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ArribaAbajoThe Genial Inquisitor of El audaz

Clark M. Zlotehew

El audaz: Historia de un radical de antaño (1871) takes place in 1804, yet it is not merely a historical novel; it is a lesson in sociology and political science destined for use in the 1870's. Montesinos identifies the protagonist, Martín Martínez Muriel, with Galdós himself, going so far as to say that Martínez at times resembles the Galdós who lived through the Revolution of 1868 much more than a character who might have lived in 180446. The image of Galdós as a crusader for the cause of liberalism is widespread; this image is reflected in the title of the most complete biography of Galdós available47. While Don Benito may indeed be considered a reformer, the concept of «crusader» too often suggests violent action and uncompromising ideals; this concept would indeed tend to identify the protagonist of El audaz with his creator. However, a close reading of the plot of this early novel and an examination of the narrator's opinion of the radical Martínez Muriel as well as of the Inquisitor, Don Tomás de Albarado, will demonstrate that Galdós, at this early stage of his career, was more sympathetic to the behavior of the Inquisitor than to that of the rebellious hero.

Early in the novel Martínez Muriel is portrayed as highly unstable. In a state of mental and physical exhaustion, he passes the time in a hospital bed imagining plans for the destruction of the society he hates. Neither the proximity of death nor the pain he suffers attenuates his hatred for that society and its institutions. In his feverish imagination the entity named «la sociedad» acquires the properties of a personalized, living adversary, while Martínez Muriel grows in size, commands immense armies, and finally defeats society48.

Martínez Muriel's continued imaginings broaden the concept of his enemy from that of «la sociedad de su tiempo» to an entity which is greater in size as well as almost timeless: «la Humanidad extraviada y corrompida» (p. 237). The misanthropy implied by the products of his imagination is emphasized when the narrator states that it would not horrify Martínez Muriel to see this misguided and corrupt Humanity purge itself of its sins on the scaffold. The protagonist's reiterated expressions of a desire to see humanity benefitted are a manifestation of the author's irony, and are not to be taken seriously. When the reader goes beyond his words and looks into his mind he finds that Martínez Muriel, far from picturing himself a martyr for the sake of humanity, cheerfully imagines humanity itself being immolated to satisfy the rage burning in his own breast. In conveying his misanthropy the narrator employs prosopeia: he visualizes the entire human race hanging from the gibbet (Ibid.).


Further light is cast upon Martínez Muriel's psychological composition when the mad La Zarza relives an episode of the French Revolution. The protagonist constantly encourages the madman to continue his account with all the Gorey details (p. 254). The justification for the length of the narration and the interest Martínez Muriel manifests in it lies in this episode's foreshadowing, early in the novel, his fate. He, like the heroes of the French Revolution in La Zarza's account, will betray the people who are under his cominand -he will try to turn the uprising to his own ends- and finally become their victim.

The analogy between Martínez Muriel and the bloodthristy madman, La Zarza, is even clearer in that the latter, during his account, exclaims, «Mata, mata sin cesar» (p. 256), while Muriel, in the streets of Toledo and, later, in the cell he will share with La Zarza, shouts: «¡Matad sin piedad!» (p. 397) and «¡Matad, matad sin cesar!» (p. 404). The rage burning within the protagonist, the rage of impotence, is directed, not at specific persons or even parties, but at humanity in general. He is interested in power more than in social reform: early in the novel he imagines himself commanding huge armies (p. 237) while at the conclusion he insists «¡Yo soy dictador! ¡Yo mando aquí!» (p. 397). The protagonist's misanthropy combined with his lust for power makes any analogy between him and the author less than convincing. More importantly, the author allows him to accomplish nothing in the way of social reform.

One of the institutions Martínez Muriel wishes to destroy is the Inquisition, an institution by means of which the individual conscience is made to conform to the societal entity known as State Religion. It is clear that Galdós sympathizes with his protagonist's aim; the narrator's ironic description of the manner in which the Holy Office still operates in 1804, the restrained sarcasm in the understated manner of reporting that imprisonment and flogging are still meted out for crimes of thought bear this out (p. 311). The point is, however, that Muriel's methods are fruitless. In fact, his character is analogous to that of Father Pedro Regalado Corchón, a member of the Inquisition depicted as grossly ignorant, intolerant and sadistic (pp. 293, 349).

The other major inquisitorial personage is Don Tomás de Albarado y Gibraleón. Don Tomás holds the doctorate, is eminent in canon law and theology and, according to the narrator, «era un hombre cuya simple presencia predisponía en su favor» (p. 310). Fortunately for victims of the Inquisition, the learned and amiable Don Tomás occupies a position of great power within that dreaded organization as Advisor to the Supreme Council. The reader is told that «alguien decía, más bien en son de vituperio que de alabanza, que el arma terrible del Santo Tribunal era en sus manos cuchillo roñoso y mellado» (Ibid.). The narrator's opinion is that if it could be said there was something good in the Inquisition at that time, that something would be Don Tomás (Ibid.). Galdós' hostility toward the Inquisition is balanced by his esteem for the personal qualities of the congenial Inquisitor whom the narrator sees as ruled by his heart rather than by his head, as misguided by false ideas which lead him to spend his life trying to convince himself that the Inquisition could be a good thing while being cruel (p. 311).


Don Tomás is a complex personality. He is learned, yet his learning is restricted to ecclesiastical matters and to theology. He unreservedly believes in the necessity for the existence of the Holy Office while his own position within that entity, qualified by the narrator as «su fúnebre oficio» (p. 310), results in dulling the cutting edge of that weapon described as «terrible». Were a cleric of less kindly disposition -Father Regalado Corchón, for example- entrusted with that high position, the Office would have been much more cruel. Given the age and circumstances, Galdós shows Don Tomás' post within the Inquisition to be beneficial for its victims. It is significant that Galdós has Martín Martínez Muriel, the wild-eyed radical, accomplish absolutely nothing in the way of societal reform, while he allows Don Tomás, a highly placed official of an institution detested by both Martín and Galdós, to succeed in moderating the actions of this organization to the positive advantage of the unfortunate human beings who fall under its jurisdiction. Galdós is making a statement through this element of the plot: moderation and compromise accomplish more than extremism and intransigence.

The branch of liberalism represented by the rash and violent exaltados of Galdós' novel, La Fontana de Oro, published a year before El audaz, was placed in an unfavorable light by the author who shows its conduct to be counterproductive. The moderate liberal elements associated with the fictional Bozmediano and the historical Alcalá Galiano were portrayed as the force for positive -because gradual and considered- socio-political reform49. Had Muriel been a character in La Fontana de Oro, he would surely belong to the exaltados. Berkowitz, in his discussion of La Fontana de Oro, perceptively recognizes Galdós' socio-political orientation: «Like some of the more advanced thinkers of his time, he [Galdós] came to believe that social reform cannot be brought about by revolutionary changes in institutions, but only by a spiritual and intellectual reorientation of human beings»50. These feelings are expressed in El audaz through the negative example of Martínez Muriel and the positive results of Don Tomás.

Both Martínez Muriel and Father Regalado Corchón are capable of great cruelty toward those who do not think as they do. The latter has already been described as ignorant; the former, while having been exposed to a university education, also displays deep ignorance of the character of the Spanish people as well as an incapacity to put philosophical theory into practice51. Both men, while at opposite poles of the socio-politico-religious spectrum, are very much alike in their ignorance, intolerance, cruelty and fanaticism. Neither one is presented by the author as the solution to Spain's problems. On the contrary, they represent the extremism and intransigence that plagued Spain all through the nineteenth century and which would culminate in the vicious Civil War of the twentieth century.

The only personage whom the narrator describes in sincerely favorable terms is Don Tomás de Albarado. He is not a fanatic whereas both, Father Regalado Corchón and Martínez Muriel, are. This is not to claim that the author glorifies Don Tomás; Galdós does not do this. However, he does treat him cordially because the cruelty of the Inquisition is greatly mitigated under the direction of Don Tomás. In addition to possessing a charismatic   —32→   personality («cuya simple presencia predisponía en su favor» [p. 310]), Don Tomás is the sole personage in El audaz who effects any kind of concrete, practical reform in society. He accomplishes this feat by employing the existing organization of the Inquisition with discretion, mildness and humanity. In this way he is instrumental in initiating the process of limiting this fearful Institution's powers and eventually of putting an end to it. Martín Martínez Muriel is the prototype of the rebel, certainly not without a cause, but without a positive, constructive plan for replacing the old order. Don Tomás, on the other hand, by proceeding conservatively, is not deposed from his influential position; in this way he is able to continue his humane efforts rather than see himself replaced by a man like Father Regalado Corchón.

Pulling the teeth of the Inquisition is not the only way in which social change is effected in El audaz; another method revealed is interclass marriage. Intermarriage between the aristocracy and the enriched bourgeoisie is a process described approvingly in the works of Galdós consistently from El audaz through Fortunata y Jacinta (1886-87) and beyond. In La loca de la casa (1892), José María Cruz refers to this means of societal leveling as producing «revoluciones... sin revolución» (V, p. 1641). The plebeian Martínez Muriel, had he been less a hothead and more a moderate, might have married the aristocratic heiress, Susana Cerezuelo, who loved him. Yet, it is precisely this process of interclass marriage which, under certain conditions, Don Tomás advocates.

Martín's friend Leonardo, imprisoned by the Inquisition on Father Regalado Corchón's orders, is not of the common people; however, he is a segundón, the son who because he is not the first born is condemned by the laws of inheritance to become part of the silent -and impoverished- majority. He is set free through the efforts of Don Tomás in spite of being a Freemason, and the love between him and the aristocratic and wealthy Engracia is allowed sanctification in matrimony. This marriage between the penniless segundón and the monied noblewoman represents one small step in the long process of creating that middle class so dear to Galdós' heart. This episode is a very minor sub-plot, and the narrator is correct in prefacing the wedding announcement with, «Difícil le será al lector creer una cosa...» (p. 403).

More in tune with the tenor of the entire novel, and therefore having more of the ring of truth, is the episode in which Susana, now the Condesa de Cerezuelo, learns from her usually affectionate kinsman, Don Tomás, that she has placed her family's honor in peril by having allowed herself to be kidnapped by Martínez Muriel. She stresses her inability to have prevented the abduction, an abduction carried out for the specific purpose of acquiring a hostage to back Martín's demands for Leonardo's freedom (p. 380). Still, she admits that she now loves Martín, and tells Don Tomás that she would die if she tried, as Don Tomás urges, to stifle that love. The latter, speaking as her relative rather than in his official capacity, angrily tells her he wishes she had died before this situation could have developed (Ibid.). The pundonor, so important in earlier centuries in Spain, obsessive in the Golden Age, still impinges upon the Spain of 1804.


Despite Susana's protests of innocence, Don Tomás, insisting on the importance of public opinion, tells her, «tú estás deshonrada para el mundo» (p. 381). He goes on to tell her, without mincing words, that even though she may have committed no fault, she has been degraded as a result of the way the situation will appear to others. She is given a choice: live in a convent the rest of her days or hide her shame in some as yet undisclosed manner. One thing is certain: her former position in society is no longer tenable (Ibid.). The method finally proposed by Don Tomás for removing the stain of dishonor from the family escutcheon is far removed from those condoned by popular taste in the Golden Age. His solution, rather than reflecting tradition, is a sign of the changing times. He suggests, and then vehemently urges, that Susana contract marriage with Lorenzo Segarra, former manager of her late father's estates. Segarra is of humble origins but, Don Tomás stresses, Susana can no longer aspire any higher. More to the point, the Inquisitor carefully explains, the former hireling has inherited -in payment for loyal service- the entire portion of her father's estate which lies outside her own patrimony as the first born, and is, consequently, almost as rich as she herself (Ibid.).

Although the proposed course of action is not taken by Susana, it is significant that a beloved member of her family, who, in addition, is a highly influential officer of the Inquisition, has heartily recommended it to her. Furthermore, she does not reject it out of hand, but considers it seriously before deciding against it and committing suicide. Had she acceded to Don Tomás' plan, her action would have forged one more link in a chain of events which by Galdós' own day had multiplied to the point of being commonplace. This type of marriage between nobility and monied commoners wears down the old class distinctions while adding new societal classes of rich commoners and newly-minted aristocracy; it also aids in the creation of a middle class, the class which will be the subject of the novelas contemporáneas. Don Tomás' practical, albeit unsentimental, plan provides a view of the way in which the institution of matrimony was beginning to play a part in the destruction of a caste system inherited from more remote eras.

Don Tomás' proposal is motivated by the ideals of seventeenth-century society (the pundonor), yet his proposal itself promotes a society like that of the late nineteenth century, a century which will lack the very ideals that prompted his espousal of the plan in the first place. This is precisely the point. Don Tomás works within the framework of an existing institution, the Inquisition, a relic of medieval society, but with a spirit more in harmony with modern times. His compromise between his conviction that there is a definite need for the Holy Office and his equally strong sense of humanitarianism, even love for his fellow man, are in consonance with Galdós' life-long advocacy of compromise and love of humanity.

Don Tomás' management of the Inquisition is a step in the direction of a gradual transformation of society, an evolution rather than a revolution. His urging matrimony between Susana and Lorenzo Segarra, plus his aid in effecting the marriage between Leonardo and Engracia, are further steps in the same direction. Galdós presents the reader with the seemingly paradoxical case of a declared reformer (Martínez Muriel) who brings about no   —34→   reform whatsoever, and an Inquisitor, an officer of an Institution which must be destroyed if reform is to take place, who does cause reform to occur in practice, and who sets a precedent for even more sweeping changes. Galdós, at this early stage of his writing career, convincingly teaches a socio-political lesson by means of an apparently improbable situation, and preaches the efficacy of moderation.

State University of New York, College at Fredonia

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