Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 339
Both Perfecta Polentinos and José Rey may be considered the protagonists, as the novel is largely a contest of wills between the two characters, which represents the old, conservative, religious society versus the new, progressive, scientific society.
One of the wealthiest residents of Orbajosa, a town in southern Spain, Perfecta is famed for her deep devotion; Pérez Galdós exposes her true hypocrisy, which results in a murder. Although Perfecta initially supports the marriage between her daughter, Rosario, and her nephew, José Rey, she turns against the young man because of his sacrilegious rhetoric. Plotting with the church official against him, she ultimately causes his death and Rosario’s mental incapacitation.
José Rey, known as Pepe, is an urbane young man who is Rosario’s primary suitor. An engineer who has traveled widely through Spain, he was raised in Madrid. At his father’s urging, he comes south to court his cousin. Pepe’s rash behavior and lack of understanding of conservative traditions is his undoing. He and Rosario fall deeply in love, but during their escape attempt, her mother has him killed.
Rosario, Perfecta’s daughter, is beautiful but docile. As her love for Pepe grows, she gains the strength to commit to him and deceive her mother. Pepe’s death drives her to mental collapse, which seems permanent, as she is committed to a sanatorium.
Inocencio, the Catholic cathedral’s canon, uses religion as a pretext to alienate Perfecta from Pepe. His true motive is his support for his niece’s son in marrying Rosario, both for personal enrichment and to see Perfecta’s money continue to support the church. He goads Pepe into speaking against the church, knowing this will incense Perfecta, and undermines Pepe at every turn.
María Remedios is Inocencio’s niece and housekeeper. She tries to thwart Pepe and promotes her son’s courtship of Rosario.
Jacinto is María Remedios’s son. He is an attorney and wants to marry Rosario.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 693
Doña Perfecta Polentinos
Doña Perfecta Polentinos (DOHN-yah pehr-FEHK-tah poh-lehn-TEE-nohs), a wealthy and intensely religious woman who lives in the provincial town of Orbajosa, Spain. She represents the old order of provincial Spanish life: reactionary traditionalism, country (versus city) values, regional (versus central) government control, and, above all, neo-Catholicism characterized by religious intolerance and often profound hypocrisy. Her religious convictions—indeed, her whole way of life—are challenged when her nephew and ideological foil Pepe Rey appears on the scene from Madrid. He offends local sensibilities at every turn and, worst of all, proposes marriage to Doña Perfecta’s daughter, Rosario, a prospect that Doña Perfecta simply cannot abide. Seeking to protect her way of life, as well as her family’s reputation, Doña Perfecta engages in a battle of wills with Pepe, whom she sees as a symbol of evil. She will stop at nothing to oppose him. In the end, as Pepe attempts to elope with Rosario, Doña Perfecta gives the order to have him killed. The rest of her days are spent in intense religious activity as a form of self-punishment and martyrdom. Given her behavior, Doña Perfecta’s name is, to say the least, ironic.
José “Pepe” Rey
José “Pepe” Rey (hoh-SEH PEH-peh rreh), a young, handsome, well-traveled, impeccably educated, and outspoken engineer from Madrid who symbolizes a modern, progressive, free-thinking Spain. He is therefore Doña Perfecta’s exact ideological opposite. Worse yet, he is quite blunt, even tactless, in the expression of his unwelcome opinions, particularly those concerning the church. Although the novel focuses on the issue of social morality, it also reads in many ways like a Greek tragedy because of Pepe’s fatal flaw of not being wise enough to express his opinions less often and more moderately. Arriving in Orbajosa at the request of his father, a celebrated lawyer in Madrid, he soon clashes with Doña Perfecta’s world and finds himself opposed at virtually every turn and at various levels, from his attempts to do surveying work in the region (through the loss of government contracts), to his pursuit of Rosario’s hand in marriage (the final roadblock to which is his murder). He is clearly out of his element and unwanted. He successfully connects with Rosario, however, and makes plans to elope with her, against her mother’s wishes. Any possible positive symbolism regarding the union of the old order and the new that might be read into a marriage between Pepe and Doña Perfecta’s daughter, however, is dashed emphatically when Doña Perfecta has Pepe killed.
Rosario (rroh-SAHR-ee-oh), Doña Perfecta’s daughter, who is dominated by her mother and torn between her love for Pepe and her obligation to her mother. Near the end of the novel, she agrees to elope with Pepe. Rosario goes insane as a result of Pepe’s murder, a lamentable fate for the one character who represents a ray of light in an otherwise dismal environment and situation.
Don Inocencio (dohn ee-noh-SEHN-see-oh), a local canon who successfully incites Pepe with incessant sarcasm and who is in many ways Doña Perfecta’s partner in crime, or at least her chief adviser regarding her outspoken nephew and how she should handle him. Although Don Inocencio clearly holds the same values as Doña Perfecta, his opposition to Pepe goes beyond simple ideology: He wants his great-nephew Jacinto, not Pepe, to marry Rosario, a fact that leads the priest to work to end all talk of marriage between the cousins. As in the case of Doña Perfecta, Don Inocencio’s name is ironic.
María Remedios (mah-REE-ah reh-MEH-dee-ohs), Don Inocencio’s niece and housekeeper, who wants her son Jacinto to marry Rosario. She too plots against Pepe at every opportunity.
Jacinto (hah-SEEN-toh), María Remedios’ son, a lawyer, who wishes to marry Rosario and who opposes Pepe for other reasons.
Caballuco (kah-bah-YEW-koh), a regional guerrilla fighter against the central government. He, like so many in the novel, hates all outsiders. He kills Pepe on Doña Perfecta’s orders.