Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 331
In Our Friend Manso by Benito Pérez Galdos (Columbia University Press, 1987) was first published in 1882. The narrator, Maximo Manso, claims that he does not exist. He is a philosophy professor in Madrid whose neighbor, Dona Javiera, invites him to tutor her son, Manuel. Manuel demonstrates a unique ability for oratory, though he is not a flawless student. Manso enjoys working with him and admires his enthusiasm and spirit.
Another neighbor, Dona Candida, is a pretentious woman who was friends with the narrator’s late mother. Manso obliges her with money, which he gives to her niece, Irene. Irene is young and charming, and she seems to take an interest in Manso’s literature. Manso also gives her candies when she visits. When Irene grows up, she enters a teacher’s institute. Meanwhile, Manso’s pupil Manuel briefly courts a wealthy girl.
Eventually, Manso’s brother, Jose Maria, arrives from Cuba with his family, which includes his wife, Lica, his three children, and several servants. His large and overwhelming family disrupts Manso’s quiet life. Jose Maria takes Irene, who becomes a governess in his household, as a lover. He also conducts a successful political campaign and wins an election to Congress as a representative from Cuba.
Rather suddenly, Irene’s aunt, Dona Candida, states that she is moving into a nicer home with Irene, as a result of the former having come into money. Manso suspects the truth: that his brother is paying for Irene’s new apartment. When Manso reveals that he knows this, his brother relents. Meanwhile, Manso himself has developed an attachment to Irene, only to realize that she and his pupil, Manuel (now politically successful himself), are in love. Though Manso loves Irene, he advocates on her behalf to Dona Javiera (who resents Irene’s social status as a teacher). The two are married, with Manso’s blessing (as he realizes that Irene truly loves Manuel), and Manso dies, thus proving the novel’s opening line.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 889
Maximo Manso meets his neighbor, Dona Javiera de Pena, one night in the summer of 1878, when a fire alarm forces the residents to leave their building. Dona Javiera is a warm, expansive woman who owns a lucrative meat business. She takes an interest in Maximo and stops by his apartment often to talk or to bring him a cut of meat. A woman of low origins and little education, Dona Javiera is in awe of Maximo’s vast knowledge. He, in turn, is impressed with his neighbor’s perceptiveness and common sense.
Dona Javiera asks Maximo to take charge of the education of her twenty-one-year-old son, Manuel, whose indolence has his mother worried. Dona Javiera does not expect Manuel to become a scholar, but she would like him to receive a basic education in the humanities that would allow him to function in society. Maximo soon charms Manuel with conversations and excursions; the two become good friends and the boy makes excellent progress. Although he does not care for philosophy and never displays talent for writing, Manuel enjoys history and expresses himself well orally.
Dona Candida de Garcia Grande is another frequent visitor to Maximo’s apartment. Her husband, now deceased, had been a businessman and minor politician. With his death, Dona Candida fell into dire economic straits. Vain and pretentious, she talks constantly of her aristocratic friends and her property, while at the same time begging Maximo for handouts. Maximo, who feels obligated to the woman because of her former friendship with his deceased mother, gives her money. Often Dona Candida does not come in person but sends her orphaned niece Irene, who lives with her. Irene is a well-mannered child who shows interest in Maximo’s books, although the teacher soon realizes that her primary preoccupation is far more basic: food. Frequently, he gives her reading materials and candy, and on one occasion he buys her a pair of shoes. As time passes, Irene grows up and stops frequenting Maximo’s house. She enters a teachers’ institute, where she excels at her studies.
Manuel becomes involved with a young woman from the Vendesol family and begins to spend more time courting her than studying. Dona Javiera is delighted, since the Vendesols are a wealthy, respectable family who also made their fortune in the meat business. The relationship, however, does not last.
Maximo Manso’s calm is shattered by the arrival from Cuba of his brother Jose Maria and his wife, Lica, their three children, Lica’s mother and sister, a mulatto nanny, and a black servant. Jose Maria rents a house for his large, boisterous family and decides to run for Congress as a representative from Cuba, then still a Spanish colony. Soon the house is full of politicians, poets, and journalists. Among them is Manuel, whose oratorical skills promise to launch him into a position of political prominence. Public life demands that Jose Maria impose a more urban veneer on his wife and children, whose relaxed, unpolished behavior is unacceptable in Madrid society. Maximo suggests that his brother hire Irene as a governess.
Family etiquette demands that Maximo dine at his brother’s house almost daily. There he comes into frequent contact with Irene, with whom he falls in love. Maximo and Irene spend a large amount of time together, supervising the children’s lessons and strolling through Madrid. On several occasions, Maximo notices that Irene is flushed and exuberant. After some time, however, she confides that she is not happy at Jose Maria’s house.
Jose Maria wins the election and becomes engrossed in his career. Lica gives birth to their fourth child, whom she names Maximo, after his godfather. Jose Maria, more and more convinced of his own importance, has little time for his family and often belittles Lica, whose Cuban customs and vocabulary he finds embarrassing. Soon, Lica learns that he is womanizing and that his prime target is Irene. Maximo is furious.
Dona Candida announces that she has come into some money and intends to move into a better house. She will take Irene with her, since she believes that it is not fitting that the niece of a woman in her position work as a salaried governess. Maximo suspects that Dona Candida is lying, and sure enough, he learns that Jose Maria is paying for the new apartment in order to have access to Irene. Trapped by her conniving aunt and a rich, ambitious politician, Irene confides in Maximo, who confronts his brother and threatens to create a career-damaging scandal.
Having eliminated his rival, Maximo is now in a position to court Irene himself. He soon learns, however, that she is in love with Manuel de Pena. Sick with grief at the realization that his dear disciple is his competitor, he interrogates Irene, who admits that she is not interested in studying or in having a career, but wants to marry Manuel and get away from her aunt. Maximo struggles with his emotions but finally takes the side of the young lovers. Dona Javiera opposes the marriage because the girl is “just a teacher,” but Maximo convinces her to give her approval, and the couple are married. Dona Javiera becomes more attentive than ever to Manso, and she seems a likely mate for him. Maximo, however, falls ill and soon dies.
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