Friday, March 09, 2012

Torquemada on the Cross—Characters

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)
4. Torquemada and Saint Peter (1895)

[The beginning of Cruz’s prayer after finding out Torquemada wanted to wed one of the Aguila sisters] ”No, Holy Virgin and Eternal Father and all the heavenly powers, not I…I am not the one who must make this sacrifice to save us all from death. My sister must do it, she is the one, she is younger; she, who has scarcely had to fight. I am exhausted by this horrible battle with fate. I can’t stand any more, I’ll fall, I’ll die. Ten years of frightful warfare, always on watch, always in the front line, warding off blows, taking care of everything, inventing ruses to gain a week, a day, hours; hiding my grief so that the others would not lose courage; eating thistles and drinking gall so that the others could live! No, Lord, I have done my part; I am relieved from this obligation; my turn is over. Now it’s time for me to rest, to quietly rule the others. And Fidela, my little sister, who is coming under fire now in this unknown combat that is going to take place; she Is reserve troops; she is young and spirited, and still has rosy hopes. I have none; I am good for nothing, much less for marriage…and with that poor scarecrow!” (page 148, ellipsis in original)

Dr. Rhian Davies provides a helpful summary page of the Torquemada novels at The Pérez Galdós Editions Project. As I mentioned in the previous post, Galdós’ characters are very complex and rarely is one completely good or completely bad. I wanted to pause and delve into a few of the characters in this novel.
(See the links above for more background on the novel.)

Torquemada continues to be a fantastic creation. The name usually evokes either fear or revulsion (or both) because of his famous namesake, so the main character's suffering, as alluded to in the titles, seems somewhat ironic. His pain in Torquemada at the Stake is easy to see because of his son’s death but the agony could also allude to his frantic desperation to produce good deeds, something previously avoided.

What does he suffer in Torquemada on the Cross? All the situations (save one) that might possibly be called suffering are amusing to the reader, even if they do cause Torquemada agony. He embarrasses himself in meeting Cruz del Aguila. He struggles in helping the Aguila family regarding the debt they owe him because he “could not find suitable words to express the cancellation of interest. He possessed infinite ways of saying the opposite, but he did not know a word of the language of generosity, even by hearsay.” (page 96) His awkwardness in fine society and his attempt to copy Donoso’s example produces laughter in other characters as well as the reader. When Torquemada allows Donoso to arrange things with one of the Aguila sisters his agitation becomes palpable when he realizes he forgot to find out which sister he is to wed.

The real pain Torquemada feels (where the reader will feel sympathy) is the loss of his son Valentín. The pain is amplified after he has a bizarre dream in which his son says he is ready to return to the world. The desire to make this happen (implied as reincarnation) feeds Torquemada’s anxiety about the wedding—he wants to proceed straight to making this happen despite his bride’s illness.

Cruz del Aguila
Galdós structures Torquemada on the Cross so that you find out events from Torquemada’s perspective in Part One. The reader meets Cruz and her siblings as the miser sees them—honorable, gracious, humble, and hard-working. The perspective changes in Part Two and the reader hears Cruz’s inner thoughts. The narrator recounts the family’s difficulties and how Cruz handles their poverty. The cross to bear from the title could have applied to Cruz: “To go shopping without money, or with less money than she needed, was for so dignified a lady a torture beside which all the tortures invented by Dante in his terrible Inferno pales into insignificance.” (page 142)

This post’s opening quote, from the beginning of Cruz’s prayer after finding out Torquemada wanted to marry either her or Fidela, begins simply enough. She views their poverty as a battle and her role as general, but she is tired from bearing so much of the burden. The prayer begins to take a less savory turn, at least between the lines, and begins to read more like a rationalization of accepting Torquemada into the family in order to be wealthy again and not just for easing their plight. Despite all of Cruz’s sweetness there is a hard edge to her that she keeps under control and hidden (most of the time) that is slowly revealed to the reader. This edge begins to surface in her discussions with her brother Rafael, who is adamant in his objection to the marriage. As Cruz tries to persuade him to accept the marriage, it becomes easier to question her motives. She lies to Rafael at one point in order to neutralize one of his arguments. Cruz finally lashes out at Rafael, rebuking his unwillingness to soften his stance:

“You became blind: you have not seen the transformation of the world and the times. You don’t see the painful part of our present abject poverty and the humiliation in which we live. The blackest aspect, the one that cuts to the soul and destroys it most, is the aspect you do not know, cannot know. By the power of imagination, you still live in that brilliant world, full of falsehoods.” (page 161)

Just as Galdós presents brilliant and noble Cruz in a manner to cause doubts about her motives, he also portrays the least agreeable character of the book with good traits. Rafael’s blindness occurred shortly after the family became destitute. His blindness is often used symbolically for his unwillingness to see or accept the situation his family is in. He muses aloud several times that he would be better off dead, wondering if the reason God blinded him was to save him from seeing such ignominy. He turns on his sister, the women that have sacrificed so much for him: “I know that it’s a matter of legal marriage. You are selling yourselves, by the good offices or connivances of Holy Church. It comes to the same thing. The shame is no less for that.” (page 156)

Through the terms Rafael uses for Torquemada, though, the reader begins to wonder how much of Rafael’s stance rests on principle and how much on snobbery. He insults the miser for being a “leech who feeds on the poor” and accruing his wealth through dishonest means. Yet he has survived in no small part due to the business dealings of Torquemada’s business associate Doña Lupe and others of their profession. I mentioned in the previous post that Donoso has implied that the sources of wealth for the nouveau riche may not be that different from the older nobility. Rafael continually sugarcoats the past without asking the same questions of it that he asks of the present:

“Among the Torre-Auñóns there has never been anyone who engaged in that shady business of buying and selling things—merchandise, stocks and bonds, that sort of thing. All of them were gentlemen, hidalgos who lived off the products of their inherited lands, or honorable soldiers who died for king and country, or highly respectable priests. Even the poor members of that breed were always models of nobility. Oh, let me leave this world and return to my world, the other world, the past!” (page 182)

Instead of living with Torquemada, Rafael declares he will live off the charity and alms of others and that God “will provide him a charitable soul.” The sisters cannot convince him that God just did in the form of Torquemada (see the opening quotes of the outline post for additional quotes from Cruz and Rafael). Even with all these negative traits, Rafael's unswerving principles contrast favorably with the superficial nature of the society around him.

The next two are just for fun…

Justa Donoso
Don José Ruiz Donoso’s wife never makes an appearance in this book, but that doesn’t mean she can’t be introduced. Donoso had

“a wife who was, without the slightest doubt, the sickliest woman in creation. In the long catalogue of ailments that afflict miserable humanity, none was ever known that had not lodged itself in her poor body, nor was there a single part of that body which was not a pathological case worthy of study by all the practitioners in the world.” (page 138)

The tertulia that gathers at the Cruz’s apartment received steady updates on the status of Justa’s suffering:

“Every night Donoso enjoyed depicting, with heavy strokes, a painful ailment different from that of the previous night. And though he never spoke of hopes or probabilities of cure, because to be cured would have meant stripping the catalogue of illnesses of all their Dantesque majesty, he did, however, always have something to say about the continuous application of remedies, which were tested by a sort of therapeutic dilettantism, and would continue to be tested as long as there were pharmacies and pharmacists in the world.”

After Rafael runs away from home, he stops to rest on a bench:

”Two stray dogs came up to him and smelled and nuzzled him. Rafael tried to keep them beside him with friendly words, but the two animals, who must have been endowed with great penetration and intelligence, realized that they would get little or nothing from him. After both, in leisurely fashion, had infringed the municipal ordinances on the blind man’s bench, they went off in search of more profitable adventures. (pages 196-197)

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