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 c