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Last Updated on January 11, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1490

First published: 1890-1891

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Political and religious tragedy

Time of work: Late nineteenth century

Locale: Madrid and Toledo

Principal Characters:

Angel Guerra, a widower

Dona Sales, his mother

Encarnacion (Cion), his seven-year-old daughter

Lorenza (Lere), Dona Sales’s nurse

Aristides Garcia...

(The entire section contains 1490 words.)

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First published: 1890-1891

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Political and religious tragedy

Time of work: Late nineteenth century

Locale: Madrid and Toledo

Principal Characters:

Angel Guerra, a widower

Dona Sales, his mother

Encarnacion (Cion), his seven-year-old daughter

Lorenza (Lere), Dona Sales’s nurse

Aristides Garcia Babel, an embezzler

Fausto Garcia Babel, his dishonest brother

Dulcenombre (Dulce) Babel, Angel’s sometime mistress

Padre Casado, a priest

The Story:

Angel Guerra, thirty years old and a widower, father of an adored daughter Encarnacion, had spent an unhappy childhood. An idealist, he had turned to the revolutionists, thinking that if everything were overthrown life could be improved in the rebuilding. His mother, Dona Sales, disapproved of him and treated him like a child, even after he was married. An extremely rich woman, she tried to starve her liberal-minded son into submission to her wishes, but she managed only to drive him into the company of advocates of violence, the Babels.

The Babel household contained an unsavory group. Babel lived with his brother, Captain Agapito, a former slaver, and his children, drunken Matias and slippery Policarpo. Babel’s family was as bad. Aristides, an embezzler, had fled from Cuba; Fausto had been dismissed from the post office for speculation; and Dulcenombre had love affairs from which the whole family profited. She became attracted to Angel and lived with him for a year in order to escape her family, but he was too poor to marry her.

At last, the crimes of the Babels sent Angel also into hiding, with a wounded hand that Dulce bandaged. After a month of skulking, he went home to find his mother dying. Lere, the twenty-year-old tutor of “Cion,” was nursing her. At first, she and Dr. Maquis refused to let Angel see the sick woman, but finally he was allowed to be with her during her dying moments. She left him a comfortable fortune, but when Angel tried to use it selfishly the convent-trained Lere shamed him into carrying out his mother’s desires with it.

Troubles mounted for Angel. Dulce, his mistress, became ill. Cion died. Lere announced she was entering a convent in Toledo. In his loneliness, Angel followed her. When Dulce came looking for him, he had already gone. Following the advice of her uncle, Captain Agapito, she sought solace in alcohol.

Angel had both rich and poor relatives in Toledo. He became a boarder at the home of Teresa Pantoja, along with two priests. Lere was already working for one of the nursing orders. Discussing life with her and moved by his loneliness, his affection for her, and the religious atmosphere of Toledo, Angel also found himself seeking the comfort of the Church.

The appointment of one Babel to a government post in Toledo brought the whole family, including Dulce, to that city. To escape them, Angel went to live with wealthy relatives in the outskirts of Toledo. Lere demanded that Angel marry Dulce or never see her again. When Angel went to discuss the situation with Dulce, he found her disgustingly drunk. In the violent quarrel that followed, he almost killed Aristides. Again, at Lere’s bidding, he returned to Aristides to ask forgiveness. He learned that Dulce’s illness had cured her of her liking for alcohol and that she was planning to enter a convent.

Angel’s many conversations with Lere caused considerable gossip, with the result that the Mother Superior called the girl in for questioning. Although she was declared innocent, the lack of trust so angered Angel that he declared his intention of founding a convent to be put in Lere’s charge. She declared that she would accept his plan only if he became a priest. Angel agreed.

Padre Casado, a clear-sighted priest, whose preference for farming instead of books had prevented his advance in the Church, prepared Angel for taking holy orders. One night, while he and Lere were nursing an ailing priest, Angel felt desire for the girl. Later, he confessed his carnal thoughts to Padre Casado, who could not understand any sexual attraction to a woman in plain nun’s clothing. They also discussed Angel’s plans for the convent and his philosophy for improving mankind by a Christian revolution.

Angel tried to prove his theories when Aristides, again caught in crime, and Fausto, also fleeing justice, begged him for help, and he hid them. Joined by Policarpo, they demanded money for a flight to Portugal. Angel was stabbed during a quarrel over his refusal. Although badly wounded, he would not give the police the name of his assailant.

Lere came to nurse Angel. The dying man had no regrets. Like Don Quixote, he felt that the approach of death restored his reason and also solved his problems. He would not have made a good priest, he declared. He apportioned his wealth, designating most for Lere’s project, some for relatives and servants, before he died. Stifling her sorrow, Lere returned to the convent where she was assigned to nurse another patient.

Critical Evaluation:

Benito Pérez Galdós, a great figure in Spanish literature of the late nineteenth century, wrote thirty novels in addition to the forty-six in his series called National Episodes. Angel Guerra belongs to a group of about eight that present a picture of religious faith and the results of fanaticism on Spanish life. This group includes some of his best, DONA PERFECTA (1876), GLORIA (1876-1877), THE FAMILY OF LEON ROCH (1878), and THE CRAZY WOMAN IN THE HOUSE (1892). ANGEL GUERRA is the story of a politician and a mystic, a character whose names, “Angel” and “War,” were intended to present his dual personality. As a result of environmental circumstances, Angel was made a rebel who hated his mother, yet he received from her the wealth that meant his personal freedom. Not only does the novel depict the working of fate but also presents a philosophy of religion and the influence of a deeply religious atmosphere on a man who was essentially destructive and modern. Besides the intermingling of human and religious love, the novel contains a realistic touch in having violence and crime cure idealism. As always, in the novels of this great local-color artist, the painting of the background is unforgettable: the summer houses in the suburbs of Toledo, the narrow cobbled streets of the city, and the noble, austere cathedral.

ANGEL GUERRA is a pathological case study. It is the second-longest of Pérez Galdós’ novels, and its subject matter has been compared to William James’s THE VARIETIES OF RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE (1902). Some critics describe ANGEL GUERRA as the last of Pérez Galdós’ works that can be read with enjoyment, for it was the fruit of a spiritual crisis that had gradually been enveloping the author ever since he had written his masterpiece, FORTUNATA AND JACINTA, in 1886-1887. ANGEL GUERRA was also written when Pérez Galdós was nearing his fiftieth birthday. At the time he wrote ANGEL GUERRA, Pérez Galdós feared that something was ailing Europe’s middle class, and he became convinced that politics was the key to the solution of social problems, while his anticlerical sentiments of younger years surged back, along with a propensity for Christian socialism.

ANGEL GUERRA gives a pleasant view of pure charity and a close-up view of one person, Angel Guerra. The latter was seized with a vision of a better world but died when he came face-to-face with the iron reality of life and the world. Angel is an agnostic at the novel’s start, but then, imbued with the “holy fire” of Christian charity, he decides to invest his resources in a Brotherhood of Mercy, whose male branch he is to head, and whose female branch Lere is to head. Angel feels that man can triumph only through love and implementation of the Sermon on the Mount—a conviction that had been recently acquired by Pérez Galdós himself. A tolerance for human frailties, a deep spiritual charity, and Christian love are also expressed through the personality of Angel Guerra. Having read Hegel, Schopenhauer, and many other German philosophers, Pérez Galdós had become convinced that poverty was man’s healthiest state, a conviction also mirrored in ANGEL GUERRA.

Angel’s abnormality and frustrated dreams are best understood against the backdrop of Pérez Galdós’ sudden spiritual evolution. Angel’s unhappy youth also supplies a vehicle for understanding his development, while Lere is so pathological that her eyes are like those of a mechanical doll. ANGEL GUERRA is often criticized for lack of humor and imagination and for being riddled with too many neurotic types among its secondary characters. General morbidity is also supposed to be one of the novel’s faults, and it has been negatively compared to Dostoevski’s better works; however, the novel does leave the reader with hope even in spite of its neurotic flavor.

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