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ArribaAbajoGaldós' Tristana, Anatomy of a «Disappointment»

Roberto G. Sánchez

Tristana (1892), thirteenth among Galdós' novelas contemporáneas, received little attention for many years; not until Gonzalo Sobejano's article, «Galdós y el vocabulario de los amantes», appeared in 1966 was there a scholarly attempt to study any aspect of the novel in depth178. Today, perhaps due to the success of Luis Buñuel's cinematic version, there is renewed interest in the work and particularly in its unique heroine who strives for personal independence and declares no interest in matrimony. As a consequence, most recent studies have focused on discussions of feminism and its possible reflection in the novel, leaving aside, for the most part, a series of disturbing questions regarding its merits and deficiencies.179

«No es de las mejores novelas de Galdós», wrote Sobejano in his celebrated article but, concerned primarily with the stylistic aspect he was pursuing, he elaborated no further. The fact is that-disappointment with the work was expressed from the outset. «No creo que Tristana debe incluirse en el número de las mejores novelas de Galdós, y quizá pueda calificarse de bastante inferior con respecto a otras recientes...» wrote Emilia Pardo Bazán in a review following the novel's publication.180 The condemnation persisted thereafter, if not declared openly certainly implied by simply ignoring the work. The resurgence of interest in Galdós in our century did not change its status. In 1943 Joaquín Casalduero objected to what he considered the author's flagrant manipulation of the plot, the gratuitous catastrophe that befalls the heroine, dashing her hopes of liberation, and wrote: «El fracaso de Tristana es arbitrario, arbitrariedad que se traduce en la novela lamentablemente»181. But it was Berkowitz who in 1948 pointed to the work as being especially problematic: «Tristana might be figuratively termed the unfinished opus of his repertory. Its theme of feminine independence -a fairly new one in Spain- is suggested but not developed... Whatever his initial intentions, he definitely lost sight of them in the process of composition... He may have left the theme of Tristana unfinished because he wrote it at the height of his preoccupation with the staging of his first drama. The very brevity of the work is perhaps a reflection of his momentary concern with the problem of artistic compression...»182 More recent works on Galdós echo the early judgement. Sherman Eoff, for example, declares: «[...] it is one of the novelist's inferior works, a mete sketch rather than a fully developed story...»183

It will not be my intention to prove such distinguished critics wrong and make of Galdós' thirteenth novel a superior work. (Certainly, all of Don Benito's writings need not be gems.) Rather I would like to explore the motivations underlying this artistic «disappointment». Berkowitz, we have seen, vacillated between calling Tristana an outright failure, a victim of circumstance and an experiment of sorts.


The novel was conceived at the height of that period in Galdós' development when he questioned with avid concern, not only the nature of reality and art but the role of the creator himself. Tristana was yet another adventure and it is my belief that if Galdós did make errors of judgement he proceeded here with complete deliberateness. Also, by examining the objections brought against the novel we may be able to shed some light on the feminist theme that has so intrigued critics today.

Berkowitz tells us (although he does not document the assertion) that Galdós looked on the work with disdain184. Further, the idea that the theatrical activities connected with the staging of Realidad might have interfered with the novelist's writing of Tristana came to the scholar (although he does not say so) from Pardo Bazán185. There is no such indication from Galdós. In fact, in his Memorias de un desmemoriado Don Benito makes it a point to insist that «en el bullicio teatral no olvidaba yo la plácida y silenciosa novela...»186

Any suggestion that the writing of the novel was a perfunctory task can have no basis in fact. The very theme of the new work was very much in the air; it was one for which the eminent novelist had been preparing the ground for some time. «La emancipación de la mujer es un tema que Galdós no podía dejar de tratar», declares Casalduero187. And Carmen Bravo Villasante wrote recently: «Hasta 1892 parece que no le preocupa muy intensamente el problema de la emancipación femenina o del llamado feminismo. Le interesó sí la educación de la mujer y en muchas obras documenta este interés».188

It is idle to speculate whether Galdós was or was not a feminist and at which point he may have become one. There is no arguing, however, with his interest in women characters and feminine psychology; the titles of his many novels attest to that. While Bravo Villasante does not see the appearance of the «new woman» in Galdós' work until the Isidora of Voluntad (1895) -followed by such characters as Electra and Mariucha- it is clear that Tristana often voices ideas that are patently feminist. This is certainly the case when she rejects the idea of matrimony and writes to her lover: «No veo la felicidad en el matrimonio. Quiero, para expresarlo a mi manera, estar casada conmigo misma, y ser mi propia cabeza de familia... Protesto, me da la gana de protestar contra los hombres, que se han cogido todo el mundo por suyo, y no nos han dejado a nosotras más que las veredas estrechitas por donde ellos no saben andar...»189 Before, she had said to him: «Yo te quiero y te querré siempre; pero deseo ser libre. Por eso ambiciono un medio de vivir; cosa difícil, ¿verdad? Saturna me pone en solfa, y dice que no hay más que tres carreras para las mujeres: el matrimonio, el teatro, y...» (V, 1570). Saturna had indeed expressed such thoughts and Tristana had retorted: «Pues mira tú, de esas tres carreras, únicas de la mujer, la primera me agrada poco, la tercera menos, la de enmedio la seguiría yo si tuviera facultades; pero me parece que no las tengo... Ya sé, ya sé que es difícil eso de ser libre... y honrada. ¿Y de qué vive una mujer no poseyendo   —113→   rentas? Si nos hicieran médicas, abogadas, siquiera boticarias o escribanas, ya que no ministras y senadoras, vamos, podríamos... Pero cosiendo, cosiendo... Calcula las puntadas que hay que dar para mantener una casa... Cuando pienso lo que será de mí, me dan ganas de llorar. ¡Ay, pues si yo sirviera para monja, ya estaba pidiendo plaza en cualquier convento! Pero no valgo, no, para encerronas de toda la vida. Yo quiero vivir, ver mundo y enterarme de por qué y para qué nos han traído a esta tierra en que estamos. Yo quiero vivir y ser libre...» (V, 1549).

I will not pursue the feminist theme any further. If I have done so to this extent it has been to point out that this iconoclastic feminine character did not appear in Galdós' production from out of nowhere but is, as the novel itself is, a link in an evolutionary process. He had, in the companion works, Tormento and La de Bringas, for instance, presented examples of the same rebellion in an embryonic stage. Amparo and Refugio, the two penniless orphans, had attempted to earn a living «cosiendo, cosiendo» and, as Tristana reasoned, to no avail. Refugio, the younger, had turned to the third profession indicated by Saturna and thereby brought shame on her sister. Amparo then, hoping to find salvation in marriage to the wealthy and respected Agustín Caballero, tries to reform Refugio. The latter answers her in a manner that is both an apología pro vita sua and a vehement protest of her feminine state. «¿Por qué es mala una mujer? Por la pobreza... Tú has dicho: 'si trabajas.' ¿Pues no he trabajado bastante? ¿De qué son mis dedos? Se han vuelto de palo de tanto coser. Y ¿qué he ganado? Miseria y más miseria... Asegúrame la comida, la ropa, y nada tendrás que decir de mí. ¿Qué ha de hacer una mujer sola, huérfana, sin socorro ninguno, sin parientes y criada con cierta delicadeza? ¿Se va a casar con un mozo de cuerda? ¿Qué muchacho decente se acerca a nosotras viéndonos pobres?... Y ya sabes, desde que la ven a una tronada y sola, ya no vienen a cosa buena...» (IV, 1489).

The second iconoclast, Rosalía Bringas, «a quien jamás la maledicencia había hecho ningún agravio» (IV, 1474), is very proud of her spotless reputation. For many years she withstands with great resignation her husband's avarice -having to account for every penny spent, having no means of her own- until one day when she yields to a whim and purchases a manteleta. As she gets deeper in debt and pressures increase she contemplates the unthinkable: to sell herself for profit. She then muses: «La necesidad... es la que hace los caracteres. Ella tiene la culpa de muchas desgracias, y considerando esto, debemos ser indulgentes con las personas que no se portan como Dios manda. Antes de acusarlas debemos decir: Toma lo que necesitas; cómprate de comer; tápate esas carnes... ¿Estás bien comida, bien vestida? Pues ahora... venga moralidad» (IV, 1652). Thus she seems to paraphrase the very ideas expressed before by Amparo's delinquent sister, and yet there is great irony here. She shows little compassion to Refugio and in her final interview with her in the second novel she takes a superior stance although both have come to the same end. The pressures imposed by society on women, Galdós makes clear, are devastating.


Neither Refugio nor Rosalía consider for a moment the possibility of achieving independence through some profession. Tristana is clearly ahead of them when she laments those restrictions that will not allow her to become a lawyer or doctor. And yet she is still far from being an example of the «new woman»; she harbors serious contradictions.

Casalduero relates Tristana to Amparo, not to Refugio190; and Carmen Bravo Villasante compares her to the mania-prone Isidora of La desheredada191. While our heroine does not share Amparo's timidity -Galdós constantly calls the older of the Emperador sisters «débil» and «medrosa» she is not as resolute as she would like to think. Not for one moment does it cross her mind to escape from the home of her guardian as well she could. For all her dedication to the study of languages and the piano, there is a basic insecurity in her; she cannot find herself and will later, in the same spirit, turn to religion and the culinary arts. That she has an inquiring nature, is restless and impatient, there is no doubt, but we come to question whether she is indeed talented. She herself has these doubts and exclaims: «Quiero tener una profesión y no sirvo para nada, ni sé nada de cosa alguna. Esto es horrendo» (V, 1580).

This is the source of her suffering: querer y no poder, and thus her only outlet is to dream, to fabricate energies and hopes that will persuade- her of eventual success. In this regard, she is very close indeed to Isidora Rufete, Galdós' quijotita, whose origins can be traced to el Toboso. Both share the same antecedents: one a mad father, the other a demented mother. As the novel advances, the reality of Tristana's potential becomes clouded and fantasy seems to share the balance. Emilio Miró is correct when he states that Galdós «ha hecho de Tristana un símbolo ambiguo»192; and this contradiction is one of several that we will attempt to clarify.

One important article which was provoked by Buñuel's film and is unrelated to the feminist theme is Francisco Ayala's «La creación del personaje en Galdós»193. In it Ayala traces the literary relations which form part of the characterization of the two main protagonists. In Don Lope (his real name was Juan López Garrido) he sees an echo of a figure from Baltasar del Alcázar's Cena jocosa, combined with many of the traits, both honorable and dishonorable, of Don Juan Tenorio. The name of Tristana, given to her by her deranged mother, suggests to Ayala a world of chivalry and romance which he finds reinforced in the references that compare her to the heroine of Dante's masterpiece. And he justifies the process:

No se piense, sin embargo, que esta construcción del personaje ficticio sobre un modelo tomado de la literatura misma, aunque ello sea en forma tan deliberada y obvia como aquí se hace, implica desvío frente a la realidad, ni siquiera -aunque a primera vista pudiera parecerlo- infidelidad o traición a los principios del realismo, sino tal vez un refinamiento mayor y una más resuelta penetración en la estructura misma de la vida humana que la novela trata de representar. Pues la literatura, la tradición literaria, se encuentra muy profundamente engranada en la experiencia práctica; más aún: contribuye en medida sustancial a organizar la vida en sociedad mediante los oficios de la imaginación, ya que ésta, operando en diversas   —115→   vías, establece tanto los mitos colectivos portadores de valoraciones reconocidas y acatadas por el grupo, como los dechados de humanidad a que cada individuo pretende ceñirse.194

The literary allusions examined by Ayala are to isolated and individual characters. I would like to suggest, however, that equally important are the allusions made throughout the novel -again with equal deliberateness- to stock literary situations and formulas. Let us look at some of these.

Don Lope Garrido may have been a swashbuckling figure and a great lover at one time but that is all in the past. He retains only a haughty hidalguía, an echo of another age. When we meet him he is fifty-seven, «que no por bien conservados eran menos efectivos», (V, 1541). Soon his efforts to safeguard his union with Tristana by appearing and acting youthful only serve to achieve the opposite results. The girl, Galdós tells us, «bruscamente vio en Don Lope al viejo», (V, 1548). Poverty and old age overtake him; he acquires a persistent cough, rheumatism and chest congestion. «Y para colmo de desdichas, veíase precisado a dormir con la cabeza envuelta en un feo pañuelo, y su alcoba apestaba a los mejunjes que usar solía para el reúma o el romadizo», (V, 1552).

Thus we have the disparity of ages in a marriage, a stereotyped situation which appears in so many literary works dating back to Roman comedy, the farces and fabliaux of the Middle Ages, and, in Spain, the traditional ballads of «la mal maridada». Most important, this same situation is recreated time and again by Cervantes: in his exemplary novel, El celoso extremeño and particularly in his entremeses, El viejo celoso, La cueva de Salamanca, El juez de los divorcios. Mariana, the young wife in the last mentioned work, bemoans her married state and pleads for a divorce «porque no puedo sufrir sus impertinencias, ni estar de continuo atenta a curar todas sus enfermedades, que son sin número, y no me criaron a mí mis padres para ser hospitalera ni enfermera».

The basic elements of the formula are all in Tristana, although, as we shall see, many are altered and even subverted. Chapter VI, for example, sums up the many facets of the conventional circumstance: the heroine is a prisoner in her own home -«cautiva infeliz» the narrator calls her-.; her guardian, unsure of himself, is jealous and watches over her with zeal. Tyrant and captive, «el viejo y la niña», live in. fear of one another. Suspicious, he questions her persistently and threatens her: «Si te sorprendo en algún mal paso te mato, cree que te mato», (V, 1552). Succeeding stock developments follow: the young man who will catch the heroine's eye, (he clever and mischievous servant who will serve as go-between.

There is another element in Galdós' novel that relates it to a more modern treatment of the same stock situation: the education of women as found in Molière and Moratín195. The latter's El sí de las niñas criticizes the senseless education given to young girls in Spain, but it is to Molière's L'Ecole des Femmes that we must turn in order to find a suitable parallel. There, Arnolphe is the guardian of the young Agnes. He plans to marry her and keeps her in reclusion so that he might better prepare her to assume the role of perfect mate. He instructs her patiently with exemplary lessons.


Le mariage, Agnès, n'est pas un badinage:
A d'austères devoirs le rang de femme engage,
Et vous n'y montez pas, à ce que je prétends,
Pour être libertine et prendre du bon temps.
Votre sexe n'est là que pour la dépendence:
Du côté de la barbe est la toute-puissance.
Bien qu'on soit deux moitiés de la société,
Ces deux moitiés, pourtant n'ont point d'égalité:
L'une est moitié suprême et l'autre subalterne;
L'une en tout es soumise à l'autre qui gouverne;
Et ce que le soldat, dans son devoir instruit,
Montre d'obeissance au chef qui le conduit,
Le valet à son maitre, un enfant à son père,
A son supérieur le moindre petit Frère,
N'approche point encor de la docilité,
Et de l'obéissance, et de l'humilité,
Et du profond respect où la femme doit être
Pour son mari, son chef, son seigneur et son maitre.

(Act III, Sc. ii)                

Don Lope, to be sure, never planned to marry Tristana. «Conviene advertir que ni por un momento se le ocurrió al caballero desposarse con su víctima, pues aborrecía el matrimonio; teníalo por la más espantosa fórmula de esclavitud que idearon los poderes de la tierra para meter en un puño a la pobrecita humanidad», (V, 1548). He did, however, play a role of guardian-teacher similar to that of Arnolphe, although in a less deliberate fashion. «Era que Don Lope, sin que ninguno de los dos se diese cuenta de ello, habíala hecho su discípula, y algunas ideas de las que con toda lozanía florecieron en la mente de la joven, procedían del semillero de su amante y por fatalidad maestro. Hallábase Tristana en esa edad y sazón en que las ideas se pegan, en que ocurren los más graves contagios del vocabulario personal, de las maneras y hasta del carácter», (V, 1549). And to which ideas was the girl so susceptible? To those of Don Lope, of course, and more precisely to those having to do with the relations between men and women. It is he who planted the seed of her feminist arguments, for the old man «sostenía que en las relaciones de hombre y mujer no hay más ley que la anarquía, si la anarquía es ley; que el soberano amor no debe sujetarse más que a su propio canon intrínseco...» (V, 1547).

These teachings, we can readily see, are a complete reversal of the schooling given by Arnolphe to Agnès in Molière's play, and yet both guardians are motivated by selfish concerns196. Later Don Lope encourages her iconoclastic ideas in order that she may not think of marriage to another and hence abandon him. «Has nacido para algo muy grande que no podemos precisar aún», he tells her. «El matrimonio te zambulliría en la vulgaridad. Tú no puedes ni debes ser de nadie, sino de ti misma», (V, 1589).

Seen in this light, Tristana's feminism loses some of its verisimilitud. It does not spring from within her as naturally as we supposed; it is something borrowed, arrived at second hand, as it were. But this is of secondary importance. What is important to us here is that Galdós follows a stock situation only to subvert it. Don Lope does not marry his ward but seduces her; he indoctrinates her in order to prolong their unnatural   —117→   union, and in the process, shares with her his egocentric philosophy. And the subversions multiply further.

In the traditional stock situation the old husband was kept in the dark as to the secret meetings of the young lovers and hence was the butt of the joke. In Cervantes' El viejo celoso, for example, the suitor enters the wife's chamber by slipping in behind a «tapiz» that is being exhibited to Cañizares. In La cueva de Salamanca when Pancracio returns unexpectedly, the amorous sacristan is explained as a devil, materialized through the magic learned in the cave of Salamanca. In these farces the gullibility of the old men is unbounded. Not so in Molière. There Arnolphe learns of the budding affair of the young couple and when he encounters the suitor it is to confuse him and thwart their plans to meet further. In Galdós it also does not take long for Don Lope, old fox that he is, to discover what is going on behind his back, but he decides to bide his time. He seems to know that the affair is doomed. When Tristana is ill and downcast the old man attempts to cheer her, encourages her to write to her lover and even tries to dictate a letter himself. At this point Don Lope assumes the role of father to Tristana, in much the same way as Don Diego finally looks upon Doña Paquita as a daughter in El sí de las niñas.

The height of reversal occurs when Don Lope, aware of the gravity of the heroine's illness, seeks out his rival, the artist Horacio. (Can it be mere coincidence that Molière's young man is called Horace?) Rather than prohibit the couple's meeting he invites the boy to visit Tristana. «No me opongo a que usted honre mi casa», Don Lope explains, «al contrario, tendré satisfacción en ello. ¿Creía tal vez que yo iba a salir por el registro del padre celoso o del tirano doméstico? No señor... No, no es decoroso que ande el novio buscándome las vueltas para entrar en casa», (V, 1603). The final destruction of the formula occurs in the last chapters: the young man disappears, the old man marries his ward and the bizarre couple lives happily ever after. Happily? No, Galdós will not go that far. «¿Eran felices uno y otro?» he asks in the concluding words of the novel, and answers: «Tal vez».

The result of these subversions of the stock situation is not only to turn against literary traditions, but to bathe what was traditionally a divertissement in an ominous sense of pessimism and bitterness. But in Galdós, as in Cervantes, all poison must have an antidote and it is to this antidote that we must now turn.

«Galdós concibe su novela partiendo de Tormento», wrote Joaquín Casalduero. «El caso de Tristana y Amparo son análogos, con la diferencia de que el seductor de aquélla es el viejo Garrido y el de ésta es un sacerdote; pero las dos se enamoran después de seducidas, surge en ellas la necesidad de confesar su situación, y a partir de este momento las dos novelas toman rumbo distinto»197. The parallel drawn by the distinguished critic may be questionable as far as some details go, but the analogy is just as to the sentimental make-up of the two characters. Both are orphans, penniless, subject to another's influence and domination -in short, victims. On one level Tristana may belong to the «viejo y la niña» tradition of farce and   —118→   fabliaux, but she has none of the feminine character's mischief and picaresque traits that are its trademarks and which Cervantes, for example, imbued in his Leonarda of La cueva de Salamanca or Lorenza of El viejo celoso. (García Lorca, I might add, did similarly in our century in La zapatera prodigiosa.)

Amparo is meek and frightened but she, too, yearns for a place in the sun and is aware of the injustice done to women. «¡Ay! don Agustín», she says to her rich suitor, «dichoso el que es dueño de sí mismo, como usted. ¡En qué condición tan triste estamos las pobres mujeres que no tenemos padres, ni medios de ganar la vida, ni familia que nos ampare, ni seguridad de cosa alguna como no sea de que al fin, al fin, habrá un hoyo para enterrarnos!... Eso del monjío, qué quiere usted que le diga, al principio no me gustaba; pero va entrando poquito a poco en mi cabeza, y acabaré por decidirme...» (IV, 1476). Actually she has no more a calling for convent life than Tristana, but for both the world is a trap and a deception. In at least the first part of their respective novels they are akin to Galdós' early heroine, Clara of La fontana de oro, another orphan, penniless, cloistered and victimized. To put it briefly, all three derive, more or less, from the star-crossed heroines of the folletín.

We know that Galdós' early novels have a kinship with the «novelas por entregas» and the folletín. And we also know that, like Dickens, he continued to be intrigued with the genre even later in his development as a novelist. Tormento, the work seen by Casalduero as a starting point for Tristana, is notable in this regard. Its much discussed prologue -the exchange between Felipe Centeno and Ido del Sagrario- deals with the two poles of fiction: art and artifice. Ido, working for a hack writer, is engaged in composing a melodramatic concoction which features his neighbors, the Sánchez Emperador sisters. In his opus the girls are virtuous orphans who are threatened with dishonor by a scheming Marquis -a situation very different from the version Galdós gives us, Ido seems to be aware that he is taking liberties with the truth, but he considers this evasion precisely the moral obligation of his task as writer. «Tú no entiendes de arte», he tells Felipe. «Cosas pasan estupendas que no pueden asomarse a las ventanas de un libro porque la gente se escandalizaría... prosas horribles hijo; prosas nefandas que estarán siempre proscritas en esta honrada república de las letras!» (IV, 1458). Then Felipe, as if speaking for Galdós, suggests to his friend that he use his genius to convert the vile prose of reality into the poetry of art, but Ido, a captive of his world of fantasy and cheap literary conventions, cannot understand him. Galdós, however, no captive, was to put these conventions to his own use.

Emilio Miró believes that Don Lope has a power over Tristana that is akin to that of Don Juan Tenorio over his conquests. He gives the following quotation from the novel to illustrate his point: «Los penetrantes ojos de Don Lope, clavados en ella la sobrecogían, la dominaban, causándole terror... Con gran esfuerzo quiso vencer la fascinación de aquella mirada»198. To me, however, such a description is reminiscent of the fearful domination that the villains of gothic novels usually exert over their victims; the evil Svengali over Trilby, for example. We have here the contrast between good and evil   —119→   that Francisco Yndurain identifies with the folletín. «Por lo que hace a los sentimientos, folletín y melodrama, movilizan una sentimentalina muy afín: bondad y maldad extremas y simples, contrastes absolutos».199

That this is the case here, I believe, is made clear by the scene that initiates the encounter.

[...] Terminada la comida, retirose [Don Lope] a su cuarto y encendió un puro, llamando a Tristana para que le hiciese compañía; y estirándose en la butaca, le dijo estas palabras, que hicieron temblar a la joven:

«No es sólo Saturna la que tiene un idilio nocturno por ahí. Tú también lo tienes. No, si nadie me ha dicho nada... Pero te lo conozco; hace días que te lo leo... en la cara, en la voz.»

Tristana palideció. Su blancura de nácar tomó azuladas tintas a la luz del velón con pantalla que alumbraba el gabinete. Parecía una muerta hermosísima, y se destacaba sobre el sofá con el violento escorzo de una figura japonesa, de esas cuya estabilidad no se comprende, y que parecen cadáveres risueños pegados a un árbol, a una nube, a incomprensibles fajas decorativas.

(V, 1565)                

The contrast between good and evil is obvious, but we should emphasize that Galdós describes it with great deliberateness. He artfully manipulates the trite elements in a manner that anticipates the sensorial technique of Valle Inclán in his Sonatas. A look at a similar scene in an early Galdós novel will show the transformation to which I refer. It comes from La fontana de oro:

El fanático llegó y se acercó a la mesa; pero al poner en ella su sombrero, chocó éste con el vaso, que cayó al suelo, soltando las flores y vertiendo el agua en las mismas piernas del realista.

El hombre montó en cólera, y mirando con furor a la huérfana, que estaba temblando, gritó:

-¿Qué flores son éstas? ¿Quién te ha mandado comprar estas flores? Clara, ¿qué devaneos son éstos? ¡Coqueta! No hay remedio. Te has echado a perder. También quieres llenarme de flores la casa?

Clara quiso contestarle; pero, aunque hizo todo lo posible, no le contestó nada. Elías pisoteó las flores con furia.

-Estoy resuelto a tomar la determinación.

Otra vez la determinación. ¿Qué determinación sería aquélla? -pensaba Clara, en el colmo de su confusión y de su miedo. Después, retirada a su cuarto, pensó en lo mismo, y decía para sí: «¿Querrá matarme?»

Aquella noche no pudo dormir. A eso de las doce sintió que Elías se paseaba en su cuarto con más agitación que de ordinario. Hasta le pareció oír algunas palabras, que no debía ser cosa buena. Levantose Clara muy quedito, movida de la curiosidad, y, poco a poco, se acercó con mucha cautela a la puerta del cuarto de Elías, y miró por el agujero de la llave. Elías gesticulaba marchando; de pronto se paró, se acercó a una gaveta y sacó un cuchillo muy grande, muy grande y muy afilado, resplandeciente y fino. Le estuvo mirando a la luz, examinándolo bien, y después lo volvió a guardar. Clara, al ver esto, estuvo a punto de desmayarse...

(IV, 47)                

This last sequence is melodramatic in the extreme; a series of perfectly gratuituous actions take place for the sole purpose of sharpening the contrast between Don Elías' malevolence and Clara's ingenuous mortification. What other reason could there be for the presence of the flowers other than to give rise to the old man's anger? And what of the knife, «muy grande, muy grande y muy afilado», that Elías contemplates? Nothing more comes of   —120→   it and we never see it again, but it is there to further terrify the innocent victim and, in the process, to win for her -as if it were still necessary- the reader's sympathy. The appeal is, in every sense, to the most childish of minds. Beyond question, the scene is gross and unworthy of Galdós even at that early stage of his career.

In the novelas contemporáneas, however, when he used the elements of the folletín, he was perfectly aware of their nature and artificiality. Yndurain makes note of this evolution. «Bastantes años después, y cuando había ya ahondado en la novela de naturaleza más psicológica y actual, todavía le quedan no pocos resabios de folletín; pero ya es capaz de verlos desde fuera y no sin nota de humor irónico»200. True. At one point in Tormento, for example, after Galdós has painted the portrait of the Bringas household happily gathered around the dinner table, he describes Amparo, downcast and alone, climbing the stairs to her miserable flat and adds the following parenthetical comment: «que me digan que esto no es sentimental» (IV, 1481). And yet we must realize that Galdós found life itself often filled with folletinesque situations; that is, with its own protective crust of artificiality. Thus he felt justified in making these allusions. Furthermore, he meant the humor and the sentimentality to have a leavening effect on the somber world of these novels.

But it is time that we return to our initially stated purpose and look once again at the declarations of disappointment that the novel elicited since its appearance. We are now in a better position to judge those objections and arrive at some logical explanation.

I have already dealt with Berkowitz's speculations regarding the circumstances surrounding the composition of the novel. There is no evidence that would lead one to assume that Tristana received less attention from its author or concerned him less than his other works. The idea that it «might be figuratively termed the unfinished opus of his repertory» is more complicated. It stems from the scholar's belief that «its theme of feminine independence is suggested but not developed».

La Pardo Bazán shared this dissatisfaction. She too felt that the central idea had been betrayed; «[...] idea -que en Tristana aparece embrionaria y confusa, al través de una niebla, como si el novelista no se diese cuenta clara de la gran fuerza dramática que puede encerrar...» Her arguments, lucid and forceful as always, deserve attention. She begins a summary of the work with these words: «El asunto de Tristana cabe en un puño, y la trama puede decirse que es nula.» She defends the simplicity of plot in novels, and yet goes on to attack Tristana declaring that, for all that, it abounds precisely in plot complication. She is aware of the contradiction in her argument and explains the need to distinguish between «el asunto interno y externo, entre lo que acontece y lo que permanece, entre lo que se ve y lo que se esconde». Thus she can say: «[...] Tristana, a pesar de su sencillez de asunto, aún le sobra parte de él: para el asunto interno no hacía falta Horacio, ni la ausencia de Horacio, ni la pierna cortada, porque el asunto interno en Tristana no es realmente ni la seducción de don Lope, ni el enamoramiento de Horacio, ni la ruptura, ni el casamiento final...»201


Critics that came later would agree with her: Casalduero and Marina Mayoral, who condemned Galdós for arbitrarily crippling his heroine in more ways than one; Emilio Miró who declares: «Galdós ha escrito una novela muy cruel. Parece que se ha burlado sangrientamente de su criatura, que se ha complacido en abatirla, en humillarla»202. Along with Berkowitz, they would also agree with la Pardo Bazán's description of the theme, or asunto interno, as: «el despertar del entendimiento y la conciencia de una mujer sublevada contra la sociedad que la condena a perpetua infamia...» and here is the crux of the matter. For, what if that were not the actual theme? What if Galdós meant to convey something else? After all, Doña Emilia found the central idea to be «embrionaria y confusa».203

I said before that it is fruitless to speculate about Galdós's attitude toward feminism. I meant that we should not try to see in him either a defender or enemy of women's rights. I would say that what intrigued him most in the matter is the conflict that a feminist is heir to -the conflict in terms of inter-personal relationships and, only in a secondary way, the social and economic implications that might arise from her stance. Again, this does not mean that he discounted the importance of the latter but simply that in him the «artist» took precedence over the «sociologist».

To be sure, Galdós was sympathetic to the plight of Spanish women. He seems to acknowledge the injustice in the circumstances that barred Tristana from being a lawyer, doctor or minister, but he is more concerned with her personal quandary (her yearnings and her doubts) and with the way men would take to her and she to them. The world of feminine emotions had always fascinated Galdós and in Tristana's rebellion he heard discordant voices that held his attention. He was no longer the liberal reformer who would protest against injustice explicitly; his message could only come through in an implicit manner; any thesis must now succumb to the drama of his fictional characters. Inherent in the «problemática» of La casa de Bernarda Alba, for instance, is the dearth of opportunities afforded to women in provincial Spain -there is even a note of protest in the work- but there can be no doubt that Lorca's drama is fundamentally about sexual and spiritual frustration, about Bernarda's daughters and their existence vis-à-vis Pepe el Romano. So too in Galdós: Tristana's ambivalent feelings (admiration and hatred) for Don Lope and her passion for Horacio and subsequent disillusionment with him are crucial; they cannot be dispensed with. Frustration exists here too, but the situation is sparked with irony and mellowed with sentimentality. Lorca was to follow Galdós' lead in this type of bittersweet treatment in his Doña Rosita la soltera.204

Irony and sentimentality indeed color the theme of Tristana and it is through both of these perspectives that Galdós would inevitably see the problem of feminism in Spain. It was no accident that he should resort to the time honored literary formulas of the «deceived husband» and the folletín; for, each, in turn, offered these ingredients. Furthermore, each was a commentary on the traditional relationships between men and women as reflected for centuries in popular forms of literature.

He saw this cruelty and mischief as expressions of an authentic folk mentality which is epitomized in the old Spanish maxim, «mujer casada,   —122→   pierna quebrada y en casa»205. The critics are right: Galdós arbitrarily, and with malice of forethought, cripples his heroine. But such malfeasance hides a purpose. By filtering the question of feminism through these popular and literary aphorisms, he seems to be saying that here is the battle of the sexes; here are the mythic roots of the relationship: the husband deceived and the woman victimized. (The conflict is indeed immemorial, repeated in literature from the Hombre que casó con mujer brava of Don Juan Manuel to James Thurber's embattled males and females.) Galdós also seems to be asking: Can it be otherwise? His answer, implied in the final outcome, is in the negative.

He had asked the same question three years before in the novel Realidad and reached a similar conclusion. There Augusta, the erring wife, is given the opportunity to confess her guilt and thereby meet her husband on a higher plane of morality. The husband, Orozco, would like to encourage her to the task: «Yo había pensado educarte en estas ideas, iniciarte en un sistema de vida que empieza siendo espiritual y difícil, y acaba por ser fácil y práctico. Ahora no sé si debo insistir en mi propósito», (V, 895). He has reason to be apprehensive: Augusta cannot rise to the occasion and persists in her silence. Thus they continue to live together physically but are divorced spiritually.

But the same year that Galdós wrote Tristana he raised the question again in La loca de la casa, this time proposing an affirmative answer. The protagonists are Cruz and Victoria, husband and wife, symbols of two disparate social classes and philosophies who in the end reconcile their differences. «Victoria y Cruz no son tan sólo símbolos de ideas abstractas en oposición», writes Ángel del Río in the best study devoted to this dialogue-novel206. «Son además paradigma de las diferencias entre los sexos. Cruz, el hombre, cuyo atributo primordial es la fuerza; Victoria, la mujer, personifica la gracia y la espiritualidad en sus diferentes formas.» He follows this with a comment that is very much to our point: «Galdós vio el papel de la mujer en la vida de una manera distinta a la de otros grandes autores europeos de su tiempo. Aunque no falten en su obra los personajes femeninos que se esfuerzan por conseguir su independencia, en lo fundamental a Galdós no le preocupa, como a Ibsen, el problema de la emancipación social de la mujer, y a través de esa emancipación el de la conquista de su plena libertad.» And returning to the conflict of opposites that he had posed, he asked: «¿Cuál es la actitud de Galdós ante esta disociación de facultades del alma? ¿Cómo conciliar la oposición que entre ellas existe?» And he answers: «Buscando el equilibrio y tratando de coordinarlas para los altos fines de la vida. El predominio absoluto de cualquiera de ellas produce la catástrofe.»

Regarding Galdós' moral philosophy at the time, del Río says: «[...] no recuerdo haber visto estudiadas en ninguna parte las relaciones de Galdós con los krausistas españoles. Habrá entre éstos y Galdós diferencias evidentes de temperamento, actitud e ideología. Pero es indudable que la obsesión galdosiana por encontrar una fórmula de síntesis y armonía, patente en todas estas últimas obras, desde La loca de la casa hasta El caballero encantado,   —123→   germina y se desenvuelve en un mismo clima intelectual, moral e histórico».207

Indeed, there may well be an echo of krausismo in these problematic unions of men and women. In Ideal de la humanidad the German philosopher gives great importance to the institution of marriage considering it «la expresión primera y la más íntima de la unitaria humanidad». «La familia se funda en la oposición de los sexos», he goes on, «en el contraste característico de la humanidad masculina y la femenina, los amantes se buscan, porque en espíritu y cuerpo se necesitan uno a otro para formar un todo superior humano». Man should recognize his need for a superior mate and hence work «para restablecer el santo derecho de la mujer al lado del varón, para mejorar su educación, haciéndole más real, más elevado, más comprensivo... Semejante espíritu anima también a la mujer respecto al varón, de suerte que con su peculiar carácter y prendas regocije y embellezca la vida...»208

Don Lope Garrido, who maintained that «en las relaciones de hombre y mujer no hay más ley que la anarquía», represents the very antithesis of this ideology. His union with Tristana is a grotesque deformation of what marriage should be, and the lessons he imparts to her the most unhealthy and corrupting of educations. With her egocentric obsession, Tristana is equally guilty. And this, I believe, is what Galdós was trying to say in this his thirteenth novel.

Tristana was not the only Spanish novel of the period to treat the institution of marriage -sacrosanct in 19th century society- in an unorthodox fashion. The reading public had already been shocked by Realidad (1889), where the deceived husband forgives the erring wife, and Clarín's Su único hijo (1890), where the hero finds domesticity in his mistress and sensuality in his mate. But such heterodoxy did not end with the thematic material. The novels were also to reveal new experimentation with form. This was clearly evident in Realidad, Galdós' first dialogue novel, and it has also been recognized of late in Su único hijo, Clarín's groping anticipation of the esperpento. It is now important to acknowledge at least such an intent in Tristana also. Detailed exploration on this aspect would constitute a separate study, but we can point here to some salient features of this search for novelty.

In the opening lines of his novel Galdós establishes the locale: «En el populoso barrio de Chamberí, más cerca del depósito de Aguas que de Cuatro Caminos...» Precision seems to be the note here and yet, as the novel progresses, Madrid evaporates before our eyes. Horacio and Tristana take walks but they are always in the outskirts; we know that Don Lope frequents cafés but we don't see them. The exchange of letters, a substantial part of the novel, transports us to a world of the mind and emotions. In short, the sense of urban life, so important in most of the author's work, is missing here. This fact made it easy for Buñuel to transport the action of his film to Toledo.

The same abstraction dominates the temporal sphere. There is no reference to historical events, so typical of the early novelas contemporáneas;   —124→   there are no specific dates as to months or years; the letters give only the days of the week. The narrative pace is slow in the early chapters, hurried in the final ones. All of this gives one the impression of a strong realistic portrait, full of minute detail and yet divested of temporal or spatial density. However, it was in the area of point of view and especially the role of the narrator that Galdós was most intent in breaking new ground.

In the early chapters of Tristana the narrator is very much present; he inhabits the world of the novel but keeps his characters at ami's length. He expresses little sympathy for them. On the contrary, he identifies with the society whose rules the protagonists flaunt. He is scandalized: «Inútil parece advertir que cuantos conocían a Garrido, incluso el que esto escribe, abominaban y abominan de tales ideas, deplorando con toda el alma que la conducta del insensato caballero fuese una fiel aplicación de sus perversas doctrinas... se nos ponen los pelos de punta sólo de pensar cómo andaría la máquina social si a sus esclarecidos manipulantes les diese la ventolera de apadrinar los disparates de D. Lope...» (V, 1547). For all that, he makes an effort to be objective and later assumes the role of mere collector of the correspondence between the young couple.

«Tristana es una de las novelas de Galdós en que éste deja menos libertad de acción a sus personajes», objects Marina Mayoral. «En toda la primera parte (hasta el 'accidente' de Tristana), el autor nos cuenta lo que piensan, lo que sienten. Si les vemos actuar o hablar, en seguida Galdós nos da la interpretación de los hechos...»209. This is true, but it is beginning with the letters that Galdós radically changes his approach.

The letters contain much of the «vocabulario de los amantes» that Sobejano has studied so well; they also open the novel to the perspective of the epistolary form with which Galdós had experimented only three years before. But what was basically a monologue in La incógnita becomes now a dialogue between lovers. By means of the correspondence he sought to duplicate -in another form- the technique of the sistema dialogal that so concerned him during that period210. There is a marked appellative function in the letters; they not only convey feelings and emotions, fears and aspirations, but aim also to provoke reactions in the person they address.

In the last third of the novel the narrator (and Galdós) retreat into the shadows: «se repliega al papel de observador», as Marina Mayoral puts it. He no longer interprets: he limits himself to reporting events, and toward the end admits to being in the dark as to the character's motivations and intentions. «[...] ¿sería, por ventura, aquella su última metamorfosis?» the narrator asks regarding Tristana's new religious inclinations. «¿O quizá tal mudanza era sólo exterior, y por dentro subsistía la unidad pasmosa de su pasión por lo ideal?» (V, 1610). He doesn't know. And the characters live in similar ignorance of themselves. «Guardábase bien el viejo de hablar a la niña del que fue su adorador, y con toda su sagacidad y experiencia, nunca supo fijamente si la actitud triste y serena de Tristana ocultaba una desilusión, o el sentimiento de haberse equivocado profundamente al creerse desilusionada en los días de la vuelta de Horacio. ¿Pero cómo había de saber esto D. Lope, si ella misma no lo sabía?» (V. 1609). Reality thus becomes a limbo of uncertainty, and the narrator who spoke with such authority in   —125→   the beginning can only wonder at the end: «¿Eran felices uno y otro?... Tal vez».

As we have seen, the fabric of the novel is made up of numerous strands, many of them departures from the 19th century novelistic norm in both content and form. To recapitulate: contrary to the expectations of friends and critics, Galdós could only see the social phenomenon of feminism as something problematic; creatively he could only approach it in terms of the character's inter-personal relationships. Women who have been denied sell-realization for so long, he concluded, will proceed with fear and self-doubt. Thus he gives us in Tristana a creature of contradiction who, even in moments of bravado, feels insecure and weak and must bolster her spirit with dreams and illusions. In her search for fulfillment the only models she can follow are men. To her they are the enemy and paradoxically her salvation. A relationship with them can offer no true communion.

Galdós views this discord with ironic: sadness and a rueful retrospective glance at tradition. The literature of the past, he implies, offers mostly examples of this spiritual alienation between the sexes. By subverting the literary formulas -satiric or romantic images of victim and victimizer- he means to upset, or at least question, the conventions that maintain men and women at odds. The literature of the future, he would soon propose, must pave the way for reconciliation and understanding.

Recent studies have pointed to possible autobiographical elements in the novel. The character of Tristana and her letters are said to have been inspired by real models, and Don Lope and Horacio to reflect Galdós himself211. Might this have led him to obfuscate the plot and form of the novel by mixing reality with elements of farce and sentimental fiction, by manipulating and shifting perspectives? Or was it all born solely from his desire to question and challenge both fiction and reality at every turn? It is difficult to know. But one thing is certain: questioning and challenging characterize this period of his evolution as a novelist. His early manipulation of the plot and characters in Tristana, contrasted with a pose of authorial. ignorance and helplessness later, are part of a spirit of experimentation, the same spirit that three years earlier had led him to view Federico Viera's death from two different perspectives. He had for so long labored to give the impression of freeing the characters from the grasp of their creator -the sistema dialogal was such a tool, as he explains in the prologue to El abuelo212- that a reversal such as we find in the first part of Tristana can only be deliberate, a recurring game of hide-and-seek.

That the game is not in the long run successful is another matter213. «The critics are right: the novel seems somehow truncated, unrealized. Still, considering the complex circumstances that surround it, Tristana is neither a failure nor the ordinary disappointment that many had imagined. It is a significant disappointment in that it complements other novels to throw some light on a most interesting period in the career of Galdós.»

University of Wisconsin - Madison

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