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ArribaAbajoOn «The birth of Fortunata»

Carlos Blanco-Aguinaga

Stephen Gilman's article on «The Birth of Fortunata», recently published in the first issue of these Anales (I, 1, 71-83) is, unquestionably, an interesting piece of work by a passionate «galdosiano». In its very conception, however, and often in the details with which Gilman argues for a purely symbolical interpretation of Fortunata's «birth» and for Fortunata's «angelicality», as well as for his notion of the novel -any novel- as depending strictly on the concept of «chemin» a parcourir ou parcouru by a character -social, historical or topographical aspects of the novel being only «accesory» (p. 71)- the article offers a radically mistaken interpretation both of Fortunata as a character and of the novel -.Fortunata y Jacinta- as a whole. Were it not because Gilman's approach and mishandling of details reveal a dangerously subjective kind of critical attitude and because «The Birth of Fortunata» may exert some influence in Galdós criticism -and, perhaps more widely, among Hispanists interested in «the novel»- we might let it all pass without comment. As it is -y con todo el dolor de nuestro corazón- an effort must be made to correct the article where correction appears to be needed.

*  *  *

Gilman begins by noting rightly the important «role played by birth» in Fortunata y Jacinta, «particularly in Part I» (p. 71). Indeed, one of the novel's fundamental structural conflicts seems to be in the opposition between Jacinta's sterility and Fortunata's potential fertility (which is fulfilled). Even before Fortunata's appearance, Jacinta's sterility is insistently contrasted with her mother's fertility and, as Gilman underlines, with the fertility of the whole city of Madrid. In this context we must therefore be ready to assume hypothetically that there may well be -as Gilman will claim there is- some symbolic value in the fact that when Fortunata appears for the first time she is sucking a raw egg. The relation between this basic theme and the question that occupies Gilman (that while the ancestry and birth of Juanito Santa Cruz are elaborately detailed, Fortunata appears before us un-announced and without ancestry) is simply and clearly established when Jacinta wonders: «¿Quién era la del huevo?», and finds the following answer: «Pues una chica huérfana que vivía con su tía, la cual era huevera y pollera en la Cava de San Miguel»2 (also quoted by Gilman, p. 76).

After introductory Section 1 of the article (The Birth of a Society), where he briefly gives his version of the «role played by birth» in the novel, in Section 2 (The Birth of a Prince) Gilman tackles his first problem, which we could pose as follows: why is it that Galdós devotes so much space to the relation of Juanito's family tree when he is only the son of a drygoods merchant and, as we soon realize, a worthless individual, a señorito? That «the birth of Juanito Santa Cruz» should be che crucial case history of this book of genesis» (p. 74) is puzzling because «the novel of señoritismo is by definition pointless» (p. 75) -an interesting idea (which mayor may not be correct), but an idea whose pursuit has unfortunately detracted Gilman from   —14→   answering the very important question about Juanito, implicitly posed. Gilman however poses the question directly as he begins Section 3 (The Birth of an Angel): «Why does Galdós spend chapter after chapter describing the Santa Cruz family, their multiple social relations, and their heroically born but insignificant heir?» (p. 75). The reason, we are told, is not simply to be found in the fact that Juanito is the «folcrum» between Jacinta and Fortunata -although this, of course, is «structurally» important (p. 75-76)- but rather in the fact that «the harshly emphasized disparity between his elaborate birth and his spiritual futility as an adult stands in contrast to the genesis of Fortunata. She is, in effect, the only major character whose birth is ignored or rather dismissed in one casual sentence... [for] ... In a novelistic world constructed upon genealogies Fortunata has none...» (p. 76). Apparently satisfied that he has thus answered the clearly posed question, Gilman goes on to state that Fortunata «is the sculptress of herself» (loc. cit.) after which he quickly proceeds to study the problem posed by stressing the fact that, although lacking genealogy, «Fortunata's curious manner of entry [into the novel] is no less significant [than Juanito's]» (loc. cit.); he proceeds, that is, to the problem of «the birth of an angel».

This is, of course, his major enterprise and we understand that he should want to get on with it as quickly as possible. But we cannot quite proceed with his speed for we are too painfully aware of the fact that his jumping off answer (that the novel offers us Juanito's detailed genealogy because Fortunata «has none»), is a tautology based on two unanswered questions: why are we given Juanito's complete lineage? why are we not given Fortunata's lineage?3 Both for reasons of logic and because the questions asked are basic to at least the beginning of a proper reading of Fortunata y Jacinta, we should try to answer them before moving on. Indeed, the answers to the two basic questions in the end, depend on each other -for, obviously, we cannot understand Juanito without Fortunata, or viceversa- but they can and must first be found independently. Only when they are thus found will we truly begin to understand the structural tension or contrast that results from the fact that Juanito has a lineage while «Fortunata has none»; only then, therefore, will the tautology be avoided; only in the process of answering the two basic questions shall we meaningfully move on to the related questions of Fortunata's angelicality and the symbolic meaning of her opening scene; and only then will we be able to avoid the confusion and the several errors of interpretation upon which Section 3 of Gilman's article (The Birth of an Angel) is based.

We must start then from the obvious fact -the most obvious of facts for all «galdosianos» not bent on mixing levels of reality and on putting all their bets on one very obvious symbol lifted out of all context- that Juanito and Fortunata live in a world which is the novelistic reflection -with all the fictional creativity that this implies- of a specific moment of the History of Madrid. Thus, our two answers will have to be found by asking what Juanito and Fortunata signify in that History, in the society from which they have been created («born», brought to life by the author), the society of the city from which they both emerge, each in its particular way.

Quite possibly Gilman might reject the validity of this starting point for he believes that in Fortunata y Jacinta Galdós «seems to be saying» that «societies may be studied by novelists or guided by politicians, but that the soil from which they grow is maternity» (p. 74), and this paradoxically seems to have liberated him from the task of studying both the society in which the two characters live and how they   —15→   live in it. Yet one wonders: if novelists do «study» societies, should not students of the novel try at least to take a look at those societies?

It happens that Gilman himself offers evidence that years before he wrote Fortunata y Jacinta Galdós had taken note of a telling historical fact clearly relevant for a good reading of his great novel: «La Corte ha partido para La Granja» -he quotes Galdós as writing- «[...] Pero en torno de la Corte propiamente dicha, se han levantado poco a poco otras cortes y otros tronos; junto a las rancias y apergaminadas aristocracias se han levantado otras aristocracias. Si la nobleza de la sangre sigue a la Corte, la nobleza del dinero permanece en Madrid; las lujosas tiendas continúan abiertas, ofreciendo al público sus variados adminículos; el lujo y la moda que no abdican ni son destronados jamás...» (p. 74). Yet, the only conclusion he draws from this text is that «now, in 1886, the sardonic substitution is exemplified by a dynasty of drygoods merchants» (p. 74). Be it sufficient to say that Gilman here uses the wrong adjective to qualify «substitution» for if Galdós' tone is sardonic the «substitution» he briefly describes was historical. Had Gilman considered this, he could have entitled the first section of his article not The Birth of a Society, but, more appropriately, The Birth of a Class. This might have saved him no end of trouble for it would have led him to the first obvious step one must take for the study of this particular contrast in lineages, since Juanito, whatever else may distinguish him from all other human beings, is, first of all, a characteristically non-productive product of one of the families of the, then, growing Spanish bourgeoisie: la nobleza del dinero. But Gilman obviously prefers to avoid the obvious. He uses the word «bourgeois» only twice (p. 74 and 75), and very unobtrusively. Yet, had he underlined the validity of that word in the context of Fortunata y Jacinta, half his problems would have appeared as the no-problems they really are. But then, instead of the apparently never boring «originalities» about «chemins» he would have been obliged to repeat some of the supposedly obviously boring common-places on how and why the power acquired recently -in Spain- at the base (dinero) by the middle class had to be reflected in the creation of a new superstructure as well as in the assimilation and transformation of certain forms of the old. It was happening in Spain in the 80's as it once happened -a classic and surely a far too «obvious» example- after the French Revolution when the bourgeoisie managed finally to obtain all control and, in the end, even created a bourgeois king for itself.

Much, indeed, can be in a name, in a lineage, if the reality behind it is that of a new ruling class whose power is needed and accepted while its right to a lineage is still denied. During the 1880's in Spain great stock was being put into the value of non-aristocratic names, for the bourgeois revolution was not fully accomplished and a man dealing in drygoods felt the need to show something besides hard work, punctuality and money to the men of leisure who went to La Granja and who were wheeling and dealing with him-through the Banco de España, for instance, known earlier as the Banco de San Fernando- and were even, if need be, marrying his daughters... whose lineages, of course, did not matter to them. The true power of the new class, its true liberation from a lineageless origin in the «tiers état» could very well be symbolized, on the one hand in the purchase of títulos and, on the other, in the rearing of a non-productive son, a señorito (only half in jest called Delfín) who would compete with his aristocratic counterparts in uselessness and in his love of leisure and women of the pueblo.4


If we now turn from the general to the particular, the reason for the attention paid by Galdós to Juanito's lineage becomes clear when we remember a detail to which Gilman avoids all reference: that in Part I of the novel, in that «book of genesis» (p. 72) where so much space is, indeed, devoted to «the role played by birth», no less space is devoted to the narration of the growth and vicissitudes of two family businesses. In fact, -and Gilman somehow overlooks this- it is one and the same space for without the shadow of a doubt, the evolution of the businesses of the Santa Cruz and Arnaiz families is inseparably linked to «the role played by birth», as the title of Section II of the First Part (where most of the births take place) makes it plain: «Santa Cruz y Arnaiz. Un vistazo histórico sobre el comercio matritense». This «vistazo» occupies six chapters and, in effect, continues for quite a few pages more through Section III, entitled «Estupiñá» (Estupiñá, who at the time of the action is practically a servant of the Arnaiz family, began as an hortera in the original store). The long and detailed «vistazo» must be accounted for whether one is or not interested in «history» or «social categorizations» (Gilman's phrase, p. 72), because, there it is; there is the text in which Galdós follows the growth of a business which was originally insignificant at the end of the XVIII Century as it becomes, first a solid, and then, an old-fashioned business, at which time Santa Cruz transfers it to two hardworking young nephews who bring it, again, up to date. And in an apparently parallel (but, as we soon realize, truly diagonal) movement we also see the Arnaiz business follow a roughly comparable pattern, except that the business is brought up to date and saved (and therefore made to prosper even more), not by any nephews, but by Jacinta's mother, Doña Isabel Arnaiz, whom we thus see not only -and not even first5- as a woman capable of bearing many children -the only role assigned to her by Gilman besides that of matchmaker-but as an imaginative business woman with a sharp sense of what the changing market demands. Thus if her fertility is overwhelming, it is so at the two inseparable levels which Gilman, unlike Galdós, chooses to separate, thus overlooking one of them as if it were irrelevant.

Throughout these pages -which, interestingly enough, Gilman finds «stale» and «boring», p. 75- in which business growth and the «role played by birth» are inseparably united «chapter after chapter», almost no significant historical reference is avoided by Galdós: he mentions the founding of the Banco de San Fernando (crucial for the growth of XIX Century Castilian business, both honest and crooked), the importance of Oriental trade for certain lines of the drygoods business, the dangers of Catalin «dumping» (throughout the national market) under tariff protections, the role played by foreign investments in the «modernization» of Spain, and -unavoidably- the political ups and downs of the Century and their consequences for business («desamortización», Carlista wars, the «Cantonada», the First Republic, etc.), as well, of course, as Madrid's topographical changes, often compared by the Santa Cruz', Arnaiz' and their friends to those of other European capitals which the Spanish bourgeoisie particularly liked and wished to imitate. Then, at long last, we reach the temporary plateau where the novel has started: the moment in which the struggling Spanish middle class seems to have finally achieved its main objective and believes to have become, in effect, the determining factor in social change and -so they liked to believe- «society» itself (its only «problems» being, of course, the stubborn disinterest and/or opposition of what we may call the «feudal» mentality of the Aristocracy and the Church, the bothersome political and military disturbances and, clearly at the   —17→   bottom of the list in the Spain of the 80's, the beginning of the proletariat's push, the emergence of what, quite properly, Galdós calls «el cuarto estado»).

By avoiding any reference to these historical «perogrulladas» Gilman soon falls into the most common of anti-historical traps when he writes that «In another age in accord with the possibilities and necessities of his station, Juanito [the family «hero»] would have converted infidels by force of arms or at the very least -like Calisto- have excelled in tournaments» (p. 75). The fact is that in another age -we must insist on what becomes obvious if one avoids abstractions and takes a look at History- Juanito, a false Delfín, would have been as devoid of lineage as Fortunata in the 1880's since it is made absolutely clear in the novel that his lineage begins with his family's business at the end of the XVIII Century. Thus, the likes of him might indeed have converted the infidels by force «in another age», but as the lowest of common soldiers (hardly what might have happened in «another age» to members of the Mendoza family, for instance), and, as sure as the Castilian textile industry collapsed between the time of Calisto and that of Philip II, they would never have «excelled in tournaments». Our señorito is of a time and of a class, as Galdós, «chapter after chapter» makes sure we know. One thing he can and does do -given the historical, social and topographical reality in which he moves when he goes slumming or visiting an old servant- is to come upon Fortunata, the young girl from the Cava de San Miguel who «in a novelistic world constructed upon genealogies... has none».

In «a novelistic world» as a reality unrelated to reality? We must insist on the obvious again: that no matter what the internal, «novelistic» reasons may be -and we should not for a minute believe that there are no such reasons-, some «novelistic» worlds -Galdós', Tolstoy's or Dostoevski's, for instance- are «constructed upon genealogies» because the world is so constructed; and that it is sheer critical folly to avoid looking into the relationship between the two «worlds». The simple truth is that, turning now to Fortunata, she «has none» because she was «una chica huérfana que vivía con su tía... en la Cava de San Miguel»; i.e., because as Madrid's social topography immediately reveals to us, we are told by that simple statement that she was a part of the «cuarto estado». Gilman may believe that Galdós was concerned in this novel with «the tree [of life] itself» and not with «questions of urban topography or abstract social categorization» (p. 72), yet the Cava de San Miguel is exactly below and South West of the Plaza Mayor, exactly between La Latina (which still had streets with elegant houses, especially towards the vicinity of the Royal Palace) and La Arganzuela, five or six blocks from the Plaza de La Cebada and Puerta de Moros, at the beginning, therefore, of what in the middle of the XVII Century was a neighborhood overpopulated by picaros and in the 1880's was a barrio still largely populated by picaros, chulos and chulapas, as well as by workers on their way «up» and artisans on their way «down» (topographically speaking, the Center of Madrid was slightly North of The Plaza Mayor and high; the outskirts -around which thousands of forgotten human beings lived a literally sub-urban life as the migrations to the capital from the South grew in the late eighties- were South and low. The outskirts began no more than ten blocks away from the Cava de San Miguel; from the bottom of the Cava, at the top of the Ribera de Curtidores, one could have a clear view of these suburban slums). It is fundamental, therefore -since trees do have roots- that we notice where Fortunata appears, for it is no accident, nor a Galdosian whim, and in order to understand properly the profound «contrast» between her life and that of Juanito we must realize that she could not possibly have appeared,   —18→   for instance, in a home North East of the Plaza Mayor, where Juanito lives -that would have been a different novel, with different internal needs- for she was of the lowest social class.6

This first and basic bit of information, given with a minimum of details -pollería, huérfana, Cava de San Miguel- is amplified by what we learn of her relatives. It happens that Fortunata does have a family, to which Gilman avoids all reference. For one, there is her aunt, Segunda Izquierdo, the owner of the pollería who for years lived out of wedlock with a picador: one could get lower than this in the Madrid of the 1880's, but Segunda falls easily within the economic and cultural range of the «cuarto estado». Fortunata's uncle, José Izquierdo, also reveals much to us. He is a useless old pícaro and drunkard who pretends to have participated in every «revolutionary» movement of the second half of the XIX Century in Spain. The fact that most surely he is lying and that, according to Galdós, he was really a coward7 should not detract our attention from a most interesting detail: he pretends to believe in revolutionary ideas, he insistently attacks all «moderates» and he claims -loudly and for all to hear, including his niece- that the solution to Spain's problems is to burn down everything and everybody representing the Establishment. He is a crook, he does ally himself with the ruling class for the sake of surviving while avoiding work and, thus, by revolutionary standards, he cannot possibly be compared, for instance, to the men who were then hard at work in the Spanish section of the International. But at a primitive -and, as we know, inauthentic- level he does reveal to us the existence of a class consciousness, the consciousness that Fortunata's class was developing in Spain against the bourgeoisie precisely at the time of our novel. Galdós, being a bourgeois novelist8 who only very late understood the true meaning of the rise of the «cuarto estado» in Spain, delights in revealing the inauthenticity of Izquierdo's revolutionary ideas and attitudes and -with great verisimilitude- creates a Fortunata apparently lacking in class consciousness. But as to what class Fortunata belongs and in what basic way she is contrasted to Juanito we should not have the slightest doubt; certainly not after we become acquainted with her aunt and her uncle.

Thus, we could easily construct the outline of a very probable genealogy for Fortunata: she was probably born out of wedlock; there is a good chance she may have been of immigrant Extremeño or Andalusian descent; as there is also a good chance she may have been born South of the Puerta de Toledo or, at best, in some filthy inner patio of the Calle Calatrava, or Mira el Río Alta, or Curtidores, the kind of living quarters Jacinta is appalled by on her visit to the «cuarto estado».9 But were we thus to indulge in educated guesswork we would surely diminish the effect Galdós achieves: Fortunata, simply, belongs to the «cuarto estado» and, like everybody else in it, she is socially speaking an «orphan». This is the basic reason why, in opposing Juanito to Fortunata (and Jacinta to Fortunata), genealogy is contrasted with the lack of genealogy, and the birth of the «hero» to the sudden appearance -not «genesis!»- of the «heroine», as if from nowhere.10

For a moment Gilman leads us to believe that -without detracting from what is not «social» or «historical» in the events- all of this is perhaps going to be made clear when he writes: «Let us begin with the obvious, the social implications», (p. 77). However, although Gilman casually mentions the society of the Restauración, he does not carry through with its analysis but goes on to analyze the symbolic meaning of   —19→   the scene in which Fortunata appears sucking a raw egg. He reproduces the brief exchange between Fortunata and Juanito and proceeds to explain how Galdós makes the contrast between the two «far more effective [than if she had appeared naked!] by dressing his heroine as an animal -or, to be specific, as a chicken waiting her own rum for death» (p. 77). Since in the following description of Fortunata we see that «La moza tenía un pañuelo azul claro, por la cabeza y un mantón sobre los hombros» (loc. cit.) we must conclude that Gilman has again used the wrong word at a crucial point in his argument (which is now moving towards the question of the symbolic value of ornithological references relating to Fortunata), because Fortunata is, in fact, not dressed as a chicken (or even a hen, which would be more exact) but, simply, as we shall see below, like any madrileña of the lower classes in 1886. There might be, of course, a metaphorical relationship crest -pañuelo por la cabeza, but then, since the pañuelo she wears is blue, are we to assume Galdós was color-blind? In using the verb to dress, Gilman meant perhaps that Fortunata moves like a hen, which is precisely what Galdós describes: «[...] se infló [como]... una gallina que esponja su plumaje...». If, however, the «ornithological comparison» (p. 78) to which Gilman is trying to call our attention seems to be important in the presentation of Fortunata, he overlooks that in moving like a hen, Fortunata is not being unique at all but following custom, city and class custom, as Galdós clearly specifies in the very same paragraph: «hizo ese característico arqueo de brazos y alzamiento de hombros con que las madrileñas del pueblo se agazapan dentro del mantón, movimiento que les da cierta semejanza..., etc.»

Nevertheless, we shall go along with Gilman in overlooking this disturbing bit of «social categorization» and accept that, although «bird imagery is frequent in all of Galdós as in other naturalists» (p. 78), references to Fortunata relating her to the «república de las aves» (p. 78), are common in the novel and somehow fundamentally significant. As proof Gilman offers about ten such references from the 1000 -odd pages of text. It probably matters little if at least three of them are inconsequential: if the fact that Fortunata's «very thoughts are birdlike («deja [a su idea] revolotear por el techo)» (p. 78), for example, only shows that she was as immersed in vulgar metaphors as most Spaniards who use the phrase; that she «hatches» (empollar) her thoughts only shows that she is as immersed in vulgar metaphors as anybody who uses the phrase in practically any language; it matters least, I suppose that Gilman considers it especially significant that Fortunata even «prays to the Virgen de la Paloma» (p. 78): are we to consider this an essential part of her personal «chemin», when la Paloma is La Latina's very own popular Virgin whose church is only some six blocks from the Cava de San Miguel, in the heart of one of the districts of Fortunata's very own «cuarto estado»?

Moreover, we find «ornithological» references all over the book not relating to Fortunata. As for instance: when during her honeymoon Jacinta cats birds and worries much about the «chemin» they may have followed from freedom to her dish;11 when Jacinta's anger is at least twice described as a «rabia» or «cólera» de paloma;12 when Barbarita II is twice called «polla»13 and she and Moreno Isla «pollos»;14 when someone refers to Moreno Isla as a «pajarraco»;15 when we are told his ideas flew about like «palomas»;16 when don Francisco de Quevedo's flat is described as being full of birds and cages;17 when Ballester explains that his head, not Maxi's, is a real «pajarera»;18 when we are told that Isabel, Jacinta's mother, died like a «pajarito»;19 or when Doña Lupe la de los Pavos (no less!) refers to the Holy Ghost -¡nada menos!   —20→   - as «El Pajarete».20 The reader can easily multiply this sampling of mostly purely colloquial expressions by ten or twenty. As he does so, and just for the sake of good measure, he should not forget that, in the most common of all expressions, Juanito's mother refers to him as «mi pollo»21 and that a señorito is -or should be- pollo pera.22 Finally, let us quickly recall that, in most languages, «ornithological» references are specially unavoidable when one is concerned with the «role played by birth» or, to be more exact, by sex.

Because Gilman overlooks all these possibilities we cannot but agree with his statement that «the mythological implications of Fortunata's first appearance must be approached with even greater caution» (p. 79), especially since «there is in the text no overt reference to the well-known description of the birth of Eros in The Birds» (p. 79). Yet somehow Gilman believes that «the emergence of Eros from the unfertilized egg [in The Birds] points to a truth about Fortunata [?] which we might otherwise have overlooked. It is simply that she -the one character lacking in genealogy and birth, itself- has been hatched from the egg she holds in her hand. On the literal and sociological level, of course, she cats it [how does one eat an egg «on the sociological level?»], but on that of the myth she emerges from it» (p. 79). For Galdós, we are told, was a «mythmaker» and Fortunata is perhaps «the most profoundly mythological being to be produced in 19th Century Spain». Nevertheless, Gilman warns us to be «cautious» and not take the myth literally: «She is not Eros, of course», he explains «She is an angel!» (p. 79-80). That is why -in spite of her lack of genealogy, we suppose; or is it because of that lack?- there is in the end a «sublime purposefulness to her death and transfiguration», and when «she at long last flies to heaven accompanied by a chorus of birdsong: («el piar de los pájaros también se precipitaba en aquel sombrío confín»), «who would dare to doubt her salvation?» (p. 80).

This jump from «Eros» to «angel» is too fast for us; certainly not cautious enough; and again a fine example of how to avoid the obvious, which in this case -as we suggested above and as Gilman seemed about to indicate- is simply that, when speaking of eggs, birds, women and men (specifically of a «hen» seduced by a pollo pera) sex is at least on the surface of things. Especially when the «hen» in question -also called «pájara mala»-23 is first seen indulging in a most obviously symbolic erotic act. And, perhaps above all, when it is time and again made clear through the novel that, compared to restrained Jacinta, Fortunata has the sexuality of a wild and beautiful animal. The conflict Fortunata-Jacinta is no doubt one of fertility against sterility, as it is a class conflict; but it also is a sexual conflict. Readers of this novel might as well face it: Fortunata -our much beloved and foolish Fortunata may perhaps not be «Eros», but when Juanito seduced her he was not thinking either about maternity or angels, as Gilman knows, yet seems to overlook.

The argument leading to the last line of the article («who would dare to doubt her salvation?») is, of course, totally unacceptable to us simply because we dare doubt Fortunata's «salvation». This for at least five reasons:

1. Because, since the text does not say so, it cannot be said that Fortunata «flies to heaven» but, at most, that she thinks she does;24

2. Because we cannot say Fortunata «flies accompanied by a chorus of birdsong» for the simple reason that no such scene is ever described by Galdós. The «piar de los pájaros» who also «precipitated» themselves into darkness is mentioned as occurring out in the street when, in her death-bed, Fortunata loses consciousness for the first time (and that loss, by the way, is   —21→   the «darkness» mentioned) some twenty pages and several hallucinations before she finally dies. It must be recalled that during this hallucinatory stage -prelude to her angelic delusions- Galdós clearly writes, not once but twice, that Fortunata believed she saw what did not exist;25

3. Because «transfiguration» is here a term strictly of Gilman's invention. Galdós does not use the word nor does he give the slightest hint that there may have been such a «transfiguration». Fortunata is, indeed. transtornada, but hardly transfigurada. To confuse these two realities is to read novels as don Quijote or Emma Bovary read them;

4. Because we do not know what Gilman means by «salvation». If he means something like the posthumous and ambiguous social status achieved by Fortunata through her gift of the baby Juan Evaristo to Jacinta -the brilliant idea she brings back from her first hallucination- we cannot deny that there is a kind of triumph in her defeat. But we must not forget that when she announces her plans to the baby. Fortunata tells him: «estarás tan ricamente, hijo mío... ello será por tu bien».26 Rather than some kind of mythical «salvation», then, might this not possibly be a new version of Lazarillo's law: arrimarse a los buenos?

If by «salvation» Gilman means religious salvation, we must, of course, remember that Fortunata never received the last rites -either because she did not think she needed them since she thought she had heard directly from above, or because she was already too far gone27 -and that both «la santa» and the late-arriving priest are quite upset when instead of admitting her sins she insists on murmuring she is an angel.28 Of course, Galdós is not particularly known for his orthodox and devout Catholicism; but then...

If by «salvation» is meant something much less precise, such as for instance, that Fortunata «lives» in us and that we «absolve» her in spite of her innumerable foolish deeds, and very especially against «la Santa» if need be, because we cannot quite believe she is a diabla29 we should have no quarrel. But then that does not require that she be an «angel» or «fly to heaven»;

5. Because when Fortunata is dying she may think she is an angel -like others, including Fortunata, think Jacinta is one30 but, unfortunately, we have no proof of it. In view of the fact that she dies «creyendo ver lo que no existía» our scepticism may well be justified. This scepticism cannot but grow when we remember that once before, during her stay at «Las Micaelas», in the throes of a previous hallucination, she -«la muy tonta»- thought she had a most peculiar conversation with God.31

It might well be that Gilman did not mean that we should take his written word literally. But whether «angel» means «angel» or something else, in the context of that final «salvation» Gilman invents for poor, foolish, unfortunate Fortunata, it is a word that implies her victory over all things and people in the book: against all evidence Gilman seems to believe whatever Fortunata believes to be true. We cannot be so one-sided in our reading of the novel, among other things, because along her «chemin» Fortunata is almost consistently wrong about everything. For instance, as Gilman himself points out (footnote 17, p. 81): she believes Columbus was a contemporary general, «como O'Donnell o Prim». Coming from an uneducated orphan of the «cuarto estado», this in itself is not a very grave matter; but we cannot help suspecting that this kind of ignorance, if multiplied by Fortunata's feverish imagination (la loca de la casa) was for Galdós, in the context of the novel's conflicts, a dangerously explosive combination that could not possibly lead anyone to «salvation». Yet, in the last instance, it is precisely in this ignorance that Gilman finds Fortunata's saving grace, for although he admits that this «quality» (in general, Fortunata's ignorance of reality) is fatal for her (since it is at the root of her «inability to discern the decadence of Juanito»), he finds in it a «sublime», «true intuition into the nature of Life», for she is, like Huck Finn, «a figure designed to challenge an age which   —22→   believed with Comte and Hegel that all understanding is necessarily historical» (footnote 17).

Thus, in an apparently unobstrusive footnote we finally reach the heart of the matter: like Fortunata and Huck Finn, and, of course, like Don Quijote, all three of whom failed precisely because of their lack of historical understanding, Steve Gilman seems to have here set out to challenge the historical and/or sociological approach to literature which, to the dismay of many, insists on reminding us that no amount of imaginative symbolical criticism and unprecise textual reading, regardless of how buttressed up it appears by subjective theories of Literature, is sufficient to skirt the problems posed by the fact that a reasonable understanding of «the novelistic world» demands that we attend to the dialectical relationships fiction-reality32 and character-society; that particularly when we are dealing with XIX Century novels the understanding of these complex relationships demands that we try to attend to «history», «social categorizations» and, at times, to «topography»; or, to make it less general: that we try to attend to these elements as much at least as the particular novelist in a particular novel attends to them. This is the least Fortunata y Jacinta deserves; it is certainly the minimum we owe to Galdós' profound sense of history; and what else in order to try to understand her, can we offer our ignorant, beautiful, powerless and unfortunate Fortunata, who somehow -as against what Gilman believes- never managed to be, the «sculptress of herself?»

At the very opening of his article Gilman writes that «Fortunata y Jacinta is a world of interlaced streets, professions, and classes, perhaps the most complex world ever to be constructed within the frontiers of a single book». «But -he adds- we must not be misled by the imitatio mundi». And then: «Galdós thought of himself primarily as a creator of life and lives» (p. 71). Are we to understand that these are «lives» without mundo? If so, it is no wonder that some would rather choose to be «misled» by the textually non-demonstrable imitatio of The Birds which, if at all present in Fortunata y Jacinta, does not carry -sowe are told- the old basic «erotic» meaning, anyway!

We frankly think it would be wiser to try to approach the problem of the absolute uniqueness of «novelistic» lives by attending rigorously not only to their «contrasting» relationships, but -among other things, and preferably as a starting point- by attending to the dialectical relationship existing between those lives and the world reflected in the work of fiction. We are, or course, not asking for anyone to attend to what Gilman loosely calls the «obvious» «social implication» (p. 77), but rather to the social reality from which is born the reality of realistic fiction. In the case of Fortunata y Jacinta, only when this is done in order to understand the question of the «lineage» of some characters -Juanito, Jacinta- in relation to that of the lack of lineage of Fortunata, do we have the right to explore what else may be involved in Fortunata's obviously symbolic «opening scene».

All of which, of course, is not meant to deny that Gilman may be right in believing that a novel is, above all, the «chemins» of its characters; but -as any reader of L'Education sentimentale or of Gilman's often referred to Le rouge et le noir, or for that matter, of Galdós, ought to know- roads only pass through History. Except those of angels, of course. But then -we cannot but agree- they are birds of a different feather.

University of California. La Jolla, California

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