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ArribaAbajoOut of the Garden and into the City: José María de Pereda's Pedro Sánchez

John Akers

Few works of José María de Pereda (1833-1906) offer as many avenues for research and conjecture as does his successful urban novel, Pedro Sánchez (1883). An example of the classic nineteenth-century novel based on the city-versus-country polemic, it is also a contradictory work for an author who took pride in extolling the virtues of the Montaña. His Escenas montañesas (1864), Tipos y paisajes (1871), Tipos trashumantes (1877), Esbozos y rasguños (1881), and El sabor de la tierruca (1882) had all explored the life of provincial Santander; now with Pedro Sánchez the scene would be changed and the Madrid of the revolución de julio of 1854 would be in the limelight.

The plot of his novel was simple, and the message made convincingly clear. The protagonist, Pedro, is a representative provincial youth from the Montaña, the coastal-highland area north of the Cantabrian mountain chain and south of the Bay of Biscay. He is encouraged by a vacationing Madrid político to explore the offerings, both social and political, of a burgeoning capital, Madrid. The adventurous step is made, and following a cycle of ambition, experience, and disillusionment, Pedro faces and confronts the maelstrom of the July revolution. His role as an opposition journalist and ambitious political figure carries him to the forefront of the liberal movement, although his eventual marriage and adherence to the status quo as a provincial governor ultimately reflect a vacuous nature influenced by the vicissitudes and seducing opportunities of his contemporary Spain. Pereda's moral to Pedro's plight is lodged in the protagonist's final return to his native Montaña where he will die disillusioned, a victim of the city and the century.

This novel, based in the city and linked to an historical reality, would necessarily imply for Pereda a reworking of certain novelistic techniques, particularly those that he had found essential to his rural fiction. There is little doubt that the montañés writer took on the task of writing an urban-based novel as a challenge to Emilia Pardo Bazán's famous criticism of his fiction being one of limitados horizontes. (She had written in her critical manifesto, La cuestión palpitante (1883), that Pereda's novels and sketches had reflected «un huerto hermoso, bien regado, bien cultivado, oreado por aromáticas y salubres auras campestres, pero de limitados horizontes»40.) In 1887 Pereda wrote in a letter: «cuando nos da la gana dejamos de ser novelista regional, nos salimos del huerto paterno y caminamos por cualquier senda en que nos coloque»41. The letter, although written some four years after the publication of Pedro Sánchez, seems to point back directly to the criticism of Pardo Bazán.

Menéndez y Pelayo, who had been the supportive mentor that Pereda had needed for persisting in his earlier literary endeavours, was not as positive   —24→   as Pardo Bazán in his evaluation of his fellow countryman's new novel. His perspective of Pedro Sánchez furthers the supposition that the novelistic craft had been altered. He began his comments by making an observation that would necessarily obfuscate an enthusiastic reception for the type of novel that Pedro Sánchez appeared to be. He insisted in the prologue to the Obras completas of Pereda: «Nunca he acertado a leer los libros de Pereda con la impasibilidad crítica con que leo otros libros. Para mí (y pienso que lo mismo sucede a todos los que hemos nacido 'de peñas al mar') esos libros, antes que juzgados, son sentidos»42. The idea of «feeling» a novel and not judging it would not apply for Pedro Sánchez, which had been a work led astray from Menéndez y Pelayo's treasured realm for Pereda, the rural regionalism of the Montaña. Menéndez y Pelayo did not anticipate that Pereda's novel, with its autobiographic and subjective form so unlike the previous Peredian experiments, would stand the test of time. However, the novel has proven to have done just that, and modern critics like Anthony Clarke and Jean Camp have considered it to be one of Pereda's three best works43.

What was so surprising to see in Pereda's «new» novel was not only his willingness to relocate his particular craft in the city. There were several innovations that accompanied his change of ambiente: there was of course the use of the first person narrator, as Menéndez y Pelayo mentioned; there was the subjective perspective of events that went along with the first person; Pedro Sánchez was Pereda's first long novel; it was not overly moralizing or dogmatic, as his thesis novels had been, and the reader was allowed to draw his own conclusions based on observation of the action; the narrative was seen to contain elements of the picaresque and the Bildungsroman; and finally, the novel also was historical in its use of background events supporting the narrative.

The concerted effort to underscore an historical background for his story makes Pedro Sánchez Pereda's most temporally and spatially secured work. The contrast with, for instance, El sabor de la tierruca is marked, with the latter offering little more than passing references to seasonal change and occasional remarks indicating time of day; all this in a fictionalized setting of what most probably was Pereda's home, Polanco. Pedro Sánchez, to the contrary, depends on a given historical focus, the revolution of 1854, and it is in Pereda's reliance on historical events that he unfolds his narrative. His novel is as close as any of his works to being a Galdosian-style episodio nacional, the historical novel of the recent past; indeed, Galdós critiqued at one point that Pereda possessed a «maravilloso poder para combinar la verdad con la fantasía», that is, that he could adeptly weave history into a narration44. Of course it was Pereda who most certainly leaned on the literary precedent of Galdós, rather than vice versa. The first, second, and part of the third series of Galdós' Episodios nacionales, along with earlier novels like La Fontana de Oro (1870) and El audaz (1871) accomplish that which is the thrust of Pedro Sánchez: they reconstruct nineteenth-century Spanish history, articulating a story superimposed on those events of most crucial import to Spanish political, social, and religious life. The most striking similarities seen in the work of the two novelists are the descriptions of two of the more memorable scenes of a politicized modern Spain: the oratorical   —25→   frenzy of the political zealot, and the mass hysteria of the aroused mob. In the case of Pereda, the descriptions are more in the form of retrospective, externalized, impressionistic detailings of events, as opposed to Galdós' more immediate, concrete, and narratively functional depictions.

While the use of oratory in a politicized nineteenth-century Spain was common and, in fiction, crucial to the representation of Spanish history, it was more the re-creation of the tumultuous mob scenes accompanying the liberal uprisings that makes Pedro Sánchez and Galdós' La Fontana de Oro intriguing studies of historical realities. Upon reviewing the different periods treated in the two novels -the revolutionary period of 1820-23 in the case of Galdós, and the July revolution of 1854 in Pereda- the reader will notice striking similarities in the two authors' insistence in singling out the mob scene as emblematic of the period; yet, the impressions that these scenes leave and the techniques used by the two novelists are different. Galdós, as stated, had specific narrative designs, i.e. to show his protagonist Lázaro's gradual growth -and disillusionment- as a political figure; however, Pereda's description of the popular uprising varies significantly. The two major features of his writing in the quote below, in comparison with that of Galdós, are its exclusion of temporal references and above all the almost impressionistic elaboration of the scene, equating it to characteristics of the sea:

¿Qué pasaba allí? Creo que nadie lo sabía. Notábase un oscilar de cabezas y un ruido sordo, como de resaca, de mar de fondo. Alguna voz más alta que otra, o un grito aislado, casi siempre de mujer: graznido de gaviota augurando tempestades sobre una mar preñada de misterios. Los huracanes populares se forman, casi siempre, de la manera más extraña: gentes inofensivas que caminan por la calle más de prisa que lo acostumbrado; rostros pálidos y miradas en las cuales se pintan el temor y la curiosidad, el afán de lo desconocido; noticias extraordinarias, absurdas tal vez, que parecen circular por sí solas en las ondas del aire, de barrio en barrio, de grupo en grupo, de oído en oído; diez curiosos detenidos delante de un edificio, porque en él hay algo de lo que estorba al común anhelo; y luego otros tantos, y en seguida ciento, y mil, y más, hasta que ya no se cabe; y empiezan, con el roce y el tufillo de la muchedumbre, el escozor de la curiosidad no satisfecha y la inquietud nerviosa en cada burbujita, que luego engendra el lento bamboleo, la hinchazón de las olas; las olas, el choque, el estruendo y la espuma, y al fin, el desastre.45

These descriptions of mob scenes and the aforementioned use of the frenzied political speech -so characteristic of both the revolutionary periods of 1820-1823 and 1854- give historical reference points to the creations of both, Galdós and Pereda. This historical matter acted as a tempering and stabilizing force in a type of novel that by nature was controversial and interpretive according to political persuasion. For Pereda though, the challenge to wield historical information would be greater than for Galdós, because a tradition of anti-historic and anti-urban writing had already been Pereda's publicly recognized artistic preference. Galdós had confidently established his career; Pereda was trying to prove his capacities in new terrain.

Pereda responded to the demands of his novel with surprising flexibility, although his actual treatment of urban life, the essential backdrop to his historical writing, is found wanting. Early in the novel, when Pedro first travels to Madrid, Pereda allows little more than a passing matter-of-fact remark from his protagonist as the coach nears its destination and one of   —26→   Pedro's fellow travellers spots the city's skyline: «Miré con ansiedad hacia donde me señalaba el dedo de don Serafín, y, en efecto, vi cuanto el cesante me iba nombrando...» (PS, p. 40). More attention is paid to don Serafín's gestures and bouncing movements in the coach than to details of the city. It is as if Pereda had forgotten or perhaps even not felt the impressive features of that urban presence. The view of the city is stilted, and the best Pereda can offer in the way of a description is a listing of those places and buildings known by most any Spaniard of the nineteenth century. Don Serafín, at the moment Madrid is visible in the distance, simply remarks: «¡Allí le tiene usted! La cúpula de San Francisco el Grande, la torre de Santa Cruz, la mole de Palacio» (PS, p. 40). There is no exclamation of awe or fear or loathing: it is more a Madrid witnessed by an impassive and somewhat jaded observer.

Pereda's references to particular streets and buildings, once he has located his protagonist within the city's confines, are also rather artificial. Typical is the trip Pedro makes upon entering the city, passing through the San Vicente Gate; then arriving, he states, twenty minutes later at the calle de Alcalá and the inn «Las peninsulares» (PS, p. 40). There is no mention of side streets, no outlining of the route taken between San Vicente and Alcalá, and no emphasis on relating a faithful picture of the metropolis.

This is also true of Pedro's frantic traversing of the city on the eve of the outbreak of rioting: the major landmarks of Madrid are there -la calle de Toledo, la plaza de Antón Martín, la calle de León, la calle del Prado, la Red de San Luis, and la Puerta del Sol- but the sense of an urban reality is not (PS, p. 135). The contrast of this with Galdós' usually detailed focus of the city is to be noted.

Part of the explanation for this shortcoming may be Pereda's sketchy familiarity with Madrid. His own student days in the capital were almost twenty years past, and there had not been frequent visits back to the capital. The stimulation and excitement of the urban landscape studied in close scrutiny had been lost, and Pereda relied on grossly topographical reconstructions of the city for his writing. This facet of Pedro Sánchez is one of its evident weaknesses, as the country-versus-city polemic was at the heart of his conception of the novel, and Pereda failed to exploit the disturbing complexity of the urban presence. This fact is even more surprising in an author who would later thrive on minuscule attention to rural realities. Certainly one further explanation lies in Pereda's adherence to a regional costumbrismo rather than to an urban one. There are virtually no scenes in Pedro Sánchez that could be labeled costumbrista, except perhaps the description of the diligencia of chapter VIII (PS, pp. 33-40). It seems that Pereda was leaving to Mesonero Romanos the task of painting Madrid in a literary fashion, something that was completed well before Pereda's similar efforts to paint northern regional life.

Other dimensions of Pereda's writing are conspicuous by their absence. The most noteworthy change is the emphasis on narrative development over descriptive discourse; while description is there, it is in service to and not independent of narrative momentum.

Also missing in Pedro Sánchez are the omniscient interjections of the author, so typical of nineteenth-century prose fiction and a particular trademark   —27→   of Pereda's sketches and later novels. Because the novel is a first-person account, the Peredian omniscience is superseded.

For a novel that does not relegate itself to extolling regional virtues, Pedro Sánchez paradoxically does not betray the most representative Peredian thesis: the city corrupts and the country purifies. The author uses the city life and city experience of his protagonist to defend again his theme of rural superiority -or at least that of the inevitability of urban moral decay. Pedro Sánchez is a reversal of Pereda's masterpiece, Peñas arriba, in which the city dweller, Marcelo, escapes to the Montaña and thereby achieves social, political, and psychological salvation. The ploy in the two novels is different; the message, that regional fortitude will outlast urbanity, is the same.

Pedro Sánchez is a superior novel of the nineteenth century. Its plot, the action, the characters provide reader interest, while the historically important background events locate the narrative on a firm base with some value as an historical document. Pereda, whose reputation had been built on a polished literary regionalism, had now through both a positive creative effort and a conscious negation of his previous novelistic art, succeeded in providing a serious addition to literary historicism and the nineteenth-century novel.

St. Mary's College Indiana

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