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The Second Annual Pérez Galdós Lecture:

Slice of Life or Autonomous Creation? Galdós's Novels within the Realist Tradition

by

Professor Geoffrey Ribbans

(William R Kenan Jr Professor of Hispanic Studies,

Brown University, Providence, RI, USA)

My starting point for this lecture is a discussion of two texts which have theoretic implications for the realist novel in general. The first is well-known: the stimulating essay by Sir Isaiah Berlin on Tolstoy's historical perspective, entitled The Hedgehog and the Fox, in which Berlin makes a distinction between what he regards as two opposing and irreconcilable forces, forces which mark - I quote - 'one of the deepest differences which divide writers and thinkers, and, it may be, human beings in general.' The difference lies between those, on one side, who relate everything to a single central vision, one system less or more coherent or articulate, in terms of which they understand, think and feel - a single, universalising, organising principle in terms of which alone all that they are and say has significance - and, on the other side, those who pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory, connected, if at all, only in some de facto way, for some psychological or physiological cause, related by no moral or aesthetic principle... The first kind of intellectual and artistic personality belongs to the hedgehogs, the second to the foxes...

The distinction seems to me a valuable one, even though in my view it is too rigid and too absolute: unity and variety are not irreconcilable and indeed it is difficult to envisage most great literature without a considerable measure of each. Thus I incline to find both tendencies present in most writers, the balance and interaction between the two being determined by circumstances, tradition and genre as well as by individual preference.

While displaying great confidence in classifying individual writers, Professor Berlin admits a special problem in placing Tolstoy. It is the same problem that exists, I shall contend, regarding many other so-called realist novelists, including Galdós, from other European countries. Berlin's ingenious solution is to declare that 'Tolstoy was by nature a fox, but believed in being a hedgehog.' I should prefer to think of him combining the two criteria to a superlative degree; I don't think there is an incompatibility between them. For instance, a good example of the relation between the two is found in the famous and decisive opening sentence of Anna Karenina: 'All happy families resemble each other; each unhappy family is unhappy in his own way,' followed by a sentence that introduces an example of the latter: 'Everything was in confusion at the Oblonsky's house.' The guiding force behind the first statement is the generalizing hedgehog; behind the second and third is the diversifying fox.

My second text may be less familiar, though those of you who attended Lord Hattersley's lecture last year may have some acquaintance with its context. It comes, after all, from Galdós's longest and most ambitious novel, Fortunata and Jacinta, to which I shall be paying special attention, along with other of his novels now easily available in modern English translations. Of Fortunata, for instance, there is a good translation by Agnes Gullón in Penguin Classics and this novel has recently been included in the prestigious Cambridge 'Landmarks of World Literature' series, with an excellent study by Harriet Turner. It is perhaps unfortunate that title of the novel is lumbered with two unfamiliar and awkward proper names, which is quite a liability as far as publicity is concerned; I would have preferred to call it by its subtitle 'Two stories of married women', not - notice - 'A story of two married women'. It is a four-tiered affair, perhaps too long as Roy Hattersley suggested, but its storyline is fairly simple. It recounts how a spoilt, rich and idle young man, Juanito Santa Cruz, seduces a girl from the slums - Fortunata - abandons her and then, under parental pressure, marries his cousin, Jacinta. Frustrated by not having children, Jacinta seeks out the child Juanito is known to have had with Fortunata, but it turns out to be a false trail. Fortunata, meanwhile, is forced into prostitution, but nonetheless marries, after a period of confinement in a religious house of correction, an idealistic but stunted and unbalanced young man called Maxi, who conceives the Quixotic idea of redeeming her. On two successive occasions, however, Fortunata cannot resist the lures of Juanito and eventually has another son by him. She dies immediately afterwards, the result of picking a fight with another mistress of Juanito's, and bequeaths the baby to Jacinta: the two stories of the fertile mistress and the barren wife have merged into one. Such are the bare bones of the story; there is much more, of course, including a dazzling array of well developed secondary characters, some of whom we shall meet tonight.

The passage I want to discuss comes at the very end of the work, at the time of Fortunata's funeral. An admirer, one Segismundo, and his friend, a critic called Ponce, are commenting on her life:

During the long journey from Fortunata's house to the cemetery, Segismundo told the good Ponce all he knew about Fortunata's life, which was quite a lot, without leaving out the last part, which was no doubt the best; to which the worthy censor of literary works proclaimed that it certainly had the makings of a play or a novel, even though, in his opinion, the artistic texture would not be shown at its best unless certain very necessary warps were introduced, through which the coarseness of life could be converted into artistic material. Ponce could not tolerate life being transformed into art just as it was; it had to be embellished, seasoned with sweet-smelling spices and then put on the stove to be well cooked. Segismundo did not share this opinion and the two men went on discussing the issue, bringing forward select arguments on either side and each one sticking to his own ideas and convictions; so it turned out in the end that raw fruit, when fully ripe, was a very good thing, but so also were preserves, provided that the chef knew what he was doing in preparing them.

It is remarkable, but not untypical, that Galdós should present an essentially inconclusive discussion on a cardinal point of literary creation, the opposition between literature representing life in the raw, unmediated, and literature as an artifact distorted (the warps in the fabric) or seasoned (the spice-added preserve); the ironically modest nature of the second image - one later used by the anthropologist Claude L&ecute;vi-Strauss - is also striking. Where should we, as readers, stand between these opposing views? Is a novel, we are asked to consider, a copy of outside reality or an artistic construct more or less independent of external factors? Critics have been greatly divided on the subject, some opting for straight realism, others for a self-conscious artistic creation, and coming down accordingly on either Segismundo's or Ponce's side. My own view is that Galdós is maintaining a deliberately ambivalent stance. The text makes it clear that the story is not simply a straight transfer to paper of a slice of life as it happened, even indeed if this were possible. But the option of artistic embellishment is also problematical. Ponce is not exactly a reliable or accurate guide and the terms of his argument do not inspire confidence. Neither Segismundo nor Ponce give an adequate view of literary creation: the one is too near, the other too distant, to reflect that ideal middle distance that perceptive critics see as the characteristic of the realist novel. And we must remember that this is an internal discussion within the novel about what this same novel is about - in other words, we are introduced to the concept of the self-reflexive novel, so dear to modern criticism. That the novel in general tends towards an self-analytic mode is something I should not want to deny for a moment, and it is not irrelevant to recall the role of Don Quixote as the archetype of all the possible narrative stategies which are to emerge in subsequent centuries. Contemporary post-structuralist criticism has gone much further in its absorption with inner self-generating form, and tends to deny the pertinence of all outside referentiality.

Here the first criterion of the hedgehog and the fox comes into play. The overall view of the hedgehog brings us to a historical vision concerned with public events and over arching social environment. Such a universalizing public view corresponds to the sort of confidence in the absolute validity of science, reason and history we associate with the Victorian age. The qualities it embodies are no longer taken for granted today; hence the justified distrust of modern writers and critics at these values and their literary consequences. The fox paradigm, which supplies the private stories which illustrate and complement public affairs, is likewise subject to attack as a trivial and superfluous distraction from purely aesthetic considerations. Such hostile reactions may be linked with the artistic criterion embraced in an embryonic form by Ponce and refined in modern criticism. Yet this tendency to treat the novel - or any other literary manifestation - as a purely self-justifying entity, as metafiction, also gives rise to problems: all factors other than internally generated questions are seen as intrusive or redundant. Stendhal's famous remark in Le Rouge et le noir that politics in the novel was like a pistol-shot at a concert shows certain doubts about extraneous features, though at the same time he adds equivocally that notwithstanding politics is what the audience expects.

History is singled out as a special target by metafictional criticism, with the result that the historical novel in particular is treated as an inadequate and inferior hybrid form and the realist novel as a whole, imbued as it is with a historicizing tendency, is viewed with disfavour; Galdós, the author of historical chronicles as well as contemporary novels, was particularly subject to this criticism. It is true that rigid scientific criteria now seem inappropriate to an imaginative literary form, that external references in a novel have to obey the rules of narrative and that history itself is far more fluid and elusive a concept than was earlier thought, but in my view the impact of historical events and social phenomena, however difficult to capture, is not in doubt, and these are legitimate themes, not obtrusive, non-literary clutter to be discarded. Henry James had already inaugurated a limiting criterion in his famous description of War and Peace and other lesser novels as 'large, baggy monsters.' Later critics, as varied as Barthes and Ortega y Gasset, and subsequently post-structuralism in general, go much further in their wholesale condemnation of such a representative figure as Balzac and an impatience with realist detail. My firm conviction is that the coexistence of both directions, objective reality and formal structure - not the predominance of one over the other - must be recognized to produce balanced critical work on the nineteenth-century novel. It is comforting to observe that Galdós seems to have felt the same way.

In fact, the treatment given history or society in the realist novel at its best is far from simple. Major figures from real life are rarely protagonists since then historical interpretation would dominate unduly; they are treated incidentally, if at all. Nor is it ever pure imitation of life or mimesis, even if such a thing could exist: hindsight, irony, parody, narrative voice, linguistic tension, open-ended closures, etc., etc., intervene, as we shall see, to add an imaginative dimension to the historico-social reality.

In particular, the fox-like ingenuity of the novelist comes into play, with significant minor details deliberately contrived not only to cast light, sometimes ironic, on the major currents but to place them firmly in a context of everyday reality, typically relating to a less privileged social class: what the French call la petite histoire of minor anecdote in opposition to la grande histoire of major events. Whereas the latter tends to be metaphorical, the former consists of metonymic or adjacent detail, and its most favoured device is synecdoche: the part standing for the whole. This technique may serve several purposes; it may, for example, have a debunking or deflating function, depict a different life style or establish a diverse pattern of values or moral standards from the conventional or official one. Accordingly, irony is frequently present.

A non-Spanish example could be given from Flaubert, more of a fox than a hedgehog according to Berlin's classification, in whom the shadow of the universal is nonetheless unobtrusively present. In L'Education sentimentale, Frédéric, having waited in vain for the woman he has been courting unsuccessfully, Mme Arnoux, settles for second best in the arms of another woman, at the precise moment of the outbreak of the 1848 Revolution, on which so many Progressive hopes rested and were to be disappointed; when after a leap of nearly twenty years she comes to see him, a whole gamut of fox-like mixed emotions succeed each other rapidly. Frédéric's rekindled love is shattered when she takes off her bonnet to reveal her grey hair; fearing a degrading of his passion, he seeks to withdraw, which she interprets as an exquisite gesture of respect. Human failings are mirrored in the context of overall political failure.

Let me apply now these considerations to Galdós. One of the novels available in English, That Bringas Woman, recently translated by Catherine Jagoe for Everyman, has a key event, the 'glorious' Revolution of 1868 which expelled the queen, Isabella II, as the background for the story. The Bringas family (he is a minor civil servant) live in an apartment of the Palace itself; their existence is thus a metaphorical microcosm of the monarchy, with which their fate is inextricably intwined. Rosalía Bringas is frustrated in her social ambitions, translated into an obsession for fine clothes, by her stingy husband. In the hope of getting money from him, she indulges in a fruitless affair with a more senior civil servant and finally, riddled with debts (who else but to Torquemada?, whom we shall meet later), is forced to debase herself to a formerly disdained associate, appropriately named Refugio (Refuge), who has turned to a more shady life-style to earn a living. The scene is very well set, replete with those telling details which make the description alive; Refugio keeps her on the hook for an unconscionable time, obliging her to comb her hair for her before coming up with the money; and she keeps her most devastating thrust till the end, when she reveals that Rosalía's cherished aristocratic friend had delivered the supreme insult by calling her cursi; it is a difficult word to translate, but which Catherine Jagoe renders very well in this context as 'vulgar social climber.' A fascinating metafictional facet is introduced at the very end, when the narrator, a shadowy, anonymous figure who owes Bringas some favours and has now been put in charge of the Palace, refuses to have any truck with Rosalía, who, as we can read between the lines, is all set to save the family by embarking on elegant prostitution. Our narrator tells us that 'She attempted to renew the tokens of her ruinous affection; but I hurried to put a stop to that, for... I was not prepared to go against all the laws of morality and domestic economy, and fulfil that role myself.' How's that for an open-ended solution, according to more modern criteria!

A few years later, the decisive event which destroyed the legitimacy of the First Spanish Republic in 1874 was the clearing of parliament with his troops by one General Pavia - a sort of successful rehearsal for the spectacular attempt against Spanish democracy of 13 February 1981, which some of you may remember. Galdós incorporates this coup into the story of Fortunata's reappearance in Madrid, since the same individual, one Jacinto Villalonga, a buddy of Juanito's and a member of parliament, reports on both events, the political one when Jacinta is present and the private one when she is out of the room; and when she approaches he has to change tack very abruptly and is even caught in the middle of a word. It is a brilliant integration of two distinct discourses, two planes of reality involving the use of power, just as effective in its way as the famous agricultural fair setting against which Rudolphe conducts his seduction of Emma Bovary. It is important also in the characterization of the two playboys and their attitude to women, as when Villalonga describes to Juanito Fortunata's transformation into a lady of elegance, epitomized by her wearing a hat, and goes on to generalize on the basis of a single individual's external deportment:

Her elegance didn't conceal her coarseness, that certain something that smacks of the plebs, a sort of shyness that somehow combines with effrontery, an awareness of being worth very, very little, morally and intellectually, and yet the assurance that they can enslave - ah, the wretches! - men like us, who are better than they are. I mean, it's not that I dare to say we're better, except insofar as social facade goes...But women learn fast. They're like the devil himself when it comes to taking on board everything to do with the kingdom of la toilette. On the other hand, I'd be willing to bet that she hasn't learned to read. That's how they are. And then they go around saying that we pervert them... The ones that have the gift learn in no time. The Spanish race is fantastic, I tell you, when it comes to absorbing everything to do with appearances...

Since male superiority in education, intellect and morals is so easily assumed, women are reduced to a commodity to be exploited and are treated exclusively as sex-objects; the consequences, moreover, are their fault, for being so fascinating to the admiring but predatory male. There is, incidentally, one important woman novelist in Spain at this time, and one of her works, The House of Ulloa, is available in Penguin Classics. Another fine work in the same series is La regenta, by Leopoldo Alas, the one Spanish realist novel that can vie with Fortunata and Jacinta in quality.

In a country in which the subordination of women was specially evident, Galdós makes, in my view, a conscious and consistent effort to define and portray the options open to women in the society he was describing rather than interpret them simply from men's points of view. And, a hedgehog as well as a fox, he is very conscious of where the power lies.

Jacinta, constantly dubbed 'celestial beauty,' must be considered against the background of the cult of 'the angel of the hearth,' the ideal bourgeois woman of the nineteenth century, who is, in the words of the perceptive critic, Catherine Jagoe, 'a meek, homebound, asexual, pious and selfless creature'. What is in fact noticeable is how wholly and ironically inappropriate the concept of 'the angel of the hearth' is to what actually happens. Jacinta's marriage, first presented as the perfect match, quickly settles down into a pattern which Jacinta, but not her immediate family, knows to be a travesty of the ideal. Galdós consistently endows Jacinta with the conventional 'angelic' characteristics of compassion, tenderness, charity, rather than with passion. All this fits in with the initial and simplistic opposition between the two heroines, the angel/ whore polarization, which is set up only to be subverted. The key factor of the self-sacrificing domestic angel is missing; instead of children on whom to exert her benign moral authority, she has only a philandering husband over whom she had no enduring influence and who neglects her sexually. Her misfortune is compounded by the affixiating family structure. Subordinate in every respect to a mother-in-law who is also her aunt, Jacinta has literally no 'hearth' of her own. For Jacinta matrimony gives material and social well-being, but not a shred of emancipation. More than any other character in the novel she suffers unobtrusively from the legal and social constraints to which married women were subject. Trapped in a doll's house no less than Ibsen's Nora, 'half doll, half angel,' as Charlotte Bronte's character Shirley said about men's view of women, she has less influence on her husband than Fortunata does on Maximiliano. Despite the ineffectiveness of her reaction - her occasional 'dove-like fury' - she is not acquiescent in the role she is forced to play. During the bourgeois rejoicing at the arrival of the king at the restoration of the monarchy in 1875 (another good example of the integration of history into the action), she is manifestly at odds with the whole family. Like the Spanish people, she has to bow down to power: 'entrar por el aro' - 'to knuckle under' is a key phrase used throughout the novel. Her deep-rooted dissatisfaction takes in more than her immediate circumstances. Within her limited experience, she shows an instinctive sympathy with women of the people. Thus she is appalled at the fate of the factory women she sees in Barcelona on her honeymoon. She is no less distraught at the women and children who stream around her on her first visit to the so-called Fourth Estate, however separate her comfortable and elegant status - indicated, metonymically, by her bustle - is from theirs.

Likewise, when Fortunata enters the middle class by marrying Maxi, the angelic cult is ludicrously far away from the reality of a household consisting of an impotent, mentally unstable husband, no possibility of children and controlled by a domineering aunt. One of the deepest ironies of the book is that both protagonists, each in her different way, crave for a normal, peaceful domesticity, which the patriarchal establishment denies them. The system has simply let them down, and the result in both cases is intense frustration and active or tacit revolt.

Fortunata, except for brief periods during her meaningless marriage, is society's scapegoat. Treated as a depraved and morally weak-willed woman who menaces family life (the whore side of the stereotype), she is accused by respectable society of trampling on two marriages. This false accusation is part of a general misconception fostered ironically from the beginning of the novel among the ruling class that the disturbing force in society is a band of wanton women who lay siege for innocent young men: in Paris, there are the 'debauched, drunken, money-grabbing harpies who fleeced and hung out to dry the poor young lads who fell into their clutches', as Juanito's mother picturesquely calls them; and in Madrid, the predatory claims of women like Fortunata on Juanito. Male responsibility is thus sedulously avoided. Steva Oblonsky's constant infidelity in Anna Karenina is similarly part of the social fabric of the time and while comparable with Juanito Santa Cruz, is far less wilfully cruel.

What should we make of the denouement? For some Marxist critics, Fortunata 'has knuckled under' (the same phrase once more), by passing her baby to Jacinta on her deathbed, but in my view Fortunata's freely taken decision resolves the insoluble conflicts present throughout the novel and strengthens the moral ties between the two heroines, asserting a more constructive role for women, as well as shaking the complacency of the bourgeoisie. Jacinta's newly found independence of spirit brings a new factor to bear; she has gained in self-reliance and is no longer spiritually subservient either to the dogmatic principles of her friend Guillermina or to Juanito and her parents-in-law. The initiative has shifted definitively to a more ethically enlightened Jacinta, no longer imprisoned to the same degree in a gilded cage. It is a modest advance in women's independence.

In all Galdós's novels the powerful socio-historical imperative - Segismundo's approach - is diversified by features which pertain more to self-analytical impulses concerned with fictional structure that we may associate with Ponce. The importance of non-rational phenomena such as dreams, hallucinations and derangement is one aspect. The extraordinarily effective stage-by-stage development of Maxi's dementia, closely dependent on his relation with Fortunata, is too big a theme to discuss tonight, but I can refer to another fascinating character who demonstrates some of these characteristics. Her name is Mauricia la dura: 'tough Mauricia.' Closely resembling Napoleon in appearance, she represents through her uninhibited sexuality steadfast support for the rebellious side of Fortunata. Her popular idiom is equally unrestrained (Galdós is outstanding for his very varied linguistic registers) and her swearing has a seditious as well as an entertaining function. At the same time, she has extraordinary hallucinations, of seeking to snatch the Host from the chapel and restore Him to the Virgin, which suggest unsatisfied spiritual yearnings; and a remarkable feature of the novel is that Fortunata closely identifies her with her opposite, the Catholic pragmatic philanthropist, Doña Guillermina, who exercises constant pressure on Mauricia and 'to knuckle under.' One of Guillermina's guiding principles, a key component of the nineteenth-century repertory of female virtues, is of particular interest: the theme of sacrifice, which has its prototype in Alexandre Dumas fils's La Dame aux camélias, popularized in Verdi's version of the story, La Traviata. Guillermina's cult of sacrifice is directly applied to, and effectively refuted, by Fortunata, who is enjoined to make such a sacrifice, not just once but twice; once to renounce any idea of marriage to Maxi, and a second time when she is entreated by Guillermina to sacrifice her love for Juanito. Fortunata, who knows La Dama de las camelias, understands and even appreciates the concept. What she does not comprehend at all is why all the self-sacrifice should be on one side: something of an innovation in the literature of the time.

In another novel, Misericordia (Mercy), a significant parallel is traced between the dead Guillermina and the beggar Benina. Because of her genuine charitable instincts, Benina is mistaken for 'a lady in disguise', ie. Doña Guillermina, but quickly accused of imposture, of falsely putting on the airs of a great lady, when she is only 'a common baggage:' 'tía ordinaria,' for those of you who know Spanish. A legend is clearly in the process of forming around Guillermina to canonize her as a 'modern saint,' but we cannot doubt that it is 'the common baggage' who deserves the halo. Misericordia is, incidentally, one of the novels which comes closest to metafiction. Benina explains to her mistress how she came across the small sums gleaned from her begging by inventing a clergyman, Don Romualdo, for whom she claimed to work. Later in the novel a real and rather different Don Romualdo actually appears. Did Benina conjure him up or is it all a remarkable coincidence? Typically, enough Galdós does not give a categorical answer. In Fortunata and Jacinta, too, it has been suggested that Feijoo, the elderly retired coronel who takes Fortunata under his protection and tries to instil discreet, apparently respectable, behaviour into her, is really 'fabricating,' in Pygmalion fashion, a fictional character like a sculptor to conform to his own conception; I believe rather that it is largely an imaginative attempt which lies well within the terms of realism.

Another sort of characterization on both individual and social planes is shown in the moneylender Torquemada, first in Fortunata and Jacinta and then in the series dedicated to him. The whole sequence called the Torquemada novels, has been translated by Frances López-Morillas, and the first and shortest novel by none other than Professor Nicholas Round. The series is, as you know, the subject of Sheffield's Research project, which is ably being pursued by Rhian Davies.

Torquemada's name is not of course casual; the cruel inquisitor of the fifteenth century has given way to the merciless moneylender of the nineteenth. Torquemada's rise from his squalid beginnings in the slums of Madrid to steadily increasing prosperity is linked with a decisive development in the nineteenth-century economy, the sale of church lands, and the consequent shift in moneylending from what Galdós calls 'metaphysical' to 'positivistic', from the sordid avarice of 'those old-fashioned misers who lusted after riches and lived like beggars' in the manner of Balzac's Grandet to assimilation into the bourgeoisie, 'all needs and pretensions.' This process is traced with many historical and metonymic details, nearly always scrupulously consistent, as has been carefully analysed in fine scholarly articles by Professor Round. At the same time Torquemada's social rise to a title and seat in the Senate cannot protect him from personal conflicts and tragedies. The titles of the novels, with their religious connotations, tell us a good deal on this issue. In the first, Torquemada at the Stake, his money and his calculated charity fail to save his talented son from dying of meningitis; in Torquemada on the Cross, when he is reluctantly persuaded to marry into the impoverished aristocracy, he faces the antagonism of his haughty relatives by marriage, specially his sister-in-law Cruz (literally, Cross), culminating, in his 'Purgatory,' in the suicide of his brother-in-law, who is blind, both physically and metaphorically, intransigent and caught in an antiquated time-warp. Finally, at the end of the series, in Torquemada and Saint Peter, he has to face first his wife's and then his own mortality. Galdós make sure first to link the old and the new Torquemada when the miser turned potentate makes a pathetic attempt to recapture his old roots by returning to his old haunts; then, as death approaches, it is unsure as to whether the persistent efforts made to convert him have succeeded or not. Sure enough, he dies with the word 'conversion' on his lips, but then he had also been engaged in a financial project of conversion of the National Debt. Galdós's celebrated ambiguity is evident here: only Saint Peter - and his confessor has this nickname - will know which prevailed.

The series also possesses great linguistic perspicacity, which culminates in the much lauded speech by Torquemada which is full of ill-digested jargon and misinterpreted classical references captured as precisely, though it has more traces of his plebeian origins, as the famous clichés of the pharmacist Homais in Madame Bovary. The most famous malapropism is the reference to the 'sword of Aristoteles,' followed by a correction in which he professes pride in his ignorance about who Damocles was.

To conclude: in all these novels there are countless instances of significant fox-like details which demonstrate the intense anguish and frustration felt by the women; and in varying degrees their despairing actions have unwittingly serious effects on public facets of society - the hedgehog aspect - in which they do not participate.

The realist novel seems to me to be organized in great part around the polarities I have described - the interplay between major and everyday occurrences on the one hand and the tension between outside referentiality and consciousness of the fictional form of the narrative on the other. The works we have discussed, by others, should not be disdained on account of these characteristics, even though their ideological structure is no longer ours. It is interesting to observe that many realist novels are enjoying a vigorous new lease of life as meticulously reconstructed period pieces in television drama. Their success is due in part, no doubt, to the enduring qualities I have attempted to indicate this evening: well crafted fictional discourse reflecting the vicissitudes of human behaviour and dealing with questions of individual responsibility, often between the sexes or social classes or both, and within a firm but carefully selected socio-historical framework. One might wish that, in this modern dimension too, Galdós's novels would join their counterparts from other cultures.

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Professor Geoffrey Ribbans

After teaching briefly in the universities of Belfast and St Andrews, Geoffrey Ribbans came to Sheffield to lecture in Spanish in 1953 and stayed ten years - a time warmly remembered by him and us. He spent the next fifteen years as Gilmour Professor of Spanish at Liverpool, before taking up the William R Kenan Jr Professorship of Hispanic Studies at Brown University in 1978. His distinguished career reflects his unique authority in world Hispanism as a scholar of 19th and early 20th-century Spanish literature and culture. As textual researcher and critical interpreter, both on canonical authors - Galdós, Unamuno and Bécquer, Machado - and in less expected fields (including Catalan), what Geoffrey Ribbans has had to convey has been both enlightening and important.

This is especially true of his thirty articles and three major books on Galdós. His History and Fiction in Galdós' Narratives (1993) gives a model account of a key Galdosian topic; Conflicts and Conciliations: The Evolution of Galdós' 'Fortunata y Jacinta' (1997) will be just as influential.

His work has been honoured many times in Spain and elsewhere (most recently by the Asociación Internacional de Galdosistas). This autumn Brown University will be holding a special international conference in his honour. his involvement with Hispanic Studies at Sheffield, as Honorary Professor and as Consultant Director of the Pérez Galdós Editions Project brings a special distinction to the Department and we were delighted to welcome him back on the occasion of the Second Annual Pérez Galdós Lecture 1998.

See also the Staff page.

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