Galdós and 1812 by Dr Stephen Roberts

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Galdós and 1812 by Dr Stephen Roberts
Stephen G.H. Roberts
University of Nottingham
It is a real honour for me to be here today. I would like to thank the
University of Sheffield and, in particular, Dr Rhian Davies, Director of the Pérez
Galdós Editions Project, for inviting me to give the twelfth Galdós Lecture, and
to pay homage to the previous eleven speakers, illustrious galdosistas all. I
would also like to thank the Spanish Embassy for their support for the
excellent work on Galdós that goes on at this University, and for the presence
here today of Mr Fidel López Álvarez, Minister Counsellor for Cultural and
Scientific Affairs, and Mr Francisco García Quiñonero, Language and Education
Advisor at the Education Office of the Embassy. It was due to the support and
encouragement that we received from the Embassy that Adam Sharman and I
were able to host a Conference on the 1812 Spanish Constitution in
Nottingham back in March, a Conference in which a number of colleagues and
friends from the University of Sheffield, present here today, also participated,
and it was then that my interest in Galdós and his vision of 1812 started to take
shape. But I must admit that I have had quite a Galdosian year in another sense
too. He acted very much as a guide for my wife and me during a recent fourmonth research stay in Madrid, showing us around the city and revealing to us
the function and character of the area in which we lived, namely Cascorro. It
was thanks to Galdós’s Guía espiritual de España [Spiritual Guide to Spain]
(1915) that we learned about the role of the neighbouring Calle de Toledo in
feeding and clothing Madrid and, after having experienced the Rastro beneath
our balcony on every Sunday morning during our stay, we now fully
understand why he referred to the weekly street market as the “Academia de
los libres estudios” [the Academy of free study] (Pérez Galdós 1975: 184).
I have little doubt that, had he been alive, Benito Pérez Galdós would
have been heartily celebrating two bicentenaries this year: that of the birth of
his beloved Charles Dickens on 7 February 1812 and that of the promulgation
of the Cadiz Constitution, just five weeks later, on 19 March 1812.
Charles Dickens, whose The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club
Galdós would translate into Spanish in late 1867 and early 1868, was, together
with Balzac, one of the contemporary writers who would exert most influence
on the young Galdós as he sought over the decade or so after this date to
discover his own voice as a novelist. It is easy, therefore, to imagine Galdós
making a pilgrimage in 2012 to Dickens’ birthplace museum in Portsmouth or
to his houses in Doughty Street, London or Higham in Kent and doing so with
the same mixture of excitement and reverence that he felt on his trip to
Stratford-upon-Avon in September 1889, when he became one of the growing
band of cultural tourists to visit the house of Shakespeare’s birth (see Pérez
Galdós 2007).
It is also easy to imagine him sitting in front of his computer on the
morning of Saturday 17 November 2012 and watching the broadcast of the
Inaugural Meeting of the XXII Ibero-American Summit, which brought together
the Spanish and Portuguese Heads of State and Government, twelve Latin
American Heads of State, one Vice-President and six Foreign Ministers in the
Palacio de Congresos in Cadiz, little more than a kilometre away from the
Oratorio de San Felipe Neri, the Church where the Cadiz Constitution had
been proclaimed in 1812. Galdós the political commentator and patriot would
almost certainly have felt a great sense of pride on hearing the leaders of so
many Latin American countries praise the 1812 Constitution and describe it as
the first liberal Bill of Rights or, in the words of the Peruvian President, Ollanta
Humala, as a milestone in the search for social inclusion. Many of the
Presidents naturally referred to the Constitution as a document that had
encouraged the Latin American colonies’ own struggles for independence, and
yet Rafael Correa, President of Ecuador, claimed that it had set out to be “el
cante plural de Iberoamérica” [the plural song of Ibero-America], while the
President of Costa Rica, Laura Chinchilla, described the events of Cadiz 1812 as
“el primer encuentro fraternal entre España y América Latina, y también de
América con América” [the first fraternal meeting between Spain and Latin
America and of Latin America with herself].
Galdós would also probably have subscribed to the “Declaración de
Cádiz” that came out of that XXII Ibero-American Summit a week or so ago,
the first article of which states that “La Constitución de Cádiz de 1812 marca
uno de los hitos históricos fundamentales del acervo constitucional
iberoamericano, cuyos principios de libertad individual, democracia,
soberanía popular, separación de poderes, legitimidad e igualdad jurídica nos
permiten reconocernos como iberoamericanos”,1 although he might also have
been taken aback to find out about the shift not only of economic but also,
increasingly, of political power that has taken place between Europe and Latin
America over the past two hundred years and to hear his king, a Bourbon, say:
“Iberoamérica está en alza. El Continente crece. [… En cambio,] a este lado del
Atlántico hemos visto surgir situaciones difíciles causadas por la crisis
económica y financiera. Nuestras miradas se vuelven hacia vosotros.
Necesitamos más Iberoamérica.”2
While his political brain would have been absorbed by the speeches, his
novelist’s eye and ear would have taken in the pageantry of the scene in the
Palacio de Congresos: the splendid décor of the room, with the title of the
Summit, “Una relación renovada” [A relationship renewed], emblazoned in
both Spanish and Portuguese across the wall behind King Juan Carlos I, Prime
Minister Mariano Rajoy and Foreign Minister José Manuel García Margallo; the
flags of the 22 Ibero-American nations arranged like waves between the long
tables where the dignitaries were sitting; the ranks of advisers seated in two
rows behind the principal representative of each nation and fielding the
occasional enquiry and mobile phone call; the comings and goings of
representatives and secretaries; the growing awareness that the timetable
was not being adhered to and that lunch was going to be late; the king, acting
on this awareness and diplomatically reminding the remaining speakers—just
before the Cuban representative started to talk—of the need for brevity; and,
in the absence of a wider audience, the discreet presence of the microphones
and television cameras. In short, Galdós would have revelled in the diplomacy
and theatricality of it all, almost definitely finding in the proceedings of that
morning a worthy homage to the heroic achievements of the politicians of
Cadiz two centuries earlier.
There is no doubt that the 1812 Constitution occupied a special place in
Galdós’s heart. In order to understand just what it meant to him, I shall be
referring today to two moments in Galdós’s career when he dealt with the
Constitution in some detail: first of all, a short article from 1865 and then,
secondly, and at greater length, the novel entitled Cádiz [Cadiz], which he
wrote and published a decade later, towards the end of 1874. Both these texts
belong to the early part of Galdós’s career—and to a period of great change
both in his political views and in his activities as a writer.
The article, entitled “El 19 de marzo de 1812” [The 19th of March 1812],
appeared in the Madrid newspaper La Nación on 19 March 1865, the fifty-third
anniversary of the promulgation of the Constitution, when our author was just
21 years old (see Shoemaker 1972: 43-44). Galdós had first arrived in Madrid in
the autumn of 1862 in order to study Law at the University there, but his
interest in writing and some useful personal contacts from his native Canary
Islands gradually opened the doors of certain newspapers and journals.
Between February 1865 and October 1868, he would write regularly for La
Nación; in the late 1860s and early 1870s, he would also collaborate on, and
sometimes even edit, other publications, such as El Debate and the Revista de
España. In La Nación, Galdós specialized in articles on music, the theatre, and
the customs and mores of the people of Madrid, but he would also discuss
political matters, making no attempt to hide his own opinions. He became
known for his anti-clerical views and also for his fierce criticisms of the
political corruption of the final years of the reign of Queen Isabel II, sentiments
which are very much on show in “El 19 de marzo de 1812”.
As is implied by its subtitle: “Galdós celebra la proclamación de la
Constitución de Cádiz, lamentando la triste y tan diferente situación actual”
[Galdós celebrates the proclamation of the Cadiz Constitution, lamenting the
sad and so different present situation], our article is both a celebration and a
diatribe, one that uses the anniversary of the Cadiz Constitution as an excuse
to denounce the current political state of the nation. Galdós is in fact
unstinting in his praise for the 1812 Constitution, pointing out that it had been
fashioned in the forge of the war against the Napoleonic invaders and claiming
that it was “el código politico más venerable y más sabio que ha producido la
gran revolución moderna” [the most venerable and wisest of all the political
codes that have been produced by the great modern revolution] (Shoemaker
1972: 43). It was the product of true patriotism, of those brave men and
women who in Cadiz—a modern-day Sagunto or Numancia—had withstood
the attacks of the besieging French and celebrated the “Consagración
definitiva de las libertades de un gran pueblo” [the definitive Consecration of
the liberties of a great people]. Patriotism and liberty: these are the values that
both gave rise to and were enshrined in the Cadiz Constitution. While the
heroic people of Spain were fighting to wrest the nation from the hands of the
foreigner, their representatives in Cadiz—Argüelles, Muñoz Torrero,
Calatrava, Quintana and many more—were creating a political and legal
framework that was so wise and upright, says Galdós, prefiguring what the
leaders of the Ibero-American nations would say in November 2012, “que dejó
asombrados a los pueblos más inteligentes de Europa, y mereció ser adoptada
para sí por naciones extranjeras” [that it filled the most intelligent peoples of
Europe with wonder and was deserving of being adopted by foreign nations]
(p. 43).
Out of his praise for the past, Galdós soon extracts his barbed attack on
the present. While the noble Spanish people had been fighting against the
invader in 1812 and formulating its new Charter of Liberties in Cadiz, its king,
Ferdinand VII, was not at its side but was, unbeknownst to it, rather living it up
in his French exile. This criticism of the Bourbon Monarch acts, of course, as
an indirect denunciation of the present behaviour of his daughter, Queen
Isabel II, who was seen by many in 1865 as presiding immorally over an
immoral political regime. Galdós then rams home his point with a series of
powerful contrasts between 1812 and 1865:
La libertad que asentaron [aquellos insignes varones] sobre tan robustos cimientos la
verían vilipendiada: el sistema constitucional objeto de un afán más solícito,
manchado de impureza; la administración tan sabiamente organizada, devorada por el
desconcierto y la anarquía; la prensa en ignominioso calvario; las torpes y
reaccionarias influencias en impuro pedestal; y hasta la misma dignidad del
Parlamento, de aquel Parlamento que cuando ellos lo llenaban era obedecido por la
Regencia, acatado por los generales y los gabinetes extranjeros y reverenciado por el
pueblo, arrastrando una existencia tristísima, separado del sentir de la Nación,
maltratado por los ministerios, y sirviendo de campo a escandalosas escenas. (p. 44)
The language is that of a passionate and perhaps impetuous twentyone-year-old, and some of the notions—including the idea that the noble
people of Spain were united behind the politicians of Cadiz—are either
ingenuous or disingenuous. But the article still gives an insight into the position
of those who in 1865 opposed the Bourbon Monarchy because of its
corruption and the political system because of the constant meddling of the
Army, the ineffectiveness or dishonesty of Parliament, and the muzzling of the
press. Little surprise, therefore, that Galdós should ultimately welcome with
such enthusiasm and excitement the Revolution of September 1868, which
brought about the abdication of Queen Isabel II and a change of political
régime. Indeed, his descriptions of the events of that time, including his trip to
Zaragoza with General Serrano and Vice-Admiral Topete and, above all, of the
ideas and actions of his personal political hero, General Juan Prim, betray a
joyfulness that, in our novel, Cádiz, as we shall soon see, he also imaginatively
projects onto the men and women who experienced the events of 1812 in
The following six years, often known as the “Sexenio Revolucionario”
[Revolutionary Sexennium], were deeply unstable both for Galdós personally
and for Spain.5 The writer more or less hitched his wagon to that of General
Prim, believing that Spain’s future lay in a monarchy rather than a republic, but
a monarchy that would be democratic in nature and whose members would
not belong to the Bourbon dynasty which had recently given Spain the
disastrous Ferdinand VII and Isabel II. Galdós attended and reported on many
of the sessions of the Parliament that drew up the Constitution of 1869, an
experience that without doubt enabled him a few years later better to
understand the parliamentary mechanisms and debates of 1812, and, as he did
so, his distrust of both the old Liberal parties and, above all, the new
Republicans, intensified. Indeed, by 1870, Galdós had come to believe that only
Prim and his chosen candidate for the Throne, Amadeo of the House of Savoy,
could save Spain from the anarchy he associated with the more radical
elements on the left. The assassination of Prim at the end of that year, just
days before the arrival of Amadeo I in Madrid, left the new king in a deeply
vulnerable position. Galdós supported Amadeo right until the king was forced
to abdicate in February 1873, with the result that the writer was left
ideologically adrift during the First Republic of 1873-1874. He felt that the
Federal and Republican deputies in Parliament were politically inept, recoiled
in horror from the violence both of the newly-resurgent Carlists and of the
Cantonalist movements in the East and South of the country, feared the
activism of the new working classes, and yet felt unable, at least for the time
being, to throw in his lot with the Bourbon Monarchist conspirators, the ones
who would finally bring the Republic to an end in the very last days of 1874.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the political disappointments and
isolation, it was over these years between 1868 and 1874 that Galdós turned
himself into a novelist. He never stopped being a journalist during this period,
but he decided that he also needed to try out a different mode of writing, one
that was less dependent on the immediate and the contingent, could draw on
his knowledge of the customs and mores of his society, illuminate the origins
and consequences of political decision-making, and also, in the words of
Pedro Ortiz-Armengol (1995: 257-58), capture what the people—and not just
the politicians—thought and felt. Galdós’s first novels—La Fontana de Oro,
which he started to write in 1868 and published in 1871, and El audaz, which he
wrote between 1871 and 1872—had already dealt with the political struggles of
the early nineteenth century, more specifically the early 1820s and 1804
respectively, but it would be with the first series of the Episodios Nacionales
[National Episodes], written between 1873 and 1875, that Galdós both
perfected his use of the historical novel and moved towards his mature
novelistic style. After this first series of Episodios Nacionales, he would go on
to write four more, between 1875 and 1879, 1898 and 1900, 1902 and 1907 and
1907 and 1912, creating overall a sequence of 46 historical novels that stand
alongside the 30 or so more “contemporary”—and better-known—novels that
he would write from 1876 onwards. Together, these five series of national
episodes tell the history of Spain from the battle of Trafalgar in 1805 until the
Restoration of the Bourbon dynasty in the mid 1870s, with the first series, to
which Cádiz, our novel, belongs, covering the period between 1805 and the
end of the Peninsular War in 1814.
The overall aim of the Episodios Nacionales is to tell the recent history
of Spain through a mixture of historical fact and fictional detail, and to do so in
such a way as to uncover the archaeology, the roots, of the present moment,
that is, to shed light on what Adriana Lewis Galanes (1968: 297) has called “el
pasado formativo de la España contemporánea” [the formative past of
contemporary Spain] and Ricardo Gullón (1987: 51) “las líneas precursoras de
lo presente” [the precursory outlines of the present moment].6 Given the
importance of 1812 for Galdós, and the fact that he had already referred in the
Preamble to La Fontana de Oro in 1871 to “la gran época de reorganización que
principió en 1812 y no parece próxima a terminar todavía” [the great period of
reorganization that started in 1812 and is still giving no signs of being near to
completion] (Pérez Galdós 1969: 10), we could be forgiven for imagining that
the novelist would have located his terminus a quo in the events and
Constitution of Cadiz. But he in fact starts instead with the battle of Trafalgar
in 1805. The reason behind this decision may lie in the possibility that it was his
meeting with a veteran of Trafalgar in Santander in 1872 that gave Galdós the
idea of writing a fictional account of the recent history of his country.7 But it is
also clear that Galdós was very aware of the fact that the Constitution of Cadiz
had been born of a specific context, one of violence and conflict. The opening
novels in the first series of the Episodios Nacionales focus on this violence and
conflict: the violent wars that pitted Spain against England in Trafalgar and
against the invading Napoleonic forces in the rest of the novels that make up
the series, but also, and just as tragically, the conflict within Spain herself
between those who supported the French and those who fought against them,
and, amongst the ranks of the latter, between the more liberal and the more
traditionalist elements in the opposition to Napoleon.
Galdós looked back at this tumultuous period in Spanish history, this
crucible of modern Spain, as he saw it, and knew only too well that the
violence and conflict of the period had continued over the intervening years,
causing havoc and instability and often spilling over into civil war. He could not
therefore avoid contemplating the early decades of the nineteenth century
through the prism of these intervening years, a fact that helps to explain his
use throughout the first series of Episodios Nacionales of the first person
narrator, Gabriel de Araceli. Gabriel is seen as a boy in the first novel,
Trafalgar, and gradually grows up over the following ones, with his picaresque
and amorous exploits taking place against the background of his participation
in the great events of the time. But, crucially, Gabriel narrates the events from
his old age in the 1870s. This fictional character therefore inhabits the same
historical moment as Galdós, with the result that the novelist can subtly
incorporate into Gabriel’s own retelling of the past a perspective that, as we
shall see, really belongs to the present, that is, the early 1870s.
Cádiz, our novel, was written in September and October 1874 and is the
eighth novel in the first series of the Episodios Nacionales. It is set entirely in
Cadiz between February 1810 and March 1812, as the city was being besieged
by French troops. As with all the Episodios Nacionales, it carefully interweaves
real historical fact with fictional stories and adventures. At the heart of the
novel there is a continuing love saga. Gabriel de Araceli, our hero and narrator,
has long been in love with Inés, the illegitimate daughter of his protrectress
the Countess Amaranta. Inés is in fact living presently at the house of another
Countess, María de Rumblar, who wishes to make her into the fiancée of her
son and heir, Diego. This Countess de Rumblar, a political and religious
traditionalist, keeps Inés and her own two daughters, Asunción and
Presentación, almost locked up at home, surrounding them with clerical
figures such as the real-life reactionary deputy Blas de Ostolaza. Gabriel
occasionally tries to see Inés but has to do so with care: he is a close ally of the
Countess Amaranta and her friend Flora, both of whom are renowned for
having a more liberal outlook on life, and is himself known as an adventurer
and a liberal. Although he finally uses his friendship with Diego to get invited to
the Countess de Rumblar’s salon, he has to pretend to be pious so as to be
able to justify his presence there, and Galdós extracts a good deal of
anticlerical humour at this point in the novel from Gabriel’s words and
But the situation is complicated by the presence in Cadiz of an English
nobleman, Lord Gray—often known in the novel as “milord” or, on occasions
“miloro”—, who is dashing and brave and attracts the interest of many of the
local young noblewomen, and often that of their mothers too, who see in him a
possible match for their daughters—as long, of course, as Lord Gray’s
rumoured conversion to Catholicism comes about sooner rather than later.
The main thrust of the narrative is propelled by a misunderstanding that has
farcical as well as tragic consequences: Gabriel’s mistaken belief that Lord
Gray has actually won the heart of Inés and his decision, therefore, to treat the
Englishman as a rival in love. While this amorous enredo unfolds, we hear
indirectly about Gabriel’s and Lord Gray’s brave involvement in the fight
against the French and we are also immersed in the hustle and bustle of a city,
Cadiz, which, despite the siege, is busy creating the institutions and structures
of a future liberal society. We visit the Calle Ancha, where all members of
society, from beggars to aristocrats, jostle and interact with soldiers,
politicians, Churchmen, businessmen, journalists and bureaucrats and turn
the central Cadiz thoroughfare not only into the “corazón de España” [the
heart of Spain] but also into a new public space, product and reflection of the
nascent liberal society of politics, commerce and public opinion (Pérez Galdós
2003: 255-71 [p. 256]). And finally, of course, we also visit the Teatro Cómico in
San Fernando and then the Oratorio de San Felipe Neri in Cadiz proper, where
the Cortes (Parliament) met between September 1810 and September 1813,
and we hear the debates that lead, at the very end of the novel—and at the
very moment that Lord Gray, the violator of the local social codes, is being
disposed of—to the promulgation of the Constitution on 19 March 1812.
Perhaps the most fascinating and surprising character in this
fascinating and surprising novel is the fictional Englishman Lord Gray. Galdós
is in fact being very playful, perhaps even subversive, in the creation of this
character and in the role he assigns to him. Given the fact that Lord Gray is an
English nobleman, one might expect him to be a true friend to the Spanish, a
representative of the British forces fighting against Napoleon in the Peninsula,
a reflection perhaps of the Duke of Wellington himself or of more liberal
friends of Spain such as Lord Holland—or even of his near-namesake Lord
Grey (with an e, rather than an a), who would later make his name as the
architect of the 1832 Reform Bill. But he is not like that at all. He is an ally in the
sense that he too fights against the Napoleonic troops, but he is very much the
outsider in the novel, more so in fact than the French themselves, whom we
hear firing in the distance but never actually meet. Lord Gray is in reality a
Byronic figure (we are told at the outset that he had arrived in Cadiz six
months earlier with Lord Byron, who had then left for the East [p. 123]), and
has Romantic, exoticizing attitudes towards Spain. Spain, for him, is—or
should be—a country of majas and toreros, of the medieval and the quixotic,
of animal instincts and violence (pp. 134-38 and 246-54). It is definitely not, in
his mind, a place of or for the modern or the new. He goes there for
adventure, for excitement, to slake his sensual thirst, to enjoy the violence and
the war. In some senses, he is a foreign forebear of Ramón del Valle-Inclán’s
Marqués de Bradomín, at least in his sensuality, perversity and ruthless
pursuit of his own pleasures. Some of the most remarkable passages in the
novel deal with this man’s ideas and exploits. When Gabriel and we first meet
him, he rants about his native England, saying that he detests commerce,
London, the hypocrisy of a nation that claims to love freedom and yet trades in
slaves, and the character of his compatriots, which is “egoísta, seco, duro
como el bronce, formado en el ejercicio del cálculo y refractario a la poesía”
[egotistical, dry, hard as bronze, formed in the exercise of calculation and
resistant to poetry] (p. 134). We also see him extolling the virtues of the
Spanish during a hallucinatory drinking session with Gabriel (pp. 246-54), and,
towards the end of the novel, we find too that, in his search for the “authentic”
Spain and for ever more stimulating experiences, he has in fact abandoned the
trappings of wealthy society and chosen to live for a short while as a beggar
amongst the down-and-outs of Cadiz (pp. 309-17).8
Lord Gray’s main concern is that the future Constitution, which is being
discussed in the Cortes, will make Spain more like England, will change her out
of all recognition, will cause her to lose her medieval spirit and force her to
become modern, mercantile and materialistic. As he says during his drinking
bout with Gabriel:
Hermoso país es España […]. Esa canalla de las Cortes lo va a echar a perder. Huí de
Inglaterra para que mis paisanos no me rompieran los oídos con sus chillidos en el
Parlamento, con sus pregones del precio del algodón y de la harina, y aquí encontré
las mayores delicias, porque no había fábricas, ni fabricantes panzudos, sino graciosos
majos; ni polizontes estirados, sino chusquísimos ladrones y contrabandistas; porque
no había boxeadores, sino toreros; porque no había generales de academia, sino
guerrilleros, porque no había fondas, sino conventos llenos de poesía; y en vez de
lores secos y amojamados por la etiqueta, estos nobles que van a las tabernas a
emborracharse con las majas; y en vez de filósofos pedantes, frailes pacíficos y que no
hacen nada; y en vez de amarga cerveza, vino, que es fuego y luz, y sobrenatural
espíritu… ¡Oh, amigo! Yo debí nacer en España. Si yo hubiera nacido bajo este sol,
habría sido guerrillero hoy y mendigo mañana, y fraile al amanecer y torero por la
tarde, y majo y sacristán de conventos de monjas, y abate y petimetre y
contrabandista y salteador de caminos… […] Amo todas estas fortalezas que ha ido
levantando la historia, para tener yo el placer de escalarlas; amo los caracteres
tenaces y testarudos, para contrariarlos; amo los peligros, para acometerlos; […]
gusto de que me digan “de aquí no pasarás”, para contestar “pasaré”. (pp. 247-48)
Here we get the true measure of our Lord Gray. Spain has become his
personal playground and, as his words suggest, he revels in being subversive:
truly mad, bad and dangerous to know. He adores the existence of the
complicated Spanish religious, social and moral codes because he can then
take great pleasure in transgressing them. As the novel progresses, we realize
that his main aim, as well as to enjoy the war, has become to seduce and run
off with Asunción, one of the Countess de Rumblar’s daughters. And the end of
the novel focuses on the resolution of this situation, as Gabriel takes upon
himself the responsibility of destroying this dangerous external threat. By
doing so, the liberal Gabriel is acting on behalf both of himself and of his
ideological enemies, the Countess de Rumblar and her reactionary allies, and,
for a brief moment, therefore, just as the Constitution of 1812 is being
celebrated around Cadiz, the seemingly irreconcilable factions of Spain unite
in their drive to expel this foreign body from their midst.
But, alongside this fictional tale of jealousy, rivalry and revenge, of
transgression, retribution and expulsion, there is also in Cádiz the story, the
historical story, of the Cortes and of the gradual creation of the Constitution
of 1812. Over the course of the novel, we in fact witness a series of key political
events. In Chapters 8 and 9, we watch the grand opening of the Cortes in the
Teatro Cómico in San Fernando on 24 September 1810 and hear parts of the
opening speech of the new Cortes themselves, that of the liberal priest Diego
Muñoz Torrero. When that speech announcing the programme of the new
government and explaining the nature of its new revolutionary ideals came to
an end, says our narrator Gabriel from his vantage point six decades later, “el
siglo XVIII había concluído” [the eighteenth century had come to an end] (pp.
182-98 [p. 193]). Later, in Chapters 17-19, we attend further debates in the
Cortes, now housed in the Oratorio de San Felipe Neri in Cadiz, and hear,
amongst others, the voices of the liberal deputy Manuel García Herreros and
of the reactionary nemesis of the Countess de Rumblar’s daughters, Blas de
Ostolaza (pp. 272-94).10 And, although we do not return to the Cortes on 19
March 1812 to hear the proclamation and reading of the Constitution itself, the
sounds of celebration that night form the backdrop to Gabriel’s dispatching of
Lord Gray (p. 406).
In these grand set-pieces in the Cortes, Galdós makes full use of his
experience as a reporter in the Parliaments of the 1860s and 1870s, revealing a
keen eye both for colourful detail and for historical accuracy. He has obviously
been back to some of the sources in his zeal to capture the opening session
and the debates themselves with a degree of realism and fidelity to historical
truth.11 And yet the real interest of the novel does not lie in those debates
themselves. As a political animal—and as a liberal—, Galdós is fascinated by
the ideological differences at play and is obviously impressed with the work of
the more progressive elements in Cadiz. And yet what he is more interested in
in Cádiz—and the reason why he is actually writing a novel and not a history
book—is the way in which the Spanish people lived out and responded to this
historical moment and tried to understand and make sense of the momentous
political and cultural change going on around them. As I have said elsewhere,
his interest is not so much in ideology as in what could perhaps be called
political anthropology: the lived experience of a particular—and, in this case,
particularly epoch-making—historical and political moment.12
This aspect of the novel can be seen most clearly at work in the two
set-pieces I have already mentioned. The first of these takes place in Chapters
8 and 9 and comes to a climax with Gabriel watching the opening of the Cortes
in the presence of his protectress, Countess Amaranta, and her close friend,
Flora. The interest in this scene is not so much in what the politicians and
orators actually say as in the way in which the audience behaves and responds.
Amaranta and Flora, like all voyagers into an unknown land, are desperately
trying to make sense of what they have never seen before, and, like a thousand
intrepid discoverers before them, they try to understand the new in terms of
the old, the unfamiliar in terms of the familiar.
Galdós has placed us in a good position from which to appreciate and
understand their confusion. They have, after all, heard about the Solemn Mass
and Te Deum that has just taken place in a local church to accompany the
coronation, not of a king, but of the new-fangled entity called the Nation (pp.
184-86), and they have also just witnessed a procession, not of holy images,
kings or princes, but of “un centenar de hombres vestidos de negro, jóvenes
unos, otros viejos, algunos sacerdotes, seglares los más” [a hundred or so men
dressed in black, some young, others old, some priests, the majority laymen]
(p. 184), a procession of deputies that has been greeted by the people of Cadiz
with the same joy that it shows on bullfighting days (p. 182). And now they’ve
ended up in a theatre, with the new deputies sitting on seats arranged along
the edges of the stalls and, on stage, a bishop seated on his throne and
accompanied by four other men and a series of secretaries (pp. 187-88).
No wonder, therefore, that Flora and Amaranta start to read the events
that they are witnessing in terms borrowed from the Church, the theatre and
other spectacles, including bullfighting. Flora cannot wait for the men to start
“preaching” and is glad to see that there are many clergymen present, with
their “picos de oro” [silver tongues], while Amaranta, who has recognized
some of the politicians who frequent her own salon, feels that “los seglares”
[the laymen] will be more entertaining (p. 188). When one of the men onstage
takes a piece of paper out of his pocket and gets ready to read it, though, Flora
remembers that she is in a theatre and sees him no longer as a priest
officiating Mass but as an actor who’s probably forgotten his lines (p. 189).
And, when the two women get impatient with the slowness of the
proceedings, they express their wish to see the men argue and even fight, and
their raised and excited voices swell the general din that is reminiscent of the
corrida (pp. 190-91).
When Muñoz Torrero finally makes his speech, the whole theatre falls
silent. Flora and Amaranta do not fully understand what the orator says, but
they do pick up on the fact that the Cortes will from now on provide the
orders and that the king will obey. Flora tries to ground this somewhat
abstract notion in her present and immediate experience, saying “De modo
que, según ‘la soberanía de la nación’, el gobierno del reino está dentro de este
teatro” [So, according to the “sovereignty of the nation”, the government of
the kingdom is here, inside this theatre] (p. 194), but what she and the rest of
the public seem most impressed by is the spectacle itself, one that, according
to Flora, will have a particular advantage: “Así todas las picardías que se
cometan en el Gobierno se harán públicas, y el número de los tunantes tendrá
que ser menor” [So all the mischief that the Government gets up to will be
made public, and there are bound to be fewer rogues] (p. 194). At a later stage,
though, when there is some doubt over whether the representatives of the
absent King Ferdinand VII will swear allegiance to the new Cortes, the general
public up in the gods starts becoming agitated, making Amaranta observe that
the people feel that they are watching a sainete or one-act farce and that they
will soon want to get involved in the performance (p. 196)—a potentially
threatening possibility, of course, that Galdós does nothing to hide in the
The second set piece, which takes place in Chapters 17-19, shows how
the fictional and the historical, the personal and the collective, fuse in an
intensely moving way. In these Chapters, Gabriel, through no plan of his own,
ends up accompanying Presentación, one of the Countess de Rumblar’s
daughters, to the Cortes at a time when both characters’ minds are more
focused on their respective love concerns than on the debates going on in the
Oratorio de San Felipe Neri. They push their way into the crowded building
and sit this time, not in the more “respectable” area reserved for the powersthat-be and the well-off, but with the more “popular” element enjoying the
spectacle from the tribuna pública [public gallery]. And spectacle it is,
especially for Presentación, for whom this is the first visit to the Cortes. As
with the previous set piece with Flora and Amaranta, Presentación asks
Gabriel for guidance in order to understand what she is witnessing, and the
result is an exchange of questions and answers that allows Gabriel to correct
Presentación’s natural tendency to reach for analogies from Church, theatre
or bullfighting and to convey to her the true significance of what is going on
down beneath her:
Yo observé la estupefacción de la muchacha, y le dije:
—¿Le gusta a usted este espectáculo?
—Muchísimo. Nos habían dicho que era muy feo, pero es bonito. ¿Quién es aquel
señor que está en medio del redondel?
—Es el presidente. Es el que dirige esto.
—Ya, ya... Y cuando quiera mandar una cosa, sacará el pañuelo y lo agitará en el aire.
—No, señora doña Presentacioncita. Así pasa en los toros; pero aquí el presidente se
vale de una campanilla.
—Y el diputado que va a hablar, ¿por dónde sale? ¿Por detrás de aquella cortina o por
esa puertecilla?
—El diputado no sale por ninguna parte, que aquí no hay toril ni telones. El diputado
está en su asiento, y cuando quiere hablar se levanta. Vea usted: todos esos que ahí
están son diputados.
La muchacha, a cada nueva conquista hecha por su inteligencia en el conocimiento de
las cosas parlamentarias, más sorpresa mostraba, y no distraía su atención del
Congreso sino para hacerme preguntas tan originales a veces, y a veces tan inocentes,
que me era muy difícil contestarle. Carecía en absoluto de toda idea exacta respecto
de lo que estaba presenciando; y aquel espectáculo la conmovía hondamente, sin que
las ideas políticas tuviesen ni aun parte mínima en tal emoción, hija sólo de la fuerte
impresionabilidad de una criatura educada en estrechos encierros y con ligaduras y
cadenas, mas con poderosas alas para volar, si alguna vez rompía su esclavitud.
Era tierna, sensible, voluble, traviesa, y por efecto de la educación, disimuladora y
comedianta como pocas; pero en ocasiones tan ingenua, que no había pliegue de su
corazón que ocultase, ni escondrijo de su alma que no descubriese. Por esto, que era
sin duda efecto de un anhelo irresistible de libertad, aparecía a veces descomedida y
desenvuelta con exceso.
Poseía en alto grado el don de la fantasía; la falta de instrucción profana unida a
aquella cualidad, la hacía incurrir en desatinos encantadores. No sólo en aquella
ocasión, sino en otras varias, observé que al separarse de doña María y al sentirse
libre del peso de aquella gran losa de la autoridad materna, desbordábanse en ella
con desenfrenada impetuosidad, fantasía, sentimiento, ideas y deseos. Presenciando
la sesión, no cabía en sí misma; tan inquieta estaba, y tan sublevados sus nervios y tan
impresionados sus sentidos.
—Señor de Araceli—me dijo después que por un instante meditó—¿y esto para qué
—¿El Congreso?
—Sí, eso es; quiero decir que para qué sirve el Congreso.
—Sirve para gobernar a los pueblos, juntamente con el rey.
—Comprendido, comprendido—repuso vivamente agitando su abaniquillo—. Quiere
decir que todos estos caballeros vienen aquí a predicar, y así como los curas de las
iglesias predican diciendo que seamos buenos, los procuradores de la nación
predican otras cosas; viene la gente, los oye y nada más. Sólo que, según dicen los que
van de noche a casa, los diputados predican que seamos malos, y esto es lo que no
—Esos discursos—le contesté risueño—no son sermones, son debates.
—Efectivamente; me ha parecido que no son sermones, sino que uno dice una cosa,
otro otra, y parece como que disputan.
—Justamente. Disputan; cada uno dice lo que cree más conveniente, y después...
—El disputar me gusta mucho. ¿Sabe usted que me estaría aquí las horas muertas
oyendo esto? Pero me agradaría que hablaran fuerte y se insultaran, tirándose los
bancos a la cabeza.
—Alguna vez...
—Pues yo quiero venir ese día. ¿Se anunciará por carteles en las esquinas?
—Nada de eso. La política no es una función de teatro.
—¿Y qué es la política?
—Ahora me parece que lo entiendo menos. (pp. 275-77)
We see Presentación here both enjoying and trying to understand this
amazingly rich and novel spectacle that she is witnessing. But, as this passage
already suggests—above all when we read about her limited and limiting
education and her desire to break free from her chains—, Presentación is not
just witnessing events in a passive way but is starting actively to participate in
them, and her enquiries, as a result, start to go far beyond the simple question
of spectacle. She is deeply moved by the things she hears because she hears
them in the context of her own life, her own desires, her own needs. She, like
her sister and also her close friend Inés, is, after all, a young woman who is
being kept semi-prisoner by her overbearing mother and the tertulianos who
visit her house nightly, men like Ostolaza, the ultramontane and absolutist
deputy who despises the Cortes and its talk of freedom and also warns the
Condesa de Rumblar against offering too much freedom to her daughters.
When Ostolaza gets up to speak in this selfsame session of the Cortes,
Presentación’s personal story and that of the nation to which she belongs, the
novelistic and the historical, suddenly become one. She revels in the ridicule
heaped upon this orator by the common people around her, their mockery of
a man who is telling them to their face that he despises them and their rowdy
and rabble-rousing ways. And she suddenly understands, in her own naïve and
yet, at the same time, profound way, what this liberty that is being preached
about may actually mean, and that it may just have something to do with her
own happiness, as well as with that of the nation:
—¿Y en qué consiste eso que dicen de que con Cortes hay libertad?
—Es una cosa difícil de explicar en pocas palabras.
—Pues yo lo entiendo de este modo... Pongo por caso... las Cortes dirán: ordeno y
mando, que todos los españoles salgan a paseo por las tardes, y vayan una vez al mes
al teatro, y se asomen al balcón después de haber hecho sus obligaciones... Prohíbo
que las familias recen más de un rosario completo al día... Prohíbo que se case a nadie
contra su voluntad y que se descase a quien quiere hacerlo... Todo el mundo puede
estar alegre siempre que no ofenda al decoro...
—Las Cortes harán eso y mucho más.
—¡Oh, Sr. Araceli, yo estoy muy alegre!
—¿Por qué?
—No sé por qué. Siento deseos de reír a carcajadas. Siempre que salgo de casa, y voy
a alguna parte donde puedo estar con alguna libertad, me parece que el alma quiere
salírseme del cuerpo y volar bailando y saltando por el mundo; me embriaga la
atmósfera y la luz me embelesa. Todo cuanto veo me parece hermoso, cuanto oigo
elocuente (menos lo de Ostolaza), todos los hombres justos y buenos, todas las
mujeres guapas, y me parece que las casas, la calle, el cielo, las Cortes con su
presidente y su preopinante me saludan sonriendo. ¡Oh, qué bien estoy aquí! (p.
This extremely moving scene actually forms the emotional and the
political and anthropological heart of the novel, since it allows us to catch a
glimpse of the true joy that, its author believed, was felt by a certain sector of
the Spanish population thanks to the promise of freedom, of new structures,
of participation, of a new nation. Galdós gives us here one specific example, a
rather Romantic and touching one, of what it meant “in that dawn to be alive”,
of the very heavenliness of being young at a time of such profound cultural, as
well as political, change, and of what the lived experience of those great
abstracts “liberty” and “happiness” might actually look and feel like.16
But there too is the rub: the joy felt by Presentación and others,
including Galdós, as he thought back to his own experience of the 1868
Revolution, was not shared by all sectors of Spanish society in 1812. Cádiz, it is
true, ends with a brief truce and alliance between Gabriel, the liberal, and the
Countess de Rumblar and some of her allies amongst the serviles, as they
close ranks against the transgressive foreigner. But they all know that that
alliance is an expedient and a temporary one that will almost inevitably break
apart as soon as circumstances change—just as the return of Ferdinand VII
after the expulsion of the French, as Galdós himself knew only too well, had in
fact led, not to the unification of the nation, but to an ever-growing and
increasingly violent rift between progressives and traditionalists.
Just as worryingly, though, the novel acknowledges that freedom is
indeed a delicate flower even amongst those who, in 1812, were supposedly in
favour of such an ideal. It is not just that we know that poor Presentación,
after her joyful encounter with freedom, will have to return to the ideological
prison-house that is her home, where she will once again be put in her place
by the stifling clichés of absolutist rhetoric and forced to lie in order to hide
her true feelings. It is also that, as she herself was in raptures in the Cortes,
she was surrounded by the massed ranks of the people in the tribuna pública,
many of whose responses to the reactionary deputies’ intolerant and
condescending speeches were much less playful and much more violent than
Presentación’s own. Before she even reaches home, therefore, and just after
hearing the beautiful words that have moved her so deeply, Presentación is
also witness to the spontaneous violence that erupts around her in the public
gallery and the street outside, as those Gabriel refers to as “la hermandad de
la porra” [the brotherhood of the club or the stick] (p. 290) get ready to try
and lynch the representatives of tradition.
This little tableau, which occupies just a small corner in just one
chapter of Cádiz, is in fact one of the most significant moments in the novel.
Galdós is looking back at 1812 Cadiz from the dangerous, unstable autumn of
1874. And looking back too with a full awareness of the vicissitudes of Spanish
history over the intervening 62 years: the derogation of the 1812 Constitution
by Ferdinand VII and the absolutist intolerance of this once “desired” king; the
civil wars of the 1830s that pitted Carlists—ultramontane Catholic defenders
of the absolutist Old Régime—against Liberals; the corruption of Liberal
politics under Isabel II; and the chaos, confusion and violence, as he saw it, of
the First Republic. From this perspective, Galdós knew that the national unity
that the men of Cadiz and he too, more than half a century later, longed for
had proved a chimera and that now, towards the end of the unstable
Revolutionary Sexennium, the old liberal values were being betrayed yet again
by fanatical politicians and undermined by the irruption into the res publica of
popular violence at the hands not only of the newly-active Carlists but also of
uncontrolled elements within the Democratic and Federalist movements that
were running the Republic.
In the scene at the Cortes, Galdós was giving expression to the selfsame political and social anxieties that haunted the work of so many
nineteenth- and early twentieth-century thinkers, from Thomas Carlyle and
Matthew Arnold to Ernest Renan and José Ortega y Gasset, as they
contemplated the possibility and dangers of incorporating the popular classes
into a more representative and democratic system. With Cádiz, the
conservative liberal Galdós of 1874 projected such anxieties back into the
moment when a modern, liberal Spain had been born—or had perhaps ended
up, he now feared, being still-born. It would take another twenty or thirty
years, and the joys and frustrations of the Bourbon Restoration that started in
1875, for Benito Pérez Galdós to realize that the energies of the have-nots
could in fact be a positive force in the construction of the juster, more
progressive and inclusive society that had been dreamt up, in embryonic form,
by the true liberales of Cadiz.
Works Cited
Albaladejo Mayordomo, Tomás. 2008. “El discurso parlamentario en las Cortes
de Cádiz: la oratoria de Agustín de Argüelles.” In Estudios de teoría literaria
como experiencia vital. Homenaje al Profesor José Antonio Hernández
Guerrero, edited by Isabel Morales Sánchez and Fátima Coca Ramírez, 2340. Cádiz: Universidad de Cádiz.
—. 2009. “La confluencia retórica. A propósito del discurso parlamentario en
la Transición y en las Cortes de Cádiz.” Oralia. Análisis del discurso oral 12:
—. 2013 [forthcoming]. “The Cortes of Cadiz: Discourses for the Constitution
and for Everyday Life.” In 1812 Echoes: The Cadiz Constitution in Hispanic
History, Culture and Politics, edited by Stephen G.H. Roberts & Adam
Sharman. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
Casalduero, Joaquín. 1977. “Los Episodios Nacionales dentro de la unidad de la
novelística galdosiana.” In Actas del I Congreso Internacional de Estudios
Galdosianos, 135-43. Madrid: Editora Nacional.
Cifo González, Manuel. 2012. “Retórica política y novela: Cádiz de Benito Pérez
Galdós y El asedio de Arturo Pérez Reverte.” In Retórica y política. Los
discursos de la construcción de la sociedad, edited by Emilio del Río, María
del Carmen Ruiz de la Cierva and Tomás Albaladejo, 549-64. Logroño:
Gobierno de La Rioja. Instituto de Estudios Riojanos. Ayuntamiento de
Dendle, Brian J. 1986. Galdós: The Early Historical Novels. Missouri: University
of Missouri Press.
Esterán, Pilar. 2003. “Introducción.” In Benito Pérez Galdós, Cádiz, 19-105.
Madrid: Cátedra.
Glendinning, Nigel. 1970. “Psychology and Politics in the First Series of the
Episodios Nacionales.” In Galdós Studies, edited by J.E. Varey, 36-61.
London: Tamesis Books.
Gullón, Ricardo. 1987. Galdós, novelista moderno. Madrid: Taurus Ediciones.
Hinterhäuser, Hans. 1963. Los Episodios Nacionales de Benito Pérez Galdós.
Madrid: Gredos.
Lewis Galanes, Adriana. 1968. “La epopeya de Juan Particular: primera y
segunda series de los Episodios Nacionales de Benito Pérez Galdós.”
Kentucky Romance Quarterly 15 (4): 295-317.
Mora García, José Luis. 2002. “De Blanco White a Galdós: un siglo de lucha por
la libertad de conciencia en España.” Sistema 171: 105-16.
—. 2006. “Galdós, la filosofía y los filósofos.” In Galdós en su tiempo, edited by
Yolanda Arencibia and Ángel Bahamonde, 71-111. Santa Cruz de Tenerife:
Parlamentos de Cantabria y Canarias.
—. 2011. “Un testigo atento de la polémica: el novelista Pérez Galdós.” In La
Ciencia Española. Estudios, edited by Ramón Emilio Mandado Gutiérrez
and Gerardo Bolado, 55-80. Santander: Real Sociedad Menéndez Pelayo.
Parlamento de Cantabria/UNED.
Ortiz-Armengol, Pedro. 1995. Vida de Galdós. Barcelona: Crítica.
Pérez Galdós, Benito. 1969. Obras completas, Vol. IV. Madrid: Aguilar.
—. 1975. Recuerdos y memorias, edited by Federico Carlos Sainz de Robles.
Madrid: Tebas.
—. 2003. Cádiz, edited by Pilar Esterán. Madrid: Cátedra.
—. 2007. La casa de Shakespeare. Madrid: Rey Lear Editores.
Roberts, Stephen G.H. 2013 [forthcoming]. “Towards a Political Anthropology:
Cádiz by Benito Pérez Galdós.” In 1812 Echoes: The Cadiz Constitution in
Hispanic History, Culture and Politics, edited by Stephen G.H. Roberts &
Adam Sharman. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
Roca Roca, Eduardo. 1993. “Aspectos jurídicos de la obra de Pérez Galdós (Las
cortes de Cádiz).” In Actas del Cuarto Congreso Internacional de Estudios
Galdosianos (1990), vol. II, 485-508. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria: Ediciones
del Cabildo Insular de Gran Canaria.
Shoemaker, William H. 1972. Los artículos de Galdós en “La Nación”: 1865-1866,
1868. Madrid: Ínsula.
Triviños, Gilberto. 1987. Benito Pérez Galdós en la jaula de la epopeya.
Barcelona: Ediciones del Mall.
Wordsworth, William. 1904. The Poetical Works, edited by Thomas
Hutchinson. London: Henry Frowde.
Stephen Roberts is a graduate of the University of Oxford. He was Lecturer in Spanish
at St Hugh's College, Jesus College, Wadham College and Lady Margaret Hall, at the
University of Oxford from 1987-88 and was subsequently awarded the Queen Sofia
Junior Research Fellowship and a Lecturership in Spanish at Exeter College, Oxford
(1988-90). In 1991 he was appointed lecturer in Spanish at the University of Newcastleupon-Tyne and he later moved to the University of Nottingham in 1994. He is now
Associate Professor and Reader in the Department of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin
American Studies, University of Nottingham.
Dr Roberts is one of the UK’s leading scholars on Spain’s literature, culture and
intellectual history of the second half of the nineteenth and the first half of the
twentieth centuries. His research on Unamuno, in particular, is widely known and
admired on both a national and international scale, but his research interests are
broad and comprehensive and he has published on other authors, including Juan
Ramón Jiménez and Federico García Lorca, and on cinema. His research is always
scintillatingly perceptive and enlightening, and his lectures always engage his
audiences with his infectious enthusiasm.
Dr Roberts is currently working on a research project, which will result in a book on
Miguel de Unamuno’s time in exile (1924-30), but, fortunately for us, he has managed
to combine this with research on Galdós’s views of 1812, as portrayed, in particular,
through his historical novel Cádiz and we are delighted that he has accepted our
invitation to deliver the Twelfth Galdós Lecture.
“The 1812 Cadiz Constitution represents one of the fundamental historical landmarks in the
Ibero-American constitutional heritage, whose principles of individual liberty, democracy,
popular sovereignty, separation of powers, legitimacy and equality in the face of the law allow
us to recognize ourselves and each other as Ibero-Americans.” The full text of the “Declaración
de Cádiz” can be found on the website of the Secretaría General Iberoamericana, at the
following address: http://segib.org/. All the translations into English are my own.
“Ibero-America is on the way up. The Continent is growing. On this side of the Atlantic, [by
contrast,] we’ve seen difficult situations emerging due to the economic and financial crisis. We
now look towards you. We need more Ibero-America” (King Juan Carlos I, cited in Miguel
González, “El Rey pide ayuda a Iberoamérica para superar la crisis económica”, El País
(Madrid), 16 November 2012).
“Those famous men would see the freedom that they built on such robust foundations being
vilified; the constitutional system that they had tended so carefully ending up stained and
impure; the administration that they organized so wisely being eaten away by uncertainty and
anarchy; the press suffering its own ignominious martyrdom; immoral and reactionary
influences being placed on a rotten pedestal; and even the dignity of Parliament itself, of that
Parliament which, with those men running it, had been obeyed by the Regency, respected by
the generals and foreign cabinets and revered by the people, being treated so badly, cut off, as
Parliament now is, from the feelings of the Nation, mistreated by the ministries, and turned
into no more than a stage on which scandalous scenes are played out”.
Galdós talks of the joy of the 1868 Revolution in many places, including his Memorias de un
desmemoriado (1916): see Pérez Galdós (1975: 193-270 [pp. 198-99]).
For a description of Galdós’s experiences, evolving political views, and writings of this period
(1868-1874), see Ortiz-Armengol (1995: 219-84). For an excellent overview of Galdós’s political
and philosophical position, including his evolving thoughts on the nation, on history, and on
liberalism and tradition, see Mora García (2006, 2011).
Mora García (2002) writes that Galdós’s earliest novels, including the first series of
Episodios Nacionales, represent “la alternativa novelística a lo que en el campo filosófico se
llama filosofía de la historia” [the novelistic alternative to what philosophers call the
philosophy of history]. Classic studies on the origins and nature of the Episodios Nacionales
include Hinterhäuser (1963); Glendinning (1970); Casalduero (1977); Dendle (1986).
See Ortiz-Armengol (1995: 261-67).
On Lord Gray as a subversive character, see Triviños (1987: 244-53).
“Spain is a beautiful country […]. That rabble in the Cortes are going to ruin her. I fled
England so that my fellow-countrymen could no longer burst my eardrums with their screams
in Parliament, with their street vendors’ cries about the price of cotton and flour, and here I
found the most wondrous delights, because there were no factories or fat factory owners but
rather gracious majos; no snooty coppers but really earthy robbers and smugglers; because
there weren’t boxers but rather bullfighters; because there weren’t trained generals but
guerrilla fighters; because there weren’t inns but convents that were full of poetry; and,
instead of dried out Lords who’ve been desiccated by all that etiquette, there were those
nobles who go to taverns in order to get drunk with the majas; and, instead of pedantic
philosophers, peaceful friars who do nothing; and, instead of bitter ale, wine, which is fire and
light, and supernatural spirit… Oh, my friend! I should have been born in Spain. If I had been
born beneath this sun, I would have been a guerrilla fighter today and a beggar tomorrow, and
a friar at dawn and a bullfighter in the afternoon, and a majo and a sacristan in nuns’ convents,
and a priest and a dandy and a smuggler and a highwayman… […] I love all these fortresses
that history has raised, so that I can have the pleasure of storming them; I love tenacious and
obstinate personalities, so that I can annoy them; I love dangers, so that I can tackle them; […] I
get pleasure from hearing the words ‘you will not go beyond this point’, so that I can reply ‘I
will do so’.”
For an analysis of the speeches and oratory employed in the Cortes de Cádiz, see Albaladejo
Mayordomo (2008, 2009, and 2013 [forthcoming]).
On the historiographical sources Galdós drew upon, especially his use of the Conde de
Toreno’s Historia del levantamiento, guerra y revolución de España (1835), see Esterán (2003:
40-53). On the legal research that Galdós carried out in order to prepare Cádiz, see Roca
Roca (1993). On Galdós’s use of political rhetoric in the novel, see Cifo González (2012).
See Roberts (2013 [forthcoming]). The rest of this lecture is a slightly expanded version of
the final third of that forthcoming chapter.
Nor does the prescient Gabriel, who responds to Amaranta’s comment by saying “Sí, señora.
Ese nuevo actor que se mete donde no le llaman dará disgustos a las Cortes” [Yes, my lady.
That new actor that is sticking its nose where it doesn’t belong will create all sorts of
problems and sorrows for the Cortes] (p. 197).
“I noticed the girl’s astonishment and said:
‘Do you like this spectacle?’
‘Very much indeed. We’d been told that it was really ugly, but it’s nice. Who’s that
gentleman who’s there in the middle of the ring?’
‘That’s the president. He’s the one in charge.’
‘I see… And when he wants to give an order, he’ll get his handkerchief out and will wave it in
the air.’
‘No, Miss Presentacioncita. That’s what happens in bullfights; but here the president uses a
little bell.’
‘And the deputy who’s going to speak, where will he appear from? From behind that
curtain or through that little door?’
‘The deputy won’t appear from anywhere, there are no bull pens or curtains here. The
deputy is sitting on his seat, and when he wants to speak, he’ll stand up. Look: all those men
over there are deputies.’
The more the girl’s mind captured as far as Parliamentary practice was concerned, the
more surprise she showed, and she only stopped concentrating on Congress in order to ask
me questions that were sometimes so original and at others so innocent that I had great
trouble answering her. She had no idea whatsoever of what she was witnessing; and that
spectacle moved her deeply, even though the political ideas played no part at all in that
emotion, which was simply the result of the strongly impressionable nature of a being who
had been educated in a narrowly enclosed space and weighed down with bonds and chains,
and who yet possessed powerful wings to fly, if she could ever break free of her enslavement.
She was tender, sensitive, fickle, naughty and, thanks to her education, able to put on a
mask and act out like the best of them; but her naivety was such at times that she was unable
to hide the deepest reaches of her heart or soul. This characteristic, which was doubtless
created by her irresistible longing for freedom, made her sometimes appear immoderate and
excessively self-possessed.
She possessed the gift of fantasy to a high degree; the lack of secular education combined
with that quality caused her to make charming mistakes. Not only on that occasion but on
several others besides, I observed that, when she was away from Doña María and felt free
from the weight of that great burden of maternal authority, fantasy, feelings, ideas and desires
overflowed in her with an unbridled impetuosity. Watching the session, she was beside
herself, so restless was she, with her nerves so excited and her senses so affected.
‘Mr Araceli’, she said to me after meditating for a moment, ‘what is all this for?’
‘You mean Congress?’
‘Yes, that’s it; I mean, what is Congress for?’
‘It’s about governing peoples, together with the king.’
‘I understand, I understand’, she replied, vigorously fanning herself. ‘It means that all these
gentlemen come here to preach, and, just as the priests in the churches preach and tell us to
be good, the nation’s lawyers preach other things; the people come along, listen to them and
that’s that. It’s just that, according to what our visitors tell us each night, the deputies preach
that we should be evil, and that’s what I don’t understand.’
‘Those speeches’, I smiled, ‘are not sermons but rather debates.’
‘That’s right; I thought that they weren’t sermons, but rather someone says one thing,
another says another, and it looks like they’re arguing with each other.’
‘Exactly. They’re arguing; each of them says what he believes it best to say, and then…’
‘I love arguments. Do you know, I’d spend every spare moment here listening to all of this?
But I’d be happy if they shouted and insulted each other, and threw the benches at each other
‘On occasions…’
‘Well I want to be here when that happens. Will they announce it on posters on the street
‘No, of course not. Politics isn’t a theatre performance.’
‘So what is politics, then?’
‘This is.’
‘Now I think I understand it all less than I did before.’”
“‘And what does it mean when they say that with the Cortes comes freedom?’
‘That’s something that’s not easy to explain in a few words.’
‘Well, this is how I understand it… For example… the Cortes will say: I order and command
that all Spaniards should go out for a walk in the afternoons, and that they should go to the
theatre once a month, and should go out onto their balconies once they’ve done their
chores… I ban families from saying the whole rosary more than once a day… I forbid anyone
being married off against their will or not being allowed to get married if they wish to do so…
Everyone has the right to be happy as long as they respect decorum…’
‘The Cortes will do all that and much more.’
‘Oh, Mr Araceli, I’m so happy!’
‘I don’t know why. I feel like laughing out loud. Whenever I leave home and go somewhere I
can be free, I feel as if my soul wants to fly out of my body and dance and skip through the
world; I find the atmosphere intoxicating and the light captivating. All I can see seems lovely to
me, all I hear (except what Ostolaza’s saying) seems eloquent, all the men seem just and good,
all the women beautiful, and I feel that the houses, the street, the sky, the Cortes with their
President and their previous speakers are smiling and saying hello to me. Oh, how good I feel
It would seem that this moment of political fervour had provided Presentación, and indeed
Gabriel, with an experience that was emotionally akin to Wordsworth’s first experience of the
French Revolution, since “Bliss was it [for them] in that dawn to be alive, / But to be young was
very heaven!” (Wordsworth 1904, 208).
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