Thursday, August 30, 2012

La Regenta by Leopoldo Alas: Excerpts

A post for some extended quotes from La Regenta. The first excerpt looks at Ana’s situation (note the passage is in quotes—see my introduction for Alas’ use of a character’s voice). While preparing for general confession, Ana Ozores reflects on her life. In a novel full of frustration, Alas creates remarkable inner worlds. Ana is a great example:
‘But that wasn’t the point. She was dying of boredom. She was twenty-seven years old, her youth was slipping away, for twenty-seven years, in a woman, were the threshold of old age, and she was already knocking at the door. Not once had she enjoyed those delights of love about which everyone talks, which are the subject of plays, novels and even history. Love is the only thing worth living for, she had often heard and read. But what love? Where was this love? She had never experienced it. And she remembered, half in shame half in anger, that her honeymoon had meant no more than futile arousal, a false alarm for senuality, a cruel practical joke. Yes, yes, why try to keep the fact hidden from herself when her memory was shouting it at her? On the first night, when she awoke in the bridal bed and became aware of a magistrate breathing at her side, it seemed absurd and impertinent that if Señof Quintanar was in there with her he was not wearing his long machine-knitted frock-coat and his back flannel trousers. She remembered that the inevitable physical pleasure had been an embarrassment, a mockery and a source of bewilderment: lying with that man, against her will, reminded her of the phrase spoken on Ash Wednesday, quia pulvis es—thou art ashes, you are mere matter—but at the same time it threw light on the meaning of all those things she had read in her books of mythology and overheard in the mischievous whispering of servants and shepherds. To think of what it could have meant—and what it had meant! And in that prison of chastity she was not even left with the consolation of being considered a martyr and a heroine. She remembered, too, the envious words and curious looks directed at her by Doña Agueda (R.I.P.) [one of Ana’s spinsterish aunts] during the first few days after the marriage; she remembered that although she had never spoken disrespectfully to her aunts she had needed to make a great effort not to scream “Idiot!” when she saw her aunt looking at her in that way. And life had gone on and on in the same manner. She had suffered the same existence in Granada, in Saragossa, in Granada again, and then in Valladolid. And nobody even felt sorry for her. No question of children. True, Don Victor did not pester her. He had soon tired of playing the beau and had by degrees adopted the role of greybeard, for which he was better suited. Oh, as a father, certainly, he was lovable! She could not go to bed at night without his kiss on her forehead. But spring would come around, and she would try to make him kiss her on the mouth; for it filled her with remorse not to love him as a husband, not to desire his caresses and, furthermore, she was afraid of senses aroused in vain. All this was a great injustice and she did not know who was responsible for it, an incurable pain which did not even have the attractions of poetic suffering, a shameful pain, like the illnesses she had seen named in advertisements on lamps painted green and red, in Madrid. How was she going to confess all this—above all in this way, as it was in her mind? For confessing it meant just that.

‘And youth was slipping away, like those little clouds of crinkled silver passing in front of the moon on speedy wings. They were silvery now, but they went rushing on, flying on, away from that bath of light, falling into the dark abyss of old age, miserable old age, where there was no hope of love. Behind these silver fleeces crossing the sky like flocks of birds, loomed a great black cloud which extended to the horizon. And then the images were reversed, and it was the mon which was rushing on, to fall into the black chasm, and put out its light in that sea of darkness.

‘She was just the same. Like the moon, she was rushing through life alone, to plunge into the abyss of old age; into the darkness of the soul, where there was no love, no hope of love—oh no, no, not that!’

(pages 210-211)

After enjoying Volume One of the novel, Volume Two proves to be even better. It starts off with Ana’s first play, appropriately enough Don Juan Tenorio. The real life Don Juan trying to seduce her, Don Alvaro Mesía, watches and listens to her reaction. Alas, as usual, cannot refrain from inserting a critic's note:

Ana did not hear her husband’s words. She was beginning to take a real interest in the play, and when the curtain dropped she was left with a keen curiosity about the result of the wager between Don Juan and Mejía. …

The second act started and Don Alvaro noted that he had a powerful rival that evening: the play. Ana began to appreciate the artistic worth of Zorrilla’s enterprising, foolhardy, brave, wily Don Juan. She was fascinated by him, as were Doña Ana de Pantaoja’s maid and the go-between, Brígida, who offered him the love of the novice Doña Inés like a piece of merchandise. The dark, narrow lane, the corner under Doña Ana’s grated window, Ciutti’s diligence; Don Juan’s schemes; Mejía’s arrogance; the adventurer’s first provisional seduction, in which he did not have to give any proof of his valour; the fiendish preparations for the great adventure—the attack on the convent—it all moved the judge’s wife to her very soul with its fresh, dramatic vigour which many people cannot appreciate, either because they were introduced to the play before they had the critical powers to enjoy it, and as a result are immune to its beauty, or because they do not know chalk from cheese. Ana marveled at the poetry in those lanes of canvas, which she saw as transformed into solid constructions of another age—and marveled no less at the scorn with which it was viewed and heard in boxes and stalls. The gallery, joyful and enthusiastic, seemed much more intelligent and cultured than the high society of Vetusta.

Ana felt herself transported to the times of Don Juan, which she imagined as vague historical romanticism would have that they were. Her sentimental egotism returned and she began to regret not having been born four or five centuries earlier. … The third act was a revelation of passionate poetry. Ana shuddered when she saw Doña Inés in her cell. The novice looked so like her! … With her eyes riveted on the novice, oblivious of everything but what was happening on stage, she feasted on the poetry of that chaste cell into which love was filtering through the walls. Mesía was surprised and even upset by Ana’s enthusiasm. Talking about Don Juan Tenorio as if it were a brand-new play! Really, by now Zorrilla’s Don Juan was only good for parodying!

(pages 374-377)

The canon theologian, Fermín de Pas, suffers several set-backs to his influence in Vetusta. The daughter of a wealthy citizen has died and the city holds de Pas responsible (the convent was in an unhealthy location and the canon had supported her decision to become a nun). While his mother oversees the operations of La Cruz Roja, a shop that has a sanctioned monopoly on religious goods, the life of the former competition (Don Santos Barinaga) falls apart. A drunkard, he roams the city at night after the taverns close and shouts about his treatment by the canon and his mother. Enemies of de Pas use Barinaga’s declining health to bludgeon the canon’s reputation without bothering to help the sick man:

Sister Teresa’s death was a blow which made the canon totter in that lofty place which his enemies imagined him to occupy, and even overshadowed poor Don Santos Barinaga for a time. After a few weeks, though, this victim again began to shine in his halo, and Vetusta solicitously redirected its false piety and feigned amiability towards him, like an uncaring stepmother playing out the farce of being a second mother. For, in truth, the life or death of Don Santos was of little consequence to most Vetustans. Nobody had offered a hand to help him out of his poverty, and people even continued to call him a drunkard; yet everyone was indignant with the vicar-general, everyone cursed the man responsible for so much misfortune, and everyone felt satisfied, believing, or pretending to believe, that the indignation and the curses would keep Charity happy.

‘Oh! In these times of ours,’ Foja shouted in the Gentlemen’s Club, ‘in these times, slandered by the enemies of progress—in these so-called materialistic, corrupt times—nobody can insult with impunity the philanthropic sentiments of the people without a unanimous voice being raised to protest in the name of outraged humanity. Poor Don Santos Barinaga, the victim of the scandalous monopoly of La Cruz Roja, is dying of hunger in the deserted warehouses where once shone sacred vessels, patens and pyxes, lamps and candlesticks, together with a hundred and one other articles of worship. He is dying in that corner and he is dying of hunger, gentlemen, through the fault of the simonist whom we all know; he is dying, yes, he will die. But the man who employs tricks to make a mockery of our commercial law and the laws of the Church, engaging in trade althrough he is a priest; the man who is starving poor citizen Barrinaga to death—that man will not rejoice in his works for long, because the tide of public indignation is rising, rising—and finally it will swallow the hated tyrant!’

In spite of this speech and other similar ones, it did not occur to Foja to send Don Santos a hen so that some broth could be made for him.

All the other theoretical defenders of the ruined tradesman behaved in the same way. They proclaimed with one voice that he was dying of hunger, but not one of them took him a piece of bread. Only a few even went to see him. Foja would enter the house and immediately go away again, it being sufficient for his purposes to ensure that the poor old fellow was still sick and destitute. He would hurry off to heap abuse upon that man, believing this was the way to serve the good cause of progress and solidary humanity.

(pages 512-513)

Victor Quintanar has long been a fan of the theater, but when he finds out Ana has been unfaithful to him he struggles over the gradual realization that life is not a play:

‘But now his turn had come. This was his own cloak-and-dagger drama. They existed in life, too. But how unpleasant they were, how horrible! How could all that treachery and death and hatred be so entertaining in verse and in the theatre? How wicked man was! Why would one enjoy such sorrow when others were suffering it, if it was so painful with it came one’s own way? … He cried like an old man; he remembered that he was an old man. The idea had never occurred to him. His temperament had deceived him, shamming an endless youth; misfortune, attacking him so suddenly, had, like a shower of rain, washed all the dye out of the grey hairs of his spirit. … Grief and self-pity brought other ideas to his mind—ideas more natural and opportune than those aroused, amid the fantasies of fever and of sleepiness, by false indignation inspired by romantic readings and opposed by lethargy, self-concern and weakness of character. …

'Kill her! That was soon said, but kill her! Bah—actors are quick to kill, poets too, because they do not kill—but an honourable person, a Christian does not kill the people to whom he is tied by all the bonds of affection and habit, so soon, or without dying of grief himself.'

(pages 669-670)

All quotes from the novel from the Penguin Classics edition shown below, translated with an introduction by John Rutherford. At the time of publication Rutherford was a Fellow of The Queen's College, Oxford. I've tried to maintain the spelling provided in the book, but automated spellchecking may change words to an Americanized spelling.

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