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ArribaAbajoDreams and Galdós

Gerald Gillespie

So prolific an author as Benito Pérez Galdós challenges critics to test their own literary beliefs as a whole; the serious massiveness of Galdosian writing permits the asking of an entire range of qualitative questions: about the relative values of individual works, their meaning collectively, changes which occur during the artist's career, and much more. Yet, like the constellation of his novels, Galdós' creative nature cannot easily be viewed all at once, even though we know that the myriad details form a coherent system -for Galdós' achievement is exactly that, our conviction of the truth of what he presents so abundantly. Salient moments as a work unfolds form the enjoyer's perception of a Galdós novel. Galdós' power to combine these is, however, a complexity which eludes us so long as we remain on the level of details. It is frustrating and provocative that, on the one hand, only a considerable number of careful, specialized studies could possibly reveal the facets of Galdós' artistry, while on the other, the scholarly perception of isolated details is incommensurate with the intricacy of what it purports to elucidate. Whether subjectively or objectively, the scholar is tempted to seize what appears to be a red thread running through the whole fabric and use it as his guide to the design of the weaver. Each segment of that red thread must be, and is, pulled out for scrutiny. A good example of this procedure would be Vernon A. Chamberlids study of «Galdós' Use of Yellow in Character Delineation», PMLA, LXXIX (1964). First, Chamberlin establishes the existence of a motif color by collecting instances of «yellow»; second, he relates the generally opprobrious use of «yellow» in European tradition, of which Galdós was doubtless aware; and, third, in spite of minor inconsistencies, he finds that Galdós' «seemingly small detail... may reveal the feelings of Galdós toward his personaje and the transcendental values he represents» (p. 163).

But too often each bit of thread is merely relegated to a place in a listing. We have variously organized catalogues of the things and thoughts that make up the fictional realm of Don Benito. All the furniture is taken out of all the rooms of Madrid, sorted, classified, and stored for inspection, so to speak, in scholarly warehouses. But when we walk down the aisles from section to section, all we see is a lifeless inventory. It lacks any artistic reality, just as Don José de Relimpio's bookkeeping -very meticulously done- lacked financial substance. It would be pleasant to expatiate on the merits of scholarly catalogues in their own right, because categorization of details does contribute to our fund of knowledge; but the issue is what we do with recognized patterns, with correctly arranged information. It naturally pains any scholar to hear, if only by implication, that a «more significant» endeavor takes precedence over his own honorable labors. Especially when he knew exactly what he wanted to do and did it, he expects a decent recognition of the accomplishment.   —108→   Thus perhaps not even sincere acknowledgment of methodological deliberateness in executing his research will appease Joseph Schraibman, the author of Dreams in the Novels of Galdós (New York, 1960), if his monograph is singled out as a touchstone for discussion. A great deal of labor certainly went into it; patient reading for detail stands behind it.

Yet here is a book dictated and determined by its own appendix. This lists Galdosian «dreamers» chronologically, referring us to the appropriate passages in the novels and in the monograph. The study serves as a handbook which recapitulates the many dreams but leaves them still largely unexplained, as isolated fragments. Schraibman's choice of categories («element of plot», «character reinforcement», «vehicle for the expression of the supernatural», and «descriptive device in the dream») does not overcome the effect of their being collected in a purely technical system, ultimately as single entities. It presupposes, as it were, a corresponding technical application by a Galdós who reached into his writer's kit and selected «devices» which could fit under headings as clear as «screw-driver» and «hammer» are to a carpenter. This point is not intended as an idle quibble, nor as a reflection on Schraibmads awareness of his own approach. Accepting that the scholar's approach derives from certain attitudes or convictions, however, one must assess the implications. Schraibmads introductory chapter makes quite explicit that his real urge is not to interpret, but to compile, «facts». He begins with a threepart sketch of the dream in world literature, Spanish literature, and Galdós. Naturally, the first two surveys rush by rather swiftly, since their content is obvious enough: evidence that dream motifs and themes have always been present in literature.

The third survey determines the book's further subdivision and defines its purpose. Schraibman eschews relating «the content of the novels to the inner personality of the author. It is strictly a literary study in which the dreams are examined, not in isolation, but in the context of the novels in which they appear» (p. 25). That sounds promising, until the final paragraph explains -

The objectives of this study are as follows: First, to take account of the incidence of dreams throughout the novels, to discover whether there were particular periods in Galdós creative career when he exploited the dream technique more than at other times and also to note whether dreams occur more frequently in one special type of novel, e.g., epistolary, autoblographic, novela dialogada, than in any other type. Second, to observe the manner in which the dreams are presented, whether reported in narrative fashion by the author or put into the thoughts or the words of the dreamers. Third, and most important, to determine what function or functions these dreams serve in the structure of the novels in which they appear.

(p. 25 f.)                

Categories one and two demand only quantitative answers, and Schraibman adds nothing to his statistical analysis: Galdós tends to use dreams more frequently from La familia de León Roch on, but tapers off after Angel Guerra; with this same high period of dream, protagonists' own words are included in dream accounts, in contrast to the omniscient narration of such materials by early and late Galdós; protagonists in autobiographical, epistolary, or dramatized works relate their own dreams (pp. 179-181). Category three, though expressly called most important, is disappointing.


It only proliferates further subcategories for more statistical runs in the «Conclusion». Each chapter on the «functions these dreams serve in the structure of the novels» invariably names a few «devices» of storytelling and cites other, usually older, literature and various critics to bolster the factuality of the «devices'» use throughout most of recorded time. Schraibman ordinarily summons to his aid fellow classifiers. The normal sequence, repeated for our conviction, is an assertion, such as «Macrobius, in his Commentary on the Dream of Scipio, classifies all dreams into five groups», then a sizeable quotation from this authority, (p. 27 f.), and next a listing of examples in Galdós of the devices, accompanied by extensive quotation of passages and of other scholars who identify them as dreams. Sometimes a major authority like Freud is cited to support a conclusion as to the validity of Galdós' handling of materials in certain dreams -according to scientific standards now in force. Galdós is not found wanting in authenticity in this respect. And sometimes intriguing questions come to the fore, only to go unanswered, such as the possibility that one of the examples «may not in actuality have been a dream at all, but a reality which took place in the mind of the character concernex» (p. 30). Though rare, these suggestions brush profound themes which are part of Galdós' heritage -not least of all, the concept of the world theatre, our illusory show of life. But in a monograph which is really a mosaic of fragments, the urge to adduce more examples forces the writer on and over the deeps. Schraibman is more interested in documenting Galdós' awareness of dream processes, which he supposedly employs as devices, than in interpreting the subtleties of this awareness in itself.

There is no discussion of the larger matter: Galdosian style. We get our first oblique glimpse of important universals only in the opening paragraph of the final chapter, before the summary. «Most Galdosian dreams presented by the omniscient-author technique» -so Schraibman notes- «are described succinctly and prosaically. However, there are certain dreams in which the author seems to display his great imaginative powers and descriptive skill primarily for the purpose of achieving a certain aesthetic effece» (p. 153). Though the vagueness of the word «certain» obviates having to deal with any specific conception of Galdós as artist, the general distinction between two manners of writing still manages to conjure up something of the vital novelist, who was far more than a technician. It touches on that mysterious border region of fiction where simple reality is transcended by fantasy, inspiration, prophetic vision. It broaches the issue of «aesthetic effect», what we experience of art in these novels.

Though it is no mean tribute to state that Galdós has created the document of the Spanish soul in the nineteenth century, with no triumph or tribulation omitted, let us bear in mind that history is the external record, the speeches, gestures, appearances, the visible and audible parade. Unlike historical reality, within persons is a secret life mostly hidden even from themselves. Galdós moved between historical and inner reality and revealed the invisibletruth to us, as well as the visible. His ability to show the «why» of existence, to connect the pulsation of human motives and drives and the temporal vision   —110→   of «happenings», was the keystone of his art. His sphere as novelist is circumscribed by two similarly contingent spheres: history and drama. When he turned to the dialogue form in the novel and let his characters speak «for themselves», his dramatic method was intrinsically historical -the novel became a kind of living documentation of thoughts and actions in flux toward some resolution, where the curtain may be lowered on a chapter of «reality», the show of existence we all witness. His theatrical bent was another side of Galdós, historian of his people in the Episodios Nacionales. Reality is a noble word, but can be terribly misleading in the case of Galdós, if we regard it solely under the aspect of «facts». Of these there are plenty, a cornucopia of indeed amazing variety, convincing color, and intricate texture. But what gives the sense of experiencing truth in the novels as a whole is our being enabled to live momentarily as it is impossible to do. Only through the dispensation of art can we, simultaneously, watch the mysterious drama and experience the profundities of our human nature. Since Galdós so often chose to penetrate the hidden part of us as we ourselves half glimpse it, as dream, no interpretation of his method would be complete that left out of account the novelist's own literary references.

Surely no critic, let alone critic of Spanish literature, can utter the word Dream and not feel a tug in his innards, a suspicion that there is more involved than a positivistic «reflection» of the facts of common belief in the nineteenth century, a documentation of what happens when people sleep or daydream and the mind plays tricks with the materials of their lives -thus Schraibman (p. 184), however. That is all there; Galdós is committed to recording accurately the processes, the veridical shapes of dreams. But he is also an artist, a maker of fictions himself, a dealer in visions, moving amid constructions of the brain in a realm of creation which, as said before, merges inevitably with fantasy and prophecy. Because we know that Galdós is a manipulator of story and clever practitioner with the tools of his trade, we cannot conclude with Schraibman that he is simply forwarding or summarizing plot, delineating character, and adding color of veracity through dreams. For Galdós, dreams are our contact with the hidden wellspring of all stories, the gateway to our mind and the laws of organic development. Galdós also requires dream because, as a descendant of Cervantes, he must question the show, smile at it, be awefilled by its illogical logic, taste from the invisible wellspring of creation. He possesses that subtle ironic consciousness, modified by England into «humour», which regards even the realest reality only as a metaphor. Galdós' vision of humanity summons forth the shapes and problem of Dream in such a way that it is inextricably tied with the issue of his style.

Schraibman's categorization of devices and techniques offers no substantial comment on this matter, which demands an integral approach. A pattern is easy enough to find; for example, J. Chalmers Herman's study, Don Quijote and the Novels of Pérez Galdós (Ada, Oklahoma, 1955), though it is also largely a catalogue of parallelisms in name-giving, locutions, and techniques, does bring up the «themes and motifs from Don Quijote recurring in Galdós' novels» (ch. vi). Although Herman's analyses of important themes, such   —111→   as «la razón de la sinrazón», are inadequate, he does recognize the existence, beyond mere techniques, of a literary realm of ideas. Herman is mentioned because, of course, quixotisms are fundamental in Galdós' overall conception of dreaming. But, in addition to approaching Galdosian «dreaming» from the perspective of deep-rooted Spanish and European novel tradition since Cervantes, one can begin with the author's acknowledged masterpieces and their revelations. Anthony Zahareas, for example, has felt the Galdosian pulse with sensitivity and isolated these complementary statements in his treatment of «The Tragic Sense in Fortunata y Jacinta», (Symposium, xix, no. I 1965), p. 43 -Fortunata: «¡Qué cosas hay, pero qué cosas! Un mundo que se ve y otro que está debajo escondido... Y lo de dentro gobierna a lo de fuera...» Jacinta: «Y también se dio a pensar en lo molesto y difícil que era para ella tener que vivir dos vidas diferentes, una verdadera y otra falsa como las vidas de los que trabajan en el teatro». From these passages alone, the critic can set out to explicate «dreaming» both with regard to the organic process of development through the interplay of internal and external being, and with regard to the concept of the world theatre and fiction.

Sherman H. Eoff has blazed much of the trail in his thorough study, The Novels of Pérez Galdós: the Concept of Life as Dynamic Process (Saint Louis, 1954). His emphasis upon the «organic» nature of Galdosian writing is well taken. Ordinarily, the concept of organic form is loosely applied in Western criticism, but in this case the application has precise reference to the philosophical and psychological traditions (Krause, Hegel, Wundt, et al.) of the Romantic Bildungsroman, which penetrated Spain and offered another choice in addition to French naturalism. Essentially, this body of ideas, further modified in the period which the Germans term «poetic realism» (roughly 1830-1875), comprised these elements: Mankind was evolving in a mysterious drama of spiritual fulfillment; the concept of the theodicy could be widened and enhanced, but not negated, by the spectacle of evolution and scientific truth. The processes of organic growth in nature were our models, both for understanding ourselves and directing our development; likewise, organic laws should shape art. The order of psychological growth was also organic. The greatest Romantic scientist of mental life, the famous biologist-physician C. G. Carus had already laid down the principle of a larger evolutionary pattern, in which the soul evolved from organic being, and of a corresponding individual pattern, in which the unconscious pre-eixsted the conscious, the latter developing out of the former. Eoff does not mention Carus' Psyche (1846), whose very first sentence states that the unconscious is the key to understanding the conscious, nor many other writers who predate Freud, but they existed as a welcome alternative to determinism. Spain was receptive to such currents.

Although Schraibman lists several names from the Romantic period in his initial survey, he never explores the content of the psychology of the nineteenth century -which would offer many clues to Galdosian «dreaming». The content on the side of «poetic» and not «naturalistic» realism would point toward a meaning behind Galdós' very frequent use of «dreams» which appear to anticipate events or express facets of character. Only in rare moments   —112→   does Galdós lean a bit toward a more physiological interpretation of life; usually he inclines toward a vision that may be called «generative». Events flow neither out of «history» nor out of some abstract «spirit» that shapes mankind, but out of the interplay of myriad minds which are creative fountains. Galdós' world is actually always in a stage of growth before our eyes, never classically fixed, never closed off with finality. The older Romantic concept of the interrelationship of the «fragment» and «infinity» reappears in its realistic guise in the Galdosian sense of that complexity which springs from individual existence; his «creatures» are also «creators». Even the humblest souls manifest the dignity that human beings can possess, if they grow. The «true» inner life, of which Fortunata and Jacinta speak, is the hidden dynamo of the individual's apparent, outward role; and, ultimately, our «dreaming» is an act of co-creation with the Author of the vision not yet completed.

Infinity, once a blustering Romantic force, now flows, trickles, streams -depending on the person and his state of development- from the secret wellspring of the mind. Galdós presents us with a realism of dream that never precludes a higher awareness of vision, yet is free of idealistic excesses. Galdosian characters may live out such idealism in reciprocity with the world as it really is, but Galdós prefers the vantage of irony, the sublimity of the Creation itself. In this respect, he is the worthy spiritual forerunner of Thomas Mann, a convinced admirer of Cervantes in the next generation of realism. In the measure that Galdós approaches the awesomeness of ordinary events -like death- with ironic perception of mysterious correspondences between figments of human imagination and higher verities, he is also the worthy contemporary of Leo Tolstoy. The inadequacy of a treatment of the stuff of the mind like that given by Schraibman can be best illustrated if we select a dream which has a touch of the marvelous, yet is pure realism, realism of the consummate strain of Mann and Tolstoy. There is, for instance, the hallucination of Don Francisco Torquemada on his death bed. Schraibman interprets the old man's earlier paranoiac dream of being poisoned as a device «to bring to a climax the author's description of Torquemada's mental and physical breakdown» (p. 119), certainly a conclusion with which one cannot quarrel. But that the dreamed encounter with St. Peter at heaven's gate only underscores Torquemada's gesture of leaving wealth to the church in hope of buying salvation, because «the miser's concern with the hereafter is a new development in his character» (p. 119), tells us very little with drastic oversimplification.

But let us rehearse the background. The figure of the usurer Torquemada first appears in Amadeo I (III, 1029). He appears as late as in Fortunata y Jacinta (V, 193f.) as a somewhat flat, symbolic character with a mixture of military and clerical traits -strongly suggesting, because of the historical reference to the grand inquisitor under Isabela's reign, a complex of forces peculiarly Spanish and notably embodied in the Jesuit order, founded by the soldier-mystic Ignatius de Loyola. But by this juncture, he is visibly fleshing out as a potentially important personaje, acquiring many nuances and traits. In La de Bringas, an earlier Torquemada still is pulsating with undisclosed meaning as a symbolic type, who is grotesquely linked with the «Bread of   —113→   Life», holding up a kind of donought which we may associate with the Host or a coin:

Este era un hombre de mediana edad, canoso, la barba afeitada de cuatro días, moreno y con un cierto aire clerical... Acompañaba sus fatigosos discursos de una lenta elevación del brazo derecho, formando con los dedos índice y pulgar una especie de rosquilla para ponérsela a su interlocutor delante de los ojos, como objeto de veneración.

(IV, 1644)                

This association becomes explicit when Rosalía goes to beg for time:

Pero Torquemada oyó la proposición con fría seriedad, y luego, ofreciendo a las miradas de Rosalía la rosca formada con sus dedos, como se ofrece la Hostia a la adoración de los fieles, le dijo...

(IV, 1653)                

Here is clear indication that the miser's connection with the «hereafter» is not so much new, as revealed, in the ultimate death scene; the connection was latent in his story.

So linked with things divine is Torquemada that the titles of four novels emphasize ironically his strange journey through life. After the loss of his son, he slowly rises salamander-like from the fire (T. en la hoguera) into society, into useful functions in the nation, into an ulcerated eminence as an arrived nouveau riche. Torquemada en la Cruz (Cruz being a sardonic reference to his sister-in-law), Torquemada en el Purgatorio, and Torquemada y San Pedro round out a tetralogy which also portrays the evolution of Spanish society in the period of leveling through the democracy of money; that is, a period of reorganization and rejuvenation. We watch Torquemada interacting with an exhausted nobility, and his agonies of man in ascension, always carrying with him something of his mortal coil, never quite purging the dross, are surely the paradigm of our developmental destiny. Hence, recalling his earlier appearance as an uncanny, suggestive type associated with the inquisitor, we note that the «mystery» of Torquemada remains unresolved right to the end. First presented in masterfully compact «flatness», the figure of Torquemada unfolds in an exposition that slips into «prophetic» irony. We may interpret variously, wondering, for example, whether he represents the ghostly shadow of past impulses of Spain in its era of Catholic greatness; whether he represents the modern sacrament, bread in the slang sense of «money» and «life»; or whether he stands for many levels simultaneously. But, in any case, it is impossible to ignore the wider scope of his final dream on earth, when he envisions the portals of eternal life studded with precious embellishments -including familiar coins!- and mistakes the zealous missionary father Gamborena for the gatekeeper.

The composition of the dream meets the theoretical standards of realism according to Freud; details derive in part from Torquemada's past, but also from the period immediately before revery. Extrinsically interpreted, this is clever, authentic moment of storytelling. But, intrinsically explicated, it is supreme achievement that fuses many levels of Galdosian meaning. «¿Dormía o había caído en un colapso profundo, precursor del sueño eterno? Fuera lo que fuese... (V, 1194). Galdós forces us at every step to recognize, to ponder -with reference to an engulfing state called «sueño eterno». Is Gamborena perhaps actually a «Saint Peter» for Torquemada, since, after all,   —114→   he hopes to derive support for religious works? Does the long struggle by the priest against the «demon» of Torquemada's alleged egoism lead to any outcome? We are never certain whether the malignancy is exorcised, nor whether it even really exists. The confused, ambiguous fragments that escape the dying man's lips cease with a conundrum: «Conversión» (1196). Was Torquemada striving to express that his heart had melted; or was this just another financial term sprinkled in his ravings? O. Henry would have admired this choice between interpretations -a theological «Lady or Tiger» ending. But more than a device is in question. Suddenly, Galdós himself speaks with ear tuned to the secrets of transcendance:

Ante el arcano que cubre, como nube sombría, las fronteras entre lo finito y lo infinito, conténtese el profano con decir que, en el momento aquel solemnísimo, el alma del señor marqués de San Eloy se aproximó a la puerta, cuyas llaves tiene... quién las tiene. Nada se veía; oyóse, sí rechinar de metales en la cerradura. Después el golpe seco, el formidable portazo que hace estremecer los orbes. Pero aquí entra la inmensa duda. ¿Cerraron después que pasara el alma o cerraron dejándola fuera?


«El profano, deteniéndose medroso ante el velo impenetrable que oculta el más temido y al propio tiempo el más hermoso misterio de la existencia humana» (1196), hesitates to judge. And therewith, Galdós attains the very portals of enshrouded mystery, truly achieves the inner validity of the seer, lifts us to a plane on which the tunnoils of human striving no longer exercise any spell; they are but dream, a vision, our approach to the awesome but beautiful mystery of human existence. At a moment like the death of Don Francisco, character leaves off and with it all mere devices. We experience that which only great writers can give us -a sense of wonder. Tolstoy gives it in the death of Prince Andrey, which is a paradigm of Life in Death, for the wounded dreamer has already fought in his mind to bar the door to «It», and failed, gaining, however, the realization of «awakening from sleep» (War and Peace, Part XII, ch. 16). It is not unfair to cite a case where Galdós stands on the «frontier between the finite and the infinite», and is not in the more mundane places which he frequents as a writer. The point is to illustrate that Galdosian dreaming must be taken more seriously, because Galdós is able to reach the remote outposts of creative insight.

There is more than mock heroics in the final mention of Torquemada's purchased title, «marqués de San Eloy», just as there is more to human life than meets the eye. Even on the simpler level of everyday living, Galdosian dreams dreamt by personales partake of the «mystery of human existence». They, too, must be regarded seriously. For how easily the «innocene, visions of little Luis in Miau are translated into a tragic nightmare of reality. How inexorably the promptings in dream or revery dictate the pattern of behavior. In earlier works, the forces of obsession and harsh reality contend within the personality, and all too often, the outcome is deformation (La desheredada). Nevertheless, impulses of health and sanity can also triumph, and occasionally even banish the proclaimed «norms» of society as false show which constricts individual freedom and happiness (Tormento). The contest between illusion and reality is more complicated in the mature novels where, much as Eugene   —115→   O'Neill believed, men appear reluctant to surrender the comforting reality of noble dreams, if life is indeed a stepmother to them, and yet live under the shadow of awareness of their state (Maxi in Fortunata y Jacinta). The choice is difficult indeed. And then, finally, in late works like Nazarín and Ángel Guerra, Galdós deliberately presents sympathetic figures who willingly become, in the outward gaze of society, «mad» or «victims of self-deception», who espouse dreams, and quest after visions that of necessity conflict with «reality».

Galdós grows increasingly sensitive to the fact that, if we objectify our dreams, if we express our ideals -which are, apparently, only visions because they conflict with the extant, visible order- we are creating something in time. Out of the arcane, invisible darkness emerge things we can never fully deny or suppress. Strange new «realities» are born from the mind, akin to the normalcies which flow out of the same organic vessel of natural law. These different species of reality rub shoulders on the stage of our world, much as did Don Quixote and Sancho, and neither alone but both together resolve into a higher synthesis in the mind of the creative personality as artist. To the task of defining this complexity criticism is still being called.

State University of New York, Binghamton.