglo XVIII...

Pérez Galdós, La Fontana de Oro                

Beginning with Chapter Fourteen of his first published novel, La Fontana de Oro (1868), Pérez Galdós presents the eccentric house of the three Porreño women, with which every Galdós scholar is familiar. The Porreño house is many things -a museum, a cathedral, a prison, a warehouse of the past, and an architectural representation of the eighteenth century. Galdós' creation of the Porreño house is important for various reasons; it is the prototype of many other Galdosian houses in subsequent novels, it reflects his use of symbolism which Casalduero, among others, has discussed;7 and it shows Galdós' initial use of effigies and artifacts -a device which he may have learned from his «maestro», Charles Dickens -8 as vital parts of this early setting. The Porreño house in La Fontana de Oro contains a swarm of living, commenting, spectral, sinister «things» which inhabit the limbo between death and life. Among these effigies and artifacts one must consider the three Porreño women themselves, Salomé, Paz, and doña Paulita.

For purposes of this discussion, the words «effigy» (which Galdós uses often in La Fontana de Oro) and «artifact» refer to the quasi-human background of the Porreño house: the furniture, the pictures, the statuary, the house itself. John Carey has written that «the effigy, the picture, the thing with human lineaments which watches, paralysed and dumb» in Dickens' novels «supplies a major imaginative level... which interacts with the human beings just as importantly as the human beings react to each other».9 From his earliest writings, Galdós shows an almost Dickensian obsession with the «things» of life; the journalistic writings of his youth are crowded with the imagery of effigies and artifacts.10 In La Fontana de Oro, he provides an extra stratum of reality through his inclusion of humanized furniture and furniturized humans; he does this in a way which is innovative and perhaps revolutionary in Hispanic letters of the nineteenth century. By vivifying things and reifying life, Galdós creates at once an affinity and a tension between the two realms.11 Although the staging of a particular scene in the novel may be outwardly as static as a retablo, the constant relationship between the animate and the inanimate objects makes the scene spring into an eery semblance of life.   —14→   Through the restless ambience which Galdós provides, the reader is beguiled into seeing the inanimate world itself in revolution in this «libro con cierta tendencia revolucionaria», as Galdós called La Fontana de Oro.12

Galdós' imagination was singularly visual, as various recent studies have pointed out.13 As well as feeding his readers' «hearing imagination», Galdós also provides a feast for their «seeing imagination», to borrow Henry James' terms.14 John Dixon Hunt has written of Dickens that he «frequently evades the normal verbal mode of explaining ideas in favour of visualizing them, often with facetious fantasy».15 A similar tendency to visualize ideas can be found in Galdós, who in this early novel sketches his characters in broad, satiric strokes, as if for a cartoon. His great concern for the outward aspects of his characters and their milieux is perhaps due to his inability at the time of La Fontana de Oro to create what Forster would call a truly «round» character. Carey has noted that in Dickens «the rich proliferation of physical peculiarities» often «takes the place of the conventional novelistic 'inner life'...»16 One could say the same of Galdós' early writing. Perhaps sensing an awkwardness in his still cartoon-like characters, Galdós has complemented them with a physically peculiar ambience which echoes them and often speaks for them. Ironically, the milieu of this early novel usually seems more vivid and dynamic than the characters. Indeed, the various settings of the novel -the Porreño house and don Elías' house, particularly - serve almost as architectural villains in the novel: they surround, imprison, repress, confine, and attempt ultimately to absorb the characters.17

The Porreño house itself is of course the most obvious «artifact» in the novel. In Dickens' Little Dorrit, Arthur Clennam's mother looks around the tiny quarters which she now occupies and declares sadly to her son, «The world has narrowed to these dimensions, Arthur».18 Galdós uses such imagery of confinement or reduction to heighten the effect of La Fontana de Oro. Houses in Galdós almost never «fit» their inhabitants: they are either much too large, so that the furniture seemingly cowers in the middle of room, intimidated (as in La de Bringas), or, conversely, the rooms are much too small for the imposing furniture, as in La Fontana de Oro. The very walls of Galdós' houses can become exoskeletons of the inhabitants, reflecting their poverty, spiritual or physical.19 The Galdosian world is often made up of «venidos a menos», people who have suffered great personal failures (and who usually represent, on a symbolic level which permeates all of Galdós' writings, the failures of political causes); these people find themselves in literally straitened circumstances: a too-small house or a squalid upstairs room. Often they are examples of what might be called the «irony of inhabiting» -the contrast between the size of the house and the importance of the inhabitant.20 La Fontana de Oro is no exception. Many of its characters are indeed «venidos a menos». The three Porreño women have nothing left but the tangible past in the form of their tattered furniture, which they cling to tenaciously, and a house which is too small for their grotesque collection of belongings. They are of noble descent, but find themselves impoverished and living ignobly in the early nineteenth century -a century in which they feel most uncomfortable and out of place. They represent, symbolically, the eighteenth century as it anachronistically continues into the nineteenth century. After the death of the last male Porreño (the heir of some fourteen generations of Porreños), the women have moved all their inherited belongings into the house on Belén Street, where a full two-thirds   —15→   of the living area is occupied by ancient relics and pieces of deteriorated furniture. The second floor is a veritable museum or artifacts exiled from the previous century into the austerity of the Porreño's house. Ironically, it is to that second floor, so crowded with ancient furniture that walking there is impossible, that Don Elías brings the young exaltado Lázaro later in the novel as a virtual prisoner.

The exterior of this symbolic house is shabby and unprepossessing. Only the escutcheon of the Porreño family (with its «tres véneros relucientes» ironically emblematic of the three surviving Porreño women) hanging over the door denotes any pretense of nobility. Once inside the house, however, the walls spring to a macabre life with a multitude of Porreño ancestors, extending back nearly as far as the history of Spain, into the recesses of the distant past. One is reminded of the formidable portraits on the walls of Chesney Wold in Dickens' Bleak House. These portraits in the Porreño house stand as sentinels in the antesala, leaving space for little else.

Pictures, which are always important in Galdós' novels, are especially important as effigies in La Fontana de Oro. In her indispensable study of symbolism, Susanne K. Langer notes that pictures, more than being just embellishments of a room, can be actively hostile, positive focal points, or completely dissociated from their surroundings.21 Ortega y Gasset has found the framed pictures on a wall to be «una abertura de irrealidad que se abre mágicamente en nuestro contorno real». He adds that such pictures «tienen... algo de ventana...». Often «los lienzos pintados son agujeros de idealidad perforados en la muda realidad de las paredes, boquetes de inverosimilitud a que nos asomamos por la ventana benéfica del marco».22 In Galdós' novel, the pictures on the walls go even beyond mere representations of Porreño ancestors. More than windows into the past, they call to mind funeral caskets, the lids thrown open for view.

In the antesala of the Porreño house, for example, we have this remarkable scene describing the paintings which people the walls in such a way that the walls themselves are hardly visible:

Por un lado se veía a un antiguo prócer del tiempo del Rey nuestro señor don Felipe III, con la cara escuálida, largo y atusado bigote, barba puntiaguda, gorguera de tres filas de canjilones, vestido negro con sendos golpes de pasamanería, cruz de Calatrava, espada de rica empuñadura, escarcela y cadena de la Orden teutónica; a su lado una dama de talle estirado y rígido, traje acuchillado; gran faldellín bordado de plata y oro, y también enorme gorguera, cuyos blancos y simétricos pliegues rodeaban el rostro como una aureola de encaje. Por otro lado, descollaban las pelucas blancas, las casacas bordadas y las camisas de chorrera: allí una dama con un perrito que enderezaba airosamente el rabo: acullá una vieja con su peinado de dos o tres pisos, fortaleza de moños, plumas y arracadas: en fin, la galería era museo de trajes y tocados, desde los más sencillos y airosos hasta los más complicados y extravagantes.23

Note that the personages in the portraits are relatively unimportant: what is important is their clothing, their jewelry, their medals, their wigs, their assorted vestments. Empty clothes, according to Carey, are perhaps the most common effigies of all in Dickens' repertoire.24 Clothing is very important also in Galdós' writings, whether worn or empty.25 Galdós seems fascinated by the processes of decay, and often describes clothing which survives the human processes of disintegration. The faces of the personages wearing the clothes in the Porreños' portraits are barely described, yet their apparel is lavishly detailed. The irony is obvious: the painted people are practically non-existent apart from their rich   —16→   trappings. To further emphasize this person-less portraiture, Galdós informs us that «algunos de estos venerandos cuadros estaban agujereados en la cara: otros habían perdido el color, y todos estaban sucios, corroídos y cubiertos con ese polvo clásico que tanto aman los anticuarios». (FO, 73) The figures in the paintings seem to have died and decayed within their very frames, just as living persons must die and decay: the hanging pictures thus become grotesque visions of a dead and rotting past, of which only the splendor of gold medallions and velvet survives. They are among the most salient aspects of the decaying Porreño house, which is itself a «sepulcro», as doña Paulita says late in the novel. (FO, 186)

In addition to the paintings, Galdós masterfully creates the strongly ironic atmosphere of the Porreño house through oddments of furniture. Perhaps more than any other Spanish writer, Galdós could be called, to borrow Bachelard's term, a «poet of furniture».26 Chapter Fifteen of La Fontana de Oro, entitled «Las tres ruinas», is a descriptive tour de force for Galdós: it is a veritable catalogue of effigies and artifacts of various sorts. Galdós guides us through the rooms of the Porreño house, showing us a cluttered, faded splendor reminiscent of Miss Havisham's house in Great Expectations: the rooms have the same ancient dust, the same physical representations of vanished hopes. The reader appropriately has been introduced to the strange eccentricities of the house before meeting the three women, and when the women do appear, they seem adjuncts to the furnishings themselves.

Each piece of furniture in the house is important: it is a character, however minor. Just as buildings, in an architectural sense, are the inhabitants of cities, so furniture in Galdós' writings represents the citizenry of the house. Even in his later, more polished works, Galdós relates important events indirectly through the furniture of his characters.27 Galdós is fond of furniture which connotes emptiness, vacuity, or general decay. Inanimate objects, as Graham Greene has pointed out, make more poignant the ravages of time in human affairs, for they change at an even faster rate than humans.28 But even in its decrepit condition, furniture endures, mocking the fragility of human existence. In Howard's End, one of E. M. Forster's characters sees the end of the world as a «desert of chairs and sofas... rolling through infinity with no one to sit upon them».29 In La Fontana de Oro, the furniture has endured for centuries while the pompous Porreños of the past have now mouldered away.

In the Porreños' rooms are to be found «roperos sin ropa, jaulas sin pájaros, y arrinconado en la pared, un biombo de cuatro dobleces, mueble que, entre lo demás, tenía no sé qué de alborotado y juvenil» (FO, 74). Among the forlorn furnishings such as the birdless cages (reminiscent of Dickens' bird cages)30 and the clothingless wardrobes is the dressing screen which evokes a feeling of incongruously youthful modesty. In these few lines, Galdós has sketched not only the emptiness of the Porreño household (everything is ironic: the cage is empty, the wardrobe is empty) and the latent sensuality everpresent in the house of the three old maids (the girlish dressing screen); he has also foreshadowed the violent love which Paulita cannot hide for Lázaro. The above-mentioned items of furniture all indicate her willingness to flee (empty closet) with Lázaro, thus escaping (like a bird from its cage), into the world of passion and romance (the romantic dressing screen).

In the description of doña Paulita's derelict marriage bed, Galdós is at the   —17→   height of his genius as a caricaturist. Nothing could be more ironic in the household of the three maiden women than such an imposing bed. Galdós suggests a multitude of ideas through this singular piece of furniture. Immediately the reader thinks of the generations of Porreños which he has just seen in the antesala; the bed is both the place of conception and the place of death for those generations of ancestors. The presiding bed marks the two preoccupations of the poor doña Paulita: her frustrated maidenliness and her veneration of the past (as shown, in part, in her religious devotion). The symbol of the bed makes the reader reflect on the sterility of the Porreño house and the life which the three women lead; the bed represents in an ironic fashion doña Paulita's late-blooming sensuality after a lifetime of religious withdrawal. The conjugal joys of matrimony have not been a part of her life -yet the bed is enshrined in her quarters as the primary article of furniture. This bed represents doña Paulita and the other Porreño women, past the prime of wifehood; the frayed, tattered, and time-tarnished curtains and the faded tapestries represent the vanished charms of the women. They are gradually sinking into the framed oblivion of their ancestors in the antesala. The bed is a forlorn monument -a grotesque epitaph - to their own unfulfilled histories. Many of Galdós' later noveis will have beds as important symbols, but none will surpass this early, highly representational bed.

Every aspect of the remaining furniture refers us to the past, in a most ironic fashion:

Junto a la cama campeaba un sillón de vaqueta claveteado, testigo mudo del pasado de tres siglos. Sobre aquel cuero perdurable se habían sentado los gregüescos acairelados de un gentilhombre de la casa del Emperador; recibió tal vez las gentiles posaderas de algún padre provincial, amigo de la casa: quizás sostuvo los flacos muslos de algún familiar del Santo Oficio en los buenos tiempos de Carlos II, y, por último había sido honroso pedestal de aquellas humanidades que llevan un rabo en el occipucio y aparecían constantemente aforradas en la chupa y ensartadas en el espadín.

No lejos de este monumento se encontraban dos o tres arcones, de ésos que tienen cerraduras semejantes a las de las puertas de una fortaleza, y eran verdaderas fortalezas, donde se depositaban los patacones, y donde se sepultaba la vajilla, la plata de familia, las alhajas y joyas de gran precio: pero ya no había en sus antros ningún tesoro, a no ser dos o tres docenas de pesos que dentro de un calcetín guardaba doña Paz para los gastos de la casa.

(FO, 73-74)                

Among the other ironic pieces of furniture are religious artifacts, maimed by time and the reshuffling of history. There is «un San Antonio muy viejo y carcomido, con un vestido flamante y una vara de flores de reciente hechura» (FO, 73). The most conspicuous painting in the house is «un lienzo místico de pura escuela toledana» which has as its focal point «la Virgen con Santo Domingo, arrodillado: y no tenía más defecto sino que en el sitio donde el pintor había puesto la cabeza del santo, puso la humedad un agujero muy profano y feo» (FO, 74). With grim irony, Galdós adds, «Pero a pesar de esto, el lienzo era el Sancta Sanctorum de la casa, y representaba los sentimientos y creencias de todos los Porreños, desde el que pereció en Andalucía con Lope Díaz, hasta las tres ruinosas damas que en la época de nuestra historia quedaban para muestra de lo que son las glorias mundanas» (FO, 74). The imagery of religious art which has been either defaced, disfigured, or completely decapitated by time is continued in the image of the Santa Librada which is so dear to doña Paulita: «Con los años se le había roto la cabeza; pero doña Paulita tuvo buen cuidado de pegársela con un enorme pedazo de cera, si bien quedó la santa tan cuellitorcida, que daba lástima» (FO, 74). Even   —18→   the ivory Christ which Paulita venerates daily is disfigured -with «un faldellín de raso blanco, bordado de lentejuelas, y una cinta anchísima y un amplio lazo que de los pies le colgaba» (FO, 74). This latter image of the naked Christ which hangs in Paulita's bedroom -the naked Christ which Paulita fondles much as she would a child or a lover and whose flesh she covers as if to avoid its allure- is Galdós at his most erotic. Through a simple religious artifact, Galdós shows more than volumes could disclose of doña Paulita's mystical-sexual inner turmoil. The reclinatorio too has been crippled by time: it dates from the sixteenth century, but a none-too-adept nineteenth-century carpenter has attempted to repair it by adding «varios listones de pino, dignos de un barril de aceitunas» (FO, 74). Everything is coming apart -even doña Paulita's cushioned stool on which she kneels for four hours each night to pray.

In the Porreño house, as in don Elías' house and countless others of Galdós' literary houses, there is a resolutely stopped clock:

También existe (y si mal no recordamos estaba en la sala) un reloj de la misma época con su correspondiente fauno dorado; pero este reloj, que en los buenos tiempos de los Porreños había sido una maravilla de precisión, estaba parado y marcaba las doce de la noche del 31 de diciembre de 1800, último año del siglo pasado, en que se paró para no volver a andar más, lo cual no dejaba de ser significativo en semejante casa. Desde dicha noche se detuvo, y no hubo medio de hacerle andar un segundo más. El reloj, como sus amas, no quiso entrar en este siglo.

(FO, 74)                

Among all the other relics of the house, we see the Porreño women themselves, seated in a solemn row as if they were a holy trinity of carved saints in a church. One is reading a book of devotions, another is sewing, and the third is embroidering some silk clothing, undoubtedly intended for one of the carved saints. Galdós calls them a «cuadro», and characterizes them with three well-chosen adjectives which add to the imagery of the house-as-sepulchre which he has carefully developed thus far: «Las tres, colocadas con simetría, silenciosa y tranquilamente ensimismadas en su oración o su trabajo, ofrecían un cuadro sombrío, glacial, lúgubre» (FO, 74). All three women are likened to religious reliquiae, or wooden saints. Galdós provides the three with staring, cold eyes like the eyes of statues and religious effigies.31 When Lázaro comes to the house with don Elías, «los vio a todos inmóviles, como figuras de palo», and is haunted by their fixed eyes (FO, 104). Doña Paulita especially stares at him, her eyes «fijos... con tenaz atención» (FO, 105). When doña Paulita later, in her delirium, comes to Lázaro's quarters in her night-clothes to declare her love and give herself to him, her eyes are still those of an effigy. Lázaro is startled by «la intensidad tenebrosa de sus ojos negros, que... habían adquirido una expresión desconocida» (FO, 133). Galdós further on in the same scene comments on the «siniestro brillo en sus ojos» (FO, 133). When don Elías is heard approaching, Lázaro hurries to his bed and sends doña Paulita off. Various times during the ensuing hours, the troubled Lázaro arises to look out his window at the effigy of doña Paulita who remains staring fixedly at the window, apparently throughout the entire night:

[...] Lázaro se incorporó en su lecho con mucha cautela, y asomándose por una ventana que daba al corredor, miró hacia afuera. Aún estaba allí la dama con el rostro vuelto hacia la ventana. Lázaro se volvió a acostar, y pasado un cuarto de hora, en que caviló cuanto puede cavilar cabeza humana, se asomó de nuevo y vio la misma figura blanca, inmóvil en el mismo sitio y con los dos terribles   —19→   ojos negros fijos en la ventana. Aquello le acabó de confundir. Pasó mucho tiempo mirando cada cinco minutos, y siempre veía la misma figura, hasta que al fin ya no miró más, porque le daba miedo.

(FO, 134)32                

Galdós carefully delineates each of the three Porreño women to make clear her «thingly» nature. María de la Paz is an animated effigy made of disparate parts. She appears ageless («era una mujer de ésas que pueden hacer creer que tienen cuarenta años, teniendo realmente más de cincuenta») with a round face, heavy body, and a large frame. She accentuates the grotesqueness of her form by dressing in the eighteenth-century style, with her belt «a la altura usada en tiempo de María Luisa.» This fashion makes her head look «perfectamente esferoidal», resting directly on her shoulders. Her face is a caricature of a human face: she has sharp teeth (one of which protrudes even when her lips are closed), a small, ghastly nose which looks like a little red button, and on the left side of her face she has a large and very black mole which is also dehumanized -it is likened to an offering which some pitying believer has placed on the austere and bate altar of her face (FO, 75). The architecture of her face is completed by tiny eyes and a large chin. She wears enormous earrings («herretes de filigrana») as if to balance the ball of her head and to keep it from rolling off her shoulders. Galdós passes over her body by saying that it merely forms «gran armonía con el rostro» (FO, 75). As if to make up for the lack of natural endowments, doña Paz's hands are bejewelled with «muchos anillos, en los que los brillantes habían sido hábilmente trocados por piedras falsas».33 Galdós then dismisses doña Paz as if she were a gruesome corpse in a morgue: «Echemos un velo sobre estas lástimas» (FO, 75).

Doña Salomé is tall and thin, with a nose so fleshless and sharp that her spectacles refuse to stay perched on it. Galdós frankly calls her «esta efigie» (FO, 75). He stops short of describing her in any terms which could be called human:

Su rostro amarillo había sido en tiempos de Carlos IV un óvalo muy bello: después era una cosa oblonga que medía una cuarta desde la raíz del pelo a la barba: su cutis, que había sido finísimo jaspe, era ya papel de un título de ejecutoria, y los años estaban trazados en él con arrugas tan rasgueadas que parecían la complicada rúbrica de un escribano. No se sabe cuántos años habían firmado sobre aquel rostro. Las cejas arqueadas y grandes eran delicadísimas: en otro tiempo tuvieron suave ondulación: pero ya se recogían, se dilataban y contraían como dos culebras. Debajo se abrían sus grandes ojos, cuyos párpados, ennegrecidos, cálidos, venenosos y casi transparentes, se abatían como dos compuertas cuando Salomé quería expresar su desdén, que era cosa muy común.

(FO, 75)                

But he is not through! After noting that what had once been a pleasing down on her upper lip is now «un bigotillo barbiponiente, con el cual formaban simetría dos o tres pelos arraigados bajo la barba, apéndices de una longitud y lozanía que envidiara cualquier muscovita» (FO, 75), he proceeds to describe the «efigie» as a kind of machine. The muscles, veins, and tendons in her throat work as if they were parts of a loom. This rather ghastly imagery suggests the process of decay. Death and disintegration strip away the outward flesh and expose the internal organs and physical machinery which keep life going: the implication is clear -doña Salomé is a part of the process of decay, well on her way to becoming like the feature-less portraits in the antesala. Her torso is also described in terms of machinery. «Debajo de toda esta máquina se extendía en angosta superficie   —20→   el seno de la dama», writes Galdós, «cuyas formas al exterior no podría apreciar en la época de nuestra historia el más experimentado geómetra, y más abajo la otra máquina de su talle y cuerpo, inaccesible también a la completa morosidad» (FO, 75). Over this body literally deprived of human appearance, doña Salomé drapes a long black dress, as if in mourning for her lost youth. Even her hands and arms do not seem attached to her frame; they poke out from her clothing as if dissociated from her body. Her face is frozen into an eternal grimace, like a gargoyle or a grieving wooden saint in a cathedral. In the reader's last encounter with doña Salomé, when she fights with doña Paz for doña Paulita's spilled money, Galdós comments on her teeth, which she uses as a weapon to frighten the others (FO, 187).

Undoubtedly the saddest of the three Porreño women is doña Paulita, whose identity is contained in her name, as Galdós indicates several times. «Nunca pudo quitarse ni el doña ni el diminutivo», he writes (FO, 76). The title «doña» stresses her status as a respected, older woman, but the diminutive ending to her name collides with the connotations of «doña». In her name we find the elements of conflict in her basic nature which result in her religious passion's becoming a sexual passion. She is described throughout the novel as a saint -but Galdós carefully overstresses this aspect of her nature so cleverly that the reader suspects that hers is a false or self-deluding saintliness. Galdós writes «Esta doña Paulita era una santa» (FO, 71), reaffirms that «Era una santa, una santita» (FO, 76), and finally suggests that perhaps her saintliness is superficial -but then coyly repeats to the reader that she is indeed a saint: «Examinando atentamente su figura, se observaba que la expresión mística que en toda ella resplandecía era más bien debida a un hábito de contracciones y movimientos que a natural y congénita forma. No se crea por eso que era hipócrita, no; era una verdadera santa, una santa por convicción y por fervor» (FO, 76). Everything about doña Paulita is portrayed in terms of repression and false sanctity. Galdós carefully makes clear that she is like a wooden saint, but though she is of wood, there is still some vestige of life in its fibres. One of the most ironic images concerning doña Paulita is her association with the effigy of Santa Librada, which she keeps in her room. Santa Librada, also known as Wilgefortis (or «Virgo-Fortis»), according to Catholic tradition, took vows of virginity in her earliest youth and later, after praying for divine help, sprouted a moustache and beard so that she would not have to marry the suitor her father had chosen for her.34 Doña Paulita is of such a saintly disposition that «verla y sentir ganas de rezar un Padrenuestro era una misma cosa» (FO, 76). Her voice is a liturgical monotone, «agridulce y atiplado», of that tone which «generalmente se llama de carretilla, como dicen los chicos la lección: en el tono en que se recitan las letanías y los gozos» (FO, 76). Galdós pokes fun at her mystical religiosity by calling her the «rosa mística» (the title of Chapter XXIV), and entitling two further chapters after her: Chapter XXV, «Virgo prudentísima», and Chapter XLII, «Virgo potens».35

Since doña Paulita is the youngest of the three Porreño women, she is also the least lignified. Galdós shows the process whereby life once again courses through her body when she feels the stirrings of sexual passion toward Lázaro, more than a decade her junior:

Doña Paulita hizo esfuerzos heroicos para aparecer con cierta dignidad arquiepiscopal en el momento en que Lázaro le besaba la mano, arrodillado ante ella; pero su decoro de santa fue vencido   —21→   por lo mucho que empezaba a tener de mujer. Cuando sintió los labios del joven posados sobre la piel de su mano, tembló toda, se puso pálida y roja con intermitencias casi instantáneas, y una corriente de calor ardientísimo y una ráfaga de frío nervioso circularon alternativamente por su santo cuerpo, no acostumbrado al contacto de labios humanos.

(FO, 118)                

Following this chaste kiss, doña Paulita forgets her saintly vocation entirely; this Lazarus has recalled her to a semblance of life. She succumbs to her own womanliness. Earlier, when the innocent Clara was brought into the Porreño house, she was told that in «esta casa, niña, impone al que la habita deberes muy sagrados» (FO, 79). This, in effect, means that she will have to become an effigy herself. Paz warns the young girl, «Haga usted cuenta, niña, que ha dejado un mundo de cieno para entrar en otro más perfecto» (FO, 79). Clara can only murmur in answer to a demand by the Porreños to know just what the girl expects from life, «Yo... les diré a ustedes... soy... una mujer» (FO, 80). Upon hearing this scandalous confession, plus the subsequent disclosure that she would like to be married (FO, 81), the three women are horrified:

El lector habrá visto, si ha asistido a algún sermón gerundiano, que a veces el predicador, no sabiendo qué medios emplear para conmover a femenino auditorio, alza los brazos, pone en blanco los ojos, y con tremenda voz nombre al demonio, diciendo que a todas se las va a llevar en las alforjas al infierno; habrá visto cómo cunde el pánico entre las devotas: una llora, otra grita, ésta se desmaya, aquella principia a hacerse cruces, y la iglesia toda resuena con las voces alarmantes el pataleo de los histéricos, el rumor de los suspiros y el retintín de las cuentas del rosario. ¿El lector ha visto esto? Pues el efecto producido en las tres damas por la respuesta de Clara fue enteramente igual al que producen los apóstrofes de un predicador endemoniado en el tímido y dueñesco auditorio de un novenario.

(FO, 81)                

Clara's utterance is painful to doña Paulita, after her conventual life. Her unreciprocated love for Lázaro is a last attempt to claim her own feminity and humanity before sinking irrevocably into the fossilization that awaits her.

In a humorous passage in which doña Paulita is attempting to give Clara a lesson in religious piety while at the same time investigating the background of Lázaro through queries to Clara, the reader sees Paulita's religious fervor build up to an amorous frenzy in which she makes innumerable errors while reciting the Rosary, mistakes Santa Teresa for the prayerbook, and finally falls into a stupor. At the end of this astonishing fit of passion, doña Paulita rushes to the ever-closed balcony and throws the windows open wide:

Paulita tuvo necesidad de respirar el aire libre, abrió el balcón y miró la calle; hecho inusitado, cuya gravedad no comprendió Clara tampoco.

-¡Ay, que he abierto el balcón! -exclamó, comprendiendo la atrocidad que había cometido-. ¡He abierto el balcón!

Y lo cerró con sobresalto, como una monja que hubiera sorprendido abierta la reja del locutorio.

(FO, 108)                

The balcony windows of the Porreño house are carefully kept closed against the world. The Porreño women feel that even the dust of the present century is diseased and that the fresh air is corrupting. The idea of the closed balcony is related to the idea of the barred windows in don Elías' house earlier in the novel (in the room where Clara is confined), or the similar room with barred windows in the Requejo house, where Inés is sequestered, in El 19 de marzo y el 12 de mayo.   —22→   Both Clara and doña Paulita are or have been prisoners in a Royalist house. As doña Paulita becomes infatuated with Lázaro, she needs to breathe the fresh air from outside.

Ironically, doña Paulita's realization that she may be able to escape her own destiny as a mere effigy through her love for Lázaro comes as she observes from another balcony a religious procession of wooden saints and artifacts. The procession, part of a festival in honor of the «Hermandad de la Pasión y Muerte» includes «cofradías, pendones, estandartes, imágenes y corporaciones» (FO, 120). Doña Paulita, who shares a small balcony by chance with Lázaro as they watch the procession, feels his physical presence close to her («entre la frente de la dama y los cabellos del joven no había otra cosa que algunas hojas y una flor de la adelfa criada en el balcón»); her inner conflict is suddenly made vivid and obvious in an exterior form. Beside her is a man, young and handsome, for whom she has developed a sexual passion; in the street before her is a parade of all the saints, effigies, artifacts, and religious bric-a-brac which mirrors her past life and portends her future life without Lázaro. Galdós interjects himself at this point, as if to stress the importance of his disclosure, to say that he himself witnessed from the street «en el rostro de doña Paulita una muy grande agitación» (FO, 120). Finally doña Paulita «se pasó la mano por los ojos como si apartara un velo imaginario» (FO, 121). This imaginary veil which she removes from before her eyes is the symbol of her saintly devotion: as if it were a nun's veil, she takes it off. In a sense, then, she «unveils» herself before Lázaro. There is now no veil over her eyes at all: this is her moment of self-realization in the novel. After seeing her former world passing before her (in the form of the religious procession), the removal of the imaginary veil is her first step toward the world of physical human love. Later when Lázaro finally rejects her offers of love, she cries, «Yo soy una muerta, yo no vivo... Yo no puedo vivir de esta manera... Ya le dije a usted que no era santa, ¡y cuán cierto es! Hace tiempo que me he transformado... Puedo nacer a la verdadera vida, puedo salvarme, puedo salvar mi alma, que va a sucumbir si permanezco de este modo. Yo espero vivir...» (FO, 183). And, reflecting on the lignification that awaits her if forced to remain in «aquella casa maldita» (FO, 187), she exclaims, «¿Qué va a ser de mí? ¡Sola para siempre! La muerte lenta que me espera es peor que si ahora mismo me matara usted...» (FO, 183).

Doña Paulita tries to demonstrate her great affection for the youth in the only manner she knows: she opens her little casket of long-saved gold pieces and showers him with them, much as she would to a religious effigy in order to win its favor and blessings. The little casket obviously represents her pent-up love and desires; doña Paulita caresses it and holds it to her bosom «como si fuera la persona del mismo Lázaro» (FO, 186). When Lázaro rejects the money and her, she collapses into a stupor. The little chest of money falls and spills over the room, just as the remaining two Porreño women return home and madly fling themselves to the floor to seize the money for themselves with their «dedos... acerados» (FO, 187). Lázaro, of course, leaves the sick woman for Clara, whom he loves, and with whom he eventually returns to the provincial town from which he came.36

After the mortification of declaring her love and finding it unrequited, and after losing her secret store of money to her two harpy relatives, doña Paula is more a prisoner than ever. The balcony windows are now irrevocably shut. The bed which has been related to Paulita through the novel, that «pudoroso y casto   —23→   mueble que nombramos con respeto» (FO, 74), becomes now her own casket. In ill health, having betrayed her house and the other Porreños, and having been betrayed also, she has nothing and is nothing.

In this curious household of living death, even the dog, Batilo, has been frozen into monumentality. He no longer barks -he appears to have forgotten his «doghood». Like a Hogarthian dog, or one of the abundant dogs that populate Victorian art, Batilo also serves as a commentator on the scene.37 He resembles «los perros o cachorrillos que duermen el sueño de mármol inerte a los pies de la estatua yacente de un sepulcro» (FO, 78). He is the last, voiceless, impotent remnant of the greatness of the Porreño Dynasty; in the past, part of the family's show of splendor was the possession of many dogs:38

En los tiempos de prosperidad había en la casa muchos perros: dos falderos, un pachón y seis o siete lebreles, que acompañaban al décimocuarto Porreño cuando iba a cazar a su dehesa de Sanchidrán. Con la ruina de la casa desaparecieron los canes: unos por muerte, otros porque el destino, implacable con la familia, alejó de ella a sus más leales amigos.

(FO, 78)                

This strange dog which has not been able to bark serves as a fascinating literary echo of doña Paulita herself. Although he is a representative of «el elemento irracional» (FO, 78) in the novel, «no se veían nunca la inquietud y el alborozo propios de su edad y de su raza...» (FO, 78), but rather a doggish melancholy which resembles doña Paulita's false mysticism. Just a doña Paulita denies her wornanhood, so Batilo denies his doghood. In the well-known Chapter Thirty-Seven of La Fontana de Oro (El 'Vía Crucis' de Clara»), Batilo escapes from the morbid household of the Porreños with Clara and runs through the streets of Madrid with her, probably for the first time in his life.39 With Clara and the vibrancy of Madrid's street life, Batilo is transformed from a «perro misántropo» to a dog which recovers its identity as a living thing: when someone throws rocks at Clara, «Batilo se volvió lleno de despecho y ladró como nunca había ladrado, con verdadera elocuencia canina» (FO, 158). At one point he is involved in a twelve-dog fight (FO, 160). Later in the novel, he serves as a watch-dog for Lázaro and Clara; his doghood now has assumed nearly human proportions, as when he barks, «en un tono que quería decir: 'Nada hay que temer mientras esté yo'» (FO, 189).

Thus Batilo the dog manages to escape the confines of the macabre Porreño house and realize himself as a living being. Doña Paulita, on the other hand, remains a kind of effigy. In his final chapter, Galdós informs the reader that she later withdrew to a convent, where she astonished the Sisters there with her periodic spiritual paroxysms. «Creyéronla muerta varias veces, y hasta trataron de enterrarla en una ocasión; mas durante las exequias volvió en sí, pronunciando un nombre, que interpretaron todas las monjas como una señal de santidad, pues entendían que repetía las palabras de Jesús: '¡Lázaro, despierta!' Indudablemente era una santa» (FO, 191). The last part of her fife is thus spent in an ambience of wooden effigies and religious reliquiae not unlike the Porreño house; and ultimately, she too becomes part of that world of effigies. After being honored as a saint, she finally dies -but the nuns, who have seen her as an effigy during her entire stay in the convent, do not know whether she is actually dead or merely in a religious ecstasy. They wait many days before finally deciding to bury her,   —24→   «seguras de que estaba bien muerta» (FO, 191). The final irony is, of course, that during doña Paulita's entire adult life, with the exception of the brief period of her grotesque passion for Lázaro, she has been «bien muerta».

As for the other two Porreño women, doña María de la Paz eventually moves to Segovia, according to Galdós, where she has a guest house (FO, 190). Galdós claims not to know what happened to doña Salomé: «Creo que ha desaparecido de Madrid», he says. This strangely xyloid woman turns up in a later novel of Galdós', and is as effigy-like as ever:

Doña María Salomé estaba tan momificada que parecía haber sido remitida en aquellos días de Egipto, y que la acaban de desembalar para exponerla a la curiosidad de los amantes de la etnografía. Fija en una silleta baja, que había llegado a ser parte de su persona, se ocupaba en arreglar perifollos para decorarse, y a su lado se veían, en diversas cestillas de mimbre, plumas apolilladas, cintas de matices mustios, trapos de seda arrugados y descoloridos como las hojas de otoño, todo impregnado de un cierto olor de tumba, mezclado de perfume de alcanfor. Decían ciertas malas lenguas que al hacerse la ropa juntaban los pedazos y se los cosía en la misma piel: también decían que comía alcanfor para conservarse y que estaba forrada en cabritilla. Boberías maliciosas son éstas, de que los historiadores serios no debemos hacer caso.40

We are further told that at this later date the women are living together once again -all of them!41

Las pobres señoras casi vivían en la misma estrechez que en 1822, porque las mudanzas políticas y sociales se detenían respetuosas en la puerta de aquella casa, que era, sin duda, uno de los mejores museos de fósiles que por entonces existían en España...

(Faccioso, 685.)                

Salomé, particularly, is treated as if she were a mouldering corpse, somehow managing to stay alive while at the same time decaying: «La momia estuvo a punto de deshacerse en polvo...» (Faccioso, 696). Salvador Monsalud, meeting her at night, mistakes her for an ancient wooden door, so lignified has she become! After they speak and walk together, Salomé «desapareció dentro del portal, obscuro y profundo como un sarcófago» (Faccioso, 697).

Galdós seems to have realized from his very first literary efforts that in order to vivify past history, he would have to vivify not only the men and women of history, but also their architectural shadows and reflections -the house and buildings in which they lived or which they frequented. During these early years of apprenticeship to Dickens and Balzac, we see Galdós assimilating some of the techniques of both and making them uniquely his own. One of the most interesting and important features of Dickens' writing which he may have borrowed and adapted for his own use is his museum of effigies, many of whom fill La Fontana de Oro. In this novel we see him exploring the possibilities of symbolic setting. We see him striking forth on the literary path which was eventually to lead him to masterful later works such as Fortunata y Jacinta. Like an early canvas of a great painter, we can see clumsy brush strokes and perhaps too much posturing and outlining in La Fontana de Oro; but precisely because the work is the initial effort of a master of the novel, the work is important. In it we see the seeds of genius.

University of Virginia

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