Thursday, March 15, 2012

Torquemada in Purgatory: Part Three

Torquemada by Benito Pérez Galdós
Translation by Frances M. López-Morillas
New York: Columbia University Press (1986), Hardcover
ISBN: 0231062281 / 9780231062282

The Torquemada novels:
1. Torquemada at the Stake (1889)
2. Torquemada on the Cross (1893)
     a. Story
     b. Themes
     c. Characters
3. Torquemada in Purgatory (1894)
     a: Part One
     b. Part Two
     c. Part Three
4. Torquemada and Saint Peter (1895)

One last post of excerpts from this novel…

The new year brings more financial success for Torquemada but his home life proves to be far from happy. He no longer has any strength to fight Cruz on expenditures, but to make matters worse he overhears his son-in-law, Quevedito the doctor, discuss his baby boy:

“The child’s a freak. Have you noticed the size of his head, and those ears that hang like a hare’s? And the legs haven’t acquired their natural shape, and if he lives, which I doubt, he’ll be bowlegged. I’ll be very much surprised if we don’t have a little marquis of San Eloy who’s a perfect idiot.” (page 349)

Torquemada’s social evolution continues, and even though “the marquisate sat rather awkwardly on him, like a pair of pistols on a statue of Christ,” eventually he fits into the social milieu. Fidela becomes more serious after giving birth and quits her flirtatious ways with Morentín. The “professional adulterer” gives up on a possible conquest but the damage has been done since public opinion believes the affair to have happened:

But no one could destroy the hard concretion formed with evil thoughts and society’s false logic. Like certain calcareous conglomerates, the slander hardened with time, and in the end not a soul could break it with all the hammers of truth. (page 359)

This is a world Rafael does not believe he belongs in anymore, especially with the birth of Valentín. Violent seizures sometime strike him when he is near the baby while brief thoughts of doing the baby harm flit through his mind. These thoughts disgust him and he rejects them, yet he cannot shake them. His belief in the unholy union of the Aguila family with Torquemada has not softened:

”I want to deceive myself with flattery, with praises of myself; but above all these blandishments rises my reason, telling me that I’m the most benighted fool God ever put into the world. Mistaken in everything! I firmly believed that my sister would be unhappy, and she is blissful. Her happiness knocks down all this logic, which I store in my poor broken-down brain like rusty scrap iron. I firmly believed that the absurd, unnatural marriage of the angel and the beast would have no offspring, and this hybrid manikin, this monster, has come of it—for he is a monster, he must be, as Quevedito says. What a representative of the Aguila line! What a marquis of San Eloy! This is revolting. If the social cataclysm doesn’t come soon, it must be that God wants society to decay gradually and pulverize everything into garbage to make future growth more fertile.” (page 363>

Compare the last quote from page 131 in this post for some echoes of fertilizer. We’ll see that image often. There are several such comparisons or repeating phrases that are used for good effect. A couple examples that come to mind: Torquemada has no idea what to do with a relevé of lamb and seems incredulous that he is expected to suck on the bones. Proving to be a quick study, a few pages later he accuses Cruz of “sucking the marrow out of my bones”. The narrator may italicize some of Torquemada’s strained use or misuse of phrases, but when some of his sycophantic friends begin using the same language (most humorously the pedant Zárate) he reports it with a straight face.

By the end of the book, Rafael and Torquemada come to a type of understanding with each other in a very moving scene where they constantly talk past each other. Galdós provides a precursor to that scene which contains much more antagonism—a planned banquet in honor of Torquemada sets the stage for a sarcastic speech by Rafael, one he advises Torquemada to deliver:

” ‘Señores, I am cleverer, infinitely cleverer than you, though many of those who hear me are adorned with academic degrees and official labels which I lack. Since you are casting dignity aside, I will cast away modesty, and tell you that I richly deserve the cult of adulation that you render me, a shining golden calf. Your idolatry would turn my stomach if I did not keep it will fortified against all possible repugnance. What do you praise in me? Virtues, talent? No, riches, which in this pitiful age are the supreme virtue and wisdom par excellence. You praise my money, for I have been able to make it and you have not. You all lead lives full of deceit, some in the sorry traffic of political and bureaucratic life, others in the religion of living on borrowed money. You envy me, you see in me a superior being. Very well: I am one, and you are a bunch of useless dummies, clay figures modeled with a certain amount of skill; I’m made in the style of Alcorcón pottery, but not in clay, in pure gold. I count for more than all of you put together, and if you wish to test the fact, make a trial of me, put your shoulders under my throne and carry me in procession, for it is no exaggeration to carry your idol through the streets. And while you are acclaiming me deliriously I will low, for I repeat that I’m a calf, and after congratulating myself on your servility, seeing you crowded beneath me, I will open my four legs and reward you with a copious evacuation, in the clear understanding that my manure is ready money. I pass five-duro coins and even banknotes when I want to present my friends with the efforts of my belly. And you fall all over yourselves to pick it up; you gather up this precious manna, you—‘ “. (page 370)

Cruz cuts her brother short but Torquemada praises the mock (and mocking) speech—he understands the absurdity of the situation and agrees with Rafael’s view, although he says he wishes he were “able to say those awful things in a language with a double meaning, the kind that says what it doesn’t exactly say.” The real speech goes over well enough, giving the sycophants plenty to praise and those with “mocking hostility” many examples to ridicule. Galdós even makes the way he report the speech amusing, pretending the narrator was there as he thanks “the diligent scribes whom the narrator of this story took to the banquet, at his own expense and risk”. Risk? There’s plenty of commentary accompanying the speech, much of it as footnotes. My favorite footnote:

14 In the group of critics. Morentín: “Have you ever seen such a delicious fool?” Juan de Madrid: “What I see is that he’s a first-class satirist. Zárate: “Yes, he’s making fun of everyone here.”

Unfortunately for Torquemada, Cruz has even grander plans that will drain his earnings even faster—a ducal palace is up for auction. Not to mention an art gallery, armor collection, and library to fill the mansion. Longing to see “my old house in the Calle de San Blas” instead of being saddled with a mansion, Torquemada notes that Rafael initially seemed to be “the craziest one in the family” but now appeared to be the sanest.

The last ten pages of the novel provides the moving scene between Rafael and Torquemada I mentioned earlier, a heartrending conversation which is relatively modest (at least for Galdós) on the melodrama scale. Both men unburden their consciences but Torquemada doesn’t understand the full implications of Rafael’s statements. The blind man despairs at his inability to belong in the changing Spain. Fortified after his test of Torquemada, Rafael prepares his suicide. Torquemada knows something is amiss but doesn’t comprehend the depth of Rafael’s despair. I’ll include a couple of short passages from Rafael, but keep in mind the conversation builds on itself, the two men’s interaction and lack of understanding amplifying the impact:

”He [Valentín] will not know the that the House of Gravelinas [the family’s mansion up for sale] has turned into a decent sort of flea market, where the spoils of the hereditary nobility are piled, buried in garbage. What a sad end for a lineage! Believe me,” he added with gloomy bitterness, “death is preferable to the sorrow of seeing the most beautiful things that exist in the world in the hands of the Torquemadas.” (page 402)

“The monarchy is a useless formula; the aristocracy, a shadow. In their place the dynasty of the Torquemadas, vulgo the newly-rich moneylenders, reigns and governs. It is the empire of the capitalists, the partriciate of those papier-mâché Medicis. I don’t know who it was who said that the impoverished nobility seeks plebian manure to fertilize it and be able to live a little longer.” (page 403)

A quick word on the names Galdós uses for his characters—they usually are chosen to represent something significant or invoke a feeling about the person. Fidela’s name seems to be fairly obvious—the similarity to fidelity highlights her loyalty and faithfulness. Rafael could be several things, most likely a tie to the archangel Raphael, patron saint of blind people. Maybe an allusion to Milton's Paradise Lost is included as well, where God asks Raphael to remind Adam about eating from the tree of knowledge. There’s also the possibility of the painter Raphael who died young (in his late 30s). Cruz truly does represent Torquemada’s cross to bear in addition to her bearing the brunt of the responsibility during the family's poverty. The Aguila/eagle family name provides irony for their plummet and rebound while maintaining a noble spirit. Dr. Rhian Davies, on her summary page of the Torquemada novels has this to say about the highest profile name used:

It is perhaps significant that Galdós should have chosen to name his protagonist after Tomás de Torquemada, for the Inquisition was often a theme of the regeneracionista treatises of the period. Some argued that the Inquisition had isolated Spain from her European counterparts and condemned the country to decadence. There are, indeed, many readings that can be applied to the novels: such is the universality of Galdós's novels, which, in lending themselves to multiple readings, constantly renew their appeal for readers of all backgrounds and all beliefs.

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