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ArribaAbajo Ellipsis and Space in Tristana

Farris Anderson

The low critical esteem in which Galdós' Tristana has traditionally been held appears to be due largely to this novel's elliptical quality. Shortly after Tristana's publication in March, 1892, Emilia Pardo Bazán pronounced it «embrionaria y confusa, al través de una niebla, como si el novelista no se diese cuenta clara de la gran fuerza dramática que puede encerrar [el tema de la independencia de la mujer]...»102 Clarín later refuted Doña Emilia's negative assessment of Tristana, but he too recognized a certain incompleteness in the novel and its protagonist103. In more recent criticism, Peter Bly notes in Tristana the conspicuous absence of history as novelistic resource, and Sherman Eoff considers Tristana to be one of Galdós' «inferior works, a mere sketch rather than a fully developed story...»104 Pattison speaks of Tristana's «unfinished, inconclusive ending»105. Berkowitz, in his classic biography of Galdós, calls Tristana «the unfinished opus of his [Galdós'] repertory... Whatever his initial intentions, he definitely lost sight of them in the process of composition»106.

It would appear that Tristana has frequently been defined by what it is not, rather than by what it is. A tone of «disappointment», to use Roberto Sánchez's term, rather than a spirit of analysis, has characterized much of the criticism written on Tristana107. This viewpoint is understandable. In comparison to others of the Novelas Contemporáneas, Tristana is vague in its chronology and sparse in details of social and political history. Setting is not always well defined. The novel has few characters, and the main one, whose name vaguely affiliates her with a remote time, is a confused young woman who never succeeds in defining herself as a human personality. In less conspicuous ways, her two male companions are also studies in unrealized projects. In the light of the lush detail of Galdós' earlier novels, and of Misericordia, Tristana may indeed appear incomplete and defective.

I suspect that the association between this novel's elliptical quality and its presumed defectiveness has come about in part because critics have tended to treat Tristana as a polemic, rather than as a novel. Its thematic material includes obvious feminist meditations, and the controversial related questions are not clearly answered in the novel. Consequently, some critics have been inclined to lament the absence of clear answers, or to attempt to provide them. In so doing they have contributed to the notion that Tristana's incompleteness is a defect and a problem108. In fact, however, Tristana's ellipsis is not a defect, and Tristana is not a flawed novel. Modern art is characterized much more by ellipsis than by an illusion of completeness; in this sense Tristana is a thoroughly modern novel, aligned more with the novelistic forms of the twentieth century than with those of the nineteenth. Galdós may or may not   —62→   have consciously intended a vaguely incomplete quality when he wrote Tristana. It may well be that he finished Tristana hurriedly because his mind was on the upcoming stage production of Realidad. It is also possible that he truncated his feminist arguments and his protagonist because he was unable to provide clear and satisfying answers to the questions he had raised109. But whatever the vagaries of the creative process, ellipsis is essential to the design of Tristana. Tristana is a coherent novel and, paradoxically, a complete novel, if by «completeness» we understand compliance with aesthetic principles established within the work rather than with expectations that are externally imposed.

Ellipsis is the basic aesthetic principle that defines Tristana and gives it its coherence. Tristana has an intensely dialectical structure. The binary casting of reality, a constant in Galdós' work, is particularly clear in this stark, understated novel of 1892. In Tristana, thesis and antithesis tug constantly against each other in search of a synthesis that is never attained110. The terms of the dialectic remain in opposition throughout the novel, creating in the reader a desire for resolution. Tristana thus defines itself in the reader's mind by what is missing: synthesis or resolution, which we may understand metaphorically as a «center». In his playful, often poignant manner, Galdós teases the reader with apparent centers, but they invariably prove to be illusory. Ultimately, Tristana is governed by the absence of a thematic, psychological, and spatial resolution. This absence of the center gives the novel its elliptical, unstable quality.

At the thematic level, the novel's unresolved dialectics include order versus disorder, consciousness versus unconsciousness, freedom versus entrapment, reality versus art, wholeness versus fragmentation, expansion versus enclosure, truth versus falsehood. These antinomies support certain explicit themes: principally, the oppression of women and the danger of mistaking art for life. At the heart of the novel's thematic organization is the search for the personality. This central theme establishes a linkage among the novel's antinomies and secondary themes; it lends coherence to the novel's thematic material. Once again one must confront the essential paradox of Tristana when speaking of a thematic core in a novel characterized by a missing center. The paradox is resolved in the nature of the core. The governing theme of Tristana is the search for personality, not the attainment of it. The search is not successfully completed, any more than the novel's antinomies are successfully resolved. Thus, the novel's thematic core, while providing conceptual coherence, actually undermines the search for stability and resolution. Stable personality becomes one of the crucial ingredients whose absence defines this novel.

These thematic patterns are embodied in, and played out by, the novel's protagonist. Again, Tristana's essential paradox and modernity emerge in the phenomenon of a novel that is coherent while its central character is not111. And again the paradox is resolved in the fact that the novel's coherence is a negative coherence: the novel is held together by a failed quest for wholeness. When Tristana frets about her lack of «congruencia», her lament is well   —63→   founded. Her life is a mosaic of fragments and false starts, infatuations and incompletions. She is capable of «asimilación prodigiosa» but «la congruencia es la que no aparece»112. She swims ecstatically in a sea of literary snippets and foreign language phrases. She drives Horacio to distraction with her «pícara costumbre de decir las cosas a medias» (p. 119). Tristana herself occasionally identifies the psychological makeup behind her fragmented life: «No tengo ninguna idea de gobierno ni de orden» (p. 104); «No tengo el menor sentido topográfico» (p. 119). It is significant that these self-definitions are negative -that is, based on something that is missing- for this is indeed the way Tristana must be defined. When Sherman Eoff pronounces Tristana a failure because of the insubstantial nature of its principal character, he misses the point113. Tristana is supposed to be ghostly and incomplete. As the main actress in this anti-drama of incomplete lives, she can be no other way. Her incapacity for linear thinking encloses her in a twilight world of fragments. At the same time, she is the principal representative of that world. The ellipsis and fragmentation of Tristana's personality and experience give projection to her world and consistency to her novel.

The defective center is thus characteristic of the novel's thematic structure and of the organization of Tristana's personality. The trajectory of Tristana's development takes her from giddy adolescence to premature senescence, without passing through a stable, productive adulthood. She jumps from a creative unconscious state to a senescent unconscious state, without ever becoming fully conscious. The tension that defines her character is, in Jungian terms, a struggle to grow into consciousness, to achieve individuation114. She clearly fails in this struggle. Why? One may reply only that Tristana's failure is due partly to the oppressive effects of her social environment and partly to her personal programming: genetic, or experiential, or both. The glimpses of Tristana's parents in the novel's early chapters are portraits of compulsiveness, disorganization, and failure. These personality traits will be inherited by Tristana. On the other hand, the oppressive effects of certain social realities -rigid sex roles and a lack of economic opportunity for women- are also suggested as factors in the forging of Tristana's failure. Tristana's experience and destiny are due to both her psychic makeup and her social environment. Which factor exercises the greater influence, or whether a clear distinction between them is even possible, are among the questions that Galdós does not answer.

These thematic and psychological patterns can be defined largely in the language of spatial metaphor: a problematical linearity, a tension between inward and outward movement, a struggle to break out, implosion, the defective center. However, the presence of these spatial functions in Tristana is not only metaphorical, but physical. The novel's spatial organization -its specific settings as well as its more abstract space- is a scheme that lends form and organization to its thematic and characterizational material.

One feature that distinguishes Tristana from the more popular of the Novelas Contemporáneas is the virtual invisibility of Madrid115. If Tristana is a novel of the missing center, it is also a novel of the missing city. In contrast   —64→   to the teeming, aggressive city of Fortunata y Jacinta, Miau, and Misericordia, the Madrid of Tristana is pale and distant. The immediate reason for this remoteness is that Tristana is set in Chamberí, on the northern edge of the city. This is not the first time Galdós has used Chamberí as a setting; Part Two of Fortunata y Jacinta also takes place there. But Tristana is the only Galdós novel set entirely in Chamberí. This fact is significant, for it suggests that Galdós is using Madrid in a very special way in Tristana. As in Fortunata y Jacinta, Galdós establishes a tension between Chamberí and the center of Madrid. In both novels Chamberí emerges as a place of exile and fragmentation, and the older central city as a potential source of wholeness116. The difference between the two novels is that in Fortunata y Jacinta, after an interlude in Chamberí, characters and setting return to the central city. In Tristana they do not. In Tristana the characters are permanently condemned to marginality. The city is dimly perceived but out of reach. It becomes a symbol of the wholeness that is never attained, of the ellipsis that is never overcome. The fact that movement away from the city is frequently voluntary is simply one more of the novel's many ironies: it confirms the basic Galdosian thesis that a lack of self-knowledge is the deadliest enemy in the struggle for happiness.

The logic of this spatial organization rests on the simple historical fact that in the 1880's Chamberí itself was still a very unfinished area of the city. The population of this northern extension of Madrid had begun to grow significantly in 1837, but for ten more years the area's streets went unnamed and its houses went unnumbered117. By 1850 Chamberí had 700 inhabitants, fifteen factories, and a reputation for crime and corruption. Its municipal jurisdiction was ambiguous: for a time its residents were forced to pay taxes to both Madrid and Fuencarral118. This initial burst of unplanned growth defined Chamberí's character and appearance for the remainder of the nineteenth century. Even into the early twentieth century it would continue to be an area of shabby urban sprawl, characterized by its «extensos campos abandonados, sus barrancos y sus ruinas...»119. There is clearly an historical basis for Galdós' selection of Chamberí as a place of exile and unfulfillment. The unfinished quality of the area provides a natural context for the incompleteness of the characters who live there.

The novel contains numerous examples of the symbolic function of the urban space. Years ago, during the novel's pre-history, Don Lope lived on the Calle de Luzón, a short street that runs north from the Calle Mayor near the Calle de Bailén and the Plaza de Oriente. For financial reasons Lope left this apartment and began his gradual movement northward to Chamberí: «Tomé otro [cuarto], y luego, cada pocos años, he ido buscándolos más baratos, hasta tener que refugiarme en este arrabal excéntrico y vulgarote» (p. 92). With each successive move Lope has lost «algo de las cosas buenas y cómodas que me rodeaban» (p. 92). Thus, Lope was expelled from the city by economic pressures, and his outward trajectory toward Chamberí has marked his declining social and economic position. Economic hardship is the sole reason for his presence in Chamberí: «Vivía en lugar tan excéntrico por la sola razón de la baratura de las casas...» (p. 9)120.

Tristana also feels the tension between central Madrid and Chamberí.   —65→   For her, however, the city's symbolic function is somewhat different. Unlike Lope, Tristana has never lived in the heart of the city and does not consciously view Chamberí as a place of exile. She does, however, have a vague, nostalgic sense of the city as a place of freedom and excitement, as a radical alternative to her present existence: «La señorita calló, sumergiéndose en una cavilación sombría. Acosada por la idea de abandonar la morada de don Lope, oyó en su mente el hondo tumulto de Madrid, vio la polvareda de luces que a lo lejos resplandecía y se sintió embelesada por el sentimiento de su independencia» (p. 38). At the same time, Tristana is intimidated by the prospect of unaccustomed freedom and a major change in her life: «Volviendo de aquella meditación como de un letargo, suspiró fuerte. ¡Cuán sola estaría en el mundo fuera de la casa de su pobre y caduco galán!» (p. 38)121. Significantly, these reflections on Madrid come at the end of the chapter that follows Tristana's awakening to the oppressive realities of her situation. Chapter 5 gives expression to Tristana's creative energies and establishes some of the dialectical tensions that will be central to the novel: freedom versus oppression, opening versus closing, movement versus paralysis. Tristana's ambivalent attitude toward the city summarizes and lends spatial form to these tensions and to Tristana's ambiguous feelings about maturation and independence. The image of the city -distant and vague, luminous but foreboding- is an image of the coherence that will always be missing from Tristana's personality.

Tristana contains no scene set in central Madrid. The novel's southernmost setting is its last one: the large house to which Lope and Tristana move on the Paseo del Obelisco, today the Paseo de Martínez Campos. However, the streets of the city's central area are twice alluded to. On both occasions the function of the city is in keeping with Madrid's symbolic value in the novel: it emerges as something either lost or unattainable. The first reference is Lope's account of his expulsion from the Calle de Luzón. The second reference to the inner city is made by Tristana as an example of her lack of «congruencia». She exclaims to Horacio: «¡Con decirte que no conozco ninguna calle ni sé andar sola sin perderme! El otro día no supe ir de la Puerta del Sol a la calle de Peligros, y recalé allá por la plaza de la Cebada. No tengo el menor sentido topográfico» (p. 119)122. Then she caught the wrong streetcar to return home. It is significant that the streets where Tristana gets lost are in the center of Madrid. As far as we know, she does not get lost in Chamberí. Galdós' selection of three streets and plazas as the setting for Tristana's confusion heightens the symbolic value of the city. Once again the urban center proves to be out of Tristana's reach. She can go there -at least on this one occasion- but she cannot function when she gets there. Her incapacity for linear thinking causes her to go southwest when she means to go east and renders her unable to function effectively at the city's center. The analogy with her own missing psychological center is clear.

The relationship between Chamberí and Madrid is the matrix of the novel's spatial organization. The characters are caught in a struggle between inward and outward movement, in search of a creative stability that is never found. Central Madrid, the novel's primary spatial center, is distant and unattainable. The novel's view of Madrid, and of everything else, is the perspective gained from the edge of the city, where the entire novel is set. Movement   —66→   in Tristana is influenced by a powerful centrifugal force. With regularity the characters are hurled outward by forces they only vaguely understand: economic pressures, creative urges, a search for freedom, a need for wholeness. The reactive return to a presumed center invariably comes, but the centers are always defective. Stability and strength, natural attributes of the center, are not to be found in the core spaces, or settings, of Tristana. Instead, these presumed centers prove to be vague, fragmented, or oppressive. In this sense they echo the unattainability of the city itself. Thus, the characters' outward, expansionary movement proves unproductive, and their inward movement leads only to unstable resting places.

The instability of specific settings in Tristana is a function of the tentative nature of «setting» in a general sense as a novelistic technique. The novel has 29 chapters. Only eleven are devoted entirely or essentially to unified scenes set in fixed, definable places (chapters 5, 6, 12, 20-27). The remaining 18 chapters consist of narrative material, letters, movement through the streets, and fragmented dialogues that take place at ill-defined moments in Horacio's ill-defined studio123. Sharply etched settings are one more scarce element in the tentative world of this novel.

The eleven chapters that do convey a sense of place are set in Lope's house on the Paseo de Santa Engracia, «más cerca del Depósito de aguas que de Cuatro Caminos» (p. 7). Even though this house is neither located nor described with customary Galdosian precision, it is the novel's most defined and most utilized setting. During chapters 7-12, Lope's house is the center of gravity against which Tristana tugs. Outward movement is essential to her rebellion and to her search for love. At the beginning of chapter 7, the chapter in which Tristana will meet Horacio, Tristana begins to defy Lope by sneaking out for afternoon walks with Saturna. The direction of their walks is significant: «no iban a Madrid, sino hacia Cuatro Caminos, al Partidor, al Canalillo o hacia las alturas que dominan el Hipódromo...» (p. 45)124. Their sorties take them on an outward vector, away from Madrid and away from Lope's house. These northerly explorations are, for Tristana, exercises in liberation; she translates her glee into childish games that prefigure the love games she will soon play with Horacio: «Gozaba de ellos [los paseos] con abandono pueril, permitiéndose correr y saltar y jugar a las cuatro esquinas con la chica del tabernero...» (p. 45). A heady sense of freedom, childish behavior, games: all these experiences converge in Tristana's movement away from Madrid and Lope's house. And all will be essential features of her relationship with Horacio. Chapter 7 is the only chapter set clearly and entirely in the streets of Chamberí125. It conveys a sense of openness, movement, and liberation reflective of Tristana's state of mind as she begins the first and only adventure of her life. This crucial chapter also contains, however, disturbing images of mutilation, incommunication, and imprisonment. Their significance goes unnoticed by the giddy Tristana, but the perceptive reader suspects that these images may be announcing the illusory nature of the chapter's open space and kinetic energy.

Once Tristana's affair with Horacio is underway, centrifugal movement continues to dominate. The «deseo de un más allá» that torments the furtive lovers leads them ever outward126. They usually meet «un poco más acá de   —67→   Cuatro Caminos», which means that the meetings take Tristana north from Lope's house and away from Madrid. Happiness and fulfillment appear always to be «out there», and Tristana pursues them in an ever widening gyre. The swirling of her imagination finds its spatial analogue in her movement through physical space. The lovers stroll along the northwest edge of Madrid and look out across the plain at the mountains silhouetted against the setting sun. The mountains seem to draw them outward across the open space: «les repetían aquel más, siempre más, ansia inextinguible de sus corazones sedientos» (p. 70). They walk along the Camino de Aceiteros and look out at the romantic and phallic cypress trees around the San Ildefonso cemetery. When they begin to take their paseos in a coach, they are able to «variar el escenario y la decoración» of their fantasy. The direction of their excursions is predictable: «se daban el gustazo de alejarse de Madrid casi hasta perderlo de vista» (p. 76). The illusory nature of their project is again subtly suggested in their voluntary movement away from the symbol of wholeness.

Sometimes images of energy take the form of a distant light and sound that contrast with the darkness and silence that surround Tristana and Horacio:

Cerca del antiguo Depósito de aguas veían los armatostes del tiovivo, rodeados de tenebrosa soledad. Los caballitos de madera, con las patas estiradas en actitud de correr, parecían encantados. Los balancines, la montaña rusa, destacaban en medio de la noche sus formas extravagantes. Como no había nadie por allí, Tristana y Horacio solían apoderarse durante breves momentos de todos los juguetes grandes con que se divierte el niño-pueblo... Ellos también eran niños. No lejos de aquel lugar veían la sombra del Depósito viejo, rodeado de espesas masas de árboles, y hacia la carretera bailaban luces, las del tranvía o coches que pasaban, las de algún merendero en que todavía sonaba rumor pendencioso de parroquianos retrasados.

(p. 71)                

In this delicate verbal portrait Galdós has made a subtle but clear comment on the infantile, naive nature of Tristana and Horacio's project. In the foreground are the lovers, identified explicitly as children, surrounded by a mechanism of childish play and by darkness. In the distance are images of light. Those images, like the mountains, the sun, the cypresses, and the city, represent a lucidity and a coherence that will not be attained in this novel. Significantly, the scene ends with renewed images of fragmentation and darkness: «Al fin, al fin, después de mucho tira y afloja, conseguían despegarse, y cada mitad se iba por su lado. Aún se miraban de lejos, adivinándose, más que viéndose, entre las sombras de la noche» (p. 71).

The outward spatial projection of the new love affair is embodied not only in the flowing on-camera space of the paseos, but also in the sheer number of textual references to places, visible and invisible. Chapters 7, 8, and 9 contain, respectively, 18, 13, and 19 proper place names. In the context of the novel's sketchy spatial definition, these figures are remarkably high. The average number of specific place references is four per chapter, and ten chapters have no such references at all127. Clearly, the sense of outward movement and the illusion of liberation in chapters 7-9 are heightened by a concentration of place references unequalled elsewhere in the novel. Many of the places named are places from Horacio's past (Fiume, Algiers, Oran, Savannah, Shanghai, Venice, Florence, Rome). Horacio's value as a symbol of liberation for Tristana is increased because his biography includes mythic leaps   —68→   across vast expanses of space. His prior contact with distant and exotic cities, we may assume, fires Tristana's imagination by providing a counterpoint to her own inability to make contact even with Madrid.

In spite of all this outward straining, however, Galdós never lets the reader forget that Tristana is still on a leash. It is an elastic leash, but still very real. One end of that leash is tied to Don Lope's house: «Regresaban siempre a hora fija, para que ella no tuviera bronca en su casa...» (p. 70). Just as Tristana inevitably returns to Lope's house after her amorous sorties, Lope's house returns as the novel's setting, breaking the spatial flow of chapters 7-9. It returns sporadically in chapters 10 and 11, then serves as the setting for all of chapter 12. The house is clearly the antithesis of Tristana's nascent liberation, both in Tristana's mind and in the novel's spatial design. It is the perceived setting for Tristana's oppression, and it is the hub from which her forays emanate. During the first twelve chapters, and again in chapters 20-27, it is the novel's focal point, its presumed center. In spite of its prominence, however, Lope's house is an unstable center. It is the setting for only thirteen of the novel's 29 chapters. It is located far from the heart of the city, in an unsettled neighborhood and in shabby surroundings: «con ruidoso vecindario de taberna, merendero, cabrería...» (p. 7). Lope lives there out of necessity, not out of choice. So, of course, does Tristana. The house encloses, but it does not provide stability. The true symbol of central stability -the city- lies in the distance. The house is a false center; it provides not growth and stability, but entrapment and eventually mutilation.

The end of chapter 12 is a breaking point in the novel. Tristana's decision to progress to physical intimacy with Horacio will move their relationship into a new phase, and this development will be given form by changes in the novel's space. The opening sentence of chapter 13 announces: «Y desde aquel día ya no pasearon más». Tristana's decision to begin a sexual relationship with Horacio brings an end to the long walks and drives that have been the spatial vehicles of her outreaching. It also brings to the novel a new interior setting: an obvious practical necessity in view of the new physical intimacy. Thus, beginning in chapter 13 and lasting through chapter 15, the novel has a new presumed center: Horacio's study. The new center, like the old one, will prove unstable.

The displacement of Lope's house by Horacio's study is a projection of Lope's displacement by Horacio as Tristana's sexual partner. However, both displacements will be only temporary. The fragility of Horacio's presence in Tristana's life is communicated by the tentative nature of his personal space in the novel. Horacio's studio is an unstable setting, in one sense, because it is present in only three of the novel's 29 chapters. More fundamentally, it is unstable because of its lack of definition. It never really comes into focus. It is first evoked off-camera in chapter 8, when Saturna returns from her visit to Horacio and describes his studio to Tristana. The studio's location is given only as «número cinco de la calle esa de más abajo» (p. 57). It is difficult to reach because of the many stairs. Its interior is a kaleidoscope of disparate forms and fragmented bodies: «Figúrese un cuarto muy grande, con un ventanón por donde se cuela toda la luz del cielo, las paredes de colorado, y en ellas cuadros, bastidores de lienzo, cabezas sin cuerpo, cuerpos descabezados,   —69→   talles de mujer con pechos inclusive, hombres peludos, brazos sin personas y fisonomías sin orejas, todo con el mismísimo color de nuestra carne» (p. 57). The reader must wonder whether Saturna's amusingly naive description has turned Horacio's studio into a metaphor of the love affair that will soon be consummated there: a long climb that leads only to fragmentation and mutilation.

After the studio actually emerges as a setting, the narrator restates Saturna's early description of it, although from a less naive perspective:

Éste ofrecía un desorden encantador, y la portera, que intentaba arreglarlo todas las mañanas, aumentaba la confusión y el desarreglo. Sobre el ancho diván veíanse libros revueltos, una manta morellana; en el suelo, las cajas de color, tiestos, perdices muertas; sobre las corvas sillas, tablas a medio pintar, más libros, carpetas de estampas; en el cuartito anexo destinado a lavatorio y a guardar trastos, más tablitas, el jarro de agua con ramas de arbustos puestos a refrescar, una bata de Tristana colgaba de la percha, y lindos trajes esparcidos por doquiera; un alquicel árabe, un ropón japonés, antifaces, quirotecas, chupas y casacas bordadas, pelucas, babuchas de odalisca y delantales de campesina romana. Máscaras griegas de cartón, y telas de casullas decoraban las paredes, entre retratos y fotografías mil de caballos, barcos, perros y toros.

(p. 113)                

In short, all one knows about the studio is that it is located somewhere in Chamberí among «edificios nuevos de pobretería»; that it is in a garret; and that its interior is filled with the eclectic, unordered projections of a fragmented imagination. The metaphorical value of the studio is clear. The studio's imprecise location, and the massive disorder and incompletion of its interior, are another projection of the incomplete projects and personalities that make up this novel.

Thus, except for images of fragmentation, the setting virtually disappears from the novel in chapters 13-15. The outward movement, or straining against the setting, also undergoes a transformation. It is no longer physical; it no longer consists of walks and rides along the northwest edge of Madrid. The space of the paseos, so open and lush in the novel's early chapters, is now reduced to «el breve campo del estudio». Outward movement has become mental. It consists of the furious outward swirling of the creative imagination: «tempestuosa embriaguez de los sentidos, con relámpagos de atrevidas utopías eróticas y sociales» (p. 99). The quest for freedom earlier had been expressed through outward movement in space; now it is expressed in Tristana's plaintive longings to be free and in her unstructured attempts to develop her artistic skills. These attempts are as confused as the physical environment in which they occur. In psychological and spatial terms, there has been an implosion into an unstable center.

This disintegrative process will continue, with variations, throughout the novel. After a transitionary chapter (16), the novel's next section is established. It includes chapters 17-19 and consists of the letters between Tristana and Horacio128. The spatial center is now debilitated even further. For one thing, it is split between Villajoyosa and Madrid: a development that betokens the continuing fragmentation of Tristana's hope for unity. Furthermore, neither half of the split center emerges as a viable center in its own right. Tristana writes her letters from Don Lope's house, but it is barely visible, and it continues to be a repressive center for Tristana. Horacio's   —70→   house in Villajoyosa is slightly more visible, but it is equally useless for Tristana's purposes. Tristana is not attracted to the bucolic delights that have captivated Horacio. In Tristana's mind, the life that awaits her in Villajoyosa, should she go there to live with Horacio, is stultifying and incompatible with the needs of her creative imagination. As Horacio becomes more and more absorbed in his property and his self-contained rural existence, the union between him and Tristana grows weaker. Thus, the tentative emergence of a focal point in Villajoyosa is ironic: it actually signals a decreasing, rather than increasing, unity. Significantly, Horacio's estate in Villajoyosa never does emerge as a developed, on-camera setting.

For Tristana, Villajoyosa is never really a viable center. The fact that it becomes one for Horacio simply gives spatial form to the decline of his creativity and to the disintegration of a relationship that had been founded on false assumptions from the beginning. For Tristana Villajoyosa becomes, briefly, the new object of her outward projection. This centrifugal impulse, like the previous ones, will collapse back into an unsatisfying center. The collapse is captured in the author's manipulation of the letters. The written correspondence between the lovers becomes the new vehicle for their erotic movement through space: «estas ráfagas tempestuosas cruzaban el largo espacio entre la villa mediterránea y Madrid» (p. 132). However, the winds of the tempest quickly become unidirectional. The last letter from Horacio appears early in chapter 18. The final 14 letters (out of a total of 22) are written by Tristana. In effect, she writes them to herself. The letters continue to have a spatial function, but it has changed: «Siguieron a esta carta otras, en que la imaginación de la pobre enferma se lanzaba sin freno a los espacios de lo ideal...» (p. 165). Tristana's outward reaching has been transformed into a feverish spiral.

The disappearance of Villajoyosa from the novel marks another stage in the inward collapse of Tristana's outward project. After seven chapters of virtually invisible settings, Lope's house now reemerges with stark prominence. It will be the setting for the next eight chapters (20-27) and will be the only defined setting during the remainder of the novel. The interiority implied in this spatial manipulation will be made especially intense by the fact that a large part of this section will be set not only in Lope's house but in Tristana's room: a smaller space and even more extreme enclosure. Chapter 23, the chapter of the amputation, is set entirely in Tristana's room. As her immobilization becomes a physical fact, spatial interiorization becomes almost absolute. The only thing that leaves Tristana's room in this chapter is her leg.

This grisly detail captures the linkage between enclosure and mutilation, so insistent in this intensely interior section of the novel. These chapters provide the context for certain developments of plot and characterization that advance Tristana's implosion; concurrently, the characteristic «something missing», of which the leg is the novel's most dramatic example, moves to a new level of intensity. Galdosian irony finds full play as chapters 20-27 are littered with bizarre, sometimes grotesque echoes of lost ideals. The outward   —71→   projects of the first two-thirds of the novel return with a disturbing quality of déjà-vu; they are restated ironically, in such a way as to confirm their defeat by inward forces. «Ya no brincaré más», laments Tristana early in chapter 20. Her specific reference is to her diseased leg, but her remark also carries grim implications of her spiritual immobilization and definitive enclosure.

The collapse of Tristana's dream of independence is signaled by the return of the muñeca imagery, so abundant in the novel's early chapters but absent during the middle section. This lexical detail supports a more substantive development in Tristana's situation, and particularly in her relationship with Lope. After her feverish mid-novel rebellion, Tristana now finds herself again in the role of doll and child. Her longing for independence has been replaced by a renewed dependency.

Tristana's relationship with Lope, however, is complex. Like the relationship of parent and child or master and slave, it is based on mutual dependency. It is symbiotic as well as vertical. On this basis Tristana and Lope form a union, bizarre but viable, that will lead to their marriage. Indications of the growing union are frequent during this section of the novel. Lope offers his own leg to be amputated in place of Tristana's. After her operation Tristana actually touches Lope with some affection: «Y ella, tocando suavemente los blancos cabellos del galán caduco...» (p, 188). They laugh together: «Soltaron ambos la risa...» (p. 190). In a particularly ironic development, it is now Tristana who does not want Lope to leave the house; this attitude represents a reversal of their earlier roles and is an indication of Tristana's enclosure. In chapter 28 we are told that Lope, a year after the operation, «no viviendo ya más que para ella y por ella, reflejaba sus sentimientos, y había llegado a ser plagiario de sus ideas...» (p. 225). In short, Lope and Tristana achieve a certain stability in a relationship based on alternating dominance and mutual debilitation. However, one may question Leon Livingstone's assessment of this relationship as a recovery of natural order. Galdós pointedly refuses to endorse it as a vehicle of human fulfillment: «¿Eran felices uno y otro?... Tal vez» (p. 232). Furthermore, in the context of the entire novel it must be seen in counterpoint to the novel's other relationship: the one between Tristana and Horacio which, after soaring on great surges of erotic and creative energy, died without even the proverbial whimper. In that light, the ultimate relationship between Tristana and Lope must be seen as a sad substitute. It is dull at best, grotesque at worst.

Horacio himself is an ingredient of Tristana's creative fantasies whose return signals the demise of those fantasies. Whereas previous contacts between Horacio and Tristana were established through outward movement, they are now produced by inward movement, as Horacio enters the house, then Tristana's room. In contrast to the illusion of timeless union when love was new («Te quise desde que nací...»), Horacio's return produces in Tristana only «una desilusión brusca» and a sense of estrangement. Likewise, Horacio's new disappearance is an ironic reprise. He has previously disappeared twice: in person when he left Madrid for Villajoyosa and in epistolary form when his letters vanished from the novel. Now he disappears with no trail of lingering hope or idealism. He simply stops coming to visit, then sends   —72→   word that he is getting married. After his marriage and return to Villajoyosa, he occasionally writes «cartas amistosas» which are answered by Don Lope. The passionate correspondence between Horacio and Tristana has been replaced by friendly letters -not included in the novel- between Horacio and his former rival.

The truncation of Tristana's creativity is projected in other ironic reprises and substitutions. Chapter 21 features a renewed enthusiasm for an artistic future -this time in the theatre- and a final flurry of letters to Horacio. But by the end of the chapter Tristana has decided against a career in the theatre, and the letters have almost reached their end. There will be only two more; both are written with difficulty and the second one is never sent. In this same flurry of letters, Tristana renews her cry for freedom and her opposition to marriage. But her mobility will soon be definitively gone, and she will be married. In an attempt to stimulate and facilitate Tristana's renewed enthusiasm for painting, Saturna brings in canvasses from Horacio's studio. These fragmented images prove to be only mocking reminders of lost utopias, and they quickly disappear from Tristana's room. These surges of imaginative energy are merely coletazos: the writhings of an imagination that has been severely wounded and will soon be dead. It is no coincidence that the most furious surge of Tristana's creative imagination comes as she is being anesthetized for the operation that will give physical reality to her mutilation.

As Tristana comes out of the anesthesia after her operation, the scene is flooded with images of awakening and renewed life: «empezó el despertar lento y triste de la señorita de Reluz, su nueva vida, después de aquel simulacro de muerte, su resurrección, dejándose un pie y dos tercios de pierna en el seno de aquel sepulcro que a manzanas olía» (p. 186). In the first sentence of the following chapter (24), la señorita de Reluz moans «al volver del tenebroso abismo». The resurrection, however, is a cruel hoax and the climb back to the light is an illusion, as we see on the following page: «No parecía la misma y denegaba su propio ser... Entontecida y aplanada, su ingenio superior sufría un eclipse total» (p. 188). Interestingly, Tristana's mutilation and eclipse are marked by a growing union with Lope: «Ni un momento se separaba de ella...» (p. 188). An ironic substitute union is emerging to replace the creative unity that has proved unattainable.

Tristana's awakening after the operation is an ironic reprise of her awakening at the end of chapter 4, when she becomes aware of the unnatural, oppressive nature of her relationship with Lope. That awakening leads to a passionate discussion of women's rights with Saturna (Ch. 5), then to the intense, furtive love affair with Horacio. Tristana intends her affair as a defiance of her oppressor and as a vehicle of liberation. In fact, however, she merely exchanges one enclosure for another, one mode of incompletion for another. She exchanges Lope's dominance for a self-contained, self-referring fantasy: an hermetic love game whose form is that of a montage. She turns love, a project toward coherence, into an incoherent work of art129. In spite of the early outward movement, Tristana's project is more hermetic than dynamic. Its true nature will become apparent when Tristana ends up writing unanswered love letters to a now invisible lover. Her passion will have evolved naturally into an onanistic exercise130.


Thus, the early awakening of chapter 4, and the late awakening of chapter 23, are ironic and illusory. Neither is the resurrection it purports to be. Rebellion against Lope and recovery from the amputation do not bring consciousness and liberation, because Lope's control and the diseased leg are not the root causes of Tristana's incoherence. The chapters that follow the amputation are sprinkled with further resurrections that likewise prove ironic and are quickly negated by a new «simulacro de muerte». Tristana undergoes «una resurrección súbita del espiritualismo» that leads her to attempt to write to Horacio (p. 188); then she discovers she has nothing to say to him. Her new passion for music pulls her out of her «marasmo espiritual»: «Fue como una resurrección súbita, con alientos de vida...» (p. 218). An insistence on harmony and assimilation cautiously suggests that a stable creativity has at last been found; then the musical resurrection collapses into images of absorption and unconsciousness: «zambullóse la señorita en el mare magnum musical, y allí se pasaba las horas, ya sumergiéndose en lo profundo, ya saliendo graciosamente a la superficie, incomunicada realmente con todo lo humano y procurando estarlo con algunas ideas propias que aún la atormentaban» (p. 223)131. This project of unconsciousness will lead directly to Tristana's absorption into the church, marriage, and domesticity. Even music will prove to be an inadequate vehicle for the «unidad pasmosa de su pasión por lo ideal». Tristana will ultimately cope with life's asymmetry and incompletion by immersing herself in God, «el principio y fin de cuanto existe». In short, by withdrawing from consciousness and its contradictions.

The novel's final chapter is an epilogue. It is set five years after Tristana's amputation and three years after the previous chapter. Its function is to confirm the patterns of interiorization and incompletion that have been developed throughout the novel and to impose an appropriately ironic ending. The ironic substitutions continue: a perfunctory wedding, carried out without conscious participation of either party, replaces yesteryear's proud opposition to marriage: «¡Inverosimilitud, sarcasmo horrible de la vida tratándose de un hombre de ideas radicales y disolventes como don Lope!» (p. 230). Tristana's outward straining toward self-realization is replaced by an institutional enclosure that echoes her psychological enclosure and is represented by a spatial metaphor: «Casi no se dio cuenta de que la casaron, de que unas breves fórmulas hiciéronla legítima esposa de Garrido, encasillándola en un hueco honroso de la sociedad» (p. 231).

There is an ironic reprise: the gentleman-farmer existence in which Lope takes delight in the novel's final paragraph is amusingly similar to the existence previously praised by Horacio and scorned by both Lope and Tristana. The garden Lope so lovingly attends is a tongue-in-cheek miniature of Horacio's rural paradise in Villajoyosa. At the end of chapter 26, in an attempt to rationalize his forthcoming withdrawal, Horacio explains the incompatibility between Tristana and himself: «No le gusta el campo, ni la jardinería, ni la Naturaleza, ni las aves domésticas, ni la vida regalada y oscura, que a mí me encantan y me enamoran. Soy yo muy terrestre, muy práctico, y ella muy soñadora, con unas alas de extraordinaria fuerza para subirse a los espacios   —74→   sin fin» (p. 213). Horacio's description of Tristana is outdated. He either does not understand, or chooses to ignore, that Tristana's soaring dreams have been replaced by psychological hermeticism, her wings have been symbolically amputated, her unlimited spaces cut off by four walls. This is the immediate irony of Horacio's description of Tristana. The longer irony becomes apparent in the novel's final paragraph. The life that Lope and Tristana end up with is an urban version of the one Horacio had described -right down to the «aves domésticas».

The insistence on chickens and eggs in the final paragraph is a key to a broad irony in the novel's form. Tristana is, among other things, a warped comedy. In accord with the traditional comic canon, this novel's resolution features a wedding, images of fertility, and the recovery of order from disorder. There is even an apparent recovery of youth by Lope: «Revivió el anciano galán con el nuevo estado...» (p. 231). In fact, however, this set of ingredients actually constitutes only a grotesque parody of a comic resolution. In a way that clearly anticipates Lorca's ironic use of dramatic forms, Galdós uses a skeletal comic form to project the opposite of comic meaning. Rather than energy, the ending of Tristana projects exhaustion. Rather than youth, it portrays senescence (premature in Tristana's case). Rather than fertility and regeneration, it announces sterility and impending death. Rather than opening out, it collapses inward. The true meaning of comedy -the recovery and regeneration of life- joins the list of Tristana's missing ingredients.

The irony of the novel's ending is also implicit in the spatial manipulation of the last two chapters. In chapter 28 Lope and Tristana move approximately one kilometer south to the Paseo del Obelisco. Then, in the novel's final paragraph, they move to a larger house on the same street. Superficially, these changes of residence appear as positive developments. The first move seems to signify a renewal of the stalled outward movement and a liberation from the oppressive house on the Paseo de Santa Engracia. It also brings Lope and Tristana closer to Madrid, reversing the earlier movement that expelled Lope from the city. The move toward the urban center carries a favorable symbolism within the novel's spatial scheme, as well as favorable social and economic implications. The latter are confirmed in the new prosperity that comes to Lope and Tristana and makes possible the second move to the larger house. But these apparently positive developments are undermined by the circumstances and imagery that surround them. In fact, the change of residence does not represent an opening, but a further closing. The first move facilitates Tristana's absorption into the church: a development that carries strong images of enclosure and of a sinking into unconsciousness: «La señora coja hízose popular entre los que asiduamente asistían a los oficios mañana y tarde, y los acólitos la consideraban ya como parte integrante del edificio y aun de la institución» (p. 227). It also announces the sudden onset of Lope's old age: «Anublóse su entendimiento; su cuerpo envejeció con terrible presteza; arrastraba los pies como un octogenario, y la cabeza y manos le temblaban» (p. 225).

The second move brings enclosure in a bourgeois domesticity that mocks the previous aspirations to independence of both Lope and Tristana. A more subtle irony, however, is found in the topographic implications of the second   —75→   move. Southward movement ends with the first change of residence. The second change brings only lateral movement, to another house on the same street. Thus, the approach to the elusive city stalls. Lope and Tristana end up in a location that reconfirms the characteristic incompleteness of their lives and gives spatial form to the enigmatic «Tal vez» of the novel's final sentence. They are left on the northern edge of Madrid, enclosed in a new false center. They are a bit closer to the city than before, but they are apparently destined to go no closer. Progress toward the real center has, as usual, proved to be an illusion. As the novel ends, the city is still missing.

University of Washington

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