Benito Pérez Galdós was born in Las Palmas on May 10, 1843, the last of ten children. Some critics believe that his place of birth, geographically and socially separate from the mainstream of Spanish life, contributed to his subsequent ability to view national events with relative candor and objectivity. Benito’s father, Sebastián Pérez, sixteen years older than his wife and more a grandfather than a father to his younger children, had inherited sufficient property to maintain his family in comfort and had ample leisure time to regale his youngest offspring with tales of his military exploits, events that were to become part of Episodios nacionales (national episodes). However, it was Benito’s mother, Doña Dolores, who was to dominate the family. Her rigid, puritanical religiosity, intolerance, strength of will, and constant need for order were to be reflected in several of Pérez Galdós’s characters, most particularly Doña Perfecta. From his mother, Pérez Galdós seems to have inherited a Basque physique, stubbornness, and the ability to adhere to an unswerving, ordered routine.
Although interested in painting and music, the young Pérez Galdós found little to enjoy in his childhood schooling, usually appearing bored and absentminded. In 1862, he was sent to Madrid by Doña Dolores to study law, a course that, despite poor grades, irregular class attendance, and extensive extracurricular writing, he finished in 1869. His real interest during these years was the Ateneo, a literary and artistic club in Madrid that housed a remarkably good library and sponsored lectures and discussion groups. Here, Pérez Galdós developed the progressive, liberal spirit that would dominate his first novels, became exposed to the Krausist perspective of tolerance toward opposing views, and discovered the works of such European writers as Balzac, whose eighty volumes he himself collected.
It was during these years that Pérez Galdós began to write for such newspapers as La nación, Las cortes, and El debate. Later, in 1872 and 1873, he himself was the general director of the prestigious Revista de España. He traveled widely and in 1866 witnessed the uprising of los sargentos de San Gil, a historical event that perhaps stimulated him to initiate the first series of Episodios nacionales. The composition of these works, which he undertook in 1873 and continued intermittently until his death, reflected a conception of history as a slow but inevitable development toward the establishment of a just and equitable society, one in which the growing bourgeoisie would absorb a decadent aristocracy and a well-meaning but ignorant lower class. The series was instantly popular, perhaps because of its stress on the importance of everyday events in the lives of common citizens. At first, the Episodios nacionales gave him the economic stability that he needed; later, however, even the resounding financial success of his...
(The entire section is 1223 words.)