Selecciona una palabra y presiona la tecla d para obtener su definición.
Anterior Indice Siguiente

  —12→     —13→     —14→     —15→  

ArribaAbajoNovel and Society: Doña Perfecta8 9

Stephen Gilman

Aware of the insufficiency of the historical approach, used exclusively prior to 1876, Galdós had recourse to a stratagem he was to perfect in later years: that which I term «double dialogue». Which means essentially that in the act of creation he was at once «talking» to himself and to another novelist. Specifically in this case he was concerned to respond to the problems that had been left unresolved in the «episodios» and at the same time to adapt to his own creative needs solutions suggested by his experience as a reader. In the novel which here concerns us, Doña Perfecta, the other novelist was Balzac and the reading was a «scène de province» and a «scène de campagne»: Eugénie Grandet and Les Paysans. The dialogue with the first of these has been admirably studied by Juana Truel in a recent article:10 here was a novel which Galdós remembered having absorbed as hungrily as if it were a good breakfast («me desayuné del gran novelador francés») (1656)11 just before beginning La Fontana and which also suggested how to go about studying an essentially static (i. e. non-novelistic) milieu. Simply have an attractive outsider from the capital woo a repressed small-town girl and go on to record the catastrophic but revealing local reactions.12 The pattern in both cases is identical.13

The notion of dialogue, however, implies discrepancy even more than it does equivalence. Eugénie Grandet may have begun by providing Galdós with a narrative approach, but it also posed a crucial question about Spanish provincial society as contrasted to that of France. What characteristic vice of rural Spaniards correspond to the sordid avarice of old Grandet and his colleagues? The terrible answer must have occurred to Galdós even as he was reading: his ostensibly generous country cousins (famous for their patriarcal distribution of roast suckling pigs and ink-dark wine) were murderously fanatical. It is as if Galdós were asking himself not what history can tell us about the way we are but rather, what is the atrocious failure of our coexistence as a society unwillingly submitted to history. And, as noted above: how can I find a way to narrate my deeply pessimistic conclusions?

Eugénie Grandet, however, was not the sole Balzacian interlocutor to participate in Galdós' novelistic conversation with non-Parisian «scènes». Les Paysans may have suggested to him the use of classical imagery as a means of expressing provincial degeneration thematically. In addition, it taught him something that was even more important: the fact that, while in France social antagonism was an expression of class differences and opposed economic interests, in Spain those who cling to provincial folkways tend to reject outsiders unanimously and without reference to station or wealth. Instead of rebellious and avaricious «paysans» conspiring against their exploiters, all of Orbajosa -from the lady of quality to the peasant- bands together against   —16→   Pepe Rey. It is as if to them he represented an alien caste. The contrast between the two societies could not have been more striking.

In his Preface Balzac contrasts himself to Rousseau whom he regards as having contributed to the unreal deification of «le Prolétaire». In so doing he indicates the profound discrepancy between his «campagne» and Orbajosa: «J. J. Rousseau mit en tête de la Nouvelle Héloise: 'J'ai vu les moeurs de mon temps, et j'ai publié ces lettres'. Ne puis-je pas vous dire... J'étudie la marche de mon époque, et je publie cest ouvrage».14 That is to say, Balzac sees rural France during the Restoration as undergoing a relentless, agonizing, yet superficially imperceptible process of social change. Hence, Lukacs' Marxist interpretation of the novel in spite of its author's explicit antagonism to the history he is concerned to «study». In Spain, on the contrary, the agony, although just as inexorable, was not only perceptible but shocking in its violence: «Nuestro mapa no es una carta geográfica sino el plano estratégico de una batalla sin fin». (122) What was going on in Spain -as Galdós understood it- was not just a matter of social and economic tension but rather a conspiracy on the part of more than half of the population to assassinate the 19th century itself. Salvador Monsalud, Pepe Rey, «los sargentos de San Gil», and ultimately Prim were the new «judíos» who had replaced «los franceses» in that undesirable role.15

Two contrasting encounters will illustrate the difference. Balzac's Père Fourchon, a sort of latter-day «villano del Danubio», confronts the well-mannered and upwardly-mobile bourgeoisie who now possess the Chateau of «les Aigues» («aiguas», «aguas»?) with a demand for an authentic revolution: «Aujourd'hui n'est que le cadet d'Hier. Allez! Mettez ça dans vout journiau! Est-ce que nous sommes affranchis? Nous appartenons toujours au même village, et le seigneur est toujours là, je l'appelle Travail».16 But when Pepe Rey, as a «revolutionary» landowner, confronts doña Perfecta, it is more a matter of totally irreconcilable «moeurs» than the inevitable «marche de son siècle»: «Creo que ambos carecemos de razón. Es usted violencia e injusticia; en mi injusticia y violencia. Hemos venido a ser tan bárbaro el uno como el otro, y luchamos y nos herimos sin compasión» (466). It is true, of course, that the lawsuits and encroachments of «el tío Licurgo» and his companions against the Rey estate do emulate the behavior of «les infatigables sapeurs» or «maraudeurs» who nourish themselves on «les Aigues». But in the Spanish novel this is less an historical process than a secondary aspect of the crusade led by doña Perfecta.

In a recent essay dedicated to the same problem which tormented Galdós -violence as an Hispanic phenomenon- Pedro Laín Entralgo proposes an historical explanation. Thinking along lines suggested by Américo Castro, he remarks specifically on «el carácter más conflictivo que problemático que en España poseen las tensiones socio-económicas».17 Which is to say that, although the same basic sources of discord may be no different in Spain than in Balzac's France, the structure of their expressions even in the 19th and 20th centuries continues to resemble that «edad conflictiva» which terminated the caste coexistence of the earlier Middle Ages. The multi-secular endurance contest (even then partly based on hidden economic resentment)18 which had ended abruptly for the «moriscos» in the times of Cervantes and for the   —17→   converted Jews («conversos») by agonizingly slow assimilation suddenly came back to life after the Napoleonic invasion. As Laín presents it, it was as if Spain had been condemned to redream its nightmare past -and the Hispanic world too- as the recent history of Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay demonstrates.

But to return to the Spain represented in Doña Perfecta, the traditionalists (who, when they termed themselves «castellanos viejos», echoed significantly the earlier caste designation, «cristianos viejos») viewed the new liberal parties in their midst as if they were heretics and properly subject to inquisitorial extirpation. Political opponents were not just adversaries to be refuted or attracted to one's cause but humanly noxious, weeds to be plucked out by the roots from a flower-bed society -or, as Costa Gavras' colonel expressed it, 'a kind of parasitical fungus living of the national grape arbor which can only be eliminated by chemical sprays'. As in the so-called «siglos de oro», the «dimensión social» (or if the reader prefers, Sartre's «l'être pour autrui») tended to invade the individual's intimate life and to convert him into an inhuman being as implacable and intransigent as a Torquemada or a Robespierre. As Galdós laments in La segunda casaca (as we shall see in a moment, the «episodio» the internal contradictions of which provoked the new novelistic departure) it was not a matter of opinion or of ideology: «La mayoría de los liberales llevan la revolución en la cabeza y en los labios; pero en su corazón, sin saberlo, se desborda el despotismo» (1419).

Galdós had already imagined the life and death of a potential Spanish Robespierre (Martín Muriel in El audaz), and now in Doña Perfecta it was to be the turn of the less pathetically isolated and vulnerable fanaticism of the right. In so doing, he showed himself to be essentially in accord with my over-simplified paraphrase of Laín. As we observed, the inhabitants of Orbajosa do indeed think and behave «conflictively» in the sense that their class divisions and several varieties of economic self-interest do not affect their politics.19 That is, if we can even conceive of the «politics» of a collectivity dedicated to the abolition of history itself! As instinctively hostile as anti-bodies confronted with a transplanted heart, they are as one in their rejection of the historically «infected» outsider. Which is to say that they are not programmed to comprehend: their agressivity must ultimately be self-destructive. What was going on in Madrid (as represented by Pepe Rey) should not be just opposed, or quarantined; only extirpation was admissible. And it was not just a question of traditional resistance to change; history itself was the newest form of heresy.

The most interesting result of reading Doña Perfecta in the light of De la edad conflictiva is a bolder understanding of its thematics innovation. As we journey through the Second Series of «episodios», we sense that Galdós was becoming increasingly impatient with his own work. As before, he obviously desired to present his fanatical reactionaries and corrupted liberals as precursors of those of his time -to discover in them a skeleton key which would unlock his own political and social experience. This was not so much a problem for the liberals who, from his point of view, had not changed very much. It is, in fact, plausible that Galdós' devastating portraiture of the Masonic hierarchy in El grande Oriente was partially inspired by the venal and   —18→   incompetent politicians who had successively betrayed Amadeo and the First Republic. But the conservative leaders whose rule he had witnessed -an O'Donnell and later Cánovas and his band of trimmers- did not resemble the fanatical «apostólicos» of the past. (Galdós intentional exception to this generalization was the ubiquitous Juan Bragas who on one occasion defines the Restoration avant la lettre.)20 How to account, then, for the grass-roots persistence of reaction in the older sense, a persistence which had much to do with both the possibility and the future of the new regime?

The difficulty of comprehending present Reaction in terms of the past was due not only to political and social changes in Madrid but also to the genre of the «episodios». In contrast to the stream of history within which don Felicísimo Carnicero and his associates live novelistically, their rigid changelessness is comic by Bergsonian definition. Masks which no longer frighten, they seem as caricaturesque and bound to lose as don Rodrigo, the ridiculously Quixotic reactionary in Cádiz. Even their predecessor and miraculously reincarnated colleague, Coletilla, when taken out of his cartoon world, is no longer frightening. Yet this apparent futility was completely misleading -both for them and for their true-blue provincial descendents- and Galdós knew it. Something more than comic perversity, futile stubbornness, and self-defeating wickedness must have characterized their commitment, and, to find out what it was, the novelist realized that he must complement his contemplation of the present in the past with an investigation of the past as it still lived in the present.

The exact moment when the decision was made to undertake the new novelistic voyage cannot be determined exactly. But I would surmise that it was at some point during the composition of La segunda casaca concluded in January of 1876. The description therein of the two arch-absolutists, Carlos Navarro and his father-in-law, D. Miguel de Baraona, involved a valiant but ultimately unsatisfactory attempt to understand their undoubtedly sincere convictions. Of the former Galdós remarks in agreement with Laín Entralgo, «Miraba el liberalismo como una especie de horrenda herejía, más digna aún del fuego que las de Lutero y Calvino. Juntaba la religión con la política, haciendo de todas las creencias una fe sola o un solo pecado...» (1349). That this explanation -however true- was nonetheless incomplete is indicated by Monsalud's later efforts at a more ample historical analysis. Spain -he says- is «un pueblo de costumbres absolutistas», and customs, like mountains, are the lasting results of time. Thus the hopelessness which distinguishes him from his predecessor, Gabriel Araceli: «Aquí no hay más que absolutismo, absolutismo puro, arriba y abajo, y en todas partes. La mayoría de los liberales llevan la revolución en la cabeza y en los labios, pero en su corazón, sin saberlo, se desborda el despotismo» (1419). The fault, in other words, was that of the nation and not of just one of the contending ideologies.

The problem -the terrible problem- had at last been posed directly, but it still had not been comprehended in depth, let alone solved. Where to look for enlightenment? The answer may seem obvious once proposed, but at the time it represented extraordinary insight: in those hermetic local societies where customs («costumbres absolutistas») had not yet been distorted or adulterated by history. Madrid would come later, but now -and here Monsalud   —19→   presents the next project of creator- «los pueblos del campo y las pequeñas ciudades» had to be examined. Only there can the novelist and his readers experience «la nación desnuda y entregada a sí misma obrando por su propio impulso» (1429). So too had believed Fernán Caballero, Pereda, and their followers, with the inevitable result that Galdós unprecedented «menosprecio de aldea» designed to display the unsuspected corruption of the children of «nature» must have been all the more shocking. Only readers of Balzac's «scènes de province» and «scènes de campagne» were to a certain extent prepared for what they would find in Doña Perfecta.

Without presuming to invent the literary memoires that Galdós never undertook seriously (all he says is: «Interrumpí esta serie con nuevos trabajos»), such were, I believe, the immediate circumstances of the genesis of Doña Perfecta. The representatives of anti-historical fanaticism in the «episodios» could never be fully understood in historical terms. They were alien to their narrative milieu. But their contemporary counterparts inhabiting a more or less functioning provincial society (and later on Madrid enclaves) were available for close scrutiny. And they had to be scrutinized closely. Otherwise the Restoration's sterile compromise would be accepted at face value as a promising new era and the appalling dangers lurking in the future (the threat that became a reality 16 years after Galdós death) would be ignored blindly. Thus, the decision to initiate a new series of novels dedicated to answering the question: what kind of a human community could seriously and with iron determination undertake to defy history. Having presumably discovered themselves as 19th century men and women, Galdós readers were now to contemplate the hostile consciousness of their adversaries. Which is to say, those who -like both Jenara and doña Perfecta- might be disposed to solve human problems by means of one simple command: «Mátale». And if, in so contemplating they should detect reliques of the same degenerate «dimensión imperativa» (as Castro was to call it) in themselves, so much the better!

The assertion that in Doña Perfecta social types are transformed into archetypes may be misleading. What I am trying to say evidently has less to do with Molière and Jung than with Erving Goffman and (as already noted) Américo Castro. The latent past that lives outside historical records and does its best to determine the present of our customs, values, and sense of identity was called by a Fernán Caballero and a Pereda «la santa tradición». Galdós, however, saw it as a repertory of petrified roles, roles which, although necessary and even admirable in the Middle Ages, were now either superfluous (don Cayetano) or noxious. Doña Perfecta, in other words, is anything but a caricature of reaction; she is a noble, well intentioned, and even attractive lady whose inherited role (that of being an exemplar of communal values or, as is said in English, a pillar of society) shackles and ultimately destroys her -as well as all the lives around her. As such a self-conscious archetype, she is far more a captive of her own virtue than the Porreño sisters who end by grovelling for spilled coins. For if they are caricaturesque in pictorial conception and comic in Bergsonian action, she is fated tragically to hold erect a traditional statue of herself.


A radical change in narrative techniques necessarily accompanied the change in human focus. In a novel dedicated to the portrayal of social stasis Galdós could now construct an intricate and exact model without the necessity of allowing for the ambiguities of historical change or of individual growth and decline. Which is to say, by substituting Parmenides for Heraclitus, he could at long last attain the precise novelistic comprehension which had eluded him for a decade. The objection frequently offered that Doña Perfecta is a petrified novel, a narrative tragedy which conceals far more of its action than it reveals, would be hard to refute. Yet that very reticence is also the condition of its efficacy. After reading it and after coming to know its denizens in their society, we realize that we have been led to comprehend certain fundamental characteristics of Spanish interpersonal relations, far more profoundly than in the «episodios». Presented without super-imposed intrigue, resistance to history has been held up for our closer inspection and long enough for the meditation it deserves.

Aside from deceleration, the representational superiority of Doña Perfecta (as compared to La Fontana) emerges from its characterization. If Coletilla was expertly drawn as the personification of a political stance or force (the notion of party is, of course, alien to him), doña Perfecta is the perfected exemplar of a thousand and one of her living kind scattered all over provincial Spain. Rather than a decrepit yet frightening verbal cartoon, she is an archetype, an archetype all the more vigorous and dangerous insofar as it feeds on the lives it represents. And the same thing is true of her «August» fellow citizens in that their social typifications -wily peasant, stallion-like «cacique», and so on- are immediately recognizable. A sketched personification stands for an idea, and is correspondingly fixed and flat, but these beings are the stagnation of Spanish society. Their «who» is identical to the «how» of their nation. Hence, their inherent stasis is not that of a succession of cartoon postures and juxtapositions; it is rather a pregnant, potentially explosive self-containment which a Krausist critic at the time described perceptively as «sculpturesque»21. Doña Perfecta and her friends -unlike Coletilla- can and do move around physically, but the willed paralysis of the souls strikes us as perfectly monumental. Centered on their crumbling cathedral, they incarnate a monumentality that had lost the grandiosity of earlier centuries.22

In a preceding essay written long ago I meditated23 on Galdós' cunning employment of classical references in the creation of such imposing beings. And now, having observed how La Fontana's two-dimensional political model of Spain has been converted into a three-dimensional social model, we must pause again to consider the more abstract problem of the novel as an experimental genre. This notion, as everybody knows, is usually associated with Zola and with his self-conscious exploitation of techniques of social analysis first used in La Comédie humaine.24 Realism and Naturalism have in common the painstaking construction of miniature worlds which, in their interaction with fictional biographies, enabled writer and public to comprehend the unfamiliar novelity of inhabiting the 19th century. But Galdós, for whom both these labels are inaccurate, was even more boldly experimental. His miniature societies were not only laboratory reproductions to be observed as if they were «natural» or «real» but were also populated by beings whose   —21→   larger significance (the Spanish people, the «ancien régime», or whatever) had been preassigned. Such representational characters in their carefully worked out chess moves along the course of the novel were clearly intented to provide, in addition to comprehension, exact diagnosis.

I suppose most habitual readers of Galdós are at best only dimly aware of the allegorical intention of this fiction. To scan a page in terms of all of one's lived experience is by definition a vivification of particulars -person, event, scene. Nevertheless, unlike Balzac, Flaubert, and Zola whose representational dimensions are ex post facto, the cast of each of every one of his novels prior to 1887 was a microcosm explicitly designed to communicate as developing understanding of the macrocosm, Spain's 19th-century experience. And if this be dismissed as anti-scientific in the sense that foregone conclusions may be imposed on the experiment, there are two answers to be given. The first is that all novelistic «experiments» (as critics of Zola never fail to point out) are necessarily prearranged, and Galdós has, at least, the honesty not to pretend otherwise. He invites the critical reader to take part in the game.

My second answer is less apologetic: Galdós experimentation is indeed genuine insofar as each novel is a revision and reexamination of the preceding one. In Doña Perfecta, as we have seen, the change of focus from politics to society adds a third dimension to the cartoons of La Fontana and the intrigues of the «episodios». In La desheredada, the representational model is studied in time -as if it were history in miniature. And finally in Fortunata y Jacinta, an immensely complex «simulacro de la realidad» uses allegorical rapprochement of biography and history as a potent source of irony. Nor will Galdós' microcosmic experimentation stop there by any means. In fact this is what is fundamentally wrong with much of his theater!

So to observe may help define the problem, but it does not offer solution. Why and whence this constant variable -or varying constant- in the lifelong creation of the world we love? In an earlier essay, I attributed the cartoon of Coletilla and the allegory of Clara's foster home to the writer's journalistic apprenticeship.25 This was true, but it may not have been the whole truth. Perhaps we should have also taken into consideration Galdós' recent university experience. He may have been as bored as his biographers indicate with studying law, but he was well aware that the institution which he had been sent to attend was engaged in a process of radical self-regeneration inspired by the peculiarly Spanish movement of reform called «krausismo». At this point I must appeal to my own readers for their collaboration, since it is reasonable to assume that they (being by definition interested in Galdós) must know at least as much as I do concerning the origins of the movement (the discovery of the doctrines of Karl C. F. Krause by the future professor of philosophy, Julián Sanz del Río, while holding Spain's first government fellowship to Germany in the 40's), its tenets (at once neo-Hegelian and transcendentalist), and its phenomenal influence (direct or indirect responsibility for almost everything that has since been estimable in doña Perfecta's native land). If by chance they do not, they would be well advised to scan the standard references.26 For it seems to me self-evident that it was Galdós' intimate contact with «krausismo» and with leading «krausistas» while attending the   —22→   University of Madrid that was primarily responsible for the allegorical structure of his novelistic art.

To begin with, the characteristic «krausista» justification of literature as a means of education, reform, and regeneration is clearly applicable to the early novels of Galdós. Juan López Morillas in his convenient survey of the movement remarks that the «new novel» which it proposed for the future was not to be «realistic» but «idealistic» -idealistic in the sense that it was to be «alimentada por ese deseo de que las cosas sean distintas de lo que son».27 From this general aesthetic credo to the specific political and social fables for Galdós' time which have here concerned us -La Fontana and Doña Perfecta- was a very short step. And in fables, whether those of an ancient and cynical slave or of a young and anguished reporter, it is standard operating procedure to teach by means of representation. Galdós in after years was to learn far more about the novel and its possibilities than he could even have suspected in the 60's and the 70's, but he continued to be «idealistic» insofar as his passion to change «things as they are» remained constant.

A great North American contemporary of Galdós' once pierced prevailing political rhetoric with the following riddle: «If you call a tail a leg, how many legs has a dog?» The answer is, of course, four, «because calling a tail a leg doesn't make it a leg». And in the same way calling a novel a fable doesn't make it a fable. The comparison in these two cases may be more or less apt, but it would be more exact to say that both Galdós and the «krausistas» knew that before history could be transformed into fable and the appropriate moral derived therefrom, «things as they are» had first to be comprehended in that unsatisfactory state. Realism had to precede idealism. These were avid and questing minds and they knew, if not from Krause, their reading of Balzac and Scott that art in general and novel in particular provided the truest form of historical understanding, the least distorted means of grasping what Giner de los Ríos called «el sentir común de nuestra época».28

According to López Morillas, «krausista» criticism had first placed its hope in the drama as the most immediately influential and most direct variety of creative communication. However, by 1881 (in a review of Doña Perfecta), Urbano González Serrano, one of its most distinguished representatives, had come to the conclusion that the novel, because of its capacity to portray «circunstancias reales y objetivas» and because of its «espíritu crítico» was «el género literario más adecuado al espíritu y tendencias de los tiempos presentes».29 That is to say, González Serrano understood that the novel's new 19th-century avatar as a model of «things as they are» could serve not just for comprehension but also for diagnosis and therapy. He conceived of the novel more or less as Balzac had conceived of it, but, in view of its capacity for «critical» correction, he wanted it to accomplish a great deal more. He wanted it to function as if it were a fable, and Doña Perfecta with its remarkable presentation of social archetypes, had shown how that was possible.

How had Galdós effected the transformation? Quite simply -I would propose- by applying representational techniques derived not only from political cartoons but also from the basic tenets of «krausista» social theory. The belief (apparently reminiscent of the traditional wisdom of China) that the moral and intellectual reform of the individual was the only path to the   —23→   moral and intellectual reform of society had as its necessary corollary the non-dissimilarity of whole and part. A typical Sanz del Río comparison begins: «Así como el hombre es organizado en el espíritu y en el cuerpo..., así también la sociedad es orgánica...»30 The hoary notion of microcosm and macrocosm, thus, remains implicit in the «krausista» quest for «el racionalismo armónico». Which is simply to say, biography and history in a state of perfection. Thus, too, the allure of novelistic representation. For if the whole can be cured piecemeal, its ills could also be diagnosed piecemeal: understood by analogy and represented by allegory. As was suddenly patent infacta, Doña Perfecta, theoretical discussion and novelistic practice were two sides of the same coin.31

A comparison somewhat more familiar to many of us than with Confucianism may help us to understand the matter at hand. Like Christian Science, another errant stream from the same fountain of 19th-century German idealism,32 «krausismo», by maintaining that evil is the unreal appearance of «irrational disharmony», equated the good with health. Society, therefore, was a body which could be cured cell by cell, individual by individual, and the novelist was nothing less than a wise physician. Or to say the same thing in another way, «krausista» optimism (to us so alien!) was based on the notion that 19th-century history was sick spiritually as if it were a person. Which in turn implies the possibility of choosing to be saved, a possibility eventually personified by Fortunata on her deathbed. As Galdós phrased it many years afterwards, even the corrupt society of the Restoration might be redeemed by «impulsos que nazcan de su propio seno» (1447).33 As late as 1904, he was still conceiving of society as possessing a «breast»!

It is no accident, therefore, that it is Galdós' favorite «krausista», Máximo Manso, who expresses most revealingly this aspect of his poetics: «Es curioso estudiar la filosofía de la historia en el individuo, en el corpúsculo, en la célula. Como las ciencias exactas, aquella exige también el uso del microscopio» (1203). This fascinating possibility was further explained by Manso's author in his «Discourse» on the occasion of Pereda's entering the Royal Academy: «La sociedad en que hemos nacido nos da su propio ser; diríase que reparte o distribuye sus cualidades fundamentales, para que seamos lo que es ella misma».34 Lest we interpret this as a manifesto of determinism, let us listen to Galdós the critic viewing Ana de Ozores' downfall as an individual: «El modo y estilo de esta perdición constituyen la obra de un sutil parentesco simbólico con la historia de nuestra raza» (1450).35 She is not doomed by heredity and environment; rather she is symbolically the failed fervor of Spanish history.

It would not be difficult to compile a more or less copious anthology of Galdosian observations on the mysterious correlation of individual and society, of private lives and historical events.36 As we have already observed and as diligent readers need not be told twice, this is the constantly reappearing skein running through the whole of his work. However, I believe that Manso's categorical explanation of how to use the correlation experimentally should be sufficient for our purposes. Galdós' choice of him as a spokesman amounts to a tacit acknowledgement of indebtedness to   —24→   «krausismo» for his most unique innovation in the theory and practice of the 19th century novel.

This is not meant to imply that Galdós was either an orthodox nor an unorthodox «krausista». In fact he was not a «krausista» at all anymore than in 1887 (as we shall see, certain aspects of the structure of Fortunata y Jacinta strangely resemble Die Phänomenologie der Geist) he was a Hegelian. Although he had absorbed and learned to use creatively certain of the underlying preoccupations and preconceptions of the movement (its way of thinking and of seeing man and society), he did not belong to it. Nor, being the sort of novelist he was, could he have belonged to it. As the portraits of Manso and León Roch (his two More or less ostensible «krausista» protagonists) suggest, they themselves could never be novelists. They lack the gift -or curse- of irony, the very irony with which their author delivers them to life. These are didactic lives deeply immersed in their own sincerity as against the writer of novels who stands apart, views from a distance, and in the very same words simultaneously praises and blames, admires and ridicules. Novelists simply do not belong -however concerned they may be- if only because they know they are creating as they create. It is a generalization which could even be applied to a Zola, while in Galdós' Cervantine tradition (a tradition so pervasive that the protagonist of his least Quixotic novel, if not a «loco-cuerdo» is at least a «tragic-hero-pompous-ass»!) the distance is immeasurably greater.

Perhaps without meaning to (if he was referring only to his ironic surrogate, Cide Hamete), Cervantes gave definitive expression to this novelistic posture or stance when he termed himself the stepfather (or «padrastro») of don Quijote. That is to say, instead of being the solicitous father of his human creations (or loving mentor as Manso is for Manuel Peña), he is removed, even cruel if need be. It is precisely because he is not intimately committed to his creature (although not necessarily unaffectionate) that his stepfatherly mind can appropriate and give wings of imagination to the intellectual explorations of his time. Not the dated commonplaces (although they too have a novelistic function), but the major meditations which project hitherto unsuspected visions of man. Galdós' early relation to «krausismo», in other words, is not unlike those of certain of his past and future colleagues to a Pinciano, a Claude Bernard, or a Freud.

For our present purposes Galdosian «krausismo» is significant insofar as it helps us understand the evolutionary advance from La Fontana to Doña Perfecta. The element of continuity that is inherent in the concept of evolution is easily discerned. Both novels resemble fables for their time; both combine an analysis of the negative forces operative in Spanish 19th century history (its «irrational disharmony») with warning of the tragic results of their underestimation; and both «study the philosophy of history in the individual». And yet, as we read on from the first into the second, we realize -to continue the biological metaphor- that we have climbed from the level, let us say, of the mollusc to that of the fish. The increase in thematic complexity and technical mastery that had been achieved by Galdós in a single decade was in its way no less prodigious than that achieved by the natural selection over a span of eons. That Cervantes should have   —25→   followed La Galatea with the Quijote may amaze us more, but this relentless and consequential evolution of a single intention also deserves due reverence.

To sum up, a two-dimensional political novel of youth against age, progress against reaction, and good against evil has been replaced by a deep sociological comprehension of the implacable conflict of inherited roles with on-going history. Cartoon characters are now rounded archetypes, all the more alive and threatening because of their very inability to exist in any other way than their ancestors had done. The post-card background of «cuadros de costumbres de antaño» has disappeared and has been replaced by a virtually invisible Orbajosa composed of forces and attitudes, a collective «hado social» to be sensed rather than seen. And, finally, the jerky stop-and-go movement of the narrative has subsided into a throbbing stasis, a gathering tragedy so ominous that the final catastrophe seems almost anticlimactic.

Representation, in other words, has at last in Doña Perfecta accomplished all that Galdós hoped it might: a comprehensive, indeed irrefutable diagnosis of the social sickness that had made possible «el paso de los sargentos». On one occasion in the course of the «episodio» entitled El 7 de Marzo candid liberal and «bon bourgeois», don Benigno Cordero wonders with plaintive naiveté: «Yo no sé por qué esos hombres no han de amar la Libertad, una cosa tan clara, tan patente, tan obvia» (1604). Had don Benigno been able to read Doña Perfecta, he would have found the answer that could not be provided by his own literary circumstance, the historical novel. As Giner might have explained to him, «es natural que la historia, considerada como la mera narración del suceder de las cosas, no pueda ilustrarnos respecto de su naturaleza esencial».37

Harvard University

Anterior Indice Siguiente