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The Sixth Annual Pérez Galdós Lecture

Galdosian Odysseys


Professor Diane Faye Urey

Distinguished University Professor of Spanish,
Illinois State University

I have long believed that the most important factor in the transformation wrought by Galdós in Spain’s literary sensibility was the First Series of Episodios nacionales, published between 1873 and 1875. Spain’s mood in 1873, together with a growing middle class and increasing literacy rates, positioned the Episodios uniquely to have a profound impact on society. The 1868 Revolution had brought down Isabel II and the monarchy with her, initiating five years of turmoil. These events were part of a turbulent century, which left many Spaniards confused and disillusioned, anxious to “recover” a more acceptable sense of national identity. To this nostalgia, the First Series, centered upon the War of Independence, offered the initially welcome impression of unreservedly championing an epoch of great patriotism, already the stuff of legend though still just within living memory. But the series also encouraged readers to look beyond that recent “heroic age,” and examine the rivalries, wars, and ongoing socio-economic stagnation of the ensuing years. Spaniards, reconsidering their recent history, might perhaps avoid past errors, and so achieve a better future.

The First Series begins in 1805 with the Battle of Trafalgar; its ten novels trace the onset and history of Spain’s War of Independence through to decisive victory at the battle of Salamanca. The narrator, Gabriel Araceli, an octogenarian by the time of writing, is suddenly transformed from senility to youth through a “¡Maravillosa superchería de la imaginación!”; “el tiempo no ha pasado; tengo frente a mí los principales hechos de mi mocedad” (Trafalgar, 1: 184). Remembering as though it had been yesterday, he relives his own and Spain’s “penas y alegrías” in those tumultuous years. The series thus becomes a “coming of age” story, whose particular appeal for young people suited the educational purposes Galdós appeared to have in mind. These, indeed, were amply realized in the use of these novels (and some later Episodios) as history textbooks in Spain and Latin America; still more in their extraordinary popular and critical success.

For over a century the early Episodios remained much the most widely read of Galdós’s works, enjoying “greater commercial success in Spain” (Ribbans, 257) than his other novels, though modern-day scholarship has foregrounded the Novelas contemporáneas. Admiration for the Episodios transcended ideological boundaries. The sense of artistic renewal that the novelist and critic Leopoldo Alas, then a radical student in Madrid, discerned in them in the early 1870s (Alas, 35-36), like the “Horatian” patriotism in which the traditionalist Menéndez Pelayo saw them as delivering such admirable lessons and as playing such a vital role in Galdós’s revival of the Spanish novel (Menéndez Pelayo, 60-63), derive from the remarkably skilful and varied ways in which these novels bring home their ideas and values to their readers.

The First Series already illustrates many original narrative strategies that the later Galdós would develop: characters and scenes typifying what writers of 1898 would call esperpento or intrahistoria; a de-familiarized discourse enabling readers to see things in new ways; a pervasive metafictionality that enhances the myriad ways of reading his texts. One hitherto under-explored contribution comes from Galdós’s exploitation of Classical mythology. Although myths differ as between epochs and cultures, the stories they tell, essentially the same throughout these transformations, appeal to archetypal motifs and universal experiences. They are our inner history. Readers, consciously or subliminally recognizing these perennial human themes, find in them points of comparison defining the dilemmas, trials, and triumphs of past and present. Myths underwrite powerful critiques of individual or collective folly; they also captivate, educate, and delight. As part of an ongoing study, I will offer some examples of how the Episodios weave their mythical histories, seeking to transform their readers, as Galdós writes and rewrites the odysseys of Spain, and will indicate some of the multiple paths through Galdós’s words and worlds by which readers might pursue a deeper understanding of their country and themselves.

Classical intertexts abound in the First Series, epic precedents (the Iliad, Odyssey, and Aeneid, and Ovid’s quasi-epic Metamorphoses) predominating. Often the myths invoked were as familiar to readers as Trafalgar, the War of Independence, the Reconquest, or Numantia. This familiarity enabled novice or uncritical readers, their interest already engaged by Galdós’s intriguing plots and compelling characters, to appreciate and respond to elaborate or unconventional narrative techniques as readily as Galdós’s more educated public. Archetypally significant myths and motifs allowed him to write on many levels at once, inviting a multitude of interpretations, thus ensuring for the Episodios a unique popularity among a diverse and dedicated following. They invited readers to penetrate the surface of official histories, social norms, and ultimately Galdós’s own texts, undermining simplistic notions of objectivity or truth. These Galdosian histories interwoven with myths and texts from many epochs, genres, and cultures resemble the tela sin fin that Inés, the heroine of the First Series, is sewing when Gabriel first sees her. Their beginning and end cannot be discovered or named, except conventionally. By exposing the illusory relationships between language, individuals, and society Galdós encourages readers to evaluate the systems that create culture, including language, the most powerful of all.

Odysseus, “shrewd and cunning tactician,” knows the power of words, as does his protectress, Athena, goddess of wisdom, weaving, and war. “We’re both old hands / At the arts of intrigue,” she tells him. “Here among mortal men / You’re far the best at tactics, spinning yarns / And I am famous among the gods for wisdom, / Cunning wiles, too.” (Odyssey, XIII: 326-31) Athena and Odysseus both speak with “winged words,” as do Homer and the other epic poets and bards. Like theirs, Galdós’s works endure through the voices of his characters, speaking to readers in many different ways.

Gabriel Araceli’s need for skill in speaking is as urgent as that of Odysseus. The latter’s gift is linked with Athena; Gabriel too owes his early formation in persuasiveness to a woman, Countess Amaranta. First appearing in La corte de Carlos IV, she is always a compelling force in Gabriel’s life, though not always on his side. Later in the series, deploying her arts for love’s sake, she becomes a fully admirable, Athena-like figure. Her early attempt to make Gabriel her personal spy about the Court swiftly instructs him in the power of words. He rejects this role and soon must duel with Amaranta, using words for weapons, for the release of an incriminating letter, entrusted to him, which she has acquired for her own cunning designs. His eloquent defence that returning the letter to its owner is a question of his personal honour impresses, but does not sway her. That he achieves through tactics she has taught him, disguising as fable (“No la he leído en ningún libro viejo, sino que la oí…”) the true story of a child born to a young damita. Both know the child to be hers, though not yet that it is Gabriel’s cherished little seamstress, Inés. As Amaranta, beaten at her own game, furiously hurls the letter at his feet, Gabriel reminds her that it was she who taught him to spin such cunning tales: “desde que entré al servicio de usía hasta hoy no he desperdiciado el tiempo.” (La corte de Carlos IV, 352)

Such deceptions may perturb Gabriel’s innate sense of honour and his need to prove worthy of Inés, but on occasion, as with Odysseus, language alone can extricate him from danger. Time and again, from his dealings with Lobo at El Escorial in La corte de Carlos IV to his contact with the French soldiers in La batalla de los Arapiles, he uses “winged words” to manipulate others and outwit his enemies when all else fails. As narrator too, he is forever manipulating his words and his readers. Though in this he most resembles Odysseus, my main point of reference here, his character embodies aspects of many epic heroes, and occasionally less heroic figures.

The broader relationship between classical epic and the Episodios goes far beyond their scenes of war and shipwreck. Bernard Knox attributes Homer’s hold over the Greek imagination to the “simplicity, speed and directness” of his narrative, his exciting action, and the “imposing humanity” of his characters. These poems offered memorable images of the gods, and the “ethical, political and practical wisdom” of Greek culture, yielding a vision of life whose forms seem “moulded by gods rather than men.” (1990: 11-12) Much of this is implicit in Lind’s observations on the Aeneid: “rapid, plain and direct in thought and expression, [and] in substance”; an underlying “good story” with the deeper resonances of both the Iliad and Odyssey; “self-preservation and the heroism to which this instinct can give way; the menace of both gods and elements; conflict and conquest on a national scale.” (xi- xii) Ovid, especially in Metamorphoses, his “epic of transformation,” shares some of these features. His rapid unfolding of narrative and direct psychological detail reach out towards more universal visions; readers, as Gregory observes, “saw in his characters […] their own moments […] of being overpowered by forces greater than their conscious wills.” (xix) Like all these, Galdós was a re-teller of tales whose messages speak agelessly to the human soul, appealing subliminally to archetypal forces, emotions, and dilemmas. Infusing their excitement, romance, and wisdom with such universally recognizable sentiments, the Episodios of the First Series integrate Gabriel’s personal odyssey with the public theme of Spain’s recovered nationhood. No gods appear, but the desires of the powerful – Fernando el deseado or Napoleon – can prove as destructive as Poseidon or Zeus. Like the epics too, the Episodios offer displays of exemplary heroism, yet persistently put that heroism to the question: can glory or national advantage justify the loss of so many lives?

Sometimes Galdós’s epic framing of Spanish history seems to approve such sacrifices. Of the siege of Zaragoza, Gabriel insists that the reduction of the city to ashes with the loss of 53,000 Spanish lives did not happen in vain: it preserved “la idea de nacionalidad que España defendía contra el derecho de conquista y la usurpación.” Because of that martyrdom Spain’s “permanencia nacional” is forever assured. (Zaragoza, 30: 748-49) Yet the lesson already learned by Gabriel five years earlier at Trafalgar radically challenges that conclusion. He sees the victorious English treat the defeated Spaniards honourably: he hears both grieve for their own fallen leaders, and express respect for those lost by their opponents. Veteran survivors wonder aloud whether either defeat or victory can justify such losses – a question poignantly reinforced by the thoughts, remembered in old age, of the boy Gabriel. Amazed, he watches those who fought so fiercely the day before collaborate to transfer wounded from the sinking ship, moved to mutual support by common danger and the “santo sentimiento de humanidad y caridad.” These experiences alter forever his naïve idea of nationality: “islands” battling to wrest territory from each other. Wars, he concludes, stem from the greed and ambition of evil men in every nation. The day must come when “los hombres de unas y otras islas […] se abrazarán, conviniendo todos en no formar más que una sola familia.” (Trafalgar, 13: 230-31) That day, he reflects nearly seventy years later, has not yet arrived. Homer, too, implies strongly that humanity must learn to make peace, not war, or be doomed to repeat the same deadly errors. Gabriel realizes at Trafalgar what Athena finally teaches Odysseus in his own epic. But both ancient and modern epic recognize that such lessons may never be learned – a recognition implicit in those very displays of heroic grief which affirm a shared humanity.

Spanish and English after Trafalgar lament mutually the loss of their great commanders (in a moving digression (12: 225-26) Gabriel gives details of the death of Nelson). Odysseus, an unknown guest among the Phaeacians, weeps as the bard sings of Troy’s fall. (Odyssey, VIII: 590-98) When King Priam comes as a suppliant to ransom Hector’s body, Achilles, most ruthless of epic heroes, weeps with him for the great king’s grief and for the dead Patroclus. (Iliad, XXIV: 592-99) Yet Achilles, having “had his fill of tears,” sees this shared sorrow as proving man’s ultimate powerlessness against the whims of the gods: “So the immortals spun our lives that we […] / Live on to bear such torments […] / There are two great jars that stand on the floor of Zeus’s halls / and hold his gifts, our miseries one, the other blessings.” (XXIV: 613-16) Or perhaps, as Zeus asserts in the Odyssey (I: 36-40), human recklessness is to blame for human suffering. Homer clearly lays some responsibility on men and women for their own misfortunes, as when Odysseus, having angered Poseidon by blinding Polyphemus, foolishly reveals his own name.

Important to any epic hero’s growth is understanding how fatality and responsibility coexist. Dilemmas like Gabriel’s irresolvable hesitation over whether to remain with the crippled old sailor Marcial on the sinking ship (Trafalgar, 15: 244-46) recur as late as the final episodio, but become rarer as the series progresses. Still, individual courage seems in the end unaccountable. In myth, the gods intervene to promote courage or sudden fear: blinding Hector in his combat with Achilles; selecting, as Achilles believes of Zeus, a favourable or hostile outcome. An onset of individual courage or terror, a sudden shift in collective morale, are inexplicable matters for Galdós, as for Greeks or Romans – or ourselves. Gabriel’s reflections on heroism in Zaragoza make divine intervention seem as good an explanation as any: “Jamás me he considerado héroe; pero… en aquellos momentos ni temía la muerte, ni me arredraba el espectáculo… que a mi lado veía…. el heroismo, como cosa del momento e hijo directo de la inspiración, no pertenece exclusivamente a los valerosos, razón por la cual suele encontrarse con frecuencia en las mujeres y en los cobardes.” (Zaragoza, 23: 721) Andrés Marijuan in Gerona finds a clue to the mystery in the merger of the individual with the collective will: “Era la rueda de una máquina, y me dejaba llevar engranado a mis compañeros. No era yo quien hacía todo aquello: era una fuerza superior, colectiva, un todo formidable que no paraba jamás. Lo mismo era para mí morir que vivir. Este es el heroísmo.” (Gerona. 19: 807) Heroism and solidarity go hand in hand.

In defeat, storm, and shipwreck at Trafalgar, Gabriel begins a quest for self-knowledge and knowledge of responsibilities; both kinds of knowledge are inseparable from honour and from Spain’s national struggle. His miraculous escape from drowning (like those of Odysseus) appears fated. Thus symbolically baptized and reborn, he nonetheless quickly realizes that while fate will determine some of his journey, its outcome depends on his own choices. The ships repeatedly beaten back from Cádiz – recalling Odysseus driven from Ithaca – suggest “la cruel aberración de una divinidad.” But Gabriel also recognizes something less arbitrary: “era la lógica del mar, unida a la lógica de la guerra. Asociados estos dos elementos terribles, ¿no es un imbécil él que se asombre de verles engendrar las mayores desventuras?” (14: 238)

That logic is still inexorable. For Gabriel, as for Odysseus when his raft founders off Calypso’s island, worse is to come. Trafalgar will seem child’s play beside the War of Independence: the fields of corpses at Bailén and Salamanca; Zaragoza with its more than 50,000 dead; Gerona starved into surrender after holding off over 40,000 French troops for seven months. Against such backgrounds, heroism is never unmixed; no hero enters battle unaware of imminent death. Andrés, the narrator of Gerona, cannot sustain the optimism of his farewell to Siseta as he goes to captivity in France: “Por cierto que carecía completamente del ánimo y entereza que a los demás recomendaba.” (Gerona, 24: 826) Of all forms of heroism, this outward entereza seems to him hardest. Under such pressures, death can seem attractive. It does so for Andrés, for Agustín in Zaragoza, for Santorcaz (whose youthful love and sacrifice for Amaranta prefigure Gabriel’s for Inés), and often for Gabriel himself. His readiness to die for honour at Salamanca involves a suicidal urge, familiar among the heroes of the Iliad, Odyssey, and Aeneid. Odysseus, his homeland finally in sight, relaxes his vigil and sleeps. Awakening to find that his men have released the winds, he asks, “Should I leap over the side and drown at once?” (Odyssey, X: 56). This temptation, as Knox (1996: 32-33) observes, is a naturally recurring response to the stresses of the long voyage home. Women too, grieving for loved ones, or appalled by their own fate, can yearn for death, as Helen does. Even Inés, realizing that her captor and enemy, Santorcaz, is her father, whom she also comes to love and pity, wants to kill herself. Such emotions are credible because archetypal; they speak to readers from knowledge deep within themselves.

For Gabriel, as for the protagonists of epic and myth, the heroic path exacts a great cost, perpetually testing his willingness to die for honour. His choice of duty above even his own life and love has both a public and a personal dimension, as do the choices of Hector, Achilles, or Aeneas. These choices determine whether they achieve the goal of any hero’s quest: self-knowledge through suffering. They also determine the fates of Greeks and Trojans, imperial Rome, and French-occupied Spain. But the suffering remains; these outcomes cannot alter that. Like Classical epic, the Episodios clearly condemn war, while celebrating those who accept the challenge of their quest.

Even in boyhood, Gabriel matches that challenge, with his innate rectitude, honour, compassion, his budding wisdom and dedication to duty, while remaining a “common man” with whom readers can identify. As Campbell (e.g. 36-38) observes, the hero is as likely to be everyman as demigod. Gabriel’s growth in wisdom, self-confidence, love, and honour exhibits traits of Hector, Achilles, Aeneas, and especially the “quick witted wanderer” Odysseus. Yet his rise from nameless pícaro to a man of honour valiantly earned makes these attributes seem attainable by anyone willing to persevere. Women whose beauty, wisdom, or power evokes Odysseus’s divine guide Athena, or Aeneas’s mother Aphrodite assist him. Other women sidetrack him, tempting his vanity or cupidity, as Circe and Calypso tempt Odysseus, or Dido Aeneas. Like the heroes of epic or of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Gabriel can be torn between love and duty, self-preservation and honour. Yet, like Odysseus, he doggedly pursues his goals – honour, self-realization, love. His inherent virtues develop as he faces ever more formidable obstacles.

Galdós’s integration of Classical characters and motifs into his narrative reinforces their archetypal messages – perhaps most fundamentally, here as in Homer, the waste of war. Gabriel compares the commanders at Trafalgar with “los heroicos capitanes de la antigüedad,” linking Nelson’s name with Alexander the Great. (16: 248) Nelson did model himself on Alexander, who, in turn, is said to have taken the Iliad with him on campaign. Like the historical record, Galdós’s classical reference implies that some things do not change, that certain cross-cultural continuities pervade humanity, attesting to what Jungians call mythic archetypes. It also hints at how hard it may prove for Spain or humankind to curb the appetite for glory that so often fosters instinctual brutality.

Young Gabriel believes it possible, but he has much to learn. Already his naïve appetite for war as an “hermosa fiesta” alongside the quixotic Don Alonso and the battle-hardened Marcial has been chastened by carnage and defeat. He is now more perceptive than his two mentors, schooled in traditions of martial glory and Spain’s ultimate triumph. They and the leaders who let Napoleon involve Spain in this battle illustrate Gabriel’s new insight into how the self-seeking few deceive the many. But any hopes of the many being undeceived remained unfulfilled for the Gabriel of 1873, the time of writing, and remain so still. This self-renewing tragedy is ageless, told and retold in stories that transcend times and cultures. Yet, if anything can be learned from the past, Gabriel’s words here and elsewhere in the First Series, still carry lessons for Spain.

For the senseless destruction at Trafalgar only begins the process of confronting Gabriel, newly initiated into the heroic path, with all the personal and public obstacles he has ultimately to surmount. Yet for him and for others who see the folly of the alliance with Napoleon it signals new self-awareness, a more authentic patriotism, and a less illusory view of war. Hector too, bidding farewell to Andromache, knows there is no escape from war; he also knows its human cost. Odysseus, with similar clarity, describes himself as one of those who, Zeus decrees, “must wind down our brutal wars to the bitter end.” (Iliad, XIV: 106). His epic, like Gabriel’s, confronts him repeatedly with forces beyond his control, and hard choices he alone can make.

The language of Gabriel’s first apprehension of these things purports to recollect a fourteen-year-old consciousness. It thus seems more “natural,” and uncontrived, more truthful and morally right, because Gabriel is still virtually unconditioned by society; he remains an outsider, with no established social identity. This, combined with his heroic compassion and quick sympathy, helps him to formulate a more inclusive concept of patriotism – the first of many redefinitions of traditional ideals: heroism, honour, courage, nobility, humanity. These invite thoughtful readers to re-consider, with Gabriel, “tried and true” versions of history and explanations of the past, and to exercise their own choices regarding time-honoured, barely questioned commonplaces about self and Spain.

Heroism and valour, Gabriel discovers, entail experiences of suffering and devastation, or, as when he finds himself stranded on the sinking ship with the injured Marcial (Trafalgar, 15: 245), fear, doubt, and inner conflict. For heroes of classical epic, courage and compassion involve the same struggles, the same fears of death or dishonour, as they do for Gabriel (and indeed Marcial, for neither here nor in Homer are heroes all great, godlike, or renowned). Some in the Iliad are tempted to flee from battle; some do. Fear and despair drive Odysseus, Achilles, Aeneas, and more than once Gabriel to contemplate suicide. Just as unpredictably, the brutal, single-minded Achilles can feel compassion or the dutiful and compassionate Hector yield to brutality. For the moment, though, Gabriel is stranded on a doomed vessel with the brave but broken Marcial. When the latter dies, the boy loses hope and consciousness. (15: 246-47) But, as will happen often in the First Series, Gabriel miraculously survives. It is the true beginning of his odyssey. Moreover, as Odysseus’s first thoughts when rescued after shipwreck are (while any remain alive) for his men; Gabriel, recovering, thinks first of Marcial. (16: 247)

A central source of interest in the Odyssey – the hero’s dealings with women – comes to the fore in the second story, La corte de Carlos IV. Here Galdós introduces the two women who will matter most for Gabriel’s journey and his representation of Spain: the exquisite Countess Amaranta, Queen María Luisa’s lady in waiting, and Inés de Santorcaz, the young seamstress Gabriel loves, soon to be revealed as Amaranta’s illegitimate daughter. Other women characters appear: Amaranta’s rival in intrigue, the Duchess Lesbia, and the actress Pepita, Gabriel’s employer when the story begins. Galdós frames all these with embedded and explicit allusions to classical literature. Characteristically, this remaking of classical material involves several intertexts. In atmosphere, it owes much to Goya, whose mágicos pinceles adorn the voguish Olympian décor of the royal palace, blending the mythological with the traditionally Spanish. Gabriel observes how “el autor de los Caprichos se burlaba del Parnaso” (La corte de Carlos IV, 22: 335): Goya’s muses suggest manolas; his Cupids recall “los pilluelos del Rastro.” Other references avoid that parodic note. The Odyssey remains an important structuring presence. One prominent detail – the name “Lesbia” – comes from Catullus, a favourite with Galdós’s sometime Professor of Latin, Camús, whom he recalled admiringly for linking the Roman past to the madrileño present, as with his “paralelos magníficos” between Catullus’s fickle lover and “las Lesbias modernas.” (Shoemaker, 269) Camús had done for Galdós what, in this novel, the kindly priest Don Celestino, Inés’s adoptive uncle, does for Gabriel, encouraging him to study “los clásicos latinos.” (La corte de Carlos IV, 3: 266) But the dominant intertext is the one Gabriel invokes when introducing Pepita, whose eyes are “capaces […] de decir con una mirada más que dijo Ovidio en su poema sobre el arte que nunca se aprende y que siempre se sabe.” (1: 256)
Ovidian echoes abound in this episodio: the Ars Amatoria, Remedium amoris, and Amores, the Medicamina faciei feimineae, Metamorphoses and above all, the Heroides, which anticipate the depth and centrality of Galdós’s presentation of women. Their role in the Episodios generally is remarkable, given that wars and policies are made by men. In this novel, though, women are as characteristically to the fore as in the Metamorphoses themselves. The women of La corte de Carlos IV, moreover, resemble Ovid’s heroines in that, as Gregory remarks of the latter, they “do not meditate; they waver between extremes of right and wrong.” (xi) As well they might, given the complex of stories within stories, enacted in this labyrinth of courtly deception. Its historical intrigue revolves around the Infante Fernando’s hostility towards Godoy, his mother’s lover, and his desire to supplant his weak father Carlos IV. The fictional intrigue turns upon the rivalry of Lesbia and Amaranta, supporters, respectively, of Fernando and Carlos. (Lesbia is the keeper of Fernando’s treasonable correspondence with Napoleon). The plot develops through insecure secrets (Amaranta’s illegitimate child – later revealed to be Inés; Lesbia’s multiple adulteries), espionage (in which Amaranta seeks to employ Gabriel), stolen letters, and private theatricals. These complications merge with the power plays that will enable Napoleon to occupy Spain; Amaranta, Lesbia, and Pepita are both movers and victims of events. Galdós’s paradoxical note of sympathetic condemnation in representing this itself recalls Ovid, whose critique of decadence among Roman women also encompassed a sense of emotional conflict. It displayed to readers their own desires, their moments of violence or weakness, their surrender to forces beyond their conscious wills. (Gregory, xviii-xix) Much the same is true of Galdós, as he weaves Ovidian and extra-Ovidian motifs into his array of feminine portrayals.

Thus Pepita, specifically marked as an Ovidian figure, alternates between ingenuity and hypocrisy, generosity and spite, her failings excused by her lamentable education. (1: 256-57) In this, as in her seductive charm, she prefigures her aristocratic friends Lesbia, and especially Amaranta. Amaranta’s eyes are even more lovely, and deceitful, than Pepita’s; in Bailén Gabriel describes them as “los Bonapartes de la mirada humana, conquistaban al punto todo aquello a que dirigían su pupila,” evoking both their beauty and their tremendous power. (Bailén, 11: 484) The rivalry of between Amaranta and Lesbia in court intrigue and the abuse of power has an impact much like that of discord – or, as Achilles complains, of mere caprice – among the Olympians on the mortals whom they govern. Lesbia, indeed, has virtually no other function. Amaranta, by contrast, has roles both in the Ovidian drama of the court and in Gabriel’s larger epic.

Initially a beautiful, distracting, temptress, Amaranta personifies material and moral deception and the strategic use of the language of power. She offers Gabriel dazzling rewards to accept the degrading role of spy. But Gabriel will use to better purpose the arts of language in which she instructs him, making her, in that sense, Athena to his Odysseus. She is also the mother of the wise and pure Inés, who inherits her positive qualities. This 15-year old seamstress, encountered while running errands for Pepita, will be the love of Gabriel’s life, the Penelope to whom, after all his trials he will return. Throughout the Episodios Inés will guide his choices, sometimes directly, more often implicitly, as Athena, the virgin goddess of wisdom and weaving, guides Odysseus. As the object of both Gabriel’s and Amaranta’s rivalry with the afrancesado Santorcaz, Inés also symbolizes Spain: an object of war and desire, perhaps a Helen of Troy. Athena, we might recall, was also, reluctantly, a patroness of war.

By the fifth episodio, Napoleón en Chamartín, war dominates Gabriel’s world. Madrid tamely capitulates to the French; Napoleon is there to witness his triumph. Like Odysseus refusing the offer of immortality, Gabriel has refused Amaranta’s offer of high social advancement if he will renounce Inés. He has, though, voluntarily renounced her, and having lost all reason for living, he feels worthless and suicidal. Yet by the novel’s end, he knows at least that he will always strive to be worthy of Inés, just as he now commits completely to Spain’s cause. These mood-swings again recall Odysseus, constantly thwarted in his efforts to return to Penelope with honour, but never yielding entirely to despair – though neither Gabriel nor Odysseus at such mid-points can imagine what perils await them. The novel’s strongest epic associations, however gather around the old soldier, Santiago Fernández, El Gran Capitan, who, defying the French to the last, perishes in the fire that destroys his handmade fortress. (Napoleón en Chamartín, 30: 655-56)

The immediate comparison is with Numantia: Don Santiago himself invokes it, declaring that the madrileños should follow that example. (20: 618) But the Numantia legend itself echoes Virgil’s account of the sack of Troy, and Don Santiago has close links with Hector’s fatal destiny. Bidding farewell to his sleeping wife, he knows, like Hector, what awaits. His love for Gregoria, so eloquently expressed that the listening Gabriel can imagine her long-lost beauty, evokes the latter’s love for Inés. The old couple too fell in love at first sight, enduring years of enforced separation. Don Santiago’s admission that “Si algo enflaquece mi ánimo, es la vista de mi inocente esposa” (20: 617) also echoes Hector’s words to Andromache: “the pain of the Trojans […] is nothing beside your agony.” (Iliad, VI: 535-39) Of his motives in overruling that anguish, Hector declares: “All this weighs on my mind too, […] / But I would die of shame to face the men of Troy / […] if I would shrink from battle now, a coward.” (Iliad, VI: 522-25) In one of the Episodios’ key statements about honour, Don Santiago instructs Gabriel: “la honra de la patria […] vale más que la propia honra […] si me causa angustia y pesar […] la viudez de Gregorilla, mayor, mucha mayor pena me causa […] que la capital de España se entrega a los franceses.” (20: 617-18) The Gran Capitán does not echo Hector’s words on fate – “it’s born with us the day that we are born” (Iliad, VI: 582-84) – but he faces his death in that spirit. Like Nelson, Churruca, and many unnamed heroes, like Achilles, preferring a brief, dutiful, and glorious life over a long, peaceful one, he values duty more than either self-preservation or love, offering Gabriel and the future heroes of Zaragoza and Gerona an exemplar for their own choices. There is, too, a wider political point. Napoleon en Chamartín ends with French guards bullying their Spanish prisoners into cheering the Emperor. But Gabriel insists that the all-powerful Napoleon is no match for Don Santiago: “Algunos han dicho que nuestro amigo estaba loco; pero ese que ahí va, ¿está en su sano juicio?” (20: 657)

When Madrid surrenders, the outraged Gabriel desires to fight “allí donde sepan morir antes que rendirse a los franceses.” (19: 616) He soon will: escaping captivity, he arrives in Zaragoza for the siege that destroys that city. Its legendary correlatives are Numantia (e.g. chapters 4, 8, 25), and Troy’s ten-year resistance. The subplot involving Agustín Montoria and María Candiola, evokes Hector and Andromache, Odysseus and Penelope – also, naturally, Gabriel and Inés. However, Gabriel and Odysseus finally achieve their goal of happiness in love; not so Hector and Andromache, nor Agustín and María who, like the Gran Capitán and his Gregoria, illustrate the risks that Gabriel’s love must run. More than any Homeric texts, however, Zaragoza evokes the Aeneid.

Many scenes in this tragic slaughter of 53,000 people recall Virgil’s account of the sack of Troy. Both cities, long besieged, fall only to treachery: the Trojan horse; the miser Candiola’s betrayal (Zaragoza, 28: 739-40) of the secret passage from his house (like Andromache’s secret walkway to Priam’s palace, discovered by the Greeks). Neoptolemus kills Priam and Hecuba on Priam’s altar (Aeneid, II: 582-94); the French profane that of the Virgen del Pilar. Like Aeneas’s dream of Troy in flames, María Candiola’s dreams come true, and Gabriel’s nightmare becomes waking reality. In their last defence, the Trojans tear stones from towers to hurl upon the Greeks; in Zaragoza, desperate soldiers hurl rocks and roof-tiles from the towers to kill more Frenchmen. (28: 740) Here, as in Gerona, the horrors of bodies heaped on bodies and serving as shields for those still alive, of fever and starvation, cities and men fighting like automata, rival in their frightfulness Aeneas’s account of his city’s end. Troy and Zaragoza resist to the last, fighting from house to house. Both burn to ashes; virtually nothing remains. The bare thousand left alive in Zaragoza seem matched with the handful of Trojan survivors clustered about Aeneas.

Yet a Virgilian tenderness counterpoints these Virgilian horrors. Within the siege is set the doomed romance of Agustín Montoria, Gabriel’s comrade in arms, and María Candiola, beautiful daughter of the city’s betrayer. Agustín, though destined for the church, has no religious vocation; rather, he is an aspiring poet. with an “imaginación brillante […] educada en la gran escuela de los latinos,” (4: 665-55) and, as the siege will reveal, a man of action. He seems to be what Gabriel, following Don Celestino’s advice from the second episodio, might hope to become. When Agustín describes how he first met María, the Virgilian intertext is evident. Father Rincón introduces his young relative, praising her beauty above all God’s other works. But Agustín invokes another comparison, awestruck and adoring before “aquella obra maestra, que era sin disputa mejor que la Eneida.” (5: 668) Shortly afterwards he tells Rincón that the latter’s beloved Horace is worthless beside Virgil. And he quotes: “Est mollis flamma medullas / interea, et tacitum vivit sub pectore vulnus” (Aeneid, IV: 66-67; in Zaragoza, 5: 668) Ironically, these lines (for him, the loveliest ever written) foretell the doomed passion of Dido for Aeneas.

No less doomed is Agustín’s and María’s love. The order to execute her treacherous father creates a conflict of desire and duty, as agonizing as that of Aeneas. Agustín, renouncing both imperatives, vows to return to the cloister. After the execution, which Gabriel must now oversee, Agustín finds María dead, her body incorrupt, with no wound or blemish. (31: 749) This suggests a willed death: perhaps a suicide like Dido’s; perhaps from a broken heart, grieving for Agustín’s perceived betrayal of her, and for her father. Perhaps (again like Dido) the conflict of these powerful attachments has undone her.

For Gabriel, this tragedy precipitates a profound questioning of his own humanity. Obliged to command the firing squad and order Candiola’s execution, he enters a world of nightmare. This is cold-blooded killing, not doing one’s duty in battle. It is his most abhorrent action of the war, etched permanently on his mind (as his present-tense narrative throughout Chapter 30 imprints it on the reader’s mind), rendering him unable to separate waking life from dream. Yet before the end the values of epic humanism are powerfully reasserted. When the French enter Zaragoza, more sepultureros than vencedores, they weep for the destruction and the many thousands dead (Zaragoza, 30: 748), as Odysseus weeps at the bard’s tale of the end of Troy. (Odyssey, VIII: 586- 608) The devastation evokes a last Homeric reference: “Era la ciudad de la desolación, de la epopeya digna de que la llorara Jeremías y de que la cantara Homero.” (31: 750) The story of Zaragoza and the star-crossed lovers within it is framed and traversed by classical texts, like the flames of love and war encircling and consuming the city.
In La batalla de los Arapiles, his last episodio, Gabriel’s journey faces uniquely challenging obstacles. Just as he has located Inés in Salamanca, she is again placed beyond his reach. She feels a duty to stay with her father, the sick and angry Santorcaz, whom she has come to love. Gabriel, frustrated like Odysseus beaten back from the coast of Ithaca, finds his reaction complicated by the kind of factor which often affects Odysseus too: a woman leads him astray. The temptation threatens his good name, Inés’s love, and Amaranta’s blessing on their marriage. His Circe or Calypso is the English noblewoman Miss Athenais Fly, whose beauty enchants him, as Amaranta’s did earlier, and whose attentions flatter his vanity. Her “glossy braids,” richly golden like those of Odysseus’s temptresses, confirm for him “la imagen de las trenzas de oro tan usada por los poetas.” (La batalla de los Arapiles, 8: 1072) He frequently refers to her as ninfa, hada, or hecichera – terms equally applicable to Calypso or Circe; she admires him as a figure of epic and romantic fantasy. All this belongs to her vision of Spain as somewhere primitive and exotic. “Sólo en España podría encontrarse esto,” she says of Gabriel’s quest for Inés; “¡Oh, qué aventura tan hermosa! ¡Qué romance tan lindo!” (13: 1085) Salamanca evokes for her a dichosa edad, ruled by passion, when “El hombre lo atropella todo por la posesión del objeto amado […] Por una mujer se encienden guerras y dos naciones se destrozan por un beso.” (23: 1114) The former scenario evokes Gabriel and Inés; the latter, as clearly, the matter of Troy. She herself makes the link explicit, finding in Gabriel’s tale “¡Incomparable poesía! Después de la Ilíada no se ha compuesto nada mejor.” (13: 1086) Briefly, he lets himself identify her, and be identified by her as belonging to that fantasy world.

But the fantasy is disingenuous; when she equates Gabriel with the ballad-hero Don Galván, who rescues his princess, assisted by “una hada o dama desconocida” (13: 1986), it is plain who will play that part in Gabriel’s story, but less clear whether any role will be left for Inés. Miss Fly has marked Gabriel for her own; her dubiously honourable strategy of letting defamatory rumours about him spread interacts with the Santorcaz plot-strand to drive him to ever more desperate courses. His mission for Wellington completed, Gabriel’s duty is to return to camp with the map of Salamanca’s defences. He must take a different path from Inés once again and thus abandon, perhaps forever, “los amores de toda mi vida, el alma de mi existencia.” (24: 1124-25) Unable even to bid her farewell, as Santorcaz, with cruel irony, sends the coach containing both women swiftly ahead, Gabriel is left in the dust. The shock reduces him to violent rage, and a savage longing for death in battle: “En mi desesperada impotencia me arrojaba al suelo, mordía la tierra y clamaba al cielo con alaridos que habrían aterrado a los transeúntes… ¡Oh, Dios de las batallas, guerra y exterminio es lo que deseo!” (24: 1124-25) Miss Fly’s tardy return to camp and calculated silences create the impression that he has dishonoured her. The calumny spreads quickly, damaging his repute among the English and, as he believes, with Amaranta and Inés. Now in despair, he volunteers for the most suicidal position on the battlefield of Salamanca. Struggling to seize the French flag, he becomes like a beast fighting with other beasts until, losing consciousness altogether, he finally falls. (36, passim)

Miss Fly retrieves his body, and while he recovers from his wounds, she makes her most determined attempt to win him for herself. His previous despair paralleled Odysseus’s response to frustrated hope; her conduct now echoes Calypso, who offers Odysseus eternal youth if he would stay with her. To Calypso’s question whether she or Penelope is more beautiful, Odysseus tactfully replies that she is, but his heart and honour belong in Ithaca. Calypso graciously lets him go. Miss Fly too compares herself favourably, and with increasing scorn, to Inés. Though Gabriel acknowledges Athenais’s great merits and beauty, he insists that Inés has long been etched in his soul. Athenais reacts less than graciously, with angry insult. “Me debeís la vida” (37: 1164), she reminds him, as Nausicäa reminds Odysseus; he vows, again like Odysseus, that he will always remember her with gratitude and admiration. (38: 1178-79) She declares that she will not remember him at all (though she does retain a lock of his hair). Miss Fly is no wise weaver like Inés, or her near-namesake Athena; aspiring to be a nymph or goddess of epic fancy, she lacks the grace to be either.
Like Odysseus, Nestor, Aeneas, or others in classical epic who tell their own stories, Gabriel, recreating himself in words, observes himself and his listener-readers observing him. Neither formulaic modesty nor the constraints of failing or distressful memory prevent them from ordering events for their own purposes, and drawing attention to their own achievements. Gabriel concludes that his quest has brought him knowledge of self, love of others, and domestic happiness: “La vida fue mi escuela, y la desgracia mi maestra. Todo lo aprendí y todo lo tuve.” (31: 1185) His inner completion, well-merited good name, and joyful marriage to Inés, attest a self-mastery and wisdom, perhaps surpassing even his heroic models. The Iliad, Odyssey and Aeneid all end tragically, with countless deaths and irreparable devastation. Hector knows that war, defeat for Troy, death for himself and his infant son, slavery for Andromache, are all inevitable. Achilles, who took brutal pleasure in killing him, experiences deep compassion for the dead man’s father, as he realizes their common fate – a telling commentary on the gloriously brutal war that he and other Homeric heroes have waged. The Iliad’s last words are: “Thus, then, did they celebrate the funeral of Hector tamer of horses.” At the end of the Odyssey, peace is still threatened by Odysseus’s vengeful rage: only when Athena intervenes directly to stop further killing is reconciliation assured. Revenge is merely measured and curbed – only mythically replaced by peace.

For all Aeneas’s associations of virtus, pietas, and humanitas, the Aeneid ends with him killing his helpless enemy on an impulse of perhaps understandable, but nonetheless ruthless, revenge. Odysseus, heeding Athena’s instruction, at least acknowledges a better way, perhaps without fully understanding it. Achilles, in fellow-feeling and awed mutual respect, can share the misery of the stricken Priam, sensing the common destiny of men, helpless before the whims of the gods. And the voices of women – Cassandra, Andromache, Hecuba, Helen – rise up as Hector’s body returns to Troy – recalling all those that live, love, suffer, and die away from the battlefield, victims, whether victors or vanquished, of the innate human, or male, impulse to war. The Aeneid, though, achieves no final reconciliation, no such reminders of a fuller humanity. Virgil’s last image is of Aeneas, “burning with rage,” plunging his sword into his helpless victim.

From such comparisons, Gabriel emerges well. He overcomes the desire for revenge, even against Santorcaz, who kept Inés so long from him, and tried to have him killed. Like the classical heroes, he fights savagely on the field, especially at Salamanca. Yet only once must he kill in cold blood, ordering the justified execution of Candiola, the traitor to Zaragoza. The fatal word fuego becomes his personal nightmare, bringing him close to self-destruction. The vengeful urge remains powerful: in Gerona, it transforms Nomdedeu into a beast, and threatens to possess Andrés, Gabriel’s friend and alter ego. Gabriel’s dominion over it and himself, represents Galdós’s hope that man may change his destiny by learning from the past. Yet if the myths (where Aeneas is vengeful to the end, and even the level-headed Odysseus must be restrained by Athena) hold archetypal, universal truths, then indeed the young Gabriel’s dream of all men living in harmony is not for this world.



Primary sources
Homer: The Iliad. Trans. Robert Fagles. New York: Viking, 1990.
Homer: The Odyssey. Trans. Robert Fagles. New York: Viking, 1996.
Ovid: The Metamorphoses. Trans. Horace Gregory. New York: Viking, 1960.
Pérez Galdós, Benito: Episodios nacionales. 4 Vols, ed. Federico Carlos Sainz de Robles.
1st edn, 4th rpt, Madrid: Aguilar, 1979.
[All references here to the text of the First Series are to Volume I of this edition.]
Virgil: The Aeneid: An Epic Poem of Rome. Trans. L.R. Lind. Bloomington: Indiana UP,

Other works cited
Alas, Leopoldo: “Benito Pérez Galdós” in Benito Pérez Galdós: El escritor y la crítica, ed. Douglass M. Rogers (2nd edn, Madrid: Taurus, 1979), 21-40.
Campbell, Joseph: The Hero with a Thousand Faces. New York: MJF Books, 1949.
Gregory, Horace: Introduction to Ovid. The Metamorphoses. New York: Viking, 1960.
Knox, Bernard (1990): Introduction to Homer. The Iliad. New York: Viking, 1990.
Knox, Bernard (1996): Introduction to Homer. The Odyssey. New York: Viking, 1996.
Lind, L.R.: “Virgil and the Meaning of the Aeneid.” in Virgil, The Aeneid: An Epic Poem of Rome (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1975).
Menéndez Pelayo, Marcelino: “Don Benito Pérez Galdós” in Benito Pérez Galdós: El escritor y la crítica, ed. Douglass M. Rogers (Madrid: Taurus, 1979), 51-73.
Shoemaker, William H., ed.: Los artículos de Galdós en “La Nación. 1865-1866. Madrid: Insula, 1972.
Ribbans, Geoffrey: History and Fiction in Galdós's Narratives. Oxford: Clarendon, 1993.

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Professor Diane Faye Urey

Diane Faye Urey, a graduate of the University of Oregon, obtained her PhD in Romance Languages in 1977 from the John Hopkins University. After brief appointments in other US universities (one as Head of a Department of English), she began her long association with Illinois State University in 1981. Her quality was quickly recognized there in a series of awards for outstanding research and teaching. She became a full Professor of Spanish in 1988, and achieved the coveted accolade of Distinguished University Professor in 1998. She has served on the editorial boards of several international journals, including Anales Galdosianos, and as Vice-President of the International Galdós Association.

Among Galdós scholars, Diane Urey’s standing is unique. Her first book, Galdós and the Irony of Language (Cambridge UP, 1982) challenged readers and admirers of Galdós as a master of realism to read him in new, theoretically-informed ways, confronting them with new understandings of the manner in which that mastery was exercised, and of the kind of novelist he was capable of being. The challenge was all the more powerful because of its impressive theoretical coherence, and because Diane Urey’s own readings of Galdós were as responsive and as admiring as any of those which she set out to question. Indeed, her second major book, The Novel Histories of Galdós (Princeton UP, 1989), successfully undertook what no-one had yet attempted: to vindicate Galdós’s late historical fiction, not as the falling-off it was often assumed to be, but as a new kind of fiction, commendable in its own terms. Her eagerly-awaited Galdós and the New Reader will consolidate her theoretically-empowered renewal of admiratio in Galdós criticism by reinterpreting the key moment of his entry on the literary scene around and after 1870.

Diane Urey’s copious articles, book-chapters and scholarly papers have opened a range of wider critical debates on aspects of Galdós and Spanish literature of this time. Topics of major interest include women in late nineteenth and early twentieth-century Spanish literature, Galdosian theories of language, and the links between Galdós’s writings and mythological tradition (a theme relevant to her Sheffield lecture). She has made a whole generation of Galdós’s readers and critics think through their understandings of him afresh, and we are privileged to welcome her to Sheffield.

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