Benito Pérez Galdós Long Fiction Analysis

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Through more than fifty years of literary creation, Benito Pérez Galdós’s work underwent an evolution, a process of growth that both reflected and harmonized with broader European novelistic movements. In general, these shifts suggest a change from didacticism to more thorough, realistic documentary and later to a kind of symbolic spiritualism.

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Pérez Galdós’s initial orientation, however, was mostly historical. The Romantics had turned to the study of history in a desire to embrace the phenomenon of human temporality, but they had focused primarily on an atmosphere of the past—poetic, distant, and vague. Pérez Galdós and the realists inherited this historical sense, but utilized it primarily in an effort to understand the present. Pérez Galdós’s first two novels, The Golden Fountain Café and El audaz, reflect such a historical orientation.

It was also during these early years that Pérez Galdós began the Episodios nacionales. These works, forty-six in all, were written throughout his long literary career. They narrate the then-recent history of Spain, from the Battle of Trafalgar (1805) against Napoleon Bonaparte through the Restoration in 1874. Again, the author’s aim was to guide his fellow Spaniards toward a greater understanding of contemporary psychological and social circumstances. His artistic formula was that of combining novelistic fiction—the continuing story of certain literary characters, which gives a loose unity to each series—with the graphic presentation of historical events. Aside from their literary merits, these works represent in their totality the most vivid and most complete documentary of nineteenth century history that has yet been compiled.

Aside from Pérez Galdós’s almost unbroken historical preoccupations, his novelistic output can be divided into four general periods. Between the years 1876 and 1879, many of Pérez Galdós’s so-called novelas de la primera época (novels of the first epoch) appeared. Three novelas de tesis (thesis novels) represented a pronounced didactic intention, promulgating a liberal and progresista (progressive) spirit, opposed to religious and clerical intolerance and traditional absolutism. These novels expressed a youthful rebelliousness, a distinctly iconoclastic fervor. Indeed, the abstract, often symbolic level on which the young writer constructed such an ideological rebellion was in many respects distant from the objective immediacy of the contemporary European realists. Doña Perfecta describes the struggle of liberalism against outdated moral codes and religious bigotry, Gloria the mutual intolerance between Catholics and Jews, and The Family of León Roch a marriage that is the product of Catholic dogmatism.

In his second period, between 1881 and 1888, Pérez Galdós initiated the novelas españolas contemporáneas (contemporary Spanish novels). In these years, the author clearly settled into conformity with accepted European realistic techniques and attempted to offer something positive to replace those codes that he had tried to destroy during his early rebelliousness. The Disinherited Lady marks the change. A wholehearted adaptation of the use of background detail, a more complete treatment of central characters, increasing firsthand studies of his novels’ milieus, a “biographical” method for exploring the interrelationships between the individual and society, and a constant attention to the ordinary circumstances of daily life—these factors suggest a stricter adherence to nineteenth century realistic practices and the influence of French naturalism. During these years also, a significant anomaly developed in Pérez Galdós’s use of authorial perspective: Whereas the author appeared frequently as a minor character to enhance the effects of realism and autonomy, he allowed himself, at the same time, abundant...

(The entire section contains 7438 words.)

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