Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Torquemada in Purgatory: Part Two

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
4. Torquemada and Saint Peter (1895)

Continuing with excerpts from the novel…
Now that a potential heir is expected, Cruz has additional leverage over Torquemada, pushing him to spend even more money to improve the family’s lifestyle. It never dawns on Cruz that she exhibits and advocates the same type actions that ruined the Aguila family. The narrator paints Cruz as having the noblest of intentions, yet he can’t hide her ambition or the revenge that drives her:

It was not for motives of fleeting vanity that Cruz del Aguila desired the pomps of aristocratic life, but for those of noble ambition, for she wished to encompass with prestige and honor the obscure man who had rescued the illustrious ladies from poverty. She really had no ambitions for herself; but the family must recover its rank and, if it was possible, aspire to a higher position than that of former times, to confound those envious souls who commented on its social resurrection with vulgar justs. Cruz proceeded in this plan with pride of breeding, as a person who looks out for the dignity of her people, and also with a feeling of lofty vengeance against relatives she loathed, who after having denied them help during their period of penury, now tried to make her and her sister look as ridiculous as possible because of the marriage with the moneylender. By raising him high and making the man into a personage, and the personage into an eminence, she and her sister would be winning the game, and the darts of slander would turn against those who had thrown them. (page 292)

Even though Torquemada complains about Cruz and Fidela “setting me up like a straw man to advertise their vanity to the whole world”, he finds himself welcome at the finance ministry where his aptitude for business, especially parsimony, proves useful. Galdós picks a character to represent the political favoritism and rot in power, noting that those that profit most from such acts are usually the loudest when it comes to moralizing:

The same could not be said of Don Juan Gualberto [Serrano], a man whose conscience was so elastic that many droll things were told of him, some of which must be withheld, for their very enormity makes them unconvincing. He never looked out for the State, which he considered to be a great son of a—; he always looked out for private interests, either in the essential concept of the “I myself” or in an altruistic and humanitarian form, such as protecting a friend, defending a company, business establishment, or any sort of entity. The fact is that in the five famous years of the Liberal Union’s existence, he achieved considerable wealth, and then that pesky revolution and the Carlist War completed the job of feathering his nest. If we are to believe what malicious gossip said, both verbally and in print, Serrano had swallowed up whole pine forests, many square leagues of pine trees, all at one gulp, with his fabulous stomach. And, to get rid of the overload, he had amused himself (following the adage about the devil finding work for idle hands) by supplying to soldiers shoes with cardboard soles, or giving them moldy beans and rotten codfish to eat; little pranks which, at most, at the very most, raised a bit of noise in a few nespapers; and owing to the mischievous coincidence that those newspapers did not have the best reputation for truth-telling, because they had written a great many lies about that campaign, no one thought of carrying the matter to a formal inquiry by the courts, nor did the possibility of such an inquiry cause any fear whatsoever in Don Juan Gualberto, who was a first cousin of various directors-general, a brother-in-law of judges, a nephew of magistrates, and a more or less close relative of an infinite number of generals, senators, councilors, and grand panjandrums. Therefore, in the meetings we are talking about, the only one who spoke of morality was Serrano. (page 284)

Torquemada’s unhappiness at being forced into his role in society, in addition to the role of spendthrift, increases until he begins to sound like Rafael. “Kill me and be done with it, for I’m such a fool that I don’t know how to resist you [Cruz], and I let you strip me and beat me and flay me alive.” The hope of a son, of a reincarnated Valentín, buoys Torquemada through his troubles. Very much against his will, he allows himself to be dragged off to the northern coast for part of the summer. While there, Rafael reveals to Cruz his suspicion that “my sister Fidela has a lover, and that that lover is Morentín.” Upon reflection Rafael identifies what he believes to be the underlying reason for its occurrence: “The thing is the product of social life, of the corruption of customs, of the disorder of the moral idea.” Neither Cruz or Rafael believe Morentín has been successful in his advances, but the slanders are part of the “atmosphere” of society. In a moving passage, Cruz develops a compassion for Torquemada—through her machinations she has made him profoundly unhappy and the subject of gossip. She is plagued by the idea that maybe they should renounce their current way of living and

go to live in some small town, where the only frock coat they saw would be the mayor’s on the day of the patron saint, where they were no elegant and depraved young men, envious and gossiping old women, politicians in who parliamentary life all forms of life, ladies who enjoy hearing talk about other women’s frailties so as to make their own more respectable, or, in a word, so many forms and styles of moral laxity. (page 321)

The friend of the family the narrator calls the pedant, Zárate, visits Torquemada often after the return to Madrid. Concerned about Rafael’s mental stability, Zárate advances a theory to the moneylender: “I believe that our young man is not insane but is pretending to be, as Hamlet pretended to be, so that he could act as he wished in the course of a family drama.” Torquemada laughs at the idea, happy that there is finally peace in the family. “And he was left with a doubt as to who that ‘Hamley’ might be; but he refrained from asking, preferring to give the impression that he knew. But from the name and the fact that he pretended to be mad, he rather imagined that the fellow in question must have been a poet.”

Torquemada’s business dealings continue apace and his income, as well as his expenses, increase. Cruz’s compassion and empathy for Torquemada doesn’t mean she stops her machinations. Torquemada is nominated as a senator (“These posts are always profitable” notes Serrano), although the idea of additional influence on the Treasury has some appeal. The opportunity to acquire the title of marquis, after the millions due in benefice taxes are paid, of course, sends Torquemada over the edge: “This life is a purgatory for me, and here I am, paying for all the sins of my life…which aren’t very many.” And later: “No more purgatory, no more doing penance for sins I haven’t committed; no more throwing the blessed fruits of my labors out the window.” Since the title would antagonize the right people, Cruz makes sure it is conferred to Torquemada.

The penance continues as Torquemada is tormented as the costs associated with the senate seat and the title escalate—more is expected of him in such society, even if the payoff is theoretically in the future. His fortune is often compared, by the narrator and characters, to sea foam, and at the rate it dissipates it’s not a bad analogy. The impending arrival of a baby proves to be the one joy in his life, although even then certain thoughts torment him and his miserly instincts momentarily extend to a refund of…ahem…certain emissions (the italics is the narrator’s way of highlighting Torquemada’s affected speech):

Among these joys, the great event approached, eagerly awaited by the miser, for he thought he saw in it the compensation for his sufferings over the useless extravagance with which Cruz was trying to gild the bars of his cage. Very soon now the delights of fatherhood would sweeten the sorrows of the usurer, constantly thwarted in his attempts to accumulate wealth. The good man also wanted to resolve that cruel doubt: would his son be a Torquemada, as he had the right to expect, if the Supreme Maker behaved like a gentleman? ”I’m inclined to believe that He will,” he said to himself, in a regular flood of fine language. “Though it could well be that that busybody, Nature, will muddle up the matter and the baby will turn out to have Aguila instincts, in which case I’d as the Lord God to give me my money back…I mean, not the money, the, the…There’s no expression for that idea. We’ll soon emerge from this dilemma. And it could just as well be a girl, and be like me, devoted to economy. We’ll soon see. I’m inclined to believe that it will be a boy, and hence another Valentín, in a word, Valentín himself under his very own aspect. But those two don’t believe it, undoubtedly, and that’s why expectation reigns in everyone, as when folks are waiting for the lottery to be drawn.”(page 337)

After a difficult delivery on Christmas Eve, Torquemada’s son is born. The birth gave him resolve to stand up to Cruz and what he sees as extravagant spending, such as paying for two wet nurses. As usual with Galdós, events can be ambiguous (ellipsis mine):

But Don Francisco listened to no arguments but those of his avarice. Never had he felt in his soul such a desire for rebellion, nor such an inability to carry it from thought to deed, for the fascination that Cruz exercised on him was even greater and more irresistible since Valentín’s birth. It can be understood that the household tyrant used this to consolidate her control and make it invulnerable against any kind of rebellion. The poor miser groaned as his chocolate passed from the cup into his stomach, and as Cruz encouraged him to let her know his thoughts, the poor man tried to speak, but the words simply refused to emerge from his lips. He tried to bring to them the vulgarly expressive terms that he had been accustomed to use in the free period of his life, but only fine concepts and words came into his mouth, the language of that opulent slavery in which he was wasting away, cramped by a personality that bound in chains all the ferocity of his own. …

The miser was weeping, no doubt because the last piece of chocolate-soaked bread had stuck in his throat.

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