Cervantes in Galdós
When Galdós arrived in Madrid at the beginning of the 1860s, the Spanish novel was in a state of decline. He soon realised that this was mainly due to the fact that Spain had allowed her novelistic tradition to go to waste. In order to overcome this situation, right from the very start, he believed that it was necessary to turn back to Spain’s lost tradition, and by extracting old wine from the new wineskins, create a new Spanish novel.
It is worth noting - even if it is not entirely necessary because it is an unquestionable fact - that this demand for a Spanish novel, in the last third of the 19th century, in Galdós’s case, need not be associated with a defensive form of nationalism, but rather with the essential need, which he made his own and that of his contemporaries, for a novel, which, being Spanish, would also inform other European nations what was special and distinctive about the Spanish nation.
What was truly special and distinctive to Galdós’s Spain hearkened back to a tradition, which in the novel was represented by Cervantes and the picaresque tradition and in art by Velázquez. In 1870, in his ‘Observations on the contemporary novel in Spain’, Galdós recalled those who accused Spain of being a country which was prone to idealism and dreaming, and declared that this was ‘more of a chance occurrence, undoubtedly the result of historical circumstances, rather than something that was innate and characteristic to Spain’, and he went on to add that, when we consider the past and ‘examine our writers’ capacity for observation, we will see that Cervantes, the greatest writer of our nation, had such a talent for observation that we will surely never encounter anybody who is superior, or even equal in talent to him’. Later, in the same article, after condemning the French serialized novel, which, in his view, was full of traps and nonsense - and to make matters worse, was published in dreadful translations - Galdós declared that Spain needed a novel which, in accordance with realist tradition and the updating of this tradition, would be a real novel. Galdós wrote, ‘When we read the wonderful works of art that Cervantes wrote and Charles Dickens writes today, we say, ‘How real this is! It seems to be a slice of life. It’s as though we’ve met such or such a character.’ The tradition of Cervantes and the picaresque was, thus, to Spain’s advantage and it was a tradition, which, as Galdós would often repeat, had even served as a model for France and England, the two countries which best represented the nineteenth-century realist novel.
But if, as Galdós claimed, the absence of a modern realist novel as late as the 1870s in Spain was due to ‘historical circumstances’, rather than ‘an innate and characteristic inability’ to produce such a novel, he did not analyse those ‘historical circumstances’ in detail.
This is an extremely important point and it restricted the significance of his proud - and with good reason - allegiance to Cervantes’s tradition.
Spain had exported Cervantes’s model, together with that of the picaresque, and this double model had been recast outside Spain, resulting in a product which took on another label. As such, later and after some delay, no matter how much Galdós might regret this fact, Spain, a country which until the 1880s had been culturally dependent, imported Cervantes and the picaresque model from outside.
In 1901, in his prologue to La Regenta, Galdós wrote of these two extremes. The ‘features’ of Golden Age realism, exported in the 19th century by Spain ‘changed in French hands’ and what, under the brand of naturalism, ‘it lost in charm and wit, it gained in analytical strength and in scope, as it was applied to psychological states which do not fit easily within the picaresque form. Thus we obtained, with some loss and some changes, the product (- let’s not be shocked by this commercial simile) that we had exported, and we hardly recognised our blood or the breath of the Spanish soul that this literary being still retained after the changes it had undergone during its travels.’ And all this came to be -Galdós added in the same prologue - because ‘France, with its insuperable power, changed our work, without realising that it was ours’. Thus, Galdós concluded, it was up to Spanish novelists to reinstate the exported naturalistic model, ‘restoring what had been removed, namely its humour, and using it in a narrative and descriptive form in accordance with Cervantes’s tradition’ And this should be done in the recognition that in the 19th century ‘France, that powerful nation, imposes its law upon all art; we, who are nothing in the world, and our voices, no matter how loud we may shout, are not heard outside our humble abode.’
It should be noted that some Spaniards, such as Clarín and Galdós, and others like them, raised their voices regardless whether they could be heard outside Spain or not.
In short, the most important thing was that they made their voices heard. And that they did so in order to help the realist - or realist-naturalist - canon prosper, if not in the short term, in the long term, in its distinctive Spanish form, in a country in which the 19th-century European novel had long been absent.
What Galdós contributed to that canon was principally based on the model of Cervantes’s work. The extent of this influence was such that, until he came to write Amadeo I and the remaining three episodes of the fifth series of Episodios Nacionales, his novelistic paradigm was constructed on that of the Quixote. Up until Amadeo I Galdós’s writing was centred, just like the Quixote, on the dialectic between the real - what is - and the ideal - what should be. I have not forgotten, but have simply decided to set to one side, the fact that, as the critic Casalduero pointed out some years ago, if Cervantes was Galdós’s ‘indisputable master’, ‘Dickens and Balzac were his models, Taine and Comte his guides, Zola his vital ferment.’ As I said, I have not forgotten that these models existed but for the purposes of this lecture, I am going to focus on Cervantes, Galdós’s ‘indisputable master’.
At this point I would like to note that whilst Cervantes, the master, deals with the ideal - what should be - in a fairly abstract manner, for Galdós, his disciple, this ideal is pervaded by precise details which relate to the progressive bourgeois plan to transform Spain’s social and mental structures.
Casalduero, to whom I return once again, writes of Galdós, the disciple: ‘Galdós does not present the conflict between imagination and reality in metaphysical terms, like Cervantes, but rather, in accordance to the period in which he was writing, in sociological terms. Hence the emphasis naturally changes’. And Casalduero adds: ‘Galdós interprets Cervantes’s world in line with his own ideals, since he wants Spain to stop dreaming and enter the real world; he wants the desperate desires for grandeur to be replaced by hard, patient work, the love for glory and heroism to give way to discipline, to serve society, for people to think about their daily needs instead of dreaming about Dulcineas.’
Galdós, a man of the 19th century, was a moralist, who, unlike Cervantes, planned to reform and modernize the old structures of his country, and wanted to do so using the criteria of the progressive bourgeois class to which he belonged. Whilst he believed in such plans for the future, although he recognized that there was nothing that could be done in the short term, he repeatedly used Cervantes’s paradigm. When he lost hope in the belief that this project could ever be brought to fruition, his paradigm changed. However, in spite of everything, he never renounced his hope that one day his ideal would materialize and become reality. In this, as we will see later, he went further than Alonso Quijano.
Since Galdós repeatedly put Cervantes’s paradigm into practice, I am unable to draw the habitual comparisons between his thesis novels and his novelas de la segunda manera, nor between the latter and the so-called spiritualist novels. The paradigm in all these novels, from Doña Perfecta to Misericordia, is essentially the same. However, what happens from Amadeo I to Cánovas is quite different, although, in spite of this - and as we will see later - the dialectic between the ideal and the real continues with another paradigm in force.
I can only partly accept Montesinos’s claim, which is generally accepted, that ‘From the publication of La desheredada everything changes. From that point onwards Galdós’s work will contain so many Quixotes, more Quixotes, perhaps, than previous novels, but they are expressed in a different way and seen through different eyes.’ My reluctance to fully accept this claim stems from the fact that in every one of his so-called thesis novels, just as in his later novels, Galdós makes repeated use of the pattern of Cervantes’s paradigm. Pepe Rey, Gloria and León Roch are idealists who clash with harsh reality, just like Máximo Manso, Ramón Villaamil, Ángel Guerra or Nazarín. In other words, the same paradigm is used in the thesis novels, the novelas de la segunda manera and the so-called spiritualist novels.
The same paradigm - or at least I believe it’s the same - is used even after La desheredada when we encounter many protagonists, as is the case with characters I have already mentioned, namely Máximo Manso, Ramón Villaamil, Ángel Guerra or Nazarín, who do not entirely belong to the pure Quixotic lineage. After the thesis novels we tend to find protagonists like Isidora Rufete, Rosalía de Bringas, José María Bueno or Torquemada who are Quixotes even though they have no quixotism, and definitely represent exemplary values, as in the case of Alonso Quijano or the aforementioned Galdosian characters Manso, Villaamil, Guerra or Nazarín. But even here, in La desheredada, La de Bringas, Lo prohibido or the Torquemada novels, and in other novels which follow this pattern, there is no reason for Galdós to break with Cervantes’s paradigm.
With the exception of Gloria, the thesis novels and the novelas de la segunda manera share a similar interest in the middle class’s habitat, a crossroad of Madrid streets and buildings. But as Galdós wrote his novelas de la segunda manera, so his dissatisfaction with the new bourgeois generation, which, after the failure of the September Revolution, had hastened to embrace the unpredictable life of the Restoration and, comfortably placed to enjoy economic power, was starting to take on a major role in society, increased. And in many cases, as with Baldomero and Barbarita Santa Cruz, and even more so in the case of their son, Juanito, this occurred regardless whether the characters deserved or had worked for such a position in society. If in the Old Regime noble standing was inherited, today money was the supreme inheritance. Thus the nobility and those with money - from the world of the Santa Cruz family to that of Torquemada - engaged in all manner of schemes and without the slightest scruples to intermarry.
In the 1880s - as Galdós had proclaimed he would in 1870 in his ‘Observations on the contemporary novel in Spain’- he found it impossible to sing of the virtues of the offspring of the Cordero and the Araceli lineage. The ‘power block’ posed by this hegemonic class and the political system of the Restoration upon which this class was based, had turned into a scam, which had negative repercussions on the process of modernizing the Spanish nation which Galdós had long desired. When he realised this, his novels turned against that block and its political system. Thus his novels moved away, in Bakhtin’s words, from the ‘absolute past’ of the epic and were based instead – again in Bakhtin’s words - on the ‘imperfect present’, the period of the modern novel, in ‘the real and dynamic time of contemporary life’.
Thus Galdós’s novels were moving closer to the ideas he expressed in his inaugural speech to the Academy in 1897, than to what he had written in his 1870 article ‘Observations on the contemporary novel in Spain’. As he said in his 1897 speech, when ‘the great and powerful energies working towards social cohesion’ failed, since it was not ‘easy to predict which forces will replace those which have been lost as regards the direction and government of the human flock’. Art ‘was able to take sole comfort from giving imaginary beings a more human than social life’.
But this process did not necessarily mean that it was essential to renounce all connections with society but, on the contrary, it made it possible - even if with new, or partly new, narrative strategies - to explore society in even greater depth, for the individual, who was penned in, reduced to living a life centred upon his inner self, often felt that he had no option than to turn against society as a whole. In Galdós’s novel the middle class were responsible for this situation, since it was this class - and Cervantes made the same point - which had failed in its task to give the individual a more united purpose and a sense of structure in society as a whole.
The few individuals who managed to obtain a united purpose and structure in society did not do so in society as a whole, but rather in power groups who were isolated from the social whole. This was presented in Galdós’s novel in order to demonstrate and condemn the workings of the Restoration system, which had been masterminded by Cánovas.
In El amigo Manso, Manolito Peña studies Law with the sole and exclusive aim of removing all traces of his ancestry - his father had been a butcher - and, in a truly antiquixotic manner, gain a career in politics and power. This young man’s personal interests take priority over others’ interests, including those of his wife Irene, and they both serve as prototypes for typical behaviour in Restoration society. Máximo Manso, Manolito’s frustrated and disillusioned master, has the good sense to withdraw, in true Quixotic fashion, from this world, which, given his sophisticated sense of smell, was beginning to stink.
In El doctor Centeno, Felipín Centeno, who had appeared in Marianela, the idealist novel based on the Golfín brothers, abandons Socartes and heads for Madrid to become a doctor. His conquest of the city begins on the hills of San Blas, and in the arid hillocks of Getafe and Leganés. Like Isidora Rufete, he enters the city through the most desolate and humble suburbs. These suburban spaces, this geography of wretchedness and social marginalization, tell us that the novel on Felipín Centeno is not going to be anything like the novel on the Golfín brothers, just as the novel based on Isidora Rufete had nothing to do with the sensationalist pamphlets (folletines), where the once abandoned illegitimate daughters of nobles were, in the end, reunited with their real parents.
But there are two heroes in El doctor Centeno, Alejandro Miquis and Felipín Centeno, two heroes who reproduce the partnership of Don Quixote and Sancho. In this novel Galdós identifies, in the sense that there is so much in El doctor Centeno that can be related to his own youth, with Alejandro’s outdated romanticism. Galdós, like Alejandro, came to Madrid from the provinces, began to study Law, abandoned his classes, wrote plays that he never published and explored the streets of Madrid, which would later become the setting for his novels. Galdós sets El doctor Centeno in 1870s Madrid, the city of his dashed youthful hopes for artistic glory. And thus we encounter the Balzacian theme of lost illusions and Flaubert’s sentimental education. Thus, behind El doctor Centeno, as in so many of Balzac’s and Flaubert’s novels, we are faced with the destruction of the ideal, and Cervantes.
In El doctor Centeno, a nostalgic and charming novel, there is still the lyrical and, at the same time, the harsh and difficult countenance of Madrid, the city which, in the following decades, would become submerged in the maelstrom of coups, of political strife, urbanization and speculation on the stock exchange, of wealth and waste and also of degradation, of moral and material wretchedness... All this had been predicted, in true Cervantine manner, in Ido del Sagrarios’ theatrical declaration in El doctor Centeno: ‘It is truly terrible to be a man of poetry in this prosaic age.’
After this interlude - which, to a large extent, El doctor Centeno is - Galdós renews his attack upon Madrid, his favourite setting. In Tormento his character Agustín Caballero will serve as the mouthpiece for his most bitterly sarcastic comments. He declares ‘I came to Madrid and I liked Madrid, believe me. I loved this place where merely parading around is deemed to be a profession, truly I did...’ Later Agustín will be more explicit, claiming that Madrid was full of pretentiousness, vanity, frivolity and based on an intolerant and absurd series of morals. And since he finds it impossible to tolerate such a world, his breaking away from society is inevitable. In the end Agustín Caballero reaches the following conclusion: ‘You were brought up in anarchy and even if it kills you, you must return to anarchy. It’s all over. What do social order, religion or any of those things matter to you?’ Thus, in the end, he will feel obliged to leave Madrid and go to live with Amparo in Bordeaux.
Rosalía de Bringas, who is shocked because Amparo and Agustín Caballero had gone to live together in Bordeaux without marrying, wrongly predicts (at the time she was unaware of the scandal which she herself was capable of committing), ‘There’s not a catastrophe left that could surprise me.’
The Galdosian irony inherent in Rosalía’s statement leads us to La de Bringas, the next novel in the series, where the action, which is set in the period leading up to the September Revolution, takes place in the Madrid Royal Palace. Galdós aims for Spain’s very heart, the home of Queen Isabel II, with whom Rosalía shares surprising physical and moral similarities. Moreover, the wife of Francisco de Bringas will prostitute herself, which was what awaited the ideals of the Revolution of 1868, called the Gloriosa. The relationship between the novel and History thus reaches a new level and History is degraded in such a way in La de Bringas that the novel can be read in the esperpento tone. The esperpento - and I’ll deal with this later - will be connected to Cervantes’s paradigm, which Galdós, prior to Amadeo I, had tested out from both a positive and negative perspective.
In a famous scene in the Salón de Columnas where Isabel II holds a feast on Maundy Thursday for the poor, Galdós writes that they were putting on a ‘palace comedy’, and that this theatrical scene was a ‘farse’.
Rosalía will have to listen to what Refugio, the sister of the despised Amparo, thought of Madrid and many of its women. As Alda and Carlos Blanco have noted, the narrator to whom Refugio refers in this quotation is Galdós himself: ‘My, what a fine place is Madrid, where everything is based on appearances.’
With time, such speeches - truly Quixotic speeches - which railed against the world of appearances became more and more radical until they attained a new level in Lo prohibido, Fortunata and Jacinta and Miau. Montesinos, in the introduction to his edition of Lo prohibido, notes that Madrid in this novel is that of the ‘new regime - the novel takes place in the 1880s - which has now been consolidated, apparently cured of its political and revolutionary fever at the cost of the sacrifice of all ideals; the city of Madrid, which seems to have killed Don Quixote for good...’
When considering the range of characters who appeared in Galdós’s novels from La desheredada onwards, it is easy to reach the conclusion that the people who came to Madrid, or were already living there, were becoming more and more degenerate, possibly because Madrid in the 1880s had become a totally corrupt and degenerate place.
All this led, thus, to an increasingly extreme split between the marginalized individual and the society which rejected him. Thus Cervantes’s paradigm in Galdós’s novels was taken to the point where there was a violent split. In Miau, which ends the first cycle of Galdós’s novelas de la segunda manera, this split occurs as the Quixotic Villaamil contemplates the enormous windmill of the State. Villaamil, who has been defeated from the beginning of Miau, powerless in the face of the faits accomplis of public life in society, will seek refuge in his personal life, but this refuge will lead to his alienation and self-destruction. Just before committing suicide, Ramón Villaamil, a character who belongs to the purest quixotic tradition, warns three young men, whose appearance clearly indicates that they are ‘young farmers who have left the bleak poverty of their villages to come to this Babel, hoping to get a position which would make them look like masters and decent people’, ‘Young men, think about what you’re doing. You still have time. Go back to your farms and your pastures, and flee from this deceptive abyss of Madrid, which will swallow you up and condemn you to misery for the rest of your life. Take the advice of one who cares a great deal about you and return to the countryside.’
Galdós, as if he had
heeded Ramón Villaamil’s advice, moves the action of Ángel
Guerra, Nazarín, Halma, El caballero encantado away from Madrid.
Misericordia is set in the outskirts of the city, in its most desolate
suburbs. But it must be said that in these suburbs the light and the air
are more limpid and more translucent. This is something that Torquemada
will also discover, all too late, at the end of his life.
Madrid is, however, always present in these novels because Galdós, in the end, disillusioned like Ángel Guerra with party politics, was searching for other ways to save the country from political and social ruin. Rather than discussing the issues of new and old Christianity, which of course concerned him, his main aim - and his most vehement endeavour - was to find new ways of regenerating Spain. Towards the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, his ideas were similar to those of the generation of 98 - even some distance was established between them through his article ‘Soñemos, alma, soñemos’ (‘Let’s dream, my soul, let’s dream’). Hence he distanced himself from Nazarín, who claimed that he could not understand the language of a mayor who expressed ideas which Galdós, on the other hand, must have shared: ‘Oh, my dear sir - the mayor told Nazarín - the day we have a University in every modern town, an agricultural credit Bank in every street, and an electric machine to cook in every home, that day the existence of mysticism will not be possible. I even dare to believe, this is what I think, that if Our Lord Jesus Christ lived, he would share my thoughts and would be the first to bless these developments and would say, “This is the century I live in, not that one...”
Ángel Guerra spoke of memories that could well have been taken from Galdós’s own experiences, his own life: ‘Ever since I was a child, in other words, from my time at secondary school, I’ve been fascinated by mankind. I studied history, heard tales of past and contemporary events, and in what I read and what I heard, it was as though the events had affected me directly, I felt a sense of pain and injustice, which are inseparable from man, and I felt that this ill could and should be cured. What fine dreams came from a conceited child in his waking hours! When I became a man I was still tormented by the idea that society is not good enough as it is and that we must reform it.’
Reform society, this was one of the keys to Galdós’s novelistic output as a whole. The spiritualist series was no exception. Thus Ángel Guerra’s hopes in the novel of the same title to take control will take into account the practical elements of remedying Spain’s problems and he is particularly emphatic in this regard. ‘I want to reform the deeply evangelical nature of the old orders, and empty it into the moulds of modern-day life... For this can only be revived in the form that I propose: spiritualism embodied in the material elements of existence, for if God became Man, his doctrine must become Society.’
When he heard these claims Don Juan, his companion, could only express his fear that ‘with all his religious vocation and mysticism, he hadn’t ceased to be so revolutionary as when he did his utmost to reform public order, before coming to Toledo.’
In his spiritualist novels,
Galdós is clearly in favour of social reform. But this attitude
is presented from the point of view of an individual and, in some cases,
the stance adopted is both extreme and violent. Thus, however paradoxical
it might seem, this makes us suspect that Galdós had not, not even
in his spiritualist novels, renounced his anarchist sympathies. Ángel
Guerra says the following, which would have made Ramón Villaamil
happy and would doubtless have sufficed to be connected to his attempts
to assert control: ‘Even the State itself must be subordinate to
These saints or madmen from Galdós’s spiritualist novels are expelled, or often they take flight themselves, from the city. Such individuals with personalities and ideals of this nature were totally incompatible with urban Madrid, which Ándara says in Nazarín was ‘the ruin of honourable people’.
However, Galdós, just like the characters of his spiritualist novels, was also concerned with the material nature of civil society. Between Toledo, Spain’s religious capital, in Ángel Guerra and Madrid, the secular capital, in his other novels Galdós will be inclined towards the latter. Even Nazarín advises Catalina de Artal in Halma to put an end to her mystical tendencies and get married. Hence Doña Catalina’s commune, situated outside Madrid, was to be exchanged for a well-to-do married couple’s home in Madrid.
After a series of quixotic departures for the countryside, Galdós’s spiritualist novel returned to Madrid, the natural urban space. After obtaining real, or alleged, success in the area of moral reform, it was necessary to return to the city, a space where, before such reforms had been introduced, egotism, ambition, hedonism, and in short, the worship of money had destroyed social relationships, political and even religious institutions. What Benina, from the rubbish dumps of Madrid, tells Juliana at the end of Misericordia, is what Galdós tried to communicate in his spiritualist novels to the middle class of his time: ‘Now go home and do not sin again.’
The end of El caballero encantado communicates the same message, although this time in a secular tone. Carlos de Tarsis and Cintia, after roaming in enchantment, return to reality in Madrid, to ‘normality’.
Carlos, when he has only just returned to his home, where everything was as he had left it long ago, finds a letter from Cintia in which, after inviting him to meet her, she told him that she was no longer filled with the pride and the contempt with which she used to consider ‘those who had no fortune like mine, a fortune which I did not work for, but inherited.’ Carlos, who is elated after reading this confession, exclaims, ‘Madrid, my dear city, how beautiful you are! You will soon reward me for those horrible nights I spent in Sigüenza and Pitarque.’ Cintia, when she returned to ‘normality’ had discovered, as she tells Carlos when they meet, that she was even richer than before the move that had taken them to the hardships of rural life because her uncle had found a silver mine in his lands in Colombia. Thus, when they return to Madrid, all the lessons they have learnt from their punishment are reduced to a programme of a regenerationist nature: ‘We’ll build 20,000 schools here and there and throughout the whole motherland. We’ll give our child a job, we’ll educate him to become the master of masters.’
Cervantes’s paradigm had led to such a molehill. It is difficult to imagine such a destiny ever awaiting Alonso Quijano.
Whatever the case, the middle class, symbolized in El caballero encantado by Carlos and Cintia, returned, with fortunes obtained not through work but inheritance - and to top it all, from the colonies - to take on the once lost central role in society that Galdós had accorded to it in his ‘Observations on the contemporary novel in Spain’ in 1870. And now in the novel El caballero encantado, which was written in 1909, this class’s prime role was restricted, as had been the case in the short prologue and epilogue to La desheredada, to spreading an educational message, one confined to schooling without feeding, an extremely restricted kind of reform. Since Carlos and Cintia, and the class they represented, had larders that were overflowing, of course they could afford the luxury of speaking in abstract terms about education. Thus the scope of Cervantes’s paradigm had been reduced considerably.
Tito Liviano in La primera República, one of the novels of the fifth series of Episodios Nacionales written in 1911, spoke in similar terms, with a similarly reduced scope. Tito Liviano, Galdós’s alter ego, claimed that he had found in the figure of his girlfriend Floriana, whom the gods had created for ‘the end of all ends... the education of the people’, the key to the regeneration of Spain. Tito Liviano who discovers in education the panacea to cure all the ills that afflicted Spanish society maintains that it would also serve as such for the other countries around Spain. ‘The gods that govern the world have granted that the Fire of expression may be united in marriage with the most gracious and fertile Woman, to engender the happiness of future peoples. Before this generation ends, Floriana will have produced 1,000 daughters, who when they reach their youth will be the very incarnation of beauty, tenderness, grace and educational subtlety... Each one of these 1,000 girls, the daughters of Floriana, will give the world another 1,000. And you can understand that with 1,000,000 of school mistresses like the one you have seen, your homeland, and adjacent lands will be regenerated, ennobled and spiritualised until we attain perfect social revolution.’ Galdós - or the narrator Tito - admits that he does not have an answer to ‘such a sublime prediction’ and he admits that ‘his role in the world was not to cause events to happen but rather to observe them, and in an ordinary fashion, to describe them so that men in the future could extract some lesson from them.’ But were Galdós and Tito observing reality or were they merely considering dreams that the pair had invented in their heads?
In these novels and episodios Galdós - or the narrator Tito - ended by casting his own speech in an ironic light, possibly without realising. For after claiming that the epic, the ‘absolute past’ was invalid and thus declaring himself in favour of the ‘imperfect present’ - the period of the modern novel - he also spoke of a hypothetical ‘future perfect’ where the class, which could be the subject of novels, and of which he had written in his article in 1870, regained control.
In other words, he gave Cervantes’s
paradigm a new twist - a necessary twist.
In the last four episodios of the fifth series, ‘fantasy’ and ‘folly’ - or rather magical fantasy - were welcome because they belonged to the unreal mould of reality. The same could be said of language: a mould which shares that very same nature and aspires to serve the same function.
But such aspirations can only be entirely fulfilled by Mariclío’s ‘magic quill’, a quill which had been ‘made by the elves who had Truth at their service’. Tito, who considered himself to be more of a writer than a demiurge - although the former was related to the latter - immediately ‘set to work, entrusting myself’ – he said – ‘to power of the magic quill, which began to translate my thoughts, or rather suggest to me its own...’
Of this ‘magic quill’ Tito the writer says that ‘everything that is written with it is true, even though the person who takes it upon himself to fill a white sheet of paper with words may wish it was otherwise’ and if somebody tried ‘to write a lie with this quill, it would disobey the writer and write the truth.’
Casinilla, going up to Tito while he was writing with this quill, asks him: ‘But what are you doing, Tito, my dear. Your hand hasn’t left the paper since you came into the house. What on earth are you writing? Are you writing History or what?’ To which Tito, ‘somewhat confused’, replied: ‘I’m writing a novel, my dear, a novel... It’s my whim now. But in reality this piece of invention is truer than History itself.’
Everything changes course once again – as it frequently does in these last Episodios - to centre around the issues of truth and lies, reality and fiction, or the medium of language and the medium of writing.
But here, the language/writing of the ‘magic quill’, which transposes or reveals truth, takes precedence over novels and lies.
If such had been the case,
this would have heralded the end of the novel from now on.
Galdós knew all too well that the quills of mortal men have few or hardly any magical qualities, and thus can only aspire, at best, to get close to - only get close to - that ideal goal. As a result they had to try out different narrative strategies.
One of them, which Galdós particularly favoured in the last four episodios, was to turn Tito into a multifaceted and ubiquitous narrator. At the same time this ability to change shape and space is related to another narrative strategy, which I will call the mutational element. This element, which just as in theatre is related to scene changes, can be related to the continuous change of witnesses. These witnesses, who justify and make Tito’s multifaceted and ubiquitous gifts seem real, turn this writer into a witness-narrator. In short, everything serves - even if it is not easy, it never is - to make the narrator and the narrative seem real.
This is what it’s about. It’s not about associating Tito with the mythological god Proteus, with whom, from the very start, redundant similarities are drawn. They are redundant because Tito shares certain qualities with Proteus - just like the god he changes form, his mind and his beliefs - and is at the same time ubiquitous - which complements his previous divine qualities. But these qualities, which are not within human reach - are his just like any other narrator who claims to tell what he sees and thus needs, since it is not possible otherwise, to be present in the place at the time that everything he narrates occurs.
But how can he be everywhere at the precise time in order to be a credible witness-narrator model?
Well, he can by using the protean, ubiquitous and mutational narrative strategies, which is what Galdós employs in his last four episodios.
In these four episodios, where Galdós uses these strategies in an almost overwhelming manner, he does not essentially move away from the realist principle whereby the narrator tells us what he has seen/read/experienced. On the contrary, these four episodios are a means – one that is not without narrative risks, of course - of exploring the meaning of this realist principle in depth. Everything that contains an element of magical-fantasy is related to reality, to make things seem more real and to make reality more credible.
In other words, the magical-fantasy elements in these episodios are present in an attempt to provide a full answer to the narrative problems that realism was facing at this time.
Joaquín Casalduero claims that Galdós, ‘as a young man sought experience in History’ and later, ‘as an old man, gave History a form and found meaning’. Furthermore, in his last Episodios, ‘he revived his youth in ironical form’, which would ultimately explain why ‘he divided so many characters in two’ and created ‘mythological beings, forms, which are ironically reduced to an almost human size and thus introduces a new ironical perspective which situates all his feelings, his desires, his ideals, his youth, his life on a burlesque plane.’
Stephen Gilman, who has also stressed the autobiographical elements - or possible autobiographical elements - in the final series of episodios, at the same time highlights the aesthetic purpose that the assassination of Prim acquired in the last four episodios. ‘The Fifth Series, then, is a fictionalized version of the memoires Galdós was not self-centred enough to write in detail or perhaps felt would be too painfully revealing for direct expression. That the latter supposition may be so is indicated by the fact that, after the devastating account of the assassination of Prim in España trágica, he felt the necessity of removing himself from events by turning over the narrative to a grotesquely “hybrid” alter ego.’
In episodios like the last four – notably Cánovas -, which are so prone to moralist preaching, Galdós lowered the serious tone which was inherent in such preaching by introducing these magical-fantastic and mythological elements, transferring the main voice to Tito and Mariclío. Nobody should forget - as was natural in the fictional game that he was playing - that Galdós was hiding behind these characters.
Geoffrey Ribbans, with whom, as we will see later, I only disagree on some minor details, concludes that Galdós, in his Episodios Nacionales and his Novelas contemporáneas, is ‘particularly concerned to provide a wide spectrum of points of view through carefully conceived invented characters superimposed upon true situation. This is why any attempt to isolate categorically Galdós’s own opinions is so hazardous. No political view, no representative figure, not even such partial “reflectors” as Beramendi, is offered as a model: such a tidy solution would be to rewrite history as Confusio attempts to do. At every turn in the political maelstrom Galdós seeks to allow the diverse and heterogeneous forces at work to act and speak for themselves and to enable the reader to reflect and arrive at his own conclusions about the agonized recent history of his country.’
Opening the points of view
to a whole range of autonomous, unconnected signifiers, the meaning of
which, since there are no connections between them, is left to the reader
to interpret, openly contradicts Galdós’s desire to get close
to History in order to find some meaning therein. A meaning which, with
all its limitations and flaws - the historian or novelist historian, who
is free from them can launch the first attack - Galdós discovers
and narrates not in his own voice but - as I have been saying - through
the use of various voices - which Ribbans calls heterogeneous but I prefer
to call them heteronomous and if they are not, they do, at least, function
This is particularly the case when the reader and critic consider the last four episodios of the final series, especially if we take into account the fact that Galdós – through the inclusion of a chosen range of characters and some magical-fantastic and mythological elements - provides us with his final thoughts which serve as a diagnosis for these incurable ills - the result of years and years of reflecting upon Spain, her History, her people...
Incurable ills? This is also what Cánovas had diagnosed in España sin rey, but Galdós, through Mariclío, ends by proposing a solution in Cánovas, a solution, which in the end was the cure of all cures: ‘The very word of ‘Revolution’ is alarming. But unless you invent another less terrifying word, it’s the only one that those of you who don’t want to die from this profound sense of ‘caquexia’ (cachexia) that is invading the weary body of your nation, can use. Declare yourselves to be revolutionary, or unruly if you prefer that word, stubbornly rebellious... Take up the language of the fools who describe as peace what is really consumption and destruction... Be constant in your protest, be virile, romantic and while you cannot conquer death, do not bother with Mariclío… I, for my part am already feeling too old, am getting bored... am starting to slumber..."
This final call to revolution, which is both vague, unspecific, where it is neither at all clear nor comprehensible what the Mariclío-Galdós pair understood as Revolution, is, above all, the most categorical rejection of Cánovas’s Restoration.
Prim and his violent departure from the political scene were for Galdós, in this process which put an end to the middle class’s modest revolutionary illusions, decisive in both an ideological and aesthetic sense. As regards the aesthetic sense, this process led to the narrative inflection which begins in the episodio Amadeo I. No due response is given to the problematic differences in form between the first two episodios of the fifth series and the four remaining episodios when it is merely highlighted that the first two, España sin rey and España trágica, are a continuation of the fourth series and that they ‘form a group of their own, with their own literary and ideological raison d’être and, moreover, serve as chronological links with the following four’ or that ‘the change of technique had been recorded in the Novelas contemporáneas with the publication of El caballero encantado (1909), where Mother appears, as a mythological character, who, in a different attire will participate in, if not dictate, the action of the episodios from Amadeo I (1910) onwards.’ The responses to the problems, be they aesthetic or ideological, are not provided in the single description of how the phenomenon is presented. Moreover it is essential to analyse the causes.
As a consequence, what I am
proposing is that we could consider Prim’s assassination on a discursive
level as the manifestation and cause of the aesthetic – and also
historical an ideological - problems presented by the fifth series. Galdós,
when dealing with Prim’s assassination in this final series, seems
to have understood that, from this point onwards, Spain’s history
had been overturned to such an extent that the mode of narration he had
employed up to this point, was now invalidated or had simply been rendered
inadequate. From this catastrophe onwards he had to find another mode
of narration. This new mode, hints of which had been seen in the third
and fourth series of episodios and in novels like La de Bringas
– as discussed previously - had to end by outlining the aesthetic
courses. It was a process which had its own internal logic, which was
inherent in the process of the cause/effect, aesthetic-historical-ideological
dialectic - which led to the crystallization, a few years after the appearance
of the final four episodios of the fifth series, of Valle-Inclán’s
Ricardo Gullón supports Casalduero’s view: ‘After Cánovas, the reader would not have to wait for the next episodio, but it would be written by another writer and, in order to qualify this, another term would be used: the historical material of 19th-century Spain when converted into novel form would be described with the carnavelesque term esperpento.’
The Esperpento, which heralds the death of the ideal, would necessarily mean an end to Cervantes’s paradigm. However, if there are many indications of this aesthetic technique in the last four episodios and what it heralds, Galdós introduces an unexpected turn in his narrative and, when he ends the final series of Episodios Nacionales with Cánovas, he pleads for a new quest for the ideal, an ideal which Mariclío, while she is falling asleep and describes herself as old and bored, babbles about without too much conviction.
In an apparently insignificant manner, in a totally banal fashion, Mariclío communicated to others the message that they should make an effort to turn reality - what is - into the ideal - what should be. Perhaps Mariclío was akin to Sancho, who, in Don Quixote, made his own the ideal world which Alonso Quijano at the end, on his death bed, had been forced to renounce. Thus Mariclío´s last words were, like Sancho´s words at the end of Don Quixote, a reaffirmation, a desperate reaffirmation, of Cervantes’ paradigm.
Professor Francisco Caudet is a graduate of the Universidad Complutense of Madrid, where he later obtained his doctorate. He has taught in universities all over the world, including numerous institutions in America and France, as well as Spain, where he is currently Professor at the Universidad Autónoma of Madrid.
Francisco Caudet's research is centred on nineteenth and twentieth-century Spanish literature, extending from the nineteenth-century novel, the Generation of 1898 and literature of the 1930-39 period, Republican exile literature, post-war theatre and novel to the novel in the period after 1975. He is one of Spain's most prolific writers. He is the author of 14 books, including El mundo novelístico de Pérez Galdós (Anaya, 1992), Zola, Galdós, Clarín. El naturalismo en Francia y España (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, 1995) and Galdós (Ediciones Eneida, 2000). He has also produced over 100 articles and edited more than 40 works (including numerous editions of Galdós's novels, notably Fortunata y Jacinta (Cátedra, 1983), El amigo Manso (Cátedra, 2001) and Marianela (Cátedra, 2003). The quality of his research has been recognised through the award of numerous scholarships and prizes, including the prestigious Humboldt Prize for Scholars in the Humanities in 1996.
Professor Caudet's connections with Sheffield are long-standing. He worked as 'Lector' at the Department here between 1969-70 and has returned on several occasions as an invaluable, supportive member of the Galdós Project's Advisory Board. It is with enormous pleasure that we welcome him back to deliver the Eighth Galdós Lecture on 'Cervantes in Pérez Galdós' to coincide with the Fourth Centenary of the publication of Book I of Don Quixote.
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