Galdós as Traveller and Travel Writer
(Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario)
Travelling, whatever the destination or purpose, is a simple matter, really, if one merely considers it as a movement between two places on the map. Completing this very physical movement, however, – which route and what mode of transport to take, for example, – is more complicated. Even more so is the obligatory procurement of various types of travel literature, all products of the contrasting sedentary occupation of composing a written text. Whether printed, illustrated or electronic, tickets, passports, maps and guidebooks are our constant travel companions. And when the journey is over, the tourist, or the traveller, – as Evelyn Waugh insisted every good Englishman abroad should be called, – engages again in a literary process, but now in a reverse way: writing an account of her/his own experiences. This may take the form of a blog or a postcard, or at a much higher level, perhaps, a travel book, that, whether entitled Sketches, Notes, Diaries, Impressions, or Pictures will vie with many others to catch the attention of next year’s traveller. This was precisely the situation that obtained 161 years ago when Charles Dickens published his Pictures from Italy. The challenge then, as now, for the novelist-cum-travel writer was to write something that was more than a humdrum catalogue of sights to see, something that reflected, instead, the impressions they left on the inner retina. These are the kinds of travelogues to which Debbie Lisle refers when, in her fascinating study published by Cambridge University Press last year, The Global Politics of Contemporary Travel Writing, she declares:
In this lecture, I propose,
first, to give a brief resumé of Galdós’s travels
and travel writings. Those pieces he wrote on Spain, Italy and England
will then receive a more detailed examination as I illustrate how the
cultivation of the travelogue allowed Galdós to write at length
about an activity that he greatly enjoyed and which he often associated
with his readings on art and literature, especially, in the latter case,
that of England. Furthermore, Galdós the travel writer reveals
more about himself as a human being than Galdós the novelist does,
and at the same time, he comes to a deeper understanding of himself. “Trip
Lit,” in Lisle’s rather catchy phrase (18), has now become
an academic growth industry (Hulme and Youngs 2). I hope that my small
contribution tonight will enhance the validity of this literary “product”
in Hispanic Studies in general and in Galdós Studies in particular.
International trips commenced early too: he went to Paris in 1867 and again the following year, even venturing into Belgium and Switzerland. But it was the 1880s which saw Galdós’s international trips reach their peak, with lengthy summer visits to Denmark, England, Germany, Holland, Italy, Portugal, and Scotland. But by 1890, this international tourism had come to an end, for, apart from brief sallies to Paris in 1901 and 1902, and then to Morocco in 1904, Galdós was never to leave Spain again. Rumoured, rather improbable, trips to Cuba and Argentina in 1914 never materialized.
accounts of a number of these travels can be divided into four categories.
First, there are two Spanish pieces which he serialized in the journal
Revista de España in the 1870s: “Las generaciones
artísticas en la ciudad de Toledo” in 1870, and six years
later, “Cuarenta leguas por Cantabria.”
The third category of travel texts are really passages to be found in Galdós’s social and historical novels spanning his career from 1870 to 1915.
The fourth and final layer in our montage comes from his partly-fictionalized autobiography, Memorias de un desmemoriado, published in serial form in the Madrid journal, La Esfera, in 1916.
Why, then, did Galdós like travelling in Spain and over Europe? A major reason must have been to relax from the punishing writing schedule he maintained during the winter months in Madrid. The first brief relief would come at the beginning of April in the weekend train excursions to towns like Toledo or Alcalá de Henares that were close to Madrid. They certainly provided a change of scenery, but, also more importantly, artistic and literary nourishment. Not for him the fishing, hunting or picknicking of other Madrid weekenders! Longer periods of rest, of course, were taken during the summer breaks in Santander.
There were also business reasons for visits to provincial cities. Alas suggests that in the 1880s it was to promote his novels, especially the illustrated edition of the Episodios nacionales. In the 1890s and 1900s, there were other reasons, especially for journeys to the northern provinces: to oversee perfomances of his plays in major cities, to do some in situ research for his later series of episodios nacionales, and, between 1907 and 1910, to attend rallies and meetings in his capacity as the leader of a national political party. Historical research was also the motive for his visits to Morocco in 1904, and earlier, in 1901 and 1902 to Paris, where he interviewed the exiled Queen Isabel II.
Physical relaxation and the desire to see new horizons, if not the public promotion of his books, were, undoubtedly, the reasons for his international trips of the 1880s too. It is quite possible that one or two trips to France were secret getaways with lovers. Certainly his visit to the 1889 Paris Exhibition coincided with that of his then lover, the novelist Emilia Pardo Bazán.
On these international trips he showed that he could relax and enjoy the simple material pleasures of travelling as much as any ordinary tourist: for example, he tucks into a tasty lunch on the deck of a pleasure ship as it cruises down the Rhine; he takes home menus and restaurant bills, or mementos of Venice and Stratford-Upon-Avon; he recommends an excellent spa in Boulogne; he advises his readers to take their own cigars with them if travelling to Holland. On the other hand, he is fond of Dutch green tea, and loves to amble by the side of Amsterdam’s canals. He is not abashed at naming the red-light district of Hamburg – his favourite European city, or so he says! The summer nights in Berlin are very boring with everyone in bed by 9 pm because there is no evening cultural entertainment! And local tourist guides, the “cicerones,” are as much a bane to him as to other tourists. These little titbits of travel advice and experience, sprinkled throughout the letters to his Argentinian readers, do provide a more human, down-to-earth side to the public image of Galdós as Spain’s leading novelist.
Another important reason for these European trips was undoubtedly to see for himself the famous tourist sights. His eagerness is such that, once he has reached his hotel room, he immediately drops his luggage on the floor and dashes off to the site in question. However, more often than not, his first impressions of such renowned sights as the Unter den Linden in Berlin, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, St Peter’s Basilica in Rome and even of such famous paintings as Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch,” do not come up to his expectations – Venice and Amsterdam are the only two exceptions. But like Dickens, who had also been initially disappointed by St Peter’s, he could later revise his opinions. In Berlin, he indulges in that other great tourist frenzy: he joins the throng outside the residences of the Kaiser and Bismark in the hope of catching sight of the Great Men of contemporary international politics.
More representative of Galdós the traveller, however, are his deeper thoughts and musings precisely on the activity in which he is engaged, that is, international tourism: “I have always believed”, he says in 1889 “that the urge to move quickly takes away much of the enchantment from this pleasure of pleasures that is called travelling.” Direct journeys are for the business man or people who have an appointment, like lovers or doctors’ patients. The artist, the tourist or the summer holidaymaker should not go directly to the big capital cities. Then he makes a distinction that will assume great importance in the closing section of this lecture:
He could see that the modern tourist industry was leading to the globalization of Europe, with the same luxury clothes being sold in Copenhagen as in Madrid, or the same kinds of omelettes and steaks being served up in the restaurants of London and Paris. Nevertheless, on his European, if not on his Spanish travels, Galdós did not venture into the more spiritually attractive byways that he had signposted.
Continuing his meditation on the current state of the tourist industry, Don Benito has only words of high praise for Thomas Cook and Company: it has made tourism in Europe and beyond easier and more economical than was previously possible, especially with its “all-in” group package tours which are much favoured by the English, if disliked by Galdós himself because of their regimented format. In other words, he could assess and appreciate the growing trends in the tourist market, with particular attention being directed towards the English traveller. With appropriately Shakespearian references, which will also be of interest to us tonight, he informs the readers of Buenos Aires that, even if the English have not quite deserted Paris in 1889, like Hamlet, they have a more attractive magnet elsewhere. India is the new Ophelia.
Despite his great shyness, Galdós was a gregarious person who valued very much close friends, and he always needed a travel partner with whom to share impressions on the road: it was Pereda and the other odd person on the trips to Cantabria, Asturias and Portugal, but on the international trips he relied on his old friend and fellow journalist of the 1870s – now in the 1880s a career diplomat –, José Alcalá Galiano. The correspondence from this scion of a famous aristocratic family spans thirty years and is second in volume only to that of Alas. As Spanish consul in Newcastle from 1883 to 1890, Pepe was responsible for first suggesting and then organizing their various European trips, which Galdós would probably not have undertaken, left to his own devices. It is no coincidence that once his friend finally secured in 1890 his long-desired transfer from sooty Tyneside to Madrid, Galdós’s foreign sallies came to an abrupt halt. To Galdós, Alcalá Galiano was the perfect travel companion, not only because of his amiability, but, more interestingly, because of his poetic and witty way with words. If the consul did all the travel arrangements, it was the literary colleague who enabled Galdós to appreciate more the international journeys.
To entice Galdos to undertake the first one, in fact, Pepe wrote that they should go on an “artistic-novelesque excursion to Scotland, the theatre of the beautiful novels of the English Galdós, Walter Scott” (Bravo-Villasante 168). In fact, one could say that a principal incentive for the series of trips in the 1880s was to see what he had read about in books or seen in illustrated journals: literature and art begat travels, for Galdós: “Holland,” he wrote in 1887 “is one of those countries you know already before you visit it because of all that has been written about it […] and that very originality described by so many pens and extolled by travellers arouses even more one’s desire to go there” (Shoemaker, Las cartas 252). More precisely, in this case the main reason was to see Rembrandt’s paintings. Likewise, the sculptures of Thorvaldsen, as well as the proximity of Elsinore Castle, are his real reasons for going on to Denmark after Holland and Germany. Standing on the ramparts of the castle outside the Danish capital, he indulges in some literary fantasizing which re-occurs quite often on his travels and is given prominence in his travel writings: he recreates in his imagination what he had read in the first scene of Hamlet.
If existing travelogues provided the impetus to get abroad, and friend Pepe the live literary and artistic commentary en route, Galdós also needed the company of a vade mecum: the appropriate Baedeker Guide, whose great value he vigorously extols:
Their great merit, as he saw it, was that, besides offering a whole host of practical information, neatly and intelligibly packaged into small spaces, they let the readers make their own judgements on what they visited and saw.
Given, then, that travelling, for Galdós, was an activity he associated with printed literature of various kinds, the next logical step for him was to publish his own travelogues. The immediate justification might well have been, say in the 1870s, to enhance his stature as a multifaceted writer, or, in the 1880s, to earn some nice extra cash – 3,000 pesetas per annum, in fact! But a deeper motivation must have been a literary urge that he always had to satisfy. Alcalá Galiano seems to have assumed as much when in a letter of 1884, he supposes that Galdós has already written up his account of his first trip to London the previous year (Ortiz Armengol 375-76).
It has to be said that Galdós’s Spanish travelogues, especially those of the 1870s, are somewhat disconcerting because of an ambiguous focus. If the artistic treasures of Toledo, like the beautiful seascapes and landscapes of Cantabria, are given ample and due recognition, discordant ugly features intrude their presence. When he gets off the train in Toledo, Galdós finds the nearby buildings as aesthetically repugnant as other tumbledown structures in the historic core of the Imperial City. In Cantabria the towns of Santillana del Mar and San Vicente de la Barquera are decidedly unpicturesque, the church in the former being the epitome of ugliness: in its cloisters the eyes of Galdós the tourist come face to face with the empty sockets of a skeleton propped up against the stone wall, prompting him to pen the most nihilistic sentence to be found, I think, in all of his voluminous writing:
This passage is strangely reminiscent, both in detail and tone, of Dickens’s description in Pictures from Italy of the remains of the saintly Archbishop of Milan, San Carlo Borromeo in the cathedral crypt: “The shrunken heap of poor earth in the midst of this great glitter is more pitiful than if it lay upon a dunghill. There is not a ray of imprisoned light in all the flash and fire of jewels, but seems to mock the dusty holes where eyes were, once” (93). It is almost as if both novelists-cum-travel-writers were exposing the inherent tendency of travel literature to concentrate on the beauties of places visited, at the expense of a fuller, more complex picture of life’s ultimate reality. That Galdós was aware of the possibility of such distortions is clearly evident at the end of Marianela, a novel he published two years later, in 1878. Two tourists – female and English, let it be noted – are writing a travelogue called Sketches from Cantabria, extracts from which will appear in a London newspaper, in much the same way that the early chapters of Dickens’s Pictures from Italy and all of Galdós’s travelogues did. Gazing at the magnificent tomb of the eponymous heroine, the Englishwomen compose a romantic version of her life that is completely untrue.
No such troubling, discordant notes, however, are sounded in the sketches of major Iberian cities that Galdós wrote for his Argentinian readers a decade later. On the contrary, the commercial centres of Barcelona, Bilbao, Santander, San Sebastián and Lisbon are thriving in the age of rapid railway connections, and their urban landscapes are all the more impressive for it.
Any examination of Galdós’s Italian travel writings for La Prensa should take into account those of Dickens 41 years earlier, if only because of the fact that the English novelist was Galdós’s acknowledged literary mentor from the beginning of his career. In 1867, he published in serial form a Spanish translation of a French version of The Pickwick Papers along with a perceptive critcal introduction, in the Madrid newspaper, La Nación. Although there are no copies of Pictures from Italy in his library, Galdós was probably aware of it, for as he initiates his Italian travelogue (which is the most cohesive and extensive of all those he wrote, whether for Argentinian or Spanish newspapers), he refers to the multitude of previous writers on the country, amongst whom he counts “the most skilful pens in every country” (Viajes 54-55). Certainly, both Galdós and Dickens felt acutely the challenge of trying to say something new or different about things and places already buried under mountains of printed words. Dickens’s response was to search out odd and extravagant places and scenes, like the public execution of a murderer in Rome. Galdós was not as adventurous: he favoured a more overarching approach: he proposed linking his personal assessments of the architecture and art work of Italy to the new political and social status of a now-unified country (Viajes 54-55) . But he also rose to the challenge in other ways, as we have already seen, by inserting in these Italian sketches general observations on the Baedeker Guide Books and Thomas Cook and Company.
Don Benito’s Grand Tour, perhaps not surprisingly, included more or less all the places Dickens had covered, and those that would be included on any tourist’s itinerary. However, it is interesting to note that his most successful pictures are precisely those in which Dickens excelled and for the same reasons: they both seemed to enjoy themselves in Verona, Venice, Naples and Florence. There are indeed some points of contact between the respective accounts. For example, both refer to the notorious pickpockets of Naples, with Galdós now certifying that that this social plague, which was highlighted by earlier and “credible travellers” (Viajes 138) – and Dickens was certainly one of them –, has been eradicated. Going up to the top of nearby Mount Vesuvius is a must for both, and their respective accounts are equally vivid, although the Spaniard is somewhat overcome with panic as he nears the crater’s rim, whereas the Englishman derives huge enjoyment from rolling away downhill with his clothes aflame!
Galdós´s account of his tour of Pompeii is perhaps his most arresting piece of writing on Italy because of the clarity with which he expresses powerful feelings that he had not experienced before: “The soul of those ruins,” he writes, “looms in the mind and heart of the traveller. In spite of being an empty sepulchre, Pompeii is not lugubrious. I do not know if every tourist has had the same impression, but I thought it was a relatively happy city amidst its mysterious silence,” as if it were a city under construction whose workers had gone on a temporary strike or were in the countryside soon to return (Viajes 152). If in Santillana del Mar in 1876 a confrontation with a single skeleton had stirred black thoughts on the pointlessness of existence, the sight of Pompeii, a scene of a mass and instantaneous slaughter by Nature’s own dark forces, produces an opposite reaction, perhaps because there are no skeletons scattered around to disrupt the tourist’s vivid recreation of a city bustling with human activity.
There was no way that Galdós could replicate Dickens´s masterful “dream” sequence on Venice. Nevertheless, he again succeeds in painting a picture that is peculiarly his own, as when he points out the relative lack of street noise or of dust in the air, the absence of horses, dogs and birds, apart from the multitude of pigeons in St Mark’s Square. However, he does follow Dickens in abhorring the presence of prisons and torture chambers in such beautiful surroundings. And his visit is similarly dominated by thoughts about the plays that Shakespeare had set in the city and by visions of some of his characters making their way over bridges or along the canals. To cite Dickens’s words: “I thought that Shakespeare’s spirit was abroad upon the water somewhere: stealing through the city” (82). In Galdós’s confusion of the worlds of physical reality and literature, he wonders where exactly Shylock or Desdemona’s father lived, or whether the pigeons he and Alcalá Galiano see were the same ones that had eaten out of the hands of Othello, the Shakespearian character he most vividly evokes. It is somewhat baffling, if not paradoxical, that in arguably the world’s most beautiful city, Galdós should have been emotionally more transfixed by the memories of literary readings, and English ones at that, than by what he saw around him!
This kind of Galdosian tourism is repeated in Verona, where the sole purpose of the trip (as with Dickens earlier and probably with every tourist), is, Galdós frankly admits, to visit Juliet’s family home and tomb. Neither is a very prepossessing sight, not that Galdós worries too much, because his ever-active imagination only needs to assume that they might be authentic in order to achieve a literary take-off, as it were, seeing before him the two lovers, as real, nay, even more real than people who have actually lived. Literature does trump reality, in Galdós’s mind. His stop-off in Verona is indeed a literary pilgrimage in which, fittingly, standing behind him are some English girls to whom he attributes the most lofty of literary devotions: “Nobody can match pretty young English girls in this devotion to Juliet. They come into the garden of the tomb with real reverence, they even seem to be muttering prayers and lifting up their thoughts to that lofty sphere of ideal perfection where pure, sinless love resides” (Viajes 85). How gallant and noble Galdós is here with the maidens of England, when he can be so mischievous at the expense of their elders!
In the La Prensa travelogues, there are a number of inter-country and inter-city comparisons, with England, and particularly London, the point of reference: the squares and streets of The Hague are just about comparable in their cleanliness and elegance to those in West London, whose zoo is the best in the world, superior to those of Amsterdam or Berlin. Despite these passing allusions, his extended English pictures are few and limited to two places: Newcastle and Stratford-Upon-Avon, polar opposites in terms of physical appearance, of course, and whose respective inclusion in the large Galdosian album of European urban sketches is due to different reasons.
Newcastle was a city which Galdós knew particularly well because of the number of times he had to trek there before he could set out with friend Pepe for the Continent; but his painter’s brush, eschewing precision of locations, gives an impressionistic picture of the banks of the Tyne teeming with factories, chimneys and work yards. The river’s water is like shoe polish or blank ink, and certainly good enough for a local environmentalist to use when writing a letter of complaint to the editor of The Times. Finding the sun in the sky any day is a nigh impossible task! Shirt collars and cuffs are covered with soot immediately one sets foot outside the door! (I hope I am not offending any Geordies in the audience with these quotes!) Forswearing, as it were, any more landscape description, he devotes the rest of the article to a rather solemn, if very interesting, socio-political essay on the implications of England’s thriving, if ecologically disastrous, industrial areas. In fact, Newcastle’s soot-filled air is ideal for increasing productivity and having bigger families in a never-ending cycle of physical activity. After all, what else is there to do! If Galdós eventually concludes that the hard-working Englishman is happier in the smog than the carefree Spaniard in the Mediterranean sun, it is only because the former has achieved a standard of living, which, along with the country’s educational and political systems, is the envy of the world. Nevertheless, this “pretty” cultural picture, so to speak, is seriously blighted, in his view, by the widespread poverty to be found, whether it be in the form of tramps camping out for the night in Trafalgar Square or ragged urchins pestering travellers at the entrances to hotels and railway stations. England is lucky to have overseas colonies to which it can export its surplus bodies. He recalls the poignant sight of emigrants being carted like cattle every day to the docks in Liverpool.
These industrial cities of the North – Darlington is likened to an Inferno!, and he has to give Manchester a miss! – are not the places in which the tourist should tarry long, but, irony of ironies!, Newcastle was also the birthplace of the railway steam engine, which he calls “the most marvelous invention of the 19th century” (Shoemaker, Las cartas 289) and which enabled him, like so many others in Europe, to travel to distant places. Thus, he pays due homage to Stephenson, whose “Rocket” stands on a pedestal close to the bridge over the Tyne.
His English safari the following year, 1888, was a much more satisfactory experience, as his destination this time was Stratford-Upon-Avon. He still logs the cities through which the train from Newcastle passes, with their chimney stacks crowding the horizon, and again he finds brief solace in gazing at the idyllic ecclesiastical oases of Durham and York, but there is none of the depression and exhaustion of the Newcastle travel piece. And at last, he finds room in his pages to mention Sheffield, but in a surprisingly positive way, you will all be pleased and proud to hear! It is one of the more interesting manufacturing centres of the North, and is the knife-making capital of the world. He commits the minor lapse of omitting the “h” from the city’s name, but notes (correctly for the period, and probably after consulting his Baedeker) that it is located in Hallamshire, a county that, I regret to say, I never knew had existed before I read this passage in Galdós!
The biggest problem Galdós encountered on this trip south had to do with his beloved railway, not the vehicle of transportation itself, but the terribly complicated English network with its different regional lines. Travelling north-south via the Great Northern was no problem, but changing to an east-west direction was quite a headache of timetable organization. Even so, he finds himself at Birmingham New Street station in a situation that most of us have probably experienced at some time or another: he has to ask surly porters how to get to Stratford – “that is the question,” he observes in his broken English. Then, it is a mad dash over to the right platform so as not to miss the connection!
He relaxes even more as he passes through the Warwickshire countryside, but even the sight of Kenilworth Castle, with its evocations of Sir Walter Scott’s novel, can not divert his thoughts from his longed-for destination: the most important literary shrine in the whole world, the Jerusalem for all lovers of Shakespeare. Numerous details about the buildings associated with the Bard flood Galdós’s text, but more noteworthy is the emotional intensity of his reactions, especially when standing in front of the tomb of Shakespeare: he now experiences a kind of literary mysticism:
It is as if everything in the pretty, well-administered town of Stratford triggers off memories of scenes in the plays that he knows by heart.
In one way, it is totally logical that he should have made this visit to Stratford and described it in such detail for his La Prensa readers, since he had so often displayed his enthusiasm for the Shakespearian connections to be found in other European countries, as we have seen. However, while he clearly loved and admired the plays of Shakespeare, to the extent that his library holdings of the dramatist far outnumber those of any other foreign writer, they are not major sources for his novels or even plays, although odd echoes are to be found here and there, most notably of King Lear in El abuelo, the novel in dialogue format that he published in 1897. His greatest literary mentor was, as I noted earlier, Dickens, yet he never trekked out to Gad’s Hill House in Kent. Nonetheless, he does remember Dickens in the middle of “Shakespeareland” in a special sort of way. In the breakfast room of the Shakespeare Hotel he is pleased to see many people who look like charcters out of Dickens’s novels, especially his favourite Mr. Pickwick, with his famous leggings. And, he is more than delighted to see that both Dickens and Walter Scott scratched their names as visitors on the walls of the Bard´s house, while he is the first Spaniard to sign the Visitors’ Book.
When looking for reflections of the travels in his fiction, the task is more difficult than two journalists who interviewed him at great length in 1912 blithely supposed. The novels of the “Primera Epoca” do reflect the stops on his early trips around the Peninsula: Toledo in El audaz, the Castilian meseta in Doña Perfecta, Cantabria in Gloria, and an Asturian mining area in Marianela. However, the locales are generic, non-specific, apart from that of Toledo, of course, with their description serving mostly as background colouring on which to develop the two most essential ingredients of any realist novel: plot and characterization. The same consideration also applies to his great social novels of the “Serie Contemporánea,” whose principal setting is Madrid’s urban landscape across which many a character tramps just as the young Galdós was wont to do. At times, these fictional wanderings take on a deeper and more internal purpose, like those of Fortunata in Fortunata y Jacinta or of Torquemada in his own tetralogy. Those of Nazarín on the outskirts of the city are even more complicated, while the labyrinthine streets of Toledo are used again to chart the progressions and regressions of Angel Guerra’s spiritual odyssey.
In the five series of Episodios nacionales it seems as if hardly any Spanish region or city has been left unvisited as the major political events of the nineteenth century are mapped out. But merely naming towns, streets or rivers is no substitute for a more detailed picture of their physical presence, however much the demands of plot – more so than those of characterization – dictate otherwise. When on the rare occasion he moves the setting outside of Spain this tight control of topographical colouring is maintained, as in La de los tristes destinos, the last number of the fourth series, which was published in 1907 – the title is a translation of a phrase in Shakespeare’s Richard III that refers to the wife of Edward IV: “She of the Sad Mischance.” When the fictional characters join General Prim and his conspirators in London in 1867, the blackened tenement houses bordering the railway tracks leading into Charing Cross Station and the lines of ships unloading their cargoes in London Docks are our only background mural details of a city that the author had walked around many times. Other parts of the capital are only mentioned by name, and once more, England is held up as a model stable democracy for the Spanish idealists to follow.
London had appeared in a very similar fashion two decades earlier in two major social novels, whose publication coincided with Galdosian visits to England. Again areas of the capital are just referred to by name, but are inserted within the life story of two male characters. José María Bueno de Guzmán, the narrator-protagonist of Lo prohibido of 1884-85, was sent from Málaga by his English mother to receive a good education at a London school. Its value, however, soon vanishes after her death, and when he relocates definitively to Spain, the vices he had acquired in the fleshpots of the West End, where he had used the Langham Hotel as a base, continue unbridled.
In the following novel, Fortunata y Jacinta, published in 1886-87, Manuel Moreno-Isla is a somewhat similar, albeit secondary, character: he is an anglophile who looks very much like an English lord. Educated at Eton, he too confuses English and Spanish at times, and has made a number of amorous conquests. His initial role is to act as a somewhat comic critic of the chauvinism of his Madrid relations and friends. But, by the novel’s end, his discovery of true love for Jacinta leads only to a fatal heart attack, preceded by reminiscences of old times in Piccadilly and the Cromwell Road.
In both novels, the English travel echoes predominate over those of France, which are barely audible: we are merely informed that Fortunata and Juanito Santa Cruz, for example, visit Paris at different times. However, both of these characters, along with the other woman in the love triangle, Jacinta, figure prominently in what is undoubtedly the longest and most successful integration by Galdós of an extended travelogue into the fictional fabric of a novel. It is a special kind of journey too: a honeymoon, that of Juanito and Jacinta. Occupying a complete chapter in Part I, it represents the only occasion in the novel when the action is located outside of Madrid. Whereas a French or Italian honeymoon is considered the fashion by their social peers, the newlyweds opt for a tour of Spanish cities. The itinerary is dutifully recorded, but the streets and tourist attractions of the respective cities are vaguely presented. At first, in Burgos, it is because of the couple’s natural self-absorption. Later it is because Jacinta becomes more and more obsessed with Juanito’s sexual past (Raphaël). The attractions of Zaragoza, Barcelona and Valencia are, consequently, hardly mentioned. Only on odd occasions are their talk and attention diverted from “the other woman,” as when the train makes stops at certain railway stations:
What a most realistic scene this is, one that Galdós and other inveterate train travellers in the age of steam must have witnessed many a time! But the important point to note is that he filters this travel detail through the momentarily diverted minds and sensitivities of his fictional characters.
The decision to extend the Santa Cruz honeymoon to Seville leads to the climax of the whole trip with its important ramifications for the development of the rest of the novel: namely, Juanito’s admission of his true feelings for Fortunata. This confession is set in motion by another “English” episode, so to speak: Juanito’s argument with an equally drunk Englishman, who is a guest at a wedding party in their hotel. However, it is not so much the Englishman’s persistence in pushing a drink into the reluctant Juanito’s hand that annoys him as the whole tone of his speech, with its broken Spanish laced with that drawled English exclamation – “Ooooh, sí” – so beloved by Galdós, and which had already been voiced by Dickensian, chiefly matronly, types in the short story, “La novela en el tranvía,” of 1870 and in the unpublished novel, Rosalía, of 1872. It is quite remarkable that, even at the central point of a travelogue set totally in Spain and within the more restrictive confines of a fictional plot – and that of his masterpiece, to boot! –, Galdós should have recourse to a character with connotations of an English literary stereotype, whom he now charges with the important structural function of thrusting the narrative into full gear, as it were.
Incredible as it may seem, we have to wait until just four years before Galdos’s death and for his penultimate publication, in order to add the fourth and final layer of evidence to our aggregated assessment of his travel writings: his autobiography of 1916. The principal impression it gives is that Galdós’s life consisted mostly of two activities: writing and travelling, with the latter occupying a surprisingly large amount of space. Perhaps having his La Prensa columns at hand was a temptation for using their material to pad out certain chapters. And yet, the new versions of his travels, although they follow closely the sequence of events given in the La Prensa articles, are very much shorter, with no verbatim transcription of previously published sections, as far as I could ascertain. Furthermore, there is a startling amount of new information about the trips that had not appeared before, even in the newspaper interview of 1912, all of which inclines one to believe that the septuagenarian Galdós truly believed that his travels at home and abroad were an important part of his life and deserved another, even more literary, recounting in print.
Many of the additions have to do with things English or Scottish, such as the shortened, one-day visit to Edinburgh that preceded his 1888 pilgrimage to Stratford. The Spanish writer is understandably impressed by the handsome buildings on Princess St., but his attention is directed to matters literary, as there are all sorts of texts on sale in the bookshops. He had originally planned to visit Sir Walter Scott’s house at Abbotsford, the Lakes region made famous in poetic legends, and Inverness, where he hoped to find the place where the witches announced to Macbeth that he would be king and then trace the locales of other scenes in the play. Instead, he has to content himself with a viewing of the staircase on which Rizzio had been assassinated in Holyrood House. This, in turn, prompts lengthy character studies of Mary, Queen of Scots, and Elizabeth the First of England.
At long last, London makes its appearance in one of Galdós’s travel portfolios in its own right, but, again, not to the extent that he initially promises. The sketches on the East End, the City and the West End are notable by their subsequent absence, as he concentrates on colouring in the street scene down Whitehall and the interior of the Houses of Parliament. However, it is Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey that attracts his greatest interest. Here he suffers an attack of literary mysticism akin to that which he had felt the year before in Stratford: he deposits the flower of his adoration on the tomb of Charles Dickens after declaring once more his great debt to the English novelist.
The Memorias de un desmemoriado are important for another reason: they convey more fully and more consistently than the largely factual travelogues of the 1870s and 1880s the intensity of Galdós’s inner reactions to what he saw on his travels. In this sense, it could be said that his autobiography had something in common with the work of late Victorian or Edwardian travel writers such as D. H. Lawrence, whose Twilight in Italy was also published in 1916. As the American critic John Pemble comments, by this time “the travel book was less a mirror than a window. It was a personal testament, describing an inward as well as an outward journey […] and the interest [is] more human” (12). There is, of course, a world of difference between the two texts in question, written by novelists at the opposite ends of their respective careers. But the blind, septuagenarian’s recollection of his first visit to Paris captures magnificently all the thrill and excitement he had felt half a century before, and is comparable to the elation Lawrence felt travelling around isolated Alpine villages.
Galdós’s account of the climb up Mount Vesuvius now has a playful note that was lacking in the La Prensa version, but was present in Dickens’s travel book. As it so happens, the cause of this mirth are the eccentric English people who make up most of the touring party, with their walking boots and Baedekers. But it is two Dickensian female types that really excite the author when they have to be forcibly restrained from falling over the rim of the crater in their great eagerness to catch sight of the molten lava. Inevitably, that “Oooh, wonderful!” (1691) exclamation makes its appearance in the text!
The account of the visit to Elsinore Castle is also infused with a new, intense air of subjective literary fantasizing. He asks rhetorically:
The emotional intensity of this tripping-off into Literary Excitement Land is not an exceptional occurrence. In fact, Galdós concludes his autobiography with a general confession: “On my trips, imaginary people and things seduced me more than the real. Art was always more beautiful than history” (1707), and, English literary connections, it might be added, seduced him more often than those of other countries. And, at the same time, he discloses publicly the general motivation for his travelling that we had suggested earlier: “I would get some rest from the literary work that deeply occupied my mind with other activities that to a certain extent corrected the bad effects of a sedentary life. I am referring to my love of travel” (1678). Lacking in these memoirs, however, is any explanation of why he felt the almost constant need to write about his trips, for, although it is reasonable to expect that he would put pen to paper once he reached home (as we have noted earlier), not every novelist who travels, even regularly, writes on travel, or wants to, or can!
Perhaps the nearest Galdós comes to a disclosure of his reasons for writing on travel, and, at the same time, to giving an illustration of the process in action, now exclusively from within the Spanish context, occurs in a piece of writing he published in 1907, the same year that in La de los tristes destinos he had hailed the Northern Railway linking Madrid and Paris as “a divine breach of civilization” (675). The text in question, published exactly a hundred years ago, is a prologue for a collection of travel articles by the young Basque journalist, José María Salaverría. Not only is this the longest prologue Galdós ever wrote for someone else’s book, but he had himself offered to do it in the first place, contrary to his usual practice, and he even went so far as to find a publisher for the young Basque’s book, to be entitled Vieja España (Bly).
The first part duly reviews the numerous merits of Salaverría’s presentation of Burgos and its historical sites. Pertinently, he enjoins the young writer and his colleagues to travel, like he had done, in third-class compartments in passenger and goods trains, for, along with inns, they “offer an excellent position from which to talk directly to the Spanish race” (Shoemaker, Los prólogos 84). In the second part of the prologue Galdós practices what he preaches, and what, in fact, he had preached almost twenty years earlier in a La Prensa article, as we have seen, but now at an even more primitive level. Instead of taking the train to the major historical cities around the country, he travels in a buggy or covered wagon into the heartland of old Castile, more specifically, to Madrigal de las Altas Torres and La Mota, small towns near Medina del Campo that are now sleepy and almost tumbledown, but steeped in history and literature. Poised barely two feet above the dusty rectilinear road that joins the two places, not only can Don Benito see the Spring poppies that speckle the countryside like droplets of blood, but, more significantly, he experiences an intense feeling of the earth itself, which he compares to a petrified sea, in which the odd clusters of houses by the roadside appear like moored boats. But the true importance of this unique terrain is that its contemplation induces a superior feeling of self-absorption, of inner spirituality within Galdós himself, as the wagon goes bumping along: “The plain absorbs the spirit of the traveller, makes it its own. Man feels that he is a citizen of the country of intuition, called Looking into Oneself” (Shoemaker, Los prólogos 86-87). If he had felt a bout of literary mysticism before the tombs of Shakespeare and Dickens, he now is communing with himself by means of the Castilian landscape and the buggy. Galdós’s words also recall those of Debbie Lisle that I quoted at the beginning of this lecture: travel literature, for her, is a vitally necessary union of the “eye” – the organ of vision – and the “I” – the first-person singular subject pronoun. Now with Galdós’s physical eye fixed firmly on the towers of La Mota’s castle at the end of the road in front of him, his mind’s eye focuses on the figure of Isabel la Católica, who had spent her childhood in Madrigal de las Torres Altas and died in the castle of La Mota. He now reviews the great achievements of her reign, which had changed Spain and the world for ever. But outweighing all of them is her terrible error in enforcing religious conformity in Spain with the practical help of the Inquisition. In one majestic sequence, then, Galdós has combined three separate but simultaneous actions: moving along a dusty old Castilian road in a not-so-comfortable vehicle; looking straight at a large physical object ahead, and meditating lucidly on the most momentous reign in Spanish history, which had, in the course of time, deeply affected his own attitudes to the Catholic Church. Perhaps this was the reason behind his extraordinary offer to write the prologue in the first place. For at the heart of what seems initially like a routine book review is the most concentrated and, I would venture to say, the most poetic piece of travel writing ever penned by Galdós the traveller. Mind and body, thoughts and words, all are ultimately fused and frozen into one unique experience. The final aim of Don Benito’s whole prologue, as of all serious travel writing and of the travelling that gives rise to it, was, surely, to know better his inner self and that of the land and culture, both artistic and literary, to which he belonged. Here and almost always, it had to be Spain, but, at the other odd time, it could – wishfully – be England, of which country, in a letter to Alas of 1889, he indeed remarked that he “would like to be a citizen” (Ortiz Armengol 465). Unfortunately, there is no insertion on the notepaper of an italicized “Ooooh, yes!” to alert us to the possible playful fantasy of this idea!
Professor Peter Bly was born in Kings Lynn, Norfolk, in 1944 and took his degrees at the University of London (King’s College and Westfield College), where he was taught by that outstanding British figure among Galdós scholars, John Varey, editor of the first Tamesis Galdós Studies. His early move to Canada in 1968 (Dalhousie University, Halifax), though a major loss to Galdosian scholarship in the UK, was the start of a highly successful academic career, centred upon Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario (1971- 2002 [Head of Department, 1984-1998]), where he now holds the title of Emeritus Professor.
It would be virtually impossible to teach or write about Galdós (or indeed, to get very far in studying him) without consulting the critical work of Peter Bly. His Galdosian output, besides being prolific, is marked throughout by sharp insight, meticulous scholarship, and a refreshing clarity. Notable among his full-length books are Galdós's Novel of the Historical Imagination (1983), Vision and the Visual Arts in Galdós (1986), and The Wisdom of Eccentric Old Men: A Study of Type and Secondary Character in Galdós's Social Novels, 1870-1897 (2004). Each of these fascinatingly diverse works is in its own way pioneering, constantly encouraging readers to revise their awareness of Galdós’s writing and to exploit its richness in new ways.
Professor Bly’s Critical Guides to La de Bringas (1981) and Nazarín (1991) provide exemplary close readings of these novels, grounded as they are in extensive critical research; both have come to serve as indispensable teaching tools. His published articles far too numerous to list are consistently original and stimulating. He has, too, somehow found find the time to write about other authors of the "fin de siglo" such as Valle-Inclán and Leopoldo Alas as well as more modern writers like Lorca and Sender, not to forget some of the earliest texts in Castilian literature (El poema de Mío Cid and El libro de Alexandre). Peter Bly’s editorial work has been of the same unremittingly high standard; witness the meticulously constructed collection of essays, Galdós y la historia (1988), whose introduction is also a major contribution in its own right.
Professor Bly has played a major part in organizing Galdosian research on an international scale, serving as Secretary-Treasurer of the Asociación Internacional de Galdosistas (1990-2000), and as editor of Anales Galdosianos (1990-2002). Under his direction that journal went from strength to strength and is now firmly established as the leading publication in its field. Peter Bly also maintains close links with the Casa-Museo Galdós in Las Palmas and is regularly involved in the organization of the international conferences on Galdós held every four years in that city. At the most recent of these his services were recognized by the award of a medal as "Galdosista de Honor."
Professor Bly has amply earned the gratitude of his colleagues for his outstanding work, his indefatigable energy and boundless enthusiasm. It is both a privilege and a pleasure to welcome him to Sheffield to deliver the Tenth Galdós Lecture.
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