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ArribaAbajoNarrator and Reader in Torquemada en la hoguera: Some Further Considerations

Jennifer Lowe

The language and content of the opening paragraph of Torquemada en la hoguera have been discussed by many critics, each finding in them supportive evidence for his own particular theory. Pierre Ullman comments on the similarities to a romance de ciego which, he feels, condition reader-reaction to the tale.145 For B. J. Zeidner Bäuml this first paragraph «embodies the technique, the definition and... the function of the bourgeois grotesque» which, for him, is fundamental to an appreciation of the novel.146 The explicit manner in which Galdós speaks about his purpose in the opening sentences of Torquemada en la hoguera is underlined by H. B. Hall, who adds that «we should not be misled by the half-comic rhetoric into underestimating the seriousness and relevance of this exordium».147 A similar view is taken by J. L. Brooks, when he points out that in the first paragraph «the reader is left in no doubt either about the character of the eponymous hero or about the purpose of the book».148 Francisco Ayala draws our attention particularly to the introduction of the first person narrator in the opening sentences,149 whilst for Michael Nimetz «this direct first-person approach, with 'you' understood (Voy a contarle), invites the reader to make himself comfortable, to 'gather round', as it were».150 In a recent study Ricardo Gullón states that in the first line the narrator is «personalizado y parcializado, pues... declara ya, en la metáfora y en la adjetivación, su propósito de contar desde la pasión y no desde la objetividad».151 Thus we cannot expect our narrator to be a neutral one. I wish to examine in detail here the introduction and subsequent presentation of the narrator and his relationship with the reader in Torquemada en la hoguera, with particular reference to the various fluctuations which occur. Not all the aspects which will be mentioned are, of course, unique to this specific novel, but I shall be restricting my comments to it.

In his perceptive study El narrador en la novela del siglo XIX152 Germán Gullón reminds us that «Cada autor real se desdobla en tantos autores implícitos como novelas escribe, y en cada una tiene un ser distinto; su figura varía de acuerdo con el propósito, y en cada caso adopta una máscara diferente».153 What we shall discover in the course of Torquemada en la hoguera is that the narrator assumes more than one role within this single novel.

In the opening paragraph of Torquemada en la hoguera the narrator clearly demonstrates that he is in control. This is seen most obviously in the twice-repeated «Voy a contar» but is also deducible from the fact that he reveals not only that he knows what happened to Torquemada («cómo fue al quemadero», «cómo vino el fiero sayón a ser víctima») but also that he has no desire to conceal this information from the reader (931).154 The narrator's aim to indicate that his tale must be understood first and foremost on an exemplary   —90→   level takes precedence over any attempt to create a sense of mystery. In this first paragraph, too, we the readers are addressed as «señores»,155 an appellation which will be replaced in the next paragraph by «mis amigos». The change is important. After the somewhat hectoring and bombastic style of the opening sentences the tone becomes more familiar and relaxed at the start of the second paragraph. The main-clause statement «Mis amigos conocen ya a don Francisco Torquemada» (931) creates a firm bond between narrator and reader as well as between the reader and Torquemada. However, the intrusive «por lo que de él se me antojó referirles» (931) produces a divisive effect and makes us realise not only that we are dependent for our knowledge upon the narrator but, more significantly and worryingly, upon the unquantifiable whims of the narrator.156 We are clearly being encouraged to consider the narrator as our sole source of information and the following sentence may, therefore, appear somewhat disconcerting: «Ay de mis buenos lectores si conocen [a Torquemada]... por tratos de otra clase... no tan desinteresados como estas inocentes relaciones entre narrador y lector» (931). Nimetz comments that here «Galdós draws the reader into the tale he is narrating. He becomes a potential character in the story».157 For Ayala the suggestion that the reader may have met Torquemada «fuera del campo de la ficción literaria en que autor, personaje y lector conviven»158 is an important one. He adds:

Imaginariamente, se intenta sacarlos a todos ellos, incluso al protagonista, del marco de la obra; o... ensanchar éste para que dentro de él quepan a su vez el narrador y sus lectores.159

It is, I feel, also essential to realise that at this point the readers are credited with experiences and existences of their own. It may imply that they may prove to have opinions of their own, as did certain historiadores inéditos (931).160 However, any such speculation must not be divorced from an awareness that both lectores and historiadores are part of Galdós' creation.

News of the death of Torquemada's wife is followed swiftly by an apology for having sprung such tragic news on the readers «sin la preparación conveniente» (932) for «sé que apreciaban a doña Silvia, como la apreciábamos todos los que tuvimos el honor de tratarla» (932). As Ayala indicates, the dividing lines between the real world and the fictional world are once again blurred as «el autor invita a sus lectores a ingresar con él dentro del campo de la ficción».161 It is interesting to determine exactly how Galdós has achieved this effect. Firstly, the order of events in this paragraph is clearly the result of deliberate choice for, had he so wished, the narrator could have suitably prepared the readers for his tragic announcement. The narrator's awareness of his control over his material is thus in evidence. Secondly, the sentence of apology contains three different inflections: the first person singular of the narrator, the third person plural address to the readers and the first person plural. It is through this device (and not least because the verb apreciar is common to both plurals) that Galdós is able to fuse the real and fictional planes. Thirdly, we see that the narrator here assumes a stance of omniscience with regard to his readers as well as his characters: «sé que apreciaban...». The implications of this are important.


The readers are again involved when Torquemada's two children are introduced, for we are reminded that we have already heard of Rufina «cuyo nombre no es nuevo para mis amigos» (932). The simplest explanation of this is that Rufina has been mentioned in previous Galdosian novels. However, we notice also a certain categorical assumption about the readers' situation, similar to that expressed in «sé que apreciaban». In defining the age-gap between Rufina and Valentín the narrator states «hallamos diez años de diferencia» (932). It is possible to maintain that many of the first persons plural used in the course of the novel are not examples simply of a narratory «we» but of the narrator's desire to involve his reader in specific issues. In this particular instance he has opted for a unifying «we» instead of merely using an impersonal verb. That he is, nonetheless, firmly in control is reinforced in this paragraph by «voy a referir» (932), reminiscent of the opening words of the book, and by «la presento» (932), referring to Rufina.

The final paragraph of Chapter I provides some interesting data. After an initial, colloquial «Pues digo» (933), narrator and reader again appear to operate in concert for «si volvemos los ojos» towards Valentín «encontraremos mejor explicación de la vanidad» of Torquemada (933). However, what purports to be a joint and simultaneous act is, of course, really yet another example of the control exercised by the narrator. We are being manipulated into believing that we are making the deductions but the use of the future tense should undeceive us for it reveals the narrator's foreknowledge of what he is presenting. The assertive «no he conocido criatura más mona» (933) also shifts the emphasis to the narrator. A similar process occurs later in the paragraph when, with reference to Valentín's «aptitud para el estudio», the narrator first suggests «llamémosla verdadero prodigio» and then categorically states: «De esto hablaré más adelante» (933). This is the first occasion in the tale in which the first person singular future has been employed, and the effect is noteworthy, for through it we are reminded that the narrator is aware of how his tale is going to develop and the points at which he will intervene. Attention should also be paid to the parenthetical «lo digo sinceramente» (933) in the opening sentence of this paragraph. It is, of course, intended to help us to accept the claim that Valentín is «criatura más mona» but, ironically, it may also cast an element of doubt on those statements which do not have the benefit of a modifying sinceramente.

Chapter II begins with a very colloquial «Vamos a otra cosa» (933), an approach which is echoed in the opening «Pues, señor» (934) of the third paragraph.162 Having described the changes which have occurred in the habits and possessions of the Torquemada family, the narrator concludes: «Se habían ido metiendo en la clase media, en nuestra bonachona clase media... que crece tanto... que nos estamos quedando sin pueblo» (934). On this occasion the first person plural unites the narrator and reader in the real, historical world and not in a fictional one. Once again the perspectives shift. The equation between Torquemada's behaviour and the political scene is prefaced with a tentative «diré que aquello se me parecía...» (934). This seeming diffidence is basically a means of attracting our attention to the form and content of the equation.


An emphatic form of presentation is used when Valentín is reintroduced: «en lo que digo», «afirmo» (935) and the narrator-reader relationship is kept to the fore with the interjection of «no se crea» as if anticipating an objection from the reader. With the narrator's account of his first meeting with Valentín a new aspect is introduced. Authenticity is lent to the situation by the fact that other people are responsible for the encounter: «Un día me hablaron de él dos profesores amigos míos...; lleváronme a verle y me quedé asombrado» (935). Ayala notes the way in which the established relationships have changed here: «Ahora ya los lectores han quedado fuera reducidos a meros destinatarios de la información».163 Referring to the fact that the narrator is a participant in the scene under discussion, he observes:

Con esto se ha desdoblado en dos figuras de narrador: uno es el que se concreta dentro de la historia como una figura más y otro, el autor omnisciente que relata... cosas imposibles de conocerse desde una perspectiva individualizada.164

The fact that the two teachers are themselves literary creations adds to the intriguing complexity of the situation. A nicely ironic touch is noticeable in the following paragraph with: «Contáronme que...» (935), for we cannot fail to recall the original assertive use of this verb. The teller of tales has momentarily become the recipient. We might, in fact, use one of Ayala's phrases and say that the narrator himself is here «un mero destinatario de la información». Again the interplay of roles is important.

Whereas «digámoslo así» (936) has to be understood merely as a rhetorical device, scope for personal reader-reaction is again permitted, within certain limits, by: «Cómo se quedó Torquemada al oír esto, se comprenderá fácilmente» (936). The limitations are provided by the delineation of Torquemada's character up to this point.

With the start of the third chapter the narrator is again very much to the fore:

Basta de matemáticas, digo yo ahora, pues me urge apuntar que Torquemada vivía en la misma casa... donde le conocimos cuando fue a verle la de Bringas para pedirle no recuerdo qué favor... y tengo prisa por presentar a cierto sujeto que conozco hace tiempo y que hasta ahora nunca menté para nada.


Particularly noticeable in this extract are the examples of irony. The abrupt start and «me urge apuntar» suggests the introduction of vitally important material. Consequently, the reference to Torquemada's continued residence in the same house has an anticlimactic effect. Moreover, the fact that the narrator claims to have forgotten the reason for Rosalía de Bringas' visit to Torquemada provides a pleasantly ironic contrast with his more usual role of omniscient narrator. Additionally, the reader who does remember why the visit occurred will feel a certain superiority.165 The real reason for the narrator's sense of urgency is revealed with his reference to Bailón. Again he attempts to foster the illusion that this character has an existence independent of this tale, whilst at the same time indicating that his inclusion in or omission from the written, story is dependent upon the narrator, The latter's awareness of his control over his tale is further strengthened when he claims that the introduction   —93→   of Bailón is necessary at this juncture «para que se desarrolle [mi cuento] con lógica» (937).166 Later in this paragraph the narrator again assumes an attitude of ignorance, his «yo no sé lo que pasó» (937) contrasting with the vast amount detailed information he has provided about Bailón. This information, he soon admits, is essentially hearsay, for «Cuento todo esto como me lo contaron» (938) - again the choice of verb is significant - and «Dice un amigo mío» (938). But lest we feel that our narrator is being superseded or relegated, he reveals a certain amount of selectivity and control in «No necesito decir más» (938) and, having reached the end of his lengthy description of Bailón's personality and career, he makes it obvious that the former is now an integral part of his account: «lo presento ahora»167 (938). The reader, latterly somewhat neglected, is once again involved with «cuyo fugaz éxito no comprendemos sino recordando» (938).

The real action of Torquemada en la hoguera begins two thirds of the way through Chapter III with the prefatory remark: «Pero, llegó un día, mejor dicho, una noche» (940). Although there is no explicit first person intrusion here, the presence of the narrator as conscious artist is very apparent. It would have been perfectly acceptable to make the straightforward statement: «Pero llegó una noche...» but, by deliberately using a hackneyed expression and then amending it for his own purposes, the narrator again asserts himself. Moreover, «lo que ahorita mismo voy a referir» at the end of the sentence reinforces this assertiveness.

In the following two chapters (IV and V) there are fewer first person intrusions. Conversely we have examples of occasions when the narrator appears to withdraw or at least relax his control, thus requiring the reader to make the final judgement. Firstly he tells us that when Torquemada embarks on his Sunday rent-collection the women who take refuge in the street «debían de ser malas pagadoras» (942). Then, when describing the methodical manner in which Torquemada prepares for an alms-giving excursion, he suggests that the coins he puts in his pocket «debían de ser calderilla» (946). In both cases the effect of deber de is to shift the final responsibility for judgement from the narrator to the reader. A somewhat similar situation is created by the narrator's admission: «No puedo dar idea del estupor...» (942).

The narrator's inability or unwillingness to recall why Rosalía had once visited Torquemada comes to mind when, in Chapter VI, we read with reference to the old servant: «Llamábanla la tía Roma, no sé por qué (me inclino a creer que este nombre es corrupción de Jerónima)» (947)168 and then, after Torquemada has fallen asleep at his desk, we are told he remains thus «no sé cuánto tiempo» (948). In each instance the narrator is deliberately distancing himself from the situation. This, in itself, is a particular kind of control. Through the narrator's apparently off-hand comment about the derivation of Roma Galdós is arousing our interest. The implications of the second example have been perceptively analysed by N. G. Round, who points out that:

The narrator must know... that a whole night has gone by. It is Torquemada who does not know... But to have written 'no sabía cuánto tiempo' would not have done. This would have told the reader, objectively, something about Torquemada's deluded state of mind. «No sé cuánto tiempo», on the other hand, builds that delusion into the narrative and therefore into the reader's point of view.169


After the suffering Valentín has uttered a particularly piercing scream, Torquemada takes action:

Desde el pasillo le sintieron abriendo el cajón de su mesa, y al poco rato apareció... Cogió el sombrero, y sin decir nada se fue a la calle.


At this stage neither the readers nor those present in Torquemada's house are aware of why he is behaving in this manner. Both groups are conscious only of his external actions. The readers, however, are soon enlightened: «Explicaré lo que esto significaba» (949). This appears to be a privilege not granted to the other group. Later in the chapter we find another ironic disclaimer from the narrator: «Yo no sé qué demonios tenía el dinero de aquella casa...» (950) and then the familiar style is much in evidence with «Pues, señor, ahí va don Francisco...» (950) and, when someone tugs at his cloak: «Volvióse... ¿y quién creéis que era?» (950). The question is scarcely a fair one, since there are no clues as to the identity of the person who has waylaid Torquemada. We should also notice the familiar form address to the reader, as this is the only occasion on which it is used in the course of the novel.

Surprisingly, perhaps, in the three remaining chapters there are no further intrusions by the narrator. Great use is now made of dialogue which, as Galdós himself stated in another context,170 virtually excludes the presence of the author. By this point the characters and the narrator's attitude to them have been firmly established. It is obvious that the story «se desarrolla con lógica» and that the «caso muy ejemplar» will be underlined. Thus, the decision to allow the narrator to retire from the front line may well have been a deliberate one. His presence continues to be felt, of course, as the overall style does not change at all.171

The intrusions of the narrator have not been simply what Nimetz describes as «amiable sallies» enabling Galdós to «hold the reader in the palm of his hand because he does not patronize».172 The role of the narrator is clearly conceived by Galdós as an integral and vital part of his novel. The persona of the narrator is, indeed, a constant throughout the first six chapters of the book. However, although his presence is constant, the same is not entirely true of his function. For, an omniscient narrator, aware of the suffering awaiting the protagonist and prejudicing the reader against him by a series of pejorative epithets, coexists with a narrator who at times operates on the same level as the characters and with one who, on occasions, encourages his readers to form their own opinions. Consequently, much of the interest of the novel derives from the fact that we as readers must be continually alert to these potentially disconcerting shifts in point of view. Moreover, the narrator's initial «Voy a contar cómo fue...» indicates to us that the novel will move inexorably towards a tragic conclusion for Torquemada. With this certainty our attention turns to a consideration of the significance of the events due to be narrated. Thus, in this respect the narrator can be seen to act as an important instrument in the communication of the overall meaning of the novel.

University of Edinburgh

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