Friday, September 21, 2012

Pérez Galdós: The Illusion of Life itself

At the risk of turning into the Galdós channel (all Galdós, all the time), I plan on intermittent posts on the author and Fortunata and Jacinta over the next few weeks. Hopefully they will be helpful for anyone thinking about exploring the author or book. In this post I want to highlight The Pérez Galdós Editions Project as a great resource. The Annual Pérez Galdós Lecture page (currently) has the transcripts for ten of the lectures.

The first lecture, given by Roy Hattersley (the British Labour politician and author), focuses on the question of realism in Galdós’ novels and provides the title of this post. He delves into issues in That Bringas Woman, which I recently covered (translated as The Spendthrifts), and several other novels including Fortunata and Jacinta. Along the way he references a wide range of material, from Thomas Hardy to Monty Python’s Flying Circus to East Enders.

I’d also like to mention the fifth lecture given by Professor James Whiston—Galdós: Our Contemporary. Focusing on Galdós’ output from 1884 to 1887, he touches on the relevance of Galdós today:
What never ceases to amaze those of us who have given over significant portions of our lives to studying Galdós's work is how this Canary Islander, from the then very provincial backwater of Las Palmas, is of relevance today. He came from a background and a period many of whose great social institutions of his time, which were the subject of his novels, have since passed into history: the power of the Church, the culture of arranged marriages, the tight restricting bonds and conventions of family and social life, the legal and social subordination of women, the pivotal role as social centres of the coffee houses of Madrid, the marginalization of what the Victorians called the lower classes. Galdós was able to use such institutions and conventions when writing about the personal search for some authentic means of finding one's role in the human drama. Galdós was fortunate to live at a time when the tension between the search for personal authenticity (following the European Romantic movement) and the demands of institutions and social conventions was at a sufficient pitch to enable him to exploit this tension, for artistic as well as for commercial purposes. It is in his artistic conjugation of these three words, 'personal', 'social' and 'human' that Galdós found a voice in his contemporary novels to speak to us today.

Keep this lecture in mind when you get to the end of Fortunata and Jacinta--Professor Whiston goes into detail on several scenes in the novel and provides the original version of a pivotal scene near the end.

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