Galdós loves to set up comparisons. Juan Santa Cruz was a spoiled only child that never wanted for anything. As the mercurial lad grew up (but never matured), his parents abetted his proclivities and smoothed over his indiscretions. Others often view him as a “divine creature.” The parents had waited impatiently for a decade after marriage before Juan was conceived. Jacinta, though, was one of seven daughters in the Arnáiz family, the mother emaciated and misshapen from her almost constant pregnancies. The father lamented the cost of clothing them while the mother paraded them for marriage as items for sale or, as Galdós describes the brood, “the sample case.” The parents realize they can’t be choosy in the daughters’ marriages, so when Juan’s mother proposes the idea that Juan marry his cousin Jacinta (more on this relationship and its implications much later) the news “hit the Arnáiz family like a bomb,” as if they had won the lottery.
The comparison between the generations provides a starker contrast. Juan’s parents have been hard working while he’s been coddled. That he wants to do nothing isn’t solely his fault—his father goes out of his way to provide a life for him that he didn’t have until he was much older. Some of the symbolism highlighting the differences is starker, though. The parents share a box at the theater while Juan and Jacinta occupy separate boxes. And, more tellingly, the older couple share the same sturdy bed while the younger couple sleep in separate beds.
Jacinta knows that Juan has other women on the side at times but chooses to ignore his activity. When pushed, Juan deftly avoids the questions while dressing the truth up “in a frock coat” to make it more presentable. Her childlessness weighs on her, absorbing her so fully that she ignores the good things she had. Jacinta tries to make up for this by taking care of her nieces and nephews but finds an unbridgeable gap—they aren’t hers (insert ironic foreshadowing melody here). The need for children goes deeper than simply having a child to love…Jacinta craves affection. Her marriage incompletely provides what she wants.
Hopefully this helps set the stage for the following scene. Jacinta didn’t want to go to the opera this evening but she was cajoled into attending. She falls asleep during the performance and her repressed sexuality surfaces in a bizarre dream (ellipsis in original):
Lulled by this music, the lady fell into a deep sleep and had one of those intense and brief dreams in which the brain recreates reality in high relief, showing an admirable histrionic sense. The impression left by these lethargies is usually much stronger than that produced by many external phenomena. Jacinta found herself in a place that was and was not her house… Everything was lined in the white flowered satin that she and Barbarita had seen the day before at Sobrino’s shop. She was sitting on a puffy cushion and a beautiful little boy was climbing up over her knees, first touching her face, then putting his hand on her breast. “Stop it, stop it! It’s a dirty thing, it’s bad. You don’t want to touch that!” But the little boy wouldn’t stop. He was wearing a shirt of fine Dutch linen, and his delicate flesh slid over the silk of his mamá’s bathrobe. It was the powder-blue bathrobe she had given to her sister Canelaria weeks ago… “No, no; don’t do that! It’s dirty…” But he went right on insisting, stubborn and adorable. He wanted to unbutton her bathrobe and put his hand inside. Then he pushed his head against her breast. Seeing that this didn’t get him anywhere, he became serious, so extraordinarily serious that he seemed like a grown man. He looked at her with huge intense eyes, moist now, expressing with them and his mouth all the sorrow of which humanity is capable. Adam wouldn’t have looked otherwise on the good he was losing when he was banished from Paradise. Jacinta wanted to laugh but she couldn’t because the little boy pierced her soul with his burning gaze. A long time passed in this way, the child-man looking at his mother, and slowly melting her firmness with the power of his eyes. Jacinta felt something tearing inside her. Not knowing what she was doing, she unbuttoned one button, then another. But the boy’s face didn’t lose its seriousness. The mother was alarmed and…then the third button…still nothing; the child’s face and expression remained stern, with a beautiful gravity that was becoming terrible. The fourth button, the fifth, all the buttons slid through their buttonholes making the material strain. She lost count of the buttons she’d undone. There were a hundred, maybe a thousand. But not even with that many… His face began to seem distrustful, immobile. Finally, Jacinta put her hand into her robe, took out the breast the boy wanted, and looked at it, feeling sure that he wouldn’t be mad anymore when he saw such a pretty, full bosom. But no. Then she took the boy by his head and drew him up to her, putting her breast into his mouth… But his mouth was insensitive and his lips didn’t move. His whole face looked like a statue’s. The touch Jacinta felt on this very delicate area of her skin was the horrifying friction of chalk, friction from a rough, dusty surface. This contact made her shudder and left her dumbfounded for awhile; then she opened her eyes and realized that her sisters were there; she saw the large, heavy, painted curtains flanking the stage, the crowded side sections of the upper gallery. It took her awhile to register where she was and what nonsense she had been dreaming, and she put her hand on her breast with a modest and fearful gesture. She heard the orchestra, which was still imitating mosquitoes, and upon looking at her husband’s box she saw Frederico Ruiz, the great music lover, his head thrown back, his mouth half open, listening and savoring every bit of the delicious music from the muted violins. It seemed as if the clearest and sweetest and finest stream imaginable was being poured into his mouth. The man was in ecstasy. The lady saw other rabid music lovers in the boxes; but the fourth act was already over and Juan hadn’t appeared.
(Vol. I, Ch. VIII, 2)
What she wouldn’t find out until much later in the novel is that Juan, the man-child that is sometimes intimate with her and sometimes pursuing other women, was attending to the death and funeral of the son he had with Fortunata.
I’m eager to hear what those reading Fortunata and Jacinta (or have already read it) thought of this strange passage.