First-person to Third: an Early Version of Gabriel Miró's «Las cerezas del cementerio»
Ian R. Macdonald
Gabriel Miró's Las cerezas del cementerio appeared in 1910, after a troubled gestation of at least seven years. He wrote to a friend in September 1910:
Le confieso que me ha entristecido este libro. Ya sabe V. que Las cerezas del cementerio fue concebida hace muchos años. Creí que llegaría a trazar una novela toda trémula de emoción y muy mía. La escribí con grandes dificultades, sin sosiego ni tiempo; y ya, casi al término del segundo tomo, me exigió el editor que los redujese a un volumen de 300 páginas. La mutilación ha sido dolorosísima; y la hice rápidamente, y conturbado por enfermedades de mi mujer y de mis hijas, y por agobios de faltriquera que envilecen el entendimiento1.
But before this 'mutilation' there had been another transformation for on 5 August 1907 Miró published in the Heraldo de Madrid a 'fragmento de una carta' that is clearly an early version, written in epistolary style, of part of Chapter 18, 'En la cumbrera', of Las cerezas del cementerio2. Perhaps, one speculates, the bulk of the book previous to the heart-attack and death of the hero Félix, was first written as an epistolary novel. After all, Miró's first novel, La mujer de Ojeda, was formally an imitation of Valera's Pepita Jiménez, a part-epistolary novel, and much of Miró's earliest writing of any length is either narrated in the first person or from the point of view of a single character of autobiographical derivation. The epistolary style was an obvious, if outmoded, choice.
Internally, too, Las cerezas del cementerio suggests epistolary origins. The novel opens with the hero leaving Barcelona, thus allowing for a series of letters to a confidant left behind. From then until his heart-attack Félix is almost constantly on stage. Sometimes we are given the narrator's point of view, mostly we see through Félix's eyes, and only very rarely do we have an inside view of any other character.
But there are several other points of interest to this fragment. Not only does it offer clues to the understanding of Las cerezas del cementerio, a much-misunderstood work, and evidence about the development of Miró's narrative methods, but it is also -of interest for the theory of the novel in general. Kafka's The Castle was initially written in the first person and then rewritten in the third. The manuscript survives and has been studied by Dorrit Cohn3. That and the present passage from Miró appear to be the only known cases of a rewriting from first to third person where the original survives. In the case of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, for instance, nothing remains of the epistolary version which preceded it4.
The Heraldo de Madrid text is as follows (I have added the marginal numbers for reference purposes):
This appeared in 1907, the novel itself following in 1910, with further editions in 1916 and 1926, the latter being the basis for modern editions and the text we shall generally use for comparison. There also exists a facsimile of the manuscript of the 1910 edition. The variants from all these stages are given by Pedro Caravia in the Edición conmemorativa, and these make it clear that the process of development is almost exclusively a linear one, so that Miró's revisions of his text can be followed step by step5.
When we compare the Heraldo fragment with the final version the overall improvements are clear. The descriptive diffuseness of 1, for instance, is replaced by something much tauter, while the new 'se sepultaron entre montes' draws together the emotional implications and, linking with 'ánimas en pena', hints at a Dantesque descent of self-exploration, complete with guide. In 5 the whole paragraph, which relates ironically the dialectic of Félix' self-analysis, culminating in his shady use of a Kantian ethical distinction, is reorganised around images of trees and sap that were only hinted at before. In 15 the sequence of Félix nodding off during the Salve, Regina is enriched by references to the mountains, scene of the day's excursion, to a miracle of the sort Félix playfully delights in recounting (the servant is appropriately renamed Teresa), and by the imperfects of 'resbalaba', 'caía', 'sumergía' that give an inside view. The whole piece becomes a parody of one of those Ignatian Spiritual Exercises Miró practised at school in Orihuela.
Along with this greater coherence in the final version there is an impulse towards understatement. Narrative redundancies, for instance, disappear, best exemplified in the transition from the hills to the house, where the whole of 8 is removed and obvious details cut. Connective description gives way to definition of the emotion of the moment. But already it is becoming impossible to ignore the influence of the change of narrator. The deletion of narrative redundancies is an improvement in a general way, but it is encouraged by the new mode of narration. Where the epistolary mode demanded an explanatory transition, modern narration thrives on scenic presentation with narrative ellipses that rely on the reader's expectations.
Similarly, when Miró, again moving towards understatement, deletes the overobvious, he both enlivens the text and responds to the change in narrative mode. In 5 these two sentences are removed: 'Y quedé como si entonces supiera el infortunio', and 'y yo continuaba impasible por lo ajeno y malquiriéndome a mí mismo'. Already over-categorical, they become even more so in the new situation, for whereas at first they reveal the letter-writer presenting himself to a friend, seeking, even while being self-critical, for ultimate approval and sympathy, in the later version these sentences would become authoritative. Yet the complexity of the situation is revealed by the fact that the first sentence is modified but retained in the third-person manuscript version, only to be deleted later, while the second sentence is at once replaced by the final '¡Y nada!'. Miró is here struggling to prevent his ironical analysis of Félix succumbing to the authority of the new narrator.
So a simple-seeming matter of altering pronouns and verb-endings turns out to have complicated results. The epistolary novel offers a unique set of relationships. The correspondent has written with a particular reader in mind, he plays to his audience. We, the real readers, are only eavesdroppers on the performance, and have to remember constantly the presumed reader or narratee. Furthermore the distance between the recording letter-writer and the experiencing letter-writer, though strictly limited, is always there and measured in time. And the letter-writer's standpoint in time is renewed with each letter. He does not know how the story will develop, while the real reader acquires a constantly renewed relationship with the letter-writer. Félix comments on himself with a particular reader in mind and looking back on events from a day or a few days later. It is this pattern of relationships that is totally altered in the rewriting, for the third-person narrator sets before us a world that is made present to us6. We now accompany Félix as the events unfold and our view of him is established by narrative distance and angle. But in the epistolary novel it is time that matters. We are dealing with a 'real' past, that of the letter-writer Félix: the distances between him and the experiencing Félix are established in terms of time. This contrast is one reason why narrative ellipsis can be developed in the third-person version: the epistolary mode is reportorial, the later version presentational.
It is worth at this point briefly mentioning Dorrit Cohn's examination of Kafka's manuscript of The Castle, in which the narrative was originally in the first person, but then amended to the third. Cohn finds that '
the "Urschloss" which is hidden under Kafka's corrections is an anomaly: a potential third-person novel miscast in first-person form'7. She finds that as a first-person narrative the original 'Schloss' lacks precisely that sense of a span of time between the moment of experience and the moment of narration that is usual in first person narrative and that we find implied in the Heraldo fragment. When Kafka saw the incongruity and made the simple grammatical changes that allowed the third person to take over, his narrative breathed more easily. But Miró starts from an orthodox first person who exists in time. He has to struggle to achieve a new narrative coherence and the struggle leaves its marks.
One of the marks is that whereas Kafka's novel has a uniform narrative stance, in Las cerezas del cementerio the distance between narrator and hero constantly varies. Often this is effective. The Salve, Regina sequence (15), for instance, is in the Heraldo version given entirely from Félix' point of view. In the final version it starts with the narrator, moves into an inside view of Félix' dream, and then zooms out to an intermediate position: '¡Es que estaba cayendo de la butaca!' seems to hover between narrator's comment and representation of Félix' thought. With hindsight we can see the origins of this delicately poised situation that allows the joke to be shared by Félix and the reader8.
A crucial device in this fluctuating narrative distance is free indirect speech9. In his mature work Miró, like most modern writers, used this device frequently and fluently. He would have picked up the technique from earlier writers: Galdós and Alas, for instance, use it often. But there is a curious connection between the first to third-person transition and the use of FIS. The minimum alteration needed to transform a first-person narrative to a third-person one is to adjust the pronouns and the personal verb-endings. The tenses can remain as they are: 'Yo corrí hacia un puerto' becomes 'Félix corrió hacia un puerto'. Here an externally-observable fact is recounted and the conversion is straightforward. But as soon as Félix reports his own consciousness, the minimum morphological changes tend to create FIS: 'No es que me regocijase; yo no quise la muerte de la vieja. ¡Claro! Ni se me había ocurrido; pero sucedida, la acogía con avidez de contemplarla' becomes:
'No es que se regocijara: él no quiso la muerte de la vieja; ¡claro!, ni se le había ocurrido; pero, sucedida la desgracia, la acogía con avidez de contemplarla' (3). Félix' account of his own feelings becomes an account in which the distance between narrator and character fluctuates and in which a new and powerful irony operates because of what Pascal calls the 'dual voice' of FIS: we hear at the same time the voice of Félix and the voice of the narrator mimicking and judging10. While the irony of the first-person version was rooted in Félix' unreliability, now it emerges from the gap between the reliable narrator and Félix.
The Heraldo fragment already contains elements of FIS (notably '¡Una sierpe había matado a una vieja!') but in the third-person version there are four longer passages involving various degrees of its use: 3, 5, 11/12, and 15. The transformation is usually more complex than in the example above, but the general rule holds: FIS can be created or developed simply by changing person, but keeping the tense, which now serves not to indicate past time, but narrated thought.
I have argued elsewhere that Félix is treated ironically, but this has not been the traditional view11. The first consequence of examining how FIS developed in these passages is to confirm that we are indeed dealing with Félix' views, once reported by himself to a friend, but now ironized in a new way by their presentation by a narrator. And if this is the case here it could well be the case throughout the bulk of the novel. The failure of critics to see this must be due to Miró's uncertain grasp of narrative technique, itself largely due to the difficulties of controlling the transformation. This sense of a struggle is confirmed if we look at further details.
In FIS the system of tenses and persons is usually that of indirect speech. What are we to make then of this:
'¿Por qué no había él de bajar y rezar todo cuanto les pluguiese? ¡Hagamos felicidad en las almas!' (12). As usual Miró has left the tenses alone and the final result has the air of FIS. But things are not so simple. The first-person version is already in effect FIS. In the first sentence the letter-writer reports his thoughts of a little earlier. In the second he makes a general comment that conveys his mood at that time, a comment which he endorses when he writes the letter. The present tense 'hagamos' is therefore plausible. When the third-person narrator takes over, the 'dual voice' of the first sentence is emphasised and the second sentence -first-person plural, present tense- becomes distinctly odd: a sentence that represents Félix thought (surely it cannot be the narrator's) but without any linguistic indicator (except the exclamation marks) that this is so. By looking at the Heraldo fragment we can see how it happened, but it is not surprising that many readers fail to prise Félix and his narrator apart. Miró himself hesitated over the problem: in the manuscript version, the earliest in the third person, the whole paragraph is in quotation marks.
The point would be trivial if it were isolated, but in 5 we find '¡Adónde huye nuestra piedad!' and 'es que duerme siempre en nuestras entrañas'. Logically these seem to be the narrator's words, even though they were originally Félix'. And in 15, even more confusingly, 'la Virgen [...] volvía a nosotros sus ojos'. Even when we recognise that the 'nosotros' reflects the words of the Salve, Regina ('Turn... thine eyes of mercy towards us'), the narrator appears to be sharing the dream with Félix. Yet Miró revised the novel fastidiously several times and we are again forced to the conclusion that the narrator's distance from Félix fluctuates from moment to moment, reflecting Miró's own ambivalence towards the self he explored through all his early heroes. The affectionate irony comes and goes12.
But is it right to assume that most of the novel was originally epistolary? There is certainly no great obstacle. There is some material that would have had to be added to an epistolary version, and, since Félix dies, the last three chapters could never have been his letters. But the bulk of the novel could have been. Proof is impossible, but there are linguistic suggestions that together make a strong case:
1. Among the many exclamatory sentences in the novel in which it is hard to distinguish whose voice we are hearing is this especially ambivalent one:
'¡Oh Señor!, ¿por qué para sentir estas lástimas y ternezas necesitamos darnos enteramente a la tierra, a la melancolía de un río y techarnos de cielo y sentirnos amados?' (OC, 380). From the context this looks like FIS but the first-person plural present-tense verb once again means that there is no indicator left other than the opening exclamation13. An epistolary origin would be the simplest explanation of how Miró reached such ambiguous situations.
2. Two apparently straightforward errors of transformation:
'¡Qué pensaría, que sentiría cuando viniese aquí mi tío Guillermo!' (OC, 351), and
'¡Nuestra Olmeda!' (OC, 339), which can now only be construed as direct speech with the quotation marks omitted, but which look like epistolary hangovers.
3. Frequent doubt over the voice we are hearing: 'Y todos estos menudos soliloquios quizá se los motivase el no hallarse en el huerto' looks like narrator's comment, but the passage concludes:
'Sí; debía de ser lo romántico y tibio de la sala y la inquietud por la pérdida del gustoso retiro lo que le inducía fingirse sediento y atormentado de idealidad...' (OC, 330). The 'sí', a FIS indicator, suggests that this is Félix' self-analysis. The confusion is serious as it matters whether Félix is aware that he is 'fingiendo'. Again the epistolary hypothesis offers an explanation.
4. Unusual sequences of tenses:
'La compasión acuitaba al viajero. Es que imaginaba que al otro día viviría lo mismo la doncella, y siempre. En invierno, las acacias, desnudas, atormentadas, se doblarán por los vendavales, que hacen temerosos baladros y arrebatan las serojas' (OC, 357). The passage continues with presents and futures, clearly representing Félix' thoughts as he looks down on the village he has just left. At the end the reverie is concluded with: 'Todo se lo fingía Félix'. The tenses are effective but unusual: proper FIS would require pasts and conditionals. But the tenses are as they would have been in the letter version: Miró has surely simply transcribed the original, replacing 'me' with 'al viajero'. The example reveals precisely the narrative stance of the letter-writer. He can give us either a report of past events or his present views. Here he would report feeling troubled and then naturally fall into the present tense to give his view of the situation of 'la doncella' Isabel as it continued to be at the time of writing.
5. In the parts of Las cerezas that could not have been derived from Félix' letters, there are no cases of unexpected first-person or present-tense verbs. The FIS that is used is quite orthodox.
Taking these points together -they are only examples- it seems likely that the novel was indeed substantially first written as an epistolary novel. In parts it was heavily rewritten and added to, in others it was simply transformed. No overall interpretation of the novel can be adequate unless it allows that where there is room for doubt we are generally following Félix' consciousness in all its twists and turns. That consciousness is treated sympathetically but ironically by a narrator who fluctuates in his distance from or identification with Félix, and that affectionate irony of presentation in turn ties in with the ironic design of the novel which gives us Félix as a parody of Don Quixote.
There is one final area for reflection. Miró used FIS very early: it occurs in Hilván de escenas and frequently in Del vivir. Yet the possibility suggests itself that the rewriting of a whole novel, Las cerezas, from first to third person, served to develop Miró's later more skilful and extensive use of the device. This very tentative notion is perhaps only worth mentioning because of the striking parallels found in Pascal's The Dual Voice. Among his three early examples of the use of FIS, Goethe came to The Elective Affinities after the epistolary Werther, Büchner used diary material for his Lenz, and, above, all Jane Austen rewrote Sense and Sensibility in the third person from her epistolary Elinor and Marianne. The last parallel is remarkable, being the best, and perhaps only (apart from Miró), known example of an epistolary -third person conversion.
One of the delights of Jane Austen's writing is her subtle use of FIS. As Pascal puts it:
'It is astonishing that so rich and sure a use of free indirect speech is to be found in Jane Austen's novels, when she had so slight a tradition to build on'14. Others have echoed this sense of wonder allied to the mystery of the sources of the nineteenth-century development of FIS. Is it not possible that one element in Jane Austen's development of FIS was her work on transforming epistolary texts? Mimicry is one foundation of FIS, and the burlesques in Jane Austen's juvenilia reveal that she always had a rich sense of mimicry, but we also find that if we follow B. C. Southam's proposed chronology, the first work after the juvenilia was Lady Susan, an epistolary novel, followed by the lost Elinor and Marianne, also in letters, and the likewise lost First impressions, the basis for Pride and Prejudice, which Southam believes may also have been epistolary15. Only after all these would Jane Austen have finally rejected the outworn epistolary form and set about turning Elinor and Marianne into Sense and Sensibility, her first major third-person narrative.
Since everything between Lady Susan and Sense and Sensibility is lost only speculation is possible, but it does appear that the juvenilia and Lady Susan contain almost no clear-cut FIS, while it flourishes in Sense and Sensibility. It seems just possible that, beside Jane Austen's talents for mimicry and burlesque, and beside the pressures of the social fabric and the imperatives of her art, we might place the lessons learned in the labour of transforming epistolary novels as sources of her delightful command of FIS. And since Jane Austen stands at the point in the history of fiction where the epistolary novel collapses, to be replaced by the beginnings of modern narrative, Miró's anachronistic conversion job might even suggest a small contributory factor in the largely unexplained nineteenth-century rise of FIS16.