The nineteenth century Spanish novelists prior to Pérez Galdós were mostly regionalists or costumbristas, writers who described the picturesque and folkloric elements of life. Pérez Galdós, who was a practicing journalist, revolutionized the novel by using his gift for observation, his political acumen, and his knowledge of history to create a narrative that penetrates deep into the national psyche. Although Pérez Galdós is usually classified as a realist, his characters are sometimes caricatures, exaggerating traits associated with particular social types. All Pérez Galdós’ works are an attempt to understand Spanish society—how it is, and how it became that way. Pérez Galdós’ first novel, La fontana de oro (1868), contained both costumbrista and historical elements, and each succeeding work was a new attempt to comprehend the interelation between history and personal experience.
In 1873, with the publication of Trafalgar (English translation, 1884), Pérez Galdós began the first series of his “national episodes,” or historical novels. Three years later, he published Dona Perfecta (1876; English translation, 1880), the first of his “Spanish contemporary novels.” Although Pérez Galdós appeared to be moving in opposite directions at once, the historical and contemporary sequences were actually complementary. The first represented an effort to comprehend contemporary Spain by following the course of...
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