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ArribaAbajoEstudios: novelas

ArribaAbajoGaldos' Doña Perfecta: Art or argument?

Richard A. Cardwell

In 1968 a reviewer noted that

until much more spade work has been done en individual novels general studies of Galdós will almost inevitably be at best cautious and groping and at worst woolly and misleading. At this stage anyone embarking on an overall study of Galdós would be well advised to start off with a close analysis of carefully selected specific examples before venturing any firm conclusions.53

The present writer has recently ignored this injunction in an essay that cautiously suggested that the classifications of «thesis» and two «épocas» was misleading.54 In this discussion the considerations of the above essay will be treated in greater depth to respond to Ribbans' call for «a close analysis of carefully selected specific examples» and to corroborate the claims made.

A reading of the Observaciones55 of 1870 will show that Galdós' interest is not centred on the polemical issues raised in the novels of Fernán Caballero, Alarcón and Pereda. He is not content to place man's problems within their traditional and orthodox background of Christian belief in a God-given human nature which is determined independently of environment or cultural, religious and political conditioning. Galdós seems to be aware, as were others in Europe, that any remedy or understanding of the human predicament must be seen as lying not with God or with universal formulae but with man himself. If any human progress is to be made, if man is to comprehend his own origin and destiny, he must understand the hidden forces of necessity, the impersonal social, biological, political and religious currents that make up his «character».

The proper subject for literature is, according to Galdós,

La expresión de cuanto bueno y malo existe en el fondo de esa clase, de la incesante agitación que la elabora, de ese empeño que manifiesta por encontrar ciertos ideales y resolver ciertos problemas que preocupan a todos, y conocer el origen y el remedio de ciertos males que turban a las familias.


Later in the Observaciones his balanced approach emerges in the assertion that: the fears and doubts surrounding the religious question should be considered not only in terms of the inroads made upon faith by scepticism but also the counter-destructive effects of «el fanatismo y las costumbres devotas» (279). At this point he makes a significant statement that might well be taken as the key to his attitude to the calling of the novelist.

Nada de abstracciones, nada de teorías; aquí sólo se trata de referir y de expresar, no de desarrollar tesis morales más o menos raras, y empingorotadas; sólo se trata de decir lo que somos unos y otros, los buenos y los malos, diciéndolo siempre con arte. Si nos corregimos, bien; si no, el arte ha cumplido su misión...



Despite his youth (he was twenty-seven), by comparison with the views of his contemporaries he offers a lone opinion. They, in general, had been moving towards sectarian propaganda and beginning to advocate didacticism in the novel, motivated as they were by moral sentiments.56

Galdós is clearly sensible to the moral problems of fictional writing. The question is «Who is telling the story?» If the author takes on the total burden of omniscience then it lies in his power to order and interpret the facts. Galdós was keenly aware: of this responsibility as emerges in his correspondence. He also appreciated the power of literature in the ideological polemic that had begun with Fernán Caballero's La Gaviota (1849) and of how easily that power could be suborned to foment social, political, religious and ideological differences. «Truth» and «reality» are, after all, the functions of the compulsion of a particular work and its relationship with a particular receptive or antagonistic readership. Such an awareness might well explain Galdós' pained reaction to Pereda's critical letters of 9th and l7th February 1877, especially if he set out to be non-partisan.

Despite what: Zola was to argue in Le Roman expérimental (1880), it is clear that it is impossible either to fully render reality or to offer more than an illusion of the real. Even the latter remains a fragile entity. The novel, after all, is an accepted deceit or a verbal game which depends upon the assumptions implicit in such a convention. The novelist is telling a convincing lie. He cannot offer, whatever he might claim, objective «truths».

I argue that Galdós had understood these problems at an early date. He also appreciated the difficulties inherent in one of the traditional means of circumventing the weakness of the above method: the relegation of authorial attestation to the narrative that is offered by a spurious chronicle or historical authority. In the assumption of a historical source the author merely becomes the story-teller not a fictional creator. Thereby he is absolved from the moral task of editing, ordering and interpreting. He is simply a reader, the «second author» or «first reader»57 of the story he is re-telling. But further moral problems arise when the second author relates the story. Inevitably, unless the first story is repeated verbatim (in which case there is no real «second author»), the second narrator will contradict the veracity of the first. While each is relating the «facts» -the story itself- each writer is enmeshed in the web of his own scruples, his own particular interests, emphases, notions, doubts and idiosyncrasies that restrict his free and unhindered movement. Even a passing glance at the novels of any stage in Galdós' artistic development will reveal that he felt compelled to write as if he had to convince a critical reader of the reality of the illusion. He recognises, as an author in possession of certain facts, that he is obliged to allay the reader's fears that no serious distortion of that «truth» has been permitted. Galdós, probably influenced by Balzac and Zola, impelled by the overwhelming realisation that the «truth» must be revealed as never before if Spain were not to tear herself apart, desires authenticity. This he and Cervantes choose to call «la verdadera historia». Galdós, by means of the techniques considered below, was seeking to disarm criticism on the grounds of lack of veracity, «tendentiousness» or «partisan writing».

Yet, despite the subterfuge, there remains the urge to give rein to the creative impulse. He would, in Cervantes' words, «pintar los pensamientos, descubrir las imaginaciones».58 Herein rests the internal contradiction of the «fictional source» technique. The chronicler cannot be a novelist or the novelist a chronicler. A narrative cannot   —31→   be vested with the authority of a chronicle and yet bear the weight of the author's flights of imagination. If Galdós was to give expression to «de cuanto bueno y malo existe» and be truthful, he must curtail his inventive and imaginative urge. He is faced with those problems that confronted Cervantes, so sensitively analysed by M. I. Gerhardt (v. note 5 above).

It is suggested that just as Cervantes sought to attack the novels of chivalry through a series of «truquages» borrowed from these very novels, so Galdós sought to challenge «thesis» writing based on partisan principles by similar means. If, as Gerhardt suggests, «Cervantes... prétendait opposer une verdadera historia aux mentiras des romans de chevalerie» (16), Galdós too presents his account of «de cuanto bueno y malo existe» as a corrective to catechising theses so as to bring his fellows to some better understanding of the factors that are the «origen... de ciertos males que turban a las familias».

This contention challenges the prevailing view concerning the nature of the early novels. Professor Pattison's obscure comment in 1954 is a typical judgement.

Up to the writing of La desheredada (1881) Galdós did not succeed in adopting the viewpoint of a realistic observer. Instead he mixed «idealism», specifically the abstract ideas which he incorporates in his chief characters, with a composite view of objective reality.59

Galdós is considered to be as didactic or sectarian as his ideological opponents. If Pattison does not notice the deliberate attempt at fostering a balanced and understanding view of the ills of the age, Galdós' friends, though slow at first to perceive what he was at, by 1877 at least, had begun to understand his motives.60 Of modern commentators, Professor R. Gullón is perhaps nearest the mark when in 1960 he noted

Galdós advirtió que la intolerancia no es producto de una creencia religiosa determinada, sino temperamental. Se es intolerante como se es liberal; una y otra condición son modos de ser. Y al notar esa elemental verdad pudo colocarse en un punto de vista más objetivo y señalar de manera devastadora las consecuencias de la intolerancia.61

Yet Gullón still categorises the early work as «thesis». Professor S. H. Eoff has observed that there was by 1877-8 a «growing critical opinion of a distinction between offering a thesis for proof or posing a problem for solution and the impartial presentation of a problem from which the reader may draw his own conclusion» (art. cit., p. 552). The present writer believes that Galdós is virtually alone in anticipating the latter movement by over half a decade. Clearly formulated by 1870, it becomes the basis for his subsequent novels. It is with regard to these that Gullón's statement is immediately applicable.

Doña Perfecta (1876) is perhaps the clearest demonstration among the early novels of the standard argument. Pepe Rey, the hero of the novel, is normally accepted as the liberal martyr to a progressive ideal in a backward rural society. But Rey is far from an ideal or exemplary hero. We learn in the retrospective parenthesis of chapter three, for example, that as a child Rey was insufferably adult in his interests. His reaction to the proposal that he marry is similarly abnormal,

su semblante no expresaba alegría ni pesadumbre. Parecía estar examinando un proyecto de empalme de dos vías férreas.62 (415)


Even before the reader is granted an intimate knowledge of Rey's character he can sense Rey's lack of tact and judgement. As Rey and Licurgo leave Villahorrenda, the former allows his superior education to obtrude. He confuses Licurgo's name with that of another Spartan legislator, Solon. It is a small slip, unintentional but thoughtless, yet it alienates the suspicious servant and increases his sense of inferiority with regard to the engineer from the capital. The subsequent ironic dubbing of Licurgo as «el legislador espartano» seems to indicate that the incident was more than mere whimsical humour. It is difficult to be certain how far this heavy-handed humour conceals a more serious purpose, but it may not be mere coincidence that Galdós has Licurgo initiate the plague of malicious lawsuits. Rey is similarly tactless in his untimely and premature comments on Orbajosa which are accompanied by a further unnecessary display of knowledge and indulgent intellectualism in suggesting an etymology for the town. (413)

The implications in the description of Rey in chapter three and what emerges from his conversation during the ride to Orbajosa in the preceding chapter are brought to a head in his confrontations with Inocencio. Not only does Rey decide to «manifestar las opiniones que más contrariaran y más acerbamente mortificasen al mordaz Penitenciario» (422) and unwittingly insult his aunt and fiancée, but also

Se mostraba cada vez más inepto para acomodarse a sociedad tan poco de su gusto. Era su carácter nada maleable, duro y de muy escasa flexibilidad, y rechazaba las perfidias y acomodamientos de lenguaje para simular la concordancia cuando no existía.


In effect, by confronting Rey with Inocencio's persistent and infuriating insinuations couched in all the traditional devices of irony,63 Galdós is rendering more explicit the inherent weakness of his hero. Galdós is suggesting that, given his education and background in an ethos of Krausismo and Positivism, Rey should have been more circumspect and behaved more intelligently, cautiously and tolerantly.

Thus while Galdós is offering this perspective the reader also faces a contrary set of notions. While we are led to believe that Rey is a well-educated, highly intelligent, professionally successful and sensitive young man we also sense that, in certain relationships and situations, he belies these qualities. Rey is obtusely blind to the latent hostility he encounters. While the reader is quickly alerted by Licurgo's frigid reception on the platform (later ironically described as «los amorosos brazos del tío Licurgo»), soon afterwards in the various encounters with Orbajosa's citizens and in the news concerning his lands, Rey is singularly insensitive to the danger. Despite the much vaunted scientific and rational education that warns against the deception of appearances, as a simple human being Rey is all too easily deceived by them. He is similarly insensitive in social intercourse; witness his relationship with Perfecta. In chapter ten he is easily won over by her promise to persuade Licurgo to abandon litigation (435). Later he fails to notice the menace latent in Perfecta's command to Rosario to retire despite Rosario's hissed «no te fíes, no te fíes» (437). In a further confrontation in chapter eleven, his anger is again allayed by his aunt's tears (441). This is repeated at the height of the quarrel in chapter nineteen,

[Perfecta] Dejose caer en el sofá y se cubrió el rostro con las manos. Pepe, acercándose lentamente a ella, observó el angustioso sollozar de su tía y las lágrimas que abundantemente derramaba. A pesar de su convicción, no pudo vencer el ligero enternecimiento que se apoderó de él, y sintiéndose cobarde, experimentó cierta pena por lo mucho y fuerte que había dicho.



Such characterisation cannot be unintentional. His education has led him to believe that an appeal to reason is sufficient for an understanding of life. «Razones y no sentimientos me hacen falta. Hábleme usted, dígame que me equivoco al pensar lo que pienso, pruébemelo después y reconoceré mi error» (463). While he on his side might deliver a philippic against the unreason of the orbajosenses, on the other hand in the realm of sensibility he is as flawed as they in the rational.

Pepe estaba perplejo. Las lágrimas, así como la dulce voz de la hermana de su padre, no podían ser fenómenos insignificantes para el alma del matemático. Las palabras le retozaban en la boca para pedir perdón. Hombre de gran energía por lo común, cualquier accidente de sensibilidad, cualquier agente que obrase sobre su corazón, le trocaba de súbito en niño. Achaques de matemático. Dicen que Newton era también así.


Once it is realised that Galdós is not offering one view as against another but rather that he is weighing the weaknesses of both sides, the intentions of the novel are the more readily recognised. When Galdós presents Rey's Comtian view of the world in chapter two and afterwards in his angry riposte to Inocencio in chapter six, he inflates the picture to condemn catechising.64 The reader also becomes increasingly aware of another of Rey's weaknesses. On more than one occasion Rey ends the statement of his views with «Yo soy así», which Galdós almost certainly means as an indication of his hero's reluctance to learn from experience.

But man, despite his pretensions, is not an exclusively rational creature. Thus Rey abandons his «scientific» rôle to emerge, like his opponents, as all too frailly human. For all his cool reason Rey can show a latently vindictive nature. He is unable to control his reactions when placed under pressure. Rey's decision to give Inocencio «un correctivo» (422) and Galdós' brief note that Pepe felt «punzante y revoltoso, el sentimiento de hostilidad hacia el astuto canónigo... no pudiendo dominar el deseo de mortificarle» (432), as elsewhere, indicate the author's intention.65 By contrast with these explicit assertions, the deliberately ironic presentation of Rey's flaw stands by contrast as a more forceful affirmation.

Pero tenía nuestro joven la desgracia, si desgracia puede llamarse, de manifestar sus impresiones con inusitada franqueza, y esto le atrajo algunas antipatías.


The mingled levels of seriousness in the concluding paragraph of chapter nine, where Rey is obliged to make polite conversation with Orbajosa's inner élite, is also revealing. The juxtaposition of mock-humorous interjection of Pepe's thoughts and the image of him as a Christ figure suggests that Galdós is offering a parody. Rey's training has not provided an «education» in the full sense of the word. While Galdós is sympathetic to Rey, his hero is never cast tragically. Hence to interpret the novel in terms of strict ideological divisions seems inappropriate. Indeed, the uncertainty as to whether Galdós is chiding or sympathising at the outset leads the reader to realise finally that the author has condemned his hero with faint praise. Rey has been characterised in a deliberately deceptive fashion. The rhetorical style of the opening paragraphs of the description in chapter three is curtailed by the heavy irony. It thus looms the more largely without recourse to emphasis.

Yet Galdós wishes to portray an «objective» or «true» picture of his hero. He seeks a «verdadera historia» as a corrective to the portrayal of the virtuous or vicious protagonists of the reactionary didactic novels. While the reader perceives the irony   —34→   and the implicit parody of the Romantic novelón, he also senses that the description is at times foreign in style to the novel as a whole. The matter seems to derive from a source outside, perhaps what Galdós conceived to be the archetypal novelón, the rigid and inflexible expression of ideas he had set himself against. An example of this is to be found at the end of the rhetorical portrait. In the moment of ironic deflation, Galdós devolves the responsibility for Rey's description on to an implied spurious chronicle and claims his own «verdadera historia».

Así, y no de otra manera, por más que digan calumniadoras lenguas, era el hombre a quien el tío Licurgo introdujo en Orbajosa...


However, the author not infrequently contradicts the «accepted version» by such statements as

¡Cuán grato es para mí -dijo el joven (Rey), encubriendo su cólera con las palabras que creyó más propias para contestar a la solapada ironía de sus interlocutores- ver tanta generosidad y tolerancia!66


Similarly Rey's Positivist dismissal of the power of imagination exemplified in chapter two is challenged. The incident in the chapel is convincing enough. Crudely rendered as comic relief or meant seriously, several comments imply that Rey's Positivism is far from sound:67

En el estado de ánimo y en la natural alucinación que producen los sitios oscuros, a Rey le parecía, no que su cabeza había topado con el santo pie, sino que éste se había movido, amonestándole de la manera más breve y más elocuente.



El matemático sintió que se levantaba bajo sus pies la losa...; pero no, no se levantaba; es que él creyó notarlo así, a pesar de ser matemático.


In the same ironical vein we read, «Este (Rey), aunque matemático, lo comprendió» (425). The point of this ambiguous presentation of the hero would seem to indicate that Galdós is not offering a «point of view» but attempting, however clumsily, to convey something of the complex nature of a human being placed in a situation of considerable stress. Such a view might raise Perfecta's attack on «scientific» attitudes above the partisan:

Tu gran entendimiento de matemático y de filósofo alemán no es capaz de penetrar estas sutilezas de una madre prudente...

Eres un mozalbete sin experiencia ni otro saber que el de los libros, que nada enseñan del mundo ni del corazón...

En el corazón humano no se entra por los túneles de los ferrocarriles, ni se baja a sus hondos abismos por los pozos de las minas.


Such vehemence may well be more than the anger of a woman who mistrusts modern empirical enquiry. If the assumptions above are correct it may be that Galdós' determination in the 1880s to find «within a unitary system of being a co-operative activity that is at one time a natural and a spiritual process... a combination in which the physical and the psychical, though apparently independent, are mutually dependent and open to synthesis»68 had begun to achieve some semblance of form long before most critics will allow. This is particularly true of Galdós' observations   —35→   on the positive aspects of religion as against: hypocrisy and beatería. The search for a non-sectarian religion was to become a dominant motif in the mature novels.

Characters who refuse to acknowledge that there is more in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in their philosophies are manipulated so that their antagonistic attitudes collide violently. Dr. C. R. Jones had noted that

Doña Perfecta had shown Pepe Rey, the man of ideas, meeting reality in the form of the society of Orbajosa, in a head-on collision which first: disconcerted him, leaving him, as he confessed in correspondence to his father, incapable of maintaining his reasoned objectivity; and finally killed him.69

It is precisely the effects of such collisions that interest Galdós.70 It is at this juncture that a number of Rey's statements are of some importance in our exegesis. At the height of the quarrel he declares that he is resolved to leave Perfecta's household and, with or without her consent, will marry Rosario. He blames his aunt for reversing all his values and plaintively enquires the reasons for their differences. He then adds,

Ni usted ni yo lo podemos resolver. Creo que ambos carecemos de razón. En usted, violencia e injusticia; en mí, injusticia y violencia. Hemos venido a ser tan bárbaro el uno como el otro, y luchamos y nos herimos sin compasión. Dios lo permite así.71


Losing control of self means a loss of control of events. Things begin to happen of their own accord in an irreversible chain reaction. Before the dénouement we learn of Rey's state of mind when he finally breaks with Perfecta. Rey's self-revelation is significantly presented. Galdós sets aside omniscient authorship and has recourse to the device of narration through letters. Thus, what Rey writes to his father is clearly meant to be a part of the «verídica historia» and crucial to Galdós' warning.

Rey's perplexity stems from his inability to rationalise the situation. In the first letter he finds himself in the unenviable position of failing to be surprised at his own perverse inclinations. While paying lip-service to the Christian ideals which he enumerates (and this may be taken as Galdós' standpoint), he confesses that his passions control him, especially anger which «puede llamarse la peor de las pasiones, porque transformando de improviso nuestro carácter, engendra todas las demás maldades...» (493).

Yet there are cogent reasons for his feelings. He can argue that he has discovered true love, that he has learned the meaning of prayer.72 Rey has taken a step forward in self-knowledge. As we learn in the letter written a week later, he divests himself of allies and resolves to work within the prescriptions of the law. His ill-advised attempt to steal Rosario provides the excuse for his antagonists to unleash their pent up resentment and fury. It might be added in parenthesis that the second half of the novel, and specifically the epistolary section, is poorly, and at times, grossly overplotted.

Further evidence to substantiate the claim that Galdós was attempting to depict the multivalence of relationships might be found in an examination of the portrayal of Rey's antagonists. They, too, are no mere incarnations of reaction. We learn of Jacinto's roving eye and his flirtation with the Troyas. Inocencio's frustrated paternalism finds expression in the consuming interest in his nephew's education. Caballuco's love for one of the Troya girls offers further evidence that Galdós is at pains to humanise his characters. Thus is it in the presentation of María Remedios that   —36→   Galdós' intentions are clearly revealed. Certainly there is no doubt about the motives of the characters. Galdós' aim is to show that considerations other than ideological, religious or political are more potent factors in human motivation. His approach is less that of an ideologue than a social anthropologist whose interest is to discover the basic emotions at the root of social unease.73

We first learn that she is an unwarranted complainer. Later, in chapter twenty-six, «María Remedios», the reader is given much more precise information, though two standards for judgement are proffered

En Orbajosa, María Remedios pasaba por un modelo de virtud y de sobrinas, quizá lo era en efecto,


that of the orbajosenses and that of the disinterested spectator. An example of piety, charity, well-liked, a good housekeeper, she is the close companion and intimate of Perfecta. Yet, as Galdós notes, «Si es verdad, ¿por qué no se ha de decir?» (485), there is an invisible barrier between them. Remedios, once a servant to the family, still feels her social inferiority. «Doña Perfecta tuteaba a María, y ésta jamás pudo prescindir de ciertas fórmulas. Sentíase tan pequeña... que su humildad nativa tomaba un tinte extraño de tristeza» (485-6). By contrast the fact that her uncle and her son are accepted on equal terms exacerbates her inferiority complex. If she has a weakness, it is an overpassionate maternal affection for her son Jacinto, «Le amaba con delirio; ponía el bienestar de su hijo sobre todas las cosas humanas» (286). Her ambition would be to alleviate both emotions through the simple expedient of marriage:

¡Ver a su hijo casado con Rosarito; verle rico y poderoso; verle emparentado con doña Perfecta, con la señora!... ¡Ay! Esto era para María Remedios la tierra y el cielo, esta vida y la otra, el presente y el más allá, la totalidad suprema de la existencia. Hacía años que su pensamiento y su corazón se llenaban de aquella dulce luz de esperanza. Por esto era buena y mala; por esto era religiosa y humilde o terrible y osada; por esto era todo cuanto hay que ser, porque sin tal idea María, que era la encarnación de su proyecto, no existiría.


Chapter twenty-six begins with an authorial imperative, «Fijemos la atención en María Remedios» noting that «a la cual es urgente consagrar algunas líneas». The reasons why Galdós feels it incumbent upon him to give further consideration to Remedios are revealed in the illuminating preamble to her portrait. This deserves to be quoted in full.

Nada más entretenido que buscar el origen de los sucesos interesantes que nos asombran o perturban, ni nada más grato que encontrarlo. Cuando vemos arrebatadas pasiones en lucha encubierta o manifiesta, llevados del natural impulso inductivo que acompaña siempre a la observación humana, logramos descubrir la oculta fuente de donde aquel revuelto río ha traído sus aguas, experimentamos sensación muy parecida al gozo de los geógrafos y buscadores de tierras.

Este gozo nos lo ha concedido Dios ahora, porque explorando los escondrijos de los corazones que laten en esta historia, hemos descubierto un hecho que seguramente es el engendrador de los hechos más importantes que hemos narrado; una pasión que es la primera gota de agua de esta alborotada corriente, cuya marcha estamos observando.

Continuemos, pues, la narración.



This offers a further key to our exegesis. Here we find three shifts of emphasis. The initial phase offers a universal «truth» where the author shares common ground with the reader. The art of the novel is taken to be comparable with the excitement of empirical enquiry. It is therefore concerned with the assembling of evidence. The second phase relates this «truth» to the immediate issue of the narrative itself, the attempt to present «reality» in fictional terms. Here the author stands in the contradictory situation of being omniscient and having to convey «objective truths». Galdós, like Cervantes, has recourse to the convincing lie of pseudo-historicity. The «truth» concealed in the «historia» that Galdós is re-telling has been revealed to the author by a whimsical reference to divine inspiration. The responsibility for the veracity of the revelation has now been taken through the fictional source to the source of all knowledge. The third phase brings the reader to the narrative where the implications of the author's discovery will be worked out to unfold the «verdadera historia».

From what follows, it becomes increasingly obvious that Galdós is far from concerned to present «una interpretación simbólica de la vida española» as Gullón has observed (op. cit., p. 62). The novel is no simple confrontation of liberalism with reactionary orthodoxy, of tolerance with intolerance or materialism with spiritualism. Nor does it attempt to portray exclusively fictionalised «attitudes» as Gullón suggests in his judgement that Rey «es el representante de otra España, de la clase de hombre a quien el autor mira con esperanza, porque le considera capaz de traer al país espíritu de comprensión y libertad» (62). It outlines a network of complex human relationships wherein the author is aware that he is only just beginning to apprehend the essentials and that more subtle and intangible factors must for the moment elude his immature grasp. It is these subtle relationships and interactions and not the partisan interests that feed them which provide the substance of tragedy. The «oculta fuente» is revealed as María Remedios.74 The twin impulses of material ambition and a sense of inferiority interact, complicate and nourish one another; they set up a chain reaction of behaviour patterns that travel outwards through each character in turn. The conflict is not rooted in ideology alone. As Galdós further develops the narrative intrigues and the personality of Remedios, it is increasingly obvious that the widespread antagonism to Rey is not based on provincial obscurantist mistrust or ideological difference. It stems from the all too human source of an ambitious mother whose plans have been thwarted. The tale of how Remedios intimidates, emotionally blackmails and finally wears down the resistance of her uncle so that he capitulates to her demands to use force against Rey illustrates the power of an unbridled resolve.

La chillona cantinela de María Remedios era cada vez más aguda, y penetraba en el cerebro del infeliz y ya aturdido clérigo como una saeta.


While he does not explicitly agree to her request, his pusillanimous imitation of Pilate's act does not remove the burden of moral blame. Just as Remedios is culpable in her failure to come to terms with Rey's arrival and resorts to violence to achieve his removal, so Inocencio's abdication of his Christian pastoral duty is equally at fault. In this fashion the passion of María Remedios spreads outwards like shockwaves, engulfing each in turn. Inocencio, hectored by his niece, vet sympathetic because of his own interest in Jacinto, abuses his position as spiritual adviser. Perfecta and Remedios bully and suborn Caballuco and his supporters. Caballuco is already jealous of Rey on account of the Troyas and nurses his own personal animosity. In this way   —38→   extraneous circumstances are seen to complicate affairs. Perfecta aids and abets Licurgo and his associates in their malicious lawsuits. Perfecta has influence to deprive Rey of his Ministry consultancy. Rosario is sequestered. Action produces reaction and counter-reaction as Rey and his friends become enmeshed.

Moreover, the available evidence suggests that the nature of the chain-reaction and the apportionment of blame was considered consciously and critically. C. A. Jones' note on «Galdós' Second Thoughts on Doña Perfecta»75 compares the variants between the serialised version and a second first-edition that became the standard. The first reveals Remedios as «cynical and heartless». A number of changes, perceptively analysed in the note, clearly indicates that Galdós deliberately sought to moderate the villainy of Rey's antagonists. He shows how each becomes the victim of his own weakness and of the machinations of Remedios and her henpecked uncle. The present essay endorses Jones' conclusion that «the broad-minded tolerance of Galdós' later version of the novel... could be interpreted as a plea for moderation on the part of both conservatives and the progressive...»

Of Remedios' burning maternal ambitions Galdós notes,

Sin embargo, ocurre un fenómeno singular que no deja de ser común en la vida, y es que esta exaltación del afecto materno no coincide con la absoluta pureza del corazón y con la honradez perfecta, suele extraviarse y convertirse en frenesí lamentable, que puede contribuir, como otra cualquiera pasión desbordada, a grandes faltas y catástrofes.76


Perfecta's over-zealous religious fervour is similarly raised to the universal level when Galdós advises

Para que la mojigatería sea inofensiva, es preciso que exista en corazones muy puros. Es verdad que, aun en este caso, es infecunda para el bien. Pero los corazones que han nacido sin la seráfica limpieza que establece en la tierra un Limbo prematuro, cuidan bien de no inflamarse mucho con lo que ven en los retablos, en los cotos, en los locutorios y en las sacristías, si antes no han elevado en su propia conciencia un altar, un púlpito y un confesionario.


It may be that the title of the novel has been instrumental in obscuring the intentions of the novelist. The tendency to place the eponymous heroine at the centre of the novel and the general assumption that she incarnates reactionary prejudice and suspicious hatred seems to cloud our understanding of what Galdós intended. If the title is misleading, Galdós may have wished to show the reader that things are not necessarily as they appear, that the root: causes of the evils he describes are not always where one expects to find them.

The investigation of man's failure to come to terms with reality and the moraleja offered as warning are, then, a feature of the early period in as much as they emerge as a dominant feature in La desheredada (1881), Miau (1888) or Ángel Guerra (1890-91). To interpret characterisation solely in terms of symbolic representation seems critically myopic.

The basic: conception of an interpenetrated reality postulated in the characterisation is mirrored in the techniques used to present the fictional narrative. There is an equally ambiguous presentation of the environment the characters inhabit. The opening lines of the novel set the tone:


Cuando el tren mixto descendente número 65 (no es preciso nombrar la línea) se detuvo en la pequeña estación situada entre los kilómetros 171 y 172...


The author paints the essential realistic touches yet: reserves the right to disregard what detail he pleases.77 However, he immediately assures the reader in parenthesis that the station name «como otros muchos que después se verán, es propiedad del autor» (407). From this juxtaposition of truthful accuracy and imaginative fiction Galdós has begun to weave the strands of Gerhardt's «appareil pseudo-historique» that is «destiné a dissimuler et à rendre acceptable en la restreignant la toute-puissance, en réalité absolue, du romancier» (16). As L. Spitzer has observed of Cervantes, so with Galdós, there is «a desire to show different aspects under which the character (or thing) in question may appear to others». «By the deliberate assertion of his free will to choose the motifs of his plot, to emphasize or disregard what he pleases... Cervantes has founded the genre of 'subjective story-telling'».78 Artistic devices of this nature most: probably provided Galdós with an opportunity to resolve the contradiction between empirical enquiry and the imaginative and creative impulse. Galdós, like Cervantes, reveals the multivalence which words (as expressions of viewpoints and attitudes) possess for different minds by resorting to polyetymologia and polyonomasia. Both writers are concerned to show that «truth» or «reality» are susceptible of many explanations, just as names are susceptible of many etymologies. Spitzer's comment that «individuals may be deluded by the perspectives according to which they see the world as well as the etymological connections which they establish» (50) is equally relevant to Galdós.

The author assures the reader that local names are «propiedad del autor» (407) and later reiterates that: they are «imaginarios» (413). Yet we are given map-references, quasi guide-book information and precise demographic details (413).

The issue is further confused by the statement that «Orbajosa no está muy lejos ni tampoco muy cerca de Madrid, no debiendo tampoco asegurarse que enclave sus gloriosos cimientos al Norte, ni al Sur, ni al Este, ni al Oeste, sino que es posible esté en todas partes» (460). The arid landscape, usually taken as a symbol of the spiritual and material prostration of Spain, can be seen in a number of ways. Galdós uses it to heighten the contrast between Rey's «mathematical» way of seeing things and the manner in which the orbajosenses perceive the world. In chapter two and later in chapter six, Galdós presents Rey's positivist viewpoint. Rey's comments on the landscape, «palabras hermosas, realidad prosaica y miserable... Aquí todo es al revés. La ironía no cesa», appears to support Casalduero's view that Galdós had more than a passing interest in Comte. Yet, given the ironic treatment of the protagonist's character noticed above, it seems that Galdós is offering contradictory information about his hero in the same moment as he is questioning our topographical certainties. Are we to believe Licurgo or the biased Rey? The nostalgic «menosprecio de corte» and Virgilian perspective perceived through the rose-tinted spectacles of memory and family affection by José Rey; Pinzón's disgust and Cayetano's grandiose epic notions further perplex.

The etymology of the place-name, fictional yet seemingly authentic, is also used to blur the outlines between truth and fiction. On the one hand we have Rey's pedantic «Orbajosa, cuyo nombre es, sin duda, corrupción de urbs augusta» (413) and Galdós' spurious chronicle, «entre los romanos urbs augusta» (460). On the other the juxtaposition of «si bien algunos modernos, examinando el ajosa, opinan que este   —40→   rabillo lo tiene por ser patria de los mejores ajos del mundo» (460) confuses the reader. While this is not totally deflating, the irony of mejores leaves open a third unexpressed possibility, the one we are ultimately left with. It is not simply a question of the confrontation of a false pedantic etymology with the real earthy one but rather the question of two false etymologies.79 The humour lies in the fact that if anything, the second is the more pedantic and incongruous. Galdós' straightfaced account of the joke serves to intensify our humorous reaction. A further dimension is added in the person of don Cayetano, Orbajosa's celebrated historian, who is totally engrossed in a self satisfied and reconditely academic task of unearthing dusty facts that are at best trivial and for the most part utterly without value or interest. Here is a character writing a «history» about a town whose «reality» is already perplexing. Cayetano's false conception of history consists of historically verifiable data mingled with a fictitious account of Orbajosa's celebrated sons. Orbajosa also has its own religious «history» and manifestation of the Virgen (433). Yet the implication is that the two histories are equally valid. The mingled references to legendary and historical heroes taken from the «history» of the romanceros in chapter twenty-two extend the ambiguity only for the parallel with the modern fictional heroes to be destroyed by the omniscient author. «Caballuco... Se parecía a los grandes hombres de don Cayetano, como se parece el mulo al caballo» (477). Historical data, real or imagined, are allowed identical value in order to bring out the dialectic between the virtues and the vices of tradition and liberalism. History as seen by the inhabitants of the province and by the disaffected interlopers is interwoven with the actual documented history of the period. Galdós' presentation of the latter interferes with the accepted time scales and the question of what is real. Alongside the pseudo-history that Cayetano doggedly unearths is set the historical context of the civil war of 1872-1876 and a reference to Muley-Abbas' ambassadorial stay of 1860. In chapter eighteen the «abolengo faccioso» of the orbajosenses is described. Galdós further corroborates their historical reality by reference to the risings of 1827 and 1848 and the factors that have brought about the present mood of dissent which is to erupt as the Second Carlist War. Indeed the novel was written as this war drew to a close. We are presented with a historical reality juxtaposed to a pseudo-history which contains references to actual historical events. This in turn is set within the frame of the «history» of the story itself. Characters when speaking of real or imagined events, however, do not distinguish between their respective qualities. Placed in a series of receding perspectives reality becomes fiction, fiction reality.

Orbajosa has been, throughout its «history», the centre of ideological conflict. It has been, and still is, in a sense, the battle ground of Moors and Christians. One is aware of the beleaguered frontier mentality. Alongside this general overall feeling are placed other perspectives that increase the ambiguity. Rey and Pinzón's view of the rebellious provincials is ranged alongside Galdós' own omniscient interpolation. Yet from Cayetano, the least worldly of Orbajosa's inhabitants, we have an understanding apología on behalf of a group proud of its traditional values. To these perspectives is added the view of the situation as the Centralist press would have it broadcast, anxious, as it is, to prevent national alarm (469). Subsequent events do not reveal a situation as calm as Madrid would like to believe. By a reverse procedure, the inhabitants of Orbajosa are led to believe that Madrid tolerates the destruction of the values they cherish (475) and this antagonism justifies their rebellion.


Even history itself is rendered uncertainly:

Como dato de no escaso interés, apuntaremos que lo que aquí se va contando ocurrió en un año que no está muy cerca, ni tampoco muy lejos...


If we accept the fictional nature of the narrative itself, a number of other techniques lead the reader into difficult ambiguities. Even the fictitious nature of the novel is cast into doubt. The reader is informed on more than one occasion that the story is a «true» one. Such affirmations are in general placed near to references to genuine history, the Second Carlist War. By making the distinction between accurately observed detail and imaginary material, Galdós implies that the matter of the novel derives from a chronicle or authority. While the clearest expressions of the «truthfulness» of his story appear in chapters eighteen, twenty-one and twenty-six, there are constant references elsewhere to «nuestra historia», «la historia que referimos», «esta historia» and more explicitly «según los más verosímiles datos», «aseguran fieles testigos», «se ha dicho» and the Cervantine «esta verídica historia». In chapter eighteen, narrating the arrival of the Centralist forces, Galdós relates the pseudoobjective facts of the situation as an omniscient observer. This is followed by the account as offered by the fictional chronicle. He then continues,

Y ya que se ha dicho esto tan importante, bueno será añadir que los batallones enviados allá en los mismos días de la historia que referimos, no iban a pasearse por las calles, pues que llevaban un objeto que clara y detalladamente se verá más adelante.


The implication is that the author is controlling the narrative and in possession of all the facts. Yet this security is belied not only by the temporal, etymological and topographical imprecision that has been noted above but also by a surrender of this control by the author. For instance, on Pinzón's arrival, Perfecta lodges her unwelcome guest in Rey's room, ignorant of their friendship.

¿Era su intención molestar de este modo al infame sobrino, o realmente no había en el edificio otra pieza disponible? No lo sabemos, ni las crónicas de donde esta verídica historia ha salido dicen una palabra acerca de tan importante cuestión. Lo que sabemos de un modo incontrovertible es...


This comment implies that the author now wishes to distance himself from the narrative. Galdós pretends that he is not omniscient, the story not completely his. However, as the reader accepts this tour de force, Galdós allows its effect to boomerang. The overcharged concern for details, for what the chronicles say, the false modesty, merely underline the fact that Perfecta's intention was to annoy. Therefore, despite the appearance of shifting responsibility, or appearing to distance himself from the novel, Galdós is really emphasizing his authority. While giving the impression of losing control, like an acrobat or trick-cyclist seemingly off balance, he is affirming that supreme control. In other statements such as «Así, y no de otra manera, por más que digan calumniadores lenguas, era el hombre...» (416) he seeks to affirm the facts in the face of a hypothetical distortion of the novelistic «truth». In others where that «truth» becomes uncertainty, the reader is constantly faced with an ambivalent situation and is forced to reject traditional notions and assumptions concerning novelistic apprehension. In chapter thirty-one, speaking of Perfecta, the technique is repeated.


Es extraño que hasta ahora no hayamos hecho una afirmación muy importante, y es que... Ahora, en el momento presente de nuestra historia, la hallamos sentada...

is followed by,

No sabemos cómo hubiera sido doña Perfecta amando. Aborreciendo, tenía...

Galdós' reasons for these tours de force need not be the subject of speculation. Within the body of the novel he expresses the same concern as Cervantes felt when the creator is torn between the moral obligation to «tell the truth» (depict objective realities) and the desire to «pintar los pensamientos, descubrir las imaginaciones».

¡O cuán difícil es para el historiador, que presume de imparcial, depurar la verdad en esto de las opiniones y pensamientos de los insignes personajes que han llenado el mundo con su nombre! No sabe uno a qué atenerse, y la falta de datos ciertos da origen a lamentables equivocaciones. En presencia de hechos tan culminantes como la jornada de Brumario, como el saco de Roma por Borbón, como la ruina de Jerusalén, ¿qué psicólogo, ni qué historiador podrá determinar los pensamientos que les precedieron o les siguieron en la cabeza de Bonaparte, Carlos V y Tito? ¡Responsabilidad inmensa la nuestra! Para librarnos en parte de ella, refiramos palabras, frases y aun discursos del mismo emperador orbajosense, y de este modo cada cual formará la opinión que le parezca más acertada.


This passage, like the preamble to chapter twenty-six, explicitly expresses Galdós' attitude to the presentation of a «truthful fiction».

Temporal sequence is also disrupted. The retrogression in chapter three is conventional enough. The relation of events surrounding Rosario's visit to the garden, however, constitutes an original contribution to the art of the novel. The visit followed by the dream account: of this episode is a particularly good example of the technique of confusing the real, or the fictionally real, and the imagined. The incitement of Caballuco to rebellion in chapter thirty-one ends with the Centaur's fist splitting apart the table. This is followed immediately in the next chapter by a flashback of Rosario's prearranged tryst with Rey in the garden and her inadvertent eavesdropping, through the uncurtained window, on the conspiracy. Rosario then faints and later experiences the whole episode in a dream. The author is attempting a complex simultaneity of events seen through the eyes of the participants, his own eyes and the dreaming imagination of Rosario who perceives the real «truth» of the situation. He pretends to exercise the right to edit the story, «pero omitimos lo restante por no ser indispensable para la buena inteligencia de esta relación» (477). Nevertheless, Galdós seems to be attempting to construct a series of relative apprehensions so that from all the possible perspectives something approaching an Absolute view will emerge. After the scene where Inocencio incites Caballuco and his followers to insurrection' the conspirators discover that Rosario is missing. From their interrogation of the servant Librada, they learn of what they believe to be Pinzón's duplicity and of his nocturnal encounters with Rosario. Pinzón and Rey are convinced their deception of impersonation has worked. Librada is certainly duped by the stratagem. Inocencio and Perfecta are less certain. This uncertainty parallels the narrative uncertainty that develops subsequently. Firstly, is the «hombre azul» Rosario sees in the window and in the dream Pinzón or Rey in Pinzón's uniform? Secondly, does the fainting actually take place in the garden or   —43→   in the dream or both? Thirdly, was the «golpe seco» heard in the garden and subsequently in the dream, or only in the latter from which it aroused Rosario?

The dream version of the visit to the garden presents a distorted vision of the incitement episode seen secretly by Rosario. This dream account ends with Rosario's sensation of fainting into the arms of a mysterious figure, Rey or Pinzón, who possibly returns her to her room. There, nervously overwrought, she recovers to utter the prayer that opens the chapter and fall into that state of hyperexcitement to experience in a different fashion the immediately foregoing incident. Action is reshaped to decrease our certainties. Galdós does not present the narrative linearly but spatially, where each perspective makes up the complex geometry of the «total» view.

The narrative «truth» is further weakened by the presentation of the «real» or «truthful» personalities of the conspirators in terms of grotesques conceived in the fevered imagination of Rosario. This aspect is rendered more complicated when we learn that Rosario is prone to hereditary madness. It may be that the panes of glass deform her perceptions. It may be her fevered imagination or her nightmare. Either way, a further ambiguous dimension is offered in the presentation of the moral turpitude of Rey's enemies. The vision is further complicated by being presented in flashback. Thus Galdós presents a series of pictures within pictures where each one becomes progressively more distorted and ambiguous yet paradoxically nearer the «truth». In a further elaboration, the characters are portrayed as puppets playing, presumably, the tragicomedy of life. The distortions are conceived in biomorphic terms. Rosario sees Inocencio as «un ave inverosímil», Caballuco as «un dragón» and the pliant minor conspirators are conceived as «los muñecos de barro de las ferias». Each becomes the grotesque itself and the norm is reversed. The grotesque seeks to become human, «las figurillas de barro se agitaban queriendo ser personas, y Frasquito González se empeñaba en ser hombre».

But our certainties are allowed no rest. Galdós simultaneously sets about weakening the reader's suppositions about the cast of the novel. A plausible case can be made for interpreting Gloria as a Romantic novel as Pattison has shown. Similarly, but to a lesser degree, Doña Perfecta is a Romantic novel. In the latter especially, Galdós seems at pains to create a pastiche. Alas' La Regenta and Galdós' La desheredada both demonstrate the pernicious effects of the Romantic novelón. In Doña Perfecta, he seems to be more concerned with questioning traditional assumptions about the genre than with direct criticism, though criticism is implicit in the process. Galdós offers the reader a technique of narration and at the same time questions its appropriateness. The persistent use of aparentar, engañar, mentir, disimilar, of ilusión, engaño, palabra, verdad and the classical paradox of Rey and Rosario's odi et amo are part of the technique. Galdós' doubts about the Romantic conception of reality are patent in the description of Rosario:

En su rostro fino y puro se observaba algo de la pastosidad nacarada, que la mayor parte de los novelistas atribuyen a sus heroínas, y sin cuyo barniz sentimental parece que ninguna Enriqueta y ninguna Julia pueden ser interesantes... La hermosura real de la niña de doña Perfecta consistía en una especie de transparencia, prescindiendo del nácar, del alabastro, del marfil y demás materias usadas en la composición descriptiva de los rostros humanos...


The evident ironical treatment of the current Romantic style puts the reader on his guard. The same is true in the presentation of Perfecta's hand clasped to her brow   —44→   «según el ademán propio de la desesperación» and that of Rey's adventures in the chapel. While concerned for the characters, the author debunks their attitudinizing.80

There is a case, then, for supposing that Galdós attempted at a very early stage to eschew catechising and to attempt an unbiased presentation of reality. He achieves this by deliberate recourse to Cervantine techniques.81 While a number of critics have shown that Galdós was acquainted with Don Quixote to the extent of glossing passages82 and others have indicated in a desultory fashion the Quixotic: nature of some Galdosian characters,83 no critic has investigated in detail Galdós' use of Cervantine techniques or asked why Galdós should be attracted by them. One of the major criticisms levelled against The Novels of Pérez Galdós is that Eoff ignores the assimilation of Cervantes' art.84 Whether Galdós consciously «borrowed» or not is a moot point. There can be no doubt, however, that the techniques used are artistically proper to Galdós' purpose. Galdós' comment that Doña Perfecta and other novels were popular and discussed in their day for the controversies to which they gave rise rather than for their literary merits85 may well explain the continued neglect of technique in favour of an «idealistic» approach. Ortega's comment in La deshumanización del arte that Galdós has no style is, of course, fatuous.

Confronted with the pressing need to resolve the polemics of the age, Galdós set his artistic skills to the task of resolving the problem of presenting «reality» in literature. Like Cervantes, he realised that «words are no longer... depositions of truth...; they are, like the books in which they are contained, sources of hesitation, error, deception -'dreams'» (Spitzer, p. 5l).86

It may be incautious on the evidence of a single novel to argue the points made here and in the earlier essay. A close examination of the other so-called «thesis» novels along the lines of the present will probably indicate that the two épocas theory needs serious revision and that our assumptions about Galdós' art at this time require reconsideration. The critic must be less dogmatic, less prone to general a priori assumptions, in judging the early novels. «The reason that Galdós' successful thesis novels, like Doña Perfecta, can continue to be read today is that they embody not doctrine but specific insights: they are a perpetual warning against simplification and abstractions» (Cardona, p. 30).

An assertion in a letter to Luis Bello in his later years may well be taken as the vision that inspired Galdós' creative genius over a lifetime:

Yo imagino... un tiempo en que cambiarán de parecer los que hoy empiezan a verme como un viejo maniático obstinado en tomar en serio las luchas del siglo XIX y en ver por todas partes supervivencias del absolutismo.

It seems proper one hundred years after his Observaciones that we should be clearer about Galdós' intentions.87

The University of Nottingham