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ArribaAbajoAlfred Rodríguez and the Episodios of Galdós

Madeleine de Gogorza Fletcher

Alfred Rodríguez has made an interesting addition to the recent bibliography on the Episodios nacionales, entitled, An Introduction to the Episodios Nacionales of Galdós.263 The book has many merits. As a doctoral thesis published after the appearance of Hans Hinterhäuser's work264 and simultaneously with that of Antonio Regalado,265 it is surprisingly free from overlaps with these other two publications.

The book contains only one element which, to my way of thinking, blurs its focus. This is the treatment of the relationship of literary style to historical content in the chapter «History in the Episodios Nacionales». Here Rodríguez' central point is that there is no change in Galdós' approach to history over the course of the forty years in which Galdós wrote the Episodios and that the stylistic differences visible in the Episodios nacionales do not reflect any such change. Rodríguez says:

A distinction is frequently made, for example, on the basis of the general literary tone of each Series. The epic tone of the First Series is often contrasted to the dramatic qualities of the Second, a procedure that is readily extended to the remaining units: the Third Series, melodramatic; the Fourth, paradoxical; and the Fifth, farcical. But these essentially literary variations do not indicate any significant changes in Galdós' approach to History.

Galdós did not alter his point of view from Series to Series; but merely reinforced, in plot and characterization, the variety of tones that anyone may perceive in historical works, however objectively documented.

(p. 29)                

Rodríguez seems to conceive of history as a collection of unequivocal facts which, like a thermometer or a road map, present the same face to all and from which only one accurate reading can be obtained. He states, for example, that Galdós was accurate and impartial in his selection of historical data: «Galdós' impartial selection of textual sources, his undistorted and precise use of the data they provided, have been demonstrated in a number of studies» (p. 35). And as the basis of this statement he mentions the work of C. Vásquez Arjona in a footnote. I have nothing to add to the intelligent criticism that Hinterhäuser makes of Vásquez Arjona's study:266 it seems clear that Galdós' use of liberal historians' works, however accurately he reproduces their material, will tend to make the question turn on the accuracy and impartiality of those historians. Perspectivism is ever the curse and glory of historical writing.

Rodríguez further claims objectivity for Galdós' treatment of history in the selection of events stressed: «Most noteworthy, however, is the fact that Galdós' objectivity extends to the very process of selection that determines what personages and events are to be stressed» (p. 36). Here again we must raise the question, what are the standards for judging this objectivity? As testimony for the conclusion opposite to Rodríguez', namely that Galdós' selection of historical events to be treated cannot be called «objective», we have Galdós' failure to devote much space to description of the guerrilleros in the War of Independence. This is a distortion of history in view of their generally acknowledged role as one of the most important factors in the Spanish victory over the French. The fact that Galdós devoted only one of the ten volumes to their   —180→   exploits and chose El Empecinado, the only liberal guerrillero (far from representative), has been seen as a problem. Joaquín Casalduero convincingly explains this onlission as evidence of Galdós' horror of the guerrilleros in view of their performance in the later Carlist wars.267 This is only one bit of evidence revealing Galdós' lack of objectivity or balance in his historical picture. Another would be his preference for Madrid as the scene of novelistic action, which caused him to ignore important events that happened in the cities of the periphery. Pío Baroja noticed Galdós' lack of concrete knowledge of these places, and Baroja's comments on Galdós' description of La Guardia268 confirm our suspicion that when Galdós took himself away from his favorite scene, he rarely described the outlying districts with first-hand knowledge.269

A similar confusion about the nature of historical writing is characteristic of other judgments that Rodríguez makes about history. In his discussion of «History as Novel: Perception and Representation», he contrasts the history book with the novel and finds a basic difference between them in the «perception of historical reality that is proper to [the history] text and novel respectivelp (p. 40). In his effort to find the «basic difference» which might properly if somewhat unimaginatively be found in the format, Rodríguez turns to historical subject matter and concludes that the history book is unable to deal with detail except as undifferentiated background.270 But what about history books in which, for example, details like the fluctuation of the price of bread are the central focus in a study of the French Revolution?271 Rodríguez absolutely denies any important change in Galdós' attitude toward history over the course of forty years and forty-five Episodios nacionales. After listing several changes in style and presentation within the Episodios he sums up: «In any case, the reasons and qualifications noted once again suggest that the differences studied do not reflect important changes in the novelist's fundamental conception of historical reality» (p. 31).

Rodríguez goes on to differ with Casalduero's statement about a change in approach to history within the Episodios:

In commenting upon the last four Episodios Nacionales, Casalduero has observed, finally, that Galdós wrote the history of 1874 with an eye to that of 1907. The critic subsequently deduced a basic alteration in the novelist's approach to History:

Antes hacía depender el presente del pasado, de manera positivista se consideraba el presente como efecto del pasado, la causa; ahora ve como todo el pasado se organiza e interpreta desde el presente.

Such a broad generalization is unwarranted from the critic's observation that Galdós, in the process of recreating a period of the past, stressed aspects of that past which were similar to events occurring in his own day. The novelist was not averse to emphasizing -in exemplary fashion- the similarities that appeared between past and present in the process of his novelization, but the only factor of importance is that the past is never altered for the sake of that emphasis, that it in no way ceases to function as a causal explanation of the present.

(p. 31)                

In raising this objection to Casalduero's statement, Rodríguez seems to be motivated by a laudable if misplaced zeal to defend Galdós from the charge of «altering» the past -once again because of the notion that there is only one objectively true historical picture, any departure from which involves changing the facts or slighting the truth. What Casalduero has succinctly pointed out in the passage cited, is that a change in historical perspective has occurred between the young Galdós and the post-1898 Galdós. Everyone who writes about the past has a historical perspective. No one is «objective»   —181→   in the sense of uninvolved in judgments that are contingent upon one's position in historical place and time. The reason for the change in Galdós' perspective is the course of events between 1879 and 1898. The young Galdós assumed that the Restoration was going to incorporate the liberal gains of the revolutionary period of 1868-74 and provide a sound basis for a healthy society. But from the vantagepoint of the early twentieth century, the Restoration seemed to Galdós to have delayed the solution of Spain's enormous fundamental problems by diverting public attention to the meaningless activity of a sham parliament based on falsified elections. As a direct consequence, the hope and expectation for the future evident in Series I and II give way in Series III, IV, and V, to sarcasm and disillusionment.272

In 1870-1879, when he wrote the first two series of Episodios, Galdós drew a definite politico-didactic moral from the historical picture. Confident that the Bourbon Restoration would be a period of consolidation of the liberal gains of 1868-74 and wary of the excesses of the revolutionary period, Galdós called for patience, reconciliation, and mutual tolerance (he drew the lesson from the trienio of 1820-23, showing the excesses of the exaltados). This emphasis on reconciliation and moderation is echoed in the characters who structure the plots: in the first series the reconciliation of Aminta-Santorcaz (aristocrat-revolutionary), in the second series the attempted reconciliation of Navarro-Monsalud (Carlist-liberal), and so forth. The figure of Soledad in Series II is the symbol of the return to private life that Galdós recommended for his revolutionary liberal hero Salvador Monsalud. In short, Galdós called for the revolutionaries to lay down their arms, leave their conspiracies, and join the quiet evolution of Restoration society represented by Benigno Cordero.

In the later series (III, IV, and V), which he wrote after 1898, Galdós saw, looking backward, the historical trajectory of that same Restoration period he had been looking forward to in the first Episodios. But how different it appeared in retrospect from what he had imagined it was going to be in the 1870's! The bitterness and disillusionment of his vision was deepened by the contrast with his earlier hopes. Galdós now looked back to this period with the eyes of a man whose hopes had been deceived, and in criticizing it he attacked the errors and defects of both past and present. This then is the meaning of Casalduero's observation. It is this play of perspectives on the Restoration period which we can call a change in historical perspective in the Episodios, as Galdós first looked ahead to the Restoration and then back on it.

In historical writing the past is judged from the perspective of an ever changing present, and it was the historical circumstance of Galdós in 1898-1912 that caused him to have such a dark opinion of the Restoration and what had preceded it, not the intrinsic nature of the period itself as Rodríguez continually supposes.273 Recently, in fact, our further experience of Spanish history has caused a change of judgments about the Restoration in the late twentieth century. As distinguished a historian as the late Jaime Vicens Vives has written:

La Restauración fue, esencialmente, un acto de fe en la convivencia hispánica. Aún hoy cabe admirar el tacto con que se procedió a la redacción de la Carta constitucional de 1876, la imparcialidad que presidió la redacción de los grandes códigos legales: el Código civil, la Ley Hipotecaria, las leyes de Enjuiciamiento civil y criminal.274


Now we must turn our attention to the point with which we began this discussion: the question of whether this changing historical perspective is an important element in the stylistic transformations that we see in the Episodios. Since we have already defined what the change in perspective is, I believe that Rodríguez' own sensitive and illuminating judgments about the later Episodios show how the aesthetic incidents of plot and characterization express Galdós' later historical point of view. For example, Rodríguez shows how each character in the later Episodios is frustrated, suffers a decrease in vitality, and is denied coherence and self definition. For instance, Vicentito Halconero (whose autobiographical connection with Galdós has been noted by Hinterhäuser)275 is described by Rodríguez as follows:

This disappointment is but the first indication of Vicentito's paradoxical fate: an intelligent, good, and brave young man who always fails. An emphatic discrepancy between the protagonist's ideal possibilities and his real mediocrity is a permanent source of disenchantment. Vicentito fails to alter Fernanda's tragic destiny, nor could he have reasonably been expected to overcome tuberculosis. But the inescapable fact remains that carefully instilled hopes are defrauded, and the protagonist appears, reasonably or not, in the role of a plaything of whimsical chance with no control over his destiny.

(p. 179)                

When we realize that Vicentito represents the generation of '68 we see the historically interpretive significance of this character and his fate. Indeed Galdós made Vicentito's symbolic role unmistakably clear:

De cuanto pudiera decirse acerca de Vicente Halconero, lo más fundamental es que provenía espiritualmente de la revolución del 68. Esta y las ideas precursoras le engendraron a él y a otros muchos, y como los frutos y criaturas de aquella revolución fueron algo abortivos, también Vicente llevaba en sí los caracteres de un nacido a media vida.276

Galdós used Vicentito to express his idea of the contradiction of his own generation from the vantagepoint of his later historical experience, and the characterization serves a historically representative function, as do most of the others in the later Episodios; hence, the frustration of their private lives expresses the frustration of public history.

Taken as a whole, and apart from the focus on history, Rodríguez' book is a careful study of the Episodios. It contains two parts; the first, «General Problems and Background» is subdivided into two chapters. Chapter I is entitled, «Definition and Explanation» and is a good review of numerous controversial points about the historical novel as a genre. It contains a wide bibliography and is an excellent introduction to the subject. Chapter II, entitled, «History in the Episodios Nacionales», discusses the relationship of novel to history and in the foregoing pages we have taken issue with some of the points made. The second part of the book, «The Episodios Nacionales as Art», contains three chapters dealing with Series I and II, Series III and IV, and Series V, respectively. This is perhaps the best part and certainly the most extensive. In each chapter Rodríguez considers literary form, plot development, and characterization, and finally he provides a «Miscellaneous» section of varying contents: comical elements, symbolism, geographical determination, and subconscious content, among other headings. Rodríguez' best observations are those dealing with plot development and characterization, while the historical symbolism of the characters is less clearly envisaged.


An Introduction to the Episodios Nacionales of Galdós is an interesting and valuable contribution to the growing bibliography on the Episodios nacionales, and for students interested in studying Galdós' historical novels this book is a good place to begin.

Harvard University

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