Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Torquemada on the Cross - Story outline

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
3. Torquemada in Purgatory (1894)
4. Torquemada and Saint Peter (1895)

(Cruz del Aguila) “Certain ideas are very deeply rooted in him [Rafael]—family feeling, pride of breeding, noble tradition. I too used to feel that, but over the years I have left it behind, caught on the brambles of the path. I’ve fallen and dragged myself on so many times that vulgarity has had the better of me. My brother keeps up his old attitude as a person of noble descent, enamored of dignity and a few other things which can’t be eaten and which no one has ever been able to eat in hard times.” (page 169)

(Rafael del Aguila) “You, Cándido, who are young and have eyes, must see wonderful things in this society made vile by business and positivistic attitudes. What goes on today, because it is so strange, allows us to foresee what is going to happen. What is happening today? The indigent populace, envious of the rich, threatens them, terrifies them, and wants to destroy them with bombs and diabolical devices of death. After this will come something else, which you will see when the smoke of these battles has lifted. In the times that are to come, ruined aristocrats, dispossessed of the properties by middle-class usurers and traders, will feel impelled to take revenge. They will want to destroy that selfish breed, those gross and vicious members of the bourgeoisie who, after absorbing the assets of the Church, have become masters of the State, who monopolize power and wealth, and want for their coffers all the money of rich and poor alike, and for their marriage beds the women of the aristocracy. You will surely see it, Cándido. We, the master who, even though they are like me, have eyes to see where they are wounding, will hurl explosive machines against that whole crowd of vile, irreligious peddlers, who are eaten up with vice and sated with base enjoyments. You will see it, you will surely see it.” (pages 215-216)

Dr. Rhian Davies provides a helpful summary page of the Torquemada novels at The Pérez Galdós Editions Project. Instead of one rambling essay I’m going to break what I had intended into more manageable posts.

Torquemada at the Stake ends just after the death of Torquemada’s son, Valentín, and the father’s renouncement of doing good works. Torquemada on the Cross begins with the death of Doña Lupe and Torquemada’s promise to her to unite with the Aguila family. Torquemada follows through on Doña Lupe’s request despite his initial missteps. Even with the riches he has earned over the years, Torquemada finds himself flummoxed when he meets the Aguila family, a noble family despite their poverty. Torquemada finds a social model in Don José Ruiz Donoso: “[T]his was his man, his prototype, what he must and would be now that he was rich and worthy of an honorable place in society.” (page 102) Torquemada discovers he no longer enjoys being around his immediate family, associates, and clients because of their vulgarity, even though his changes are mostly superficial (as well as comical).

Doña Lupe may have planted the idea of combining the Aguila family with Torquemada but Donoso brings it to fruition. The members of the Aguila family, sisters Cruz and Fidela and blind brother Rafael, react differently to Donoso’s proposal that one of the sisters marry Torquemada. Cruz, tired of bearing responsibility of managing the family’s poverty, all but commands Fidela to wed the moneylender. The terms the female Aguilas use to describe Torquemada and the proposal—“scarecrow,” “grotesque,” “sacrifice,” “ghastly,” “holocaust,” “ghastly”—contrast with their outward civility and acceptance of the marriage. During the wedding planning, Torquemada dreams his dead son asks for assistance in returning to the world, implying a son born to Fidela and Torquemada would be Valentín reincarnated.

Rafael refuses to accept the proposed wedding and the new living quarters Torquemada has leased, finding his sisters’ acquiescence to the merger human weakness at its worst. He would rather be honorably poor than accept the money from “crude and grotesque” Torquemada. Rafael slips out of the house one evening, taking a symbolic journey back to his parents’ mansion where they lived before their financial ruin and his blindness. Rafael eventually finds his way to the house of the family’s former housekeeper. Everyone agrees it would be best for Rafael to stay with the former housekeeper until after the wedding. The wedding day (August 4, 1889 for those keeping score) turns into a comedic fiasco with the bride extremely ill and Torquemada offensively drunk. Torquemada insists his son-in-law Quevedito cure Fidela immediately—he has a son to reincarnate, after all.

The book ends with Donoso bringing Rafael to the new house at Fidela’s request. Torquemada sees Rafael there and exclaims “The whole family together again…the beau ideal!” Something tells me the sequels won’t contain the perfect beauty he imagines.

Later this week I’ll post on a few of the themes and another post looking more in depth at several of the characters.

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