Galdós' mature work contained in the Novelas españolas contemporáneas reveals the great interest which the 19th century Spanish novelist had in analyzing women in his society. As Stout has pointed out, nine of the thirty-one novels by Galdós (excluding the Episodios nacionales) bear women's names as titles, and four other titles -La desheredada, La incógnita, La loca de la casa, and Miau- are derived from the leading female character(s)201. Women also have crucial roles in Misericordia, in Lo prohibido, and in Realidad.
Tristana, one of the Novelas españolas contemporáneas, was among the least known of the Galdós novels bearing women's names until the Buñuel film version of 1970 made the title known to an international audience. At the time of its publication in 1892 the novel elicited little comment, and the chief reason cited for the slight critical attention paid to Tristana is the furor which the estreno of Galdós' controversial drama, Realidad, caused. Friends and enemies, political and literary, gave themselves over to the polemic concerning Realidad and virtually ignored the latest Galdós novel.
Tristana, never considered one of Galdós' best novels, is, however, deserving of more study than it has thus far received, and especially of criticism which focuses on one of the essential statements of the work, the effect of role-stereotyping on human beings. Fabra Barreiro has said that Tristana is «la historia de una búsqueda desesperada e individual de libertad y de vida en un contexto opresivo que niega esos valores a todos los seres humanos y de forma y grado más acentuados a la mujer situada en inferioridad de personalidades con relación al hombre»202. Galdós has, in Tristana, created a character who attempts to depart radically from the role mandated by society for its female members, and he shows through the character of Tristana and also to some extent through don Lope and Horacio (and even through descriptions of minor characters or persons merely mentioned) that the sharp division of sex roles in society has a damaging effect on human beings, especially on bright and sensitive women.
The plot of the novel is a very simple one. Tristana Reluz, an orphan seduced by her guardian Don Lope, gradually becomes aware of the circumscribed life she leads in his home. Although many opportunities in life are closed to her as a woman without means, she has dreams of independence and a career. Her romantic involvement with a young painter, Horacio, is brought to an end by his prolonged absence from Madrid and by Tristana's loss of a leg (through amputation by the good Dr. Miquis who is so familiar to readers of Galdós). At the end of the novel, Tristana marries Don Lope. The narrator, in a twist on the ending of fairy tales, asks: «¿Eran felices uno y otro?» and just as the question forms a contrast to the usual affirmation that the couple —136→ did live happily ever after, the response «Tal vez» also indicates Galdós' understanding of the ambiguity and complexity of the human situation203.
Emilia Pardo Bazán, in her contemporary review of Tristana, corrected the false idea of some critics of the period that simplicity of plot is a fault in a novel, and distinguished between a novel's «asunto interno y el externo, entre lo que acontece y lo que permanece, entre lo que se ve y lo que se esconde, pero pueden adivinar los iniciados»204. She then explicitly stated that «El asunto interno de Tristana, asunto nuevo y muy hermoso, pero imperfectamente desarrollado, es el despertar del entendimiento, la conciencia de una mujer sublevada contra una sociedad que la condena a perpetua infamia y no le abre ningún camino honroso para ganarse la vida, salir del poder del decrépito galán, y no ver en el concubinato su única protección, su apoyo único» (p. 81).
Pardo Bazán accuses Galdós, however, of failing to deliver on the promise of the first chapters. «Si esta idea, -que en Tristana aparece embrionaria y confusa, al través de una niebla, como si el novelista no se diese cuenta clara de la gran fuerza dramática que puede encerrarse destacase con la precisión y vitalidad que ostentan el asunto interno de El Amigo Manso y los caracteres de Fortunata y Jacinta, Tristana sería quizá la mejor novela de Galdós» (p. 81). Pardo Bazán also charges Galdós with a divergence, with the introduction of Horacio, from this principal concern of the awakening of a woman to full understanding (consciousness) of her situation in life as a woman. «Tristana se entrega a la pasión con un ímpetu que yo no negaré que sea cosa muy natural, pero que no tiene nada que ver con la novela iniciada en las primeras páginas del libro. La lucha por la independencia ya queda relegada a último término; puede decirse que suprimida. Ni aun tenemos ocasión de presenciar otro género de lucha, la lucha por la libre elección amorosa» (p. 86).
For Pardo Bazán, the presence of Horacio and the romantic episode is extraneous and diverts our attention to a more conventional problem. However, as the subsequent examination of Tristana's attitudes toward Horacio will show, Tristana does not abandon her search for self-fulfillment and development merely because she falls in love. In fact, as I shall attempt to show in the course of this analysis, the extended episode of Tristana's involvement with Horacio is a fundamental means of revealing that Tristana's passion to live life fully and autonomously is the core of her being, and that this is the key to her characterization throughout the novel.
Tristana's desire to be an independent person arises after her seduction by Don Lope, according to the text, but it is possible that her childhood also influenced this change. Although before her death Tristana's mother had become an extremely eccentric woman, don Lope remembered «la simpática Josefina de otros tiempos, dama de trato muy agradable, bastante instruida y hasta con ciertas puntas y ribetes de literata de buena ley» (p. 1545b). She was a good critic and «a cencerros tapados compuso algunos versitos, que sólo mostraba a los amigos de confianza» (p. 1545b). It is conceivable that the artistic impulses of Doña Josefina, which could only be given expression in a very restricted circle because of her sex, found a second-generation response in Tristana's ambitions to become an artist in two other areas (painting and acting).—137→
Shortly before Doña Josefina's death, two manias had so come to dominate her life that she could do nothing but move from one house to another, almost weekly, and constantly scrub and clean every conceivable object, including clocks and the interior of the piano. It is as if, in the frustration of not following her desire to be an artist or an intellectual, she exaggerates (in her semi-madness) the fulfilling of the traditional role of the woman, that of housewife.
The romantic inclinations of Tristana's mother were expressed in her love of Golden Age theatre, by her distaste for all modern realist tendencies, and even in the naming of her children. «Tuvo un hijo, muerto a los doce años, a quien puso el nombre de Lisardo, como si fuera de la casta de Tirso o Moreto. Su niña debía el nombre de Tristana a la pasión por aquel arte caballeresco y noble, que creó una sociedad ideal para servir constantemente de norma y ejemplo a nuestras realidades groseras y vulgares» (p. 1546a). We can speculate that Tristana's mother may have been revealing some awareness of the difficult role society imposes on women by naming her only daughter Tristana, a word reminiscent of the tragedy of Tristan and Isolde as well as connoting triste, tristeza.
Tristana's last name, Reluz, is appropriate for her seeking of a different kind of life, a longing which is made very explicit in her cry, «Quiero luz, más luz, siempre más luz» (p. 1586b). Horacio is inviting her to become a part of his life in the country, in nature (which would also place her in the traditional role of housewife), and Tristana rejects that life «de dulces tinieblas» both for herself and for Horacio (p. 1586b). It may also be significant that this yearning is expressed in the context of her ambition to be an actress, a career which would allow her to take the role of «others», to be free of the restrictions of her circumscribed life.
It is probably true as Stout indicates, that Tristana could very likely have been a success in any one of the fields in which she was interested205. She was a very fast learner in every intellectual or artistic endeavor, in learning to speak English, to paint, and to play the organ. But Tristana, like other women of her time, was not given the opportunity for an education which would have given her a chance for even one of the limited careers open to women.
Even though, as I have suggested earlier, Tristana's mother may have contributed to her daughter's artistic ambitions, Doña Josefina had not thought beyond the conventional girls' training for a very limited role as wife.
Tristana continues in her lament to Horacio: «no ceso de echar pestes contra los que no supieron enseñarme un arte, siquiera un oficio, porque si me hubieran puesto a ribetear zapatos, a estas horas sería yo una buena oficiala, y —138→ quizá maestra» (1570a). She rebels against the unfair dividing of life's opportunities and experiences: «Protesto, me da la gana de protestar contra los hombres, que se han cogido todo el mundo por suyo, y no nos han dejado a nosotras más que las veredas estrechitas por donde ellos no saben andar...» (1580b). When she first awakened to her plight at the age of twenty-two, Tristana «veía con lucidez su situación, y la parte de humanidad que ella representaba con sus desdichas» (p. 1549a). The phrase «la parte de humanidad» is too general to refer only to a specific group within womankind.
These passages reveal that Tristana does not see her plight as limited to a few women, certainly not to herself alone, an orphan girl totally dependent on a tyrant, Don Lope Garrido. Her situation may appear to be worse than that of women who have fathers or husbands, but except for the blessing of the church, about which Galdós cared very little, there is little difference between Tristana's life and that of most women in 19th century Spanish society who had no real choices for freedom available to them. It was extremely difficult to be libre y honrada. As Tristana complains to Saturna, «Es que vivimos sin movimiento, atadas con mil ligaduras» (p. 1550b).
Saturna is fully aware of woman's situation as well. She cautions Tristana, «si ha de haber un poco de reputación, es preciso que haya dos pocos de esclavitud. Si tuviéramos oficios y carreras las mujeres, como los tienen esos bergantes de hombres, anda con Dios. Pero, fíjese, sólo tres carreras pueden seguir las que visten faldas: o casarse, que carrera es, o el teatro..., vamos, ser cómica, que es buen modo de vivir, o... no quiero nombrar lo otro. Figúreselo» (1549b).
Pardo Bazán, basing her statement on this passage which she also quotes, saw the potential in Tristana's story, for the «asunto fundamental» of the novel should have been the «proceso libertador y redentor de un alma, de un alma que representa millones de almas oprimidas por el mismo horrible peso, a sabiendas o sin advertirlo» (p. 86). (Pardo Bazán believed, however, as mentioned above, that Galdós had diverged from this promise.)
The one career woman whom Tristana meets does not fit into the three careers outlined by Saturna. Doña Malvina, an English woman who becomes Tristana's tutor in the English language, is described as a former sacerdota protestanta of the capilla evangélica who was forced to take up a second career when «le cortaron los víveres» (p. 1582a). It should be noted in passing that this one example in the book of a woman earning her own living is of a non-Spanish person whose two careers would generally be unavailable to a Spanish woman like Tristana -that of a Protestant minister and a teacher of English.
Tristana, in describing her lessons with Doña Malvina to Horacio in a letter, provides a passage worthy of special mention. Her choice of Macbeth as material for her English lesson is significant. She writes, «Me dió [Doña Malvina] a escoger, y elegí el Macbeth, porque aquella señora de Macbeth me ha sido siempre muy simpática. Es mi amiga» (1583b). Her identification with the Shakespearian character is focused on the prophecy which Tristana has adopted for herself; «Las brujitas me han decido que seré reina..., y yo me lo creo» and on the very line which most reveals Lady Macbeth's wishing to be freed from the so-called «feminine» traits of tenderness and compassion in order to carry out the murder of Duncan (p. 1583b). Tristana, addressing Horacio, writes: —139→ «¡Ay hijo, aquella exclamación de la señá Macbeth, cuando grita al cielo con toda su alma: Unsex me here, me hace estremecer y despierta no sé qué terribles emociones en lo más profundo de mi naturaleza!» (1584a). Tristana decides not to explain to Horacio what the phrase means. Is she declining to translate the English words for him or is she refusing to explain the profound significance of the words for Lady Macbeth and especially for herself since she calls the Shakespearian character «mi amiga»? Tristana may be only partially aware that she is feeling with Lady Macbeth -may I have the strength to be what I need to be for the task I've set myself, irrespective of what is expected of a woman206.
Another aspect of Tristana's refusal to accept the traditional female role is her disclaiming any domestic abilities. To Horacio she says: «Me parezco a los hombres en que ignoro lo que cuesta una arroba de patatas y un quintal de carbón» (1572a) and to Don Lope: «Yo creo que no sirvo para lo doméstico; vamos, que no puedo entender» (1590a). Part of this may be seen as an over-reaction on the part of Tristana to the passion for cleanliness (a part of housekeeping) exhibited by her mother in the last years of her life. It is not just the role of housekeeper which Tristana rejects; she has also internalized Don Lope's views on marriage. She tells Saturna, «creo como él que eso de encadenarse a otra persona por toda la vida es invención del diablo...» (1549b). This reaction to matrimony is not confined to her relationship with Don Lope, for even after falling in love with Horacio, she is adamant in her dislike of marriage: «No quiero ser su manceba, tipo innoble, la hembra que mantienen algunos individuos para que les divierta, como un perro de caza; ni tampoco que el hombre de mis ilusiones se me convierta en marido. No veo la felicidad en el matrimonio» (p. 1580a).
Of course, Tristana's distaste for marriage has more basis than Don Lope's since he prefers freedom in order to exploit others, whereas Tristana simply wants to be her own person. For a woman of her time, this is very difficult, since in whatever role a woman is cast (daughter, wife, or lover) she is viewed as property. «En opinión del vulgo circunvecino, no era hija, ni sobrina, ni esposa, ni nada del gran don Lope; no era nada y lo era todo, pues le pertenecía como una petaca, un mueble o una prenda de ropa, sin que nadie se la pudiera disputar» (p. 1542b). The text's frequent use of the words esclava or cautiva to describe Tristana and the references to Don Lope as a tirano extend this idea throughout the novel. Don Lope himself speaks of Tristana as his private possession and chooses whatever relationship may be most convenient for the moment, since in all he is the tyrant. «Te miro como, esposa y como hija, según me convenga» (p. 1566b). He expresses a similar idea when his jealousy of Horacio overcomes him: «si no me cuadra retenerla como mujer, la retendré como hija querida; pero que nadie la toque, ¡vive Dios!, nadie la mire siquiera». The narrator rightly comments on the «profundo egoísmo que estas ideas entrañaban» (p. 1589a).
But lest the reader reach the erroneous conclusion that Tristana's desires for independence are simply the result of her exploitation by her guardian, it should be noted that the most complete explanations of Tristana's desire for an independent existence occur in her conversations with, and letters to, Horacio with whom she is in love. She does not wish to live her life merely through the —140→ man she loves but desires to parallel his life with her own career and even dares to think that she might be the superior artist. «Pues si con voluntad, paciencia y una aplicación continua se vencieran las dificultades, yo las vencería, y sería pintora, y estudiaríamos juntos, y mis cuadros..., ¡muérete de envidia!, dejarían tamañitos a los tuyos...» (1569b).
This audacity cannot continue for long, even in her fantasies, for she realizes that the male ego is especially fragile when challenged by a woman's capabilities. «¡Ah, no, eso no; tú eres el rey de los pintores! No, no te enfades; lo eres, porque yo te lo digo. ¡Tengo un instinto!... Yo no sabré hacer las cosas, pero los sé juzgar» (1569b). Thus she retreats to the conventional province of woman's instinct, and assumes the passive, rather than the active, creative role which is traditionally assigned to men. Later, in one of her letters to Horacio, although continuing in her ambition to be a painter (having recognized that her dream of being an actress is not attainable), she is careful to state that she will not compete with him. «Tres o cuatro lecciones tuyas me bastarán para seguir tus huellas, siempre a distancia, se entiende» (1592b).
Horacio Díaz is attracted by Tristana's air of a mujer superior, mujer excepcional, but at the same time, and with growing apprehension, he fears that his own importance may be diminished by her ambition and ability as the following passage clearly reveals:
He tries to persuade her to hold her ambition less tightly. «Entrégate a mí sin reserva. ¡Ser mi compañera de toda la vida; ayudarme y sostenerme con tu cariño...! ¿Te parece que hay un oficio mejor, ni arte más hermoso? Hacer feliz a un hombre que te hará feliz, ¿qué más?» (p. 1576a and b). But Tristana believes that becoming a slave will make him love her less (p. 1572b) and rejects the idea that «dos que se aman han de volverse iguales y han de pensar lo mismo... ¡El uno para el otro! ¡Dos en uno! ¡Qué bobadas inventa el egoísmo!» (p. 1583b).
Horacio is, in spite of his profession and the bohemian existence this may suggest, a conventional person208. His views on marriage and the family conform quite closely to society's customs. Although early in their relationship Horacio professes to be undaunted by Tristana's wish to maintain equality, he is astonished at her wish to live separately, and truly shocked by her suggestions concerning the care and naming of any child they might have209. Tristana insists that their child would be more hers than his, and therefore, should live with her. She shows her independence of thought by her maintaining that her child should bear the apellido of the mother (p. 1573a). Care of children by the mother is a —141→ common pattern even to this day, but the identifying of the child by the mother's name, when the father is known, is unusual.
It is not at all surprising that Horacio is not interested in marrying Tristana after the loss of her leg210. Don Lope recognizes that, inevitably, Horacio will never think of marrying Tristana now that she is crippled. The old man has accurately analyzed Horacio's typical male response to a woman with a physical handicap. The mutual respect and admiration which develop between Don Lope and Horacio almost take on the nature of a conspiracy of convenience. Horacio is happy to be relieved of any feelings of guilt concerning his relationship with Tristana by Don Lope's willingness to support her211.
Don Lope, an aging Don Juan, is seen by the last victim of his career, Tristana, as «una combinación monstruosa de cualidades buenas y de defectos horribles; tiene dos conciencias, una muy pura y noble para ciertas cosas, otra que es como un lodazal; y las usa según los casos» (p. 1564b). The good in Don Lope is revealed through his friendship with Tristana's father and his generosity toward her family which causes his own impoverishment212. Chapter II outlines the facets of Don Lope's moral structure.
The bad side of Don Lope is expressed fundamentally in «todo cuanto al amor se refiere» (p. 1564b) and the narrator accuses the viejo verde of serious moral blindness for his belief that anarchy is the only law in relations between men and women. «Era que al sentido moral del buen caballero le faltaba una pieza importante, cual órgano que ha sufrido una mutilación y sólo funciona con limitaciones o paradas deplorables. Era que don Lope, por añejo dogma de su caballería sedentaria, no admitía crimen ni falta ni responsabilidad en cuestiones de faldas... Profesaba los principios más erróneos y disolventes, y los reforzaba con apreciaciones históricas, en las cuales lo ingenioso no quitaba lo sacrílego» (1547a).
The narrator disassociates himself and other acquaintances of Don Lope from the pernicious ideas of Garrido and goes so far as to say: «Si no hubiera infierno, sólo para don Lope habría que crear uno, a fin de que en él eternamente purgase sus burlas de la moral, y sirviese de perenne escarmiento a los muchos que, sin declararse sectarios suyos, vienen a serlo de hecho en toda la redondez de esta tierra pecadora» (1547b). It is thus made very clear that there are many men with Don Lope's propensities; he represents a common male attitude, but not one shared by the narrator.
Don Lope deprives Tristana of any opportunity for education and a career until he recognizes a rival in Horacio. He hires a tutor for Tristana and encourages her in her dreams of a career as an alternative to marrying the young painter, after Horacio has left Madrid. But the definitive capture of Tristana for himself alone is made possible by her physical handicap. On the day the operation's necessity is made clear, Don Lope, addressing an envelope to Horacio, gloats over his victory: «ya no te temo. La perdiste, la perdiste para siempre, pues esas bobadas del amor eterno, del amor ideal, sin piernas ni brazos, no son más que un hervor insano de la imaginación. Te he vencido. Triste es mi victoria, pero cierta... '¡Sujeta para siempre! ¡Ya no más desviaciones de mí!'» (p. 1596b).—142→
Tristana, as well as Don Lope, recognizes that the amputation has totally eliminated any chance of achieving her dream of independence. Her desire to be a successful artist manifests itself right up to the moment of the operation. As she is being anesthetized, her speech indicates that she thinks she is playing Beethoven's music, then that she is Beethoven, and finally, that she is the painter Velázquez, retouching Las Hilanderas. After the amputation, she appears to accept many things which earlier she had rejected. «Sin duda, por efecto de una metamorfosis verificada en su alma después de la mutilación de su cuerpo, lo que antes desdeñó era ya para ella como risueña perspectiva de un mundo nuevo» (p. 1607a).
The passages describing Tristana's post-operative period contain many references to her new life and her resurrection (1598a, 1608a), to the wings she has sprouted (1599a, 1606b), and to the metamorphosis she has undergone (1607a, 1609a, 1610a and b). Successive stages in this metamorphosis lead her to a sublimation of her love for the ideal person into love for God. The «resurrection» from the operation to a new life and the successive steps of Tristana's «metamorphosis» insisted on by the text, with the frequent references to her wings and her angelic qualities, trace the development of the only «advancement» possible for a woman of the 19th century.
After the operation, Tristana accepts the roles traditionally assigned to women, in the kitchen and in the church. In a radical shift of behavior, she takes up a «nueva afición: el arte culinario en su rama importante de repostería» (p. 1612b). Tristana dedicates many hours to the church, playing the organ (a Santa Cecilia on crutches), uplifting the spirits of other worshippers. (Even here, she is fulfilling society's expectations for her as a woman, in that she plays a supportive role.) Tristana becomes that familiar figure in Spanish life and literature, a beata. It should be remembered that daily and prolonged attendance at church is one way, for Tristana and other women, to be participants in some daily activity outside the home. The beata is only possible in a society which denies a wide range of activities to half its citizens. Discovering on the first day of trying to use crutches that there is no elegant way to use them, Tristana resignedly says, «Siempre seré como las mujeres lisiadas que piden limosna a la puerta de las iglesias. No me importa. ¡Qué remedio tengo más que conformarme!» (1607b). One could say that the adjective lisiadas is redundant, for Tristana is really identifying herself with all women.
In my opinion, the loss of Tristana's leg is a metaphor which puts in physical terms the handicap which she has borne all along, the handicap of being a woman in a society which severely restricts half of the human race on the basis of sex alone. The vagueness in the description of Tristana's illness tends to strengthen this thesis, for although there are details of the operation performed by Dr. Miquis and colleagues, the medical reasons for the amputation are not at all clear. After the operation, no idealism can conquer the plain truth of Tristana's mutilation in this world, and she is forced to accept the restricted life of a woman in her society.
Casalduero has defined the «asunto de Tristana» as «el fracaso impuesto por la naturaleza a una muchacha que intenta independizarse del hombre»213. But Tristana is not frustrated by «la naturaleza». It is not Galdós who thinks that —143→ «la naturaleza, no la sociedad, ha sometido la mujer al hombre»214. Casalduero's interpretation comes close to Don Lope's own interpretation of Tristana's situation. According to Don Lope, she «no contaba con su destino... no contaba con Dios» (1596b). But Don Lope is not the author's spokesman and the narrator has ridiculed Don Lope, his morals, and his ideas previously.
Neither is there support in the novel for the statement which Casalduero makes that «Tristana en el fondo es completamente libre. Hubiera podido abandonar a Garrido cuando hubiera querido»215. This also appears to be based on a statement of Don Lope who says that he will not keep Tristana from going out and says that she is «materialmente libre» (p. 1569a). If she had been willing to marry Horacio, perhaps she could have left Don Lope's slavery, but no hint is given that she has any possibility of fulfilling her desires for an autonomous life, given the ideas of Horacio which have been outlined above. Indeed, Saturna's statement quoted earlier on the only careers open to a woman reflects the true situation for the 19th century Spanish woman216.
The first career which Saturna mentioned was marriage, and this is the role which Tristana finally comes to accept. The passivity, on Tristana's part, of this act, and the emphasis on the external societal nature of it are clear in this passage:
Tristana's earlier statement, «No sé, no sé cuándo ni cómo concluirá esto; pero de alguna manera ha de concluir» (1550b), obviously has its fulfillment -whatever the outcome- but its tone of resignation exactly fits the tone of the end of the novel. All of Tristana's abilities, ambitions, and hopes have been reduced to the restricted life of a woman of her time. The forms of repression and conformity are too formidable to be deflected by the spirit of an idealistic woman and the author shows human potential wasted in a flavorless existence. It is Don Lope who licks his fingers in delight at the products of his new wife's culinary interest, not Tristana.
Two articles, neither of which was known to me when this piece was written, and which deal with some of the issues raised by the novel in regard to the sex-role stereotyping of women are: Emilio Miró, «'Tristana' o la imposibilidad de ser», Cuadernos hispanoamericanos, 250-52 (1970-71), 505-22; and Leon Livingstone, «The Law of Nature and Women's Liberation in Tristana», AG, VII (1972), 93-100.
It will be apparent to the reader of the three articles, that although inevitably, many of the same passages are cited, some differing conclusions are drawn from them. Livingstone views the ending of the novel as essentially a happy one, in which Tristana, finally abandoning her exaggerated feminist ideas, conforms to the law of Nature in her marriage to Don Lope, restoring equilibrium in human relationships and institutions.—144→
Miró acknowledges the novel's ending as profoundly sad, as I do, and places the major blame for Tristana's impossible life on society, but he shares to some degree Livingstone's interpretation of Tristana, referring to «un mal entendido feminismo» as one of the possible causes of her failure in self-realization. To show that Tristana's human aspirations were not exaggerated or unreasonable, it need only be pointed out that if her desires for education, a career, and autonomous existence had been spoken by a man, they would have been seen as the most «natural» of desires and no threat to social harmony.
State University of New York at Albany