Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Torquemada in Purgatory: Part One

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
4. Torquemada and Saint Peter (1895)

He’s been at the stake. He’s been on the cross. Now Torquemada is in Purgatory. But which Purgatory? There are differing versions of Purgatory, but even if I go with the Catholic Catechism (a “purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven”), there would be differing methods depending on where he would be headed ("this final purification of the elect . . . is entirely different from the punishment of the damned").

For this novel I plan to step back and let Galdós do most of the talking, which means I’ll have too many excerpts. Even though the book isn’t that difficult to find, I don’t feel too guilty with extended excerpts since I haven’t seen anyone else write about these books. On to Part One of Purgatory…

Our narrator, inserting himself more than in the previous novels of the series, begins this novel by listing chroniclers and writers that supposedly wrote about the same subject (noting a few differences in their claims), such as “The licentiate Juan de Madrid, that diligent and malicious chronicler of The Sayings and Doings of Don Francisco Torquemada”. That the miser, or rather former miser, received so much coverage hints at the rise in rank and reputation to come.

Part of Torquemada’s purification/punishment is a change in his habits, relentlessly pushed by Cruz. Alternately flattering and shaming him, Cruz never presents her suggestions as a benefit for her but as something Torquemada deserves for his accomplishments, his destiny, and his heir-to-be. It’s true that Torquemada had achieved much in a short period of time, both in improving himself and in his business dealings. The following excerpt provides a good example of Galdós’ style as well as highlights a few themes in these and other of Galdós’ novels (the italicized phrases reflect the narrator’s tweaking of Torquemada’s affected speech):

The things God accomplishes! That rascal Torquemada had extraordinary luck in everything, and never touched a transaction that did not turn out like a charm, with neat and safe profits, as though he had spent his life doing good works and Divine Providence wanted to reward him hugely. Why did fortune favor him, when his methods of getting rich had been so base? And what kind of Providence is it which understands the logic of the phenomenon thus, as the miser had remarked in connection with something quite different? No one can fathom the mysterious relationship between the moral life and the financial, or business, life, and the theory that such currents are going to enrich the arid gournd where the flower of goodness does not and cannot grow. This is why the poor and honest majority believes that money is crazy; it is why holy religion, confounded by the monstrous iniquity with which currency is distributed and stored away, and, not knowing how to console us, does so with disdain for riches, which of many is a fool’s consolation. At any rate, be it known that Donoso’s foresighted friendship had surrounded Don Francisco [Torquemada] with very honorable persons who could assist him in increasing his hoard. The stockbroker, who was his associate in the buying and selling of shares, was a man of the most exquisite honesty in addition to possessing an astonishing capacity for work. Other go-betweens who offered him discounts on notes of hand, shares on margin, and a host of deals whose honorableness no one would have dared to put to the test, were nevertheless the best of their ilk. It is true that they, with their good mercantile sense of smell, understood from the very first day that Torquemada was not easily gulled, and perhaps the foundations of their ethical behavior rested upon this, together with the fact that Don Francisco, a man of extraordinary perspicacity in such dealings, guessed their thoughts before they were revealed in words. It was from this reciprocal knowledge, from this interpenetration of desires, that perfect agreement among cronies resulted, as well as a fat profit from their operations. And here we are in the presence of a fact that explains the monstrous gifts of mad luck and the paradox that scoundrels do grow rich. We must not talk so much about blind fortune, or believe the fable that she goes about with bandaged eyes. That is an invention of cheap symbolism! It is not so, no indeed. Nor need we admit that Providence protected Torquemada simply to infuriate all poor and sentimental honest men. It was—let us speak plainly—it was that Don Francisco had a talent of the first magnitude for business, an aptitude nurtured during thirty years of apprenticeship in small-scale moneylending, and later developed on a very large scale in a broader milieu. The education of that talent had been hard, amid privations and horrendous battles with undependable humanity, and from it he drew a very profound knowledge of people, solely in the area of needing to have, or not needing to have, patience, obvious appreciation of a certain percentage, tenacity, and exquisite calculation of opportunity. These qualities, later applied to large-scale operations, were polished and acquired a formidable development, as Donoso and the other powerful friends who were gradually added to the circle soon observed.

All of them acknowledged him to be an uncultivated man, vulgar and sometimes brutally egotistical; but at the same time they saw that he had a masterly eye for business, a completely reliable knack which gave him irrefutable authority, so that although all of them considered themselves his betters in general life, they deferred to the ruffian in that specialized branch of give and take, and listened to him as to one of the Church fathers—father of a financial church, that is. Ruiz Ochon, Arnáiz’s nephews, and others, who through Donoso’s good offices began to frequent the house on the Calle de Silva, chatted with the moneylender, making a show of superiority to him; but really they were spying out his thoughts in hopes of appropriating them. They were the swineherds and Torquemada the pig who, by sniffing the ground, uncovered the hidden truffles, and the place where they saw him rooting was a sure stroke of business. (pages 230 – 231)

At the risk of this post running too long, it’s worth including Torquemada’s view on literature (“twaddle” and “puffing poets”) since I wonder how much of this reflects Galdós’ views, particularly on the worth of labels:

”Dammit!” he said on a certain occasion. “What does this business about classic mean, I wonder? What terms these gentry use! I’ve heard tell of the classic stew and the classic mantilla, but I can’t see what something classic, when they’re talking about poems or plays, has to do with chick-peas or Almagro lace. The fact is that these fellows who spout off such infusions about the big and little of literary things always talk in code, and the devil himself couldn’t understand them. And then all this about romanticism, what can it be? What sauce do you eat that with? And I also wish somebody would explain the aesthetic emotion to me, though I imagine it’s something like a person’s having a fit. And what does realism mean, for it’s nothing to do with the realm or any damned thing like that!” (page 233)

Rafael, Torquemada’s blind brother-in-law, continues with his strict condemnation of Torquemada, often noting that even with his blindness he sees the compromise the family has made and the moral bargaining their so-called friends make regarding Torquemada’s wealth. He excoriates his sister Cruz for her role in the debasement of the family honor, telling her God will punish her because “what you have done will have its reward, not in the life to come but in this one, for, since you’re not bad enough to go to hell, you will have to purge your sins here, here on earth.” (pages 236 – 237) While believing it beneath his dignity to insult Torquemada (to his face, anyway), Rafael feels burdened by the compromise he has committed in accepting the moneylender’s hospitality. Even when judging himself harshly, he doesn’t relent in his abuse of Cruz and the “soft demoralization” he believes has happened: “Sate yourselves with riches, with luxury, with vanity, with all the garbage that has replaced the refined delicacy of pure and noble sentiments. Let him pay you what you are worth.” (page 240)

I want to spend some time introducing Pepe Serrano Morentín, Rafael’s fellow student from university days and general cad-about-town. Galdós, by extension, harshes on the younger generation’s mellow (ellipses are mine, except for the last one):

He was a bachelor, of lower-class extraction on his father’s side and aristocratic on his mother’s, hence a hybrid socially like almost all the present generation; excellent manners, well suited to the present state of society, which his ample fortune made him consider the best of all possible worlds; complacent because he had been born handsome and possessed the qualities which usually excite no envy; without sufficient intelligence to feel the painful attractions of an ideal, without sufficient coarseness of spirit to be unaware of intellectual pleasures; lacking the great satisfactions of triumphant pride, but also the sorrows of the ambitious man who never reaches his goal; a man possessing neither vice nor virtues in high degree… .Although he rode for two or three hours every day, he had never been carried away by enthusiasm for horses, nor by the fever of gambling, nor of women, apart from a certain degree of involvement that never reaches the point of drama or exceeds the limits of a discreet, elegant, and urbane kind of love affair. In a word, he was very much a man of his time, or of his day, spiritually equipped with a sort of gilded commonplaceness, with a dozen and a half ready-made ideas of the kind that seem to come from the factory in little labeled packages, fastened with an elastic band. … And in the moral sphere, Morentín defended decent behavior both in public and in private, but this did not mean that he was free of the mild relaxation of morals that is scarcely felt by those who live with it.

He was one of those cases, not so very rare to be sure, of a satisfied life, for he possessed moderate wealth, was rightly considered to be enlightened, and his society was very agreeable to ladies. The height of his ambition had been to be a member of Parliament, simply to exhibit the office, with no pretensions to a political career or fame as an orator. … And, to complete the picture, even the rascal’s vanity as a cool and successful adulterer had been satisfied, and he had nothing left to aspire to or to ask from God…or whomever it is one asks for such things. pages 248 – 250)

Rafael accuses Morentín of being Fidela’s lover, something Morentín denies. At this point the reader has no reason to believe in the affair but the following scene, an interrupted conversation between the cad and Fidela, leaves the accusation open to belief because of what appears to be their flirting. Morentín later confirms his intention to seduce Fidela to one of his and Rafael’s mutual friends. (There’s a nice reference to Clarissa with Morentín being told he was seen “doing the Lovelace.”)

In Chapter 11, Galdós muses on the “leveling” of society, at least along certain lines. “Let us recognize that in our time, a time of uniformity and a physical and moral leveling process, generic types have become outworn and that, in the slow twilight of the old world, those traits represented by large portions of the human family—classes, groups, moral categories---are gradually disappearing.” Galdós, for the most part doesn’t express a strong opinion about this change, although he does favorably mention the progress of industry and the lowering of tariffs as a good thing for everyone, even if does cause “great confusion in our minds in the matter of types.” The exception must have been something close to home—the pedant. “What is most confusing nowadays is that the current pedants are not as amusing as those others were, and since they do not possess amusing qualities, there is no way to recognize them at first sight.” I wonder if he had particular critics in mind? “The modern pedant is dry, diffuse, peevish, pugnacious, incapable of amusing anyone.” (page 266)

Torquemada isn’t blind to what others think of him, even if he only sometimes understands the reasons. Cruz is the one person that persistently confounds him. She always gets “the better of him with her arrogance, with her brutal logic, and the skinflint was unable to defend himself against her authority”. (page 275) Her authority was pretty much absolute in the house:

Cruz ruled and would always rule, whatever the flock entrusted to her care; she ruled because, since the day she was born, heaven had endowed her with powerful energies, and because by battling with her fate during the long years of poverty, those energies had been tempered and strengthened until they were colossal, irresistible. She was government, diplomacy, administration, religious dogma, armed forces, and moral force, and against this combination of authorities or principles the wretches who came under her iron rule were helpless.(page 278)

In the battle between Torquemada and Cruz, she will not let him forget he is her creation—his improvement in his social standing and the influx of wealth (and the associated outflow of it) are due to her will. Torquemada sees “tyranny and women” as “what this devilish marriage machine is made of.” Torquemada’s joy at finding out Fidela is pregnant, convinced it is “my own son who’s coming back, because I wanted him to, and because it was decreed by the Most High, or the Most Low, or whoever it was!” leads him to believe he can escape their tyranny…

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