Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Fortunata and Jacinta Volume 4: Ballester

In a novel layered in meaning the character Segismundo Ballester helps tie together many of the themes. As the pharmacist that employs Maxi, he embodies a balance in life lacking in most other characters. His profession represents this mixture as he regularly talks about the blending of medicinal compounds. At the end of the novel (see the final quote of this post) he shows that he can compromise with a critic he used to hate, a trait lacking in most other characters.

The importance of his personality in regards to the novel lies in his acceptance of Fortunata. Other male characters either try to change Fortunata, attempting to polish a diamond in the rough, or idealize her beyond recognition, believing her to be something she couldn’t live up to until her death. Ballester accepts her for what she is, or it may be better said that he loves her because of her attributes, good and bad. He understands the hold Fortunata has over him and he basks in its sublime torture, helped along by her lack of reproof at his clumsy advances. In the carriage ride to the cemetery for Fortunata’s funeral, Ballester unburdens himself to the critic Ponce (ellipsis in original):
”Look, my friend Ponce: I’m inconsolable, yet I can’t fail to recognize—if I express my social egoism—that the death of that woman is better for me—the good and the bad always come in pairs in life—because, believe me, I was all set to commit foolish acts for that sweet girl; I was already committing them, and would have reached God know what point…you can imagine how attractive I found her! I consider myself a reasonable man, and yet I was headed straight for an abyss. That woman held a power over me I couldn’t begin to explain; I took it into my head that she was an angel, yes, an angel in disguise, you might say, all done up in a mask to scare off fools; and not all the wise men in the world could have convinced me to give up that notion. Even now it’s firmly implanted in me. It may be delirious, an aberration, but that notion is fixed in me, and what makes me despair the most is that now, because of death, I can’t prove whether it’s true.”
(from Vol. 4, Ch. 6, 16)

Ballester may be a romantic fool but Galdós paints him as our romantic fool. Or maybe I should say his romantic fool. The first time through Fortunata and Jacinta I thought Feijóo was a stand-in for the author but now, if there is such a thing, I believe it to be Ballester. The examples of compromise, his belief in realism, and the loyalty in friendship he demonstrates show a path on how things could have gone differently for other characters. Not to mention the tantalizing idea of Ballester marrying Fortunata (and Moreno-Isla wedding Jacinta). His open flirtation with Fortunata may be laughable but he is the person she comes to trust beyond any other character. His loyalty to her ends up costing him his position in the pharmacy.

Galdós has many literary tie-ins throughout the novel. Ballester’s first name, Segismundo, evokes the princely character from Calderón's play Life is a Dream and its theme of fate versus free will. Don Quixote appears throughout the novel in numerous ways and Ballester assists on that count. He reprimands Maxi for the books he reads and the crazy notions he will get from his study (4:1:1 and 4:1:3 for examples), much like the intervention of the barber and the priest with the don. Maxi’s obsession with honor and his self-inflicted persecution not only echoes the earlier farce with Sr. Ido but adds a Cervantean irony with the knowing irony Ballester piles on. It also allows him to say how he really feels about Fortunata to his friend (ellipsis in original):

It’s just like the other nonsense—that they’re going to take away your honor; that men get into your house; that’s your honor’s being ambushed from all sides. Aren’t we melodramatic, though! It’s hard to believe that you could think up such absurd things and be married to a woman who’s as chaste and pure as the Virgin Mary; yes, sir, I’ll say it again: as chaste as the Virgin Mary; a woman who’d sooner let herself be carved up than look at another man. And since you know it’s so, why do you make such a fuss? Ah, if I had a woman like that—so beautiful, so virtuous—if I had a virginal creature like that at my side, I’d get down on my knees to worship her; I’d let myself be caned before giving her any reason to be upset. Your honor! You’ve got more honor than…well, I don’t know what to compare it with. Your honor is brighter than the sun. No, not even the sun will do; it’s got spots. It’s cleaner than clean. And you still complain. Listen: I’m going to cure you with this stick. As soon as you mention honor, whack! It’s the only way. You do these things because you’re spoiled. An aunt who looks after you, a pretty wife who spoils you and lives only for you. That’s the truth. Jiminy, if I only had a wife like her…”
(from Vol. 4, Ch. 1, 3)

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