The previous post looked at Feijóo’s practical philosophy he tried to impart to Fortunata to survive her “restoration” into the Rubín family. Feijóo’s outlook is one of practicality—setting an ideal goal but planning for contingencies. Feijóo continues in the line of people attempting to reform Fortunata. Where the Rubín family tried to confine Fortunata in a standard household routine, Feijóo attempts to provide some level of independence for her. Ironically that freedom would come through self-control and submission to her role as Maxi’s wife. Several characters recognize Fortunata as a diamond in the rough, but too much polish and she wouldn’t be the same person.
Feijóo’s project ultimately fails. There is another failure of sorts in Volume 3 by Guillermina, one of several strong female characters that rebel against type. Mauricia’s sickness plays an important role for the plot, providing the chance for Fortuanta and Jacinta to meet. Through Guillermina’s weakness (albeit with plenty of pressure from Jacinta), she lies to Fortunata and sets up the confrontation between Juan’s “wives.” While it’s obvious Galdós respected Guillermina and other characters joke about her saintliness, there is something about her that has always struck me as a little off which plays into the question of good works. Her care for the sick and dying show a genuine concern for people.
Even though she is the force behind building the orphanage her interaction with children seems cold and aloof. In the slums she scolds the children she sees, but more importantly she scolds the parents. It’s not that she realizes her limitations and places emphasis on the institutions (orphanage, family, etc.) that can improve life in Madrid, it’s that she does it with a clinical coldness that provides my disquiet about her. I realize her actions are consistent—she shows no additional respect for the rich (or royalty) and guarded sympathy for the poor. She agrees with Maxi’s maxim that much of the behavior of the poor comes from their poverty but also holds them accountable for the behavior that isn’t. Her evisceration of Izquierdo is followed by her lead for a job, for example.
I found the unplanned mediation between Fortunata and Jacinta disquieting, but Guillermina’s actions with the dying Fortunata (in Volume Four) showed her desire to control or broker a situation. I’ll save that for a post covering that section, but I’ll say here that it made me reevaluate her actions in brokering for Pituso’s sale. I’m curious to see other readers’ thoughts on Guillermina…