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 began. In 1929, H. Chonon Berkowitz affirmed, “From a purely literary standpoint, his dramas share the merits of his novels; in so far as genius expresses itself in substance and not in form, Galdós the dramatist will stand the test of time as well as Galdós the novelist.”
From a commercial point of view, about half of Pérez Galdós’s dramas were successful. Critic Federico Carlos Sainz de Robles qualifies four of them as “glorious successes”; these are Realidad, The Duchess of San Quintín, Electra, and The Grandfather. Those Sainz de Robles calls “great successes” are La loca de la casa, Doña Perfecta, Pedro Minio, Celia en los infiernos, and Sor Simona. Other “successes” are Mariucha, El tacaño Salomón, and Santa Juana de Castilla. The rest of Pérez Galdós’s dramas were not particularly well received. Modern critics judge Electra and The Grandfather to be among Pérez Galdós’s best plays.
Pérez Galdós’s drama is considered transitional: It bridged the gap between the melodramatic, sensationalist theater of José Echegaray y Eizaguirre, who dominated the Spanish stage during the late nineteenth century, and the more realistic, satirical, problem-oriented schools of the early twentieth century. Like Echegaray and his followers, Pérez Galdós emphasized social questions, but he differed from them in his disregard for passion and rhetoric, and in his preference for conversational language. While the writers of Echegaray’s school tended to write in verse (although they eventually abandoned this practice), Pérez Galdós always wrote in prose.
Although Pérez Galdós’s theatrical achievements were largely overlooked during his lifetime, today critics recognize that Pérez Galdós was instrumental in freeing Spanish drama from the conventions of Romanticism and in reintroducing the social realism that had characterized theater in Spain since the early...
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