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ArribaAbajoEstudios: Episodios nacionales


ArribaAbajoThe first Cordero: Elia and the Episodios nacionales

Brian J. Dendle

Although any discussion of Galdós' precursors demands at least mention of Fernán Caballero, literary historians either have denied that the Andalusian novelist influenced Galdós173 or have treated such influence only in the most general terms. Galdós' respect for Fernán Caballero's contribution to the Spanish novel is, however, unquestionable. Of Spanish novelists of the nineteenth century, only Pereda and Pardo Bazán were better represented in Galdós' library than Fernán Caballero.174 In 1870, at the outset of his novelistic career, Galdós, in his «Observaciones sobre la novela española contemporánea», commented favorably on Fernán Caballero's portrayal of Andalusian customs. Similarly, at the banquet organized in his honor in March 1883, Galdós, in a prepared speech which was read to the audience by José Castro y Serrano, paid tribute to the memory of Fernán Caballero, whose narrations, he declared, «have found an honorable place for contemporary Spanish literature in the concert of European literatures».175

Despite critical reluctance to acknowledge a specific influence on Galdós by Fernán Caballero, one novel of Fernán Caballero's deserves, I believe, serious consideration as the source for certain aspects of the second series of the episodios nacionales of Galdós. The novel in question is Elia, o la España treinta años ha, a historical novel which embraces, although only sketchily, approximately the same period as that of the second series of the episodios, namely, from the restoration of Fernando VII to his throne in 1814 to the First Carlist War. From the Benigno Cordero of Elia, Galdós obtained both the name and traits of character of the Cordero family which in the second series of the episodios epitomizes the qualities and defects of the Spanish middle class. Indeed, the theme of fratricidal struggle which underlies the second series of the episodios may well have been suggested to Galdós by Fernán Caballero's novel, which traces through two generations the ideological conflicts produced in one family by the entry of liberal ideas into Spain.

The Benigno Cordero of Elia is the faithful administrator of the estates of Isabel Orrea, the defender of traditional Spanish values whose combination of dogmatic inflexibility and charitable practice is emphatically approved by Fernán Caballero. Benigno Cordero is presented as a simpleton, but is nonetheless good-natured and totally loyal to his benefactors.176 Although lacking in intellectual ability, Benigno Cordero has a positive role in the novel, that of a foil for Narciso Delgado, the afrancesado intellectual who can find no merit in the traditional religion and customs, of Spain.177 On more than one occasion, Cordero exemplifies Fernán Caballero's belief that the heart can see more clearly than the intellect178; thus, Cordero's simple wisdom enables him, almost alone among the characters in the novel, to understand and approve Elia's taking of the veil. Cordero's benevolence is at times excessive; he was, as Isabel Orrea remarked, capable of finding excuses for the treachery of Judas.179 He lacked courage («Si bien no era capaz de una heroicidad...»180), but was able to express his opposition («con un valor nunca visto en él») to what he regarded as his mistress' severity in disinheriting her two nephews.


The first Cordero to be presented in the episodios nacionales is Primitivo Cordero the captain of Militia in 7 de julio.181 Primitivo Cordero possesses, despite his enthusiasm for the liberal cause, features in common with the Benigno Cordero of Elia: he is a good Catholic and of exemplary morals; he prides himself on the excellence of his handwriting; and he is ignorant, dogmatic, and loyal to his leaders.

Primitivo Cordero appears but fleetingly in the episodios, and serves above all to exemplify what Galdós terms una especie. His uncle, Benigno Cordero, is a figure of much greater importance, and becomes the middle-class «hero» of the second series of the episodios.182 Obviously modeled on the identically-named character of Elia, Galdós' Benigno Cordero, like Fernán Caballero's, is good-natured, simpleminded, and timid. He represents, however, the evolution which Galdós saw as taking place in the middle class in the early years of the nineteenth century. Conserving features of Fernán Caballero's Cordero -his devotion to throne and altar, his deeply-rooted Christianity, his refusal to believe in the possibility of deception,183 his possession of the Año Cristiano (the favorite reading of Caballero's Cordero) -Galdós' Cordero is an independent shop-keeper rather than a servant of the aristocracy, has adopted revolutionary beliefs to the extent of becoming a fervent disciple of Rousseau (whose ideas were satirized in Elia in the person of Narciso Delgado), and affirms an ingenuous liberalism. If Fernán Caballero's Cordero is incapable of valor, Galdós' Cordero, reflecting the increased importance which Galdós attributed to his class, rises to heroism on one occasion, when he leads the successful charge of the Militia against the Royal Guards on 7 July 1822.

The importance of Elia to Galdós' work lies, however, not so much in its suggestion of the characterization of Benigno Cordero as in the possibility of its having furnished, in the brief Epilogue, the germ of what was to be the underlying theme of the second series of the episodios nacionales: the struggle between two brothers who are divided by ideology. Thus, the fratricidal conflict between Salvador Monsalud and Carlos Navarro, which Galdós uses to symbolize the scission of Spain, repeats the fate of the two sons of Doña Inés de Córdoba which Fernán Caballero describes in the closing paragraphs of Elia. The two brothers fight on opposite sides in the civil war: Fernando is killed defending the cause of the King in the action of 7 July 1822 (the occasion of Cordero's heroism in Galdós' 7 de julio) and Carlos perishes in the Trocadero in 1823. Fernán Caballero extends the symbolism of the fratricidal struggle to a further generation: the two sons of Esperanza (the sister of Carlos and Fernando) also give their lives for opposing causes, one fighting for Don Carlos at the siege of Bilbao, and the other for Queen Isabel in Mendigorría.

Hans Hinterhäuser, in his consideration of Spanish historical novels of the nineteenth century which might possibly have served as sources for the episodios nacionales, makes no mention of Fernán Caballero's Elia.184 Galdós was, however, sufficiently acquainted with Fernán Caballero's novel to borrow from it the name and character traits of the Benigno Cordero of the second series of the episodios. Galdós' Cordero, when considered in relation to Fernán Caballero's, represents the shift in allegiances and attitudes which Galdós saw as taking place in the early nineteenth century in a nascent middle class as ingenuous as it was well-intentioned. The Benigno Cordero of the episodios is a member of the urban commercial class, rather than a dependent of the provincial aristocracy; his loyalty is now to an ill-defined but progressive liberalism, rather than to the blindly dogmatic traditionalism of an Isabel Orrea. Elia suggested to Galdós, however, not only the characterization of Benigno Cordero   —105→   but also very possibly the theme of fratricidal struggle which underlies the second series of the episodios nacionales. Galdós' debt to Elia is too specific to be based on the unconscious recollection of an earlier reading; the comparison of the two Corderos can only confirm the suspicion, already voiced by Hinterhäuser, that little credence may be placed in Galdós' claim that the episodios were without predecessors in contemporary Spanish literature.185

University of Kentucky