Thursday, September 27, 2012

El marqués de Casa-Muñoz se lo decía a Barbarita: "No hay que involucrar, París es muy malo; pero también es muy bueno."

I have taken the advice of Tom-from-Wuthering-Expectations and begun the read-along of Fortunata and Jacinta a bit early. It is, after all, an 800-page novel printed in small type. That’s a lot of reading to do in October, especially if I plan to do anything else during my waking hours, so slow a reader have I become. Having finished volume 8 of the Garnett Chekhov collection yesterday, I started in on Benito Pérez Galdós’ 1887 novel today at lunch. I managed the first two chapters, which introduce a young man named Juan Santa Cruz (whom everyone calls Juanito for reasons the narrator cannot give) and give us his university years, his transition into adulthood as a lawyer, his falling in love with learning and his subsequent falling out of love with learning (If none of the great issues of science or philosophy are ever solved, he wonders, what’s the difference?), and a trip to Paris that seems to have a sort of purifying, tempering effect on him. As the quote in this post’s title says, Paris is very bad, but it is also very good.

There’s been no sign of either Fortunata or Jacinta except briefly: the narrator tells us that he gets some of the background for his biographical sketch of Juan from people like Jacinta, who knew him well. There is nothing so far in the way of plot, no “story question” as folks like to say nowadays, no conflict, nothing to resolve. It’s a typical European 19th-century novel opening, very Old School. I see that the next chapter is going to be a pocket history of merchant life in Madrid. I can’t wait.

So if there’s no story so far, what is there? There’s the tone of the novel, light but insightful, and the understanding that this is going to be a pretty big story, ranging far and wide. I don’t know exactly what I’m in for, but at the same time, I have a pretty good idea exactly what I’m in for. So it looks like a good time at this point, only two chapters in. We’ll see how I feel at page 213 or page 459. I know nothing of Spanish history, of the Spanish monarchy or the brief Republic or the Restoration, so likely I’m going to miss all the parallels between the novel’s characters and the historical figures moving in the background. The translator, Agnes Moncy Gullon, promises that the novel is so good that I won’t care. She also promises that Galdós’ novel will put me to mind of Balzac and Dickens, and that’s not bad.

Also, I have seen the second round of cover designs for my own novel, The Astrologer. It’s very cool. No bear, alas, but Melissa added a snake. The snake is cool.


  1. Glad to see you've started this. Not knowing Spanish history will cause you to miss the parallels, as you say, but that's only one layer of the story. In another week or so I hope to have a post on the history surrounding the novel.

    Regarding structure, you'll meet the two women soon (the meeting with Fortunata is one of my favorite passages in literature) and there will be plenty of chances for both of them to preside over the novel. The interplay with this two-woman approach comes from the four volumes, each one introducing a new, major male character. Looking forward to reading more of your posts on the novel!

  2. Dwight, I hope you write that post, because I want to read it.

    Jacinta becomes Mrs Juan Santa Cruz, yes? How droll of Galdos to forget that when he first mentions her in, what is it? the first sentence of the book, I think. My kind of narrator.

    Are the names symbolic? No, don't tell me: I want to find out for myself. I just hope Jacinta doesn't end up dead from a discus blow to the skull. That's the sort of thing I'd do.

  3. I was born in Spain, I've read and loved this book, I'm a Galdós fan. I've made two of my American friends read the book. They've loved it. And I have no idea of Spanish history, of the times related in the novel, and I did not "care" (I wish I knew more history, but I mean, Galdós has written a master piece, a delight for the reader, even when we are readers who, like me, have no historic knowledge).