—110→ —111→ —112→ —113→
Point of view in Nazarín: an appendix to Goldman181
The success of Nazarín as a novel has frequently been questioned. Three recent studies have suggested that the artistic failure is in part to be explained by Galdós' incongruous attribution of Quixotic traits to a sincere imitator of Christ. Ciriaco Morón Arroyo, for example, after demonstrating the extent to which Nazarín follows Christ's teaching, and excusing certain infelicities of phrasing on the part of Galdós, finds in Nazarín a «sensación de farsa», the consequence of Galdós' lack of personal commitment to a theme which can allow no irony in its treatment182. For Alexander A. Parker, the weakness of the novel is to be sought in its relation to Don Quixote, involving for the reader «a rather distracting effort to confine the meaning of quixotry to the unpractical and the unworldly, and to exclude, as Galdós bids us do, the comedy and irony we associate with that particular 'calling'»183. Michael Nimetz -who recognizes the deliberate nature of Galdós' detachment from his subject- expresses himself in similar terms:
Nazarín is an aesthetic failure because Don Quixote is its correlative. The reader, from beginning to end, is so conscious that Cervantes' novel lurks behind the scenes that he tends to compare Nazarín with Quixote instead of with Christ. Thus Nazarín becomes an object of comic irony, not of veneration. Because the structural correlative (Don Quixote) and the thematic correlative (Christ) are at odds with one another, the use of literary metaphor is self-defeating. Had Galdós confined himself to religious metaphor here -Nazarín as a modern Christ- he would have accomplished what he set out to do: ennobled the hero, reinforced his status as a character, and made him larger than life184.
Peter Goldman's trenchant and sensitive discussion of two episodes from the novel will, I believe, in large measure resolve the puzzling problem of Galdós' purpose in combining, in the person of Nazarín, the Quixotic and the Christ-like; the question raised by the novel should, Goldman suggests, be posed in terms not so much of its comic elements but rather, indeed, of the very nature of Nazarín's Christian discipleship. By refusing to accept ideological statements (such as Nazarín's professions of Christian humility) at face value, Goldman is able to establish: (1) that Galdós -whose approach is one of irony- in the initial presentation of Nazarín so cloaks in ambiguity both priest and unidentified author of the chronicles which follow that the reader is perforce invited not to identify with Nazarín, but rather to judge without preconception; and (2) that impartial examination of one episode from the novel -Nazarín's bearding of the dragon Belmonte- reveals in Nazarín's conduct not a true —114→ imitation of Christ but instead pride, a gratuitous search for mortification, and perversion of the Gospel.
Goldman's assertions are, I consider, amply documented and, once stated, self-evident. I shall, therefore, confine my own brief remarks to the exemplification, and development, of certain points raised in Goldman's paper.
The ambiguity with which Nazarín is initially presented invites the reader to judge for himself; it also, as Goldman indicates, enables the author to approach his creation with great wariness. Galdós, indeed, in the closing paragraph of Part I (which serves as an introduction to the anonymous chronicles which follow) not only coyly raises the false185 problem of the authorship of the chronicles but also affirms that the events related are alone guaranteed as «true» (and thus capable of interpretation); his success -and therefore responsibility- in fully grasping the verdadero y real personaje is pointedly left an open question.
The examples which Goldman adduces of Galdós' hesitant and ambiguous approach to Nazarín are taken from Part I of the novel; in the chronicles which follow, the perspective of the unknown narrator is not so much ambiguous as deliberately dissonant.
The portrayal of a putative saintliness poses, to be sure, a technical problem of considerable difficulty, for the narrator's viewpoint will almost certainly prejudge the issue. It is, I believe, Galdós' resolution of this problem which has proved so disconcerting to many critics. Demanding, as Goldman has indicated, that the reader, without authorial guidance, nevertheless feel obliged to exercise judgment, Galdós eschews a bare relation of facts (which would preclude the reader's involvement) in favor of a perspective which allows familiarity with Nazarín's thoughts yet at the same time avoids the authorial moral sympathy or disapproval which such closeness often entails. Instead, Galdós, by adopting an attitude which is equally removed from the credulity of the hagiographer and the corrosive irony of the sceptic, obviates all possibility of the narrator's being taken as judge of the character and actions described. The chronicler's perspective is, in fact, one that is strikingly and deliberately inappropriate to the theme of saintliness, namely, one of affectionate condescension.
Goldman's examination of authorial perspective was limited to discussion of the first-person narrator of Part I; instances of discordance between the subject (an ostensible imitation of Christ) and the ironically distant -but not necessarily hostile- perspective of the unidentified author of the so-called chronicles can also readily be found. The existence in the novel of a tension between the chronicler's point of view and the «saintliness» described is, I believe, central to Goldman's argument; the following summary of certain of the devices employed by Galdós in Parts II to V to create this tension, a tension which necessarily engages the reader in judgment, will, I trust, further exemplify and confirm the correctness of Goldman's thesis:—115→
(a) Epithets inappropriate to a theme of «saintliness»
References to Nazarín are with great frequency accompanied by a single qualifying adjective, chosen from a narrow range, e.g., el buen Nazarín, el bendito Nazarín, el beato Nazarín, el angélico Nazarín, el pobre cura, etc186. Such adjectives, if employed sparingly, would denote affection or respect; their constant iteration, however, produces a cumulative effect which suggests not so much the author's admiration for a saint as the deliberate limitation of the narrator's judgment to ready-made formulae. The author, indeed, by presuming -from an unestablished but distant vantage point- the existence in Nazarín of yetunproven moral qualities, precludes an unthinking acceptance of his tongue-in-cheek judgment by any but the most callow of readers; the nature of the adjectives selected, and their repetition, imply an attitude which patronizes rather than reveals esteem for the priest.
Similarly, the frequent allusions to Nazarín in terms of his profession (for example, not only references to «el sacerdote» and «el clérigo» but also the ubiquitous Don Nazario which the humble priest would assuredly have rejected)187 serve as a device of the narrator to limit, again in a manner deliberately inappropriate to a theme of holiness, Nazarín to a stereotype which hardly approximates his character and behavior in the novel. At times, the reference reduces Nazarín to a transitory or barely-essayed role, e. g., el fugitivo, el penitente, el novato, el novel asceta; at other times, the noun or adjective employed manifestly places Nazarín in a bizarre light, e. g., el ermitaño andante, el heroico Nazarín, el general, el maestro, el árabe, el venerable peregrino.
(b) Incongruous language
At times, the language employed will seem inappropriate, if Nazarín's pretensions to holiness are to be accepted at face value, thus:
(Banalization of spiritual experience)[...] hallábase el buen Nazarín en su modesta casa profundamente embebecido en meditaciones deliciosas...
Adiós claridad, adiós luna, y adiós meditación dulcísima del padre Nazarín.
(Condescending treatment of religious activity) [...] el buen don Nazario, saliendo todas las mañanas a decir su misita...
(Tone of excessive familiarity) [...] pues a Nazarín no se le cocía el pan hasta no meterse en el foco de la peste.
(Parody of the cliché of the popular novel) [...] una inquietud nerviosa que habría desconcertado a hombres de peor temple que el gran Nazarín.
(Parody of edifying literature) Y de Nazarín, ¿qué puede decirse sino que en aquellos seis días fue un héroe cristiano y que su resistencia física igualó por arte milagroso a sus increíbles bríos espirituales?
(Grotesque metaphor) Ave mística, recorría los espacios de lo ideal, sin olvidar la realidad ni el cuidado de sus polluelos.
The narrator maintains sufficient detachment from Nazarín's one-sided vision of the world to be able to indulge in occasional touches of humor, thus:
(Bathos) [...] les cedió todo su capital, o sea la perra chica que le habían dado los arrieros.
(Ponderous irony) Habría ella querido llegar al caso absurdo de no comer absolutamente nada; pero como esto era imposible, se resignaba a transigir con la vil materia.
(d) Satirical condensation of Nazarin's thoughts
At times, the overly-compressed representation of Nazarín's thoughts will give a resultant impression of imbecility, rather than idealism, thus: «¡Cuán hermosa la Naturaleza, cuán fea la Humanidad!... Vivir en la Naturaleza, lejos de las ciudades opulentas y corrompidas, ¡qué encanto!» (p. 1705).
(e) Parallels with the Quijote
The parallels with the Quijote are obvious and have been too frequently mentioned in previous studies to need more than passing mention here. Besides the similarity of authorial perspective (both Nazarín and Don Quixote are viewed with benign irony; in both novels, the reader is unable to determine where madness lies or, indeed, how madness can be defined), Cervantes' influence can be seen in Nazarín's careful, although ludicrous, practical preparations for his flight from Madrid, in his attempts at self-justification from imaginary accusers, and in the Belmonte episode, in which two madmen seek to solve, with flashes of commonsense, the problems of humanity.
From the moment of Nazarín's first appearance, when we see Nazarín, whose ambition is to possess nothing, vigorously complaining of a robbery, the reader is conscious of the paradoxical nature of Nazarín's attitudes and adventures. Thus, the fugitive from the judgment of his hierarchical superiors sees in the papacy the future salvation of mankind; the advocate of neighborly love at first scorns the attempts of his new-found disciples to follow him and later has no time for the conversation of an aged beggar; the seeker after martyrdom is kindly received; the man who disdains literature follows in the steps of Don Quixote and speaks in bookish tones.
Goldman, in his analysis of the Belmonte episode, reveals the striking contrast which exists between Nazarín's professed commitment to humility and his manifest pride in this same humility. Further examples of the contradiction between Nazarín's «Christian» ideology and his behavior readily become apparent to the reader who is willing to question Nazarín's claim to be a follower of Christ.
Our first glimpse of Nazarín should, indeed, serve as warning of the ambiguous nature of Nazarín's mission, for the first words of the self-professed apostle of renunciation are a vociferous complaint that he is the victim of theft; he then proceeds, as he must have done many times before, to cajole -with more than a hint of religious blackmail188- the truly charitable Estefanía into feeding him189. His supposed Christian concern for others takes bizarre forms: his protection of Andara will not, as she knows all too well, prevent his revealing her hidingplace if questioned; after the fire, he has neither concern for nor memory of the unfortunate inhabitants of the destroyed lodging-house190. At times, his attitude toward others is contemptuous: he dismisses Andara's friends as «todo ese personal inmundo» (p. 1695); he turns his back on humanity in his flight to Nature; he harshly discourages Andara and Beatriz from following him and -accepting their presence only when they promise total obedience- does not cease to denounce their wickedness and ignorance; his sermons, as Goldman has remarked, are conventional and literary, with little to offer in the way of comfort to troubled souls.
The most notable trait in Nazarín, however, is egotism. The word «yo» is never far from his lips; indeed, Estefanía, in the opening dialogue with the priest, remarks on his use of the first person (p. 1683). His search for mortification corresponds, not to a desire to serve his fellow-men, but to the internal psychological demands of a man who «de antiguo saboreaba el misterioso placer de ser víctima de la injusticia y maldad de los hombres» (p. 1707). Blatant self-advertisement accompanies many of his actions; thus, in unfavorable contrast to the lifetime of suffering, humbly accepted, of his two followers, he ostentatiously proclaims to Belmonte his new-found poverty; his self-seeking and perversion of the Gospel are strikingly, as Goldman has so ably demonstrated, exemplified in this gratuitous defiance of «the dragon». His immediate reaction -and his self-correction reveals his realization of the import of his words- to the news of a smallpox epidemic is a selfish: «¡Qué me place!... Digo, no me place» (p. 1731); the anonymous narrator later draws the reader's attention to the soberbia, however «innocent», with which Nazarín subsequently celebrates his good deeds191.
The overweening pride of Nazarín's pretensions is, as Goldman recognizes, staggering: he would willingly reduce the world's learning to fertilizer; he aspires, with the arrogance of the simple-minded, to the total salvation of mankind: «No me contento con salvarme yo solo; quiero que todos se salven y que desaparezcan del mundo el odio, la tiranía, el hambre, la injusticia; que no haya amos ni siervos, que se acaben las disputas, las guerras, la política» —118→ (p. 1727). His behavior when confronted with a sick child reveals a self-centeredness of remarkable proportions; his first -and almost-angry- response to the tearful pleas of the grieving women is the heartless demand that they bear their tribulation with resignation; only after lengthy entreaties does he utter a prayer which, as on other occasions192, is wildly extravagant and reserves for himself, in suffering, the central role: «que a cambio del favor que de Él impetramos, me dé a mí todas las calamidades, todos los reveses, todos los achaques y dolores que pueden afligir a la Humanidad sobre la Tierra..., que descargue sobre mí la miseria en su más horrible forma, la ceguera tristísima, la asquerosa lepra..., todo, todo sea para mí, a cambio de que devuelva la vida a este tierno y cándido ser, y os conceda a vosotras el premio de vuestros afanes» (pp. 1714-1715). Even the final delirious prayer of the now fever-stricken Nazarín bears within itself an implication of pride, for his plea for an obscure death rather than crucifixion becomes, paradoxically, the assertion of a greater humility than that of Christ Himself.
Nevertheless, despite his flamboyance and selfishness, Nazarín's mission cannot be dismissed in such a categorical manner as Goldman's paper suggests. Vain and foolish Nazarín certainly is at the beginning of the novel -and some degree of self-centeredness will remain with him to the end; however, when faced with a suffering imposed from without, Nazarín is no longer a figure of fun but must be taken seriously; he is no longer the fugitive from society but with dignity comforts the followers he formerly rejected; it is also with dignity that he defends his views in debate with the «enlightened» mayor. If we measure Nazarín by his effect on others -and tía Chanfaina at the beginning of the novel raises the question «¿Para qué sirve un santo?»- our conclusions will not be totally unfavorable. Certainly, a misguided follower burns down a lodging-house; however, Nazarín's services during the epidemic were no doubt useful; his exposition of Christian teaching and his example, whatever their motivation, do lead Andara, Beatriz, and El Sacrílego to a better life, and provoke the admiration of his guards.
Goldman's demonstration of the ambiguities of Galdós' initial approach to Nazarín and of Nazarín's conscious pride in his own humility offers a useful corrective to recent attempts to present Nazarín's mission in terms of a genuine imitation of Christ. Similarly, critical misgivings as to the advisability of portraying Nazarín as an at-times Quixotic figure will in large part be allayed with the realization that much in Nazarín's behavior is foolish and that his actions -and even words- only partially reflect the Christian imperative of brotherly love. Any attempt at understanding the implications of the novel will furthermore be greatly assisted by Goldman's insistent and documented assertion that Galdós challenges the reader to discriminate between masks, to essay, from the consideration of Nazarín's behavior and personality, some judgment on the events and character described.—119→
Galdós seemingly begs us to interpret Nazarín; the results of our enquiry, however, will be as baffling and inconclusive as those of the novelist-interviewer who first sought to elucidate this «aun no bien comprendido personaje». One question, for example, frequently raised, especially in the sequel to Nazarín, Halma, is that of Nazarín's madness or holiness; the problem nevertheless remains unresolved to the end; Halma deduces that: «en nuestra imperfectísima comprensión de las cosas del alma, no sabemos lo que es locura, no sabemos lo que es santidad» (Halma, p. 1816); we note that the final declaration by Halma and Urrea of Nazarín's holiness and sanity is inspired, inconclusively for the reader, by his willingness to favor their plans.
Galdós himself avowedly has not fully come to terms with his creation; the novelist-narrator admits at the end of Part I how, obsessed with Nazarín (an obsession which, I believe, many readers come to share), he constructed the figure by intellectual effort (and therefore perhaps without complete emotional understanding) out of piezas, that is, out of isolated and possibly disparate elements.
Nazarín, indeed, smacks too much of his abstract origins to permit the reader any easy judgment; he is for most of the novel seen from a distance; he is presented without a past and with few links to society (he is even, symbolically, partially divorced from the world of the lodging-house, communicating only through a window and entering his room by an independent stairway); the reader glimpses him mainly through the deliberately discordant perspective of the unknown chronicler; his thoughts, when given, are frequently too distorted and over-simplified to merit serious consideration. So sketchy, indeed, does the narration of the adventures of Nazarín often appear -and the reactions of the society which Nazarín flees and later confronts are represented in even more shadowy a manner- that the temptation to dismiss the tale as a mere anecdotal curiosity, existing outside of history, would arise, were it not for the powerful hold which the subject itself (an apparent imitation of Christ) has on the reader.
Behind the novelistic character Nazarín looms, of course, the figure of Christ. The similarities, although imperfect, between the missions of Nazarín and Jesus are sufficiently apparent to suggest themselves to the most casual of readers; that some at least of the piezas out of which Galdós constructed Nazarín reflect an attempt by Galdós to come to terms with Christ is, I feel, obvious. The fundamental problem of the novel becomes then, not so much the interpretation of Nazarín, but rather an interrogation of Christ. The question raised by Nazarín -and one which, as far as I know, no commentator has as yet dared face fully- is consequently the following: is Galdós, in portraying in terms of an at least partial eccentricity and self-centeredness a priest whose career for a while offers parallels with that of his Divine Master, not intimating the possibility of a similar motivation (and societal reaction) for the ministry of Christ Himself? What, wonders the reader of the closing scenes of Nazarín, when the priest merits our respect and sympathy in the intensity of the suffering imposed on him, and when the narrator scrupulously removes himself from all comment, what if Nazarín were to die at the hands of his tormentors? Would he, despite his imperfections, be, like the historical Christ, the posthumous founder —120→ of a new religion? Is not Galdós' question, indeed, not whether Nazarín is a worthy imitator of Christ but, blasphemously, whether Christ Himself was like Nazarín?
The legitimacy of these questions -which surely many readers must have posed to themselves- is, I believe, confirmed in Galdós' manifest hesitancy in approaching his subject, a hesitancy motivated not only by the desire to press from the reader a response to Christ (as well as to Nazarín) but also by the far-reaching implications of the portrayal of a «possible Christ» in partially unfavorable terms. While the questions raised by Nazarín are certainly audacious, they are accompanied by an equally remarkable shirking and blurring of responsibility throughout the work. The narrator, himself fictitious, claims no responsibility for having adequately understood his creation; he then -retreating to a fiction within a fiction- attempts to confuse responsibility for the authorship of the chronicles which relate Nazarín's apostolate; the unidentified chronicler avoids even an implicit judgment, viewing the priest from the deliberately inappropriate perspective of benign condescension; the reader's reaction is equally mixed, for, bewildered and alienated by the foolish and self-centered Nazarín initially presented, he is nevertheless subsequently led to an attitude of partial respect and sympathy for the persecuted priest; even the fictitious chronicler disappears in the closing scene of the novel, when Nazarín's sufferings approach him increasingly, in the reader's mind, to Christ Himself; finally, in Halma, the problem is seemingly made to disappear by the reduction of Nazarín to a harmless copier of texts and humble prison chaplain.
Similarly, moral judgments tend equally to become blurred within the novel. The chronicler's affection not only embraces «el buen don Nazario» but also extends to «el buen don Pedro» (p. 1729), the ill-tempered Belmonte, and to «el buen alcalde» (p. 1749), the scoffing, materialistic mayor. Nazarín, disconcerted, learns the difficulty of making moral judgments («Pero este hombre, ¿es malo o es bueno?» [p. 1728] he asks of Belmonte); he later acknowledges our inability to foresee with any certainty the consequences of our actions: «cuando pensamos ir hacia lo malo, nos sorprende el encuentro de lo bueno, y al revés» (p. 1762).
A further instance of Galdós' shrinking from too great a weighting toward or against Nazarín of our sympathies or aversion lies in his refusal to allow Nazarín's mission to take on the tragic and far-reaching consequences of Christ's ministry and passion. Suffering -even financial- is never carried to extremes. No personal injury attends the burning of the lodging-house; its owner will happily profit from the compensation provided by an anonymous insurance company. Nazarín founds no Church (his activities, indeed, in Halma seem of little consequence, save as an excuse to bolster journalistic circulation); because no Church is established, the wars of fanatics consequent upon the institutionalizing of religion remain a figment of Nazarín's feverish delirium. Nazarín faces no crucifixion, but merely, as the mayor mockingly suggests, incarceration in an asylum for lunatics, that is, «Pasión y muerte, con chocolate de Astorga» (p. 1751).
The charge of artistic failure leveled against Nazarín must surely be refuted; the failure lies rather in the reader's inability to appreciate the full scope of —121→ Galdós' creation. Nazarín is foolish and obsessed with self; his actions are viewed with benign irony by a narrator who refuses to commit himself to judgment. But behind Nazarín there appears Christ, and the reader, as Goldman emphasizes, is invited by Galdós to venture some opinion on the events and character described. Galdós, of course, gives no answer to the questions which his work provokes. The ambiguities, the tensions, of the novel (and of our interpretation) remain to the end. Holiness, like madness, becomes in Nazarín a question of definition, a definition which will be born of our prior ideological commitment. A miracle, as is shown in the episode of the curing of the sick child, is a miracle for those who so wish to believe. As in the earlier Miau, where the vision of God may or may not be an illusion, responsibility for judgment is turned back to the individual. Our individual interpretation need not, of course, exclude differing or even contrary viewpoints; thus, for Beatriz the sound of bells is sad and for Ándara it is happy; for Nazarín, however -and in this instance his lack of dogmatism approaches the all-encompassing attitude of Galdós- the sound is both triste y alegre (p. 1732). It is we, the reader, who must finally define saintliness or madness; it is we, the reader, who must come to terms with Nazarín and with Christ Himself; Galdós, ironically, refuses any resolution of the problems he has so skilfully posed.
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