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ArribaAbajoThe Problem of Individual and Social Redemption in Ángel Guerra

John H. Sinnigen

Throughout his work Galdós displays a profound discontent with the society in which he lived. This discontent is manifest not just in the portrayal of brutal social conditions (e. g. the poverty in Misericordia) and retrograde attitudes and institutions (e. g. intolerance in Gloria, the bureaucracy in Miau) but more importantly in the problematic of the novels themselves. The realism of particularly the contemporáneas is more than a social document or a «mirror» of reality. These novels are rather fictional structures which mediate the novelist's understanding of his individual-historical situation. And in the contemporáneas the primary focus of Galdós's concern is: where is Restoration society going? Thus the form of the novel serves as a filter through which social-historical problems pass and receive their expression, most commonly in the interrelation of characters, the most important of which are «types» in the Lukácsian sense of the word214. By portraying the struggles between different individual-typical characters, the novels become fictional representations of Galdós's perception of the social dynamic.

Although a generally negative vision predominates throughout the contemporáneas, clearly Galdós does not find society irredeemable. To the contrary, a predominant theme is the search for social renovation. Frequently the problematic of the novels is a kind of question: given a decaying social order (typified by certain characters), can the introduction of any given value, quality, or combination of values and qualities (typified by other characters who for different reasons stand outside the status quo) provide an alternative? Thus each novel is a kind of hypothesis through which the novelist tests out possibilities for redeeming society.

A good example of such a hypothesis is Fortunata y Jacinta215. Here, especially in Part I, Restoration society is presented as an -albeit imperfect- best-of-all-possible-worlds, typified by the self-satisfied señorito, Juanito Santa Cruz. This society pretends that it is a harmonious social whole in which the class struggle has been peacefully superseded by «una dichosa confusión de todas las clases, mejor dicho, la concordia y reconciliación de todas ellas»216. But Fortunata gives the lie to this farce, for she is exploited by Juanito and denied the possibility of marrying him because she is a mujer del pueblo. That is, she is excluded from the supposed organic social order because of her class origin.

Fortunata does not accept this exclusion, and in her struggle to overcome it, she articulates an alternative to the status quo. A crucial part of her struggle involves the working out of the internal contradiction between her desire to be honrada and her intense love for a man who is not her husband. This contradiction, which takes different forms (especially her attitudes toward   —130→   Jacinta), is based on her temporary acceptance of the bourgeois definition of honradez. Thus the social dynamic of the class struggle is expressed both in interpersonal conflicts (between Fortunata and her middle class companions) and in the internal conflict of the protagonist. And when, through her idea, Fortunata succeeds in resolving the internal conflict, she also resolves the interpersonal conflict. She overcomes the barriers society had placed in her way as the Santa Cruz are obliged to recognize her son as the sole «hijo de la casa». Moreover, her success leads to changes in the «social order» of the novel. Jacinta rejects Juanito and begins to imitate Fortunata's language and thoughts; Fortunata has given Jacinta not only the much desired child, but also a new awareness. The conclusion of the novel therefore suggests the possibility of a social rebirth based on a genuine overcoming of class barriers.

In Fortunata y Jacinta, then, the question is asked: can the values and vitality of the pueblo, which Fortunata typifies, renovate society? The hypothesis is worked out in the following way: the false order of bourgeois society is challenged by Fortunata who in her struggle must overcome internal and interpersonal contradictions as she articulates an alternative order. Thus the answer to the question is a tentative yes, but only after a long and hard struggle. This fictional hypothesis is rooted in Galdós's understanding of the class struggle, and Fortunata y Jacinta probably represents his most profound treatment of this social dynamic. Yet this is not a revolutionary novel, for Fortunata brings the possibility of redemption -and not revolution- to bourgeois society. Her son is the product of the union of the pueblo and the bourgeoisie and not of the overthrow of the latter by the former. Furthermore he will grow up in bourgeois surroundings, regardless of how Jacinta's new awareness may change them. Finally, her death is presented in the context of a religious sacrifice. Thus in spite of the profound historical (or materialist) vision which imbues this novel, the conclusion is still posed in spiritual (or idealist) terms.

This oscillation between the historical and the spiritual is present throughout the contemporáneas. But whereas in Fortunata y Jacinta the historical predominates, in later works the reverse is true. A shift in this direction has been generally accepted by critics. Joaquín Casalduero has noted: «Fortunata y Miau llevan directamente a Galdós a sentirse perdido ante la realidad, a ver en la realidad una incógnita, que puede despejarse únicamente con ayuda del espíritu. A partir de La incógnita el drama individual se le aparece en toda su intensidad»217. With specific reference to Ángel Guerra, Nazarín, and Halma, Gustavo Correa refers to «el proceso que podemos denominar de espiritualización» in which «las limitaciones que encierra la realidad ambiente y circunstancial quedan superadas en un plano de trascendencia que brota de las honduras del sentir religioso».218

The historical conjuncture of the 1890's in Spain certainly provided little hope for favorable developments, and this fact helps to explain Galdós's search for a spiritual solution. The bourgeois revolution had still not achieved its completion in Spain, and no class other than the bourgeoisie was yet able to provide a concrete alternative219. Moreover, the conjuncture was   —131→   characterized by a general economic depression, stemming from the end of the fiebre de oro in 1886, which received its sharpest manifestations in the crises of 1892 and 1898220. And if things were bad economically, they were no better politically; the turno pacífico disintegrated after 1890 and the outbreak of a new Cuban uprising in 1895 signalled the disaster of 1898221. Both the economic infrastructure and the political superstructure of the Restoration regime were falling apart. But in the face of this weakness on the part of the bourgeoisie, the working class was unable to offer an alternative. Its movement was deeply divided between anarchists and socialists and had experienced considerable repression since 1884. Without trying to argue a one to one relationship between economic and political phenomena on one hand, and artistic creations such as novels on the other, I think we can see how the virtual collapse of the Restoration, the lack of any viable alternative to it, and the pessimism that this situation imbued in all sectors of society, were important social factors which contributed to Galdós's turn away from historical process in search of ahistorical solutions.

Nevertheless this shift does not mean that the historical is eliminated from these novels. Rather, as we shall see in this study of Ángel Guerra, the oscillation continues. In spite of Galdós's efforts to find a spiritual alternative, materiality continues to permeate his search. The emphasis may now be on the spiritual, but the historical problems refuse to go away. The spiritual and the historical continue to form a duality which is expressed primarily in contradictions in the development of Ángel as a character and in the proposed resolutions the novel offers.

Ángel Guerra is Galdós's first effort to understand the evangelical vision of charity in the terms of the modem world. The question which is posed here is, in its broadest terms: how can a spiritual factor predominate in an increasingly urbanized society whose way of life is based on the steam engine and the exchange of commodities? The artistic problems which are posed stem from a historical base, for Galdós understood that the New Testament concept of charity was enunciated in a world far less complicated and skeptical than nineteenth-century bourgeois society. Thus the spiritual-historical duality is present in the basic hypothesis of the novel.

In the working out of this hypothesis, the dynamic developed in Ángel Guerra is the opposite of Fortunata y Jacinta. In the latter work, Fortunata is an outsider who seeks to be integrated into bourgeois society (although on her own terms), and the renovation of society is dependent on the success of her efforts. In the former, on the other hand, Ángel is a bourgeois who rejects the values and institutions of his class. He strives continually to achieve a radical break with society, first through violent social revolution and then through the establishment of a messianic religious order which will function as an alternative external to the status quo. Whereas in Fortunata y Jacinta the renovation of society is posed as a transformation from within in Ángel Guerra it is based on a total rejection of the established order.

Ángel Guerra is born in Madrid, the son of a family of the haute bourgeoisie, and he is educated according to the customs of that class. He does not, however, accept the role which society would have him play   —132→   and becomes an «outsider» to the extent that he is an outspoken opponent of bourgeois values. Nevertheless, unlike Fortunata, Ángel's separation has a psychological rather than historical base. That is, he does not discover the fraudulence and hypocrisy of the bourgeois norm by testing it against his own historically conditioned values, but rather his rejection of that norm is linked to his effort to break away from a domineering mother; his struggle for independence from a restrictive social norm goes along with his need to achieve independence from a restrictive family environment. For example, he finds his revolutionary fervor to be the result of an ongoing conflict with his mother: «Culpa más bien a tu carácter absorbente y despótico [he supposes he is talking to his mother], que no admite ni la desobediencia más leve, ni la réplica, ni siquiera la opinión de los demás. Encontreme atado con mil lazos, algunos legítimos, otros no; quise romper los que me oprimían, y tirando, tirando, se rompieron todos. Soy revolucionario por el odio que tomé al medio en que me criaste y a las infinitas trabas que poner querías a mi pensamiento» (1251)222. When Ángel leaves home he separates himself temporarily from both his family and his class, but, as this passage indicates, this separation represents the culmination of the mother-son conflict. His rebellion, in spite of its initial revolutionary appearance, can be described better in terms of the generation gap than in those of the class struggle.223

From the very beginning, the ease with which Ángel is disillusioned suggests the lack of earnestness of his political convictions. A slight wound, participation in the killing of an artillery officer, and the frustration of one abortive uprising lead him to reject his revolutionary ideals. He explains to Dulce: «Treinta años tengo, querida mía. En la edad peligrosa cogiome un vértigo político, enfermedad de fanatismo, ansia instintiva de mejorar la suerte de los pueblos, de aminorar el mal humano..., resabio quijotesco que todos llevamos en la masa de la sangre. El fin es noble; los medios ahora veo que son menguadísimos, y en cuanto al instrumento, que es el pueblo mismo, se quiebra en nuestras manos como una caña podrida» (1204). Ángel's description of his political commitment in terms of a sickness underlines the primarily psychological basis of his activity. Furthermore, his attitude toward the pueblo is disdainful and elitist. This attitude along with the fact that, although he espouses the cause of the working class, he continues to live on handouts from his mother and never works himself, suggests that this interlude in his life constitutes merely another «visita al cuarto estado»224. Ángel pretends to want to help the lower classes while in reality he seeks mainly the satisfaction of certain personal needs. Thus, after the night of the uprising he is much more concerned with his own fate and reputation than he is with the condition of the pueblo, and his disillusionment leads him to return quickly to the fold.

The ironic context of his recovery further discredits Ángel's grave pretensions. The narrator relates Guerra's rhetorical retelling of the events of the previous night to the «caza» of the bee which torments our protagonist: «Procedió Dulcenombre, bien instruida de esta táctica, a la cacería del himenóptero, pero él le ganaba, sin duda en habilidad estratégica..., etc.» (1202). The use of military terminology here parallels Guerra's   —133→   language and ironically reduces his tale to the level of triviality225. Right from the first chapter, then, we see that Ángel Guerra's pretensions should not be taken at face value.

Ángel's political disillusionment and the subsequent deaths of his mother and daughter throw him into crisis. Having lost his political cause and the objects of his filial rebellion and paternal love, he finds himself completely disoriented: «Con el tiempo la soledad aumentaba, pues cada día hallábase Guerra más agobiado y triste, y con la soledad, iba tomando cuerpo la idea de que su vida no tenía ya ningún objeto» (1278). Two new preoccupations then fill this void, his recently inherited fortune and Leré. Ángel perceives the change effected by his affluence («yo he sido un poco socialista; pero, francamente, eso me pasaba cuando no tenía dinero. El reparto de la riqueza me parecía muy bien cuando a mí nada podía sobrarme» [1285]), but, particularly because he refuses to reflect on it, the source of Leré's influence remains mysterious. Nevertheless we can find certain apparent psychological causes for it, for she seems to become a substitute for both his mother and his daughter: she is strong-willed like Doña Sales, and treats Ángel rather like a child, and he continually associates her with Ción.226

Aside from these possible motivations, Ángel is attracted to Leré because he sees in her an idealism similar to his own in its fervor if not in its content, and he recognizes the attraction that her strong religious convictions exercise: «tu santidad [la de Leré] me cautiva, y si no fueras como eres, si no tuvieras esa fe a toda prueba y esa vocación irresistible, se me figura que me gustarías menos. He pensado mucho en esto, pero mucho. 'Si me quisiera ella a mí como yo a ella... se vulgarizaría, y entonces, perdido el encanto y deshecha la ilusión, no valdría para mí lo que vale y no me cautivaría tanto'» (1293). Although Leré does not stand in revolutionary opposition to the status quo, her position is clearly distinct from the banality that Guerra feels is characteristic of the bourgeois norm. These characteristics make Leré an appropriate mediator of his new situation since by emulating her, he must only renounce his revolutionary pretensions (which were becoming uncomfortable anyway) and not his dedication to ideals or his desire to remain independent of the bourgeois norm. As was the case with his political activity, Ángel's religious fervor is psychologically motivated; his «exaltación humanitaria» (1269) has turned into an «exaltación religiosa».

To pursue this new course, Ángel must follow Leré to Toledo. This geographical shift corresponds to the change in Ángel's preoccupations. Toledo, in which there is a strong emphasis on history and religion, represents the opposite of the modern Madrid, where life is oriented toward politics and business. This compatibility between Toledo and Ángel's internal reorientation facilitates his journeys into the realm of contemplation «buscando como una comunicación honda y clandestina con el mundo ultrasensible» (1321). Both in Toledo and within Ángel there is a preoccupation with the distant past that indicates a movement from the world of ongoing historical process into that of archaeology. This movement is emphasized by the concern of the narrator and most of the characters for the city's monuments and traditions, by Palomeque's investigations, and by Guerra's   —134→   own reflections, such as «No le resultaba aquello ciudad del occidente europeo, sino más bien de regiones y edades remotísimas, costra calcárea de una sociedad totalmente apartada de la nuestra» (1317). Ángel also relates Leré to the archaeological past: «Es figura de otros tiempos... y asisto a una milagrosa resurrección de lo pasado» (1343).

This orientation toward the past culminates in Guerra's desire to found a new order based explicitly on the New Testament: «En lo esencial quiero parecerme a los primitivos fundadores y seguir fielmente la doctrina pura de Cristo. Amparar al desvalido, sea quien fuere; hacer bien a nuestros enemigos; emplear siempre el cariño y la persuasión, nunca la violencia; practicar las obras de misericordia en espíritu y en letra, sin distingos ni atenuaciones, y por fin, reducir el culto a las formas más sencillas dentro de la rúbrica» (1471). That is, through this order, Ángel will seek to introduce New Testament charity into the modern world. He is motivated in this direction, however, by factors which are not completely charitable. He is not unconcerned with the glory which this undertaking will bring him, and he sees it as a way of holding on to Leré, a kind of «mística unión» (1447) that he is forced to settle for because of her unshakeable convictions. Furthermore, there are many aspects of his attitudes and behavior associated with these new plans that are the same as those which were a part of his political activism. Thus in spite of his desires to redeem mankind, he can only endure being with a select few of his fellows, and so he isolates himself in Guadalupe, demonstrating his continuing elitism and misanthropy. He also continues to be affected strongly by the atmosphere in which he lives; whereas «la influencia del conjunto» had made him a «sectario como otro cualquiera» (1270), now a «contagio místico» leads him along the religious path. And at the end of the novel his inability to overcome his anger leads to his death227. Finally, he never abandons his messianic pretensions: «Yo no lo veré, quizá. Pero otras generaciones de doministas se encontrarán dueñas de una inmensa fuerza espiritual, y, sin quererlo, se les formará entre las manos, por pura ley física, la sociedad nueva» (1514). His vision of this new society, which will even do without a state, is a religious version of his old anarchistic pretensions and represents the continuation of his idealistic desire to supersede the bourgeois norm.228

We can see, then, that in spite of Ángel's conversion, he has really changed very little. Rather, a combination of psychological and material factors have led him to exchange politics for religion as the means through which he would seek the fulfillment of personal needs, especially his quest for independence and affection. This lack of change is also indicated by the fact that the narrator treats Ángel's religious convictions with the same irony with which he had presented his political pretensions. For example, as Monroe Hafter has again pointed out, through the juxtaposition of the two «bálsamos», Ángel's religious and Dulce's alcoholic, «we see the hero's 'balm' also a means to palliate bereavement, although in addition, a means possibly to hold the woman he loves».229

On his deathbed Ángel is able finally to realize the error of his religious «exaltación»: «Declaro alegrarme de que la muerte venga a destruir mi quimera del dominismo, y a convertir en humo mis ensueños de vida eclesiástica,   —135→   pues todo ha sido una manera de adaptación o flexibilidad de mi espíritu, ávido de aproximarse a la persona que lo cautivaba y lo cautiva ahora y siempre» (1531). With this final conversion, Ángel claims that he has learned that there is «una cosa que vale más que la vida misma: el amor» (1531). This statement is undoubtedly a sincere expression of Ángel's charitable sentiments. Nevertheless it is not adequate, and it shows again his blindness with respect to his situation since it isolates one need (for love and affection) from the other psychological drive (independence) which has been so important in his life and, as we shall see, from the society which has provided the context of both his political activism and his religious devotion.

Ángel's quest is also frustrated by the continual emergence of materiality as the underlying basis of this ostensibly spiritual world. For example, the narrator observes that the Socorro nuns receive him so readily not only because Leré is a model novitiate but also because «[Ángel] atendía, generoso, a las necesidades presentes de la casa, y se esperaba de él que acudiese a mayores necesidades del porvenir» (1385). And when Mancebo rejoices that the pharmacist Zapatero had «miraculously» refused to accept a payment due him, Ángel recalls, «A ese Zapatero le hice yo un favor en Madrid años ha» (1499). The appearance of charity is always tinged by the material necessities and preoccupations of modern life.

Thus, along with his psychological needs, Ángel's wealth is an essential aspect of his religious conversion. We have already observed the initial influence which his inheritance exercised on him, leading to the renunciation of his socialist convictions. Later, without this fortune he could not so easily have abandoned Madrid for Toledo nor the city for his cigarral, and he certainly could never have contemplated seriously the foundation of a new order, without which luring Leré away from the socorristas would have been impossible. At least materially all these changes are easy for Ángel Guerra, and the privilege provided by his fortune calls into question his intended sacrifices. For example, when he flees Toledo for Guadalupe, the narrator notes: «A semejante vida del yermo ya nos podríamos abonar todos, y si se dieran facilidades para emprender tales penitencias, el mundo estaría lleno de anacoretas tan convencidos como lo era Guerra por aquellos días» (1362). This retreat turns out to be not much of a sacrifice at all since it can be rescinded at any time and is, in fact, quite comfortable.

Ángel's privileged position therefore proves incompatible with his saintly pretensions. Consequently his espousal of moral preachings is vulnerable to attack by those who have never enjoyed the comforts of wealth. Fausto Babel challenges him effectively on this basis. Early in the novel he explains why he had forged Ángel's signature to obtain 1000 reales: «las riquezas están mal repartidas, tú lo has dicho mil veces. Por ley de equidad, algo de lo que a ti te sobraba debía venir a nosotros que no habíamos encendido lumbre en dos días... ¡Ay, chico! Mientras no sepas lo que es el hambre, no hables una palabra de moral» (1289)230. And again, near the end of the novel, Fausto levels a similar attack: «¡Dichosos los ricos que pueden ser buenos y hasta santos siempre que les dé la gana! El pobre es esclavo de la maldad, y cuando quiere sacudirse la cadena, no puede» (1522). Fausto Babel   —136→   is no exemplary character, but here his words ring true because they are supported by the action of the novel. We remember, for example, that Ángel had been freed of the obligation of paying for his political crimes because of his social position231, and clearly the degree of freedom which his wealth allows him to exercise is unparalleled in this novel.232

This relation between wealth and freedom. reveals the contradictory nature of Ángel's fortune. On the one hand, it allows him to reject at least those aspects of bourgeois ideology -like politeness and pragmatic religion- which he finds especially distasteful. But since this rejection depends on his wealth, that is, his personal participation in the material basis of that ideology, he is unable to separate himself successfully from that which he despises; in spite of his intense, idealistic desire to supersede the bourgeois norm, he is tied to the material basis of that norm, and this connection proves to be stronger than his desire. At least within the context of this novel, materiality remains ultimately unaffected by spiritual forces.

For the first time in Ángel Guerra, Galdós dealt extensively with the problem of understanding the New Testament vision of charity in the terms of the modern world. In this novelistic effort to examine the question of how a spiritual factor could predominate in bourgeois society, the following hypothesis operates. Seen schematically, Leré represents the evangelical past and Ángel the present-future. His potential conversion to her beliefs followed by the dedication of his fortune and his energy to a new, charitable order could conceivably open the way to a new role of social redemption for Christianity, leading to a society based on charity. He «qualified» as a vehicle for this task since his wealth allowed him to be materially independent of unworthy existing institutions, and his dedication to idealism made him apparently spiritually independent of them also. Furthermore, although he had rejected the bourgeois norm, he had also renounced violent revolution as a means of superseding that norm, choosing instead the path of religious redemption in keeping with the ideal of charity. Finally, to facilitate his conversion the setting of the novel was moved from Madrid to Toledo where the heavily religious atmosphere should have provided good materia novelable for the study of the theme of charity.233

But this effort fails, in part because of weaknesses in Ángel Guerra as a character. Ángel is unable to resolve his inner conflicts, for he never understands the relation between his desire for love and affection on one hand and his need for independence on the other. Rather than dealing with these drives (which at times conflict) and trying to understand how they motivate his behavior, he prefers to avoid them by seeking to play a messianic role; he tries to resolve his inner conflicts through different utopian collective projects. Previously, we saw in the case of Fortunata a close link between the working out of internal and interpersonal (social) contradictions. In Ángel Guerra, rather than a link. we find an effort to substitute one set of problems for another.

More important, however, is the fact that the spiritual is not successfully separated from the historical; the oscillation between the two poles continues. This failure is particularly evident in the critical importance of Angel's   —137→   wealth for his religious plans; it is a necessary material base for the fulfillment of his charitable intentions. Consequently the spiritual is unable to achieve an independent, causal role, and the articulation of a spiritual alternative to the established order is impossible.

At the moment of his final conversion, Ángel partially realizes his errors. When he renounces his dominismo, he recognizes that he has been substituting a utopian collective solution for an individual problem (his relation with Leré). But in his new dedication to love («el amor, si iniciado como sentimiento exclusivo y personal, extendido luego a toda la Humanidad. Me basta con esto» [1531]), he commits a reverse error, for he presumes that this strictly individual solution is sufficient. Its insufficiency, however, is immediately obvious in the concern of other characters about their share of Angel's estate; they will measure his love for them in material terms. There is, then, a separation between the adequacy of Angel's conversion for his own needs (at least as far as he is concerned at that moment) and the inadequacy of his «discovery» for the other problems which have been presented here. In this novel we have seen the development of genuine conflicts, both psychological and material, and the panacea of love hardly seems sufficient to begin to resolve them. As Fausto Babel would surely point out, what good is love -like morality- without bread?

In each of the three resolutions Ángel proposes (social revolution, dominismo, love), he is seeking to remould a fragmented reality into a new totality. He is trying to overcome his alienation (from the moment of his break with his mother) by achieving a harmony between his individual needs and those of the collectivity, for he recognizes -although inadequately- the relation between his personal problems and the injustice of the social order. That is, he is striving to understand the meaning of his own life by giving a new sense to the world he lives in. And Angel's quest is analogous to that of the novelist who was seeking through this fictional mediation a new spiritual totality as a response to the historical disintegration of Restoration society. And just as Ángel failed in his quest, so Galdós failed in his. In his Theory of the Novel, Lukács suggests that such a failure is dictated by the form of the novel: «The inner form of the novel has been understood as the problematic individual's journeying towards himself, the road from dull captivity within a merely present reality... towards clear self-recognition. After such self-recognition has been attained, the ideal thus formed irradiates the individual's life as its immanent meaning; but the conflict between what is and what should be has not been abolished in the sphere wherein these events take place -the life sphere of the novel; only a maximum conciliation- the profound and intensive irradiation of a man by his life's meaning -is attainable»234. Of course, according to my reading of Ángel Guerra, the «maximum conciliation» is not even attained since Ángel's total commitment to love does not achieve «the profound and intensive irradiation of a man by his life's meaning», for love is not a sufficient explanation of the complex of circumstances which led to both his political activism and his religious fervor. He does, however, obtain a «glimpse of Meaning»235, but this glimpse in no way suggests a resolution of «the conflict between what is and what should be» in the rest of the novelistic world. The maintenance   —138→   and, in fact, reinforcement of the dualities, spiritual-historical and individual-collective, through Ángel's final conversion, underline the difficulty of finding any spiritual solution to the problems of modern society, even within a novel; at least within the context of Ángel Guerra the spiritual redemption of any one individual can be nothing more than that.

University of Maryland, Baltimore County

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