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ArribaAbajoSallies and encounters in Torquemada en la hoguera: patterns of significance31

Peter A. Bly

Although the shortest of the novelas contemporáneas, Torquemada en la hoguera (1889) has consistently elicited high praise for its general literary merits from students of Galdós's work.32 Some forty years ago, Angel del Río wrote: «es probablemente uno de los aciertos definitivos de Galdós, donde se nos da concentrada, sin retóricas ni complicaciones, la fórmula de su arte de novelista, de psicólogo y de observador de la realidad».33 More recently, Michael Nimetz declared: «Terse and pithy, without a word gone to waste, Torquemada en la hoguera ranks with La de Bringas as the best written of the novelas contemporáneas».34 Any serious divergence of opinion has been limited to the interpretation of the sincerity of Torquemada's supposed character change during the period of his son's illness.35 In efforts to resolve the seemingly undeniable doubt, critics have carefully examined Torquemada's motives and behaviour during the important series of charitable acts that he performs. The aim of this article is to suggest that for a more comprehensive view of Galdós's attitude towards his principal protagonist and, indeed, towards social reality, a study of the structural and thematic interrelation of these acts of charity needs to be made.

There has really been no general attempt at agreement over the precise number of Torquemada's acts of charity. Nimetz refers to three key scenes: those involving the tenants, Torquemada's search for beggars in the streets, and his visit to Don Juan.36 Robert Ricard adds the episode of Isidora and Martín.37 Brooks considers Torquemada's offer of a mattress to la tía Roma as a fifth episode,38 and Zeidner Bäuml refers vaguely to six.39 This numerical confusion might well be dispelled by a reorganization of the charitable acts into a pattern dictated by their mode of occurrence, that is to say, whether they are deliberate or fortuitous acts, whether they are the result of a deliberate sally by Torquemada from his house, or of a sudden reaction to a chance encounter in the street. During the five-day period of Valentín's illness, Torquemada makes three deliberate excursions or sallies from his house with the sole purpose of giving financial aid to people, hoping to effect thereby the miraculous cure of his son: on day 3, to his tenants in the calle de San Blas; later that night, to the centre of Madrid in search of beggars; and on day 5, first to Don Juan's house overlooking San Bernardino, and then, as a continuation of the same sally, to the garret of Isidora and Martín in the calle de la Luna. There are two chance encounters, when Torquemada's charity is solicited without warning in the streets: on day 4, he strikes into an old beggar in the calle de Hita, and on day 5, Isidora momentarily detains him as he makes his way to Don Juan's. Arranged in chronological order, the pattern of deliberate sallies   —24→   and chance encounters reads thus: sally I, sally II, encounter I, sally IIIa, encounter II and sally IIIb. For reasons to be seen later, the pattern can be divided into two groups after encounter I in the sequence. The one remaining act of charity (albeit aborted), the offer of a mattress to la tía Roma and a pearl to the Virgen del Carmen, whilst not the immediate result of a sally or chance encounter, will be shown to have a structural and thematic dependence on the previously developed pattern of physical movements by the moneylender.

If we consider first the three sallies in isolation, we see that the series is held firmly within a framework of references to a topographical detail: the entrance or doorstep of Torquemada's house. It is at this precise spot that the action of the plot proper starts, when, on learning of Valentín's unexpected indisposition, Torquemada's character begins its metamorphosis: «su hija, que le abrió la puerta, le dijo estas palabras: -No te asustes, papá, no es nada... Valentín ha venido malo de la escuela. [...] El Peor seguía clavado en el recibimiento, sin acertar a decir nada ni a dar un paso» (60). This news will eventually force the miser to attempt his sallies of charity. Their causal relation to Valentín's condition, although obvious, is underlined during the sallies and at the end by references to the same doorstep, where Torquemada, returning from his sallies, anxiously enquires if there is any amelioration. After the first sally he rushes home in a cab: «Llegó por fin; y al subir jadeante la escalera de su casa, razonaba sus esperanzas de esta manera: 'No salgan ahora diciendo que es por mis maldades, pues de todo hay...' ¡Qué desengaño al ver la cara de Rufina tan triste, y al oír aquél lo mismo, papá, que sonó en sus oídos como fúnebre campanada!» (68). There is no doorstep communication between father and daughter after the second sally, as it is one o'clock in the morning. However, on returning from the third sally, he is greeted on the doorstep with triumphant news: «Subió de tres en tres los peldaños de la escalera de su casa, y le abrió la puerta la tía Roma, disparándole a boca de jarro estas palabras: 'Señor, el niño parece que está un poquito más tranquilo'. Oírlo D. Francisco y soltar los cuadros y abrazar a la vieja, fue todo uno» (92). The slight allusions to this physical area that marks the division between Torquemada's public and private worlds add unity to the respective sallies, but, more importantly, serve to relate them in a brief verbal photograph, as it were, to the conscious motive that impels Torquemada to make them.40

Further cohesiveness is given to the series of sallies by the deliberate repetition, with slight modification, of certain minor physical actions and material details that form a kind of prologue to each sally. Two nights and one full day precede Torquemada's first sally, which is disguised as a routine business visit to his tenants. In the interval, Valentín's illness has been authoritatively diagnosed as acute meningitis, and Torquemada has come to realize, in a brief period of meditation, the necessity for some charitable action on his part: «y allí estuvo como media horita, dando vueltas a una pícara idea, ¡ay!, dura y con muchas esquinas, que se le había metido en el cerebro. [...] Tan sólo sacó en limpio que no habiendo buenas obras, todo es, como si dijéramos, basura...» (62-63). This period of reflection occurs on the second night, some hours before his exit from the house. On the night of the third day, Valentín becomes feverish and, commensurate with the seriousness of this development, the period that elapses before Torquemada dashes out of the house on his second sally is considerably reduced,   —25→   if still not instantaneous: «Huyó de allí por no oír la dulce vocecita, y estuvo más de media hora echado en el sofá de la sala, agarrándose con ambas manos la cabeza como si se le quisiese escapar. De improviso se levantó, sacudido por una idea» (71). When, on day 5, Valentín starts to screech the «grito meníngeo» (77-78), Torquemada shows no hesitation or delay in getting money from his desk and sallying forth for the third time: «metióse en su despacho [...] y al poco rato apareció guardando algo en el bolsillo interior de la americana. Cogió el sombrero, y sin decir nada se fue a la calle» (78).

If the responses to his son's state accelerate to the point that his departure from the house becomes almost automatic and spontaneous with any deterioration, no less noteworthy is the change in the amount of money that he takes to distribute to the prospective recipients. On the first sally, he takes no money with him, only receipts for the rent payments (63). The coin he gives the tenant in apartment no. II is presumably taken from those that he has collected from the other tenants. On his second sally, he arms himself with «un cartucho de monedas que debían de ser calderilla» (71), whilst on his final trip, he places what seems to be bank notes into his pocket: «al poco rato apareció guardando algo en el bolsillo interior de la americana» (78). Other details included in these prologues remain more or less constant: Torquemada always seems to be physically jaded, either through lack of sleep (sally I [63], and sally III [76]), or because of a headache (sally II [71]).41 Hectic arguments with Bailón and/or la tía Roma have also occurred at some point before his exit from the house (62, 70, 76-78) and have contributed further to his physical malaise. There is no doubt: that Galdós strengthens the interrelation of the three sallies by the accumulation of these minor details.

All three sallies are thus firmly connected and shown to be part of the same pattern but with some modifications that would seem to indicate an improvement in Torquemada's attitude towards charity. Indeed, Torquemada does carry out the worthy aims he sets for himself in his discussion with Rufina after his nocturnal encounter with the old beggar in the calle de Hita: «En las obras de misericordia está todo el intríngulis. Yo vestiré desnudos, visitaré enfermos, consolaré tristes... Bien sabe Dios que ésa es mi voluntad, bien lo sabe» (73). He clothes the destitute beggar; he visits the sick Martín and he brings consolation to Isidora and Martín, and also to Rumalda. What more could be asked of him?

But consideration of other details of the three sallies leads to a more critical assessment of Torquemada's supposed charity. His selfish motives are constantly being revealed by his self-congratulation or self-pity in front of the recipients. More particularly, his generosity is never spontaneous or complete. While he may give away one coin to a tenant on the first sally, he receives many more from other tenants. He returns after his final excursion with the collateral of Martín's paintings. His offer to both Martín and Juan is not of a gift, but of a loan, albeit interest-free. If he appears more liberal on the second sally, he still is able to return home with some coins in his pocket. Unfortunately, Torquemada cannot alter his usual ways of thinking: he sees everything in commercial terms, whether it be the purpose behind the sallies or the practical details of their implementation.

A tentative conclusion regarding the effectiveness of Torquemada's three sallies, viewed in isolation from other events, would recognize that Torquemada does some good for some individuals in society, if for wrong motives and in an   —26→   imperfect manner. Such a narrow viewpoint, which ignores the two chance encounters and their structural and thematic relationship to the three sallies, does not do justice to the depth, accuracy and bitterness (in spite of the surfase humour) of Galdós's picture of social reality and the intricate relationship between an individual and his fellow human beings that is presented in this novel. If we now examine the three sallies in relation to the two chance encounters in the order of their occurrence, paying attention to the relationship of the individual (Torquemada) to society (the recipients), a darker and more pessimistic view of the moneylender's newly-found charity will emerge.

Since Torquemada's reasons for making his first expedition are obvious to the reader, the focus of attention must surely be the response of the tenants to his new attitude and the consequent reaction of Torquemada himself. All of the tenants make the fundamental error of believing that his changed appearance signifies an even more inhuman conduct that day: the «remendón» in the «portal» drops his hammer in panic, and the women flee into their houses or into the street (63). Throughout the visit, they refuse to believe that Torquemada is acting sincerely when he forgives their defaulting, returns some of the rent, or accepts their payments without harsh words. They believe that his remarks on charity are either sarcastic, or conceal a sinister prupose. The reality of Torquemada's actions is not accepted on the level that they are intended; because of the recipients' previous acquaintance with him, they cannot believe that he is capable of change: «Don Francisco no está bueno de la cafetera. Mirad qué cara de patíbulo se ha traído. ¡Don Francisco con humanidad! Ahí tenéis por qué está saliendo todas las noches en el cielo esa estrella con rabo. Es que el mundo se va a acabar» (66). Individually and collectively, they must share some of the blame for the development of Torquemada's attitude towards practical charity in the subsequent episodes. As they do not allow him to function at a different level, Torquemada is forced to re-adopt his old ways. Yet the possibility of a new relationship is suggested during the initial moments of his visit. With those tenants that pay without comment, the «albañil» and «las dos pitilleras» on the ground floor, and three unspecified tenants on the first floor (63ff.), Torquemada shows an unusual lack of harshness and abuse. If later he reacts with energetic self-congratulation and self-pity to the veiled criticisms of Rumalda, or the insults of «la inquilina muy mal pagadora» on the first floor and of the woman in apartment no. 11, these individuals must be criticized for applying previously valid attitudes to a new situation. To Torquemada's credit, and in spite of his faulty motives and terrible manner, he does do some good for other individuals, and that is something of which he was not capable before. Torquemada is still a «devil», but now he stalks out of the building «persignándose» (67). In less hostile circumstances, perhaps he might have been encouraged to act more spontaneously. But from the start, the realities of social intercourse prevent miraculous changes of conduct by an individual in his dealings with his fellows, simply because the reactions of the latter are conditioned by previous experience, and also by their own moral and spiritual shortcomings.

Because people's inner thoughts and feelings can remain inscrutable to others, Torquemada's sudden display of charity to anyone who raises a voice to plead hardship must be viewed with some disapproval. He does not stop to consider   —27→   the merits of individual cases and is ready to show the same generosity to «la inquilina muy mal pagadora» as to the seemingly more deserving Rumalda and the tenants of apartments Nos. 11 and 16. Ideally, Torquemada's behaviour might be considered very worthy, if his motives were disinterested and the effects of his generosity were all beneficial. But the former are not and the latter seem doubtful, for whilst Rumalda and the other two above-mentioned recipients might pay the rent when they can, one has the impression that Torquemada's generosity will only have encouraged «la inquilina muy mal pagadora» to be more lax about her payments. On this first sally, it is impossible to judge accurately the negative or positive effects of the actions of Torquemada; one can only speculate briefly on the limited information supplied. However, it is clear to the reader and should be to Torquemada (but he fails to see the message) that his charitable intentions can not be realized in a vacuum, without the moral, spiritual concurrence of other human beings, who are living, complex mixtures of feelings and ideas. It is their role as individual human beings, not as inanimate receptacles for money, that will determine the success or failure of Torquemada's sallies, either on the superficial, physical level or on a more spiritual level.

It is to Torquemada's detriment that his actions are crowned with success, for he comes to believe that it is the act of charity itself, not the individual recipient, that is of importance. Because his thoughts are focussed exclusively on the realization of the act, he is infuriated by any delay or obstacle to his wishes. On the first sally, he is not expecting the harsh abuse from the tenants. On the second, the beggars fail initially to appear in their usual haunts, and on the third, Don Juan surprisingly rejects his loan. On the second sally, his lack of consideration for the individual is even more marked; he gives away money to anyone that he can find in the street. Some recipients are known to him, like the «cesante» and «la fantasma», but the first pauper and the host of children around the Puerta del Sol are strangers. The reaction of the beneficiaries varies from individual to individual: the «cesante» is overcome with gratitude, but the unshod lad in the Puerta del Sol accepts the money with cynicism. The social effects of Torquemada's generosity are becoming increasingly suspicious; although the need of the individuals may be genuine and justified, all of them are, in varying degrees, professional beggars. «La fantasma» is obviously the leader of this parasitic society, for she has developed techniques to elicit alms and is reputed to have amassed a large fortune on the streets. The «cesante» and young boys are progressing in the same trade and will be encouraged by Torquemada's donations. It is clear that begging is a lucrative profession preferable to more honest, if less rewarding, modes of employment. The implications for the health of Spanish society are indeed ominous.

At this point in the narrative, when the reader is slowly, hesitantly, coming to doubt the whole value of Torquemada's ventures, in spite of their superficial success, Galdós fashions a strange, unexpected encounter for his protagonist. In the calle de Hita on Day 4, Torquemada is detained by an old beggar who simply asks: «Señor, señor -decía con el temblor de un frío intenso-, mire cómo estoy, míreme» (73). It is not an appeal for money. The old man is a stranger and it is already dark. Torquemada's response is correct: he looks at the venerable old man, appreciates his plight, and for the first and only time in the novel, provides charity in a non-monetary form. Of course, there are some very damning details:   —28→   Torquemada does not stop immediately to look at the old man, and only later fetches an inferior cloak from home. As usual, his charity is not spontaneous. However, now the lapse of time between the thought and the action is reduced to its briefest extent, and he subsequently regrets this lack of complete spontaneity (74). He does not expect a concomitant improvement in his son's condition, and, in fact, the episode is soon forgotten by Torquemada. He has also endured the intense cold of the winter night, after giving the old man the cloak. The positive features of the encounter would seem to outweigh the negative ones. When reality searches him out, and not vice-versa, Torquemada shows that he is capable of a creditable response which takes into account the true needs and feelings of the individual recipient. For the first time, he stops to look at the person who is facing him. Caught off guard, the moneylender is forced to look at reality, and perhaps because the request is not for money, Torquemada is able to make a response that approximates somewhat to a genuinely charitable action. That Galdós attaches importance to the episode is shown by his serious evocation of two Christian saints. There is an explicit reference to the St. Peter-like appearance of the old man: «Tenía la barba erizada y la frente llena de arrugas, como San Pedro» (73). There is also an implicit parallel between Torquemada's chance encounter and that of St. Martin and the beggar. Torquemada obviously fails the test of St. Peter and cannot compare to St. Martin, but it is certainly his most creditable performance of charity in this book and perhaps in his fictional existence. The scene is also pivotal in that it represents the culmination of the first part of our pattern of sallies and chance encounters, a part in which Galdós has presented a hesitant development of his protagonist's character and its repercussions on his neighbours in society. While Torquemada's motives remain highly suspect, his actions become increasingly benevolent. Nevertheless, the effects of his actions are still open to question: in some instances, they seem positive (as the encounter with the beggar shows), or negative (as in the case of «la inquilina muy mal pagadora» and «la fantasma»). The second group or part of our pattern, consisting of one sally divided into two and a chance encounter, will resolve this confusion and expose Galdós's true assessment of Torquemada's newly-found philanthropy.

The second part of our pattern is structurally more complex than it first appears. It really forms an inverted parallel with the first part. The first half of the third sally, for example, parallels the first sally; Torquemada's chance encounter with Isidora is clearly a counterpart to his encounter with the old, St. Peter-like beggar; and Torquemada's final visit to the attic of Isidora and Martín corresponds to his second sally into the central streets of Madrid. Although the sequence of events is not quite the same (Part I reads: sally, sally, encounter; Part II: sally, encounter, sally [continued]), the general and fundamental relation of inverted parallelism between the two parts still obtains.

Although both the tenants and Don Juan are regular clients of Torquemada, there is a substantial difference between their positions: the debts of the tenants are small and are due to the provision of necessary accommodation. Don Juan's debt to Torquemada is large and due to his unnecessarily lavish life-style. Moreover, whereas the tenants dread the visit of Torquemada, Don Juan willingly sumnons his creditor for a loan. The exasperation or anger that his tenants had provoked is now repeated when Don Juan informs Torquemada that he no longer needs the money. But the reasons are diametrically opposite: his motives and good   —29→   intentions are no longer questioned and Don Juan is deliberately polite. Torquemada cannot adjust to the reality of the new situation, concerned as he is with the act of charity, and not with the individual beneficiary's needs.

Fate once more intervenes to help Torquemada achieve his purpose. Having been reminded in the street by Isidora of her and Martin's urgent need for financial assistance, Torquemada is again very confident of making his donation. This chance encounter, which can be considered fortuitous in spite of Isidora's previous messages to her benefactor, seems to parallel, by inversion, Torquemada's brusque meeting with the old beggar in the calle de Hita. It is now daytime; the petitioner is a female and a person whom Torquemada knows. Sympathetic to her request, he, nevertheless, postpones his charity to a later occasion. It is a moot point whether he would have kept the promise if Juan had accepted his offer of a loan. The inverted parallel is reinforced by Galdós's reference to Isidora as «una mujer que parecía la Magdalena» (79). It is an obviously ironic, religious parallel designed to emphasize Torquemada's real distance from the Christian paradigm, but it also offers a contrast to the more serious encounter in the calle de Hita.

Torquemada's third sally concludes with the frantic journey to the calle de la Luna, where his charity seems to reach its apotheosis. He is praised in increasingly hyperbolic terms: Isidora calls him «un santo disfrazado de diablo» (84), a phrase which reminds us of the comparison the narrator had made at the end of Torquemada's first sally and which I mentioned earlier: «parecía el mismo demonio persignándose» (67). But of greater importance is the inverted parallel that the episode offers to Torquemada's second sally when he had searched for the beggars at night. Now he has to search for only two beggars who are really too proud to ask for help.42 The frantic search for their unnumbered door reflects his earlier sally to downtown Madrid: «Torquemada recorrió el pasillo oscuro buscando una puerta. Los números de éstas eran inútiles, porque no se veían. La suerte fue que [my italics] Isidora le sintió los pasos y abrió» (83). Torquemada's plans for doing good are once more rescued by Fate. This utter dependence on chance surely underlines the misguided nature of Torquemada's ventures and his distorted values.

The inverted parallels that constitute this second part of the pattern serve to strengthen the unity of the whole and at the same time to clarify the true nature of Torquemada's charity. Though Torquemada may think that he has practised Christian charity with his ever-increasing disbursements, Galdós points with growing conviction to the socially pernicious effects of a type of charity that is conceived solely in terms of money and is really a misnomer for business, a type of charity that is of no permanent material value and certainly no spiritual value, to either benefactor or beneficiary. At the most, it may remedy a momentary material need (as, for example, those of some of the tenants on the first sally). Otherwise, it would seem to be another incitement for those with few or no social values to become professional beggars. These are the consequences of Torquemada's actions as seen in the first part of our pattern. In the second part, where the scale of Torquemada's charity increases out of all proportion, then its consequent social effects are truly disastrous and lead to a spiritual bankruptcy. Juan, Martín and Isidora are all living beyond their means and owe large sums of money. Torquemada's ready charity will only encourage their socially wasteful life-styles. The importance of the structural arrangements of the pattern thus   —30→   becomes clear: by concentrating on two individual cases of charity in part II, instead of referring to a multitude of cases, Galdós is able to expose in a bolder outline the truly ruinous effects of Torquemada's benefactions. The ambiguities of part I are now removed. Put under closer scrutiny, Torquemada's charity is seen in its true light and Galdós deplores it, not only for Torquemada the individual, but also for the sake of the recipients whose greed for money is only aroused and fanned by this ill-advised charity.

There is only one occasion in our pattern of sallies and encounters when Galdós allows his principal character to progress to an alternative form of charity: when Torquemada gives his cloak to the old beggar in the calle de Hita. However, this possibility seems to depend on special circumstances that emphasize the physical plight of the individual. That Galdós allows Torquemada some degree of altruistic behaviour on this isolated occasion shows the author's belief that character change is possible, but also that it is desperately brief and tentative, for any development is soon cancelled by the subsequent re-emergence of the individual's calculated purpose, provoked by the spiritual or moral weaknesses of his fellow human beings. Herein lies the cause of Galdós's pessimism in Torquemada en la hoguera. Even if Torquemada's motives and actions were free of imperfections, would their social utility be any greater when the recipients abuse his generosity for their own selfish and socially reprehensible ends?

As Torquemada scurries home from the lovers' garret, he mumbles to himself: «Me parece que no llego nunca a mi casa. ¡Qué lejos está, estando tan cerca!» (92). The remark could well be applied to Torquemada's practice of charity in this book: the moneylender may feel that his ever more bounteous donations entitle him to divine rewards, but truly Christian charity remains beyond his perception. Galdós's careful structuring of the pattern of sallies and encounters into two similar but contrasted parts has permitted a more accurate estimation of the merits of Torquemada's charity than that hitherto advanced by a limited consideration of such aspects as Don Francisco's motives and the amount of his generosity.

Queen's University at Kingston, Ontario

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