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Heath's Modern Language Series
COMEDIA EN CINCO ACTOS
BENITO PÉREZ GALDÓS
EDITED WITH INTRODUCTION, NOTES, AND
S. GRISWOLD MORLEY, PH.D.
ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF SPANISH IN THE UNIVERSITY OF
D. C. HEATH & CO., PUBLISHERS
BOSTON NEW YORK CHICAGO
BY D. C. Heath & Co.
Some one will naturally ask: "Why did not the editor select Galdós' bestplay, El abuelo, for publication?" I should like to reply to thisquestion in advance. El abuelo, with all its beauties, has certainfeatures which make it slightly undesirable for use by classes ofAmerican students in High Schools and the elementary years of College.First, one of its beauties is itself a drawback for this particularpurpose; namely, the rather vague and abstract moral it conveys. Then,the main-spring of the plot, like that of Electra, lies in a dubiousobscurity to which it is not necessary to direct the attention of youngpeople. Mariucha, on the other hand, presents clean-cut, open problemsof daily life, and they are also problems which any American can readilyunderstand, not local Spanish anachronisms. I chose Mariucha believingit to be the best fitted for general class use among all the dramas ofGaldós; and I hope that Spanish teachers may not find me wrong.
The Introduction is confined to a discussion of Galdós as a dramaticauthor, since a study of his entire work or of his influence on hisgeneration would be quite out of place.
To my friend and colleague Professor Erasmo Buceta I am deeply gratefulfor generous and suggestive help; and I am indebted to Doña MaríaPérez-Galdós de Verde for information which gives the Bibliography anaccuracy it could not otherwise have had.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A. THE LIFE OF D. BENITO PÉREZ GALDÓS
Benito Pérez Galdós was born May 10, 1843, in Las Palmas, Grand CanaryIsland. The first school he attended was kept by English people; henceperhaps his great admiration for the English. He showed an early andlasting talent for music and drawing. In 1864 or 1865 he went alone toMadrid to study law, which he disliked. He made slow progress, butcompleted the course in 1869. Latin was his favorite study, and he neverpractised law.
His first writing was done for Madrid newspapers; he reported sessionsof the Cortes, and wrote all sorts of general articles.
During thisperiod he wrote two poetic dramas, never performed.
His failure to gainthe stage turned him to the novel, and he did not again attempt dramatill 1892. Dickens and Balzac most influenced his conception of thenovel. His first book, La fontana de oro, was published in 1870; thefirst of the Episodios nacionales, Trafalgar, in 1873. Since thenthe Episodios reached the number of forty-six; the Novelas de laprimera época (those based on history rather than on observation),seven; the Novelas españolas contemporáneas (based on observation),twenty-four; dramas and comedies, twenty-one; opera, one.
Galdós was never entirely dependent on his pen for his living; he alwayshad a slight income from family property. He never married. He traveledall over Europe at different times, and made a special study of Spain,journeying third class, in carriage and on horse, throughout thecountry, always by day, and usually in the company of a servant.Fondness for children was a distinctive trait. In 1897 he became amember of the Spanish Academy. He was a liberal deputy for Porto Ricofrom 1886 to 1890. In 1907
he was elected deputy from Madrid by theRepublican party, and retained the post for some years, but without anyliking for politics. In 1912 he became completely blind.
For many years he published his own works from the famous office atHortaleza 132; but handling no other books and cheated by anunscrupulous partner, he finally had to transfer the business to aregular firm. Galdós' novels have enjoyed an enormous sale, but at thelow price of two or three pesetas a volume, instead of the customaryfour or five. In 1914 Galdós was represented as in poverty, for reasonsnever made clear, and a public subscription opened for his benefit; anepisode sadder for the sponsors than for him. He died on Jan. 4, 1920.
B. BENITO PÉREZ GALDÓS AS A DRAMATIC WRITER
I. The Background. —The closing decades of the nineteenth century saw acurious state of affairs in the drama of Spain. They were years whendogmatic naturalism, with its systematically crude presentation of life,was at its height in France, and France, during the nineteenth century,had more often than not set the fashion for Spain in literary matters.The baldness of Zola and the pessimism of de Maupassant were quicklytaken up on the French stage, and Henri Becque and the Théâtre libre served slices of raw life to audiences fascinated by a tickling horror.The same naturalism had, indeed, crossed the Pyrenees and found a fewhalf-hearted disciples among Spanish novelists, but, on the whole,Spanish writers resolutely refused to follow this particular Frenchcurrent.
During the years from 1874 to 1892, when Europe was permeated with thenew doctrine, the stage of Spain was dominated by one man, who gave nosign that he had ever heard the name of Zola. José Echegaray held theaudiences of Madrid for twenty years with his hectic and rhetoricalplays. The great dramatic talent of this mathematician and politiciandrew upon the cheap tricks of Scribe and the appalling situations ofSardou, and combined them with a few dashes of Ibsenian thesis and thehistorical pundonor, to form a dose which would harrow the vitals ofthe most hardened playgoer. Only a gift of sonorous, rather hollowlyrism and a sincere intention to emphasize psychology saved the work ofthis belated Romanticist from being the cheapest melodrama.
Romanticism is never wholly out of season in Spain, and that isdoubtless why the art of Echegaray held its own so long, for it wasneither novel nor especially perfect. In spite of the solitary andunrewarded efforts of Enrique Gaspar, a Spanish John the Baptist ofrealism in the drama, the reaction was slow in coming, and the year 1892may be said to mark its arrival. That was the date of Realidad, PérezGaldós' first drama. Two years later Jacinto Benavente made his débutwith El nido ajeno. In 1897
the brothers Quintero produced their firstcharacteristic work. It will be seen that although the contemporary eraof literature in Spain is generally considered to date from theSpanish-American war, the remarkable efflorescence of her drama was wellunder way before that event. The new school, of which Pérez Galdós isadmitted to be the father, is a school of literary and social progress,vitally interested in a new Spain, where the conditions of life may bemore just.
II. Galdós Turns from Novel to Drama. —When Realidad was performed,Galdós was the most popular novelist in Spain, the peer of any in hisown generation, and the master of the younger men of letters. He wasknown as a radical, an anti-clerical, who exercised a powerful influenceupon the thought of his nation, but, above all, as a marvelous creatorof fictional characters. He had revealed Spain to herself in nineteennovels of manners, and evoked her recent past in twenty historicalnovels.
He had proved, in short, that in his own sphere he was one ofthe great vital forces of modern times.
What persuaded this giant of the novel to depart from the field of hismastery and attempt the drama, in which he was a novice?
Was it becausehe desired a more direct method of influencing public opinion inSpain? Was it, as Sra. Pardo Bazán suggests, with the hope ofinfusing new life into the Spanish national drama, which had been toolong in a rut? Both these motives may have been present, but I do notdoubt that the chief was the pure creative urge, the eagerness of anexplorer to conquer an unknown region. The example of certain Frenchnovelists, his contemporaries, was not such as to encourage him. Zola,Daudet, de Maupassant, the de Goncourts, had all tried the drama withindifferent success or failure. But Galdós held the theory
that noveland drama are not essentially different arts, that the rules of one arenot notably divergent from the rules of the other.
Few or no dramaticcritics will subscribe to this opinion, which explains most of theweaknesses of Galdós' plays.
Again, Galdós had been working toward a dramatic form in his novels, bythe increasing use of pure dialog and the exclusion of narrative anddescription. This tendency culminated in the novelas dialogadas, Elabuelo and Realidad, and, later, in Casandra and La razón de lasinrazón. The inner reason for the gradual shift toward dialog wasincreasing interest in human motives and character, and a correspondingdistaste for colorful description. Galdós had never, like Pereda, takengreat delight in word pictures per se, though his early novels containsome admirable ones, and as he grew older his genius was more and moreabsorbed in the study of man.
His transition to the drama was not, then, so abrupt as might appear.But two things were against his success. First, few writers haveapproached the stage with so poor a practical equipment. His friendsassure us that, cut off as Galdós was from social diversions by hiscontinuous writing, he had hardly attended the theater once from hisuniversity days till the performance of Realidad, although it is truethat his lack of practical experience was compensated at first by thepersonal advice of a trained impresario, don Emilio Mario. Second, thedrama is above all the genre of condensation, and Galdós, even as anovelist, never condensed. His art was not that of the lapidary, noreven that of the short story writer. He has few novelas cortas to hiscredit, and he required pages and pages to develop a situation or acharacter.
III. His Dramatic Technique.—His Success. —It is not to be wondered at,then, that Galdós found himself hampered by the time limit of the play.He uttered now and then rather querulous protests against theconventions (artificial, as he regarded them) which prevented him fromdeveloping his ideas with the richness of detail to which he wasaccustomed. Such complaints are only confessions of weakness on thepart of an author. One has only to study the first five pages of anycomedy of the brothers Quintero to see how a genuine theatrical talentcan make each character define itself perfectly with its first fewspeeches. To such an art as this Galdós brought a fertile imagination,the habit of the broad canvas, a love of multiplying secondary figures,and of studying the minutiae of their psychology. Only by sheer geniusand power of ideas could he have succeeded in becoming, as he did, atruly great dramatist. Naturally enough, he never attained the technicalskill of infinitely lesser playwrights. His usual defects are, as onewould suppose, clumsy exposition, superfluous minor characters andscenes, mistakes in counting upon a dramatic effect where the audiencefound none, and tedious dilution of a situation. Bad motivation andunsustained characters are rarer. The unity of time is observed in Pedro Minio and Alceste; the unity of place, in Voluntad and Eltacaño Salomón.
Galdós was not an imitator of specific foreign models. His first play, Realidad, was a pure expression of his own genius. But it placed himat once in the modern school which aims to discard the factitiousdevices of the "well-made" play, and to present upon the stage a pictureof life approximately as it is. If he frequently deviated from thisideal (the farthest in La de San Quintín), it was due more to hisinnate romanticism, of which we shall speak later, than to a strainingfor effect. Never, except in the play just named, did he restore to thestock coincidences of Scribe and Pinero.
In the modern drama the conduct of the plot is of secondary importance,and character, ideas and dialog become the primary elements. In thefirst two Galdós needed no lessons. In naturalness and intensity ofdialog he never reached the skill which distinguishes the pure dramatictalents of contemporary Spain: Benavente, the Quintero brothers, LinaresRivas. Galdós'
dialog varies considerably in vitality, and it may happenthat it is spirited and nervous in some plays otherwise weak
( Electra, Celia en los infiernos), while in others, intrinsically more important( Amor y ciencia, Mariucha), it inclines toward rhetoric. Realidad and El abuelo, however, are strong plays strongly written. Galdósnever succeeded in forging an instrument perfectly adapted to his needs,like the Quinteros'
imitation of the speech of real life, or Benavente'sconventional literary language. It took him long to get rid of theold-fashioned soliloquy and aside. In his very last works, however, in Sor Simona and Santa Juana de Castilla, as in the novels Elcaballero encantado and La razón de la sinrazón, Galdós, throughsevere self-discipline, attained a fluidity and chastity of style whichplace him among the most distinguished masters of pure Castilian.
But at the same time signs of flagging constructive energy began toappear. Pedro Minio and the plays after it reveal a certainslothfulness of working out. The writer shrinks from the labor requiredto extract their full value from certain situations and characters, andhe is prone to find the solution of the plot in a deus ex machina.Fortunately, the last drama, Santa Juana de Castilla, does not sufferfrom such weaknesses, and is, in its way, as perfect a structure as Elabuelo.
Galdós experienced almost every variety of reception from audiences. Itis not recorded that any play of his was ever hissed off the stage, but Gerona ended in absolute silence, and was not given after the firstnight. Los condenados was nearly as unsuccessful. His greatest triumphwas at the first performance of Electra, when the author was carriedhome on the shoulders of his admirers. La de San Quintín and Elabuelo were not far behind. But neither success nor failure made thedramatist swerve a hair's breadth in his methods. Firmly serene in hisconsciousness of artistic right, he kept on his way with characteristicstubbornness and impassivity. Only on two occasions did he allow thecriticisms of the press to goad him into a reply. In the prefaces to Los condenados and Alma y vida he defended those plays and explainedhis aims and methods with entire self-control and urbanity. But henever deigned to cater to applause. The attack upon Los condenados didnot deter him from employing a similar symbolism and similar motifsagain; and, after the tremendous hit of Electra, he deliberatelychose, for Alma y vida, his next effort, a subject and style whichshould discourage popular applause. Such was the modesty,unconsciousness and intellectual probity of this man.
IV. The Development of Galdós. —M. E. Martinenche, writing in 1906,classified the dramatic work of Galdós into three periods, and as hisclassification has sometimes been quoted, it may be worth while torepeat it. In the first period, according to him, which extends from Realidad to Los condenados, Galdós presented broad moral theses, andaccustomed his countrymen to witness on the stage the clash of ideasinstead of that of swords.
Then ( Voluntad to Alma y vida) henarrowed his subjects so as to present matters of purely nationalinterest. In the succeeding works ( Mariucha to Amor y ciencia), hestrove to unite Spanish color with philosophic breadth, and to lay asideeven the appearance of polemic. Such a classification is ingenious, but,we feel, untenable. Aside from the fact that M. Martinenche was notacquainted with Galdós' third play, Gerona, which does not fit intohis scheme, it seems apparent that there is no essential difference inlocalization between La de San Quintín of the first period and Mariucha of the third; and that the former has no more general thesisthan Voluntad, of the second. And later plays, such as Casandra of1910, so closely allied to Electra, have come to disturb thearrangement.
The only division by time which it is safe to attempt must be verygeneral. No one will dispute that in his last years Galdós rose to aless particular, a more broad and poetic vision, to describe which wecannot do better than to quote some words of Gómez de Baquero. "Thelast works of Galdós, which belong to his allegorical manner, offer asharp contrast to the intense realism, so plastic and so picturesque,"of earlier writings. First he mastered inner motivation and minutedescription of external detail, and from that mastery he passed to "theart, rather vague and diffuse, though lofty and noble, of allegories, ofpersonifications of ideas, of symbols." This tendency appeared even asearly as Miau (1888), then in Electra, and more strongly in Alma yvida, in Bárbara, and in most of the later plays. "Tired of imitatingthe concrete figures of life, Galdós rose to the region of ideas. Hisspirit passed from the contemplation of the external to therepresentation of the inward life of individuals, and took delight inwandering in that serene circle where particular accidents are onlyshadows projected by the inner light of each person and of each theme.His style became poetic, a Pythagorean harmony, a distant music ofideas." These words apply especially to Alma y vida, Bárbara, SorSimona, and Santa Juana de Castilla, but they indicate in generalGaldós' growing simplicity of manner and his increasing interest inpurely moral qualities.
V. The Subject-matter of His Plays. —Rather than by time, it is betterto classify Galdós' plays by their subject-matter, although thedifferent threads are often tangled. Galdós had three central interestsin all his work, novels and dramas alike: the study of characters fortheir own sake; the national problems of Spain; the philosophy of life.
1. Character Study. —"Del misterio de las conciencias se alimentan lasalmas superiores," said Victoria in La loca de la casa (IV, 7), andthat phrase may serve as a guide to all his writings that are not purelyhistorical. The study of the human conscience, not propaganda, was thecentral interest of the early novel, Doña Perfecta, just as it was in Electra, and to a far greater degree in works of broader scope.
Yet the statement, often made, that Galdós was a realist, as if he wereprimarily an observer, a transcriber of life, requires to be modifiedwhere the dramas are concerned. Pure realism is present in his dramaticwork, but it does not occupy anything like the predominant place whichsome suppose. A "keen, minute, subtle study of the manners of humblefolk" ( Azorín) formed, indeed, the backbone of certain novels, but inthe later period, to which the plays belong, it was already overshadowedby other interests. In the dramas, realism is usually abandoned to thesecondary characters and the minor scenes. For genre studies of a purelyobserved type one may turn to the picture of a dry-goods store in Voluntad, to the parasites and the children in El abuelo, to thepeasants in Doña Perfecta and Santa Juana de Castilla, and to otherdetails, but hardly to any crucial scene or front-rank personage. Sotoo, Galdós'
humor, the almost unfailing accompaniment of his realism,is reserved for the background. Only in Pedro Minio, the sole truecomedy, is the chief figure a comic type. Not a single play of Galdós,not even Realidad, can be called a genuine realistic drama.
To demonstrate was Galdós' aim, not to entertain or to reproduce life.Hence, in the studies of unusual or mystical types, in which he grewsteadily more interested, one always feels the presence of a cerebral element; that is, one feels that these persons are not so much plastic,living beings as creations of a superior imagination. In this respectalso Galdós resembles Balzac. The plays having the largest proportion ofrealism are the most convincing. That is why Realidad, with itsimmortal three, La loca de la casa, with the splendidly-conceivedPepet, Bárbara, which contains extraordinarily successful studies ofcomplex characters, and especially El abuelo, with the lion of Albritand the fine group of cleanly visualized secondary characters, are theones which seem destined to live upon the stage.
We should like to emphasize the cerebral or intellectual quality ofGaldós' work, because it has been often overlooked. It contrasts sharplywith the naturalness of Palacio Valdés, the most human of Spain's recentnovelists. Nothing shows this characteristic of Galdós more clearly thanhis weakness in rendering the passion of love. The Quinteros, in theirslightest comedy, will give you a love-scene warm, living, straight fromthe heart. But the Galdós of middle age seemed to have lost thefreshness of his youthful passions, and Doña Perfecta, preciselybecause its story dated from his youth, is the only play which containsa really affecting love interest. Read the passional scenes of Mariucha, as of La fiera, Voluntad, or of any other, and you willsee that the intellectual interest is always to the fore. Examine thescene in Voluntad (II, 9) where Isidora, who has been living with alover and who has plucked up strength to break away from him, is soughtout by him and urged to return. The motif is precisely the same as thatused by the Quinteros in the third act of Las flores (Gabriel and RosaMaría), but a comparison of the handling will show that all theemotional advantage is in favor of the Quinteros. Galdós depicts apurely intellectual battle between two wills; while the creations of theAndalusian brothers vibrate with the intense passion of the human heart.For the same reason, Galdós, in remodeling Euripides' Alceste, wasunable to clothe the queen with the tenderness of the original, andsubstituted a rational motive, the desire to preserve Admetus for thegood of his kingdom, in the place of personal affection. The neglect ofthe sex problem in the dramas is indeed striking: in Amor y ciencia, Voluntad and Bárbara it enters as a secondary interest, but Realidad is the only play based upon it.
This may be the place to advert to Galdós' romantic tendencies, whichFrench critics have duly noted. In his plays Galdós, when imaginative,was incurably romantic, almost as romantic as Echegaray, and proof of itlies on every side. Sra.
Pardo Bazán coined his formula exactly when shechristened his dramatic genre "el realismo romántico-filosófico"( Obras, VI, 233). Many of the leading characters are pure romantictypes: the poor hero of unknown parentage, Víctor of La de SanQuintín; the outlaw beloved of a noble lady, José León, of Loscondenados; the redeemed courtesan, Paulina, of Amor y ciencia. Inhis fondness for the reapparition of departed spirits ( Realidad, Electra, Casandra, novela), a device decidedly out of place in themodern drama, the same tendency crops out. Some of the speeches in Gerona (II, 12) might have been written in 1835; and the plot of Lafiera dates from the same era.
All this shows that Galdós was not, in the direction of pure realism, anoriginal creator. The Quintero brothers and Benavente excel him inpresenting a clear-cut profile of life, informed by a vivifying humanspirit.
2. National Problems. —Galdós is not the most skilled technician amongthe Spaniards who discuss, through the drama, the burning problems ofthe day. Linares Rivas excels him in this rather ephemeral branch ofdramaturgy. But Galdós has the great advantage of breadth. He is neverdidactic in the narrow sense.
He sometimes hints at a moral in the lastwords of a play, but he is never so lacking in artistic feeling as toexpound his thesis in set terms, like Echegaray and Brieux. Theintention speaks from the action.
Galdós has said that the three great evils which afflict Spain to-dayare the power of the Church, caciquismo or political bossism, and lafrescura nacional or brazen indifference to need of improvement. Allthree he tried to combat. In spite of the common belief, however, hisplays—thesis plays as they nearly all are in one way or another—seldomattack these evils directly.
Caciquismo is an issue only in Mariucha and Alma y vida, and in them occupies no more than a niche in thebackground. Sloth and degeneracy are a more frequent butt, and Voluntad, Mariucha, La de San Quintín, and, in less degree, Laloca de la casa, hold up to scorn the indolent members of thebourgeoisie or aristocracy,
motive,perhaps, Galdós devoted so much space to domestic finance. The oftenmade comparison with Balzac holds good also in the fluency with which hehandled complicated money transactions on paper, and in the businessembarrassment which overtook him in real life. He had a lurkingaffection for a spendthrift: witness Pedro Minio and El tacañoSalomón.
Against the organization of the Catholic Church Galdós harbored intensefeeling, yet he never displayed the bitterness which clericals are wontto impute to him. In view of his flaming zeal to remedy the backwardnessof Spain, a zeal so great as to force him into politics, which hedetested, Galdós' moderation is noteworthy. The dramas in which theclerical question appears are Electra, and Casandra. Doña Perfecta attacks, not the Church, but religious fanaticism, just as La fiera and Sor Simona attack political fanaticism; and the dramatist is sofar from showing bias that he allows each side to appear in its ownfavorable light. Thus, in Casandra, Doña Juana, the bigot, is a moreattractive figure personally than the greedy heirs. Doña Perfecta gives the impression of an inevitable tragic conflict between two stagesof culture, rather than of a murder instigated by the malice of any oneperson. One can even detect a growing feeling of kindliness toward theclergy themselves: there was a time when Galdós would not have chosen apriest to be the good angel of his lovers, as he did in Mariucha.
For Galdós was not only by nature impartial, but he was fundamentallyreligious. It may be necessary to stress this fact, but only for thosewho are not well acquainted with his work. If the direct testimony ofhis friend Clarín be needed, it is there ( Obras completas, I, 34); butcareful attention to his writings could leave no doubt of it. Máximo in Electra repeats, "I trust in God"; Los condenados and Sor Simona are full of Christian spirit, and the last play, Santa Juana deCastilla, is practically a confession of faith.
The problems which concern Galdós the dramatist are, then, not so oftenthe purely local ones of the Peninsula as broader social questions. Thepolitical tolerance which it is the aim of La fiera to induce, is notneeded by Spain alone, though perhaps there more urgent; the comity ofsocial classes eulogized in La de San Quintín, the courage and energyof Voluntad, the charity of Celia en los infiernos, the thrift of El tacaño Salomón, and the divine love of Sor Simona, would profitany nation. The loftier moral studies which we shall approach in thenext section are, of course, still more universal.
One point should be made clear at once, however, and that is thatGaldós, with regard to social questions, was neither a radical nor anoriginal thinker. When one considers the sort of ideas which had beenbandied about Europe under the impulse of Ibsen, Tolstoy andothers,—the Nietzschean doctrine of self-expression at any cost, theright of woman to live her own life regardless of convention, the newtheories of governmental organization or lack of organization—onecannot regard Galdós as other than a social conservative, who could beconsidered a radical nowhere outside of Spain. In how many plays does aconventional marriage furnish the facile cure for all varieties ofsocial affliction ( Voluntad, La de San Quintín, La fiera, Mariucha, etc.)! The only socialist whom he brings upon thestage—Víctor of La de San Quintín—has received an expensiveeducation from his father, and, though compelled to do manual labor, itis apparent that he is not concerned with any far-reaching rationalreorganization of society, but only with the betterment of his ownposition. In Celia en los infiernos, a mere broadcasting of coin bythe wealthy will relieve all suffering; in El tacaño Salomón, thedeath of a rich relative lifts the spendthrift out of straits before hehas reformed. It is clear that in this order of ideas Galdós is strictlyconventional.
Various possible attitudes may be adopted by one who sees political andsocial evils, and desires to abolish them. The natural conservativedreams of a benevolent despotism as the surest path to improvement. Thisattitude Galdós never held, for he was born an optimist, and believed inthe regenerative power of human nature. The natural liberal believes ina reform obtainable through radical propaganda in writing and at thepolls. Such a man was the Galdós of the early novels and of some of thedramas,—the Galdós of La de San Quintín, of Voluntad, of Mariucha, full of exhortations to labor and change as the hope ofredemption. Then, there is a third attitude, likely to be that of olderpersons, whom sad experience has led to despair of political action, andto believe that society can be improved only through a conversion of therace to loyalty and brotherly love; in short, through practicalapplication of the Christian virtues. This change in Galdós' point ofview was foreshadowed in Alma y vida, where one tyranny (absolutism)is replaced by another (parliamentarism);
injustice continue to reign among men." In his old age thereformer appeared to renounce his faith in vote or revolution, and toplace himself by the side of Tolstoy. The note which rings withincreasing clearness is that of charity, of the healing power of love.There is something pathetic in the spectacle of this powerful geniuswho, as the shadow of death drew near him, became more and more absorbedin spiritual problems, and less in practical ones. Amor y ciencia, Celia en los infiernos, Sor Simona, Santa Juana de Castilla,reiterate that love is the only force which can relieve the sufferingand injustice of the world.
And, in harmony with the gentle theme of thelast plays, their form becomes simple and even naïve, while thecharacters are enveloped in a vaporous softness which suffuses them witha halo of humane divinity.
3. Galdós' Philosophy. —Before passing to a consideration of Galdós'ideas, we should examine for a moment his manner of conveying them. Hewas able to express himself in forceful, direct language when he chose,but he came to prefer the indirect suggestion of symbolism.
Symbolism, of course, is nothing but a device by which a person or ideais made to do double duty; it possesses, besides its obvious, externalmeaning, another meaning parallel to that, but hidden, and which must besupplied by the intelligence of the reader or spectator.
The interpretation of a symbol may be more or less obvious, and theesoteric meaning may be conveyed in a variety of ways.
Galdós hasexpressed his opinion about the legitimate uses of symbolism in hisprefaces to Los condenados and Alma y vida, in passages capital forthe understanding of his methods. In the earlier work he said, "To mymind, the only symbolism admissible in the drama is that which consistsin representing an idea with material forms and acts." This he didhimself in the famous kneading scene of La de San Quintín, in thefusion of metal in the third act of Electra, etc. "That the figures ofa dramatic work should be personifications of abstract ideas, has neverpleased me." Personified abstractions Galdós never did, we believe,employ in his plays, though critics have sometimes credited him withsuch a use. Nevertheless we should remember that precisely this kindof symbolism was very popular in Spain in the seventeenth century, andgave rise to the splendid literary art of the autos sacramentales.Galdós then goes on to refute the allegation of certain critics that hewas influenced by Ibsen.
"I admire and enjoy," he says, "those of Ibsen's dramas which are saneand clear, but those generally termed symbolic have been unintelligibleto me, and I have never found the pleasure in them which those may whocan disentangle their intricate meaning." What a curious statement, inthe light of the other preface, written eight years later! "Symbolism,"he there wrote,
"would not be beautiful if it were clear, with asolution which can be arrived at mechanically, like a charade. Leave itits dream-vagueness, and do not look for a logical explanation, or amoral like that of a child's tale. If the figures and acts were arrangedto fit a key, those who observe them would be deprived of the joy of apersonal interpretation.... Clearness is not a condition of art." DidGaldós change his mind in the interval between writing these twoprefaces? I think not. The change merely illustrates the difference inviewpoint between an author and a reader. For very, very many persons inhis audiences have regarded the symbolism of Los condenados (if it bethere), of Electra, of Casandra, of Pedro Minio, of Santa Juanade Castilla, and especially of Alma y vida and Bárbara, with thesame feeling of hopeless bewilderment which Galdós experienced when heread The Wild Duck, The Master-builder and The Lady from the Sea.To the creator his creation is clear and lovely.
Leaving aside the question of influence, it cannot be denied that thesymbolism of Galdós has much in common with that of Ibsen. Both have thedelightful vagueness which permits of diverse interpretations,—in Almay vida the author was obliged to come to the rescue with his ownversion; in neither is the identification of person and idea carried sofar that the character loses its definite human contour; and both areemployed to convey a profound philosophy.
What is Galdós' philosophy? First and foremost, he believed that nothingin life is too insignificant or too wicked to be entirely despised.Sympathy with everything human stands out even above his keenindignation against those who oppress the unfortunate. A search throughhis works will reveal few figures wholly bad, too wicked to receive sometouch of pity. César of La de San Quintín and Monegro of Alma y vida are probably the closest to stage villains, and this precisely becausethey are a part of the melodramatic elements of those plays, not of thecentral thought.
A corollary of his universal sympathy is the doctrine, not veryprofound or novel, that opposite qualities complement one another, andmust be joined in order to give life a happy completeness. This threadruns through many plays, sometimes unobtrusively, as in La fiera, Amor y ciencia, La de San Quintín, sometimes erected into the dogmaof primary concern, as in Alma y vida (the union of spirit andphysical vigor), La loca de la casa (evil and good, selfishness andsacrifice), and Voluntad (practical sense and dreamy imagination).
This is one manifestation of that splendid impartiality, thatimpassiveness which enabled Galdós to retain his balance and serenity inthe trials of a stormy and disastrous era. Another evidence of hisdesire to present both sides of each question is found in those dramaswhich appear to contradict one another.
Pedro Minio supportsliterally, in a way to dishearten earnest toilers, the Biblicalinjunction to take no thought for the morrow, and to give away all thatone has; but El tacaño Salomón teaches thrift. Most of Galdós' writingadvocates change, advancement, rebellion against old forms; but Bárbara drives home the strange burden that all things must return totheir primitive state. I do not add El abuelo, with itsanti-determinist lesson, because Galdós never was a determinist; henever believed, as did Zola, that the secrets of heredity can be laidbare by a set of rules worked out by the human mind.
These citations prove, at least, that Galdós was careful not to becaught enslaved by any dogma, and they show, too, that he set no storeby the letter of the law, and prized only the spirit. That is the secretof his fondness for the dangerous situation of the beneficent lie, orjustifiable false oath, which brought him severe criticism when he firstused it in Los condenados (II, 16), and which nevertheless he repeatedin an equally conspicuous climax in Sor Simona (II, 10). Galdósdefended the lie through which good may come, in the preface to Loscondenados, with reasoning like that of a trained casuist; and such alie appears hypocritical upon the lips of Pantoja ( Electra, IV, 8),though it is not so intended. As a dramatic theme the idea is notentirely novel, for Ibsen, in the Wild Duck, had said that happinessmay be based upon a lie. As usual, Galdós provided his own antidote,for, with what appeared a strange inconsistency, and was really a desirefor balance, the lesson of the very drama, Los condenados, is that"man lives surrounded by lies, and can find salvation only by embracingthe truth, and accepting expiation."
This idea also can be paralleled inIbsen and Tolstoy, but it was overbold to exhibit both sides of theshield in the same play.
There still remain the major threads in the broad and varied fabric ofGaldós' ideology. Stoicism, that characteristic Spanish attitude ofmind, allured him often, and he succeeded in giving dramatic interest tothe least emotional of philosophies. In Realidad and Mariucha isfound the most explicit setting forth of that theory of life whichenables an oppressed spirit to rise above its conditioningcircumstances. At times Galdós appeared to dally with Buddhism: atleast some critics have so explained the reincarnation of doña Juana in Casandra, novela. Another tenet of Buddhism, or, as some would haveit, of Krausism, was often in Galdós' thought, and is emphasizedparticularly in Los condenados and Bárbara. Every sin of man must beat some time expiated; and not alone sins actually committed against thestatutes, but sins of thought, sins against ideal justice, which is farmore exacting than any human laws.
All these phases of thought spring from one mother-idea, theperfectioning of the human soul. For Galdós, in spite of the unfortunatetimes in which his life fell, in spite of the clearness with which heobserved the character of those times, was an unconquerable optimist. Hebelieved that Spain could be remade, or he would not have worked to thatend. He believed that humanity is capable of better impulses than itordinarily exhibits, and his life was devoted to calling forth generousand charitable sentiments in men. Whether through stoicism, which is thebeautifying of the individual soul, or through divine and all-embracinglove, which is the primal social virtue, Galdós worked in a spirit ofthe purest self-sacrifice for the betterment of his nation and ofhumanity. He had grasped a truth which Goethe knew, but which Ibsen andhis followers overlooked—that the price of advance, either in theindividual or in society, is self-control.
VI. The Position of Galdós as a Dramatist. —The enemies of Pérez Galdóshave often declared that he had no dramatic gifts, and should never havegone outside his sphere as a novelist.
Other distinguished writers,among them Benavente, consider him one of the greatest dramatists ofmodern times. The truth lies close to the second estimate, surely.Galdós will always be thought of first as a novelist, since as anovelist he labored during his most fertile years, and the novel bestsuited his luxuriant genius. But he possessed a very definite theatricalsense, and it would be possible to show, if space permitted, how itenabled him to achieve success in the writing of difficult situations,and how he never avoided the difficult.
Had Galdós entered the dramaticfield earlier in life, he might have been a more skilled technician, butas it is, El abuelo and Bárbara are there to prove him a creativedramatist of the first order.
From what has been said in the preceding sections, it will be evidentthat Pérez Galdós does not fit exactly into any single one of theconvenient classifications which dramatic criticism has formulated. Hisgenius was too exuberant, too varied. Of the three stages which mark theprogress of the modern drama, romanticism, naturalism, and symbolism,the second, in its strict dogmatic form, affected Galdós not at all.Realism, in the good old sense of the Spanish costumbristas, furnishesa background for his plays, but only a background. A picture of Spanishsociety does emerge from the dramas, indeed. It is a society in whichthere are great extremes of wealth and poverty, in which the old titledfamilies are generally degenerate and slothful, and the middle classesdisplay admirable spiritual qualities, but are too often unthrifty andinefficient. Of the laboring classes, Galdós has little to say. Bitterreligious and political intolerance creates an atmosphere of hatredwhich a few exceptional characters strive to dissipate. Galdós, however,was seldom willing to face these conditions frankly and tell us what hesaw and what must result from such conditions. In the later period ofhis life, to which the plays belong, the sincere study of reality wasswept away by a combination of romanticism and symbolism which liftedthe author into the realm of pure speculation, giving his work auniversal philosophic value as it lost in the representation of life.From the spectacle of his unfortunate land he fled willingly to thecontemplation of general truth. El abuelo, because it unites afaithful picture of local society and well-observed figures with asublime thought, is beyond doubt Galdós' greatest drama.
Menéndez y Pelayo pointed out that Galdós lacks the lyric flame whichtouches with poignant emotion the common things of life. He did notentirely escape the rhetoric of his race. And he was curiously littleinterested in the passions of sex—too little to be
extraordinarily vast and many-sided whenone compares it with that of his French contemporaries of thenaturalistic drama, who observed little except sex. He was not anexquisite artist; he was, judged by the standards of the day, naïve,unsophisticated, old-fashioned. But he was a creative giant, a loftysoul throbbing with sympathy for humanity, and with yearning for theinfinite.
Galdós wrote but five tragedies: Realidad, Los condenados, DoñaPerfecta, Alma y vida, Santa Juana de Castilla. Of them, DoñaPerfecta creates the deepest, most realistic tragic emotion, the tragicemotion of a thwarted prime of life; and after it, Santa Juana deCastilla, the tragedy of lonely old age. El abuelo and Bárbara,also, in some way intimate the mysterious and crushing power of naturalconditions,—the conception which is at the heart of modern tragedy.Galdós attained that serene vision of the inevitableness of sorrow tooseldom to be ranked with the foremost of genuine realists. Instead, hereaches a very eminent position as an imaginative philosopher.
C. THE PLAYS OF PÉREZ GALDÓS
Galdós is said to have written two verse dramas before he wastwenty-five, neither of which was ever staged. One, La expulsión de losmoriscos, has disappeared. The other, El hombre fuerte, was publishedin part by Eduardo de Lustonó in 1902. (See Bibliography.) It appearsfrom the extracts to be a character play with strong romantic elements.It is written in redondillas.
Some of Galdós' novels have been dramatized by others: El equipaje delrey José, by Catarineu and Castro, in 1903; La familia de León Roch,by José Jerique, in 1904; Marianela, by the Quinteros, in 1916; ElAudaz, by Benavente, in 1919.