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The Third Annual Pérez Galdós Lecture:

Sentimental Genetics:
The Birth of the Intimate Human Sphere in Narrative (Miau)

by

Professor Germán Gullón (University of Amsterdam)

A Cultural Frame for Narrative

Without discounting the value of the inward spirals generated by text-centered criticism, my aim here is to reconsider the worldly aspects of a Galdosian text - Miau (1887) - to reach beyond mimesis and the first referent in order to grasp the more comprehensive cultural referents on which texts necessarily depend to deliver meaning. Since texts are neither read nor written in a cultural vacuum, such dependence exists from the moment a text is written, persisting through every moment of its changing status as commodity, cultural artefact, or historical exhibit, up to the moment when it is read - or no longer read. While the attempt to consider the supercontexts that surround any given text may seem an impossible task because of the sheer magnitude of input and analysis required, those who prefer to isolate the text should be reminded that any textual analysis which takes deconstruction into account leads to equally vast and, for all practical purposes, infinite possibilities.

I believe that we have sat long enough in the cave, obsessed with deciphering the human in the shadows, in the signifiers. We crossed the threshold of reading literature not as a set of words but as a scene of writing around the time of Gustave Flaubert, and perhaps the new leap forward should be to recognize that texts and scenes are now, more than ever, in a word I borrow from Edward Said, 'worldly'. As he puts it,

Whether a text is preserved or put aside for a period, whether it is on the library shelf or not, whether it is considered dangerous or not; these matters have to do with a text's being in the world, which is a more complicated matter than the private process of reading.
(Edward Said, The World, The Text and The Critic (Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 1982), p.35).

The glut of public concerns characteristic of our own times - women’s rights, the plight of minorities, conflicts between political separatism and unification, the population explosion, starvation, ethnic 'cleansing' (the list goes on) - together with their global and instant delivery to our awareness, penetrates every corner of our lives, including that corner we have set aside for the study of texts. Understandably, many scholars are stonewalling to protect their careers, fencing off challenges to tradition, constructing elaborate defensive positions, or simply burying their heads in the sand. Instead, we might again become the cultural beacons of centuries past. This would mean reading texts with a more flexible hermeneutic approach, one that places as much weight on the interplay of signifiers as on the elusive referent, one that includes the I and the other, the text and the world, the author and the reader. For a literary text is more than a string of letters and spaces; it is a complex cultural artefact caught in an ever-changing worldly net. The writer's inspiration and skill, for example, are perforce associated with such ordinary cultural objects as the paper on which a draft is written, and with such extraordinary cultural forces as those of the marketplace and technology. Indeed, if Don Quixote once had to compete with the stained-glass images and icons of cathedrals, it, and all other texts, must now compete with infinitely more powerful, pervasive, and persuasive multimedia - whether interactive or not.

It is difficult to say how this comes about, but man today seems smaller than at the beginning of the Twentieth Century. We realize, when we read books, that the importance of the human being has diminished, that the public sphere has grown. Just imagine a man standing next to one of the many public buildings raised during the last century in any Western capital city: he would seem like a midget. (One recalls the characters in Gustave Flaubert's Bouvard et Pécuchet (1881) at the beginning of the novel, and how they liked to entertain themselves on Sundays inspecting the progress of the public works in Paris). Curiously enough, if you read a book, the human character is always bigger than anything else in it. The discrepancy in these hypothetical images comes from the unacceptable fact that man is smaller than his creations. Perhaps for this reason the topic of perspective made its appearance in the philosophical arena of the twenties, as a last attempt to maintain the reverse order of things: man with a foot planted on the globe.

This is one defining characteristic of western civilization: our centuries-long tradition of subordinating all efforts to the mental component of our cultural life. It is a tradition that leaves many other human components out of consideration. Our cultures lock out all resonances from the world, as if there were no connections whatsoever between the palpable and the life represented in the text.

Re-centering the Text

Most of Benito Pérez Galdós' critics have at some time quoted his famous definition of the novel:

Imagen de la vida es la novela y el arte de componerla estriba en reproducir los caracteres humanos, las pasiones, las debilidades, lo grande y lo pequeño, las almas y las fisionomías, todo lo espiritual y físico que nos constituye y nos rodea y el lenguaje que es la marca de la raza, y las viviendas que son el signo de la familia, y la vestidura que diseña los últimos trazos externos de la personalidad: todo ello sin olvidar que debe existir perfecto fiel de balanza entre la exactitud y la belleza de la reproducción.
(Benito Pérez Galdós, 'La sociedad presente como materia novelable', Discurso de entrada en la Real Academia, 1897).

At the risk here of some apparent discourtesy, I would venture to say that the definition covers far more than we normally read into it. My illustrious predecessor in this forum, Professor Geoffrey Ribbans, framed the comments made in the above quotation with the following assertion: 'The emphasis placed on observation and portrayal of society makes for an identification of fiction and life, which is understandable but simplistic.'

And he goes on:

This rather conventional statement stresses the undoubted importance of detailed circumstances and contains one or two interesting features like the precedence given to 'lo espiritual' over 'lo físico' and the importance of language, but it is inadequate as a definition of narrative technique, whether realist or not. The criterion of 'imagen de la vida' takes too little account of essential difference, so much emphasized by practising novelists and by modern criticism of fiction, between living and the inevitable process of selection and organization involved in writing.
(Geoffrey Ribbans, Pérez Galdós: Fortunata y Jacinta, London: Grant & Cutler, 1977, p.14).

Ribbans is one of the Spanish novelist’s truly distinguished readers; nonetheless, he questions the validity of the text because of what it does not say. Galdós’ understanding of narrative composition was 'inadequate', our critic argues; certainly other Western writers, Gustave Flaubert or Henry James, wrote with more ability about novelistic technique (p. 14). On the other hand, Galdós was a good observer: 'Much more acceptable is the stress laid on the importance of keen observation', states Ribbans (p. 15), as he goes on to praise the acute visual alertness of the Canarian writer. But the question I pose to my friend Ribbans is this: what about what Galdós does say about human passions or the spiritual side of being? Neither Flaubert nor James had a greater aptitude for getting under the skin of the characters to tell us how they feel. And Galdós excels, among other things, in portraying life as no other novelist achieves it. To be valid, the argument advanced by Ribbans must balance not observation versus ideas about literary technique, but life and the efficacy of its representation.

Galdós was the lover of his famed contemporary, Emilia Pardo Bazán for close to a decade. We know today of a telling incident in their relationship: she had a brief love affair with another man. When don Benito learned of her infidelity, he complained bitterly to his lover. She excused herself in a letter saying that a young and handsome fellow had caught her fancy in a moment of weakness and solitude. The brief relationship had no consequences, she added. (See Emilia Pardo Bazán, Cartas a Galdós, ed. Carmen Bravo-Villasante (Madrid: Turner, 1974). Curiously, both artists used the experience to write a novel (Insolación and La incógnita); even Galdós’ Tristana, a third title, shows a character writing in the same style as the Condesa de Pardo Bazán. So, life enters into fiction in many ways, and perhaps the novel is the best vehicle to include life in the images created by writing.

Criticism of those novels, Insolación and La incógnita, has much to say about the naturalism of the first and the epistolary form of the second. Few critics make the connection between the biographical and the fictional, and if they do, it is in an anecdotal manner. Even studies which were written after knowledge of the affair had emerged go on ignoring this seminal incident. It seems to me an odd situation. Pardo Bazán in the closing pages of Insolación defines the novel as a genre that captures memories and an apt instrument to examine human conscience; perhaps that working definition of the novel should be taken into account more often.

It is high time, I think, that we should consider the manifestation of life in the novel - all the more so when we are dealing with realist authors, who managed to tell us, time and time again, how much they relied on empirical knowledge of the world in order to write fiction. The remarks which follow are geared to interpreting how Galdós mediates between the world, the text and the characters in order to represent life, to translate the life felt or imagined by him into fiction.

The World and the Characters

The Nineteenth Century in Spain was the Steam Age: the historical period when industrialization reached its peak. The correlation between the human condition and the world was dramatically altered, because man surrendered his privileged position as master of the universe. He adopted a subservient position with regard to his surroundings; he became another wheel in the forward motion of progress. The machine came to stand between man and nature, or as the latter was soon to be renamed, the raw materials. Human beings began their long journey away from nature towards a more 'civilized' world, accepting in the process the roles of maker and custodian of the machine. Thus we became the little gods of the mechanical realm, while losing direct contact with living organisms such as water or wood. The routine and repetition of working machinery replaced the free exchange of man with his natural surroundings.

At the same time, the exploration of the Earth took a more scientific turn: the measurable side of reality was given pre-eminence over the imaginings of men. The Cervantine symbolic substitution of giants for windmills seemed obsolete and laughable; few would even grant them an existence as figures of the mind. Alongside the administration used to order civil life a new one was created to regulate the relationship of men with their earthly riches. Soon, an enormous cadre of employees watched over the extension of man as manager of natural resources, of forests or water, or even the treasures buried as minerals under the earth. These tax collectors gained prominence in the new state of affairs; nothing became more distanced from nature than this administrative branch of the state, the Treasury, a formidable power in its own right. The main character of the novel Miau, don Ramón Villaamil, is one such employee dedicated to the management of public money in the Spanish Ministry of Finance. Though, as it happens, we meet him at the point when he has just lost his job.

The situation sketched out above made employees utterly dependent on their work. They were what the job made them, a wheel in the State apparatus. The Boletín Oficial del Estado dictated the rank and value of a person; if a man was erased from its pages, the person became a nobody. The loss of a job was a tragic event, and not only because of the loss of salary - there always seemed to be a way to get by. The real tragedy occurred when the human being could no longer look for support from outside, but had to seek psychological strength inside himself. That is what Galdós fictionalizes in Miau: the difficulty of being oneself with one’s own consciousness scrutinizing itself.

In an earlier novel (La de Bringas of 1884), Galdós had fictionalized one of the primary Spanish sins: the value given to appearances. The unforgettable protagonist, Rosalía Bringas went so far in her love for clothes as to compromise the family honor, destroying one of the basic pillars of bourgeois private life: the trust binding husband and wife. In Miau, Galdós will dig even deeper: in the intimate sphere, where looking good is not enough: you must also feel good, even in the worst of circumstances, or learn to live with permanent disillusionment.

The author had already shown the power of consciousness, how individual strength of character and determination could upset the best-established social order, in Fortunata y Jacinta (1887). Fortunata, a woman of the lower class, regards herself as the legal spouse of Juanito Santa Cruz, an upper middle class young man, married to Jacinta, his cousin. Against all odds, this beauty of popular Madrilenian extraction asserts for all the world to know that she is the real wife, because Juanito loves her and together they make beautiful children, while Jacinta, the legal spouse, cannot give the Santa Cruz family an heir. At first the narrator adopts an ambiguous attitude towards the dilemma thus created; later on, Evaristo Feijoo, a recognizable alter ego of Galdós, insists that we must always take society into account and uphold its rules. At the end, we find yet another ambiguous answer: both claims are right in their own way. Fortunata’s child goes, after the chulita's death to be the heir of the Santa Cruz family, and through him her rebellious feelings live on. The narrator, to be sure, kills the character Fortunata, and thus resolves the aforementioned dilemma of a lower class woman imposing her will on society.

Ramón Villaamil is another type of victim of the established order, who has been studied by Professsor Round. ('Villaamil's Three Lives', Bulletin of Hispanic Studies, 63 (1986), 19-32). He was content with his job; the Villaamil family could go about spending money and entertaining friends, when suddenly a change in the political make-up of the government left him without the means of earning a living. His lack of savings and the absence of any kind of social safety-net reduces him to begging for handouts from friends and to incurring debts. His new role as a person in search of help reduces him to a caricature of a human being. He wears elegant clothes, he goes to the Ministry, talks to friends about current affairs, but ends up annoying everybody and not getting paid. His family, good people to be sure, provide him with little support; his wife and sister in law think of nothing but how to get free tickets for the opera. Villaamil’s world narrows to a dark alley with no exit, and he is not used to hearing his own voice in the confines of this most intimate of spaces.

The Public Sphere

The background of the novel is the revolutionary period 1868-1875. Queen Isabel II had been dethroned by two generals, Prim and Serrano. They failed to establish a liberal constitutional monarchy on the English model. Their eventual choice of monarch, Amadeo of Savoy, had no real opportunity to govern before being sent back to Italy, whence he came. The Spaniards then experimented briefly with a federal Republic (1873). Chaos and the army generals between them held the initiative throughout this period, until a shrewd politician, Antonio Cánovas del Castillo, put an end to it. He took control of events and brought back the Bourbon monarchy in the person of Alfonso XII, the son of the dethroned Isabel II. The plot of our novel begins in the year 1878, during the months of February and March. A month prior to the opening of the story, King Alfonso XII had married his cousin María de las Mercedes, the daughter of the Duke of Montpensier. The exact date was January 1878. These events corresponds to the beginning of a new historical period known as the Restoration; Spain was on its way to recovery following years of political unrest. In fact, the greatest achievement of the Restoration period was the peace it brought to the country; Cánovas, the leader of the conservatives, and Práxedes Mateo Sagasta, the leader of the liberals, alternated in power giving the country a chance to heal itself after three quarters of a century of civil wars.

The years of tranquillity allowed successive governments to address the country's business, including among other matters the reform of the overgrown civil service, the warm breast which nourished so many Madrilenian families. The inevitable trimming down of bureaucracy produced numerous casualties, and Villaamil was one of those. In writing this novel Galdós must surely have been inspired by some actual case, for the telling details are carefully given, and match to the smallest item those specified in the administrative law of the time.

This is what appears in Miau (I quote from J. M. Cohen's translation):

To console himself he called up the whole of his life as an official, a slow and honorable career at home and overseas which had begun when he entered to serve abroad in the year '41, at the age of twenty-four (when Señor Surrá was Finance Minister). He had seldom been out of employment before the crisis in which we meet him: for four months in the time of Bertrán de Lis, for eleven during the two years of progressive government, and for three and a half in Salaverría's time. After the revolution he transferred to Cuba and then to the Philippines, which he left after an attack of dysentery. In short, he was now sixty, and had spent a total of thirty-four years and ten months in the service. He was now only two months short of retirement on four-fifths of his statutory salary.
(Benito Pérez Galdós, Miau, trans. J.M. Cohen (Baltimore: Penguin, 1963), p.32. All subsequent references are to this English version of the novel.)

The passage reports Villaamil’s central misfortune: after thirty-four years and ten months as a civil servant he fell short of acquiring a vested right to a decent retirement. He needed two more months of service.

Another relevant fact is that the action of the novel takes place in Madrid. Our author presents an urban stage similar to the one he successfully used in Fortunata y Jacinta. That novel was located in the heart of the city, the Puerta del Sol and the Plaza Mayor. Now Galdós moves a bit further north of that centre.

Around the time when the young Galdós arrived in Madrid to study Law in the early sixties, the capital underwent the last stage of the transformation from a court-dominated city to be the political centre of the country, an actual public sphere. Before the Revolution of 1868, most of the city buildings were conceived and designed by and for the use of the monarchs (the Palacio de Oriente, the Buen Retiro, etc.). Galdós witnessed the construction of many of the civic buildings of Madrid, paid for through taxes, and the birth of the citizens’ awareness that these buildings belonged to them.

Madrid during the second half of the Nineteenth Century offered new attractions and comforts to its citizens. New public services, such as the railway, appeared partly because successive governments were responsive to the wish of their citizens to move around quickly. Much the same can be said of the parks and the sewers: recreation and hygiene were coming to occupy a higher place on the public agenda. Those who paid for the services were listened to as never before.

Public space also became more dangerous. The numbers of people going about in trams, or simply crowding the streets, gave rise to unforeseen accidents. The streets were dangerous places, especially when compared with the home, the safe haven of the bourgeoisie.

The People

a. The Private Sphere

The most commonly explored sphere in realist fiction is the home, the site of private life. Miau, indeed, offers many insights into the family environment, and questions of domestic economy play a central role in the development of its plot. We must realize that, in order to maintain their bourgeois status, as many members of the family as possible had to work, and the solidarity created by this common goal resulted in the birth of the modern family unit. Its characteristics, then, were clear: the development of blood and educational ties, a shield against outside intrusions. The relationships between brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, husband and wife, developed a network of family ties and affections that displaced the vertical model in which the father ruled through the authority given to him by tradition.

The nurture and preservation of such feelings as love, or human feelings in general, demanded an appropriate environment: the family home. It came to be seen as a norm that parents should love their children and vice versa. They were expected to care for each other; when a character with a different set of values appeared in a novel, that character was not well thought of by readers; he or she was something of a monster. Víctor Cadalso, the son in law of Villaamil and the father of Luisín, is that sort of person. He married into the family under false pretences; his frivolity made his wife, Luisa, suffer, and she died young. Nonetheless, he comes back to the Villaamil house, seeking the warmth of the family or so he says. The narrator implies that he comes in search of a refuge, but he buys his way into the family, paying for his stay in the house. The money was needed, so a pretence was made that he stayed with them because of the child.

The private sphere provides Villaamil with no relief. He is let down by the members of his family as well as by society. The expectations he had are gone. The disappointment he feels marks a rupture, the end of something, that places him 'nowhere' with respect to where he was before. (For an explanation of this notion see Thomas Dunn, 'Resignation', Critical Inquiry, 25 (1998), 57). There remains the possibility of resignation to one's fate, but Galdós is going to go deeper yet.

b. The Intimate Sphere

Towards the end of the last century, man developed another sphere: the interior corridors of being. Historically, religion had provided the space to expand our reach into the confines of the mind and conscience - what we call the soul or the spirit. Catholic religion in particular was surpassed by none other in the invention of three vast lands or utopian loci: - heaven, purgatory and hell - where the spirit found its home. The representation of the soul wondering through those mental territories gave birth to a great Christian tradition of thinkers and writers, and Dante's Divine Comedy is perhaps the best known example of all. Universal education during the 1800s caught up with the naive beliefs of the average man and woman - the Age of Reason had already dealt the illusion of life after death a severe blow. A little later, a transformation took place: the human being began to separate his feelings from the movements of the soul. Besides the feelings born to be ruled by conscience, there appeared those which emanated from a rebel will. Conscience found an opposite, whose name was Consciousness.

Miau shows one of the first representations of an intimate sphere, the space where individual consciousness keeps the innermost movements of the soul hidden from others. Because human laws have failed - to say the least - to meet Villaamil's expectations, and religion could neither improve his predicament nor offer him comfort, this grandfather has to pause and get in touch with his feelings. It is a dark corridor never before visited by him, the intimate sphere - a strange and scary place. And he loses his way in his hurry to get out.

Critics have bestowed much attention on a character called God - or, I should say, on a white bearded person wearing long robes who appears in some strange fainting fits suffered by Villaamil’s grandson, Luisín. Too many commentators assume that the child is a reliable narrator when he identifies this biblical-looking figure with God, though his testimony is certainly unreliable. Moreover, the child's petition to God, that his grandfather should get his job back, is not heeded by the Almighty as it should have been (in the novel). A closer consideration of Luisín's interviews with 'God' tells us that they are, in fact, the expansion of the child's consciousness in search of a solution to his personal suffering. So, Galdós, through the allusion to a religious experience, is transferring the supposed manifestation of God to the more human place of our inner space - a warmer place than that of religious dogma or beliefs.

Galdós, in my opinion, intended to offer his audience a secular vision of human identity. A man left without a job was a different sort of disinherited of the Earth than those talked of in the Bible, but equally responsible for his own actions and destiny. And this, I claim, is where we perceive the modernity of Miau: when everything has failed, the human being must rely on himself or herself and, furthermore, must perform a most difficult task: to be oneself and to be able to live with one's personality.

Cervantes showed the world that the human labyrinth was built upon earthly desire: the love of don Quixote was inspired not by the beautiful Lady Dulcinea, but by a vulgar Aldonza Lorenzo. Don Quijote will use a thousand words to cover his tracks; he will deny the truth to Sancho, but at the end it is clear: our impulses are so strong as to contradict the firmest of purposes. The commonplace response is to accept the fact. Cervantes went beyond, trying to cover it with words, and so don Quijote became the complex figure that he is. The same thing happens in Galdós.

Our don Benito could have explained the dismissal of Villaamil in black or white terms. The State is the villain, because it took Villaamil's job away, or things went wrong because he married the wrong person, a woman who spends in excess, or because his daughter Luisa fell in love with Cadalso. The list of possible causes goes on and on. Galdós points to all those factors, and only when he turns to the character's personality indicates the real problem: Villaamil is unsuited to facing life as it is. In fact, the greatness of the novel comes from Galdós representation of the characters' personalities and emotions. Almost all of them are incapable of balancing their feelings and their reason; Víctor is different, because he is incapable of feeling anything for other people.

In Miau, in fact, Galdós merges a complex awareness of being with his invention of the characters’ inner thoughts. I have selected four for commentary: Ramón Villaamil, his daughter Abelarda, his son in law, Víctor Cadalso, and his grandson, Luisín. The analysis lays bare a new cultural situation: the birth of individual consciousness, the emergence of that 'I' that will be the central actor in the Twentieth Century.

The Genetics of the Intimate

1. Abelarda: A Prisoner of her own Emotions

Abelarda Villaamil is, in my view, the best drawn character in the book. At first glance, seen in an external focus, she appears as a 'typical' spinster, ugly and resentful, but when the narrator lets us into her mind we find that there is much more to her than we were led to believe: she is more than a stereotype. Let us listen to her thoughts:

'How plain I am! Goodness me, I look like nothing at all. But I am worse than plain. I'm stupid, a nobody. I haven't a spark of intelligence. If at least I had some talent; but not even that. How can he possibly love me when there are so many beautiful women in the world, and he a man of special merits, a man with a future, handsome, smart with a great deal of intelligence, let them say what they like?' [...] 'How stupid and unattractive I am! My sister Luisa was better, although, really and truly, there was nothing very special about her. My eyes have got no expression. The most they do is to show that I am sad, but not what I'm sad about. No one would ever believe that behind these pupils there is... what there is. No one would ever believe that this narrow forehead and this frown conceal what they do conceal.' (pp. 112-13)

This interior monologue reveals a great deal about the character's private feelings. We encounter a cruel reality: Abelarda realizes that her looks make it impossible for her to reveal her feelings to others. She is an ugly woman and nature has punished her twice at least: Abelarda is unattractive, and incapable of letting others appreciate her personal depth. She would like Víctor to sense the profundity of her love, but her expressionless eyes fail to accomplish the task. They remain mute.

Galdós plumbs new depths here, far beyond those reached in La de Bringas. Rosalía is proud of her looks, and her clothes complement her vanity. Abelarda cannot be embellished; besides, she wants to show her soul not her limbs. In fact, we can say that Abelarda lives imprisoned in her body. Her most precious possession is her consciousness, her ability to understand her situation; she feels physically attracted to Víctor and, at the same time, she realizes that the man is out of her reach. In this empty space between the desire and her realization of her own inadequacy a new sort of consciousness is born. It is the space where human feelings, independent of any religious content or actual contact with the body, are represented.

So, Galdós begins to design the animic map of nineteenth-century humanity, its sentimental genetics; hence the modernity which we find in this novel. We are far from the soul and the spirit as occult recesses where spirituality is preserved; we are equally far from the bourgeois conscience, the measure of good and evil, according to established rules of society. We are close to modern consciousness, that free flowing space where our feelings go as waves from our feelings to our thoughts and back to conform our personality to guide our acts. Sometimes, this space is our only personal domain, where everything else is locked away from us.

2. Víctor Cadalso: Perverted Feelings

Abelarda’s secret love is an unworthy person, Víctor Cadalso, a Don Juan of the lowest kind. He is good only at securing the love of women who are in distress. Let us listen to him:

'I speak to you as one who feels an affection for you... but an affection that now I do not wish to define. A man who lives under the weight of his fatal destiny' (these philosophical statements and others of the same kind Cadalso took from certain novels that he had read). 'A man who is prevented from telling you of his sufferings. And since I may not love you, and I cannot be yours, nor can you be mine. I must not torture you myself or allow you to torture me. Keep your secret [...] Do you love another? Do not tell me then. Why inflame an incurable wound? And to avoid greater conflicts, tomorrow I will leave this house never to enter it again.' [...]
And the minute after the disappearance of his victim [...] with a diabolical little smile on his lips, he indulged in the following bitter and cruel monologue: She'll quite unashamedly make me a declaration of love if I'm not careful. But what an unattractive girl she is! Utterly brainless and ordinary to the last degree. I could forgive her everything if she were pretty. Oh Ponce, what a windfall you've got. A rotten apple, only fit to be thrown on the refuse heap. (pp. 128-29)

Victor plays cat and mouse with Abelarda. He says, 'I love you, but our attachment is impossible.' Her affection for another man, the official boyfriend, Ponce, is used as the artificial obstacle to their relationship, when he knows that he himself is the man she loves. And the narrator makes us privy to Víctor’s cynical thoughts: if she were a beautiful woman, perhaps I would consent to a relationship. In sum, he is incapable of feeling and even his ability to be sexually aroused can be questioned.

Why does Víctor play with Abelarda? He is simply bored. He has nothing better to do than to play with other people's feelings. It is a common psychological mechanism among children that when they are bored they nag their siblings or friends. Víctor is also a Don Juan who has no love for his victims; quite a contrast with Abelarda. She brims with love towards the undeserving Víctor and she is self-conscious, while he is empty of feelings and consciousness. He is a superficial, unthoughtful man.

3. Luisín Cadalso: The Richness of Emotion

As we observed earlier, much ink has been consumed in commenting on the encounters of Luisín with God,. The little boy suffers various fainting spells and during those brief unconscious moments he holds dialogues with a white bearded person, 'God', whom he asks for a job for his grandfather Villaamil. Critics have interpreted the fainting spells as epileptic attacks, but nothing is said about this in the text. So the supposition seems insecurely founded.

The mild fainting spells are a way in which Galdós can make Luisín speak with himself, and with his conscience. He is a nine-year old boy, at the stage in a child's life when play is beginning to be mixed with the understanding of reality, and fantasies often take the place of play; it is a normal way of relating to reality. The fictional dreams are, in my opinion, a way of getting close to his grandfather, of attempting to solve the old man's problem, of mediating between the harsh reality of life and the mitigation of that harshness in its presentation to a young child.

Luisín’s consciousness matches Abelarda's. He too is a prisoner, incapable of influencing events. It is the narrator who understands these things. To have consciousness of oneself is to be alive, to be oneself, to enter into the space where man is man. It is a step towards being a real man. The characters in this novel are about to enter that realm, but they never do.

4. Ramón Villaamil: Knowing Thyself

It is a truly difficult task to know oneself and be able to confront destiny with a serene perspective that encompasses both reality and one’s own potential. Villaamil has suffered a range of setbacks common enough in life: he has lost his job, his family is no help, nor are his friends, and money is a scarce commodity. In this hour of truth, when the unaided 'I' must confront the world, he is alone, and has to dwell for much of the time in a new space, the intimate sphere, the last refuge and/or hell, while he decides upon an appropriate line of conduct. He cannot handle it. Working in the Ministry of Finance, he could be reasonably content when things went right. in the family circle, but he is utterly despondent when he finds himself caged in the small confines of the 'I'. Therefore, he kills himself. It was the only way out.

For centuries man has relied on the church and the symbolic figure of the soul, a context in which all are equal, to act as a source of relief. Nothing can be more comforting, I imagine, on one’s death bed than the idea of a heavenly journey as we near the ultimate dead end. Catholicism, in fact, promises an unmatchable reward: eternal life, during which the inequalities of the present world will at last be made up. In the modern world the soul has found another configuration: a place inside the body, imprecisely located, that answers to the name of inner consciousness. It is a big step in the evolution of human beings, from the person with a soul to the one possessing a conscience, and the one having a personalized consciousness. Galdós is there to show us the difference.

Miau is not only the story of a cesante, a person out of work, a novel dedicated to exploring the impact of the public sphere on the family or private sphere. It is much more: it constitutes an exploration of the intimate. And the whole novel is an experiment in sentimental genetics, dedicated to representing the birth of the 'I' in its own cradle, the confidential reaches of being. All the characters discussed here - Abelarda, Víctor, Luisín, and don Ramón – contribute to the configuration of a consciousness, of the inner life, the most important component of intellectual and real life in the Twentieth Century.

I hope, in closing, that this lecture will have made us think beyond the present impasse with regard to the modernity of Galdós. My discussion of his work has focused on the clash between society (the context of the novel) and the 'I' - a clash that, in my view, offers at once a challenge and an opportunity to understand those magnificent illusions of truth incarnated in unforgettable fictional characters. Galdós, like all great novelists, mediates between the world and the ways in which human beings, the characters and ourselves, react to it.

GERMAN GULLON
University of Amsterdam

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Professor Germán Gullón

Germán Gullón is a graduate of Salamanca University and obtained his PhD from the University of Texas. He has held chairs of Spanish in the Universities of Pennsylvania and California, and was Director of the Instituto Cervantes in Utrecht from 1996 to 1998. He is currently Professor of Spanish Literature in the University of Amsterdam. In 1987 he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. He is the author of ten books of criticism on modern Spanish fiction and poetry, and has edited half a dozen important texts, as well as contributing over 150 articles to major critical journals. He has also written fiction of his own, and comes to Sheffield a few days after the launch of his latest novel in Barcelona.

Germán Gullón approaches the classic texts of nineteenth-century Spain (and Galdós in particular) from the standpoint of a late twentieth-century reader; in touch with the very different ways of writing which have emerged since, and attuned to recently-developed theories of reading and criticism. But his concern is never to reduce or to dismiss what earlier writers have achieved. Rather, he seeks to interpret it afresh, opening up new dimensions of life and relevance, even while paradoxically defining the limits of interpretation. He is a memorable lecturer, and his re-reading of Miau (one of the handful of Galdós novels reliably available in English) has incited many of his listeners to explore that classic story of unemployment and flawed family relationships.

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Summary of Miau


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