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ArribaAbajoDeath and succession in the Torquemada series

Wm. M. Sherzer

One of the most basic problems of novelistic structure is precisely how to put an end to that structure. Since the beginnings of the novel, authors have developed particular endings to their works which, more often than not, leave the reader with the distinct attitude which the author assumes towards his plot, theme and character. Frank Kermode, in The Sense of an Ending, speaks of this paradigmatic relation between fictional reality and the reality of the world around us, this relation being the basis for an author's necessity to adhere to a strict set of rules regarding time, space and theme. Kermode says of the modern author and his public that «[...] 'in making sense' of the world we still feel a need, harder than ever to satisfy because of an accumulated scepticism, to experience that concordance of beginning, middle and end which is the essence of our explanatory fictions, and especially when they belong to cultural traditions which treat historical time as primarily rectilinear rather than cyclic.»43 Kermode speaks of those writers who attempt to destroy this paradigmatic relationship, and remarks that it is perhaps this very destruction that is a key factor in the creation of twentieth century fiction. Robbe-Grillet and other writers of the nouveau roman illustrate this attempt to restructure novelistic reality, while in poetry, Pound and Lewis react radically to traditionalist thought. But there is a much less radical departure from the world-ordered apocalyptic vision which Kermode speaks of, found in the works of many twentieth century novelists, and it is in contrast with this type of novelistic attitude that Galdós' more traditional adherence to an ideal paradigm is most clearly reflected. While still maintaining a basically realistic style with respect to chronology and structure, writers such as Mann, Gide and Roth develop a new theory of the end in which final moral and thematic decisions are left much more open than was found in the nineteenth century. Philip Roth's Letting Go ends with the protagonist's letter to a friend, stating, «It is only kind of you, Libby, to feel that I would want to know that I am off the hook. But I'm not, I can't be, I don't even want to be -not until I make some sense of the larger hook I'm on.»44 It is with a questioning future that this novel ends, thus reflecting the anxiety and insecurity of modern times, and avoiding a definitive solution to what has preceded. Mann's Tonio Kroger also ends with a letter written by the protagonist, and again it is this protagonist's introspection which leads the reader away from an outside judgement and towards an open-ended situation in which we envision the character's continuing life. It is in what follows the close of the narration that the character will or will not work out personally the particular answers to his existential problems.

Examples of this type of structure are much harder to find in the realistic literature of the nineteenth century. Here we find a much more closed novel, with a definite beginning, middle and end. Galdós, one of the most traditional writers of the last century with respect to style and structure, was very much aware   —34→   of the fact that his novel was a world in itself, necessitating a perfectly closed structure in which that world would come to an end with the final pages of the book. Thus, all thoughts and messages are completely directed and controlled by the author in the conclusion he gives to his work, and, as will be seen in what follows, Galdós generally modelled his plots on an idealized vision of the reality paradigm.

In most of the Contemporary Novels Galdós chooses the simplest and most typical method of ending his story -the death of the protagonist. (The Episodios nacionales do not fit very well the statements made in this article, since they are novels in series and thus cannot be treated as individual entities with respect to the topic being discussed.) Though this death causes the end of the plot action, however, it is generally a symbolic death, making some type of statement about the future. In El audaz the two protagonists, Martín and Susana, die as martyrs to the intransigence of the class system. In Doña Perfecta, the state of shock of doña Perfecta and don Inocencio after the murder of Pepe Rey expresses their realization of their negative and fanatical position. And perhaps where this death symbolism is most openly seen as a message about the future is in Gloria, where Daniel and Gloria find their lives destroyed by the religious barrier that stands between them. In the final lines of the novel Galdós speaks to their child, Jesús:

Tú, precioso y activo niño Jesús, estás llamado, sin duda, a intentarlo; Tú, que naciste del conflicto, y eres la personificación más hermosa de la Humanidad emancipada de los antagonismos religiosos por virtud del amor; Tú, que en una sola persona llevas sangre de enemigas razas, y eres el símbolo en que se han fundido dos conciencias, harás, sin duda, algo grande.

Hoy juegas y ríes e ignoras; pero Tú tendrás treinta y tres años, y entonces quizás, tu historia sea digna de ser contada, como lo fue la de tus Padres.45

Sometimes death is a necessary prerequisite to progress, as is seen at the end of the novel Miau. Here Villaamil, representing the old order of society and bureaucracy, must disappear, leaving Luisito, who represents Spain's future, an open path to progress and modernization through incorporation into the middle class (symbolized by the child's aunt, Quintina). In a sense, Máximo Manso does the same thing in El amigo Manso, though with less symbolism. His story is told, Irene and Pepe have received as much instruction from him as he can give, and they have fallen in love; there is no reason for Manso to go on living. Thus, he dies.

Death and/or succession does not always have to be tied to social or political ideals. The birth of Fortunata's son, shortly before her death, does possess social symbolism -seen most clearly in the name Juan Evaristo Segismundo, which represents a combination of classes- but at the same time the new born baby represents a sentimental optimism towards the future. Fortunata can die happily once her son is born. She has completed a mission and goes to her grave feeling that she has left something positive on earth to succeed her. (One might compare this with Unamuno's theory of eternal life through the resurrection of the flesh.) The name Juan Evaristo Segismundo not only contains the social symbolism mentioned above, but also, according to Fortunata, symbolizes the fact that her child will carry the good traits of her three protectors.


The case of Torquemada is consistently in contrast with those described above. Before the composition of the Torquemada novels the usurer suffers the death of his wife, Sylvia. In Torquemada en la hoguera his son Valentín dies, and in the later trilogy the reader experiences successively the deaths of Rafael, Fidela and, finally, Torquemada himself. These deaths are all tragic deaths, with no spiritual or symbolic compensation, and as if this were not enough, the birth of the second Valentín is equally tragic, for the child turns out to be abnormal.

The deaths of Sylvia and Valentín force upon Torquemada an eternally bitter and cynical attitude towards life, for these two people, alive, were very definitely a saving grace in the protagonist's literary characterization. Torquemada is a man who is unable to feel compassion towards his fellow man, as is made so clear to the reader in the opening lines of Torquemada en la hoguera. He is generally seen to lack love, the emotion which for Galdós is all-important. It is the humanizing aspect. Without love one is to be considered less than human, as is seen in the cases of don Elías (Coletilla) of La Fontana de Oro and Fausto Babel of Angel Guerra. The love which Torquemada manages to show towards his wife and children keeps him from falling into the category of these latter. He was a devoted husband and a proud and loving father, thus demonstrating at least his ability to love and be compassionate. His lack of compassion towards all others, however, brings about the punishment which Galdós chooses for him. Torquemada loses precisely those people who were capable of bringing out his unknown side.46

The death of his wife, Sylvia, is prior to the actual novelistic movement and is not as symbolic as those deaths which occur within it. Torquemada, a correct and devoted husband, becomes a widower, and his family's structure is damaged. The money lender is left a compensation, however, for Sylvia has left him with two excellent children -Rufina and Valentín. It is the manner in which Torquemada does or does not appreciate this compensation which reflects the Galdosian superstructure found in this novel. The fact that the father's seeming worship of his son is based on Valentín's genius, rather than a normal father-son love relationship, is the structural cause of the child's death.

Practically all of Torquemada en la hoguera deals with the father's agony and despair in the face of his son's sickness and eventual death. And here one might return to the introductory comments of this essay in order to compare the death of Sylvia and Valentín with other deaths in Galdós' novels. There was no material aspect in the deaths or births referred to earlier. Gloria and Fortunata both died wishing for their children a happy existence in the future. The same is true of Villaamil with his grandson. This happy existence depended on love more than anything else. It was not just that Luisito Cadalso would be better cared for materially at this aunt's house, but also that there was no one left to love him in his own. A similar situation is found with respect to Fortunata's son. Though aware of Jacinta's wealth, it is Jacinta's desire to love and raise a child which is the overriding factor behind leaving Juan Evaristo with her. Sylvia's widower, however, does not possess this spiritual quality. Torquemada's ardent desire for Valentín to become famous is a twisted father-son relationship, similar to his ever-present desire for materialistic wealth. Love still exists, but materialism has become too important a basis for this love. Torquemada's love for his son is thus qualified, impure, and the son's sickness and death become the father's punishment.

The father's desperate attempt to do good deeds throughout the novel is an   —36→   explicit statement of his own realization that perhaps he is being punished for incorrect social behaviour. He is thus punished for two failures in love-his general mistreatment of his fellow man, and the particular misdirection of parental emotions. Though the death of his wife had still left him a future -in his son-, the death of his son now destroys whatever compensation the first death had presented.

In his article, «Torquemada: hombre-masa» (Anales galdosianos, II, 1967, pp. 29-43), Peter G. Earle assumes a position contrary to that expressed by Eoff. Earle paints a very critical picture of the one positive aspect in Torquemada's personality (I refer to it above as his saving grace):

En la primera novela no hay conflicto en lo que se refiere a la circunstancia y carácter de Torquemada. Sufre y agoniza, pero el único resultado de aquel sufrimiento y agonía (en torno a la muerte de Valentín) es la pérdida de una «posesión» más, si bien la más importante.


The tragedy for Torquemada is that he might have arrived at some spiritual reconciliation with his fellow man (despite the ironic errors found in his concept of charity, e.g. «No hay que agradecer nada... Pues no faltaba más. ¿No nos manda Dios vestir a los enfermos, dar de beber al triste, visitar al desnudo?...47) had Valentín lived. One must grant this as a Galdosian benefit of the doubt, perhaps viewing it in the larger context of the author's «spiritual naturalism».

In Torquemada en la cruz the reader finds the protagonist attempting to reestablish his happiness through remarriage. But this marriage is an ominous one, not only because of the earlier mentioned limitations on Torquemada's character, but also because of the family with which he is uniting. The union of these two houses augurs a bleak future both because of Torquemada's egotism and avarice, and because of the anachronistic aristocratic mentality of the Aguilas. What's more, the Aguilas contract marriage between Fidela and don Francisco because of their miserable economic situation, thus hoping to better themselves economically. They are therefore guilty of material thought processes similar to those found in the money lender's mind. (To a lesser extent, it is true, for though Cruz pushes the idea of marriage, Fidela is not very happy about it, and Rafael is completely opposed. It must be added, however, that Rafael's blindness prevents him from seeing correctly the sad conditions his sisters live in.)

Death soon returns to Torquemada's life, and symbolically it is similar to the previous death of Valentín. Rafael's suicide is a symbol of the end of a family line. When Torquemada decides to marry Fidela, the Aguila family has already reached absolute poverty; thus the young male successor simply has nothing to inherit. His blindness already serves as a representation of the end of the family's aristocratic position. His suicide brings about the end of the family name, which was, in any case forthcoming, for he would never have married. Casalduero neatly contrasts the respective roles of Rafael and Valentín II:

Es cierto que el ciego se equivoca en todo lo accidental -deslealtad de Fidela, esterilidad del matrimonio, fracaso social de Torquemada-; ve, sin embargo, lo esencial: la imposibilidad de soldar estas dos clases sociales, y ve principalmente que su papel en el mundo ha terminado. La imposibilidad de la unión de estas dos fuerzas, la monstruosidad del hijo de Fidela, confirman el juicio del ciego. Esto no impide que, entre él y Torquemada, la sociedad sirva al último; que entre él y el monstruo, sus hermanas se inclinen más y más hacia el niño y olviden al ciego.48


And, as Antonio Sánchez Barbudo remarks, Rafael's suicide represents the even greater sociological phenomenon of the disappearance of the aristocracy itself.49 On the level of plot, his death is a direct reflection of Torquemada's marriage to his sister, and this marriage becomes one marked not by life giving, as with Gloria and Daniel Morton, but by death, by emptiness.

This destructive aspect of Torquemada's marriage to Fidela can also be found in the birth of his second son, Valentín II. The child's abnormality is again a message of failure, a lack of succession. Torquemada's material wealth, earned through unsavoury methods, will not be inherited by an able male successor. And though the monster child will be well cared for, will, in fact, be rich, the situation is absolutely tragic, for Galdós has always shown himself to be more concerned with the passing on of spiritual rather than material values. One clearly understands the symbolic difference between the beautiful little baby Jesús in Gloria and the monster Valentín here!

Two deaths remain -Fidela's and Torquemada's own. In Fidela's death, at the end of part one of Torquemada y San Pedro, the phenomenon of punishment by the God-author is continued. Torquemada boils in indignation and frustration at the fact that destiny is taking away his pretty young wife, and bitterly complains that Cruz should die, and not Fidela. But Fidela's death is a logical conclusion to the step she took in marrying Torquemada. Through marriage without love to a character who violates Galdosian ideals she has tainted her innocence and has become a victim of the punitive pattern of failure through loss of succession and death. This is not to say, however, that marriage to Torquemada is the sole cause of Fidela's death. One must keep in mind what she represents socially. To a great extent, Galdós' criticism of class distinction in the nineteenth century is based on utilitarian principles, and the Aguilas are a specifically non-functional family from an archaic leisure class background.

Torquemada's death is an ugly one. As opposed to the peaceful deaths of more positive characters, Torquemada suffers immensely as he dies of what seems to be stomach cancer. He maintains, to the very end, a position outside of Galdós' system of spiritual values, never exhibiting, at this point, a characteristic which might be a saving grace, a possible escape from eternal damnation. He dies uttering the word «conversión», but one does not know whether he is referring to converting to true Catholicism or conversion of the foreign debt to a domestic one. Father Gamborena and Cruz convince him to leave one third of his inheritance to the poor (Part III, Chapters three and four), but this is hypocritical charity, an attempt to buy salvation, similar to his actions in Torquemada en la hoguera when he was trying to save his first son's life. And even this hypocritical charity is revoked, for the question of succession still occupies Torquemada's mind. In his delirium in chapter eight he tells the priest and Donoso that he wants his will changed and that all money should go to Valentín, the only person he finds himself able to trust.

-Oigame usted, padre -dijo a Gamborena cogiéndole una mano-: aquí no hay más persona decente que mi hijo, el pobre Valentín, que por lo mismo que no discurre es incapaz de hacerme daño ni de desear mi fallecimiento. Para él ha de ser todo el día en que el Señor se sirva disponer que yo suba al Cielo, día que está lejos aún, digan lo que quieran...

Y a Donoso, que también acudió a su llamamiento, le dijo:

-No hay nada de lo tratado, y tiempo de sobra tenemos para revocarlo. Todo lo que la ley   —38→   permita, y algo más que yo agencie con mis combinaciones, para Valentín, ese pedazo de ángel bárbaro y en estado de salvajismo bruto, pero sin malicia. ¡Y que no quiere poco a su padre el borriquito de Dios! Ayer me decía: «Pa, pa, ca, ja, ta, la, pa», que quiere decir: «Verás qué bien te lo guardo todo.»50

The importance of succession is repeated here, and, in Torquemada's case, ridiculed. Valentín is an abnormal child; he cannot speak and is basically a monster. Yet his father sees him as the only person who can continue the family line and attempts to leave him all of his material wealth. Valentín, in comparison with the many children of Galdós' novels, is an anti-son, a son who promises absolutely no future. Thus Torquemada's world represents the logical inverse situation of the idealized paradigm which Galdós' world is generally modelled upon. Whereas there is always some type of hope for those characters (or their children) who have adhered in some way to a correct set of moral or spiritual values, Torquemada consistently violates these values and thus repeatedly brings upon himself and his family a fatalistic punishment from without.

In «The Mundame Demon: The Bourgeois Grotesque in Galdós' Torquemada en la hoguera» (Symposium, XXIV, n. 2), B. J. Zeidner Bäuml reflects Galdós' novel against the backdrop of the challenge presented to traditional theology by nineteenth century anticlericalism.

This violation of once established order offers the same possibility of absurdity and the consequent development of the grotesque to Galdós as did the disintegration of the medieval theological system to Bosch, the decadence of seventeenth-century Spain to Quevedo, and that of the eighteenth century to Goya.

(p. 159)                

This adherence to a traditional approach is understandable in Galdós, a writer strongly representative of nineteenth century ideas and style. He accepts the concept of a given paradigm which directly reflects the reality of his time and presents his reader with a more or less apocalyptic vision, generally concentrating, at the end of his novels, on the moral or spiritual salvation of his characters. It was not until the Generation of 1898 that Spanish novelists began to break through the reality paradigm, and it is consequent with this breakthrough that the younger writers, specifically Unamuno, made light of Galdós' realistic portrayal of nineteenth century society. In their reaction to the soporific quality of the Restoration period most of the Generation of 1898 reacted equally to the man who best described it. The character of Francisco Torquemada, so perfectly logical in the nineteenth century context of moral cause and effect, is much too burdensome for the later writers who are in search of an artistic detachment which would have been premature in Galdós' time. The reality paradigm, as employed by Galdós, is a direct consequence of the society he lived in -a society rigidly based on certain systematic values. Whether Galdós approved or disapproved of these values, his artistic presentation was necessarily linked to the same systematic approach.

Brooklyn College

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