Critical Evaluation

Considered by some to be the greatest Spanish novelist after Miguel de Cervantes, Benito Pérez Galdós is known for his numerous historical novels and his treatment of nineteenth century Spain. In his contemporary novels, Pérez Galdós attempts to capture the flavor of Spanish life during a period of great turmoil and political change. In addition to a complex portrayal of nineteenth century Spanish life, Pérez Galdós’s novels are rich in characterization and psychological subtlety. They are matched by few other novels of the time.

Pérez Galdós spent his childhood in the Canary Islands, where he was the youngest in a well-to-do family. In 1863, Pérez Galdós left for Madrid to study law at the University of Madrid. He failed, through lack of interest, his law course, but Pérez Galdós took an intense interest in the daily life of Madrid. An astute observer of life, he set out to pursue his interest in writing, which led him to work for a newspaper after his university days. He published his first novel in 1870, the start of a long and immensely productive career as a writer.

Fortunata and Jacinta is a massive novel in four volumes, which focuses on the lives, sufferings, and eventual reconciliation of two women of very different backgrounds and social statuses. The women are the lover and the wife of Juanito Santa Cruz. Both vie for his attention and loyalty. While Fortunata and Jacinta overflows with finely portrayed characters from nearly all strata of nineteenth century Spanish society, the core of the novel focuses on the subtly idealized, yet flesh-and-blood portrayal of the female protagonists as representatives of two opposing ideals. This opposition is set in a Christian framework, in which charity, compassion, and forgiveness are seen as the highest principles of a spiritual life.

Many of the characters in the novel are portrayed with great complexity and depth, but their purpose is primarily to act as foils for Fortunata and Jacinta. Probably the most complex character besides the two female protagonists is Maximiliano Rubín, or Maxi, who, despite his mental and physical weakness, appears to embody certain philosophical and ethical concerns of Pérez Galdós. These concerns are the overbearing effects of environment and heredity on a person’s life. Maxi strives to overcome his inherited weaknesses, but he is fated to be thwarted at every turn...

(The entire section is 987 words.)