Monday, March 12, 2012

Galdós: the novel is fact and fiction at the same time

I wanted to take a short break from posting on the Torquemada novels to link to an article by Harriet Stevens Turner on the author and some of his work. It sounded like there was quite a bit of interest in Fortunata and Jacinta--if you plan on reading it you should find the article very helpful.

Turner, Harriet Stevens, "Benito Pérez Galdós" (2004). Spanish Language and Literature. Paper 11.

A few excerpts, useful for an overall understanding of Galdós and pertaining to the Torquemada novels:
(Pages 394 - 395) In two essays, written nearly thirty years apart (1870, 1897), Galdós states the premises that shaped his Realist novels: the central role played by the rising middle class; the religious problem, which either divided or dissolved families; adultery and prostitution, which posed the contested question of personal and civil rights; and the rising mix of rural and urban masses, occurring as peasants flocked to the cities after the disentailment of Church lands (1837), the tariff reforms of 1849 and 1868, and as the ensuing boom in real estate development and industrialization began to produce an upper bourgeoisie. We find the mercantile and banking families like the Santa Cruces and Moreno Islas (Fortunata y Jacinta) mixing with "indianos," people from impoverished, rural areas who emigrated to the West Indies (Cuba, Puerto Rico), made fortunes as slavers or entrepreneurs, and returned to Madrid to flood the markets with money, as does Josi Maria Manso (El amigo Manso). Soon "indianos" and the newly rich of Old Madrid's trading neighborhoods evolved into ruthless financiers and speculators like Shnchez Botin in La desheredada and the usurer Torquemada, who starts as a ragpicker at the Gate of Toledo (the southern entrance to Madrid) and ends as a mogul, virtually owning the city.

In between rich and poor we find a chafed petty bourgeoisie of moneylenders, laborers, artisans, salesmen, disgruntled office-seekers, civil servants, and, a step up, professional people - pharmacists, lawyers, doctors, and engineers. Galdós celebrates this motley, nascent middle class as the "inexhaustible source" of creativity and entrepreneurial energy. One example, which occurs in the first part of Fortunata y Jacinta, is the column of an old-fashioned storefront in Old Madrid. Shopkeepers have dressed the column in corsets - red, black, and white - transforming it into an erotically charged, novelistic personage - female, wily, slightly sexual, who beckons provocatively to passers-by. The narrator sees this transformation as a shopkeeper's "sentimiento pintoresco" ("flair for the picturesque" [Obras, v, 991) but now the old notion of "picturesque" has become a culturally transparent sign for the changing status of women. In the novel of modernity women have taken to the streets as consumers, like the matriarch Barbarita Santa Cruz, but also as sexual objects, like Rosalia de Bringas, who squeezes her body into a corset and becomes, literally, a streetwalker who sells that plumped, perfumed body for money to buy luxury items. This surging middle class holds the key to the novel of modernity. Even in the early essay (1870), sure of his mission, Galdós registers doubt and unease about modernity's trends and conflicts - "graves cuestiones" ("serious matters") for which he, as a Realist writer, cannot supply solutions.

(Page 397)Adultery, identified by Galdós in his early essay (1870) as problematic, blurs boundaries between private and public spaces. As Jo Labanyi observes, "if it is possible to be simultaneously inside and outside, the boundary between the two positions disappears."

(Pages 402 - 403) In consequence, given Galdós' two-fold objective of representation and critique, as well as the aesthetic imperative to create, in fiction, the illusion of an autonomous, real, and truthful world, his novels offer deftly mediated narrative points of view. This technique creates a fictional, intermediate space, open to the reader, which, like other gap-like features, allows his novels to become forums of public debate. At the same time Galdós continuously retains control of his story, guiding the reader through the perceptions of both character and narrator via monologue, dialogue, and that effervescent, polyphonic mixture known as the free indirect style. The narrator is styled as a character: he evolves as a person; he may or may not be reliable, and he inevitably becomes compromised by what he sees and tells. Yet this sly, winking narrative persona leads the reader to perceive the complexities of his fictional world. As a creator of shifting, intermediate spaces and as one who occupies the vantage point of the reader, who identifies with that reader, and who is, at times, manifestly a reader himself of the faces and texts he has invented, the narrator, through various disguises, becomes perhaps the most subtle culturally transparent mode of Galdós' fiction. Now and again, like the blinded Francisco Bringas who surreptitiously lifts the edge of the band covering his eyes, peeping through a little "ventanita" ("window" [Obras, IV, 1614]), the narrator occasionally drops his mask to reveal the unexpected or unseen. He also frames scenes, focalizing through various "ventanitas" - "claraboya" ("transom"), curtains, keyholes, doors set ajar, balconies, even openings in a hedge - to transmute the import of narrative point of view into an image of what is being seen.

(Page 403) Events appear to have happened. The narrator has seen them and so appends a moral with which he addresses the reader. Now the story of Doña Perfecta is akin to fact; it belongs to the history of the nation. The novel is fact and fiction at the same time.

(Page 408) The origins of the "Torquemada" series reach back to other novels. It is as if Torquemada, an insistently recurring character, had staked a claim not only to unpaid loans but also to the indignation of the narrator, who now feels compelled to write the four-part series.

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