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The Fourth Annual Pérez Galdós Lecture:

Gifts in the Work of Galdós


Rodolfo Cardona
Professor Emeritus of Boston University and
Resident Director of the International Institute in Madrid, Spain


During the last seventy-five years, with increasing frequency, anthropological studies have appeared on the importance of gifts in various societies throughout the ages. Essai sur le don, forme archaïque de l'échange, by Marcel Mauss, a disciple of Émile Durheim, was perhaps the first one; more recently, in 1989, the book written by Jonathan Parry and Maurice Bloch entitled Money and the Morality of Exchange (Cambridge University Press). In 1997, a large volume, edited by Alan D. Schrift, came out with essays written by anthropologists, entitled The Logic of Gift (Routledge). Other books have focused on the phenomenon of exchange, as is the case with the study by John Davis which is simply called Exchange (1992, University of Minnesota Press), or Craig Muldrew's entitled The Economy of Obligation, 1998 (St. Martin's Press). One of the last studies to have come out, more specialized but not less revealing, is the one by Natalie Zenn Davis called The Gift in Sixteenth Century France (University of Wisconsin Press). This author is a historian and in her book she engages in a dialogue with the anthropologists on this fascinating subject.

According to Davis, there are three types of transactions between individuals and/or societies. These are: sale, coercion, and gift. Goods and services may be bought and sold in the open market; compulsion, theft, or violence may obtain them; and they may be given away freely, without return being explicitly expected.1 Each one of these modes of exchange has its own rules and etiquette. Among the types of gifts that exist we may single out Christian charity, aristocratic liberality, the exchange of favors between friends, and mutual help between neighbors. In each of these cases, the donors were expected to give freely without any expectation of return. Nevertheless, the recipients were supposed to reciprocate appropriately.

For my purposes, one of the most interesting chapters in Natalie Zenn Davis's book is 'Gifts and the Gods.' She suggests that theological disputations that accompanied the European Reformation were, essentially, disputations on gifts; particularly, the question of whether human beings were supposed to reciprocate God's gifts, and whether God was obliged to reciprocate the gifts of human beings. In other words, whether God could be put under an obligation.

Davis identifies four models of mutual obligation between God and humankind. I shall deal only with two of them that are pertinent to this paper. The Catholic model was one of complete reciprocity, in which spiritual transactions were represented as an exchange of gifts: between the living and the dead; between the clergy and the laity; between the rich and the poor; and between God and man. The living prayed for the souls in Purgatory who reciprocated in turn by their own ghostly interventions and their intercession before the saints on their behalf. The priests offered prayers and masses for the laity who responded with equipment and money offerings for the church, which varied in size so as not to construe them as payments. The rich gave alms to the poor who were expected to pray for their benefactors. And God's gifts to man were reciprocated with masses which were deemed to be sacrificial returns for the gifts received.

Another important model was the Calvinist. Calvin rejected virtually all the old Catholic notions of reciprocity. For him, God's gift was his son Jesus, given to man freely and as part of His gratuitous goodness. Heaven was not a compensation that one could earn, but the inheritance given to those whom God adopted as His sons or daughters. Calvin denied flatly the possibility that God could feel Himself obliged to reciprocate, and he rejected completely the possibility that a human being could make an adequate return for the Divine Grace received. In his opinion, the Catholic sacrifice of the mass was an impertinent attempt to reciprocate the redemption of mankind by Christ. Furthermore, he rejected the doctrine of Purgatory, thereby ending reciprocity between the living and the dead, and also between the rich and the poor, because all the poor had to offer in compensation for the alms received from the rich were prayers which now were deemed to be useless.

Calvin thought it wrong for the rich to expect reciprocity for their liberality. Rich people had an unilateral obligation to give up to the limit of their possibilities and it was evil to try to subjugate a person to whom you have done a benefit by making him obliged to reciprocate.

It may be obvious already to most of you the resonance that all I have said thus far has in the novels of Galdós. I am going to examine certain situations that will illustrate the theme of the gift in his novels without trying to be exhaustive.


Galdós's novel of charity, understanding this word not as divine love (caritas), but in its most common meaning of alms given to the poor, is Misericordia (a word which could be translated both as compassion and mercy).

The novel, as some of you will remember, begins with the description of the church of San Sebastián with its 'two fronts' or entrances on opposite sides. Once he describes them the narrator tells us that

Casi todo el señorío entra por la [puerta] del Norte, que más parece puerta excusada o familiar. Y no necesitaremos hacer estadística de los feligreses […] [para saber qué puerta utilizan], porque tenemos un contador infalible: los pobres […] . Mucho más numeroso y formidable […] es por el Norte la cuadrilla de miseria, que acecha el paso de la caridad.2

The poor beg for alms from the faithful, a gift from which the latter expect reciprocity in the form of prayers for their souls. It is as if these beggars represented 'a sort of customs officer who collected entrance fees to the divine places, or the contribution imposed to impure souls who come to be cleansed' (pp. 63-4).3

From the beginning of this novel we enter fully into what Natalie Davis calls 'Gifts and the Gods'. The marvelous thing about Misericordia is that, precisely in the field of charity, we find the example of Benigna, the only complete and absolute form of altruism in Galdós's novels (and, perhaps, in the nineteenth-century European novel). Benina, as she is most often called, not only does not receive any compensation for her good deeds towards Doña Paca but, on the contrary, Doña Paca and her family reject her as soon as they collect their 'miraculous' inheritance. It is for this reason that I begin this study with Misericordia, a novel that presents, as it were, a Calvinist model of charity.

I shall briefly summarize the story. Benigna is the servant in the home of Doña Francisca, also known as Doña Paca, a lady who formerly had a comfortable position in society, while her husband was alive, but who now has fallen into poverty, without giving up her former airs. Benigna feels obliged to beg in the streets in order to help maintain the household; but in order not to humiliate her lady she invents the story that she works part time at the home of a priest whom she calls don Romualdo. Without any logical explanation, a priest of the same name appears at the home of Doña Paca to notify her that her rich uncle had died and made her sole heiress to his fortune. This is why I called this inheritance 'miraculous' within inverted comas. As soon as Doña Paca recovers her former status in society, she decides that Benigna will no longer do as a servant and lets her go.

From the very beginning of the novel, from its first paragraphs, the narrator presented many examples of charity, some very questionable. The wealthy don Carlos Moreno y Trujillo, for example, swindler and dealer in black market goods, has made his considerable fortune by illegal means; now he attempts to win Heaven for his late wife, and for himself, through the stingy alms that he distributes on the northern entrance of the Church of San Sebastian. Galdós's text is clear on the subject. Zapata's widow, Doña Francisca (also known as Doña Paca) puts it in the following words:

[…] un hombre que ha ganado dinerales haciendo contrabando de géneros […] Cree que repartiendo limosnas de ochavo, y proporcionándose por poco precio las oraciones de los humildes, podrá engañar al de arriba y estafar la gloria eterna, o colarse en el cielo de contrabando, haciendose pasar por lo que no es, como introducía el hilo de Escocia declarándolo percal de a real y medio la vara. (p. 126).4

We touch here on a theme that was often discussed during the Reformation: whether God is obliged to reciprocate human beings in the guise of transactions between the living and the dead. The living pray for the souls of the deceased in Purgatory, who, in turn, once liberated and in Heaven, will be able to intercede directly before God, or through the saints, to save their souls. Calvin rejected all of these transactions. Galdós makes use of them, but always in an ironic tone bordering on the grotesque.

Before abandoning Misericordia in order to pursue the same theme in other works, I wish to mention the curious case of the blind beggar Almudena and his myth about the wealth of King Samdai to which, according to him, he and Benina can accede.

In chapter XII, after the description of King Samdai's riches that Almudena makes for the sake of Benina, the old woman muses:

¡Qué consuelo para los miserables poder creer tan lindos cuentos! Y si es verdad que hubo Reyes Magos que traían regalos a los niños, ¿por qué no ha de haber otros Reyes de ilusión, que vengan al socorro de los ancianos, de las personas honradas que no tienen más que una muda de camisa, y de las almas decentes que no se atreven a salir a la calle porque deben tanto más cuanto a tenderos y prestamistas? (pp. 140-41).5

And later, when speaking to Doña Paca on the subject, Benina tells her:

-Los sueños, los sueños, digan lo que quieran […] son también de Dios; ¿y quién va a saber lo que es verdad y lo que es mentira? […] Yo hago caso de los sueños, porque bien podría suceder, una comparanza, que los que andan por allá vinieran aquí y nos trajeran el remedio de nuestros males. Debajo de tierra hay otro mundo, y el toque está en saber cómo y cuándo podemos hablar con los vivientes soterranos. (pp.201-02).6

This 'commerce' of possible gifts between ghostly beings or between the needy, quick and dead, becomes an important part of the novel's denouement since Benina's inventions turn out to be a reality. The inheritance that Doña Paca receives is, after all, the gift of a dead man to a living person. The mystery of this transaction is never cleared up in the novel; it remains in the ambiguous zone Galdós enjoyed leaving his readers from time to time in order to tease them.

Curiously, the character of the blind beggar, Almudena, owes his presence in this novel, according to Galdós himself as he tells the story in the Preface to the 1913 Nelson edition of Misericordia, to a gift. When someone told him about a blind man who begged before one of Madrid's churches, he went to seek him. The blind man, he tells us,

[…] me prometió contarme su romántica historia a cambio de un modesto socorro. Le llevé conmigo por las calles de Madrid, con escala en varias tabernas donde le invité a confortar su desmayado cuerpo […] (Preface to the edition of Misericordia, (Paris: Nelson, 1913).7


Eight years before Misericordia, Galdós had written his curious short novel Torquemada en la hoguera (Torquemada at the Stake), which was to be the beginning of a series of four novels devoted to the same person whom we had met before in earlier novels as a 'secondary' character.

In the first novel of the series, published in 1889, the narrator presents the background for his protagonist: a tough money lender, a usurer; he had married Doña Silvia, who died after producing two children: Rufinita, 'cuyo nombre no es nuevo para mis amigos, y Valentinito, que ahora sale por primera vez.'8

The novel revolves around the life and death of this child of whose 'precoz inteligencia [Torquemada] estaba tan orgulloso, que no cabía en su pellejo' (p. 15).9 The reason for his pride was the prediction made by the child's arithmetic teacher at the Institute where Valentín studied:

-Ese niño es cosa inexplicable, señor Torquemada: o tiene el diablo en el cuerpo o es el pedazo de divinidad más hermoso que ha caído en la tierra […] Es Newton resucitado […] un genio que sin duda se trae fórmulas nuevas debajo del brazo para ensanchar el campo de la ciencia […] cuando este chico sea hombre asombrará y trasformará el mundo. (pp.17-18).10

These words contain the core around which this short novel develops. In the first place we have the suggestion that the boy 'is the most wonderful scrap of divinity that has ever fallen on earth,' with which the idea of a nexus between Torquemada's world and God's is introduced. In second place, the prediction that 'when this lad becomes a man he will astonish the world and turn it upside down,' which is not fulfilled because of the illness and premature death of Valentín. What constitutes, then, the core of the plot is Torquemada's fight to rescue his son from death's clutches, with the consequent corollary of an ill- understood religion: the unique idea of bribing God with charities never before attempted or imagined by the miser. Because the gifts and kindnesses which the need to save his son inspire in Torquemada are nothing but a shameless transaction with God for the sake of his son's life. A transaction which, as we may guess, finds no divine answer.

The process through which Torquemada goes from his well-known 'materialism' to the awareness of a transcendental world, is a gradual one. His conversations with don José Bailón are the cause of this 'transformation.' Bailón was a defrocked priest who, after living with a rich widow from whom he inherited a fortune, embarks on a business career which brings him in touch with the miser. Bailón had previously published, around 1873, some half revolutionary, half religious pamphlets which had been forgotten by everyone except for Torquemada, who turned out to be 'the only mortal' who read them.

'Algunas tardes se iban a pasear juntos los dos tacaños, charla que te charla,'11 the narrator tells us, and those conversations touched upon religion, such as the following one. Bailón speaks:

Algunas tardes se iban a pasear juntos los dos tacaños, charla que te charla […] -Pues Dios… - poniendo unos ojazos muy reventones y haciendo con ambas manos el gesto expresivo de abarcar un grande espacio - es la Humanidad, la Humanidad, ¿se entera usted?, lo cual no quiere decir que deje de ser personal… ¿Qué cosa es personal? Fíjese bien. Personal es lo que es uno. Y el gran Conjunto, amigo don Francisco, el gran Conjunto…, es uno, porque no hay más, y tiene los atributos de un ser infinitamente infinito (pp. 23-25).12

Lo único que don Francisco sacaba de toda aquella monserga era que Dios es la Humanidad, y que la Humanidad es la que nos hace pagar nuestras picardías o nos premia por nuestras buenas obras (p.25).13

But he adds immediately:

A decir verdad, ninguna de estas teorías ocupaba largo tiempo en el magín del tacaño, siempre atento a la baja realidad de sus negocios. (p.26).14

But the day came when, upon returning to his house, his daughter Rufina told her father: -No te asustes, papá, no es nada… Valentín ha venido malo de la escuela (p.26).15

Faced with this situation, which worsens rapidly, Torquemada begins to think seriously about all the drivel Bailón had told him, from which he begins to conclude that his son's illness is due to the fact that «He faltado a la Humanidad, […] bien merecido nos está." (p.28).16

The more he thinks about the possible causes of Valentín's illness, the more he connects it with divine punishment. In his mind a commerce of give and take exists between man and God. '¡Bonitas cosas hacía Dios, la Humanidad o quienquiera que fuese el muy tal y cual […]!' (p.36).17

Since Valentín's condition worsens, 'the skinflint' decides to put Humanity to the test by starting a campaign of alms giving. One night he leaves his house in search of beggars, but none appear in sight. Finally, when he finds one he questions him:

[…] ¿dónde diablos os metéis esta noche? Cuando no hacéis falta salís como moscas, y cuando se os busca para socorreros, nada…(p.39).18

After an arduous night of alms giving, Torquemada 'Entró en su casa cerca de la una […] la fiebre de Valentín había remitido bastante. […] En las obras de misericordia está todo el intríngulis. (pp.40-41).19

This makes him think about the efficacy of his actions: 'Works of charity. That's the whole trick' (p. 41).

The trouble is that Valentín gets worse again. Torquemada leaves the house to buy ice and, later, iodine. The father lends himself to carry out these chores diligently. On the way back to his house, '… al doblar la esquina de la calle de Hita [se encuentra con un mendigo haraposo] la cabeza al aire, un andrajo de chaqueta por los hombros, y mostrando el pecho desnudo. […]

-Señor, señor - decía con el temblor de un frío intenso --, mire cómo estoy, míreme […] «Si conforme traigo la capa nueva, trajera la vieja…" (p.41). 20

Upon entering his house he repents, changes his new cape for the old one and leaves again in search of the beggar. A poor copy of Saint Martin.

Torquemada's problem is to square his miserliness with the idea of convincing God, or Humanity, that he is, deeply inside him, charitable and good so that he can earn Valentín's health.

His trials at charity amaze those who know him when he goes out to collect the rent of his properties. Valentín's illness, meanwhile, does not abate. Torquemada remembers a letter he had received the same day that Valentín fell ill. It was from 'un antiguo y sacrificado cliente […] pidiéndole préstamo con garantía de los muebles de la casa' (p.47).21 He now decides to respond to this request and directs his steps towards the house of his former victim in order to help him. On the way there he feels someone tucking at his cape. It is our former friend Isidora Rufete (the protagonist of an earlier novel The Disinherited Lady).

-Iba a su casa. Señor don Francisco, tenga compasión de nosotros… ¿Por qué es usted tan tirano y tan de piedra? ¿No ve cómo estamos? ¿No tiene tan siquiera un poquito de humanidad?(p.48).22

Torquemada promises to go to her house later.

When he finally reaches his old client's house, what disappointment! His client no longer needs the loan he had asked for. It seems that a relative has come to his help... Torquemada leaves the house after offering his client a loan at a ridiculous interest, muttering to himself: 'there is no dealing with ungrateful people.' And he proceeds quickly to help Isidora.

The episode with Isidora is lamentable. She is living with a consumptive painter who is nearing death. Torquemada decides to help them, but takes the patient's paintings 'as a remembrance.'

Finding himself overcome by despair seeing that Valentín's condition does not prosper in spite of all his efforts, he decides to utilize more direct means. From his secretary where he kept the jewels that his debtors leave as pledges 'for usurious loans,' he takes out an enormous pearl, 'the size of a hazelnut, with a beautiful sheen, and picking it up in his fingers, he showed it to the old woman'(p.63).

The old woman is Tía Roma, a servant in his house from Doña Silvia's time.

[Del bargueño donde guarda las alhajas que le han dejado "en garantía de préstamos usurarios" saca] una perla enorme, del tamaño de una avellana, de hermosísimo oriente, y cogiéndola entre los dedos, la mostró a la vieja.

-¿Qué te parece esta perla, Tía Roma?

-Bonita de veras […] Valdrá miles de millones. ¿Verdá usted?

-Pues esta perla […] es para la señoraVirgen del Carmen […]

-Don Francisco - mirándole con profunda lástima - ,usted está malo de la jícara […] ¿para qué quiere ese requilorio la Virgen del Carmen? […] ¡usted piensa que la Virgen le va a conceder…! (pp.63-64).23

And she didn't finish her sentence, but we know what she was going to say. Tía Roma, a simple and truly religious woman, knows perfectly well that one cannot bribe saints. For this reason she advises him to sell the pearl and to devote the money to the poor.

-Mira tú, no es mala idea - dijo el tacaño, guardando la joya. (p.64).24

But no act of his has any efficacy: Valentín dies. After the showy burial, on the following day, Torquemada '[…] fue acometido desde que abrió los ojos, de la fiebre de los negocios terrenos' (p.72).25 Tía Roma who is observing him tells her boss: '- […]Ya está otra vez preparando los trastos de ahorcar' (p.73).26

His transaction with the divine powers having failed, Torquemada announces to Tía Roma: '-[…]La misericordia que yo tenga ¡puñales!, que me la claven en la frente (p.73).27

In spite of his social evolution throughout the rest of the four novels devoted to him, Torquemada remains a skeptic to the end of his life. After disposing in his will of his substantial fortune which he divides into three equal portions, two-thirds for his children (Rufinita and the second Valentín), the last third he leaves '[…] enterito para la santa Iglesia, repartido entre los distintos institutos religiosos que se dedican a la enseñanza y a la caridad… Se entiende que eso será después de mi fallecimiento… Claro.' Las novelas de Torquemada, p. 631).28

No matter how hard father Gamborena tried to prepare him spiritually, Torquemada's mind remains in the world of business: '… convertir el Exterior y las Cubas en Interior…' (p.648).29, is his theme, to the point that his last word before he dies, 'Conversion', leaves everyone in doubt as to whether he meant the conversion of his soul or of the External debt.


Dealings or transactions with God do not appear only in connection with grotesque characters like Torquemada. Surprisingly, in 1890, when the first part of Galdós's novel Angel Guerra appeared, we find quite a different type of character: a young gentleman from Madrid who belongs to a prosperous family and who, as often happens up to our own time, professes to be a revolutionary. We are dealing here with a young university educated man, liberal in politics, more an atheist than a believer who, after an attempted uprising in which he has participated and which culminates in the execution of the Sergeants of San Gil's fortress, finds himself wounded. After Dulcenombre, his mistress, gives him first aid, he returns home when he finds out about the serious illness of his mother. Doña Sales, before she dies, lectures her son, giving us, in passing, a very exact description of Angel's family background, because we are dealing with the man who will be the center of the action. He comes from 'personas bien nacidas, cristianas, decentes [quienes "se enriquecieron con el trabajo y los negocios lícitos"]. No queremos suponer, ni echamos facha; no usamos escudos ni garabatos en nuestras tarjetas […] Pero tú, ¿qué caso has de hacer de esta pobre mujer ignorante, que no ha ido a la Universidad, ni sabe leer esos libracos franceses? Claro. Tú, destinado a reformar la sociedad y a volverlo todo del revés, levantando lo que está caído y echando a rodar lo que está en pie, eres un grande hombre, un pozo de ciencia. No estoy a la altura de tu sabiduría (Ángel Guerra (Madrid: Alianza), pp. 77-78).30 Doña Sales is as direct and frank as all this, as well as in the rest of her lecture.

But how are you going to pay attention to this poor, ignorant woman who has never attended a university - she continues in this tone, reminiscent of Doña Perfecta's ironic speech -who has never read all those French books?

As always, the Spanish conservative Catholics blame all the ills of their country on French influence.

But of course, you were destined to reform society and to turn everything upside down, raising the fallen and messing all things up that are fine, you are a great man, a deeply learned chap. I am not up to your wisdom (Angel Guerra, Madrid, Alianza Editorial, pp. 77-8).

This is how Doña Sales describes her son and we cannot conceive anyone more different from Torquemada than Angel Guerra.

But he will have to go through the same Purgatory as the 'miser.' After his mother's death and having inherited her fortune, his daughter Ción falls ill. Her father becomes desperate. He is ready to do anything to save his daughter.

Ever since his mother's illness and subsequent death, and owing to his complicity in the revolutionary attempt, Angel had found a refuge and hiding place in his house, with the result that he has been continuously in contact with Leré, Ción's governess. Galdós utilizes in this part of the novel echoes from Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, with Angel in the role of Rochester and Leré in that of the eponymous heroine. But it is only a faint echo. Angel is tamed much more easily by Leré who begins to exert a strong influence on him from almost the very beginning of their meeting, particularly in religious matters. The seriousness of Ción's illness pushes Angel towards his old beliefs which 'manifested themselves in the external form of prayers...' And, at certain moments, Angel will reason as follows:

-Porque bien entiendo - decía - que no estoy en disposición de pedir, por no tener fe… Pues a eso replico que tendré toda la fe que sea necesaria… Sálvese mi hija, y no habrá inconveniente en creer. Me rindo, me entrego y reniego de todo lo que pensé. ¿No es un dolor que se me prive de esta hija, mi pasión, mi encanto, mi esperanza? Por malo que un hombre sea, ¿acaso merece castigo tan grande, soledad tan espantosa? No, y aunque la merezca, yo ruego, yo imploro que se me conceda la vida de Ción, porque…, lo que digo; ¿en qué se ha de conocer nuestra miseria y la grandeza del Ser Supremo sino en esto de pedir nosotros y darnos Él lo que no merecemos? (pp. 150-51).31

The transaction with God, implicit in this monologue, is not that different from Torquemada's ravings, only that here it is expressed in a slightly more cultivated speech. In essence we are dealing with the same theme: 'our asking and His giving.'

What does become absurd is 'the gift' that Angel decides to offer God in exchange for Ción's health. Torquemada, in his own crude way, carried out certain charities. Angel, however, does not hesitate to sacrifice a human being in order to obtain his objective.

After having recently received a letter from his mistress Dulce, his lover for a long time, Angel exclaims:

-¡Pobre Dulce! […] También ella pediría por la salvación de mi hija si tuviera noticia de lo malita que está. Ahora caigo en que mi gran falta, además del escándalo revolucionario, es este concubinato indecoroso. Pues yo lo sacrifico. Abajo la inmoralidad. Me enmendaré, romperé con esa mujer. Y si es preciso, para que Dios tenga lástima de mí, que yo le haga una ofrenda de mis afectos; si es preciso el holocausto de una persona querida, ofrezco a Dulce, si, señor…, por ofrecida. Yo la quiero mucho y sentiría su muerte; pero entre ella y mi hija, lo menos doloroso es que Dulce muera y que mi hija se salve (p. 152).32

The quotation is long but indispensable to show how the atheist Angel, influenced by the religious teachings of Leré (ill-understood, of course) tries to make a deal with God: nothing less than the gift of the life of a completely innocent person, totally ignorant of the situation, in exchange for the life of his daughter. Angel, at this moment, is neither better nor more intelligent than Torquemada who, as we saw, influenced by Bailón's drivels, tries to deal with God in similar terms. We are not surprised about Torquemada, but about Angel, we cannot help but feel surprised at his totally selfish behavior. In fact, Angel comes close to sacrilege as he assumes (although only virtually) the power over the life and death of a human being. This scene is emblematic of Angel's problem. In spite of Leré's angelical influence over him, and of her help, Angel will never be able to conquer his earthly egotism. His mystical trances later in the novel, when he is in Toledo, are but a sublimation of his libido.

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.


The idea that through gifts or donations to the church one could 'buy' an entry to Heaven, as we saw in the case of don Carlos Moreno y Trujillo in the novel Misericordia, or with Torquemada, at the end of the series devoted to him, repeats itself insistently up to the end of Galdós's novels and plays. Only that in his last works, as for instance in Casandra, and in his last episodio, Cánovas, the theme appears more openly induced by the church and the clergy or their representatives.

Casandra, a novel in dialogue form written in 1905 and adapted to the stage in 1910, presents the case of Doña Juana, a childless widow, who decides to leave all of her immense fortune to the church instead of helping her needy nephews and the illegitimate son of her late husband. With the latter she is particularly cruel in order to avenge the offense that her husband had inflicted upon her in the past. She tries to separate him from Casandra, his partner of many years, in order to marry him to someone else, and to take her children away. All in the name of an ill understood religion. Casandra saves the family situation by killing Doña Juana before this lady is able to sign such a monstrous will. Her personal sacrifice is heroic. Her last words after the crime, although melodramatic, utter a great truth: 'I have killed the Hydra that was haunting mankind! Humanity, you may breathe again!'

In Cánovas this situation repeats itself, only that in this episode it appears as anecdote in order to illustrate the terrible influence that the invasion of the French religious orders is exerting over Spain during the Bourbon Restoration. The of Pastrana, we are told, has left all of her wealth to the church. When someone asks whether she had no relatives to bequeath her fortune, the answer is highly ironical:

-Sí que los tenía. A unos sobrinos […] los favoreció la duquesa con piadosas mandas para que no les faltase un cocido. No hizo más la señora por la prisa que tenía en subir al cielo para recoger el galardón de su extrema santidad Cánovas (Madrid: Perlado, Páez y Compañía, 1912), p. 252.33

One cannot find a better sentence to conclude this trajectory over those novels by Galdós in which he focused on the importance of the 'gift', with particular attention to the type of transaction that Natalie Zenn Davis called 'Gifts and the Gods.'

We may conclude that Galdós's position with regard to Catholic vs. Calvinist disputations over gifts during the Reformation is closer to the latter than to the former, which does not mean, as the 'Neocatholics' suggested, that he was an atheist or an irreligious person. I am more and more convinced of Galdós's profound religiosity. It is because of it that he was always against any of those superstitions that the clergy of his time utilized to subjugate and exploit the faithful. Such was the case during the Bourbon Restoration, when circumstances lent themselves to these abuses by a clergy anxious to recuperate the properties that the Church had lost with Mendizabal's Disentailment. Galdós's presentation of the theme of 'Gifts and the Gods' in his novels goes from the very human stance of Torquemada and Angel Guerra, who turn to God as the last resort for the salvation of their children, to the open exploitation of the faithful's credulity that we have found in his last works. From all of these cases Benina's altruism in Misericordia stands out as exemplary: gratuitous charity without any expectation of reward.


  1. I am greatly indebted to Keith Thomas's essay-review 'Wrapping it up' which appeared in The New York Review of Books, XLVII, 20 69-72.
  2. Edited by Luciano Garca Lorenzo ( Madrid: Cátedra, 1982), p. 63).
    For the greater part of the year the gentry entered through the northern door which looks more like a concealed or familiar entrance [...] ...without having to make a statistical study of the faithful to find out which door they used, [we have] an infallible guide: the beggars [...] it is on the North where the miserable gang lies in wait for the passing of charity....
  3. [...] A man who has made a pile by smuggling goods [...] thinks that by giving penny alms and, thereby, getting at a low price the prayers of the humble, he can deceive the one up there and swindle eternal glory; or smuggle himself into heaven, or pretend to be what he isn't, the same way he introduced good Scottish cotton as if it were percale at twopence a yard.
  4. (What consolation for the miserable to be able to believe such pretty tales! And, if it's true that there was such a thing as Wise Men who brought toys to children, why wouldn't there be other make-believe Kings who come to the assistance of old people, of honest folks who have no second shirt to their names, of decent souls who Don't dare to go out into the street because they owe so much to as many shopkeepers and money lenders?
  5. Dreams, dreams, whatever anyone says [...] also belong to God. And who is to know what's true and what's false? [...]
    I pay attention to dreams, because it could very well happen, just a thought, that those who are out there could come here to bring us the remedy for our troubles. There is another world under our feet and the trick is to know how and when we can talk with those who are down there...)
  6. [...] promised to tell me his romantic story in exchange for a modest help. I took him with me along the streets of Madrid, making frequent stops at various taverns where I treated him to strengthen his worn-out body [...].
  7. (Las novelas de Torquemada (Madrid: Alianza, 1967), p. 10. 'Rufinita whose name is not new to my friends and Valentinito, who now appears for the first time.'
  8. 'precocious intelligence [Torquemada] was so proud that he nearly burst out of his skin'.
  9. 'This child is something beyond credence, señor Torquemada; either the devil is in him or he is the most wonderful scrap of divinity that has ever fallen to earth [...] He is Newton brought back to earth [...] a genius with an exceptional talent for mathematics, who no doubt is bringing new formulas under his arm to expand the field of science [...] when this lad becomes a man, he will astonish the world and turn it upside down.
  10. 'On some afternoons the two money grubbers would go for a walk together, chatting animatedly.'
  11. For God - popping his eyes and making a gesture with both hands that indicated taking a huge space - is Humanity, Humanity, understand? Which does not mean that it ceases to be personal. What does personal mean? Listen carefully. Personal is what one is. And the great Whole, my friend don Francisco, the great Whole... is all one, because that's all there is, and it has the attributes of an infinitely infinite being).
  12. The only thing that don Francisco got from all that drivel - continues the narrator - was that God is Humanity, and that it is humanity which makes us pay for our mischief or rewards us for our good works).
  13. If the truth be told, none of these theories stayed for long in the skinflint's noggin, which was always fixed on the sordid reality of his business dealings.
  14. 'Don't be alarmed, Papa, it's nothing... Valentín came home from school feeling ill'.
  15. 'I have failed humanity [...] we have it coming to us'.
  16. 'Fine things God did, or humanity, or whoever the accursed being was who invented the world and put us in it!'
  17. [...] Where the devil are you all hiding tonight? When nobody needs you, you swarm like flies, and when somebody goes looking for you to help you, nothing's there.
  18. 'He reached home at about one o'clock [...] Valentín's fever had abated considerably'.
  19. 'Upon turning the corner of the Calle de Hita [...] he met an old ragged beggar [...] without a hat, with a tattered jacket thrown over his shoulders that showed his bare chest...' 'Señor, señor,' he said, trembling with intense cold, 'look at the state I'm in. Look at me.' Torquemada passed him by, stopped a short distance away, and turned back. Hesitated for a moment, and at last went on his way. The following idea flashed through his brain: 'If only I'd been wearing the old cape instead of the new one').
  20. 'an old and sacrificed client, who asked for a loan offering his furniture as collateral'.
  21. -I was on the way to your house. Señor don Francisco, have pity on us. Why are you so harsh, so unyielding? Canít you see the straits weíre in? Havenít you even a touch of humanity?).
  22. -Whatd'you think of this pearl?
    -It's really beautiful... It's got to be worth thousands of millions, Don't it?
    -Well, this pearl [...] is for Our Lady the Virgin of Carmen. [...]
    -Don Francisco - regarding him with infinite pity - you must be off your nut. [...] What would the Virgin of Carmen want with that great big thing? [...] D'you really think that the Virgin is going to help...)
  23. -Hey, that's not a bad idea - said the miser, putting away the jewel.
  24. 'was attacked, from the moment he opened his eyes, by the fever of earthly business'.
  25. 'There you go again, fixing the tools to hang folks'.
  26. 'Any pity I have from now on, dammit! They can throw right back in my face.'
  27. 'whole to the Holy Mother Church, to be divided amongst the various religious institutions devoted to teaching and to charity... It is to be understood that all this will be after I die... Of course...'
  28. 'to convert the external debt and the Cuban notes into internal...'
  29. 'well born people, Christian, decent,' who 'became wealthy through hard work and legal businesses,' as his mother tells it. 'We never tried to put on airs nor pretend; we never used a family coat of arms nor any such scrawl in our visiting cards...'
  30. -Because it is obvious that I am not in a position to beg for favors due to my lack of faith... Well, to that I reply that I would be willing to have all the necessary faith... My daughter cured, there will be no obstacle to believing. I surrender; I give up and renounce everything I once thought. Isn't it a pity that I should be deprived of this daughter, my love, my sweetheart, my hope? No matter how bad a man may be, does he perchance deserve so great a punishment, such horrendous solitude? Of course not, and even if he should deserve it, I beg, I implore that Ción's life be granted me, because... What I always say: how is one's misery to be known, and the greatness of the Supreme Being, but for our asking and His giving what we do not deserve.

  31. Poor Dulce! [...] She too would pray for my daughter's salvation if she knew how ill she is. Now I realize my big sin: in addition to my revolutionary scandal, this unseemly relationship. Well then, I shall give it up. Down with immorality! I will mend my ways. I shall break my relationship with that woman. And, if necessary, so that God feels sorry for me, I shall offer him a gift of my affections; if the holocaust of a dear person is needed, I offer Dulce, yes sir, consider it done. I love her very much and I would feel terribly were she to die; but between Dulce and my daughter, the least painful is that Dulce die and that my daughter live.
  32. -Of course she had! The favored some nephews with pious bequests so that they won't lack a stew. The lady did not do anymore because of the hurry she was in to enter heaven in order to gather the reward of her extreme sanctity.


    Natalie Zenn Davis, The Gift in Sixteenth Century France, Madison, University of Wisconsin Press, 2000.

    Benito Pérez Galdós, Angel Guerra, I, Madrid, Alianza Editorial, 1986.

    _______________, Cánovas, Madrid, 1912.

    _______________, Casandra, novela dialogada, Madrid, 1905.

    _______________, Las novelas de Torquemada, Madrid, Alianza Editorial, 1967.

    _______________, Misericordia, ed. Luciano García Lorenzo, Madrid, Cátedra, 1982.

    _______________, Torquemada, translated by Frances López Morillas, New York, Columbia University press, 1986.

    Keith Tomas, 'Wrapping it Up,' The New York Review of Books, XLVII, 20, 69-72.

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    Rodolfo Cardona

    Born in San José, Costa Rica in 1924, Rodolfo Cardona has lived in the United States since 1943. He became a US citizen in 1950. After receiving his doctorate from the University of Washington, he taught in senior positions at a number of major American universities (including a period as Visiting Professor at Harvard. His last two Chairs were at the University of Texas at Austin and Boston University. He has published distinguished criticism on many aspects of 19th and 20th-century Spanish literature and theatre, including books on Galdós, Valle-Inclán and Gómez de la Serna, as well as editing works by all three. He is best-known, however, for his outstanding contributions to Galdós studies in North America and worldwide. Notable among these are The Figure of Christ in the Works of Galdós, edited with P. Bowman and A.N. Zahareas (New York, 1967), Galdós ante la literatura y la historia (Las Palmas, 1998), and his justly admired edition of Doña Perfecta (Madrid: Cátedra, 1982). He was the founder (1965) and for many years the editor of the journal Anales Galdosianos. He also founded the Asociación Internacional de Galdosistas. He was the first non-Spanish scholar to receive the medal of Galdosiano de Honor by the Cabildo Insular de Gran Canaria. He has the rare distinction of having been honoured by two Festschrifts: one in 1978 on leaving the University of Texas, the other in 1986 to celebrate his twenty years as editior of Anales Galdosianos.

    He has lectured in numerous American and Spanish Universities as well as the Ateneo in Madrid. He is also a published novelist.

    He retired from Boston in 1990 as University Professor Emeritus of Spanish and Comparative Literature. At present he is the Resident Director of the International Institute in Madrid.

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