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ArribaAbajoVillaamil's suicide: action, character and motivation in Miau

Stephen Miller

A glance at «More on Miau» by the editors of Anales galdosianos (1971), or at a note to A. F. Lambert's «Galdós and the Anti-bureaucratic Tradition» (1976) will confirm what any student of Miau criticism knows; to date most discussion of this major novel has been curiously restricted to one theme in it, i.e., the question of the extent of Villaamil's own responsibility in his downfall and suicide.98 In treating this issue both those who fault him and those who defend him expatiate on arguments drawn from writings by Galdós of the most varied nature: the Miau text itself, other novels in which the bureaucracy is treated, and newspaper pieces on socio-economic topics. The critics involved find justification for this practice in the thematic recurrence of the bureaucracy in Galdós. They readily attribute the same value to the author's words in his different novels and diverse periodical writings. For them, it seems, Galdós' intention was always one; he made a specific «comment» either about the oppressive role of the bureaucracy in the life of the individual, or, contrariwise, about the need of the individual to control and be responsible for his actions, no matter what the circumstances of his life.

In this essay I prefer to leave the question of Galdós' intention(s) to one side. Also, I do not want to study the themes of the bureaucracy and the responsibility of the individual for himself. Rather, I shall closely examine the structure of action and character in Miau, and note carefully who does what, to whom, for what reasons, under what circumstances and to what effect in Miau. In light of this analysis, I shall, then, try to explain Villaamil's death -an issue most critics, no matter what their approach to it, find important in the novel.


A convenient starting point may be found in a statement by Robert J. Weber in his study of the Miau manuscript. As he compares the Alpha and Beta manuscripts of Miau, Weber notes two important developments in the second (Beta) version: an increased precision in «temporal and spatial references», and the intertwinement of «the trajectories [actions] of Víctor and Villaamil» which evolved independently in Alpha.99 The importance of these innovations by Galdós in Miau cannot be overemphasized in this study. Villaamil's fate is intimately bound to Víctor's. A careful review of the fictional chronology dispersed throug-out the novel reveals significant dates and turning points in Villaamil's life, and the pattern of interaction between him and Víctor. The pattern is all the more noteworthy since, in light of Weber's comparison of the two Miau manuscripts, it is one which Galdós elaborated as he structured Villaamil's history.

Two references in Miau indicate that November, 1877 is the approximate beginning of Villaamil's fifth and last unemployment: the family never has savings   —84→   to cover necessary expenses during unemployments because of Villaamil's wife Pura's spendthrift habits; the Villaamil's last rent payment is for November, 1877.100 Therefore, it may be inferred that the family ceased paying the rent when Villaamil no longer received his monthly salary -November, 1877. The present time of Miau commences in early February, 1878, shortly after a «pignoración en grande escala se había verificado el mes anterior (enero del 78), el mismo día del casamiento de don Alfonso con la reina Mercedes» [January 23] (565).

An interchange in Chapter III between Villaamil and Pura introduces not only the characters of these two, but also their relationship and overall situation. Pura is indicting her husband on two counts: his method of seeking a new position and the philosophy behind it. She cites the example of the successful bureaucrat Cucúrbitas who was once under Villaamil. According to her this man has no special talent, but is opportunistic and aggressive. She suggests that Villaamil should model himself after him. A first step would be to go to the newspapers and begin to «vomitar todas las picardías que... [sabes] de la Administración», such an action by threatening so many would, she asserts, cause the immediate reemployment of Villaamil in order to quiet him. In conclusion Pura resorts to more general, but more cutting arguments:

[...] no sirves para nada, vamos, y no sabes vivir. No; si con lamentos y suspiros no te van a dar lo que pretendes. Las credenciales, señor mío, son para los que se las ganan enseñando los colmillos. Eres inofensivo, no muerdes, ni siquiera ladras, y todos se ríen de ti. Dicen: «¡Ah, Villaamil, qué honradísimo es! ¡Oh el empleado probo!...» Yo cuando me enseñan un probo, le miro a ver si tiene los codos fuera. En fin, que te caes de honrado. Decir honrado, a veces, es como decir ñoño. Y no es eso, no es eso. Se puede tener toda la integridad que Dios manda y ser un hombre que mire por sí y por su familia...


Villaamil, «desalentado», responds, «Déjame en paz»; then he makes a brief apology for himself: «Yo no puedo ser sino como Dios me ha hecho» (561). A few moments later Pura, her sister Milagros and daughter Abelarda leave for the theater. «El buen Villaamil sintió un gran alivio» when he saw them exit because «mejor que su familia le acompañaba su propia pena» (562).

Throughout the novel present of Miau we see Villaamil caught between two poles of action: by nature he is pacific, even passive; yet success in the bureaucracy, as is affirmed by everyone in Miau, varies in direct proportion to the bureaucrat's aggressivity. But for Villaamil to be a «probo» who conducts himself «como Dios me ha hecho» is to eschew the offensive, the tactic of baring «colmillos». When challenged he prefers to withdraw into himself as instanced above. As a result he is handicapped in the effort to «look out for himself and his family». Villaamil's character, his idea of himself, precludes the exercise of a whole range of tactics in dealing with his unemployment. In what follows much of his problems derives from conflict with a system and a person that act in the way Pura describes.

Despite this picture of Villaamil in 1878 it must be emphasized that, handicaps notwithstanding, he supported himself and his family for more than thirty-five years after entering the Ministry of Finance in 1841.101 In fact, beginning in 1869 support of the family, as we shall see, seems to be the one social and familial role Villaamil cares at all to fill. From 1869 until 1878 his bureaucratic position is important only because it provides an income. Yet before 1869 it was a career that was not without its successes.


Villaamil's work, including the early and advanced drafts of the much-discussed plan for financial reform («las cuatro memorias»), was praised by such Ministers of Finance as Mon, Bravo Murillo, Bruil and Madoz.102 The praises of Mon and Bravo Murillo, both historical figures, are especially significant in judging the cogency of Villaamil's proposals and, on that basis, out opinion of their author. Mon was «uno de los ministros más importantes del ramo en el siglo XIX, señalándose sobre todo por su célebre Reforma tributaria que lleva su nombre».103 Bravo Murillo was known for his efforts to put the Ministry of Finance on sound financial footing and for his official probity.104

A third indication of Villaamil's professional competence and recognition is that some of the positions he held in Madrid and in the provinces entailed more than moderate responsibility. Finally, the narrator's assessment, «Poco tiempo había estado cesante antes de la terrible crujía en que le encontramos» [following November, 1877], implies that Villaamil's previous four unemployments were relatively infrequent and of comparatively short duration (a total of twenty-three to twenty-four months from 1841 until 1877).105

In late March, 1878 Villaamil reviews his career while talking with Cucúrbitas and signals 1854, when the latter was still his subordinate, as the beginning of Cucúrbitas' «buena fortuna, y el [principio] de mi desdicha» (652). During the Progressive Biennium (1854-56) a National Militia was formed by the liberal government; clerics, civil servants and certain others were not required to join, but could volunteer.106 Villaamil, though he was a moderate and in 1836 joined as a volunteer in the defense of Madrid against the Carlist leader Gómez, preferred to stay clear of the «bullanga» which the Militia represented; and as a bureaucrat he was free to do so.107 Not so Cucúrbitas. He enlisted and in so doing began, according to Villaamil, his bureaucratic rise. During the Biennium Villaamil suffered his longest period of unemployment -eleven months; apparently, by failing to demonstrate positive adherence to liberal policies, he came into disfavor with those who had power.

The force of Villaamil's seif-comparison with Cucúrbitas is to imply that whether a person likes the «bullanga» or not, a bureaucratic career may be advanced by wading into politics and orienting himself as the situation requires. In conversations with Cucúrbitas, Sevillano and Víctor, Villaamil demonstrates that he knows how this system of extra-official «duties» functions; but, because of his character Villaamil simply refuses to act on this knowledge.108 As a consequence he is more subject to circumstances than are his more active and aggressive interlocutors. While these others try to manipulate, Villaamil is subject to manipulation.

Early in 1868 Villaamil's moderately successful career rewarded him with a position as chief financial officer in a third-class province:

[...] En aquel pueblo de pesca pasó la familia de Villaamil la temporada triunfal de su vida, porque allí doña Pura y su hermana daban el tono a las costumbres elegantes y hacían lucidísimo papel, figurando en primera línea en el escalafón social...


At this time the Villaamils were married for twenty years, had had a number of children, but with only two daughters, Luisa and Abelarda, surviving; the family was rounded out by Pura's sister Milagros. Villaamil was one of the three or four men of authority in the city.


This period of success and attendant happiness was first shadowed by the appearance of Víctor Cadalso, «un empleadillo joven y guapo, de la clase de aspirantes... engendro reciente del caciquismo» (588). Víctor immediately became the toast of the local society, succeeded in winning the love of the plain Luisa, Villaamil's elder daughter, and, despite family misgivings, married her sometime before the liberal revolution of September, 1868. Once Víctor was a member of the family, Villaamil prevailed on the local cacique to obtain a promotion and salary increment for Víctor since «no había más remedio que empujarle y hacer de él un hombre» (590). This was the one and only time Villaamil was in a position to aid Víctor.

With the revolution Villaamil lost his post. Víctor, though, «tuvo aldabas y atrapó un ascenso en Madrid» (590). For Villaamil, especially in retrospect, the «cesantía» itself was not the worst factor in the new situation. As always Pura's spending left the family with no savings and so the Villaamils followed Víctor, his job and Luisa to Madrid. He who was the «aspirante» and the one a condescending Villaamil was going «to make a man of» was transformed into the material support of the family. This humiliating and ironic reversal of roles was further complicated by Víctor's behavior in Madrid. He began to lead an active social life and as husband to Luisa «no era un modelo». Luisa, left behind and slighted, persisted in her love, but,

[...] vivía en ascuas, agrandando cavilosamente los motivos de su pena; le [a Víctor] vigilaba sin descanso, temerosa de que él partiese en dos su cariño o se lo llevase todo entero fuera de casa. Entonces empezaron las desavenencias entre suegros y yerno, enconadas por enojosas cuestiones de interés...


Luisa, as is Abelarda later, was easily manipulated by Víctor. A smile from him was enough to make her happy and «un monosílabo adusto» enough to leave her miserable. While still in the provincial capital, Villaamil began to «columbrar en el carácter de Víctor algo que no le agradaba», and then, when he and his family depended on Víctor for support, found that initial suspicion painfully confirmed (589). (This situation must be remembered when we discuss the events of 1878, for it offers significant parallels to the later time.)

In March, 1869 a son, Luisito, was born to Luisa. Six days afterwards Villaamil obtained «un destino con ascenso en Madrid» (590). Despite this good luck and promotion, Villaamil was left worse off than when he arrived in the city: Luisa, weakened by her jealousy and pregnancy, was so «desmejorada y endeble» that all could tell she was going to die. Her dependence upon and love for Víctor became stronger and more pitiable than ever; at he same time she showed indifference toward her son. As a result «Villaamil, que conocía la incorrecta vida de su yerno fuera de casa, empezó a tomarle aborrecimiento» (590); for her part Pura was more easily reconciled with Víctor because of his facile words and improved treatment of Luisa. On St. John's Eve (June 23), Luisa, demented, «se arrojó del lecho pidiendo un cuchillo para matar a Luis. Juraba que no era hijo suyo, y que Víctor le había traído a la casa en una cesta debajo de la capa» (590). Simultaneously she profusely kissed Víctor. She died later that evening.

The family mourned Luisa, but Villaamil suffered a radical physical and moral crisis from which he never recovered and under which he still labors in 1878:


[...] sin ruidoso duelo exterior, mudo y con los ojos casi secos, se desquició y desplomó interiormente, quedándose como ruina lamentable, sin esperanza, sin ilusión ninguna de la vida, y desde entonces se le secó el cuerpo hasta momificarse, y fue tomando su cara aquel aspecto de ferocidad famélica que le asemejaba a un tigre anciano e inútil.


This is the Villaamil we meet in February, 1878. He is a shadow of what he once was; he is half-dead, a walking mummy. Unfortunately we are shown nothing in Miau to account for the uniqueness and profundity of his reaction. The events of 1868-69 are narrated in the short Chapter XIII and no detailed picture of family life at that time is offered.109

Yet if the reasons for Villaamil's transformation are hidelen, the short -and long- range effects on him are clear. Almost immediately he gives up his promotion in Madrid for a «destino regular» in Cuba on the pretext of «[l]a necesidad de un sueldo que permitiese economía» (590). But why then? Luisa's marriage and death decreases his financial obligations, and, according to Abelarda (602), the family, no matter how much Villaamil earns, is destined to be wanting money always because of Pura's extravagant tastes. Hence when Villaamil returns from Cuba the first time with «algunos ahorros», we read that the monies «se deshicieron pronto, como granos de sal en la mar sin fin de la administración de doña Pura» (590-91).

It seems, then, what Villaamil really desired following Luisa's death was to exile himself from his family -a family that probably still counted Víctor among its numbers. After five years spent mostly abroad, Villaamil returned to the family that no longer included Víctor, the latter apparently living in Valencia by the time Villaamil retires from overseas service.110 But Villaamil lived on the margin of family life. He slept by himself in his study, did not participate in the family «tertulia» which included some of his colleagues, and never accompanied the «Miaus» to the theater.

This withdrawal and isolation from the family is repeated by Villaamil at the Ministry. His return to the bureaucracy in Madrid is easy, but at a low level, «con poco sueldo» (591). He holds this obscure position for three peaceful years during which no minister has occasion to comment on his «cuatro memorias».111

Following Luisa's death Villaamil, «sin esperanza», «sin ilusión ninguna de la vida», gives the impression of losing interest in the bureaucracy as a career. He needs an income, but does not have the enthusiasm to seek out or even retain a good position that would bring in more money. Villaamil is «putting in time». The last years of his life as a bureaucrat are designed to qualify him for the limited, but constant income of a pension. By contenting himself with removed and low positions Villaamil simulates the retirement that he, like «un tigre anciano e inútil», longs for following his collapse in 1869. His fifth and last «cesantía» comes at a time when Villaamil is anticipating the final release from striving and activity; two more months and he could complete the process begun nine years before.

The foregoing, then, is the background of the man who asks Pura to «leave him in peace», and who finds more consolation in «su propia pena» than in his family.


The first page of Miau presents the spectacle of Luisito being taunted with the nickname «Miau» by a group of his schoolmates. The scene foreshadows certain aspects of Villaamil's conflicts and provides an insight into them.

Posturitas, a nephew of Villaamil's caricaturist, «el cojo Guillén», is the leader of Luisito's tormentors. Luis is «bastante mezquino de talla, corto de alientos, descolorido» and is timid and retiring (551). He resembles his grandfather Villaamil both in appearance and demeanor. He is pursued by his companions much as is Villaamil, and his chief antogonist is related to Villaamil's bane in the offices of the Ministry of Finance. And like Villaamil Luisito retreats when attacked, is characterized by his inoffensiveness. Nonetheless, one day following the initial scene of Miau Luisito, who has brooded over the hated nickname and his tormentor Posturitas, is again confronted by Posturitas calling him «Miau» in a mewing voice. He becomes infuriated and to the surprise of all his classmates leaps on Posturitas. Before either is hurt a teacher intervenes. For Luis the fact of striking out at Posturitas is more important than the outcome of the fight:

[...] Su ira se calmaba lentamente, aunque por nada del mundo le perdonaba a Posturas el apodo, y, sentía en su alma los primeros rebullicios de la vanidad heroica, la conciencia de su capacidad para la vida, o sea, de su aptitud para ofender al prójimo, ya probada en la tienta de aquel día.


Pura would approve this conduct in her grandson. He is learning to show his «colmillos» and experiencing the intoxication which comes of asserting himself. Early in Miau the equation «capacidad para la vida» equals «aptitud para ofender al prójimo» is given. Villaamil, unlike Luis, never experiences the truth of it. When attacked, he retreats, mumbling to himself, perhaps slamming a door to relieve his frustration. Even when he realizes he wants to lash out at someone who antagonizes him, he does not, like Luisito finally, discharge the aggressive impulse produced by a confrontation.

Earlier we saw how he retreated before Pura's indictment. A second example of this behavior occurs in Chapter XI. In a scene to which we shall have reason to return, there is a serious discussion between Villaamil and Víctor. The latter best his father-in-law in argument. Typically Villaamil pulls in his horns, but what is more important is the description of his state of mind and reaction to Víctor's little victory:

Y fue tal su indignación, que no quiso hablar más, temeroso de hacer un disparate, y pegando un portazo que estremeció la casa, huyó a su alcoba y arrojose en la inquieta superficie de su camastro como un desesperado al mar.


The anger Villaamil wants to discharge against his hated son-in-law, he retains and turns in on himself. Lacking a «capacidad para la vida», i.e., the «aptitud para ofender al prójimo», he becomes the target of his own frustrated aggressive feelings. This psychological process is illustrated in the action of Villaamil casting himself into his bed «como un desesperado al mar». This action and the simile not only foreshadow Villaamil's real suicide, but also one of the motivations behind it. This point deserves special consideration.

Toward the end of Miau, when Villaamil learns that Víctor has spread the   —89→   rumor that he is crazy, he gives up, as we shall see, all hope of gaining a position; soon after he resolves to kill himself. At one point during his odyssey through Madrid on the last day of his life, he, exalted, declares to himself:

[...] De veras que siento ganas de acabar con todo lo que vive, en castigo de lo mal que se han portado conmigo la Humanidad y la naturaleza y Dios...


As on other occasions he recognizes the desire, even the need, to «ofender al prójimo» after a life of retreat. With exaggeration he blames all that exists for his suffering. Nonetheless, for a while he entertains the possibility of returning to his previous life of passivity and frustration, that is, of resuming life with the three «Miaus». He abandons this thought, however, when he realizes how great is his need to «ofender»: «Si sigo con ellas me entra un día la locura y con este revólver... las despache a todas» (680). After this moment of self-analysis, he concludes by reavowing his habitual method of dealing with frustrated aggressive impulses: «Más vale que me despache yo, emancipándome y yéndome con Dios... ¡Ah! Purita, Purita, se acabó el suplicio. Hinca tus garras en otra víctima» (680). Villaamil identifies those who torment him. But instead of defending himself by taking the offensive, he finds it easier to «despachar» himself than his antagonists, acting the part of the «desesperado» who takes out his frustrations on his person rather than attacking their cause.

In what follows I will try to trace the developing pattern of conflict and frustration which leads Villaamil to have to make a choice: change his life by adopting the aggressive, self-protective ways of those with «colmillos»; or, reaffirm his life and pay the consequences of that decision.


A few hours after Víctor's arrival at the Villaamil apartment in early February, 1878, Villaamil questions him as to his intentions. It is soon clear that the two men are opposites: Víctor is a corrupt official, Villaamil a «probo»; Víctor is unscrupulous, aggressive, pragmatic, Villaamil conscientious, passive, principled; Víctor is in his prime, Villaamil is a ruin; Víctor wants a promotion and has great ambitions, Villaamil only wants two months more employment and retirement.

Nevertheless, both men share one thing at least; they are unemployed and looking for jobs. And just as they differ in so much else, they pursue distinct methods in seeking positions. Víctor, like Pura, mocks Villaamil's method, refers to him as a «virginal doncella» in such matters (582), and fatuously suggests to his father-in-law, «Lo que tiene usted que hacer... es aprender de mí» (583). Given the way of the world and of «la cochina Administración», Villaamil is willing to concede that Víctor will be rewarded with a promotion despite his corruption; but he cannot tolerate even the idea of learning from Víctor. He prefers to bear his unemployment with patience while admitting that he needs a job for the sake of the family. Víctor responds, «echándose a reír malignamente», «Vamos, ¿a que le coloco yo a usted si me atufo?» (583). Such a prospect fills Villaamil with indignation and is the occasion of the retreat to his room and bed discussed above.

From the time of Víctor's advent, then, a competition between Viliaamil and him is established. The remaining thirty-three chapters of Miau record the   —90→   stages of the struggle which begins in Chapter XI, and the effect on Villaamil of Víctor emerging victorious.

At the outset Víctor has one great advantage in addition to that of his character: the supply of money he brings with him from Valencia. This fund allows him to win Pura to his side in the initial dispute as to whether or not he shall be allowed to stay at the Villaamil's. From penury (recall the «pignoración en grande escala» of January, 1878) the family, at an opening of Víctor's billfold, passes to plenty: the rent is paid, food purchased, and even Villaamil's chothes are improved. Moreover, Víctor does not assume the role of family breadwinner for the first time. During the critical days of autumn and winter in 1868-69, Víctor, also during one of Villaamil's unemployments, was the support of the family. On both occasions Víctor's methods as opposed to Villaamil's yield fruits that gall the older man terribly. And yet the need of his family and of himself requires that he accept what is produced and given by a man he abhors.

Víctor's situation is not without weaknesses. Following his interview with Villaamil, we learn that Víctor is being threatened by official action from his superior in Valencia. There is no doubt that incriminating evidence against Víctor exists, but at the same time Víctor has material in hand that would convict his accuser of similar trespasses. In Víctor's mind the really decisive advantage he has over his opponent is twofold: good friends and some «manos blancas» that he hopes will help defend him and advance his career (584). It is against this kind of man that Villaamil is obliged to compete.


The first «round» in the struggle between Villaamil and Víctor occurs soon after its initiation. Just before Víctor's arrival, Villaamil began to have hopes of receiving a position through the good will of a minister (572). Shortly afterwards, when the family is enjoying Víctor's bounty, Villaamil finds that his name does not appear on the new list of appointees. No sooner does Víctor learn this than he comforts Villaamil with the ironic observation that no «probo» should expect any kind of reward from the corrupt bureaucracy (599). While Víctor has made no advance toward his goals in the short time of his stay in Madrid, he has the satisfaction -and Villaamil the added frustration- of seeing his father-in-law and his method of dealing with the system suffer a reverse. The importance of this first clash cannot be overemphasized. Reacting to the new disappointment and Víctor's implicit vindication, Villaamil presents a fierce aspect: «fiera enjaulada», «estaba como si le fueran a dar garrote», silent, but «con cara lívida y la mandíbula temblorosa» (599, 600). But Víctor is not done. He proclaims that he is a «deudor a la familia de grandes favores», and that [l]a familia no carecerá de nada mientras yo tenga un pedazo de pan» (600). Villaamil cannot resist the ironies of these declarations which evoke the time when Víctor was the «aspirante» whom he undertook to «make a man of»:

Agobiado por sentimientos de humillación, que caían sobre su alma como un techo que se desploma, Villaamil dio un resoplido y salió del cuarto...


Conforming to character, Villaamil retreats when attacked. More importantly, the description of his humiliation being experienced like the force of a collapsing   —91→   roof reproduces his reaction to Luisa's death; at that time Villaamil «se desquició y desplomó interiormente».

The similarity of Villaamil's reactions on these two occasions indicates the essential continuity of events in 1868-69 and 1878. Villaamil is apparently as vulnerable to Víctor as when Luisa died. In a sense the nine years since that death represent only a suspension of the conflict between the two men, not a peace. Perhaps Villaamil saw this vulnerability in himself in 1869 and, as I suggested earlier, was motivated, at least in part, by this realization to go abroad. In this connection it may be significant that Víctor's attentions toward Abelarda in 1878 renew those of an earlier period.112 Perhaps already in 1869 Villaamil perceived that with Luisa dead and him again supporting the family, Abelarda would substitute her sister as the point of contention with his son-in-law. Weakened and knowing he could not resist Víctor, Villaamil broke off the struggle rather than expose himself to further hurt.

The importance of Weber's observation regarding the evolution of Miau from the Alpha to the Beta manuscript should be evident by now. Villaamil and Víctor -their «trajectories»- are not merely proximate in space and time, but are interdependent. Based on what has been established about them and their conflict until now, I would assert that the bureaucracy is important in the novel as one of the fields in which each of the two men exercises his prowess in the struggle with the other. The family is the other field. Both in 1868-69 and 1878 Villaamil and Víctor contend, albeit with unequal powers, for dominance in the home and justification in the bureaucracy.


Once recuperated from the frustration of his first serious hopes for a position in the novel present, Villaamil resumes the task of job hunting and only intensifies his usual methods:

Aunque las esperanzas de los Villaamil, apenas segadas en flor, volvían a retoñar con nueva lozanía, el atribulado cesante las daba por definitivamente muertas, fiel al sistema de esperar desesperando. Sólo que su pesimismo avenía mal con el furor de escribir cartas y de mover cuantas teclas pudiesen comunicar vibración a la desmayada voluntad del ministro.


It appears that Villaamil rises to the challenge offered by Víctor. The «cesantía» forces him out of the retreat into self which overseas service and his obscure post allowed him for the nine years following Luisa's death. By chance the period of «crujía» and penury are complicated and made more onerous first by the arrival, then by the taunts and munificence of Víctor. Villaamil, overwhelmed by the events of 1868-69 in which Víctor figured so prominently, is nonetheless shaken back into activity and striving. His method of seeking a job is the old one which Víctor and Pura denigrate. But it has been successful; and if successful again Villaamil would be vindicated and could return to the peace and retreat of 1869-77, or perhaps even begin a new life.

During the balance of February and most of March, 1878, Villaamil continues to write his letters, visit offices where he has friends such as Cucúrbitas and Pantoja. He still is granted ready access to these men and is respected by the porters. Víctor in the meantime is engaged in two principal pursuits. Trying to advance   —92→   his principal project, his promotion, he moves in the world of high society: he frequents the conversation of those who are aristocrats, deputies to Cortes, and the high office holders who are the superiors of those with whom Villaamil associates. While Villaamil pursues the «trapo», Víctor tries for the «bulto». Víctor's second activity is toying with the affections of Abelarda.

Around the beginning of March, 1878, Víctor's fortunes enter a temporary decline. He is spending all his money and is not yet under the protection of the friends, especially of the «manos blancas», that will assure him of a position and income. He cannot be generous with the Villaamils, in fact can give Pura nothing. «Hubo una semana de horrible penuria» for the family (630). Villaamil bears the privations «con estoica entereza» as does Pura. But when Víctor makes his initial contact and again has money, Pura gladly accepts it, caring not at all whence it comes. Víctor becomes more splendid than ever; not only does he meet the needs of the Villaamils, but presents «frecuentes regalitos a toda la familia», including an invitation to the presumptuous «Miaus» to occupy far better seats at the opera than they have ever had before (630). For Villaamil this renewed generosity is a motive for «verdadera indignación, pues era un escarnio de su pobreza y un insulto a la moral pública» (630). For him the quick succession of decline and rise in Víctor's luck is particularly painful: if Víctor cannot support the family, great suffering results; if he has money and the family prospers, Villaamil's self-esteem is wounded and his principles are ridiculed.

Soon Villaamil learns the source of Víctor's money and hopes for promotion: the «manos blancas» is a sixty and some odd year old noblewoman whom Víctor first met in Valencia and with whom he is having amours (658). And while there can be no real doubt about the efficacy of Víctor's methods, Villaamil continues as before and through an office friend meets an influential deputy to Cortes on his own terms: the man is interested in Villaamil's «cuatro memorias» plan for fiscal reform and on that basis promises to help Villaamil in his quest for a job.113

When Villaamil is ready to tell Pura of this development, he prefaces his announcement with a caution: «De esto ni una palabra a Víctor, que es muy perro y me puede parar el golpe» (654). Villaamil takes this measure because he knows he is competing against Víctor and that his son-in-law is capable of anything that may assure his besting Villaamil.


This struggle between Villaamil and Víctor poses several questions. Why does Víctor want to establish dominance over his father-in-law? Why toy with Abelarda when Villaamil is at hand? And, why live with the family when he would probably be more comfortable and spend less in public lodgings?

To consider the last question first. In addition to the Villaamils' or an inn, Víctor has a third option. His sister Quintina and her husband live in Madrid. Villaamil queries why Víctor does not stay with them and receives the response, «Ya sabe usted... que mi cuñado Ildefonso y yo estamos así..., un poco de punta. Con ustedes me arreglo mejor» (579). The issue between the brothers-in-law is the disposition of an insignificant inheritance which Víctor claimed and spent with no regard for Quintina's rights. But Ildefonso is a man jealous of his prerogatives. And though the matter at issue is much slighter than that between the   —93→   Villaamils and Víctor, Ildefonso one day «por poco descarga sobre Víctor los seis tiros de su revólver» (591).114 Villaamil may want to smash a chair against Víctor's head, but this one knows he would never do so. How different Villaamil from Ildefonso! The latter has «colmillos» and is respected by Víctor. Yet Viilaamil's inoffensiveness may not be the only, nor the most important reason for Víctor choosing to stay in his apartment.

When Víctor is alone and restless in bed following his first talk with Villaamil in early February, we learn of his great ambition. He is consumed by «el ansia de introducirse en las clases superiores de la sociedad» and believes he has in hand «un cabo y el primer nudo de la cuerda por donde otros menos audaces habían logrado subir» (584-85). This handhold is the old noblewoman. As we have seen, though, within a month Víctor's Valencia money gives out and he spends a bad week. This incident serves to demonstrate the true precariousness of Víctor's situation following his dispute with his superior in Valencia.

In view of this circumstance I suggest that Víctor goes to the Villaamils for powerful, even though unconscious reasons. His first promotion was achieved through his control of Villaamil's elder daughter. At the same time a second success, the promotion in Madrid, was accompanied by his ascendency in the Villaamil household while its nominal head was in eclipse. Perhaps at this new and critical juncture in his career, Víctor needs to recreate insofar as is possible the conditions of his first successes in the bureaucracy. Once again he forces his way into the family, using the Valencia money rather than Luisa's love for him as leverage. He then proceeds to win Abelarda's affection completely; and as with Luisa he spurris a love he cares nothing for and drives her to attacking Luis for the wrongs Víctor has committed against her. His money allows him to assume Villaamil's role in the family and thereby humiliate the older man.

For Víctor the real game is outside the world of these «vulgarísimos y apocados parientes» (585). Unfortunately for the weakened Villaamil, Víctor's need to bolster his confidence and, maybe, take out on him the frustration of his difficult situation produces sorrow and despair like that of 1869. Víctor disputes or contradicts everything Villaamil is. But Villaamil, given his character, cannot truly contend against Víctor; he can only strive to get what he needs in life by using the means of an «inofensivo». Left to himself, Villaamil, as between 1841 and 1877, would probably vindicate himself and his methods. Víctor, whether from malice or need, does not let this happen.


Toward the end of April Víctor receives his appointment.115 Abelarda in her love for Víctor has become hostile toward his critic Villaamil; feeling a «malignidad parricida» she announces Víctor's luck to Villaamil when she meets him in church:

Un gran destino... Él está muy contento, y dijo que si a ti te dejan fuera, puede, por de pronto y para que no estés desocupado, darte un destinillo subalterno en su oficina.


Víctor has won the competition by establishing the superiority of his methods. If Villaamil works in his office, the triumph would be complete. Villaamil feels Víctor's vindication like a blow:


Creyó por un momento el anciano sin ventura que la iglesia se le caía encima. Y en verdad, un peso enorme se le sentaba sobre el corazón, no dejándole respirar...


For the third time Villaamil reacts to a defeat at Víctor's hands by experiencing the sensation of a great weight falling down and oppressing him, inhibiting his breathing -nearly killing him. When he recovers somewhat, he unleashes a stream of invective on the absent Víctor. Abelarda vehemently defends the latter and Villaamil suddenly makes sense of certain theretofore unexplained conduct in Luisa. The old man realizes that Víctor has done with Abelarda what he did with Luisa. The implications of this development, given its place in the 1878 pattern of events which reproduce those of 1868-69, are, «Tan grave... tan contrario a sus sentimientos, que le daba terror cerciorarse de él» (642).

More than ever Villaamil needs the vindication and freedom from Víctor that receiving an appointment through the deputy would represent. Instead he learns from Pantoja that Víctor has ruined his chances with the deputy by convincing him that his father-in-law is crazy. This news finishes Villaamil:

Esto acabó de trastornarle. Ya la insistencia de su incansable porfía y la expresión de ansiedad que iban tomando sus ojos asustaba a sus amigos. En algunas oficinas cuidaban de no responderle o de hablarle con brevedad para que se cansara y se fuese con la música a otra parte...


Villaamil is but one step from the decision to kill himself. A position is the only thing that can save him, but it must not be one that he owes to the man who has ruined him:

Te [a Cucúrbitas] digo en confianza, de ti para mí, que me contento con una plaza de oficial tercero; proponerme al ministro. Mira que siento en mi cabeza unas cosas muy raras, como si se me fuera el santo al cielo. Me entran ganas de decir disparates, y aún recelo a veces que se me salen de la boca. Que me den esos dos meses [to qualify for the pension] o no sé: creo que pronto empezaré a tirar piedras...


It is probably not by chance that Villaamil is reduced to seeking out a man of «colmillos», in fact, the model proposed by Pura of bureaucratic excellence.

Villaamil concludes his exhortation to Cucúrbitas by declaring, «el quid está en firmar la nómina, en ser algo, en que cuando entre yo aquí [the offices] no me parezca que hasta las paredes lloran compadeciéndome» (652). Villaamil implies that he is nothing, that in the unsuccessful struggles with Víctor he has lost his self-esteem, even his identity.

In this frame of mind he enters Pantoja's office to find the workers diverting themselves with the gimpy Guillén's caricatures of Villaamil's («el señor de Miau») history and career. Villaamil, to the surprise of all, excoriates Guillén, mocks him as a «cojitranco». However, he takes, unlike Luisito, the offensive in life too late. Out of breath he is sitting, noticing how people avoid him, thinking; he murmurs the words then which signify the end of his struggle:

Es que por todos los medios se proponen acabar conmigo, de desautorizarme, para que el ministro me tenga por un ente, por visionario, por un idiota.


But that is what Pura and Víctor thought about him long ago and began to do as a result. From the day of Villaamil's marriage, when it was recommended   —95→   that he silently lower his head «cuando Pura alzaba el gallo», Pura was the authority in the house (586). Such a system «cuadraba admirablemente a su [Villaamil's] condición bondadosa y pacífica» (586). But this was the way he acted in the bureaucracy and for the same reason of character. And while the system had a place for a man like Villaamil, there was no place for a Víctor in such a man's life. By a stroke of bad luck Víctor appeared to carry on Pura's «desautorización» of Villaamil; but Víctor, unlike Pura, vied with Villaamil for things so basic that the older man was left with nothing to justify his life.

Villaamil's last actions confirm this thesis. Strengthened by the resolve to kill himself, Villaamil begins to act out of character by exercising authority in the home. In order to avoid a potential lawsuit from Ildefonso, Víctor accedes to Quintana's long-felt desire to have custody of Luisito. Above the protests of the «Miaus» and Pura especially, Villaamil declares that the family will concur with Víctor's decision because as Luisito's father he has «más autoridad que nosotros» (666). Emphasizing his point, he asks a question that he himself answers: «Tiene [Víctor] autoridad, ¿sí o no? Pues si la tiene, a nosotros nos corresponde callar y sufrir» (666).

Villaamil now truly knows about authority and its relation to aggressiveness, and about the cost of his pacificity and passivity. When talking with Pura in this last scene between them, he asserts, «mejor estará el chiquillo con Quintina que con... vosotras» [Galdós' emphasis] (666). The hesitation and then stress in saying «vosotras» is perhaps quite important. Quintina is subject to her husband. She, for example, cares little about the inheritance; however, Ildefonso does and that is reason enough for Víctor to have to stay away from her until the matter is settled. At the same time she participates together with her husband in the smuggling and selling of religious goods. In Pura's sense they clearly are aggressive people who have prospered. The advantage of this aggressiveness and Quintina's acceptance of Ildefonso's authority become especially patent in obliging Víctor to give Luisito into their care. Villaamil never deals with Víctor this way; he is always on the defensive.

The force of Villaamil's hesitation in saying «vosotras», then, seems to be that Luisito is better off with Quintina and Ildefonso than with... Villaamil himself. Were Luis to continue to have him as a model, perhaps he would not pursue the lesson learned in the fight with Posturitas. In that case he would incur the risk of entering into the life of frustration and hate directed toward self which destroyed Villaamil. Villaamil's assent to the transferral of Luisito shows his wish that the boy be a victor, not a victim in life.

Villaamil's last thoughts center on his family: that Pura and Milagros will be cared for through Abelarda's marriage to the somewhat fatuous, but inoffensive and soon to be well-off Ponce; that he is going to join the angelical Luisa in heaven; and, Quintina's training notwithstanding, that Luisito may someday wish to follow the example of Villaamil's last earthly deed. At the end Villaamil proves Pura wrong. Within the limits of his character, he «looks out for himself and his family» while remaining the way «God made him». If Ponce rather than Víctor had been that «aspirante» in 1868, the story of Villaamil would have been other than it was.

Texas A & M University.

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