Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 379
In the tight-knit religious town of Orbajosa, Dona Perfecta is a wealthy widow who has grand designs concerning the marriage of her daughter, Rosario. In the effort to benefit from the wealth of her brother, Juan, who is a successful attorney in Madrid, Perfecta arranges to have her daughter marry Juan’s only son, Pepe Rey. Pérez Galdós’ story tracks the evolving conflict between these two characters as both Perfecta and Rey attempt to best articulate their desires in Orbajosa’s conservative world. Perfecta is an artful woman. Bigoted and full of self-interest and vice, Perfecta demonstrates that she is willing to engage in hateful activities in order to maintain the fidelity and financial stability of her family. Over the course of the novel, she grows to hate Pepe Rey, particularly as he demonstrates his progressive attitudes and unwillingness to be persuaded by the doctrinaire religious morality that guides much of the community’s activity. For his own part, Pepe is a beacon of modernity, a representative of city life, scientific-learning, and individualism. His infatuation with Rosario stems in large part from his desire to see her escape the confines of conservative religious life that her mother has forced upon her and take her to a place in which “falseness” does not predominate.
Throughout the course of the story, Don Inocencio, the Catholic canon (priest) of Orbajosa, becomes irritated with Pepe Rey’s presence in the town, his modern sensibilities, and his unwillingness to accept the superiority of Orbajosa, its inhabitants, and way of life. He hatches a plot with Perfecta in order to have Pepe expelled from the city, in which the two agree to mobilize the town’s religious fanaticism against Pepe, a self-proclaimed non-believer. Convinced that they need to rid themselves of the presence of such a heathen, villagers of Orbajosa pressure Pepe into returning to his father in Madrid, while Perfecta refuses to allow him to marry his daughter. However, both Pepe and Rosario are deeply in love, leading the two to attempt to flee the town together. Privy to their plan, Perfecta ambushes Pepe in the garden outside of her house, killing him. The death of Pepe causes Rosario to go insane, and Perfecta is denied inheritance of her brother’s fortune.