Ramón María del Valle-Inclán Long Fiction Analysis
“We are no longer a race of conquerors and theologians, and that fiction always breathes in our ballads and our popular speech.” This statement, from The Lamp of Marvels, is central to an understanding of Ramón María del Valle-Inclán’s novels, for it suggests and synthesizes his most important ideas about the potential of fiction and its position in contemporary Spanish literature and culture. In the first place, there is an unmasking of Spain’s self-image, which is described as a false expression frozen in the pretense that Spain is still the imperialist world power it was at the time of the Catholic kings. Such self-deception is dangerous, according to the wise old poet who narrates The Lamp of Marvels, particularly because of its effect on Spanish sensibility, which—because of its egotism and lack of perspective—refuses to grapple with significant spiritual and historical issues.
In the second place, the fiction of Spain’s importance is shown to be closely linked to its language and literature; instead of expanding to include the linguistic changes it has undergone in the New World, Spanish is rigid and brittle. It insists on the fiction of its own purity, which implies an inappropriate, warped perception of integrity. Furthermore, the literature that could work to renovate language and open perspective is also locked in a dead rhetoric that maintains the lie of Spanish sovereignty: Both popular speech and the ballads, the traditional repositories of spontaneous popular expression, reveal the deterioration of language and an obsessive national pride.
For Valle-Inclán, then, the writer of fiction is linked to the poet as a “visionary” who can break the limits of his or her own sensory perceptions. Although this vision, as it is presented in The Lamp of Marvels, does not unlock the secrets of the future, it is able to recognize the complexity of the present, to perceive and present an incident—or an instant—from multiple points of view. It is clearly linked to the irony that characterizes Valle-Inclán’s work from his earliest stories, as well as to the aesthetic and artistic perspectives that he enumerated in the three esperpentos of Martes de carnaval.
The world, Valle-Inclán explained, can be witnessed with reverence, on one’s knees, as if events and characters were larger than life; it can also be seen eye-to-eye; and it can be watched from above, with distance and even with disdain. Although each of these attitudes can be said to predominate at one time or another in Valle-Inclán’s work, the aesthetics presented in The Lamp of Marvels suggest that the ideal fiction has something of each: A certain distancing is necessary to break free of traditional perspective, but in the same way that an excess of awe leads one to “wallow” in emotions, extreme distancing can lead to overabstraction and a lack of feeling. The nature of language, which is always rooted in the “earth” of human feelings, is, when perfected by poetry, a link between the two extremes that hold them both in a kind of dynamic stillness or insight, which the poet calls “aesthetic quietism.”
This aesthetic experience or principle is valid for both Valle-Inclán’s fiction and his theater, for even though he was well aware of their differences and distinct possibilities, he continually explored the boundaries and relations between them. In his early work, this exploration includes the use of dramatic settings in his novels whereby characters and situations are presented in a series of tableaux, as if they were on stage. Ambience, gesture, and the spoken word are always important, and even in the first-personnarrative of The Pleasant Memoirs of the Marquis de Bradomín , the reader becomes acquainted with the narrator through his poses and highly selected “confessions,” not through the “inner workings” of his thoughts. This absence of psychological development remains constant in Valle-Inclán’s fiction; in fact, individual...
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