The performance of Galdós' play Electra in 1901 is mentioned as a significant event in most of the political and cultural histories of Spain, but, as far as we know, never with sufficient detail to explain the reasons of its impact. A mere reading of the work -however anticlerical- leaves us a little perplexed as to how a legend has been built up around it. The critic will recognize the beauty of its sentiments, the powerful, although uneven, dialogue, and its deficiencies in dramatic technique. He might find it difficult, nevertheless, to comprehend the fact that it was one of the most important happenings in the intellectual history of Spain at the turn of the century. The purpose of this study is to document and interpret the circumstances that surrounded the staging of Electra and in this way establish its importance.
In the last years of the nineteenth century the word «regeneration» was the key to the theoretical works of intellectuals like Costa, Maeztu and Unamuno, but in practical political life it was the main board in the platform of the Unión Conservadora (1899-1901). After the death of Cánovas, Silvela fused the old Liberal Conservative party with the followers of General Polavieja, a staunch defender of traditional Catholicism who had been military governor of the Philippines when Rizal was executed, and the Neo-Catholic Party of Pidal y Mon. Together they articulated a program of reform based on honest suffrage, decentralization of the State, elimination of caciquismo and emphasis on the development of trade. They had enormous support from the Catalan merchants and hopes in general were high. It is to be remembered that clericalism had been protected under the Restoration and by 1899, after the return of thousands of priests and nuns from the lost overseas colonies, it was more influential than it had been since the reign of Fernando VII. Silvela, an intellectual with liberal tendencies, was little habile in the area of practical politics and the government fell rapidly under the control of Polavieja and Pidal. The Unión Conservadora, for reasons too lengthy to outline here, was unable to accomplish its program of regeneration and by the middle of 1900 it was little more than a shadow of what it had pretended to be -held in power by the traditional force of the Church, backed by the bourgeoisie. The influence of the Jesuit Order in the policies and government of Silvela (referred to by some historians, and probably unfairly so, as the vaticanist) was highly criticized by the liberal opposition; and at the end —132→ of 1900 a series of episodes occurred which clearly put the liberal case before the public.
The first of these was the announcement of the marriage of María de las Mereedes, Princess of Asturias, to D. Carlos of Bourbon. Since Carlos's father, the Count of Caserta, had led the Carlist forces in a separatist uprising in Navarra in 1900, this proposed marriage indeed had political implications. According to the Constitution, it had to be approved by the Cortes and the liberals were strongly opposed. The approval was won, however, mainly due to Silvela's open support. This set the stage for Canalejas' brilliant anticlerical discourse in the Cortes on December 14, 1900. We are told that the government was informed beforehand as to the content of the speech and the doors of the Cortes were closed to the public. His theme «Hay que dar batalla al clericalismo» became the slogan for the liberals of the time.129 To complicate matters for Silvela, P. Montaila, the author of the controversial book El liberalismo es pecado, published an answer to Canalejas in El Siglo Futuro on December 24, 1900 in which he reiterated his favorite thesis that liberalism was sinful. He was none other than the confessor to the Queen and professor of Religion and Morality of Alfonso XIII, and it was believed that he had received the charge because Silvela had recommended him. One can well imagine the storm this raised in liberal quarters,130 and the Queen and the government had no choice but to terminate his appointment. Nevertheless, the damage was already irreparable and Silvela's regime was unofficially finished. On January 10, 1901 the Cortes were suspended. The most read liberal dailies, El Globo, El Imparcial, La Correspondencia de España, El Liberal, Heraldo de Madrid and El País, declared open war on jesuitism and their columns were filled with titles such as «El jesuita es el enemigo» and «Odio al jesuita». One cannot forget that in the same months in France the Third Republic under Waldeck-Rousseau was taking drastic measures against the religious orders and that this was being imitated in Portugal. Such was the political and social climate in Spain in January of 1901 when Galdós presented to the Madrid public his revolutionary play which was to deal a death blow to clericalism and the Restoration.
Electra was first performed in the Teatro Español of Madrid on Wednesday, January 30, 1901 and Galdós had not had a critical success since La de San Quintín in 1894.131 It was an extraordinarily cold day in Madrid and the city was covered by a thick blanket of snow, but the theatre was packed. The preceding week the papers had been filled with reports on the try-outs and the public was anxious. Considering Galdós' own political beliefs and activities, it is hard to believe that he was not fully aware of the political transcendence of the play; and, as Baroja remembers, Don Benito and Maeztu carefully situated the claque. Maeztu, went to the paraíso and it was his shout during the last act, «¡Abajo los jesuitas!», that started the frenzy.132 The audience had sat spell-bound for the first three acts waiting for Galdós' solution. As they began to see his thesis unfold, they erupted in clamorous applause, repeatedly —133→ asking for the dramatist's presence on stage. After the performance they carried him on their shoulders from the Español to his house on Hortaleza; the streets were literally mobbed with people expressing their rebellious feelings. Let us follow the synoptic account of András Ovejero:
|(«Galdós en el teatro», El Globo, 31-I-1901)|
There were rumors that the play would be closed down by the government because of a statement by Queipo de Llano, Count of Toreno and Governor of Madrid, to the effect that he was displeased with the thesis of the play. After the third performance on February 1, 1901 an exchange of insults between defenders of the play and those who thought it pernicious to Spanish society resulted in a riot which the police dispersed with excessive brutality. Liberal sentiments were at a fever pitch and the government, fearing the reactions of the public, said it had never entertained the idea of censuring the play. Canalejas, Sagasta, García Alix (the first Minister of Education and the only liberal in Silvela's cabinet), and other politicians were said to have seen the play. It continued to run in Madrid for some time and freely toured the provinces where in Bilbao, Sevilla, Barcelona and Cádiz it was accompanied by the singing of the Himno de Riego and was the cause of popular manifestations. Electra also became required reading of the day, and E. Mérimée tells us that by June more than 20,000 copies (an enormous figure) had been sold.133
It was our original intention to assess the journalism written on Electra, but it would be an endless and probably fruitless task -the newspapers and reviews of 1901 are bulging with comments on its political and social meaning. Most of them are repetitive and offer little more than what we say here. There is much written about Galdós' art as a dramatist: his Shakespearean tinge (comparison of Electra in her delirious states to Ophelia, etc.), his symbolism, the liveliness of his dialogue, and his lack of dramatic technique. But all of this is overshadowed by commentary on its political and social significance like the following:
|(«Frente a frente», unsigned, El Globo, 1-II-1901)|
Mariano de Cavia, without question one of the most sensitive critics of the time, is more eloquent:
|(«La mejor bandera», El Imparcial, 1-II-1901)|
We might suspect that the conservative press would tend to minimize the importance of Electra; but precisely because they saw the anticlerical movement gaining momentum, they took up the sword to defend the Church. We cannot judge the impact their defense might have had, but it is fascinating to review what they had to say. We may start by saying that not one article that we have seen in the conservative papers questions the fact the Galdós' main purpose was to encourage the radicals in their anticlericalism. La Época, the organ of Silvela's party, published an unsigned article, «Galdós y Homais» (31-I-1901), in which the writer laments the fact that the liberals seized on Electra as a motive for political action. He ends by contending that by doing so they only revealed how ridiculous their radicalism was because there is no true liberty outside the Catholic Church.134 El Siglo Futuro, the ultramontane newspaper of Ramón Nocedal, was almost humorous (although Galdós might not have thought so) in its ferocious attacks on the thesis of Electra and the artistic abilities of Galdós, whom it considered the most dangerous liberal of the era. Since December of 1900 the paper had been publishing a daily article entitled «El liberalismo es pecado», and after the first performance of Electra an unsigned article, «El crimen del día», criticizes Galdós' radical ideas and refers to him as a «calamidad literaria» and a «novelista de folletín».135 Part of the article follows:
In any case, Galdós apparently accepted the terms of his success and it is curious to see a report in El Imparcial on an hommage paid to the writer on February 12, 1901 by the most important liberal leaders of the day. Among those present at the banquet given by the marquis of Santa Marta were Salmerón, Canalejas, Romero Robledo, Nicolás Estévanez, Romanones, Gumersindo Azcárate, Moret, Bergamín, Labra, Prieto, and Nakens -many of these were to hold key positions in the government of Sagasta which came topower in March of 1901.
Also in January of 1901 there was an important case pending before the Tribunal Supremo which had attracted wide general interest because it concerned the confrontation of the Jesuit Order with the Civil Code. In 1900 a Jesuit priest, P. Cermeño, had secretly convinced a young («mayor de veintitrés años y menor de veinticinco») girl, Adelaida Ubao, to enter the order of the Esclavas del Corazón de Jesús without the consent of her mother. Accordingly, she stole away from her house one night and entered the said order as a noviciate. Her brother, a young engineer very outspoken on the matter, and her mother, Adela Icaza, unable to get cooperation from local authorities, —135→ legally sued in the highest court in the land for the restitution of the young girl and secured as their lawyer Nicolás Salmerón, ex-President of the Republic and an eminent jurist.
The case was tried before the Tribunal Supremo in Madrid on February 7, 1901, just one week after the tumultuous first performance of Electra. The newspaper accounts insure us that Salmerón was brilliant, using as his principal argument that the priest had encouraged disharmony between the family and the Church. He produced as evidence two letters that Adelaida Ubao had written to Cermeño in which she revealed her love for a young man and her doubts concerning her vocation. Salmerón termed the Jesuit's actions «secuestro moral». During and after the trial there were manifestations in the streets of almost every quarter of Madrid. The judges deliberated for several days during which the populace continued to display its unrest by more riots. A verdict was finally returned in favor of Salmerón and the family by a vote of 5 to 2, and the girl was returned to her home. We are tempted to guess that Galdós's play was inspired in the Ubao case, the facts of which had been public knowledge for some time. The argument and characters of Electra are almost too similar to those of the lawsuit for it to have been mere coincidence. But coincidence or collaboration, both were well timed for the anticlerical movement. We quote from an unsigned article published in El Globo the day following the trial, February 8, 1901:
Two days later, on February 10, the Princess of Asturias and D. Carlos were married in Madrid amidst violent demonstrations, including the burning of convents. Galdós had gone straight to the heart of the people with Electra, the perfect example of a play capable of bringing revolutionary feelings to a climax. The first massive anticlerical manifestations of the Restoration followed the opening performance and continued throughout 1901, which has been termed by the historians as the «año anticlerical». It was this attitude, once unleashed, that led to the Semana Trágica of 1909, the strikes of 1917, and finally to the Spanish Civil War.
The political repercussions of Electra having been treated, it is worth discussing the various reactions in the intellectual world and the world of letters. At the outset, however, we must insist that most of the writers of the Generation of 1898 were active in their defense of libertarianism in some form and we find little divergency between their ideas and those of the liberal politicians. This Galdós adequately demonstrated by staging Electra. The morning after the first performance El País devoted its whole issue to commentary by the outstanding literary critics and writers of the day. The lead articles are by Baroja and Maeztu, but there are extensive statements by others as important, including José Martínez Ruiz (Azorín). We will limit our study to the words of —136→ Maeztu and Martínez Ruiz for reasons of space and also because they originated a polemic which has never been completely clarified. Accordingly, we reproduce the articles published by the two in El País on January 31, 1901:
«El público. Desde adentro»;136
Es el ensayo general de Electra. En las sillas de orquesta, a la derecha de la concha, los jóvenes; diseminados entre el público, los viejos. Los jóvenes son pocos; veinte o treinta a lo sumo; los viejos son legión y se encuentran tan solos!... Echegaray tiende la mano a un principiante que se encamina a su butaca. El joven guarda la mano en el bolsillo y sigue en dirección a las sillas de orquesta.
Se encienden las candilejas. Galdós va a hablar. ¡Silencio! Habla Galdós. Las orejas se estiran hambrientas. Corren escalofríos por las médulas; la acción principia tranquila y apacible, pero iluminada con luz interior. Sin saber cómo se presiente lo épico... y en las sillas de orquesta todos estamos pálidos.
Dice la Moreno: «¡Cómo me abruman las conciencias ajenas!» A Palmero le retumba la frase en las dos manos. Nos levantamos para aplaudir, se escucha un «¡chis!», que nadie sabe de dónde viene, pero todos alzamos los puños, callan los rencores, atemorizados, y la ovación se hace estupenda.
¡La batalla está ganada... pero hay que asegurarla!
Termina el primer acto; como nuestra alma está llena de ideas, hablamos para adentro, tampoco habría tiempo de conversar; a los dos minutos vuelve a alzarse el telón. «¡Qué epopeya!» me dice Ricardo Fuente, con las mejillas inflamadas de entusiasmo, ¡él tan frío, tan impasible, tan estoico!... «Cuanto hemos pensado y soñado y anhelado los jóvenes, aquí encuentra su cristalización gloriosa!» se le escapa a Manuel Bueno. Y comenzamos a prorrumpir en bravos. Ya no se escucha «¡chis!» En las sillas de orquesta hay buenos puños ¡y ganas de esgrimirlos! Cuando baja el telón todos estamos roncos.
En los pasillos las malas bestias murmuran en voz baja. Llega a los oídos de Amadeo Vives la noticia de que Arimón se ha permitido un chiste y el maestro catalán, con su pierna coja y su brazo medio muerto, pretende estrangularle. Se me asegura que Sellés echa de menos en Galdós la fantasía y preguntó: «¿Dónde está ese hombre?»... Y no se le encuentra.
Tercer acto. Un idilio sublime, incomparable. ¡La vida y el amor! ¡La ciencia y el ensueño!... ¡Romeo y Julieta y el Dr. Pascual! «¡Bravo, bravo!», repiten rabiosamente nuestras voces afónicas. «¡Aquí se ha revelado todo el sentido de la tierra!» grita Pío Baroja. «¡Y el del siglo que empieza!» añade Adolfo Luna. Aparece en escena el jesuita y estallan nuestros odios reprimidos... ¡santo ateísmo de la raza!
Segundo entreacto. «¿Qué tal?», pregunté a Martínez Ruiz: «¡Enorme de hermosura!» Minutos antes le había acusado de tener nervios de sebo... ¡y me entran anhelos de abrazarle! «¿No le parece que hay mucho simbolismo?» dice un crítico... ¡y gracias a que se nos garantiza la admiración de ese escritor!
El jesuitismo ya no se atreve a protestar de cara, pero busca las vueltas. «Para que no deje de venir gente habrá que ser parcos al juzgar la obra» susurra alguien melosamente. «¿Cree usted que somos nosotros liberales? ¡Allá los viejos con esa candidez! Nuestra fórmula es otra: «El cielo para los creyentes, pero la tierra para los descreídos», se le contesta.
Y luego, en la escena, dice Galdós del neo: «¡Hay que matarle» Nuestros bravos afónicos resuenan milagrosamente por el teatro... Y la ovación no se interrumpe. «¡Galdós!, ¡Galdós!» pedimos. Y Luis Bello remacha el pensamiento: «¡Ya tenemos un hombre en el que creemos!», mientras Valle-Inclán, el enemigo de la emoción en la obra de arte, llora por detrás de sus quevedos.
«¡Hay mucho simbolismo!» repite no sé quién en los pasillos, y Joaquín Sorolla le increpa de este modo: «¡No sea usted animal!»;
Y siguen las ovaciones en el quinto acto. Las almas frías nos miran estupefactas..: Pero Galdós ha extraído de todos los espíritus los sentimientos nobles... y a cada palabra surge una ovación: no logran los actores ni terminar las frases; ¡qué aplausos... y qué ronqueras!
Acaba la obra. «¡Galdós!, ¡Galdós!» pero don Benito rehuye la salida al palco escénico. «¡Galdós!, ¡Galdós!» pero Galdós no sale.
¡Y hay que traerlo!—137→
De las sillas de orquesta se precipita un joven al escenario, rompiendo las candilejas; veinte le siguen y agarran a Galdós.
Ya está la escena, ¡solo!... ¿quién con derecho a acompañarle?
¡Oh, noche, noche hermosa, en que por primera vez hemos sentido junto a nosotros la presencia del genio y la suprema alegría de poder admirarle hasta rendir el alma entera en sobrehumano vasallaje!
¡Oh, noche histórica la del 29 de enero!... Lo os conjuro a todos, jóvenes de Madrid, de Barcelona, de América, de Europa, para que os agrupéis en derredor del hombre que todo lo tenía y todo lo ha arriesgado por una idea, que es vuestra idea, la de los hombres merecedores de la vida. ¿Lo habéis visto?... El hombre de la ciencia, del cálculo y de la exactitud, la inteligencia fría e impasible, tiene un ensueño superior; Electra -y ese hombre es Galdós- y Electra somos nosotros -los hombres y la tierra.
Ramiro De Maeztu
Yo contemplo en esta divina Electra el símbolo de la España rediviva y moderna. Ved como poco a poco la vieja patria retorna de su ensueño místico y va abriéndose a las grandes iniciativas del trabajo y la ciencia, y ved como poco a poco va del convento a la fábrica y del altar al yunque. Saludemos la nueva religión, Galdós es su profeta; el estruendo de los talleres, su himno; las llamaradas de las forjas, sus luminarias.
J. Martínez Ruiz
The article of Maeztu, is of documentary interest and needs no comment with the exception of the fact that it indicates that both Galdós and the writers of the day knew what was in store for them the following night. Martínez Ruiz' statement simply shows his approval of social reform and does not surprise the student of the young Azorín. However, Martínez Ruiz does astonish us with his critical evaluation of Electra published in Madrid Cómico on February 9, 1901:
One can easily detect in this article characteristics that will later make Azorín one of the most interesting critics of Spanish literature; but we have to smile at his philosophizing on Eternity, probably inspired in the reading of Lichtenberger's study on Nietzsche's theory of the Eternal Return. What interests us is that the criticism is not consistent with others of the young Martínez Ruiz, militant propagandist of anarchism, whose formula is «en el arte se trabaja por algo»; and we must censure his lack of sensitivity to the thesis of Electra. It is true that Máximo's existence is presented as sterile because he lacks higher ideals, but as the play develops his love for Electra provides the spark and by uniting his scientific virtues with vital ones, Máximo becomes Galdós' symbol of modern man. From the beginning Máximo is characterized as a religious man and is always sympathetic to the reader. On —139→ the other hand, Pantoja, the Jesuit priest, is Fanaticism incarnate and acts without Christian morality or scruples in order to give the Church the political and social power it needs to survive. Martínez Ruiz' reaction can be explained only by relating it to the beginning of his disillusionment with social reform in Spain and his personal gains from embracing the cause. His psychological state is clearly defined for us in Diario de un enfermo (1901). This article, then, is a momentary expression of his depressed state which will finally lead to his abandonment in 1904 of the libertarian cause.
Maeztu was disgusted with his campanion in arms' interpretation of an event so important to the liberal cause, and on February 16, 1901 he published in Madrid Cómico a rebuttal to Martínez Ruiz137:
We agree with Maeztu's opinions on Electra, but it is worth refuting his crass insults concerning Martínez Ruiz' Jesuitism. Azorín tells us in Madrid (1941) that in 1900 and 1901 he spent a great deal of time in the library of the Instituto de San Isidro, the old library of the Imperial Jesuit Order, doing research for his novel La voluntad (1902), whose anticlerical tone is known to every reader of Contemporary Spanish literature. For this reason, he was more than likely seen in the company of Jesuit priests, but he had not yet abandoned his anticlerical, or more specifically anti-Jesuit, stand as we shall now explain.
On March 16, 1901 the important review Electra appeared and its principal collaborators were Maeztu, Baroja, Valle-Inclán, Martínez Ruiz, Unamuno, Antonio Machado, Nakens, Soriano, Castrovido; and although they were never published because of the short life of the publication, there are titles announced by Canalejas, Moret, Pi y Margall, Romero Robledo and other politicians. The name, of course, is taken from Galdós' play and the first issue includes a letter from him encouraging the group to work with will and patience in their campaigns for justice. With Electra, then, Galdós has emerged also, at least temporarily, as the spiritual leader of the Generation of 1898 and the review Electra becomes the first to consolidate the Generation. The tone is acratic and anticlerical; and in order to complete our comments on Martínez Ruiz and jesuitism, we will indicate that on April 6, 1901 he published an article, «Los jesuitas», in Electra in which he attacks the Jesuit Order for the frivolity of its dogma and the backhandedness of its infiltration into society, and states adamantly that the order is hostile to the masses and a tool of the decadent bourgeoisie. He repeats this same article in El Diluvio of Barcelona on April 10, 1902.
* * *
Galdós, then, with the performance of Electra became the rallying point for intellectuals, politicians and the masses in their drive for liberalism in the —141→ Twentieth Century. First staged in Barcelona in 1903, his play Mariucha also drew the attention of Maeztu and Martínez Ruiz (this time they agreed) and became an issue in debates on regionalism. But this deserves separate attention. Suffice it to say that with his theatre Galdós, already the most eminent novelist in Spain, solidified his position as the «Spanish Liberal Crusader».138
Vanderbilt University. Nashville, Tenn.