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ArribaAbajoThe Christ Figure in Misericordia

Robert H. Russell

A Monograph

It would be idle to assemble previous critical judgments testifying to the artistic achievement of Misericordia: everyone who writes about it has been won by its superior artistic qualities. More to the point would be to seek a «way in», a key to the nature of this superb novel and its heroine. Aranguren has spoken of «el moralismo -de que se libera [Galdós) en Misericordia...»160 The new departure marked by this novel is indeed characterized by an absence of preaching and a lack of explicit moralizing. And yet it is surely as much concerned with moral values as Nazarín and Halma. The difference is pointed to by Gullón: «En ese estadio [Misericordia] sigue siendo tan moralista como al principio, pero más consciente de los medios adecuados para presentar artísticamente los problemas; la lección moral no se impone ni se sugiere: es la constatación necesariamente derivada de los planteamientos y los hechos161 The values of the Gospel, positively conceived, are not laid upon a hero or suggested mechanically by events. They arise from within the world of the novel and from within the heroine. The real key to Misericordia's successful artistic elaboration is the ironic fact that Benina does not ever know that she is a Christ figure; the world she inhabits is so constructed that this idea never occurs to her: «No sabe, no siente estar sacrificándose...»162 The whole novel is in fact built on a series of ironies which are functions of this obvious fact about its heroine. In Benina Galdós has created a figura evangélica who is neither a self-conscious Christ figure nor a holy experimenter. She is, unlike Nazarín and Halma, a person to whom the question of how to be never presents itself. She is so unremittingly involved and inextricably engaged that she has only an occasional moment to contemplate (and then with dismay or regret) her own actions. She has no program: she simply finds herself in relationships. She seeks no holiness: she simply acts from an unconsidered and unassuming conviction that God is the maker, owner, and savior of all things and all people. Benina, unlike her programmatic predecessors, has already passed, without knowing it, through the process described by Simone Weil: «Amour pur des créatures: non pas amour en Dieu, mais amour qui a passé par Dieu comme par le feu. Amour qui se détache complétement des créatures pour monter à Dieu et en redescend associé à l'amour créateur de Dieu. Ainsi s'unissent les deux contraires qui déchirent l'amour humain: aimer l'être aimé tel qu'il est et vouloir le récréer.»163 This quality of unknowing beatitude is what enables Benina to surpass the limits of her circumstances and to act with the reckless abandon of one who does not consider the cost to herself, simply because she is not aware of any sacrifice. Her own image is not precious to her because it is not known to her; she is thus able to give all of herself and not lose anything. The sacrifice, i.e., the establishment of a «perfecta sumisión a la divina voluntad» (D.C., 1950, V, 1882),   —104→   has taken place, as it were, before the novel begins. This is surely what María Zambrano means when she refers to «un sacrificio cumplido».164 What for Nazarín and Halma is a problem, for Benina is her very nature, unacknowledged because no other possibility has ever occurred to her. The fact that Benina is a perfectly realized Christ figure derives more from her implicit nature than from her explicit declarations and actions. Like Christ, she does what she does because of who she is, not because of what she wants to be.

Benina is free of any consistent view of herself, and thus she acts intuitively, spontaneously, and recklessly. The exact opposite of Nazarín, she is at liberty to meet persons and situations in the simple terms of their own realities, never overlaying them with preconceived abstractions, or viewing them as experimental bodies for her own work of sanctification, but simply as creatures of God like herself. It is in this sense that her love is constitutional and not circumstantial: «La croyance à l'existence d'autres êtres humains comme tels est amour.»165 It is this basically free and reckless beatitude which surprises us, which carries us beyond any rational sense of justice, which makes her point of view broader and deeper than ours, even than the novelist's, apparently. Her abandon and folly are wiser than Nazarín's calculations; but they are also wiser than the caution we instinctively urge upon her as she gives herself utterly. She is in possession of an extra-human, quasi-divine freedom, precisely because she always views herself as a servant. Given the limits of humanity and of art, her identification with Christ could not be more exact.

This view of Benina as unconscious heroine, as heroine-in-spite-of-herself, opens the way for an analysis of the novel and its protagonist based on a series of ironies which derive from Benina herself. Misericordia is a novel in which almost nothing is what it seems to be, in which functions are continually reversed. Misericordia is a world in which hunger is a blessing, blindness is vision, madness is wisdom, paucity is plenty, servant is master, defeat is victory, and illusion is reality. But these things are true only within the sphere of Benina's power, a power which she neither seeks nor recognizes.

The tension between separation from, and identification with the world of principalities and powers, so carefully insisted upon in Nazarín, so indecisively used in Halma, is always and everywhere treated ironically and equivocally in Misericordia. Neither separation nor identification seems to be a plainly positive value. Instead, neither one is on the face of things what it seems to be, and the «normal» functions of each tend to be reversed. Partaking in the general theme of «things are not what they seem», this element of the novel's structure is richly elaborated, as it bears on the dimensions of society, space, time, and material objects present in Misericordia. The first page of the novel provides an unmistakably symbolic foretaste of this ironic and equivocal treatment of social function. «Dos caras, como algunas personas, tiene la parroquia de San Sebastián...» (V, 1877) are the first words of the novel. Commenting on the function of this initial duality, Casalduero remarks, «Comienza describiéndonos las dos fachadas, las dos caras, de la iglesia de San Sebastián, la cual nos dirige a esa doble faz de vida, a esa cara que mira a la realidad, y a esa otra que contempla el espíritu...»166 Certainly this first sentence in the book is a kind of general   —105→   announcement of the irony, i.e., the reconciliation of opposites, which is everywhere present in Misericordia. But its immediate function would appear to be more specific, for we note a few lines later that the church is in a strange position: it bridges a borderline between the poor district and the prosperous one, but its main portal faces the barrios bajos, and on the side of the señorío mercantil there is only a small back door. It is through this door that most of the wealthy parishioners pass into the building. In other words, the two faces of San Sebastián are neither of them what they seem to be, and the building's position, in any standard social view, is reversed. Further evidence of the basic irony suggested by the church is the use of oxymoron in phrases like «fealdad risueña» and «lindo mamarracho», and the presence of a sentence like «En ninguna parte como aquí advertiréis el encanto, la simpatía, el ángel, dicho sea en andaluz, que despiden de sí, como tenue fragancia, las cosas vulgares, o algunas de las cosas vulgares que hay en el mundo» (V, 1877). That the back door of the church should face the Plaza del Ángel, that in describing it Galdós should use the Andalusian term ángel, and that ángel in the rest of the novel is used very sparingly and almost exclusively as a description of Benina, may point to the fact the initial paragraph is in part, at least, a symbolic description of the heroine: her position is reversed, in none of her functions is she what she at first seems to be, and though she is ugly and common, she gives off a fragrance of angelic beauty and charm.

Benina's social identification, and her attachment to society are both treated ironically. In the early chapters of the novel she is presented simply as one of a number of beggars who stalk the path of charity at the back door of San Sebastián. If she is cleaner and better-mannered than any of them, she is nonetheless a member of the lowest social category, and, indeed, within that category occupies a low position because she is both nueva and temporera. Everything in the initial description bespeaks her poverty and her need. She seems firmly established as a recipient of charity. The first episode in which she is involved confirms this impression: she is approached by the methodical do-gooder, don Carlos Moreno Trujillo, who tells her to come to his home the next day, presumably to receive some donation. Immediately after the appointment has been made, Benina approaches the blind Almudena with an urgent request for five pesetas, which he is eager to help her obtain. In attempting to get the money from Almudena, she flatters him, and uses the not entirely sincere approach of telling him that he is her only salvation; she praises him extravagantly: «Eres el hombre más apañado que hay en el mundo. No hay otro como tú... eres tu sastre, tu zapatero, tu lavandera...» (V, 1887). While it is true that Almudena is very neat, her rhapsodic description serves largely to soften him for the blow of her request for money. She even utters a hollow threat to jump off the viaduct over the Calle de Segovia if he does not help her (V, 1887). Later, as she continues her mendicant, habits, she is not averse to putting on dark glasses and a veil, feigning blindness, or fabricating pitiful hard-luck stories in order to extract money from passers-by (V, 1930-1959). Benina's role as beggar continues all the way through Misericordia. She seems to be acting as the object of charity, and uses the familiar devices of beggars to make her more fortunate   —106→   brethren part with their money. She seems to depend not only on the rich, but on the poor as well: «[...] quiero devolverle a Almudena el [duro] suyo, que bueno es tener con él palabra. Vendrán días malos, y él me servirá...» (V, 1907). Late in the novel, she is urged on several occasions to enter the hospice for the aged (ironically called «La Misericordia»); indeed, it is don Romualdo, her own «creation», who views her as a worthy object of public beneficence, and would use his influence to have her admitted. At the end, don Romualdo gives her regular financial aid.

But she is not in reality one of the poor, nor is she always attached to the poor, nor is her role in the novel that of recipient of charity. She is forced to beg, and she goes to heroic extremes to get together a few pesetas, but she is not like the rest of the beggars. The hierarchy of prestige among the group of alms-seekers at the door of San Sebastián, so carefully explained by Galdós, serves only to point up the fact that Benina is different. They are greedy, jealous of what small preferment they may have, and they do not all beg out of necessity: Casiana, the beggar-woman of highest prestige, is not really poor at all, occupying her role only for the joy of domination it provides. Benina is the most quiet, the most humble, and the best mannered. She is pathetically neater and cleaner than the rest: «Su nariz destilaba menos que la de sus compañeros de oficio...» (V, 1882). She does not share in the vicious gossip of the others, and when asked for her opinion as to whether Casiana has money in the bank or not, she simply replies: «Y a mí, ¿qué? Con su pan se lo coman» (V, 1883). She does not indulge in the scramble for pennies which follows the tossing of money by one worshipper, being content with the share she is assigned. Finally, she is compared with St. Rita de Cascia (her name is Benigna de Casia), universally known in the Spanish world as the «abogada de imposibles».167 Beyond these immediately distinguishing characteristics, Benina is, we find, a woman who is not always attached to the world of the poor. She it is who has a connection with don Carlos Moreno Trujillo; she it is who makes him alter his immemorial custom of entering the church by one door and leaving by the other. The astonishment of her companions at this earth-shattering event should be key enough to the symbolic value of this incident: only Benina, because don Carlos wants to see her, can make him change the habit of years. Though she has no lasting effect on the old miser, she is shown as the only person of her class who can meet him face to face, recognize his real nature (the others consider him the most Christian man in Madrid), and then remind herself that he, too, is one of God's creatures: «El demontre del viejo... no puede hacer más de lo que le manda su propio natural. Válgate Dios: si cosas muy raras cría Nuestro Señor en el aquel de plantas y animales, más raras las hace en el aquel de personas. No acaba una de ver verdades que parecen mentiras... En fin, otros son peores que este don Carlos, que al cabo da algo, aunque sea por cuenta y apuntación... Peores los hay, y tan peores..., que ni apuntan ni dan...» (V, 1907). That Benina is not identified with the poor is further attested to by the incident in chapter XXIX, where, after having provided bread and yet more bread for the poor of Las Cambroneras, she is taken for doña Guillermina Pacheco,168 taken for a fraud and a robber, and finally stoned in rejection. The point   —107→   is not that the poor do not want her as one of them but that they honestly cannot believe in her as one of them. just as much as don Carlos, they are victims of a false idea of charity. Only Benina is truly charitable, and she is rejected by those she saves. Most obvious of all is the fact that, far from being the recipient of charity, Benina is the great source of it, to every person she meets. She is not one who needs ministering to: slie is the one who ministers.

Benina's social identification is further given as that of a domestic servant. After the initial episodes she goes home, to a tenement in the Calle Imperial. Galdós, as if sharing our surprise, notes «Era su casa, la casa de su señora...» (V, 1891). Benina, we discover, has a job. She is not only a beggar; she is the servant of a lady. As soon as one brief conversation between Benina and her mistress, doña Paca, has been presented, Galdós resorts to a «flashback» in which he presents the history of doña Paca and her family. That this section occupies three chapters and goes into some detail may suggest that it is an unjustified and unnecessarily lengthy excursion into «the past». But the function of chapters VII, VIII, and IX is not simply one of inert exposition. It is significant that in chapter VI Galdós has finally declared that Benina is the protagonist of the novel: «[...] el temple extraordinario de mujer que irán conociendo los que lean esta puntual historia de su vida» (V, 1890). As we move into chapters VII-IX we ought thus to be alert for what they will tell us about Benina and her relationship with the Zapata family. Though the decaying fortunes of the family seem at first to occupy the most important place in this section of the novel, it soon becomes clear, especially in view of the fact that Benina has now been identified as the protagonist, that her attachment to the family is the more important inotif being exploited in these three chapters. We learn that she leaves the family twice, only to return, impelled by an inescapable bond she does not herself understand. She is linked inseparably with doña Paca by a bond of affection, devotion and concern. As time passes, she becomes the only companion that Paca has. But though she is imprisoned in what seems to be her role as servant, the truth is opened up to us: she is in fact the support, comfort and mistress in the household, in a way resonant of the relationship between Lazarillo de Tormes and the squire, or within Galdós' own work, that of Felipe Centeno and Alejandro Miquis in El doctor Centeno. Paca's friends have deserted her, and she has no money, and her children have made marriages which offer no consolation or support to her. She may be unworthy of aid in our eyes, but Benina never thinks of any possibility but the support, financial and moral, of her mistress. This section of the book serves to explain why some things are not what they seem. It tells us why Benina is a beggar and clears up the confusion created by the mention of don Romualdo, in chapter VI. Benina's begging, motivated by her charity to Paca, has as its concomitant charity the invention of a fictitious priest, in whose house Benina pretends to work, thus sparing Paca the knowledge of her true plight and the indignity of accepting alms. Benina is still the servant, but the destiny of the household is in her hands. Once again the needy one is turned into the minister to need. Benina is inseparably attached to doña Paca, and doña Paca depends absolutely on her presence, even admitting   —108→   it on a few occasions: «Bueno, mujer. Se hará lo que tú quieras... a todo me avengo, Nina. Tú mandas» (V, 1944).

But this always ironic novel makes an abrupt separation of the two women, and the truth is that, at length, Paca no longer needs Benina's presence, at least for material support. Benina is arrested one day as she begs, and taken to the poor house at El Pardo. It appears at first that Paca will simply die of hunger. But it is while separated from doña Paca that Benina's greatest work for her is achieved. In the very time when she is away from home, Benina's invented priest, don Romualdo, materializes and brings doña Paca news of her inheritance. By the time Benina is rescued from the poor house, Paca and her daughter are living in vulgar comfort, and the servant is ungratefully rejected. Precisely when she has effected the material salvation of the family, she is turned cruelly into the street. Juliana, doña Paca's money-grubbing daughter-in-law, has taken over the management of the family's affairs, and Benina is «no longer needed». But she is needed: Juliana, in the final scenes of the novel, is obsessed with the idea that her children are dying, and only Benina's comfort and benediction will dissuade her. Thus, Benina is separated from her role as servant while continuing in a semblance of it; she is rejected and separated, by their own ingratitude, from the family she has miraculously served; and she is ultimately seen as a presence (though no longer material) whose intervention in their affairs is of the most decisive importance. It cannot escape our notice that Benina's final act is a benediction of the youngest members of the family. Her mediation, once rejected, is again sought for the family of the future. A servant by the world's standards, she is the mistress in the moral world of the novel.

The dimension of space is also an ironic indicator of Benina's attachment to, and freedom from the world around her. Closely linked to the social hierarchies of rich and poor which surround Benina, this spatial dimension is given a special development by Galdós. Initially suggested by the position of the Church of San Sebastián, which straddles the barrios bajos and the Madrid alto, the world of space is often identified with the peculiarly appropriate topography of Madrid, in which the poor live at the lowest topographical locations. The symbolic fact that doña Paca was born in Ronda and always had nightmares about falling into the gorge there, and the further observation that she «[...] no sabía mantenerse firme en las alturas: instintivamente se despeñaba...» (V, 1893), serve to prepare the downward movement in society (and in Madrid) which is marked by her moves to ever cheaper apartments: «Fue preciso hacer nuevas mudanzas, buscando la baratura, y del Olmo pasaron al Saúco, y del Saúco al Almendro. Por esta fatalidad de los nombres de árboles en las calles donde vivieron parecían pájaros que volaban de rama en rama...» (V, 1895). Benina, so closely bound to doña Paca, is of course identified with this fall, and in fact abases herself in order to check its dizzying course. But it is again Benina who reverses its course: her invented don Romualdo provides a sharp upward turn, and doña Paca is enabled to move «up» to the Calle de Orellana. Benina, who in the first half of the novel -as far as chapter XXIII, approximately- has appeared to have reached the very lowest level of abasement, suddenly opens up to us the indescribably sordid poverty of Las Cambroneras. This descent by   —109→   Benina into a whole new lower world, existing at the lowest point of the Madrilenian topography, is symbolic of the bitterly ironic fact that she will not in any way share the ascent she has so miraculously prepared for doña Paca. But her descent to the lowest depths is also, and again ironically, concurrent with her final exaltation, victory and apotheosis. Her new sphere of life is among the wretchedly poor, and in the lowest of the barrios bajos; her role now is to care for the possibly leprous Almudena. But she has overcome any power that this kind of fall could have over her; she has won a creative victory of love. María Zambrano expresses thus Benina's liberation from the world of space: «[...] ella descendía sola, nadie podía llevarla más bajo, como no hubiera podido llevarla hacia arriba. Pues 'arriba' y 'abajo' no existían ya para ella, no la medían.»169 Topographical space, a remarkably apt representation of the social strata of Madrid, is, in Benina's world, not what it seems to be. Its heights and depths cannot exclude or overcome her.

In discussing the temporal rhythm of Misericordia, Casalduero observes that time is very carefully measured as far as chapter XXIX (seven days pass up to this point), and that after this chapter exact chronology is abandoned. He explains the function of this procedure as follows: «El apoyo cronológico deja de ser necesario cuando el alma de Benina se expande en toda la fuerza de su piedad.»170 Undeniably the novel's illusion of reality no longer depends upon measured chronological sequence after the full expansion of Beninds power has taken place: when don Romualdo, appears in person, exact time is no longer the measure of the human experience presented by Misericordia. But more than an initial support for the narration, the slow-grinding moments and days of the first section of the book are an exact representation of servitude to time. Benina is, as it were, a prisoner in time, and her imprisonment is faithfully mirrored in a chronology which represents in seemingly exact proportion each effort to eat, to live, to pay. Time and again in this first part we see Benina bound to the demands of each day, the next meal, the covering of the necessities of the next few hours, with time only after she goes to bed to plan her attack on the next day's segment of tyrannical time. The evaporation of exact time as a narrative control coincides with the appearance of don Romualdo: at a moment when it seems as if the demands of time have defeated Benina, time as an implacable enemy suddenly disappears. Benina's love has borne fruit, and she is liberated, unbeknownst to herself, from the prison of time. This liberation symbolizes the once more ironic fact that she who appeared bound is now free, that the servant, by aspiring to nothing but service, has won a victory over captivity. Thus, the abandonment of exact chronology not only functions as the elimination of an unneeded narrative support (the new reality demands a new dimension) but also as a representation of Benina's freedom from one of those forces which seemed to bear down so hard upon her.

Even a superficial reading of Misericordia leaves the impression that this novel is much more concerned with the material objects of this world than is either Nazarín or Halma. The world in which Benina lives is filled with material need and the immediate concern of almost everyone she knows is the acquisition of enough money to live and eat. From the group of beggars at San Sebastián,   —110→   to doña Paca, from the wretched poor of Las Cambroneras to Frasquito Ponte, from Almudena even to don Carlos Moreno Trujillo, the enjoyment of some measure or other of material security is a primary object. Benina herself is trapped in the position of having to seek, cuarto by cuarto, the means just to keep life in her mistress's and her own bodies. La Burlada, one of the beggars, in a scornful outburst (V, 1883-1884) against another of the group lists in breathless succession all those things which she wishes she might have, and suspects that the man who is the object of her wrath may some day acquire. The pitiful greed and conditioned acquisitiveness of the poor, and their slavery to material things are evident both in the initial episode and in the sequences set in Las Cambroneras. Benina, when we first meet her, is in agonizing pursuit of a duro. As she sits in the Plaza del Progreso (Tirso de Molina) she watches people go by with money in their pockets, and she thinks of all the wealth in the shops, and all the money in the banks. Her pathetic yearning for five pesetas brings her to speculate that the general distribution of wealth would hardly be affected by her acquisition of a duro: «[...] ¿perdería algo el estanque del Retiro porque se sacara de él una gota de agua?» (V, 1888). When she returns home she and doña Paca savor, and imagine they are eating the imaginary meal that Benina has served to her imaginary employer, don Romualdo. Doña Paca's great dream is to inherit a large sum of money. Ponte's chief concern is to maintain his physical appearance; his protestations of idealism to Obdulia, «Yo soy un hombre que adora los ideales, que no vivo sólo de la vil materia. Yo desprecio la vil materia...»; (V, 1924), are pathetic half-truths, for though he may wish to scorn filthy lucre, he knows how very dependent on it he is. Obdulia's ambition is to have enough money to live in the style of a cursi aristocrat. Juliana's devotion to money is utterly crass and without pretense. Even the supposedly charitable don Carlos Moreno Trujillo is a materialist in the sense that he believes more in the power of his money than in the power of God to get him into Heaven. Almudena, in his real eagerness to help Benina, can only imagine magical schemes by which she will receive gold, precious jewels, and money. His offers of matrimony invariably include a catalogue of the material riches of his native land. Benina's dependence on money continues all through the novel, right into the last episode, where we learn that she is living on a regular allowance provided by don Romualdo.

And yet she is neither a servant of Mammon nor a believer in its power. Rather, she has a view of life which makes no qualitative separation between matter and spirit, and she knows what no one else in the novel knows, namely, that the physical things of this world are the property of the greater metaphysical reality of God. In the very day when she has been struggling heroically to find a duro, in order to stave off hunger, she returns home and expresses to doña Paca the firm conviction that God has given her a natural mouth and stomach, and therefore cannot want her to die of hunger. Nor, she is convinced, will He allow her to do so. It is in this conversation that she can affirm roundly that «Dios es bueno», that: «[...] mirando las cosas como deben mirarse, yo digo que Dios no tan solo ha criado la tierra y el mar, sino que son obra suya mismamente las tiendas de ultramarinos, el Banco de España, las casas donde   —111→   vivimos y, pongo por caso, los puestos de verdura... Todo es de Dios.» When Paca presses her about the status of money in this view of things, she responds, «También es de Dios, porque Dios hizo el oro y la plata... Los billetes, no sé... Pero, también, también» (V, 1892). In an ironic doxology at the end of this scene Benina makes clear her bridging of the gulf between the material and the spiritual: «¡Bendito sea el Señor, que nos da el bien más grande de nuestros cuerpos: el hambre santísima!» (V, 1893). On another similar occasion, when Paca has expressed disgust at the food set before her, Benina reminds her of the real source of material goods: «Comerá usted lo que le den, sin refunfuños, que el poner tantos peros a la comida que Dios da es ofenderle y agraviarle» (V, 1928). Benina is certainly in no position to scorn the things of this world -she needs them too much- but unlike Nazarín and Halma, she has an integrated view of the Creation which sees no basic distinction between matter and spirit. Her resounding «Todo es de Dios» stands in sharp contrast to Nazarín's narrow «Nada es de nadie.» Though forced to seek material goods in pathetically minute quantities, she never forgets that her role is not ownership but stewardship, not servitude to matter but discipleship of the maker of all things. It is this built-in conviction which enables her, which compels her to share recklessly what few things she has. She is not beholden to material objects or money, because she knows they do not in themselves save her, or anyone else. This is the freedom and the knowledge which enable Benina to give not only material charity but other kinds as well, for she knows that human need has many forms, and that God means for it to be ministered to with many forms of concern and sympathy. Though locked in a struggle for physical survival, she always knows that the means of winning that survival are provided by God, and not by her; and she knows that physical survival is not the only end of existence. Her charity, so often expressed in terms of a peseta, a loaf of bread, a lump of sugar, is not at all limited to material goods, as we shall presently see. She does not look upon need as an abstract thing to be filled by plenty; rather she looks upon each needy person as God's creature with special, individual, sometimes non-material needs.

Thus, in terms of her social identification and her attachment to the world of space, time and things, Benina is not what she seems at first to be. That this double dimension exists at all is simply a corollary of the key irony of the book. Benina is a figura evangélica without knowing it. Nazarín and Halma, like Prince Mishkin in Dostoevski's Idiot, had only one face, the one they chose to put on; Benina, like a certain church in Madrid, has two faces and doesn't know it. Her freedom from a self-conscious view of what she is doing results in her freedom from the principalities and power of this world. Her ascription of holiness to God alone frees her to see all things as His, and it frees her to do His work alone.

Benina's freedom within the world of the novel, her ultimate pervasiveness to all corners of that world, are heightened by two further facts which give her a greater semblance of independence and reality; her seeming ability to go beyond the physical and ideological reach of the novelist, and her apparent   —112→   power to usurp the novelist's role. If she is finally seen as free from the confines of the world of the novel, she is also apparently beyond the control of the narrative procedures of fiction. The technique of the wandering narrative focus, used to some profit in the early sections of Halma, is here reversed. Benina is before us in person most of the time, and we are her companions in action, conversation, monologue, and meditation; point of view is never treated in Misericordia as a real problem in the art of fiction. But Benina, like Isidora Rufete,171 has a way of wandering away from the focus of the narration. In the early part of the book this occurs only occasionally, and for very brief periods (V, 1886, 1934); but Benina is beyond our view (we feel lost!) for a long period of time during her confinement in El Pardo. Her greatest work, the final and effective action of don Romualdo's real intervention in the affairs of the Zapata family, takes place while Benina is not present. Her descent into the Hell of a poor house takes her beyond the novelist's reach, and it is only then that she can act «in rebellion» against her role as fictional character and make effectively «real» a figment of her own imagination. She seems to interrupt the novelist's course of narration: «En su casa no encontró novedad; digo sí, encontró una, que bien pudiera llamarse maravilloso suceso, obra del subterráneo genio Samdai» (V, 1950). Already in the first announcement of don Romualdo's effective existence, Galdós, the narrator, seems surprised or at least momentarily confused by what «really» happens. Galdós gives up Benina's struggle before she does: «La economía, la sordidez misma, no eran eficaces: no había mas remedio que sucumbir y caer diciendo: 'Llegué hasta donde pude: lo demás hágalo Dios, si quiere'» (V, 1961). This is Galdós speaking for Benina, or imagining her meditation. But he is wrong: she does not give up. She goes on begging and struggling until she is caught, and only after vigorous attempts to get free does she say to herself: «Sea lo que Dios quiera. Cuando vuelva a casa diré la verdad; y si la señora está viva para cuando yo llegue, y no quiere creerme, que no me crea; y si se enfada, que se enfade; y si me despide, que me despida; y si me muero, que me muera» (V, 1962). Not only has Galdós made Benina outlast his own endurance; he has made the tone and content of her resignation different from his own.

In Nazarin and Halma there was no discernible separation between the ideas and attitudes of the protagonist and those of the novelist. Despite the elaborate surprise built into Galdós' personal apprehension of Nazarín, the sentimentalized view of the Manchegan priest was clearly one which involved an earnest ideological mouthpiece. Naturally, the values represented by Benina are those of the novelist also, but they do not seem to be: Benina acquires an illusion of ideological independence which, far from destroying her integrity as an exemplar of evangelical virtue, sets her free once again and makes her seem more real. Her view of people is not the novelist's view. She sees the handiwork of God in don Carlos Moreno Trujillo, and she loves the unlovely dofia Paca; she cares deeply for the useless Frasquito Ponte, and she forgives the domineering Juliana. Her views of people and her attitudes toward them surprise us, precisely because Galdós has presented these folk as unworthy and ungrateful. The seeming independence Benina enjoys (the form of narration) is an inseparable component   —113→   of her love (the content of the narration), because to be a Christ figure a character must be both charitable and charitable beyond the bounds of human and artistic limitation. The values inherent in the novelist's reality (charity) have found their artistic form in Benina, who is not limited by the artist's apparent view of those about her, any more than she is limited by any view of herself.

Benina's surpassing achievement is of course the invention and «creation» of don Romualdo Cedrón.172 This surprising twist in the story, described by Livingstone as «[...] the author's incursion into the world of fiction-withinfiction»,173 is not a problematical statement of the question of levels of reality, as is the similar procedure in Unamuno's Niebla. It is a testimony to the power and freedom of Benina. It is one more implict statement of her transcendence of the normal bounds of her nature as a fictional character. Don Romualdo's appearance is not simply a psychological caprice designed to show Benina as creator of reality, however. It is a strictly functional element: «By no means irrelevant is the fact that Don Romualdo... actually intervenes in the action and brings about a solution to the problems of the characters.»174 Benina, in other words, seems to have usurped the novelist's role; it is she who provides the dénouement of the novel. Why it should be that her lie becomes true is a matter to be discussed presently. In terms of her stature as a literary figure the important consideration is this further freedom she has been granted. It is the most precious gift the novelist can bestow upon her, for it is his private preserve, and is at the same time the most deepening feature of Benina's portrayal. She does not seem to be what she is, namely, a character of fiction.

The question of the power of the world over the Christ figure, so crucial and so unsatisfactorily answered in Nazarín and Halma, is not a problem in Misericordia. It is of Bennia's very nature to be free, and neither the world nor, apparently, artistic limits have any sway over her. Because she has no consciousness of her real role and therefore can be free of the bounds of society, space, time, things, and art, the question of whether she is subservient to them is never raised as such: all that happens is that Benina, who seems to be trapped in the world, and in the novel, overcomes both. The question is answered by her nature and her work, not by her intentions or declarations, as was the case with Nazarín and Halma. Separation from the world and identification with the world are not really alternatives in Misericordia. They are reconciled in one person. Benina is in the world, but not of the world. In this sense, too, she bears a likeness to Christ, a likeness which has been won by an artistic victory, not an ideological one.

Benina's charity is immediate, concrete, and active. Her basis of operation is not an idea, but a faith in God and, therefore, in people. Gullón points to this essential trait of hers, which so clearly sets her apart from Nazarín and Halma: «Galdós no escoge como protagonista de la novela a un alma transida de fe, a un alma recia de creyente, porque en tal caso la caridad de Benina no tendría la misma significación; la vieja cree a la buena de Dios, sin deliberación, sin haberse detenido a pensar lo que cree y deja de creer. Y al inventarla así el autor está dando a entender que... lo verdaderamente operante, lo decisivo en el ser religioso es la caridad; quiere mostrar como lo activo y práctico es la   —114→   caridad...»175 While it is not strictly true, as we shall see directly, that Benina believes «a la buena de Dios», her freedom from consciousness of role gives her a directness and a flexibility never achieved by Nazarín and only infrequently by Halma. But her charity is not simply practical and distributive; free from the tyranny of the world of things, Benina gives understanding and respect, affection and hope. María Zambrano has called Benina the center of gravity of the novel,176 and explains the range of Benina's operative power thus: «Y el centro es transmisor de lo que más vivifica. Centro no es sólo lo que distribuye, sino lo que vivifica.»177 The range of her charity is a function of the freedom of her spirit. But as we have already noted, this freedom is rooted in a firm if simple conviction about the nature of God, people, and things. It is rooted in God Himself. It is not true that Galdós has stressed her «[...]bonté agissante sans en dévoiler la source mystérieuse.»178 Benina cannot of course make direct and simple testimony to the source of her goodness: «Dios es bueno» is her creed. But she does at one point say to herself: «En fin, para las mentiras que he de decirle a doña Paca, Dios me iluminará, como siempre, y vamos tirando» (V,1907). Whether or not she utters these words jestingly, their meaning in the novel could not be more evident: Benina's greatest work begins as a lie, and turns into a reality which solves the economic problems of the Zapata family. In this indirect way, one which preserves the integrity of the heroine, Galdós is indeed revealing the mysterious source of his heroine's power. Only God can create, and only God can be responsible for the appearance of don Rornualdo out of thin air.

The range of Benina's charity includes gifts of many sorts, and extends to all levels of society. The objects of her charity are often unworthy or ungrateful, if not both. Thus it is not a preconceived idea of charity with judicious limits, which motivates her, any more than it is a view of herself as essentially charitable. It is simply the confrontation with individual people, creatures of a loving God, who present special and individual needs, which she, another creature of a loving God, fills directly, immediately, and without judging worthiness or expecting gratitude. She is human enough to recognize unworthiness and to resent ingratitude, but this does not keep her from following the same path, the only one that makes sense in her view of the world. Her actions toward people are not controlled by what they do to her but by what God has done for them. In each of her relationships with the other characters in Misericordia, Benina exercises a breadth and depth of charity which contrast significantly with the more conventional and verbalized ideas of charity which, explicitly or implicitly, each of them espouses. She is free from any purely human sense of justice. This appears initially not to be the case with Almudena, for some cold calculation is involved in her extraction of the needed duro from him. She even expresses a desire to pay back the loan quickly, so that he will serve her again. But Almudena, like everyone else in Misericordia, is really dependent on Benina. It is not very long before he is absolutely penniless, and Benina moves spontaneously into the vacuum to provide him with food. She knows that this is his need, and forces him to eat, against his will, not because she wants to be successful as a purveyor of charity, but because Almudena's first need is for nourishment: «Comes o no comes? Porque yo no he venido aquí a perder el tiempo echándote sermones»   —115→   (V, 1953). His material dependence upon her is constant, and equally constant is her acceptance and response. When Almudena disappears from his accustomed haunts, Benina is indefatigable in her search for him. When, during their sojourn at El Pardo, he contracts a repulsive skin disease, Benina's only response is to seek a means of curing him. It does not occur to her that his condition is distasteful and perhaps contagious. She simply does what she can to help him. Nazarín's joy at meeting an epidemic seems selfish by contrast, since he does not consider the suffering itself, but only the opportunity it provides him to be charitable. Benina is also an appreciative confidante of Almudena's innermost desires and visions. The whole series of conjurements and charms which he explains in great detail to her, with their attractive promises of immediate wealth, is entered into by Benina, and she even goes so far as to buy the implements required for one of his hocus-pocus procedures. That Benina (especially when her own need is greatest) partially believes, or wants to believe in Almudena's fantasies, does not alter the fact that in serving as a generally sympathetic sounding-board for them she has met Almudena's need to communicate his own special view of reality. Benina ends up not believing in any of Almudena's fancies, but she nevertheless has provided him with a sympathetic ear. Almudena is convinced that Benina. is the woman promised him in a vision by his rey de baixo terra, Samdai. He is, in his way, deeply in love with Benina. She listens with sometimes exasperated impatience to his wild declarations of love, and tries to divert him from his single-minded romantic devotion. But she never hurts him deliberately. When he becomes fiercely jealous of what he thinks is her «affair» with Ponte, she quickly soothes his hurt feelings, not because she is romantically attached to him but simply because his pain is painful to her. Of all the secondary characters in Misericordia, Almudena is the one who has the most truly charitable response to Benina. And yet he is basically selfish. He wants her for himself alone, believing she is the woman promised only to him. His chief concern, as the novel moves ahead, is that she not desert him for Ponte, Paca or anyone else. All his grandiose plans for sudden enrichment have as their object to free Benina from her hard life, so that she and he may spend the future in idyllic bliss. No extreme seems too great to him. He suggests that a certain charm will permit Benina to enter the bank and take money without being seen. It is at this point that Benina's integrity asserts itself and points up Almudena's less pure motives: «Quita, quita... Yo no tengo esas mañas. Robar, no. ¿Que no me ven? Pero Dios me verá» (V, 1942). Benina is willing to consider Almudena's visionary plans so long as what wealth may come to her is brought by supernatural means;179 but she will not steal. Almudena is worthy of her charity, and he is also not ungrateful; but his practice of the virtue of charity is far removed from hers.

In contacts with Almudena Benina reveals her feelings toward the other very poor people she meets. She tells him, early in the book, her view of her companions at San Sebastián: «Son unos corazones de pedernal... El que tiene, porque tiene, el que no tiene, porque no tiene. Total, que la dejarían a una morirse de vergüenza, y si a mano viene, se gozarán en ver a una pobre mendicante por los suelos» (V, 1886). She calls Almudena's house-mate, Pedra   —116→   «borrachona, sinvergonzonaza» (V, 1888). She calls down curses on the poor of Las Cambroneras who stone her and Almudena (V, 1957).180 Surely, all of these persons are wretched, unworthy and ungrateful creatures. The beggars at San Sebastián are greedy, selfish and cruel; they are the prey of a stereotyped idea of charity, and are themselves utterly uncharitable. Pedra, though occasionally kind to Almudena, is a vicious woman. And certainly, the poor of Las Cambroneras are animalistically vengeful against the very woman who has brought them bread: they are victims of a concept of charity which says that it moves from the rich to the poor, and that if a poor woman is charitable, she must be insincere. Benina's actions toward all these people are not, however, condemnatory or judgmental, and function all the more to contrast her with them. In the first place, she does not condemn her beggar-companions at San Sebastian; she simply gets along with them. She soon identifies with Pedra: «[...] y a esta pobre desgraciada, cuando despierte, no la pegues, hijo, ¡pobrecita! Cada uno, por aquel de no sufrir se emborracha con lo que puede; ésta con el aguardentazo, otras con otra cosa. Yo también las cojo; pero no así; las mías son de cosa de más adentro... Ya te contaré, ya te contaré» (V, 1889). With the poor of Las Cambroneras, Beninds charity is utterly improvised; these folk appear to her as she is seeking Almudena. Having been asked a few minutes earlier whether she knows a certain low type called Si Toséis Toméis, Benina has replied, «Yo no me trato con gente de ésa» (V, 1956). But she does not know herself. The wretches who stone her are the same gente de ésa, and she has dealt with them both charitably and unintentionally. They have appeared as very unlovely persons indeed, but persons in need of food. The object of her visit was another, and her expressed view of this sort of person was anything but kind. And yet she has been immediately diverted from her errand, and won away from her prejudices. She is heroically beneficent, almost in spite of herself.

In chapter IX, as he exposed the declining fortunes of the Zapata family, Galdós mentioned the economic plight of Obdulia, dofia Paca's daughter, who had married the son of a mortician, noting that «Todo esto era ocasión de nuevos afanes y calvilaciones para Benina, que amaba entrañablemente a la señorita de la casa, y no podía verla con hambre y necesidad, sin tratar al instante de socorrerla según sus medios» (V, 1900). Benina's provision of nourishment does indeed extend to the petulant and self-indulgent Obdulia, who only every other day receives food from her husband's family. But again, Benina's charity does more than just furnish physical sustenance to Paca's useless and selfish daughter. Benina has no desire to make over Obdulia, and knows her as she really is -weak, spoiled, and unrealistic. By providing food for her, Benina makes it possible for Obdulia to escape into the world of sterile illusion where she can be happy. Speaking to Paca about the pathetic girl, Benina says: «Pues la he visto contenta, sí, señora, y es porque da en figurarse cosas buenas. Más vale así. Es de las que se creen todo lo que fabrican ellas mismas en su cabeza. De este modo, son felices cuando debieran ser desgraciadas» (V, 1901). Benina's charity to Obdulia is free and full, without judgment or conditions. It contrasts violently, ironically, with Obdulia's own idea of charity: she says that when she is rich (the only condition which will place her in a positon to be charitable),   —117→   she will seek needy cases in the city in order to help them. Fearful that this may exhaust her, she is comforted by Ponte, who suggests that she will naturally have a carriage, and the conversation moves off to a discussion of the merits of hired coaches (V, 1923).

One of the least worthy objects of Benina's beneficence is the old fop Frasquito Ponte. Completely out of touch with the realities of the present, he lives in a world long since vanished, and shamelessly feeds Obdulia's wild illusions of grandeur and wealth. He is described thus by Galdós: «Persona más inofensiva no creo haya existido nunca; más inútil, tampoco» (V, 1918). He is a pathetic snob. But he is within Benina's orbit of charity, simply because she knows him and he is in need. Reduced to grinding poverty, his only concern is to preserve the old image of himself, and he spends a disproportionate part of his infinitesimal income on hair dye, perfume, and shoes. Benina knows he is hungry, and she feeds him. But she also knows he is proud, and in providing him with the first solid meal he has had in some days, she exercises an exquisite tact, a deep understanding of his needs as a human being: «Y aunque el señor don Frasquito no quiera, ha de hacer aquí penitencia. Le convido yo..., no, le convida la señorita... Sí, ya sabemos que siempre esta usted convidado en casas de la grandeza. Pero como es tan bueno, se dizna sentarse a la mesa de los pobres» (V, 1916). In the presence of Obdulia, it would have been cruel indeed to tell Ponte that he was hungry. Benina feels sorrier for Ponte, who is too proud to confess his hunger, than for the poor man who admits his need, begs, and is fed (V, 1917). But in order to save Ponte from eviction from his casa de dormir, she is forced to press a peseta into his hand and tell him, «Don Frasquito, no haga papeles, que es usted más mendigo que el inventor del hambre» (V, 1925). Away from Obdulia, this hurts him less, and he lets her put the coin in his hand. The next day, as she is seeking a loan from a friend she hears that Ponte has had a stroke. She abandons her errand and runs off to find Ponte. When he tells her that he has spent the peseta for a post-card portrait of the Empress Eugénie, Benina is furious, but does not therefore give him up. She gets the loan from another friend and takes Ponte to Paca's home in a cab. She still does not judge Ponte. Even at this stage of the novel, Ponte has a more grateful reaction to Benina than do most of the other characters. He calls her, in somewhat stereotyped language, an angel. But his misuse of her charity, his impenitent preference for unreality, and his sharing of Obdulia's frivolous notion of the practice of charity, mark him, at this stage at any rate, as unworthy and ungrateful. The uniqueness of Benina's charity is again underlined.

Rather than an object of Benina's charity, don Carlos Moreno Trujillo functions largely as an ironic contrast to her. He is conventional charity, methodical beneficence, measured response to need: «Tal era su previsión que rara vez dejaba de llevar la cantidad necesaria para los pobres de uno y otro costado: como aconteciera el caso inaudito de faltarle una pieza, ya sabía el mendigo que la tenía segura al día siguiente...» (V, 1880). He is a prisoner of his system, in fact, more captive to his method than the needs of the poor, as is shown by his ridiculous gift of an account-book to Benina and Paca. He is also selfish. His   —118→   hope is to gain Heaven by giving alms, but he gives nothing like what he is able to give. He squeezes each coin between his fingers as he gives it, to be sure that two have not been stuck together. By his very meanness and falseness beside Benina, he would seem a most natural object of her scorn. In his presence, but to herself, she does indeed lose patience: «¿Qué nos va usted a dar, viejo loco, más loco que los que están en Leganés? Así se te pudra todo el dinero que guardas, y se convierta en pus dentro del cuerpo para que revientes, zurrón de avaricia» (V, 1906). These words are never spoken, and the judgment don Carlos deserves is never delivered to him. Benina, in fact, forgives him, remembers that he is one of God's creatures, and allows that he is not as bad as some others. In this sense, the one who is Benina's exact opposite, and an evil fraud, also comes under the all-enfolding wings of her outrageously tolerant good-will. He is an object of charity without knowing it.

Next to doña Paca, Juliana is the person toward whom Benina might be expected to have the most bitterness. It is Juliana, who has never presented herself during Paca's poverty, who suddenly appears after the inheritance has been received and usurps Benina's position as manager of the family finances. Under the don Carlos-like pretext of helping Paca to use her money judiciously, and thus to save her from further poverty, Juliana takes complete charge. But her motives are selfish. Like Casiana, the beggar-woman, she takes on her role only for the joy of domination it provides. She is a bit acquisitive also, for it is only when there is some money in the household that she appears. She offers to do Ponte's ironing and mending at a very cheap rate. With blistering sarcasm, Galdós describes her thus: «No era mala persona Juliana; dominante, eso, sí... Pero no carecía de amor al prójimo...» (V, 1984). Her «love for her neighbor» takes the form, in Benina's case, of assigning to the heroic old woman a daily pittance, half of what doña Paca had thought proper. It takes the form of stern instructions to Benina not to try to come back to live with the family; she reminds her that she is no longer needed. Benina's reaction, however, is in concordance not with juliana's vicious treatment of her but with her own allencompassing view of things and people: «Con todo se mostró conforme la buena mujer, que en ello veía una voluntad superior incontrastable» (V, 1984). And finally, of course, it is juliana who needs Benina's help: when she becomes obsessed with the idea that her children are dying, Benina freely gives her the word of assurance and liberation from fear which alone can save her. Again Benina's charity has extended to an unworthy person who has wronged her, a person whose practice of «charity» is a hollow sham next to her own boundless love.

The fullest range of Benina's reckless and loving forgiveness is of course unfolded in her relationship with dofia Paca. The lady from Ronda has fallen on hard times through her own fault, her own lack of management. In laying the blame squarely at her feet, Galdós observes: «[...] resulta gran tontería echar al Destino la culpa de lo que es obra exclusiva de los propios caracteres y temperamentos, y buena muestra de ello es doña Paca, que en su propio ser desde el nacimiento llevaba el desbarajuste de todas las cosas materiales» (V, 1893). Paca is selfish and mean with Benina, and praises herself as generous, accusing   —119→   her servant of being one of those who «[...] componen sus actos para parecer mejores de lo que son» (V, 1945). She never learns from her experience of poverty, and as soon as she receives money from the inheritance, she begins ordering enormous quantities of food sent in from Botín. Her weak resolutions of order and management come to naught, and only the fierce domination of Juliana saves her from a second economic ruin. She is incorrigibly irresponsible and selfish. But Benina accepts her as she is, never trying to make her over, and only meeting her needs, physical and psychological. As María Zambrano points out, «Así la primera acción de Nina con su señora fue para mantenerla en vida, hacerle pasar el tiempo, entretenerla con mentiras para que pudiera al menos ensoñar, recorrer aunque fuera un sueño, una modesta quimera de porvenir.»181 For many years Benina has been the chief financial support of her mistress. This role has led her to what Galdós presents with loving irony as a grave defect: Benina is «[...] la más intrépida sisona de Madrid» (V, 1894). On several occasions this defect is referred to with mock sadness: «Pero ni aun en aquel rasgo de caridad hermosa desmintió la pobre mujer sus hábitos de sisa, y descontó un pico para guardarlo en su baúl, como base de un nuevo montepío, que era para ella necesidad de su temperamento y placer de su alma.» «No podía remediarlo. Descontaba su propia caridad y sisaba en su limosna» (V, 1895). «Pero no por caritativa y cariñosa perdía sus mañas instintivas: siempre ocultaba a su señora una parte del dinero, trabajosamente reunido, y la guardaba para formar nuevo fondo y capital nuevo» (V, 1899). To present Benina as wisely provident and calculating would have been a jarring procedure. Instead, while soberly insisting on the spot of selfishness in her character, Galdós is in fact revealing that sisa, in Benina's case, is unknowing but provident charity. For the pittance she keeps back is always the base for a new montepio, a bit of leaven for a new lump, which is always and invariably used to help Paca. Whether Benina «knows» this or not, it is true. The fact that she is presented as not knowing it is consistent with her general characteristic of not realizing that she is an examplar of charity. But sisa is not enough; it is only one manifestation of her charity for Paca. That Paca should have enough to eat is supremely important to Benina, so important that «Conformábase ella con chupar algunos huesos y catar desperdicios siempre y cuando doña Paca quedase satisfecha» (V, 1899). After her arrest, her only concern is for Paca's survival: «Cuando consideraba que doña Paca y Frasquito no tendrían qué comer aquella noche, su dolor llegaba al frenesí...» (V, 1961). It is Paca's need for food that leads Benina to beg at San Sebastián. But in her fervent ministry to the physical needs of her mistress she does not forget her psychological needs: «Mas no queriendo que su señora se enterase de tanta desventura, armó el enredo de que le había salido una buena proporción de asistenta, en casa de un señor eclesiástico, alcarreño, tan piadoso como adinerado» (V, 1900). Further to spare Paca the suffering which would be brought by knowing she was subsisting only on alms, Benina invents a name, life, and family for her fictitious priest, giving a «simulacro perfecto de la verdad» (V, 1900). For love of doña Paca, Benina maintains and embroiders this lie unendingly. It furnished her with a means of making Paca allow her to go to see don Galdós Moreno Trujillo. Paca is furious when Benina tells her that   —120→   she has an appointment with this worthy, and refuses to take any alms from him. Benina spares Paca's pride and at the same moment gets her to accept the donation, by telling Paca that don Carlos might tell his great friend don Romualdo about her stubborn pride, thus possibly placing Benina's «job» in jeopardy (V, 1904). Benina abases herself time and again to provide doña Paca with an outlet for her frustrations and hostilities: «No pocas veces Benina, inocente, tuvo que declararse culpable de las faltas que la señora le imputaba, porque, haciéndolo así, se calmaba más pronto» (V. 1926). She thinks only of her mistress' need, and buries her own preferences; utterly exhausted one night from a full day's beggings, she rises to the occasion: «Sacó fuerza de flaqueza la heroica anciana, y con su espíritu muy turbado, su mente llena de presagios sombríos, empezó a despotricar como una tarabilla, para que se embelesara la señora con unas cuantas chanzonetas y mil tonterías imaginadas y pudiera coger el sueño» (V, 1960). In a verbal echo, Galdós shows Benina taking upon herself the sins of dofia Paca. The mistress has become known vulgarly among the tradespeople as «doña Paca la Tramposa, Marquesa del Infundio»; (V, 1895). In one of her outbursts against Benina, she screams, «¿Pero no ves que yo te calo al instante y adivino tus infundios?» (V, 1927). The word appears only these two times in the book, and clearly Paca is projecting on Benina her own defects. The servant lets her do this. Only once does Benina really call a halt to Paca's ravings. The two are in bed, and Paca is spewing out all sorts of abuse. Benina takes it all patiently, coming close to revolt: «Sí, señora, me he vuelto muda... Puede que cuando la señora se canse y cierre el pico, lo abra yo para decirle..., en fin, no digo nada» (V, 1945). But doña Paca continues her philippic and goes so far as to accuse Benina of having had an illegitimate child by a Civil Guard. Benina says firmly, «Eso no es verdad» (V, 1946), and Paca is silent. Soon she begins to complain of her aches and pains, and Benina wordlessly makes her tea, gives her medicine, and massages her sore muscles. Her discipline of Paca, mild and impersonal though it be, is followed by a humble series of submissive acts. Doña Paca mentions charity only once, when Benina appears unexpectedly with the infirm Frasquito Ponte. In a disgusting arrogation to herself of Benina's virtues, she says: «Ya estamos en situación de hacer una obra de caridad, recogiendo a este desgraciado... ¿Ves? Dios en un solo punto y ocasión nos ampara y nos dice que amparemos. El favor y la obligación vienen aparejados» (V, 1935). This pious mouthing of conventional moralism, which Benina selflessly sees as exact (V, 1934), is hollow not only because Paca herself does nothing for Ponte but also because it is never put into practice toward Benina after Paca becomes financially solvent. Paca's ingratitude to Benina is the supreme injustice of Misericordia. After Benina disappears, Paca does practically nothing to try to find her. She is indeed disconsolate without her old friend: «Doña Paca, la verdad sea dicha, sentía que se le aguaba la felicidad por no poder hacer partícipe de ella a su compañera en tantos años de penuria» (V, 1969). But it is also true that this very sorrow is selfish, inasmuch as Paca wants merely to be completely happy by having Benina present, and not to repay in some small measure her faithful companion. She allows new maids to be hired, she allows Juliana to take charge, and when   —121→   Benina returns she can only scold her, evict her, and express disgust at what she has done in resorting to begging on the public streets and consorting with an «Arab». But the thundering judgment she deserves is not delivered to her: Nina goes out to the street, to find Almudena, and only then cries: «¡Qué ingratitud, Señor!... ¡Oh mundo..., oh miseria! Afrenta de Dios es hacer bien...» (V, 1983). Benina is wounded bitterly, but she does not wound in return. She still loves Paca, and wants to see her; she hides in a doorway in the Calle Imperial to watch her old mistress leave their home for her new flat in the Calle de Orellana. «Debe decirse que el ingrato proceder de doña Paca no despertaba en Nina odio ni mala voluntad...» (V, 1987). In her most severe test Benina has again won by losing.

In all of her relationships with people, Benina acts with reckless love, neither judging nor withholding. By any human standards, the objects of her charity are often neither worthy nor grateful; but she is free from human standards and human ideas of charity. All the other characters talk about, and have ideas about charity. Benina has no theories; neither does she elaborate verbally on charity. She is charity, and her relationships with people show that because she is free, she can act with an abandon and a selflessness which leave their poor notions of charity in the realm of the false and the impure.

If her incarnation of love is ironic because she does not recognize it, and is thus free, Benina's cultivation of illusion at the expense of reality is also ironic because she never really believes her own lies, and yet hers is the only illusion which turns into reality. She who, in contrast to the other characters, has her feet firmly planted in reality,182 may give grudging credit occasionally to the wild fancies of Almudena, and she has no objections to the fantasy-life of others, but she never sees her own fabricated stories as anything more than convenient frauds. She is the only one powerful enough to free others from servitude to illusion by making for each one the kind of reality he needs and wants.

It is Almudena who has the most fully developed life of illusion, perhaps felt by Galdós to be natural in a blind person. His remarkably concrete and detailed descriptions of Samdai and his retinue are of a completeness not matched in the dream-life of any other character. Furthermore, he connects Benina with this world of illusion, for he believes that she is the fulfillment of a promise made to him. In a sense, this part of Almudena's vision is true: whether or not it is the work of Samdai, Almudena does discover that Benina has for him an abiding affection and will not abandon him. But though he speaks with certainty of the miracles Samdai will work, none of them ever happens. Benina ultimately frees him from the need for such elaborate self-deception, however, without really doing anything to destroy his illusions or injure his sense of certainty. She even shares his miracle-prone mentality, and provisionally accepts some of his premises. But her real deliverance of Almudena, and the reason his conjurements do not need to come true, is that she provides him with a reality (herself) which no longer makes it necessary for him to lose himself in visions. That he still believes Benina to have come from the metaphysical world is only testimony to her uniqueness.183


Obdulia and Frasquito Ponte spend most of their time in a never-never land of elegant society, balls, banquets, and sybaritic formality. Each feeds the other's illusions: Ponte gives details of the haut monde to whose edge he once clung, thus filling the girl's head with a world she will never know. «Todo eso que usted ve en sueños, véalo como una realidad posible, probable» (V, 1923), he tells her. By her avid assimilation of Ponte's memories, Obdulia fortifies in him the illusion that he is the dandy he always wanted to be. Unproductive and wasteful, this idle occupation of the two ilusos is respected and buttressed by Benina, who provides food for their bodies, and believes that they are better off in their dream world. But again, it is Benina who provides a bridge between illusion and reality: when her don Romualdo appears with the inheritance, Ponte and Obdulia (though the former dies not too long after receiving the news of his inheritance) are at last able to indulge, in reality, a few of their long-frustrated desires for material comfort and social distinction.

Doña Paca feels so cheated by fate that she has no illusions left. «No hay ilusión que no se me convierta en desengaño» (V, 1892), she says early in the novel. Her desire is still for a return to her former position but she doesn't really believe that this will happen. Her only illusions are provided by Benina: she feels that she is still the mistress, she is encouraged by Benina to believe in the imminence of a miracle, and she is captivated into believing in the fictitious don Romualdo. It is almost as if Benina, not only to spare her mistress' pride but also to give her a necessary dimension of existence, had unwisely encouraged Paca's unhealthy tendencies. In the case of Paca, then, Benina does not simply protect the dream world of another person: she constructs it. In Paca's dreams, it is don Romualdo who delivers the news of her inheritance; i.e., the ability to experience illusion has been provided by Benina. Paca even assists Benina in the fabrication of her lies. When, on the first day, Benina arrives home much later than usual, having been delayed by the pursuit of the needed duro, Paca furnishes the convenient explanation that Benina was still seeking: it is don Romualdo's onomastic feast, and of course Benina has had to serve an unusually complicated dinner (V, 1891). Taking the line tossed her, Benina elaborates in detail on the substantial meal she has supposedly prepared. Paca assists her in filling in the particulars. On another occasion, when Benina appears with Ponte and ten duros, Paca wonders who can have provided such a handsome gift of money; when Benina mumbles confusedly something about a certain Rumaldo (who has given to la Pitusa the two rings which Benina pawns), doña Paca naturally jumps in with the explanation: don Romualdo has once again come to the rescue (V, 1934-1935). So real to doña Paca are Benina's lies that truth and falsehood are reversed in Paca's apprehension of the world: on the first day represented in the novel, Benina tells Paca falsely that she has been to see Obdulia, and the story is accepted as fact; on the second day Benina has, in fact, been to see the girl, but Paca refuses to believe it. The confusion reaches such an absolute degree that Paca, confronted by the «real» don Romualdo, places Benina in the world of fantasy; «[...] le suplico... que no haga ningún caso de las Beninas figuradas que puedan salir por ahí, y se atenga a la propia y legítima Nina; a la que va de asistenta a su casa de usted... Esta es la verdadera...»   —123→   (V, 1968). Paca's captivity to Benina's lies, her freedom from harsh reality, are succinctly summarized by Galdós: «Había llegado a tener doña Paca tal confianza en la disposición de Benina, que apenas se inquietaba ya por las dificultades del mañana, segura de que la otra las había de vencer con su diligencia y conocimiento del mundo, valiéndole de mucho la protección del bendito don Romualdo» (V, 1900). More than anyone else, doña Paca depends on Benina for her life of imagination. Far from forcing her to face reality, Benina spares her by presenting as truth a pack of lies which let her live in a more pleasant world than the one she really inhabits. Finally, of course, Benina's lie becomes the truth, and doña Paca is providentially saved.

Referring to the new value given the imagination in Misericordia, Casalduero writes, «Antes la imaginación servía para eludir la realidad, ahora crea realidades.»184 As well as being true with respect to the general novelistic trajectory of Galdós, this statement is an accurate description of what takes place within the covers of Misericordia. For just as surely as she is free to act with reckless compassion to all she meets, Benina is powerful enough to redeem the fantasies of other people, and in one way or another, to make them real. She is unique in this power, just as she is unique in her incarnation of charity: it is only by her mediation that the other characters, with the single exception of Almudena, have any dream-life at all, and she is the only one who can somehow make dreams come true.

But to call this action simply power is to forget that Benina does not act as one with power. Her ability to produce a don Romualdo, is not acknowledged by her any more than is her saintliness. Her love for doña Paca and the others is of such magnitude that it creates don Romualdo, that is, it moves the Divine to intervene in the affairs of men, or is itself divinely creative. What seems a surpassing power is nothing if not the plenitude of her active love. The bridge between illusion and reality, the redemption of illusion, is achieved by love: «Este puente es la misericordia, la piedad.»185

Of the utmost importance to the understanding of Benina as figura evangélica is the scrutiny of her views of illusion (her own and others') and her attitude toward the fact of a flesh-and-blood don Romualdo. We have said that she does not believe her own lies, and has no idea of herself as a person who can turn falsehood into truth. The most arresting feature of Misericordia, in this respect, is the series of intimations of miraculous, providential intervention, all experienced or expressed by Benina, dealing with the interchangeability of reality and imagination. It is a long series, but well worth reproducing:

-Yo siempre creo que cuando menos lo pensemos nos vendrá el golpe de suerte y estaremos tan ricamente...

(V, 1892)                

Benina aventuró la idea de que tal vez por el torcido sendero de la boda del mequetrefe vendría la suerte a la casa, pues la suerte, ya se sabe, no viene nunca por donde lógicamente se la espera, sino por curvas y vericuetos increíbles.

(V, 1898)                

-No acaba una de ver verdades que parecen mentiras...

(V, 1907)                

[...] aunque no había visto ningún milagro, esperaba verlo el mejor día.

(V, 1908)                

[...] lo que una sueña, ¿qué es? Pues cosas verdaderas de otro mundo que vienen a éste... Todo puede ser, todo puede ser...

(V, 1909)                


-Pues ¿cuántas cosas se tuvieron por mentira y luego salieron verdades?

(V, 1910)                

-Y ¿quién dice que no suceda, que no tengamos esa ocurrencia?

(V, 1928)                

-¡Cuántas mentiras hubo que luego se volvieron verdades como puños!

(V, 1928)                

-Los sueños, los sueños, digan lo que quieran..., son también de Dios; ¿y quién va a saber lo que es verdad y lo que es mentira?

(V, 1936)                

-Yo hago caso de los sueños... Debajo de la tierra hay otro mundo, y el toque está en saber cómo y cuándo podemos hablar con los vivientes soterranos. Ellos han de saber lo mal que estamos por acá... No sé si me explico... digo que no hay justicia, y para que la haiga, soñaremos todo lo que nos dé la gana, y soñando, un suponer, traeremos acá la justicia.

(V, 1937)                

-¿Quién dice que no? ¿Ha soñado usted con cajas vacías? Porque eso es señal de herencia segura.

(V, 1947)                

Our initial temptation, viewing this series of intimations, is to attribute to Benina a foreknowledge of what is to happen at the end of the novel, to assume that she has an assurance of what she will at length achieve. And yet as we look at each one of her intimations in its context it becomes unmistakably clear that such is not the case at all. These remarks testify to three facts: (1) that Benina is superstitious, (2) that she gives Paca a lift by infusing hope into her spirit, and (3) that she is much readier to believe in Almudena's preposterous visions, than in her own don Romualdo. Benina's consoling hypotheses function, in her consciousness, either to extend hope to others, or to deceive herself into believing that somehow (but not by her own intervention) the situation will take a turn for the better. Even when she has dreamed of piles of gems in the next room, and says, «Es todavía muy pronto para que traigan eso...» (V, 1929), she is thinking in terms of Almudena's magic, not her own. To the careful reader of Misericordia, this series of remarks serves as arrows pointing to a miracle; but in Benina it is a further expression of her charity and of the fact that her own view of herself is not as large as she really is. The limits of her consciousness (the bounds of the novel's structuring of her character) are inseparable from her self-effacement and good will (the stuff of her character).

The series of confused reactions she experiences to the «lie which becomes truth» is further evidence of her lack of awareness of her role, and indeed of her rejection of any holiness or power great enough to bring a chimaera to life. These reactions generally follow the episodes which make up the tantalizingly indirect and leisurely «materialization» of don Romualdo. But before any reference is made to a «real» don Romualdo, Benina is thinking dreamily about his family one day, and then catches herself «¡Vaya que soy gilí!... Invento yo al tal don Romualdo, y ahora se me antoja que es persona efetiva y que puede socorrerme. No hay más don Romualdo que el pordioseo bendito, y a eso voy» (V, 1929). When she hears of the first visit of don Romualdo to the house (Paca has not received him, thinking he must be a bill collector), she is confused, but too busy to give much thought to the possibility that her invention may have come to life: «Benina, confusa un instante por la rareza del caso, lo dio pronto al olvido por tener cosas de mas importancia en que ocupar su entendimiento» (V, 1950). While seeking out Almudena one day, Benina meets an old man whose granddaughters have been offered a place in an orphanage   —125→   by don Romualdo. Benina is stunned, and is described as «[...] sintiendo que lo real y lo imaginario se revolvían en su cerebro» (V, 1951). But again she goes on her way and finds Almudena, and in their subsequent conversation rejects the idea of illusions turning into reality: «No, no: aquí no hay salvación para el pobre; y eso de sacar tesoros, o de que le traigan a uno las carretadas de piedras preciosas, me parece a mí que es conversación» (V, 1954). But the march of events gives Benina no rest: she has taken the wounded Almudena to a switchman's shack near the Estación de las Pulgas where he may recuperate. The switchman and his wife also know don Romualdo, and suggest that Benina apply for admission to «La Misericordia», the hospice for the aged which this good priest helps to administer. Once again, «[...] sintió la Benina que se renovaba en su mente la extraña confusión y mescolanza de lo real y lo imaginado» (V, 1958). After don Romualdo's second visit to their house (Paca has been away this time and has again missed seeing him), Benina is forced to deal with the possibility of an honest-to-goodness person answering her description:

Ya tenía Benina un espantoso lío en la cabeza con aquel dichoso clérigo, tan semejante, por las señas y el nombre, al suyo, al de su invención; y pensaba si, por milagro de Dios, habría tomado cuerpo y alma de persona verídica el ser creado en su fantasía por un mentir inocente, obra de las aflictivas circunstancias. «En fin veremos lo que resulta de todo esto... Bien venido sea ese señor cura si viene á traernos algo». Y de tal modo arraigaba en su mente la idea que se convertía en real el mentido y figurado sacerdote alcarreño, que una noche, cuando pedía con antiparras y velo, creyó reconocer en una señora, que le dio dos céntimos, a la mismísima doña Patros, la sobrina que bizcaba una miaja.

(V, 1959-1960)                

In this real crisis of illusion versus reality, Benina has to admit the possibility of a real don Romualdo, but she takes no credit for his materialization. In fact she begins to make excuses for lying, and after she sees don Romualdo (without speaking to him), she seeks further to justify to herself the lie which has without her knowledge, will, or intervention, become truth. In a «speech never spoken», one of the most memorable in Misericordia, Benina addresses don Romualdo in her imagination:

-Señor don Romualdo, perdóneme si le he inventado. Yo creí que no había mal en esto. Lo hice porque la señora no me descubriera que salgo todos los días a pedir limosna para mantenerla. Y si esto de aparecerse usted ahora con cuerpo y vida de personi es castigo mío, perdóneme Dios, que no lo volveré a hacer. ¿O es usted otro don Romualdo? Para que yo salga de esta duda que me atormenta, hágame el favor de decirme si tiene una sobrina bizca y una hermana que se llama doña Josefa, y si le han propuesto para obispo, como se merece, y ojalá fuera verdad. Dígame si es usted el mío, mi don Romualdo, u otro, que yo no sé de dónde puede haber salido, y dígame también qué demontres tiene que hablar con la señora, y si va a darle las quejas porque yo he tenido el atrevimiento de inventarle.

(V, 1960-1961)                

Not only does Benina here reveal her confusion over the identity of the mysterious priest; she believes that, if he is her invention, he may have come to punish her for lying rather than in fact being a testimony to her powerful love. She who has no idea of her blessedness, can of course have no idea of her power for good. She decides that if he is don Romualdo, his existence was prior to her «invention» of him «[...] que todo lo que soñamos tiene su existencia propia y... que las mentiras entrañan verdades» (V, 1961). In successive   —126→   meditations on this unbelievable turn of events Benina convinces herself that this don Romualdo is not hers, that no invention of hers could ever bring a happy issue out of the family's troubles (V, 1980, 1983, 1991). But her efforts to understand don Romualdo are just not successful; her final adjudication of the matter is given in a speech to Juliana, and reveals her continuing confusions: «Y ya estoy segura, después de mucho cavilar, que no es el don Romualdo que yo inventé, sino otro que se parece a él como, se parecen dos gotas de agua. Inventa unas cosas que luego salen verdad, o las verdades, antes de ser verdades, un suponer, han sido mentiras muy gordas... Conque ya lo sabe» (V, 1991). But what do we know? We know that Benina, the figura evangélica who builds a bridge of love between illusion and reality, who «creates» reality out of a lie, has rejected her role as saint, as abogada de imposibles. Her selfeffacement, in the complex world of illusion and reality which fills Misericordia, reaches the point not only of encouraging, and often believing in the sterile illusions of her fellows, but of arrogating to herself no credit for the redemption and realization of these illusions. She is not only unaware of her nature; she is unaware of her role. Nazarín, with his «direct line» to Heaven, seems a selfinflated braggart by comparison.186

The final irony of Misericordia is a function, as are the others, of Benina's ignorance of her role as Christ figure and concerns the response of her world to her holiness and power. It does not necessarily follow from her ignorance of her role that others will be equally ignorant of it, but it is surely true that integral to her identity is a general response of ingratitude and lack of recognition. She is in the world, but not of the world, and the world cannot be expected to know her. That no one knows her and thus cannot tell her is as important a safeguard of her unselfconsciousness as is the fact that she does not tell them because she does not know. And so it is. No one who can be considered normal ever recognizes Benina's beatitude. When Benina returns from El Pardo, she finds no welcome at home, and Paca's horrifying «[...] tu conducta merece que yo sea un poquito severa contigo...» (V, 1982) speaks the whole message of ingratitude and rejection which the world accords its redeemer. Paca is both ungrateful and cruel, but simply because she does not know holiness when she sees it. Benina came into the world and the world knew her not.

It is only three abnormal, possessed people who see Benina as she really is. The first is the blind Almudena. The allegory of blindness in this wretched figure is carefully elaborated and implies the ironic statement: blindness is vision. Just as Benina fulfills, in some sense, his yearning for the woman promised by Samdai, so also she replaces his desire to see: he frequently says he loves her more than «la bendita luz», previously established as an absolute value for him. With the eyes of his blindness, he «sees» Benina in a way which no other character can quite achieve. This wretched iluso who has so little contact with reality, this sightless beggar, can see Benina's nature more clearly than anyone else. She is heavenly: «¡B'nina! tú vinir cielo» (V, 1952). She is on a divine errand: « vinir con ángeles, B'nina..., tú vinir con fuego» (V, 1953). She is surpassingly beautiful: «Tú ser bunita.»; «Tú ser com la zucena, branca... Com   —127→   palmeras del D'sierto cintura tuya... la estrella de la tarde ojitas tuyas»; (V, 1953). Benina's divine wisdom is the final object of Almudena's praise: «[...] tú saber como Dios cosas tudas, y yo quierer ti como ángela bunita...»; (V, 1988). The function and meaning of Almudena's response to Benina's holiness are clearly exposed by Gullón: «Y los ojos del ciego son clarividentes; sin vista aciertan a descubrir la hermosura moral de la pobre Benina, esa alma hermosa... El novelista señala... a través del ciego, cuánto hay de precioso en la protagonista, y al mismo tiempo que no es la luz de los ojos lo que alumbra el conocimiento, sino algún foco situado en el centro de las almas.»187 The normal vision of the world is not the kind that can see Benina.

The first real accolade given Benina is delivered in florid language by Frasquito Ponte: «[...] yo aseguro, bajo mi palabra de honor, que es usted un ángel; yo me inclino a creer que en el cuerpo de usted se ha encarnado un ser benéfico y misterioso, un ser que es mera personificación de la Providencia, según la entendían y la entienden los pueblos antiguos y modernos» (V, 1922). These words ring hollow because they are in the same stereotyped language used by Ponte on all occasions. They may even be hypocritical. But they do speak the truth, and point to Ponte's later words of praise for Benina. After he has had his final stroke, and is quite mad, Ponte suffers from the delusion that all Madrid is accusing him of carrying on a love affair with Benina. To Paca, Obdulia and Juliana he protests innocence:

-Me acusan de un infame delito: de haber puesto mis ojos en un ángel, de blancas alas célicas, de pureza inmaculada... Pero yo no he seducido ángeles, ni los seduciré... Sépalo usted, Frasquita: sépalo, Obdulia... la Nina no es de este mundo..., la Nina pertenece al cielo... Vestida de pobre ha pedido limosna para mantenerlas a ustedes y a mí... Mi hermosura es humana, y la de ella divina; mi rostro espléndido es de carne mortal, y el de ella de celeste luz... No, no, no la he seducido, no ha sido mía, es de Dios... Y a usted se lo digo, Curra Juárez, de Ronda; a usted, que ahora no puede moverse, de lo que le pesa en el cuerpo la ingratitud... Yo... soy agradecido...

(V, 1989)                

Mingled with his madness, with his absolutely preposterous idea of himself, there comes forth from Ponte's mouth the truth about Benina. The women are frightened and disgusted, but they do not for one moment suspect that this maniac can speak the truth. The allegory of madness, parallel to that of blindness, says that madness is wisdom. Only an unworldly state of mind can understand Benina's greatness, and realize the gravity of Paca's ingratitude. Ponte dies trying to pronounce the word ingrata.

The only person who may have been affected by Ponte's ravings (and we do not know that this is so) is Juliana. It is Juliana who has usurped Benina's place and has «[...] el don rarísimo de organizar la vida y regir las acciones de los demás» (V, 1990). But Juliana falls victim to a destructive obsession, the idea that her children are sick and will die. In her state of possession, she comes instinctively to Benina to confess, and to be reassured. Her testimony to Benina's power is implicit, but after Benina frees her from the delusion, it is verbalized: «Nina, Nina, es usted una santa» (V, 1992). juliana's recognition of Benina is unique: although she is possessed when she comes for deliverance, she makes her final testimony after having been freed from her idée fixe. Almudena is,   —128→   after all, still utterly dependent on Benina and will never go back into the world. Ponte is dead. But Juliana, who must return, and as a normal person, to the world of Madrid alto, has been granted the grace of knowing Benina; she is the only one who will be identified with society who has seen the light. Casalduero explains her salvation thus: «Esta merecía salvarse, porque representaba la razon contra la insensatez, el Derecho, pilar de la sociedad, pero verdaderamente fuerte sólo cuando se une a la justicia, es decir, cuando es capaz de amor.»188 It is certainly true that Juliana steps in to save Paca from a second financial ruin, and she has acute common sense. But she cannot be said to deserve salvation. She has never bothered to help Paca before and she is partly responsible for'the cruel rejection meted out to Benina. Rather, it is precisely because she represents the world with only its value of hard work and rejection of illusion, because she is the anti-Benina, that she must be saved by a knowledge of Benina as she truly is. For Benina's estrangement from the world cannot be absolute, she cannot be left without a witness. The always ironic Misericordia transforms her enemy, her exact opposite, into her single witness. Juliana's new self does indeed reconcile organization and charity, but this is not her fair reward. It is Benina's free gift. Benina has power even over those who have «[...] el don rarísimo de organizar la vida y regir las acciones de los demás». Love is stronger than prudence.

Benina does not know who she is, and yet she is not utterly without a sense of her role. We have seen her cry «Afrenta de Dios es hacer bien...» (V, 1983) when turned out by Paca, and we know that this bitter defeat is transformed into victory: «Había alcanzado glorioso triunfo; sentíase victoriosa, después de haber perdido la batalla en el terreno material» (V, 1986). But what Benina really knows is relatively little: she is aware now that no circumstance can hurt her; she knows that her conscience is clean; and she has experienced a sense of exaltation as a result of her victory over rejection. But she still has no idea of the real dimensions of her love and power, and it is only after Juliana confesses her sin that Benina can say «[...] vete a tu casa y no vuelvas a pecar» (V, 1992). In her last speech Benina confirms that irony which is basic to Misericordia: she uses a perfectly current manner of speaking as she addresses a woman who has just said «Yo he pecado.» But she uses words which also happen to be those of Christ to the woman taken in adultery. Benina speaks Christ's words of forgiveness, and she does Christ's work of reconciliation; but she does not know it.


The changing relationship of the figura evangélica to society in Galdós' three novels dealing with the Christ figure is also symptomatic of the trajectory they represent. In Nazarín simple physical separation from the world of Madrid enables the hero to escape the pressures which menace him and to meet isolated circumstances. Conceived perhaps as a parallel to Christ's wandering ministry, and certainly reminiscent of Don Quijote's sallies, this separation from the complex urban world in fact weakens the hero's claim to pervasive sanctity, as   —129→   does the fact that social pressures put an end to his wandering rural apostolate. Halma attempts a kind of modus vivendi between society and the figura evangélica, allowing certain compromises with the demands of society in order that holy objectives may not be stifled. What these compromises are is never clear, however, and some sort of self-conscious physical separation is still insisted upon. Again, the orbit of the effective action of the figura evangélica is limited. Nazarín and Halma too often use people as experimental bodies for their work of self-sanctification, and the environment chosen for them makes this process all the more inevitable. In Misericordia this question, treated so problematically and self-consciously in the first two novels, ceases to be a problem. Benina is caught inextricably in the society of Madrid and her separation from that society is exclusively of a moral sort. Her orbit of charity embraces everyone she meets and is not limited by any controlled environment. Ironically then, Nazarín and Halma seem to select their environment, when in reality it is set up to enable them to practice self-consciously the virtue of charity. Benina, on the other hand, seems to have her field of action forced upon her; but because she is morally free from that field of action she can redeem it all without seeming to try. What was a problem in Nazarín and Halma is solved in Misericordia by the nature of the heroine, rather than by a set of predetermined circumstances. Charity, we discover, is not necessarily present in a programmatic abstraction of poverty or in a sensible program of the administration of wealth; it exists in a concrete and individual person.

The final artistic point represented by the trajectory concerns the change in the protagonist's view of himself and is the surpassing achievement of Galdós' treatment of the figura evangélica. Both Nazarín and Halma have a concept of themselves; they seek the means to realize this concept. Their success is qualified not so much by their limited fields of action as by their enslavement to a view of themselves which makes them ponder, consider and judge each of their actions. This being so, they are neither «round» characters nor charitable people. They are simply not large enough to act out the values of the novelist's reality. But Benina is not especially concerned with a program or with an idea of charity; and she is certainly not concerned with herself. She is concerned with the needs of people and acts instinctively and with supreme abandon to meet those needs. Rather than seeking her role as Christ figure, she rejects it because she has no idea of herself as especially distinct. She is not beholden to a program, and she is not, apparently, enslaved by a plot. Her holiness is greater than her view of herself and seems to burst even the bonds of the novelist's reality. She makes us believe in her, not because she is so good, but because she is so free.

Nazarín and Halma give up the world in seeking themselves, and the world defeats them. Benina has given up herself to the world, seekingnothing, but the world cannot overcome her.

Dartmouth College

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