Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Doña Perfecta is an 1876 fictional, realist novel written by Spanish realist novelist Benito Pérez Galdós, who is considered one of the most prominent and most influential writers in Spanish literature, coming second only to Cervantes. The novel tells the tragic love story between two cousins—Don José (Pepe) Rey and Rosario, whose marriage was arranged by Doña Perfecta—Pepe’s aunt and Rosario’s mother. Set in nineteenth-century Spain, in the middle of a civil war, the novel is filled with rich and vivid scenery, well-developed characters and numerous plot twists. Thus, many analysts consider Doña Perfecta to be a historical novel as well.
Aside from love and tragedy, another main theme of the novel is the metaphorical battle between science and modernity versus religion and tradition, which Pérez Galdós presents through his main characters. Thus, Don Jose is a man of science; he is a young engineer who is greatly inspired by Darwin’s theories and German philosophers. In contrast, Doña Perfecta and her brother, Don Juan, are religious, traditional and intolerant people, who are highly respected by pretty much everyone in their small community; they represent religion and intolerance. The novel’s main antagonist—Don Inocencio is an intelligent man who constantly argues with Pepe, and even manages to turn Doña Perfecta against him.
Rosario is perhaps a bridge between the three of them, as she is innocent, sweet and a little bit naive, and her mental health is quite fragile. She falls in love with Pepe almost immediately, however, their love is doomed to fail, as the clash between Pepe’s and Doña Perfecta’s personalities is so big, that it results in Pepe’s untimely death, and Rosario’s madness. In fact, Pepe and Doña Perfecta are basically a metaphor of the Spaniards’ liberal versus traditional political opinions.
Many analysts believe that Pérez Galdós’ characterization is, in fact, one of the best elements of the novel. Furthermore, the novel received mixed reviews; some critics and readers praised Pérez Galdós for his interesting prose, while others criticized him for his overly descriptive and, at times, confusing narrative, as it is somewhat unclear whether Pérez Galdós intended to condemn or glorify the Catholic Church.
The novel received three adaptations: two eponymous film adaptations in 1950 and 1977 and one TV adaptation made in Venezuela, in 1985.