Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Fortunata and Jacinta Volume 1: preliminary notes

Finally, I have a moment to write some notes on Volume 1 of Fortunata and Jacinta. Before delving into excerpts from the novel, I wanted to make some general comments that may (or may not) be helpful in reading the book. These comments aren’t meant to be comprehensive (trust me, they are very impromptu) but hopefully they provide an idea of the sophistication involved.

The overall structure of the novel comes from the title itself, focusing on the lives of the two women. Each of the four volumes introduces (or focuses on the life of) a male character that are central to that part. Layer an array of continually shifting triangles on top of this 2x4 framework and you get an idea of how complicated the novel can be at times. This combination of constancy in structure with variability in particulars mirrors the action in the story.

Many symbols and motifs help unite the shifting triangles. The bird-egg motif is perhaps the most noted one, simply because it is so pervasive. The Trujillo family tree provides not just the symbol of the intertwining branches of the descendants but also the theme of yoking together the Santa Cruz and Arnáiz families:
A scrutiny of their family trees would quickly disclose that the very same sap, the Trujillo sap, ran through various branches of the Arnáiz and Santa Cruz families. “We’re all alike,” [Tubs] Arnáiz once said in one of his more festive, expansive moods, which brought out his democratic sincerity. “We’re both bonafide Trujillos—you on your mother’s side and me on my grandmother’s. We’re descendants of Matías Trujillo, who owned the packsaddle shop on Toledo Street back in the days of the cloak and dagger revolution. I’m not making it up, I have the documents at home. That’s why I told our relative Ramón Trujillo yesterday—who, as you probably know, has been made a count—I told him to use a yoke and a headstall for a coat of arms and write underneath it, ’I belonged to babieca, El Cid’s great horse.’
(Vol. I, Ch. II, 1)

While there are many more symbols and motifs, one that struck me early on in the novel was the commercial nature of the story. The narrator goes into detail on many characters business background as well as the shifting business atmosphere in Madrid, all of which lays the groundwork for the recognition that everything is for sale. While many of the actions in the novel focus on monetary price, the cost/benefit analyses carry over to everyday actions depicted (just as in real life), such as which level to enter the Cava building in order to minimize the number of steps to climb.

Telling the story is Galdós as narrator and character. He relates his meeting or involvement with several of the characters, much as he did in The Spendthrifts (La de Bringas). Omniscient at times, feigning ignorance at others (although never very convincingly), the narrator smoothly drives the story forward and provides exactly what is needed to understand each character. Galdós, the narrator as character, disappears for long stretches of time only to occasionally remind the reader of his existence. Leopoldo Alas (the critic Clarín) noted in an essay about the author that “Galdós is best at writing when he’s not even aware of what he is doing and when the reader is no longer conscious of a presence mediating between the author’s ideas and his own.” There are some self-referential mentions of the story as novel, one I’d like to quote here since the debate it contains captures Galdós’ approach of blending facts with fiction so well. One character discusses what he knew of Fortunata’s life to a critic:

The response from the famous judge of literary works was that it had the makings of a play or a novel, although in his opinion the artistic texture wouldn’t be especially attractive unless it were warped in places so that the vulgarity of life might be converted into esthetic material. He didn’t tolerate “raw life” in art; it had to be scrubbed, seasoned with aromatic spices, and then thoroughly cooked. Segismundo did not share his opinion and they discussed the matter, each party advancing its select reasons, but each sticking to its own convictions, so that in the end they agreed that well-ripened raw fruit was very good, but so were compotes, if the cook knew what he was doing.
(Vol. IV, Ch. VI, 16)

I’m going to skip the tie-ins to Spanish history since I’ve mentioned the subject already (see this post) and the narrator specifically highlights the connection at times. I also won’t go into the foreshadowing occurring in this volume other than to say there is a lot. There is a lot more I’d like to note on Volume 1, which I'll hopefully cover in a few "excerpt posts" later this week.

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