Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Forunata and Jacinta and Spanish history

Without beating around the bush, Don Balomero made a very sensible commentary, the product of his experience and observation: “I don’t know what will happen twenty or fifty years from now. You can’t see that far ahead in Spanish society. All we know is that our country alternates between two fevers, revolution and peace. At certain times we all want lots of authority. Pour it on! But then we get tired of it and we all want to step out of line. So the fun comes, but then we start sighing for it to be over. That’s how we are, and that’s how we’ll be, as far as I can see, till frogs start shaving.” (page 459: Volume III, The Victorious Restoration, subchapter 1)
What Don Baldomero had observed about Spain was also true of his son: he suffered alternate fevers of total liberty and absolute peace. (page 461: Volume III, The Victorious Restoration, subchapter 2)
I had trouble finding links that struck the right balance of providing an adequate amount of information to understand the historical references in Fortunata and Jacinta without being overly long. Action with the characters in the novel often mirrors and coincides with what is happening in Spain. In Volumes I and II, for example, the country swings from monarchy to republic at the same time Juan alternates between wife and mistress. The novel, subtitled Two Stories of Married Women, also weaves observation and commentary on differing social classes into the story. Galdós details the interaction of politics, money, and religion during this era of Spanish history, the instability of the nation mirrored in the families he illustrates. Another social aspect of the novel lies in the impact of progress, such as in industry and finance, on individuals and classes. Galdós’ blending of historical events, social observation, and fiction presented in a deeply nested structure provides a strong mimetic effect.

If you find anything that would be helpful, especially regarding historical events or social context, or if you have any questions or corrections please feel free to email me or leave a comment to this post. I plan on bumping this post to the top if significantly updated. Some of Galdós' history works its way into the novel, too.

The approximate timeline covered in the novel (although there are plenty of genealogies and histories throughout the volumes that stretch outside this timeline):
  • Volume I: September 1869 – February 1874
  • Volume II: February – Fall 1874
  • Volume III: End of 1874 – June 1875
  • Volume IV: June 1875 – Spring 1876
Wikipedia’s page on the History of Spain (1814 – 1873) provides great detail leading up to and referenced in Fortunta and Jacinta. You can find many of the names and actions mentioned in the first few chapters (Olózag a, Prim, González Bravo, sale of church property, etc.) on this page. The First Spanish Republic and Spain under the Restoration also cover plenty of action occurring during the novel.

A shorter history can be found at Classic Spanish Books. A briefer summary can be found here (scroll down to “19th Century Spain”).

General reference links

The General Roman Calendar, which includes saints’ days, since there are many references to them.

Notes on Galdós

A few tie-ins between the author and book, from Turner, H. S. (1992). Benito Pérez Galdós, Fortunata and Jacinta. Cambridge [England]: Cambridge University Press:
Costumbrismo [a literary genre] as practiced by the observant, genial Mesonero Romanos consisted of cuadros—picturesque sketches of social types and customs of Old Madrid. Galdós saw the novelistic possibilities of such cuardros, and in Fortunata and Jacinta he pays homage to his old master by inventing the colorful figure of Plácido Estupiñá, born, the narrator tells us, in the same year as Mesonero (1803). (page 3)

[From “Remembrances of an Unremembering Writer”(1916)] He [Galdós] tells how, upon returning to Madrid, his friend and fellow novelist, don José Ido del Sagrario [a character in Fortunata and Jacinta], appears at the door. Ido tells of the characters abandoned by their author over the summer. This account move Galdós to action: rambling through Old Madrid, waving, talking, listening, copying, he points to a stall-keeper who is the spitting image of old, parrot-faced Estupiñá, a character type so familiar that no description is warranted. (page 13)

Galdós, enrolled as a law student at the University of Madrid from 1862 to 1866, witnessed events such as the Noche de San Daniel on 10 April 1865, a student protest against the dismissal of the eminent orator and professor Emilo Castelar, and the “Revolt of the Sergeants” (22 June 1866), in which a military garrison at Madrid declared its support for the progressive leader, General Juan Prim. (page 19) [Juan Santa Cruz is arrested on the opening page of the novel for participation in the riot on the Eve of San Daniel.]

I think this excerpt, from Professor Francisco Caudet lecture "Cervantes in Galdós" at the The Pérez Galdós Editions Project, encapsulates what I was hoping to provide in a post on historical context:

With the exception of Gloria, the thesis novels and the novelas de la segunda manera share a similar interest in the middle class’s habitat, a crossroad of Madrid streets and buildings. But as Galdós wrote his novelas de la segunda manera, so his dissatisfaction with the new bourgeois generation, which, after the failure of the September Revolution, had hastened to embrace the unpredictable life of the Restoration and, comfortably placed to enjoy economic power, was starting to take on a major role in society, increased. And in many cases, as with Baldomero and Barbarita Santa Cruz, and even more so in the case of their son, Juanito, this occurred regardless whether the characters deserved or had worked for such a position in society. If in the Old Regime noble standing was inherited, today money was the supreme inheritance. Thus the nobility and those with money - from the world of the Santa Cruz family to that of Torquemada - engaged in all manner of schemes and without the slightest scruples to intermarry.

In the 1880s - as Galdós had proclaimed he would in 1870 in his ‘Observations on the contemporary novel in Spain’- he found it impossible to sing of the virtues of the offspring of the Cordero and the Araceli lineage. The ‘power block’ posed by this hegemonic class and the political system of the Restoration upon which this class was based, had turned into a scam, which had negative repercussions on the process of modernizing the Spanish nation which Galdós had long desired. When he realised this, his novels turned against that block and its political system. Thus his novels moved away, in Bakhtin’s words, from the ‘absolute past’ of the epic and were based instead – again in Bakhtin’s words - on the ‘imperfect present’, the period of the modern novel, in ‘the real and dynamic time of contemporary life’.

Thus Galdós’s novels were moving closer to the ideas he expressed in his inaugural speech to the Academy in 1897, than to what he had written in his 1870 article ‘Observations on the contemporary novel in Spain’. As he said in his 1897 speech, when ‘the great and powerful energies working towards social cohesion’ failed, since it was not ‘easy to predict which forces will replace those which have been lost as regards the direction and government of the human flock’. Art ‘was able to take sole comfort from giving imaginary beings a more human than social life’.

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