Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Spendthrifts (La de Bringas) by Benito Pérez Galdós: Me-ow! Torquemada! Krausism!

Sorry for the tabloid-style heading, but this post will be a jumble of things that turned up in the book that I enjoyed and wanted to share.

So far Galdós’ novel has shown him at his cattiest of the few books I’ve read by him, as the posts so far have demonstrated some good examples. In focusing on a few individuals and their desire to live well above their means, presenting a false front with no substance, Galdós frames his novel as a commentary on the bankruptcy (moral and fiscal) of Spain leading up to the Glorious Revolution. His targets include almost everyone associated with the administration and much of the society. The previous two posts make it clear that Galdós valued competence over titles, effective acts over empty gestures. But there are so many snide whispers he makes that I wanted to post a couple more in order to share Galdós’ mischievous side. In La Regenta, a book that was critical about most of what it described, I mentioned Leopoldo Alas does plenty of this as well, almost sounding like a scold at times. In The Spendthrifts, another novel that is sharply critical of Spanish life (although set a little earlier), Galdós’ catty side is much more playful. A couple of examples of his sharp parenthetical style:
What is certain is that the supper was a splendid affair and that a celebrated salon chronicler, writing in that emasculated style which is peculiar to them, praised it to the skies, making use of phrases something between French and Spanish which I shall not reproduce here for fear of making my readers sick. (page 125)

After she had said it she fell into a sort of convulsive fit—what women call an attack of nerves, since they have to call it something… . (page 129)

One of Rosalía Bringas desperate means to cover her debt includes going to a moneylender, who turns out to be Torquemada! We will see him in Fortunata and Jacinta, too. In The Spendthrifts he still has the hard edge about him that will not soften until his own series, although he does grant a slight reprieve to Rosalía that helps her. Here is his description in this book:

Torquemada was a gray haired man of medium height with a four days growth of beard. He was dark and had somehow a clerical air about him; and it was his invariable custom to ask after the health of his client’s family, whether he knew them or not. When he spoke, he separated the words and put asthmatic pauses that made paragraphs in the wrong places, in such a way that the listener could not help feeling that he was catching this difficulty in breathing from him. He accompanied his tiresome discourse with a slow elevation of the right arm, while his thumb and index finger described a sort of doughnut in the air, which he held up before the eyes of the person he was talking to as if it were an object of veneration. (pages 206-7)

My final highlight—a specific mention of Krausism in The Spendthrifts. For more on Krausism, see this post on La Regenta or this article (pages 16-170) for its influence and attempted goals. Don Francisco de Bringas, a first official of the Privy Purse, holds the Queen in high esteem and is quite happy the way things are in Spain. He views all the talk of revolution as subversive, believing that if a revolt happens it will be much worse than the French Revolution. He scolds his son Paquito, a law student, for many of the thoughts he promotes at home:

Another mania with which the boy was poisoning his mind, and which infuriated Don Francisco, was a perverse doctrine known as Krausism. Bringas had heard it described as pestilential by a learned chaplain of his acquaintance. For some time Paquito had been babbling about the I and the Not I, and the other, and the one further off, until he had nearly driven his father crazy. Don Francisco had finally told his son in so many words that, if he didn’t forget all about these new-fangle philosophies, he would take him away from the University and put him in a shop as a clerk. (pages 240-1)

Don Francisco represents a sober side of Spain that Galdós would like to see but the author still toys with him, temporarily blinding him and poking fun at his reactionary ways. I’ll try and wrap up the novel in the next post.

The Spendthrifts by Benito Pérez Galdós; translation by Gamel Woolsey; illustrations by Charles Mozley. Farrar Straus & Young Inc.: New York, 1952.

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