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ArribaAbajoIllusion, Reality and Realidad

Joseph F. Chorpenning

Professor Frank Durand has recently demonstrated how Galdós used his interest in the interplay between reality and illusion in La desheredada, the first in the series of las novelas españolas contemporáneas, «to capture the whole of reality rather than limit himself to the description of the exterior world» and to provide a proper ironic framework for «a serious commentary on the values of society as well as a presentation of the country's politics or its historical situation»73. He concludes his study by asserting that, in this first novel of the series, Galdós «no more than begins his examination» (p. 201) of the relationship between reality and illusion, which he develops more and more in succeeding novels of this series.

One way Galdós uses this interplay in later novels is to bring out another one of, his interests, namely, that in the exploration of an inner reality of conscience and morality. It is a critical commonplace that this interest first surfaces in the epistolary novel La incógnita and in the dialogue novel Realidad, and evolves into a «proceso de espiritualización» in subsequent novels such as Nazarín, Halma and Misericordia74. In fact, La incógnita and Realidad are themselves representative of Galdós' interest in playing with reality and illusion: the former describes the «cara exterior», i. e., the illusion which Manolo Infante imagines to be the truth of the «caso» which forms the plot of both novels, the death of Federico Viera, whereas the latter offers the «descripción interior» and the «verdad profunda» of the «caso»75. But, although Realidad is the truth of the matter, that is not to say that its characters do not have illusions. On the contrary, the principal characters of Realidad Augusta Cisneros, Tomás Orozco and Federico Viera, have a great deal of difficulty in distinguishing physical reality from illusion. This fluctuation is exemplified by their inability to distinguish dreams from life, hallucinations from reality. From the outset this alternation occurs, e. g., in the final scene of the first act, Augusta imagines that she sees the Sombra of Orozco, and that she confesses to him; later, she doubts: «En verdad que no puedo asegurar que estoy despierta ni que estoy dormida... puedo jurar que le he visto ahí..., una persona, un sacerdote, un ser extraño, con la cara y los ojos de... Difícil es que pueda precisar si he dormido o no...» (p. 809). These characters are, as Ricardo Gullón has so accurately described them, «alucinados»76. However, these physical illusions are only symptomatic of deeper internal disorders, the moral illusions of these characters, which are the origin of these aberrations in the physical realm. While the illusions of the characters of, say, La desheredada are principally of a social nature (see Durand), those of Orozco, Viera and Augusta are primarily of the moral order. They constitute the main thread of the novel and are the key to understanding the reorientation which Galdós effects in this series in this single novel. In order to portray the mistaken ideas which his characters assert as reality, Galdós must penetrate, to borrow Augusta's phrase, «las cuevas más escondidas del alma» (p. 808).


The purpose of this essay is twofold: first, to define the illusions of Orozco, Viera and Augusta; and secondly, to explain their significance from the perspective of the «proceso de espiritualización» which unfolds in subsequent novels. I shall argue that Galdós presents the moral ideas of Orozco and Viera in a negative light to point to the Christian values to which he subscribed and which he would continue to represent in later novels. Moreover, of the three principal characters of Realidad, ft is Augusta to whom Galdós is most sympathetic.


Although galdosistas are almost unanimously agreed that Orozco should be studied in relation to the theme of charity in Galdós' novels, they are divided, as are the characters of the novel itself, as to whether he is a «santo laico» or a «demente»77. The answer to this question, as well as to what Orozco's illusions are, is to be found in Galdós' ideas about religion. A. A. Parker, in «Nazarín, or The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ According to Galdós»78, has succinctly summarized these ideas:

The traditional type of sanctity is incompatible with the modern world, in which there is no place for hermits and contemplatives; the «vulgar» and «mediocre» world requires a «practical» type of sanctity expressed in a Christ-like charity...

(p. 87)                

Further, he continues:

What Galdós refrains from saying is as important as what he states. It has long been emphasized that he conceived religion as practical social action and had no conception of contemplative prayer. It should also be emphasized. that while there is nothing unchristian and uncatholic in his affirmation of human and natural values against a puritanical asceticism, he yet never shows anything that could indicate that man has an allegiance to heaven as well as to earth and that there is an infinite disparity between the two... Nazarín shows us powerfully the serious danger there is to religion in forgetfulness of human suffering and sorrow. Galdós nowhere shows us or tries to show us the equally serious danger of forgetfulness of divine transcendence, whereby religion declines to mete humanism.

(p. 99)                

The distance between these ideas and those of Orozco is revealed in a speech which Orozco makes in a state between wakefulness and sleep, a state Galdós uses for exposing the true interior disposition of the characters of this novel:

Aquí solo, dentro del círculo de mis pensamientos, apartado del mundo, ante el cual represento el papel que me señalan, restablezco mi personalidad, me gozo en mí mismo, examino mis ideas y me recreo en este sistema... lo llamaré religioso..., en este sistema que me he formado, sin auxilio de nadie, sin abrir un libro, indagando en mi conciencia los fundamentos del bien y del mal... ¡Qué placer descubrir la fuente eterna, aunque no podamos beber en ella sino algunas gotas que nos salpican a la cara!

(p. 805)                

Against the background of Parker's résumé, Orozco's speech sets up a series of oppositions between his religious ideas and those of Galdós: selfcenteredness-othercenteredness; otherworldliness-worldliness; asceticism-activism.   —41→   This quotation can be juxtaposed to a statement that Orozco makes to his wife when he awakes to illustrate how he mediates his consciousness when speaking to others:

Me conviene que continúe este lazo que al mundo nos une, y aparentar que, lejos de haber en mi perfecciones, soy lo mismo que los demás... En el mundo, en plena sociedad activa, es donde se debe luchar por el bien. Nada de ascetismo...

(p. 807)                

This mediation of consciousness is at the root of what Arnold M. Penuel has called «the ambiguity of Orozco's virtue»79. This ambiguity is resolved ex fructibus, i. e., by Orozco's deeds.

Even though Orozco performs many charitable acts, e. g., aiding a number of poor families, making possible the construction of a correctional institution for juvenile delinquents and defraying the costs almost singlehandedly, helping Viera's sister, Clotilde, her fiancé, and Viera himself, etc., of which Galdós would approve, nevertheless, he does fall short of the ideal. Charity is more than mere physical actions or aid in material sustenance; man's support of man includes the psychological and the spiritual as well. Orozco fails in this regard by his refusal to allow the beneficiaries of his charity to discharge their psychological need to express gratitude, because he believes that his reward will be greater in the hereafter if he remains unpraised in this life, and by his suppression, in the classical ascetical manner, of his most natural inclinations, which makes him neglect his sexual life with Augusta, and unwittingly fuel her adulterous relationship with Viera. Both these examples and the first quotation reveal Orozco's pride and his desire: to feel morally superior. It is this cold air of superiority which deters Augusta from confessing her wrongdoing to her husband. Thus, Orozco uses others to achieve perfection instead of helping them for themselves. Galdós also hints that Orozco is charitable in order to calm a vague feeling of guilt which arises from the fact that his fortune is derivative of the money his father and the father of Viera were able to salvage when their insurance company, La Humanitaria, went bankrupt, and hundreds of its insurants lost their life savings. Measured against Galdós' own religious ideas, Orozco emerges, in his words and deeds, as an individual who, albeit he performs many charitable acts, consciously uses charity as a means of self-perfection and of quieting his own conscience rather than as a means of helping others. His illusion, then, is his mistaken idea of Christian perfection, for he pursues an ascetical, and subtly egotistical, ideal which Galdós considers to be inappropriate and outdated.

It has been observed that Galdós accentuates his play with reality and illusion in his novels by paralleling them with Don Quijote (see, e. g., Durand, p. 195). There are structural and thematic parallels between Realidad and the Quijote80. More to our point are the parallels directed to characterization81. In his pursuit of an obsolete religious ideal, Orozco brings to mind Don Quijote, who followed the antiquated ideals of chivalry in the seventeenth century82. The madness of Orozco's quijotismo surfaces in his rapidly debilitating mental state, which Augusta constantly hints at, and which fully emerges in the final scene of the novel. But, unlike Quijote, Orozco remains without self-understanding at the end of Realidad.


The parallel is much more explicit in the case of Viera. Viera is an hidalgo who goes mad because of his obsession with an outdated ideal. He follows a Calderonian code of behavior in the bourgeoise society of the nineteenth century. The Sombra of Orozco calls him «el Amadís de la delicadeza y de la dignidad» (p. 886). He is outraged when his sister runs off with the impoverished Santanita, and he plots to avenge this affront to his honor. Infante tries to persuade him that «se han quedado muy atrás los tiempos calderonianos» (p. 816). His «acentuación quijotesca de algunas prendas morales» and his «carecer de otras» (p. 720) result in his life being divided into «dos esferas irreconciliables» (p. 821). The clash of these two «spheres» of his personality, i. e., his love affair with Augusta and his Calderonian code of behavior, is resolved by his adherence to the latter, whereby he becomes both the avenging husband and the punished adulterer, and which he carries out by killing himself. Although the parallel between Viera and Quijote is sustained until his suicide, e. g., Viera suggests to the Sombra, «Nos haremos pastores marchándonos a una región distante y sosegada, donde impere la verdad absoluta» (p. 877), (cf. Quijote, Part II, Chapter 67), Viera, unlike Quijote, dies without self-understanding.

The collision between the two halves of Viera's personality is precipitated by his notion of honor. Viera's concept of honor is that of the unredeemed world of the Old Testament, where affronts against honor were avenged by blood. With the coming of Christian times, this idea of honor, which knew no redemption and demanded ancient retributive rites, became outdated and was shown for what it really was, an expression of human pride. Christ came as a healer who shed his blood in a manner which worldly men deemed as dishonorable, in order to cure a universal wound and restore men to honor in the sight of God. The mark of the redeemed order of nature, therefore, is that each man has within himself an honor which was avenged by the blood of Christ once and for all. As a result, man's response to affronts to honor should be forgiveness and reconciliation, not revenge. The reverse is true in the case of Viera. Viera's idea of honor is the motivating force behind his reaction to Clotilde running off with Santanita and his suicide. His practice of charity is also a question of honor as pride: he is charitable to continue a family tradition of more prosperous times. Consequently, Viera's illusion is his mistaken idea of honor, which is a travesty of a vital spiritual reality. It is as far from Galdós' idea of Christian perfection as is Orozco's asceticism, and as much out of place in the nineteenth century as it was in the seventeenth (and well before that too!). And Galdós, as did Calderón in his so-called «honor plays», is using the values and violence it prescribes in a negative way to point to his own Christian values.83

Of the three main characters of Realidad, Augusta alone travels the road from locura to cordura. Like Quijote, she is bored with the conventionality of life and feels impelled to recreate ordinary life in a novelistic fashion: «Yo apetezco lo extraño, eso que con desprecio llaman novelesco los tontos, juzgando las novelas más sorprendentes que la realidad» (p. 825). This leads Augusta to criticize an objective morality and to argue that morality   —43→   is a personal, individual and subjective matter. It is on this basis that she justifies her affair with Viera. Still, at the end of the novel, she does renounce her illusion, at least to herself, and promises to make amends for her wrongdoing much as Don Quijote renounced his knight errantry and made a firm purpose of amendment in the final chapter of the second part of the Quijote. From the brief glimpse of her conduct in Torquemada y San Pedro (Part 1, Chapters 7-11), she does seem to have kept this promise.

To sum up, Galdós portrays the moral ideas of Orozco and Viera as illusions, mistaken ideas which they assert as reality, but which simply do not correspond to the reality of the «'practical' type of sanctity expressed in a Christlike charity» (Parker, «Nazarín...» p. 87) demanded by the modern world. The negative light in which Galdós casts these mistaken ideas is accentuated by his identification of these two characters with Quijote. Augusta, too, is like Quijote: she seeks to live life as if it were a novel, yet she, unlike her husband and lover, and like Quijote, attains desengaño. In consequence, Augusta is the only character which Galdós uses quijotismo to exalt in Realidad. From the perspective of later novels such as Nazarín, Halma and Misericordia our examination of the illusions of these three characters gives an important clue as to how Galdós initiates the «proceso de espiritualización» in las novelas españolas contemporáneas.


Various critics have expressed what they believe is the novel's commentary on social values, or its presentation of Spain's historical situation. Gonzalo Sobejano84, for instance, sees the novel's «formas literarias», i. e., monologues and soliloquies, as «formas de sensibilidad social» (p. 105), i. e., «la soledad el secreto, la desconfianza» (p. 103) of bourgeoise society. Joaquín Casalduero85 considers the novel to be a presentation of «las ideas históricas de Galdós sobre España» (p. 394): Viera is «la España tradicional en lucha con el Tiempo» that «se ve vencida y obligada a desaparecer si no quiere terminar en la ignominia», while Orozco is «la nueva conciencia, el hombre nuevo» (p. 396). Since Realidad is Galdós' «literary approximation to the complexity of reality itself» (Penuel, «The Ambiguity of Orozco's Virtue...», p. 417), both of these views can, within a Cervantine perspectivism, be admitted. The present analysis, however, directs us toward an interpretation of this work which has not previously been expounded.

Infante, in one of his letters to Equis, makes this statement apropos of the question of Orozco's virtue:

No niego que pueda existir en nuestros tiempos la santidad; pero me resisto a admitirla en las altas clases. Existirá en las Ordenes religiosas, o en los desiertos habitados por una sola persona; pero en el mundo activo, en la sociedad, en el matrimonio, en medio de los chismes, de las envidias, de la soberbia, del lujo... Vamos, Equisillo, que se te quite eso de la cabeza.

(p. 778)                

This statement might be counted as just one more example of Infante's unreliability, because, as we have already seen, it certainly does not represent   —44→   Galdós' own religious thinking. It is tempting, though, to see this statement as the proposition which Galdós systematically sets out to disprove in Realidad and in succeeding novels, where, by playing with reality and illusion, he explores and represents «la santidad» in different social classes and in varying degrees and shades. Galdós does not completely and satisfactorily disprove this proposition until Misericordia. As Robert H. Russell has so convincingly demonstrated86, in the character of Benina «la santidad» is not self-conscious or problematic, as it is in the characters of earlier novels such as Orozco, Viera, Nazarín and Halma. Benina has no concept of herself which she seeks the means to realize: she neither self-consciously separates herself physically from society, nor does she use others as the means for her own self-perfection. While the interplay between reality and illusion is employed in novels prior to Misericordia to expose the illusions of Orozco, Viera, Nazarín, Halma, etc., it is used in Misericordia to shed light upon, Benina's Christlikeness.

Considered from the perspective of Misericordia, Orozco and Viera are far from the ideal which Galdós posits in the character of Benina. Both perform charitable works, yet they do so in the quixotic: pursuit of antiquated ideals: Orozco aspires to an ascetical, and subtly egoistical, ideal of self-perfection, and uses other people to attain it; Viera follows an outdated and unchristian ideal of honor. Continuing this line of reasoning, of the main characters of Realidad it is Augusta with whom Galdós sympathizes most, and who, by virtue of her intention to repent at the end of the novel, most approximates the «santidad» of the «figura evangélica» of Benina. (This view of Augusta is corroborated by the external evidence of her subsequent actualization of this intention in Torquemada y San Pedro.) Augusta alone traverses the Cervantine trajectory from engaño to desengaño by recognizing her own failings, and, having rejected the religious ideals of her husband, resolving to dedicate herself to the selfless and unconscious pursuit of charity. This is how Galdós uses the interplay between reality and illusion to explore the inner reality of conscience and morality in Realidad and to begin the «proceso de espiritualización» which would continue to unfold in the novels that followed it. Finally, this interplay provided Galdós with the proper ironic framework to make in Realidad a serious commentary on social values, which would be repeated again and again in its successors: that all men, regardless of class cleavage, can attain «santidad», if they will only recognize their illusions and selflessly dedicate themselves to the total practice of charity.87

The Johns Hopkins University

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