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The Ninth Annual Pérez Galdós Lecture:

Galdós and Myth


Professor Eamonn Rodgers

(University of Strathclyde)

Galdós seems an unlikely candidate for consideration in connection with myth, for his reputation rests largely on his ability to portray in meticulous detail everyday situations and characters which, by contrast with the universality associated with myth, are chronologically and locally specific. A critic usually sympathetic to Galdós, Leopoldo Alas, deplored, in his review of Miau, ‘the way he slowly savours telling us about things of little importance, which add nothing by way of beauty or interest’.[1] Unamuno for his part, was much harsher: the world depicted by Galdós is ‘a world of small shopkeepers, petty officials, small-scale money-lenders, a world of overwhelming pettiness’.[2] The label which Valle-Inclán attached to Galdós, ‘Don Benito el Garbancero’ (Don Benito the Chickpea Seller), stuck for many decades.[3]

Regretfully, Galdós has still not achieved as much recognition with general readers of the European novel as his quality would deserve, partly because of the lack, until relatively recently, of good translations of a sufficiently numerous and representative selection of his works to give him a substantial presence on the international scene. Thanks, however, to the efforts of academic translators and critics, not least to the team involved in the Galdós editions project here in Sheffield, there is, despite the comparative neglect of the nineteenth century among Hispanists, a select but expanding readership for his novels. There is more willingness to recognise that the specific features of his fictional world transcend their historical limitations, providing us with characters and examples of behaviour typical of those that can be observed in different periods and in different places. Over and above this, however, Galdós’s work as a whole has something of the grandeur and breadth of vision which we associate with myth. In the Episodios, he has arguably created a new myth of origins, in which, by constructing a narrative of huge geographical and chronological scope, he seeks to account for the emergence from the ancien régime of a modern society in Spain, and its subsequent evolution.

To deal with the whole of his work in depth within one lecture would be an impossibly ambitious enterprise, so I shall concentrate on a small selection of novels which deal with Galdós’s own society or that of the immediately preceding twenty years. Besides, the definition of myth has been expanded to such an extent in contemporary criticism and literary theory as to limit its usefulness as an instrument of analysis. I shall therefore try to keep things relatively simple, and use as my starting-point the traditional definition of myth as a fictional story of a certain antiquity (whether a primitive folk-tale or a story involving supernatural or heroic beings) which has a universal range of reference. I shall therefore focus in the first instance on well-known paradigms derived from sources such as classical Greek literature and the Bible. Secondly, however, I shall also consider other major literary monuments such as the Divine Comedy, Don Quixote, and certain works of Quevedo, because their importance as central reference points in Spanish and European culture gives them a status comparable to that of ancient myths. The description of certain kinds of behaviour as ‘quixotic’, and the use of the phrase ‘tilting at windmills’, are part of the small change of educated discourse. When Solzhenytsin entitled one of his novels The First Circle, he was making his obeissance to Dante, by assimilating the situation of the prisoners to that of the people occupying the first circle of Hell in L’Inferno. Thirdly, I shall touch on the aspect of myth as ‘grand narrative’, in the sense in which we use the term when we speak of ‘the myth of the Blitz’, or ‘the myth of Empire’.

Let us consider the classical heritage first. Galdós would have received the conventional education available to most young men of his class and generation, but in his case this went well beyond acquiring the usual smattering of Latin and Greek. In the Colegio de San Agustín in Las Palmas, he was fortunate to come under the influence of an unusually liberal priest, Graciliano Afonso, who taught rhetoric and poetics, and was well-versed in classical humanist learning. Afonso had translated Horace’s Ars poetica, with detailed commentaries which were much admired by Menéndez y Pelayo (who did not bestow praise lightly), and had also published translations of Virgil’s Aeneid and the Eclogues. Galdós had copies of all these works in his personal library, now housed in the Galdós Museum in Las Palmas.[4]

One of the earliest references to classical myth comes in the short novel La sombra, written in the mid-1860s and published in 1871. The protagonist, Anselmo, who is also the principal narrator of most of the story, has in his collection a painting of Paris and Helen resting in a cave or grotto on the island of Cranae, where they stopped on the way to Troy, after Paris’s abduction of Helen from Sparta. The best-known painting of Paris and Helen in Galdós’s day was probably that by Jacques-Louis David, dating from 1788, but it shows Paris and Helen in a luxurious indoor setting, not a grotto. Like all of David’s paintings of classical subjects, this painting is famous for its languid sensuality, and it is arguably the picture which Galdós had in mind when he makes Anselmo’s young wife, significantly called Elena, comment on the beauty of the figure of Paris.[5] The version of the painting in Anselmo’s collection, however, is almost certainly an invention by Galdós. His choice of a location on Cranae, by reminding the reader of the abduction from Sparta and the journey to Troy, enables him to exploit the traditional story in order to develop the themes of passion and pathological jealousy in his novel. Anselmo begins to suspect that his wife is having an affair with a family friend, Alejandro, and allows the suspicion to take over his mind to the point where he imagines that the figure of Paris has stepped out of the painting and appeared in modern dress in his study, where, with unruffled insolence, he tells Anselmo that he and Elena are lovers.

The justification for speaking of myth in connection with this short novel, however, is not solely the references to names familiar to readers acquainted with the Homeric legends. When Paris addresses Anselmo, he asserts that all efforts to resist him are futile:

I’ve existed since the world began. I’m as old as the human race, and I’ve travelled the whole world. I’ve been condemned by every religion. My favourite abode is in large cities. Ah, I’ve always loved places where comfort, refinement and elegant idleness provide me with irresistible weapons and highly effective means. I love glitter and voluptuosness; I’m as sybaritic as my old friend Semiramis, to whom I gave an undying name.[6]

Paris, in short, is here the personification of the universal impulse of sexual attraction. He taunts Anselmo by alleging that he is the object of Elena’s erotic fantasies: ‘She sees me everywhere. Every shaft of light reflects my glance, every echo resounds with my voice. Her very shadow traces my shape. Her feverish imagination flies in search of me and gives her no repose.’[7] It is Anselmo’s implicit recognition of the power of this erotic impulse, and his half-conscious awareness of his own lack of sexual attractiveness that provoke his intense jealousy and his hallucinations about the physical reality of Paris which form the bulk of the story he tells the unnamed interlocutor who relays the narrative to the reader.

Not all of Galdós’s evocations of mythic archetypes are as developed as this one, but are often relatively brief, though nevertheless charged with symbolic significance. In Doña Perfecta, for example, the reactionary guerrilla leader Cristóbal Ramos, alias Caballuco, is likened to a centaur, traditionally representing dark and violent impulses. In opposition to the forces of reaction, the liberal engineer Pepe Rey is represented in terms which recall the perfection of Greek statuary: ‘His perfectly-formed figure was strong and muscular. He could have been taken for a beautiful and well-crafted symbol, and a sculptor who carved his statue would have engraved on the pedestal the words Intelligence and Strength.’[8]

In Gloria, the clash of different belief systems is expressed in imagery drawn from the Bible, with which Galdós, despite his professed lack of religious belief, was familiar. Gloria’s resentment of the religious difference which stands in the way of her love for Daniel (who is Jewish, though he is thought at first to be a Protestant) makes her a ‘rebel angel’. When a right-wing Catholic candidate is victorious in the elections the parish priest, Don Silvestre, hosts a celebratory meal, ironically referred to in the chapter title as an ‘agape’, but it is far from a Christian love-feast, for Don Silvestre’s triumphalist speech, especially his verbatim quotation from Ps. 97, evokes a God of vengeance destroying his enemies: ‘There shall go a fire before him: and burn up his enemies on every side.’[9] When the bishop, Don Angel, approaches, one member of the company quotes a slightly modified version of the words with which the crowd greeted Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, narrated in all four Gospels: ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!’ (‘He aquí que se acerca el que viene en nombre del Señor’).[10] This is doubly ironic, for not only is Don Angel a far from angelic figure, owing to his rigid intolerance of dissent, and his vindictive behaviour towards Gloria and Daniel, but at that very moment Daniel, who had been excluded from the village by Don Angel’s order, is entering it, not in triumph, but secretly, to redress an injustice to a person wrongly accused of stealing from him. Just as the Jerusalem crowd turned against Jesus, Daniel’s charitable act will not protect him against the hostility of the villagers. The passionate consummation of the love between Gloria and Daniel is accompanied by a furious storm which is dramatised in apocalyptic terms reminiscent of the Revelation to John: ‘amid the tumult of the heavens, one could hear the sound of the torn wings of a falling angel thrust out of Paradise’.[11]

Other examples of Biblical archetypes (by no means an exhaustive list) appear in El amigo Manso: ‘Christ is the eternal image of Philosophy, which suffers persecution and dies, only to rise again after three days to continue ruling the world’;[12] Miau, where Villaamil’s paranoia at being denied the two months’ service which would secure him a full pension leads him to conceptualise his situation as a crucifixion: ‘These letters M, I, A and U, are like the infamous message placed over Christ’s head on the cross. Since I’ve been crucified among thieves, let them complete the picture by fixing over my head these initials which mock and denigrate my sublime mission’;[13] Lo prohibido, with its central motif of ‘forbidden fruit’, the corrupt first-person narrator’s characterisation of himself as the serpent in Eden, and, after his stroke, as the dehumanised Nebuchadrezzar of Dan. 4.33;[14] and the titles of the novels in the Torquemada series, with their references to Cross, Purgatory and St Peter.

The most interesting and complex examples of Galdós’s use of mythic and archetypal elements occur when, instead of evoking single archetypes, he blends different strands from the whole of his Spanish and European cultural heritage into a new and compelling synthesis. To return to La sombra, Anselmo is not only widely reputed to be mad, but in addition has certain physical and behavioural traits like those of Don Quixote. He is elderly, thin, and spends his nights devouring books. Like Don Quixote’s creator, he has impaired movement in his left hand. He frequently acts as if he were carrying on a conversation with invisible interlocutors, as Don Quixote does with his fantastical adversaries. His description of his father’s sumptuous, and largely imaginary palace recalls the florid style of the novels of chivalry. More specifically, however, the choice of the name Anselmo links him to the protagonist of the Tale of Impertinent Curiosity (‘Novela del curioso impertinente’) in chs. 33-35 of Part One of Don Quixote. In that story, the recently-wed Anselmo, wishing to satisfy himself that his wife’s virtue is unassailable, decides to put her to the test by enlisting the help of his friend Lotario, whom he persuades to woo his wife Camila. Lotario undertakes the task with great reluctance, but inevitably he and Camila fall in love, which creates a web of deceit and jealousy which ultimately costs all three their lives. While the issue of whether Galdós’s Elena actually succumbed to the temptation of adultery is never made explicit, the reader, as we have seen, is left in no doubt as to the power of sexual attraction. Similarly, in the ‘Novela del curioso impertinente’, Cervantes makes clear the folly of trifling with human passion: the story is ‘an eloquent example of how the passion of love can only be overcome by steering clear of it; no-one should try to wrestle with such a powerful enemy, for the strength of this human feeling can only be defeated with divine help’.[15]

The examples we have considered so far come from some of Galdós’s more overtly moralistic works, but I hope now to show that even in the detached portrayal of the most apparently mundane social realities, Galdós, by introducing multi-layered reminiscences of mythic or quasi-mythic precedents, confers on his material a range of significance which goes well beyond the immediate details of the scene. A key influence in this process is that of the seventeenth-century satirist Francisco de Quevedo. Galdós, with his deep awareness of Spanish history, knew that the social abuses castigated by Quevedo (e.g., pretence, the preference for external appearances, financial corruption and governmental incompetence) were endemic in his own society. Quevedo provided him with a model of how to combine acute contemporary social observation with the universality of vision suggested by myth.

This is because Quevedo reworked and, indeed, modernised traditional mythic paradigms in ways comparable to what we have so far seen in the examples I have cited from Galdós’s work. Quevedo’s visionary text Los sueños borrows from both the Divine Comedy and the Aeneid the motifs of the journey to the underworld accompanied by a mentor, the bivium (the bifurcated road, one branch of which leads to good, the other to evil), and the appropriateness of the punishments undergone in the underworld by those who have committed crimes on earth. By contrast with his two predecessors, however, Quevedo is relatively uninterested, at least in Los sueños, in large theological issues such as the eternal destiny of individuals. Although he does show individuals being punished in hell, this is mainly a pretext for focusing attention on the abuses which were rife in his own time: the corruption of judges, police and other public officials who accept bribes as a matter of course, the greed of tradesmen, the incompetence of the medical profession, the artfulness of women, and the general pretentiousness of those who give themselves airs of importance. Significantly, he situates the bivium not in the underworld or anywhere beyond the tomb, but on earth, for the decision to opt for one path or the other can only be taken in the concrete circumstances of everyday life.

The most representative example of Quevedo’s procedure is ‘The world as it really is’, (‘El mundo por de dentro’), where the narrator is conducted by the figure of Desengaño (Disillusionment, in the positive sense of seeing things clearly) along the Calle de la Hipocresía (the Street of Hypocrisy), where they stop to observe the passing activity. The motif of the conducted journey fuses at this point with that of the allegorical procession, which recalls the sacramental procession in Cantos 29-33 of the Purgatorio, the Dance of Death, and Petrarch’s Trionfi. But the spectacle witnessed by the narrator in ‘El mundo por de dentro’ is not located in the realm of the dead, but in a busy modern city inhabited, not by allegorical figures, but by flesh-and-blood people. Besides, the movements observed are those which happen daily in any city: funerals, parades of carriages and pursuit of criminals by the police. The most relevant of these descriptions for our purposes is of an apparently rich and distinguished personage riding in a coach, who in reality has been reduced to penury by his creditors, but who continues to enjoy the flattery of fools and sycophants:

The subterfuges he resorts to in order to eat cost him more effort than he would expend if he worked for a living. Can there be a more miserable life than that of rich people who spend all their time and money buying the false adulation of others? That man is happy because his jester has told him that he is the greatest prince on earth, and that the others are mere lackeys. And one can hardly tell the difference between them, because each is the other’s buffoon: the rich man laughs at the fool’s jokes, and the fool laughs at the rich man because he takes his flattery seriously.[16]

It is illuminating to compare this with a passage from ch. 4 of Part One of La desheredada. The protagonist, Isidora, a dreamy and pretentious young woman whose main purpose in life is to prove that she is of noble origin, is accompanied round Madrid by a puckish young medical student, Augusto Miquis. He takes her to the Prado Museum, the Retiro and the Paseo de la Castellana, humorously correcting the naïve and snobbish reactions of the untutored Isidora, who, for example, expresses surprise at one point that the vulgar horde are allowed into the Prado to look at the paintings. Their walk takes them to the Castellana in time for the evening parade of carriages, which is depicted in terms similar to those employed by Quevedo:

You’ll see elegant families that are actually starving. You will see people dressed in their best clothes who are the essence of pretentiousness, trying their damndest to seem something they are not. You’ll see boarding-house landladies made up to look like important people, and seamstresses passing themselves off as ladies. Everyone puts on appearances because they are dying to claw their way up to a higher position.[17]

The historical reality of this episode is well attested. In March 1871, the ladies of upper-class Madrid society demonstrated their disapproval of the new constitutional monarch, Amadeo I, by wearing white mantillas during the evening parade of carriages. Though Isidora’s visit to the Castellana occurs, within the time of the novel, a year later, Galdós manipulates the chronology to make it coincide with this demonstration. The fatuous Isidora remains blissfully unaware of the political implications of the reactionary gesture which is unfolding before her eyes, and this underlines how much Spanish political life is characterised by frivolity and prejudice. But the historical concreteness of this episode should not blind us to the fact that its basic structure is shaped by much older models, ultimately deriving, via Quevedo, from mythic paradigms established by Dante and Virgil. Galdós’s aim in invoking these paradigms is to show that Isidora’s fascination with this parade of vanity and ostentation is representative of the whole of Spanish society in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, and ultimately of human nature in general.

Another work of Quevedo’s, ‘The moment of truth’ (‘La hora de todos’), was also drawn on by Galdós, to considerable effect. As with ‘El mundo por de dentro’, ‘La hora de todos’ is itself a parody of an older model, the assembly of the gods in Books I and V of the Odyssey. By contrast with the elevated tenor of the gods’ deliberations in the Odyssey, Quevedo presents them as coarse, bad-tempered and grotesque. His main innovation, however, is to present Fortune, traditionally seen as capricious and unpredictable, as guided by good sense, ‘La Fortuna con seso’, which is the subtitle of the work. By special permission of Jupiter, Fortune is given one hour to set right what has gone awry, reveal what is hidden, and ensure that everyone receives what they deserve. For example, a convict being whipped through the streets suddenly changes places with the officer conducting him. A thief who has stolen a large sum of money and built himself a grand house which he hopes to rent out finds the house disintegrating around his ears, and each part of his ill-gotten wealth being restored to its owner.

Quevedo’s satire in ‘La hora de todos’, however, moves beyond the critique of individual vices towards a much wider political statement on the ills of society in the 1630s: the ill-conceived economic schemes of the arbitristas, the power of Royal favourites such as Olivares, and foreign financiers. One episode concerns the ruler of a Danish island, who holds a conference on ways to relieve the poverty of his subjects. Each scheme proposed by the arbitristas is more absurd than the previous one. When someone raises the alarm because the palace is on fire, the arbitristas, instead of trying to extinguish the fire, try to solve the problem by demolishing the building. At this moment, the hour conceded to Fortune expires, the scales fall from the ruler’s eyes, and he furiously attacks the arbitristas in terms similar to those which in his journalistic writings Galdós frequently applied to the contemporary fincial chaos of Spain: ‘You defend the Treasury by squandering it, and in claiming to help it, you destroy it’.[18]

‘La hora de todos’ is the source of one of the most savagely satirical passages in any Galdós novel. The setting for La de Bringas is the Royal Palace in Madrid, on the eve of the Revolution of September 1868, that ‘hora de desengaño’ which would overturn the monarchy of Isabella II and eject onto the streets the inhabitants of the self-contained, artificial world of the Royal residence, not only the Royal Family itself, but the vast number of petty officials, including the Bringas family, who enjoy grace-and-favour accommodation on the upper floors. The scene of the Royal Maundy in ch. 8 establishes the viewpoint from which the reader is invited to judge the events which follow. The Bringas’ sickly daughter, Isabelita, witnesses the ceremony from a clerestory window high up in the Salón de Columnas, from which ‘the arched ceiling can be seen at such close quarters that the figures painted on it appear grotesque and crudely drawn’ (‘se ve tan de cerca el curvo techo, que resultan monstruosas y groseramente pintadas las figuras que lo decoran’). Visual distortion is the concrete expression of the moral deformity of this complacent society, blissfully unaware that its final hour is about to sound. That night, Isabelita has a dream which re-enacts aspects of the ceremony, replaying them in an even more grotesque and exaggerated form, which, paradoxically, is more truthful than the scene she has just witnessed:
From all the doors on the upper levels of the Palace appeared liveried figures, lots of blue and red fabric, gold and silver braid, and three-cornered hats. In her increasing delirium, she felt the city glow with a thousand different colours. It was surely a city of dolls, but what dolls! As they scurried through the corridors, they cried, ‘It’s time, it’s time!’ At this point, the poor child felt a horrible blockage in her insides, as if everything in her fevered brain, dolls and Palace, were trapped inside her. With anguished contractions of her stomach she spewed the lot out, her delirium subsided, and she felt such relief![19]

The colorines (bright colours) and the dolls create a nightmarish version of the child’s world of play, but in addition a word like trapo (rag), for ‘fabric’, underlines the notion of tawdry external appearances. The archaic style of the uniforms suggests the perennial nature of this overblown artificiality, an artificiality which embraces the figures, who are dehumanised as muñecas, whose agitation about the hour prefigures the storm which within a few months will be unleashed over their heads. What Isabelita vomits up is not just the milk pudding she has gorged on earlier, but the moral poison of a corrupt political system.

A passage like this reminds us that there is usually a close connection between myth and tragedy. The classic mythic paradigms (Oedipus, Paris and Helen, Don Quixote) are not generally characterised by happy endings. While Galdós’s depiction of the humdrum reality of everyday Madrid life in his own time deliberately avoids cultivating a tone of heroic grandeur, the connections he establishes between the commonplace and certain mythic antecedents have the effect of engaging the reader’s awareness of the full impact of events which, on a surface reading, might appear trivial. The bumbling but fundamentally decent Francisco Bringas is not only expelled from his home with all his family as a result of the Revolution but also loses his livelihood, and will from now on will be in the morally equivocal position of depending for financial survival on his wife’s exploitation of her physical charms. He has clearly been foolish and blinkered in his uncritical support for the monarchy which has just fallen, but in this he has been no different from large numbers of other people, and the personal consequences for him seem disproportionate. Furthermore, the overthrow of Queen Isabella, clearly a desirable development in itself, will bring tragedy and civil war to the country. Readers of La de Bringas in 1884 would have been acutely aware of the events which followed quickly upon the Revolution of 1868: the failure of the constitutional monarchy of Amadeo, the murder of General Prim in 1870, arguably the one person who could have held the various factions together, the outbreak of the Carlist war in 1872, the chaos of the Cantonalist rising of 1873, the overthrow of the republic by the army in 1874, and in 1876 the return to an authoritarian system of constitutional government, just as artificial as the system overturned in 1868.

To exploit mythic elements as skilfully as Galdós has done in the examples I have quoted requires a high degree of artistic detachment. But myth and the narrative structures evolved from it derive their enduring power from the sheer fascination of story-telling, which can affect the mind of the recipient and draw him/her into the world of the story, even if, or perhaps especially if the recipient is in turn a story-teller. The unnamed narrator of La sombra, to whom Anselmo relates the story of his jealous hallucinations, finds his scepticism about the far-fetched account being gradually eroded by Anselmo’s command of language and the imaginative power of his story:

When he told a story, he was truly himself, Dr Anselmo at his most genuine. His stories usually resembled the supernatural and fabulous doings of knight-errantry, though based mostly on everyday events, which his flights of fancy embellished until they became wondrous tales.[20]

When Anselmo finishes his tale, the narrator comments on it with clinical detachment, providing a rational explanation for the hallucinations and the apparent materialisation of the figure of Paris in terms of Anselmo’s jealousy of his real-life acquaintance Alejandro, an explanation with which Anselmo concurs. Yet the story has so taken hold of the narrator’s mind that on leaving Anselmo’s apartment, he feels the urge to ask whether the figure of Paris had reappeared in the painting after Anselmo’s return to relative mental stability.

If an implausible story of a private experience told with verve and conviction can have this effect on an otherwise rational person, so much more is this the case with those large narratives which have some of the power and scale of myth. I refer here to those interpretations of reality, often called ‘grand narratives’ (somewhat dismissively, as if they were self-evidently illusory), which conceptualise in simplified form a huge area of perennial human concern, and which, because they are instinctively perceived as vulnerable to critical analysis, are by common consent often protected against such analysis: myths of origins, or stories which express the sense of identity of a people: Genesis, the Exodus from Egypt; Merrie England; Magna Carta and the Declaration of Arbroath as guarantees of basic liberties; the idea that the independence of Ireland was won as the result of an unremitting struggle lasting over 700 years; the assumption by various countries of a divinely-sanctioned imperial mission.

For all his critical acumen and artistic discipline, Galdós was not impervious to the allure of such narratives. His ambivalent attitude towards what one might call ‘the myth of Spain’ is highly suggestive in this regard. On the one hand, his liberal convictions led him to reject fundamental aspects of the history and culture of Spain which the conservative majority of his fellow-countrymen continued to treasure: the prestige of the aristocracy, authoritarianism, the power of the Church, resistance to intellectual currents from abroad, especially those associated with more liberal political structures; the lamentable state of education; the lack of scientific and technical progress; the attachment to external appearances and the consequent failure to tackle the urgent problems of poverty and ignorance. Isidora, the protagonist of La desheredada, is criticised because she romanticises the Spain of social hierarchy, and she comes to grief precisely because the rigid assumptions of the class to which she aspires to belong lead to her being rejected with contempt. Rafael del Aguila’s tragic suicide in Torquemada en el Purgatorio is precipitated by his refusal to come to terms with modern society, in which social distinction counts for little, and people of obscure origins, like Torquemada, can achieve social rank by exploiting the impoverished aristocracy and upper bourgeoisie through money-lending. Don Lope in Tristana is a ridiculously anachronistic figure, who ‘affected to follow, with the utmost rigour, the laws of chivalry, or knighthood, though in his case it would be more appropriate to call him a knight-sedentary rather than a knight-errant.[21]

On the other hand, precisely because of his awareness of the triviality and corruption of much of the social and institutional life which he depicted in his novels, Galdós frequently experienced a nostalgia for those aspects of traditional society which in other moods he would have rejected. Like many of his compatriots, he was keenly aware of the decline in prestige which Spain had suffered since the seventeenth century, and often looked back with a mixture of embarrassment and pride to the time when honour, chivalry and courage were properly valued. Even the redoubtable Marquesa de Aransis, who brusquely rejects Isidora’s pretension, is admired for being true to her own principles. If Rafael del Aguila is deluded and unstable, it could hardly be said that the Torquemadas of this world are preferable.

It is above all in Galdós’s journalistic writings that this nostalgia for the past is most obvious. Even when inveighing against the barbarity of bull-fighting, he concedes in the end that it is at least one of the most deep-rooted and culturally distinctive expressions of the national character.[22] The commemoration of the tercentenary of the Armada in 1888 led him to compare the courage and single-mindedness of those who had led the enterprise with the mediocrity of public figures in his own time.[23] As a good progressive liberal, he welcomed the spread of education, but deplored its levelling effect, which had deprived cultural life of some of its variety and character.[24]

These contradictions in Galdós, I suggest, support the case that I have been trying to make in this lecture, namely, that his work has a depth and complexity which has not fully been recognised by even his most favourable critics. Rather than the chronicler of a society, in the manner of Balzac, or a crusader-cum-entertainer in the style of Dickens, we should think of him as a writer’s writer: one who demands from his readers a high level of literary culture, focused attention, and alertness to the multifarious layers of meaning which he places before us.

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[1] . 'esa especie de delectación morosa con que el autor se detiene a describir y narrar ciertos objetos y acontecimientos que importan poco y no añaden elemento alguno de belleza, ni siquiera de curiosidad' (Leopoldo Alas, Galdós [Madrid, 1912], 170-71).

[2] . ‘un mundo de pequeños tenderos, de pequeños oficinistas, de pequeños usureros o más bien prestamistas; un mundo de una pequeñez abrumadora’ (Miguel de Unamuno, Obras completas, vol. 5 [Madrid, 1952], 368).

[3] . Ramón María del Valle-Inclan, Luces de Bohemia, Scene 4.

[4] . Jacques Beyrie, Galdós et son Mythe, vol. 1: Libéralisme et Christianisme en Espagne au XIXème siècle (Lille: Université de Lille III, 1980), 59-60.

[5] . I know of no evidence that David was homosexual. The fact remains, however, that the almost-naked figure of Paris in the painting is arguably more erotic than the fully-clothed Helen.

[6] . ‘[…] existo desde el principio del mundo. Mi edad es la del género humano, y he recorrido todos los países del mundo […] En todas las religiones hay un decreto contra mí […] En las capitales es donde me gusta vivir. ¡Oh! siempre he amado estos sitios, donde la comodidad, la refinada cultura y la elegante holgazanería me ofrecen sus invencibles armas y eficacísimos medios. La esplendidez y la voluptuosidad me gustan: soy tan sibarita como mi antigua amiga Semíramis, a quien di la inmortalidad. […]’ (La sombra [Madrid: Miguel Castellote, 1971], 50-51).

[7] . ‘[…] me encuentra en todas partes; en todos los reflejos halla la luz de mis miradas, en todos los ecos oye mi voz, en su propia sombra ve la mía… […] Su imaginación vuela agitada en busca mía sin reposar nunca’ (ed. cit., 53).

[8] . ‘Era de complexión fuerte y un tanto hercúlea, con rara perfección formado […] Su persona bien podía pasar por un hermoso y acabado símbolo, y si fuera estatua, el escultor habría grabado en el pedestal estas palabras: Inteligencia, fuerza’ (Doña Perfecta, ch. 3 [Madrid: Hernando, 1961], 30).

[9] . Gloria, vol. 1, ch. 33 (Madrid: Hernando, 1948), 216.

[10] . ibid., 221.

[11] . ibid., 239.

[12] . ‘El Cristo es la imagen augusta y eterna de la Filosofía, que sufre persecución y muere, aunque sólo por tres días, para resucitar luego y seguir consagrada al gobierno del mundo’ (El amigo Manso, ed. by Francisco Caudet [Madrid: Cátedra, 2001], 364.

[13] . ‘Esa M, esa I, esa A y esa U son como el Inri, el letrero infame que le pusieron a Cristo en la cruz… Ya que me han crucificado entre ladrones, para que todo sea completo, pónganme sobre la cabeza esas cuatro letras en que se hace mofa y escarnio de mi gran misión’ (Miau, ed. by Francisco Javier Díez de Revenga [Madrid: Cátedra, 2000], 355.

[14] . Lo prohibido, ed. by James Whiston (Madrid: Cátedra, 2001), 593-4.

[15] . ‘Ejemplo claro que nos muestra que sólo se vence la pasión amorosa con huilla y que nadie se ha de poner a brazos con tan poderoso enemigo, porque es menester fuerzas divinas para vencer las suyas humanas’ (Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quijote de la Mancha, edición del IV Centenario [Real Academia Española, 2005], 348).

[16] . ‘Más trabajo le cuesta la fábrica de sus embustes para comer, que si lo ganara trabajando. […] ¿Qué más miseria quieres de estos ricos, que todo el año andan comprando mentiras y adulaciones, y gastan sus haciendas en falsos testimonios? Va aquel tan contento porque el truhán le ha dicho que no hay tal príncipe como él, y que todos los demás son unos escuderos, como si ello fuera así. Y diferencian muy poco, porque el uno es juglar del otro. De esta suerte el rico se ríe con el bufón, y el bufón se ríe del rico porque hace caso de lo que lisonjea’ (Francisco de Quevedo, Sueños y discursos, ed. by Felipe C. R. Maldonado [Madrid: Castalia, 1972], 177).

[17] . ‘Verás muchas familias elegantes que no tienen qué comer. Verás gente dominguera que es la fina crema de la cursilería, reventando por parecer otra cosa. […] Verás hasta las patronas de huéspedes disfrazadas de personas, y las costureras queriendo pasar por señoritas. Como cada cual tiene ganas rabiosas de alcanzar una posición superior, principia por aparentarla’ (La desheredada, vol. 1, ch.4 [Madrid: Alianza Editorial, 1967], 80-81).

[18] . .‘Llamáis defender la hacienda echarla en la calle, y socorrer, el rematar’ (Francisco de Quevedo, La hora de todos y la Fortuna con seso, ed. by Luisa López-Grigera [Madrid: Castalia, 1975], 98-9).

[19] . ‘Por todas las puertas de la parte alta de Palacio aparecían libreas varias, mucho trapo azul y rojo, mucho galón de oro y plata, infinitos tricornios… Delirando más, veía la ciudad resplandeciente y esmaltada de mil colorines. Seguramente era una ciudad de muñecas; pero ¡qué muñecas! […] y todas corrían por los pasadizos gritando: ‘Ya es la hora’. […] Al llegar aquí, la pobre niña sentía […] una obstrucción horrible […], cual si las cosas que reproducía su cerebro, muñecos y Palacio, estuvieran contenidas dentro de su estómago chiquito. Con angustiosas convulsiones lo arrojaba todo fuera, y se contenía el delirar, ¡y sentía un alivio…!’ (La de Bringas [Madrid: Hernando, 1963], 43-4.)

[20] . ‘Cuando contaba algo, era él, era el doctor Anselmo en su genuina forma y exacta expresión. Sus narraciones eran por lo general parecidas a las sobrenaturales y fabulosas empresas de la caballería andante, si bien teniendo por principal fundamento sucesos de la vida actual, que él elevaba a lo maravilloso con el vuelo de su fantasía’ (ed. cit., 18-19).

[21] . ‘presumía de practicar en toda su pureza dogmática la caballerosidad, o caballería, que bien podemos llamar sedentaria en contraposición a la idea de andante or correntona’ (Tristana, ed. by Gordon Minter [Bristol: Bristol Classical Press, 1996], 4).

[22] . Obras inéditas, ed. by Alberto Ghiraldo, vol. 1 (Madrid: Renacimiento, 1923), 146-53.

[23] . Obras inéditas, vol. 7, 66.

[24] . Obras inéditas, vol. 2, 194-5.

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Professor Eamonn Rodgers

Professor Eamonn Rodgers is a graduate of Queen’s University, Belfast (where he was, taught, for a short time, by a newly-arrived lecturer, Nicholas Round). From 1964 onwards he lectured in Spanish at Trinity College, Dublin, where his Head of Department for several years was the late Ted Riley, a world authority on Galdós’s great predecessor, Miguel de Cervantes. After over twenty years there, Eamonn Rodgers moved on to become Professor of Spanish and Latin American Studies at the University of Strathclyde – a position which he held until his recent retirement.

Professor Rodgers’s research has centred on nineteenth and twentieth-century Spanish literature. He is one of the most outstanding and influential Galdosian scholars in the UK today and has produced numerous articles on such wide-ranging aspects of the author’s work as Naturalism, Realism, the Galdosian reading public, and Buñuel’s adaptation of the novel Nazarín. He is also the author of a number of longer studies of Galdós’s work, including From Enlightenment to Realism: The Novels of Galdós, 1870-87 (Dublin: Jack Hade & Co., 1987), his indispensable critical guide to Miau (London: Grant & Cutler, 1978) and an edition of Tormento (Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1977). More recently, Professor Rodgers has edited the Encyclopaedia of Contemporary Spanish Culture (London: Routledge, 1999), an ambitious venture involving over 100 contributors, as well as two shorter collections, Linguistic Interactions (Strathclyde: Strathclyde Modern Language Studies, 1999), and Cinema and Ideology (Strathclyde: Strathclyde Modern Language Studies, 1996). This record of insightful critical readings and an openness to modern cultural studies bears witness to the distinctive strength of his perspectives on Galdós.

Professor Rodgers has been extremely supportive of the Galdós Editions Project since it was first established. He has assiduously attended past lectures and also participated in the Galdós Seminar Series, delivering a paper on ‘The Economics of the Books Trade’, which was later published in New Galdós Studies, ed. by N.G. Round (London, Tamesis: 2003). It is an enormous pleasure to welcome him back to deliver the Ninth Galdós Lecture.

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