- Benito Pérez Galdós and his mother
- Hitting the jackpot on cross-references in Galdós novels
- More fun with footnotes in Angel Guerra, naturally
I've said very little about the story so far, so let's correct that. The story begins in Madrid on September 19, 1886, with a revolt similar to the real-life uprising led by General Villacampa. Angel Guerra, a widower who has been a plotter of the revolt, finds himself wounded after the mob he is in kills an army officer. Needing to keep a low profile he stays at the apartment he has provided for his mistress, Dulcenombre Babel. Angel comes from a prosperous and well-respected family so he has no intention of marrying Dulce since the Babel clan is full of low-lifes and mysterious characters. In addition, Dulce had been a prostitute to help the family make ends meet. Angel's is away from his home for over a month while his wounds heal, but he eventually hears about the ill health of his mother (Doña Sales). The prodigal son returns home in an attempt to appear remorseful, but after an argument with his mother the old lady dies. Angel finds he no longer cares about his former revolutionary slogans, instead preferring to spend time with his seven-year-old daughter Ción. Both Ción and her governess, Lerè, exert a calming/taming influence on Angel. But Ción falls ill and fails to respond to treatment. Her illness becomes serious and Angel realizes he may lose his daughter. In frustration he turns to prayer, his stream of thoughts developing a new line of argument to support his request.
The footnote on page 164 provides what I want to focus on for the rest of this post:
The line of argument [in Angel’s thought] which follows—trading Dulce for Ción—finds an echo in other Galdós novels, most especially in Torquemada in the Fire (1889), where the miser and money-lender Torquemada offers a large pearl (part of the booty from one of his extortionate loans) to the Virgin in exchange for the life of his son Valentín. It doesn’t work, of course, any more than does Angel’s proposal, but in both instances it serves to point out the character’s inability to come to terms with the real meaning of faith.
Angel's deal is far worse than you're led to believe just from the note. He doesn't just offer to quit seeing his mistress, who has been sick, if Ción survives. Angel offers an exchange of Dulce’s life for Ción’s recovery. Angel even begins to fear that his recently-deceased mother has requested that Ción join her in heaven. Angel's line of argument jumps the tracks many times with his fevered "reasoning." As mentioned in the footnote, Ción dies. Immediately after her death Angel becomes quite the changed man…but more on that later.
I have mentioned The Pérez Galdós Editions Project many times since it is a great resource on the author and his works. The Fourth Annual Pérez Galdós Lecture, Gifts in the Work of Galdós by Professor Rodolfo Cardona, covers both works mentioned in the above footnote. Section III addresses Torquemada's pleading and bargaining for the life of Valentín in (as my copy translated the title) Torquemada at the Stake. (The footnotes of the lecture provide English translations of the quotes.) Section IV looks at Angel's case in more detail, looking at some of the similarities and differences between Torquemada's and Guerra's bargaining. Professor Cardona sums up one similarity nicely: "As much in the case of Torquemada as in Angel's their failed transactions with God are the key to their characters. In both cases materialism triumphs over transcendence."
Part of the irony of Guerra's materialism lies in the shift away from his youthful idealism of social revolution. Of course, with a name like Angel War it's safe to assume there will be plenty of irony and conflict from the character. In his case there doesn't necessarily have to be any irony—Angel's talk of revolution assume changes for everyone else. He believes his privileged life will continue on just as before. There's an additional thread of similarity between Torquemada and Guerra that isn't explicitly made in the lecture, which is female influences/judgments on both characters. Tía Roma, a ragpicker, lowliest of the low, sees through Torquemada's hypocrisy in his attempted good deeds. Her dedication to good works is reflected in the governess Lerè, who has dedicated her life to serving others. Lerè doesn't judge Angel, but she makes a piercing observation during his futile offers and proposals: she notes God will do what is best for everyone, not just Angel, and that an offer not meant from the bottom of his heart will fail. Both women provide a bracing wake-up call, unheeded, to the male bargainers. As Professor Cardona notes with Torquemada, his religious influence lies not with Tía Roma but with the defrocked priest José Bailón. Bailón had written a semi-revolutionary pamphlet and, as luck would have it, Torquemada was the only person who read it. Angel, though, was under the influence of Lerè (although more after the death of his daughter), but his inability to "conquer his earthly egotism" highlights his selfish behavior.
I do want to clarify one point in the lecture. Professor Cardona says that Doña Sales, Angel's mother, lectured him in the manner of Doña Perfecta…see the excerpt translated in footnote 30 of the lecture. The sarcastic tirade of Doña Sales is a generalized speech based on the severe lecturings Angel has received from her in the past. I'll provide the full translation of its first paragraph to give a more robust insight into how Doña Sales saw Angel. (I guess I better provide details on the book I'm reading: Pérez, Galdós Benito. A Translation of "Angel Guerra" by Benito Pérez Galdós. Lewiston (N.Y.: E. Mellen Press, 1990., translated by Karen O. Austin):
"But you, why should you pay any heed to a poor ignorant woman without a fancy university degree, who doesn't know how to read all those big books in French? Oh, well, but of course…you, destined to reform society and turn everything upside-down, to restore up what's fallen and tear down anything that's still standing, you're a big man, a regular fountain of all knowledge. It's true that up to now all you've done is act the fool, vomit out blasphemy after blasphemy for the benefit of others as stupid as yourself, get yourself teamed up with the worst black sheep of every family in town, and lure the corporals and sergeants into going out like thugs to kill their own commanding officers. You're really covering yourself with glory! We'll have to wear smoked glasses just to be able to look at you, we will, because the splendor of your halo of glory blinds us, and flames of genius shoot out of your head, like sparks form a magnificent forge where they're hammering out the whole future of humanity. Good Lord, I just don't deserve such a son." (81; ellipsis in original)
As Professor Cardona notes, even with the sarcasm this highlights how different Angel is from Torquemada. Doña Sales shows a similarity with Doña Perfecta, although the latter heaped on the irony and saved the sarcasm for herself or her closest confidants. The similarities and contrasts are a nice insight into Galdós' thoughts. Charged with an anti-clerical outlook while alive, it's clear (again) that he saves his harshest judgment for people following the faith for the wrong reasons. We'll see (together) if this develops more as the novel unfolds…