Benito Pérez Galdós Published by Salem Press, Inc.
Benito Pérez Galdós is known primarily for his novels. Between 1873 and 1912, he wrote forty-six historical novels, called Episodios nacionales. In addition, he produced thirty-two other novels, the first of which, La sombra (1871; The Shadow, 1980), may have been written as early as 1865. A journalist by profession, Pérez Galdos wrote many articles, as well as prologues to his own works and those of his contemporaries.
Benito Pérez Galdós wrote some two dozen plays. Critics are divided with regard to their merit, although there is an increasing appreciation of the works he wrote for the stage. Contemporaries of Pérez Galdós criticized the novelistic traits they saw in his dramas. In 1893, Leopoldo Alas, known by his pseudonym Clarín, wrote that Pérez Galdós had only managed to put on the stage, with a few changes, ideas novelescas. Other critics agreed that Pérez Galdós’s theater suffered from an overabundance of detail, which encumbered the plot and failed to advance the action. They complained of excessive dialogue and of the author’s inability to achieve dramatic intensity. In short, many of the same qualities that Pérez Galdós’s admirers praised in his books, his detractors criticized in his plays. Indeed, one obstacle to the appreciation of Pérez Galdós’s dramas may be that so many of them are theatrical adaptations of novels. Audiences familiar with the richly woven fabric of the author’s fiction may have felt dissatisfied with his dramas, for which the plot had necessarily to be compressed and from which powerful scenes sometimes had to be omitted because of staging difficulties. For example, the suicide pact between Don Pío and the Count of Albrit is absent from the stage version of the novel El abuelo (1897), possibly because it is set on a steep cliff. Nevertheless, not all critics were dissatisfied with Pérez Galdós’s theater, and after his death, a reevaluation...
The work of Benito Pérez Galdós (PAY-rayz gahl-DOHS) in other literary forms can be divided into three groups: twenty-two plays, including six dramatizations of previous novels: Realidad (pr., pb. 1892), La loca de la casa (pr., pb. 1893), Gerona (pr. 1893), Doña Perfecta (pr., pb. 1896), El abuelo (pr., pb. 1904; The Grandfather, 1910), and Casandra (pr., pb. 1910); nonfiction works, such as Discursos académicos (1897), Memoranda (1906), Fisonomías sociales (1923), Arte y crítica (1923), Política española (1923), Nuestro teatro (1923), Cronicón (1924), Toledo (1924), Viajes y fantasías (1928), Memorias (1930), Crónica de Madrid (1933), Cartas de Pérez Galdós a Mesonero Romanos (1943), Crónica de la Quincena (1948), and Madrid (1956); and hundreds of newspaper articles, many unsigned.
The Spanish Romantics of the middle decades of the nineteenth century sought to re-create the local color of the past or the fantasy of exotic surroundings, while the costumbristas (regionalists) described the peculiar atmosphere of particular Spanish regions and customs. It remained for the realists of the last part of the century to transcend the picturesque sketches and emotional excesses of their predecessors. The realists directed their attention to the multiplicity and variety of observable reality in an attempt to enhance the verisimilitude of their productions. At first, they concentrated on the surface elements of this multiple panorama, while presenting psychological portraits that displayed only a few dominant and usually harmonious traits.
For more than half a century, the novel had viewed people as conforming to general social patterns, and individual character was seen as constant and without development. A descriptive delineation of a person’s dominant motives or reactions to particular situations was the novelist’s goal. The change from this strictly social viewpoint to a preoccupation with distinct individuals became possible when people were given the role of persistent striving, when personality itself was seen as subject to psychological and environmental influences. These new novelistic perspectives were partly the result of the rise of the theory of evolution.
Also contributing to the birth of the realistic novel was the development of new ideas concerning society (a rising middle class represented a new sector of reading public that looked for a literature depicting individual citizens amid a recognizable environment), history (seen now in relation to the ordinary person), and science (the growth of which stimulated the desire for more acute observation and documentation). Some critics view the rise of realism in the Spanish novel as a result of the intellectual ferment caused by the Revolution of 1868, which overthrew Queen Isabella II. During this period, writers began to place equal emphasis on plot and environment, with the two elements functioning within a unified, verisimilar whole.
Benito Pérez Galdós belonged to the mature stage of the realistic movement. He rejected the portrayal of static elements of human nature and turned instead to the description of the varying relationships between the individual personality and the environment. Next to Miguel de Cervantes, Pérez Galdós is perhaps the most important novelist that Spain has produced; he is the only Spaniard of his age who can be compared to Honoré de Balzac, Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy, or Fyodor Dostoevski. In the course of his long career, he alone succeeded in reconciling the traditional and the liberal ideological currents then prevalent in Spain, demonstrating the significance of both past events and recent developments. In spite of the fact that most of his works were set in Madrid, he...
Condé, Lisa P. Women in the Theatre of Galdós: From “Realidad” (1892) to “Voluntad” (1895). Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1990. A look at the portrayal of women in the plays of Pérez Galdós. Bibliography and index.
Gilman, Stephen. Galdós and the Art of the European Novel, 1867-1887. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1981. Divided into one part on the historical novelist and two parts on Fortunata and Jacinta. A perceptive work of scholarship that provides an important context for understanding the novels. Includes an appendix on classical references in Doña Perfecta.