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ArribaAbajoA new view of Galdós277

Raymond Carr

This book represents a serious attempt to set the historical novels of Galdós in their own historical context and, above all, to examine the effect on an author's mind of the history to which he has himself been exposed.

Antonio Regalado's thesis is simple: Galdós was a compromising bourgeois, not a liberal crusader. He feared the masses, underestimated the significance of workers' movements, and usually avoided «real» social issues. His anticlericalism was a mask to hide his reluctance to tackle the most fundamental issues in Spanish politics. To a large extent, he was a hypocrite and a fake; he has what Professor Regalado calls a «cant mentality» (74).

These propositions have two implications. One concerns the nature of Spanish political life from the mid-century up to the death of Galdós. The other concerns the nature of the novelists' craft and, above all, what can be expected from him in terms of his own experience, independent of his political position or his views on what would, in the jargon of our time, be called «structural change».

Señor Regalado's views of Spanish political history seem to me to represent a rather jaded left wing orthodoxy which, in terms of current politics, agrees often with the view of the right. Both the modern right and modern left are concerned, for their distinct purposes, with the denigration of nineteenth century liberalism.

Let us take a few examples: Narváez is presented as a crude authoritarian; Isabel II as both a political rogue and a political fool; the Restoration was a farce played out in terms of the turno pacifico; Pi y Margall. is the shining exception in this tawdry era -the austere man of honour with a real grasp of social issues and the «right» views on Cuba (271); the deserved denouement was the disaster of 1898; the social question, neglected by politicians, litérateurs and Galdós, was the real issue.

Most of these propositions are stated in such a blunt and orthodox fashion that they immediately force reaction; they even lead one into a fatal tendency to defend the indefensible. This I will try to avoid. But let us take Narváez and Isabel II as extreme cases.

Of course there is a great deal of «sentimentalismo ñoño» (p. 319) about the attitude of Galdós to the young Queen. Nevertheless, it is odd to take Baroja's views on her cruelty and «gran perfidia» as proven fact. Galdós was surely partially correct in taking the view that she was, to a large extent, a victim of circumstances. No one could have worked the mid-century constitutional monarchy, a political mechanism that demands a party system based on some sort of effective representation. Amadeo of Savoy, a paragon of constitutional virtue, who decided to rule the State in accordance with the wishes of half the Chamber of Deputies plus one, failed utterly. Where the political role of a constitutional monarch is not made automatic by the results of a genuine election, he or she has to pick and choose among the politicians presented by the «false» machinery. Isabel made some stupid political choices -her relations with the Progresistas   —186→   and Prim prove this -but had she been a model of constitutional virtue her fate might well have been the same. Galdós, if we exclude his sentimentality, saw her difficulties (425). He was, I believe, correct in contrasting implicitly the personal responsibility of Don Carlos for his own misfortunes; Carlos Seco has shown us the limitations of the Pretender's political vision, while every Carlist commander knew his limitations as a leader of men.278

To Professor Regalado, Narváez is a brutal authoritarian who slew «thousands» of his fellow citizens, driven on by an obsessive mania for order. Brutal he was, but his earlier career bears witness to an authoritarianism paradoxically based on the necessity of preserving something remotely resembling a liberal system from the attacks of the extreme right and the extreme left. He failed, and was hated by the Court clericals. It was only in his last ministry that he gave up the struggle. It is odd to see Professor Regalado prefer by implication that figure whose rigid authoritarian views were so popular in official Spanish intellectual circles when I first knew them: Donoso Cortés. The reason for this preference would seem to be that Donoso Cortés took the socialist peril seriously which Galdós «cegado por la concepción liberal del progreso» (124) could not. Surely Donoso was transplanting to Spain, where there was to be no 1848, the fears of the French right.279

Professor Regalado's views of the Restoration are those which have long enjoyed popularity in Spain, for instance in the works of García Escudero, because such views would seem to indicate that Spain is somehow intrinsically unfitted for party politics. The later Galdós was to turn against the «farce» that had made him a deputy in a world where politics were a matter of interests and vulgar self-advancement.

Against this squalor stands the noble figure of the perpetual protester, the revolutionary who messes his chances when the chances came. Pi y Margall's protests were morally justified -no doubt- but politically inane. It is no good being in politics unless you can get people to follow you and purity per se, alas, yields no dividends. Azorín's verdict was damning: «Pi y Margall -un hombre sabio y bueno que pudo hacer menos grande el dolor de España y no lo hizo» (La Voluntad, 1965, 180-81). It seems the fate of the Spanish left to be gifted with an abundance of Pi y Margalls and an absence of Lenins. Revolutionary parties apart, Lenin's historical analysis of Russian capitalism, for instance, shows a grasp and accuracy entirely absent in Pi's interpretation of the social changes in the mid-century Spain.

All these criticisms represent, perhaps, differences of historical interpretation that will be unacceptable to the author and to many others besides him. In one respect -and it is a particularly important one given the role it plays in the supposed «blindness» of Galdós to what was going on around him- I differ seriously from Professor Regalado.

It seems to me that he overestimates entirely the scope and significance of working class movements and therefore the nature of the fear that an expected social cataclysm induced in that «bon bourgeois» -Galdós. Before 1909, were working class protests anything beyond a trying problem of public order? Of course this is not to deny that contemporaries thought a great deal about what was called the social question; but this concern was not forced on society by powerful workers' movements.

Is it surprising that Galdós did not think that as a novelist describing his own society he need not put too much emphasis on proletarian movements? As to his fears, they were based on what he had experienced: the urban revolutionism and the provincial extremism which I have tried to analyse in Spain 1808-1939. Is it surprising   —187→   that he did not understand «la lucha de clases que había en las páginas de la historia que le sirvieron de base para las dos primeras series de sus Episodios»? Was it there? Modifications of this thesis appear throughout the book (e. g. 105, 191, 233). Surely the judgement of Galdós was partially correct, though his language is unfeeling.

«Por estas razones y porque nuestra industria no es de tal naturaleza que pueda sostener ni despedir un contingente desmedido de hombres, las manifestaciones de los menesterosos no revisten extraordinaria gravedad».

(p. 237)                

My criticism of this supposition of «blindness» is based not merely on historical grounds but, much more importantly, on what is, in my view, a misconception of the mind and purposes of a creative novelist.

What one must first establish about a novelist -as David Cecil said long ago in his essay on Scott- is his range. It is futile to expept him to operate outside of it and, of course, it can be conditioned by class. Indeed this is the centre of Professor Regalado's thesis; yet, beyond this, he implies Galdós, in the interest of a «full» description of society, should stray outside this range.

Whenever novelists do this the result is disastrous. Dickens, for instance, could no more than Galdós operate outside his own preferred range -the English middle classes. His aristocrats -Sir Mulberry Hawk or the Deadlocks- are absurd as, for that matter, are Scott's. Range, naturally enough, is not dictated solely by class situation: it can be dictated by the limitations of sensibility. E. M. Forster seems incapable of describing a straightforward relation between a man and a woman, though he has great insights, for instance into the effect of Edwardian class structure on human relationships. Turgeniev -in spite of the interests of The Sportsman's Notebook- does not really succeed with serfs. Only the very greatest novelists have a universal range, and even they fall down. Platon in War and Peace is a failure, whereas the few lines on Vronsky's groom in Anna Karenina are masterly.

Galdós' preferred range was the urban middle class, preferably but not always in the capital. That he fell down over peasants is hardly surprising. He did not know them anymore than he knew the Spanish countryside. Till late in life, when, under the influence of Costa, he began to be curious about the rural scene, his concept of the Spanish countryside was weak and abstract. To me, as to Professor Regalado, this is a great weakness of his early novels (p. 57 and 120); but it is scarcely a surprising one, though it robs his works of the realism which Balzac recognised that Scott had introduced into the novel, a realism that so few of his imitators could equal.

All this does not mean that I have not derived much from Professor Regalado's work and that I do not think it a necessary dose for Galdós worshippers to swallow, rather as reactionaries were forced to swallow the constitution in 1820-23. Moreover, his attempts to «fix» Galdós in the current philosophies of history and within the context of idies refues is stimulating and rewarding. He does achieve his declared purpose: «mi propósito es rescatar a Galdós de una estricta crítica literaria» (17).

A basic summary cannot do justice to this variety. From the prejudices of the middle class, which was his public, and upon whose continued patronage he was economically dependent, the author derives the nature of the first series of Episodios. Gabriel in La Corte de Carlos IV «se hace a sí mismo y se acomoda en su hechura al ideal de la nueva burguesía» (31). His view of «el pueblo», who play such an important role, is derived from the Herderian volksgeist and fitted in well with rhetorical   —188→   patriotism, which inhibited realism (49) and had no awkward social and political consequences; it was reconciliable with «la idea capital del siglo, la del progreso y en armonía con las de patria y libertad» (56). The patriotic nationalism of the early Episodios is merely a reflection of the views of Cánovas on the utility of nationalism as a political cement: its contradictions show the «cant mentality» of Galdós. His liberalism, above all his anticlericalism, is a mask (95) to hide his reluctance to attack what Ortega was to call visceral problems (80).

In the second series (which cover 1814-33) the people appear in a less favourable, less heroic, light. The people are either «serviles» or disorderly plebs -the populacho. Both are dangerous to that comfortable, civilized, liberalism which Galdós reflected as a «fanático de la paz social». Extremism of the left or the right is the enemy of liberal compromise and social harmony (106). A sympathetic portrait of the exaltados would not, in any case, appeal to «his» public (94). Thus this series represents the comfortable ideals of the Restoration (rejected, according to Professor Regalado, by two thirds of the country) in fictional form (114-116). Thus, even Galdós' failure to draw a convincing picture of regional variety is seen as a reflection of Cánovas' colourless centralism (123).

Here again the contrast with Scott is striking. Scott wanted the harmonious solution of the conflicts he describes between the past and the present. But, unlike Galdós, he was a true political conservative who sympathised and understood the past and felt in his bones the tragedy of its defeat. This is why he can (on rare occasions) become a tragic novelist on the grand scale as Galdós never was: to Galdós the Carlists were usually contemptible relics.

In spite of the criticism of society evident in the contemporary novels, Galdós's whole work remains «orientada en favor del Statu Quo de la Restauración». His admirers have praised him for his complete coverage of all society; clearly his admirers are wrong as his critics were to point out after 1898 (196). But these critics go too far when what is a merit -the exact description of a small world such as that contained in Miau- is dismissed as a lack of range, or a sort of social blindness. It is the very confined limits of the world in Miau which gives the exaggeration of Villamil verisimilitude and even tragic status. To Professor Regalado this restriction remains a defect, not a bulls-eye lantern which concentrates for effect (198); a failure of vision, not an intensification. False sub specie aeternitatis perhaps, the values of the Restoration bourgeoisie (p. 209) are the only ones within which Galdós can operate as an artist. Here he is like Dickens, as Humphrey House's study shows. That Dickens, like Galdós, was not unaware of the contradictions between the middle class prejudices he operated within and his private feelings is perhaps shown in the last chapters of Our Mutual Friend. The escape route chosen by Galdós was the use of the tópico as a form of social criticism (217).

In Ángel Guerra, Galdós is not merely blind to the social struggle. He is moving to a world of evasion in spiritualism, towards a sort of return to New Testament Christianity as a solution for the social problem, towards a Krausist world of impossible harmonies. He presents us with a caricature of «the people». Hence Regalado's typical statement «este acierto literario no le absuelve de la falta de fe en la dignidad y capacidad del pueblo» (247). Why should an author believe in che people»? Though Dickens hated suffering and sought by his novels to draw public attention to the scandals of English social life, he did so as to blemishes upon a society whose values he shared. He was far from believing in the people. What about Wegg? Dickens, like   —189→   Galdós, was more interested in grotesque poverty. It was not that he wished to avoid the description of «genuine» working class conditions. He somehow could not. Hard Times is almost a caricature of the Victorian idea of the proletariat.

After 1898, Galdós does not change fundamentals: he moves to the left because his audience has moved to the left. Economic considerations apart, this is literary mimetism: Galdós «se limita a recoger impresiones del ambiente regeneracional» (271) (hence his portrait of Mendizábal as the regenerator manqué). It is only with Costa that he moves from an ineffective Krausist individualism (e. g. in Calpena in the Third Series) towards an understanding of the necessity of collective action and enters politics as a Republican. At the same time, his view of this historical process becomes like that of Tolstoy: history is made by the real people, not surface people like Napoleon, etc.

The treatment of the fourth series and fifth series is introduced by a discussion of the effects of Electra, a bad play, rejected by Socialists as a bourgeois irrelevance, which obliges Galdós to accept the political consequences of his triumph (342). Under Costa's influence, his attitude to «the people» changes; a genuine sympathy with their sufferings remains, nevertheless, semi-mystical and full of Costa's strange views about the Celt-Iberians. The surface history of politics is replaced by the «intra» history of which the people are the true subjects; his understanding of the countryside deepens (403) with his acceptance of the commonplaces of regenerationism.

In 1907, Galdós became a Republican and the figurehead of the Republican Socialist conjunction. But (p. 12) Galdós remains «utopian», a sentimental patriot (466), a bourgeois and averse to violence of left or right (440). His second passage through politics (the first had been as a Sagastian deputy) is unenthusiastic and full of characteristic evasions.

The conflicts produced by the intrusion of an artist into politics are reflected in El Caballero Encantado, heavy with historical mythology. The escape from «external history» is made via mystical fashion in «las viejas posibilidades de la nacionalidad, no en la acción de nuevas ideologías politicas» (490). His last novels have a discreet camouflage (499). The ageing Galdós cannot become a good Socialist party man (508). Very few artists have been able to do much else but write.

Like all arresting books, this one has its insights and its faults. Its attempt to connect Galdós's own views of the historical process with those current in nineteenth century Europe is challenging. No one, having read it, can quite regard Galdós as he did. The praise bestowed on Baroja shows at least one of Professor Regalado's sources of inspiration: Regalado's criticisms of Galdós rest within an eclectic framework constructed from Lukacs and the views of members of the generation of '98. To the young Turks of the 1900's, Galdós, the successful novelist, had put into fiction an intelligent version of all the preconceptions and prejudices they found reprehensible in the social and political world bequeathed by Cánovas del Castillo.

St. Antony's College. Oxford University

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