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ArribaAbajoEgotism and charity in Marianela

Peter A. Bly

There has been over the years a certain amount of agreement amongst critics over the possible literary sources of Marianela, yet, as to its meaning, various and opposing interpretations have been advanced. For Ricardo Gullón the novel was «un intermedio sentimental88 Joaquín Casalduero saw in it an illustration of the main outlines of Comtian positivism: «ha querido novelar la evolución de la humanidad89 This theory was shared by W. T. Pattison90 and more recently by Gerald Gillespie,91 but questioned and refuted somewhat by S. Eoff92 and C. A. Jones,93 who tended to see the novel as a study of man's relationship to society. Even more recently, Mario Ruiz has suggested «la posible influencia del idealismo platónico en la realidad galdosiana94 In the present article I hope to add to this variety and perhaps modify it, by indicating another possible interpretation which takes into account the significance of references to charity and examples of selfishness.95 By examining the manner in which Galdós depicts his characters and settings, I hope to show how he sees the overpowering force of egotism in l9th century society, gives a certain unity to his novel and anticipates a theme hitherto considered to be limited to the later «spiritual» novels of the «serie contemporánea».

As in the other thesis novels of «la primera época», the theoretical arguments in Marianela96 is presented bluntly in passages that stick out somewhat from the rest of the narrative or, as Agnes Moncy has stated: «En Marianela, estructura e ideología son algo crudas, tajantes.»97 The author puts forward his premise quite early, in Chapter IV (714-5), without recourse to a character as a mouthpiece and in bitter, condemnatory language. Urban positivism is destroying the moral foundation of society, but there is a worse plague: rural positivism «que petrifica millones de seres, matando en ellos toda ambición noble y encerrándolos en el círculo de una existencia mecánica, brutal y tenebrosa» (714). The apt choice of such words as «petrifica», «mecánica, brutal y tenebrosa» will become evident later when we examine the description of the mine at Socartes. The chief feature of this rural positivism is «la codicia», which substitutes materialistic calculation for any spiritual value; the individual has no personal feelings at all: «una sequedad de sentimientos que espanta» (715). For the positivist, other people will be non-existent.98 This pessimistic view of society is confirmed later by another aside from the narrator. Talking of Nela's feeling of shame at her own insignificance, he remarks: «pero la filiación de aquel sentimiento con el que tan grande parte tiene en las acciones del hombre civilizado [el amor propio], se reconocía en que se basaba, como éste, en la dignidad más puntillosa» (752). Teodoro too talks of «esta egoísta sociedad» (762).

In such a society where the various egos conflict, the weakest will suffer, as Darwin had already pointed out.99 Nela is the victim in this novel, but she is representative of many, as Teodoro admits: «Como la Nela hay muchos miles de seres en el mundo» (769). The question is what to do with these failures. The logic of the positivism   —50→   outlined above by Galdós would allow the obliteration of such non-entities: «La sociedad no puede amparar a todos» (733), as Sofía declares. But a Christian society, such as that in Spain, could not tolerate this social suicide by its weaker members, so it would, perforce, have to intervene in their lives. Sofía is again observant: «¿para qué sirve la Religión?» (733). A solution is needed; an examination of its nature constitutes the second part of Galdós's picture. Conveniently labelled «charity», what did it mean? And, how effective was it in solving the social problem? Was it, in fact, any solution at all? Again Galdós directs us to his thoughts on this matter. There is a very long discussion on what is to be done for the poor by Teodoro and Sofía on their return from their afternoon stroll in the fields (732-4). The debate arises from a real case of necessity which confronts them: Nela has no shoes and Teodoro suggests that Sofía could have spent her money to better effect on Nela than on her toy terrier, Lilí. To Sofía, charity does not mean that you give to the poor «sin ton ni son, cuando no existe la seguridad de que la limosna ha de ser bien empleada» (732). All you do is feed and clothe them and then only to a limited degree (733). She is sure that Nela will not look after any shoes she may give her. She has been a regular organizer of special theatre performances, dances and bullfights for charity in Madrid. But, not all the destitute deserve her compassion. Such people as Nela's mother, who committed suicide, ought not to have been born and there are certainly too many paupers for all to receive personal attention. This is the truth of the situation as the facts prove: «Lee la estadística, Teodoro; léela, y verás el número de desdichados» (733). The only answer is «los asilos de beneficencia» (733). A very similar attitude is professed by don Manuel. But he at least acknowledges the ineffectiveness of these money-raising functions for the people in whose aid they are supposed to be:

Me dijo Sofía que en los bailes de máscaras de este invierno sacaron un dineral. Verdad que una gran parte fue para la empresa del gas, para el alquiler del teatro y los empleados..., pero a los pobres les llegó su pedazo de pan... O si no, hija mía, lee la estadística.


Another method of alleviating poverty is advanced by Florentina. She admires the socialists and communists who share everything equally among the people: «Pues ésa es mi gente. Soy partidaria de que haya reparto y de que los ricos den a los pobres todo lo que tengan de sobra» (748).

These solutions are based on material considerations alone. They may do some good but more is required if they are to be effective. It is Teodoro who, on the same afternoon stroll, indicates a different approach. (Florentina demonstrates a similar awareness.) The middle-class and aristocratic do-gooders may give to the poor (and this is praiseworthy) but they rarely approach the sufferer to ask him about his problems. They think that material things are the panacea. The human being behind the statistic is never considered. As Teodoro remarks: «pues hay algunas [miserias] tan extraordinarias, que no se alivian con la fácil limosna del ochavo..., ni tampoco con el mendrugo de pan...» (732). They fail to give the needy a sense of their human dignity:

Estáis viendo delante de vosotros, al pie mismo de vuestras cómodas casas, a una multitud de seres abandonados, faltos de todo lo que es necesario a la niñez, desde los padres hasta los juguetes...; los estáis viendo, sí..., nunca se os ocurre infundirles un poco de dignidad, haciéndoles saber que son seres humanos, dándoles las ideas de que carecen; no se os ocurre ennoblecerlos, haciéndoles pasar del bestial trabajo mecánico al trabajo de la inteligencia.



He recognizes that such problems will never be completely solved, but he thinks that a law establishing the right of orphans to be adopted by childless couples will offer some form of relief. Though initially intended as a serious proposition, it quickly becomes lost amid the banter between Sofía and Teodoro. Nothing can be said of its effectiveness, as an alternative to the conventional form of charity, because it is a plan for future conduct. But, it is a solution which is envisaged in human terms, as a relationship between individuals. Significantly, the author himself indicates the practical form of this relationship when he criticizes Señana's idea of charity:

En su cerrada mollera no entraban ni podían entrar otras luces sobre el santo ejercicio de la caridad; no comprendía que una palabra cariñosa, un halago, un trato delicado y amante que hicieran olvidar al pequeño su pequeñez, al miserable su miseria, son heroísmos de más precio que el bodrio sobrante de una mala comida.


This human warmth between two individuals is surely the very definition of charity as given in the Gospels of the New Testament, namely «love thy neighbour as thyself.» The phrase «el santo ejercicio de la caridad» strongly suggests that Galdós is thinking of this Christian charity. Later in the novel, Teodoro will refer to «La gran conquista evangélica, que es una de las más gloriosas que ha hecho nuestro espíritu» (769). So, Galdós does point out a positive, practical solution to the problem he has raised at the theoretical level. It now remains for us to see if any of the characters achieves this solution.

Socartes is a mining village and a certain amount of space and attention is devoted to the description of its machines, its workers, and its physical appearance en the landscape. José Montesinos declared that «las minas en realidad son ajenas a la novela».100 This view would seem to suggest that the long, detailed descriptions are extraneous padding. On the contrary, I think that they are an integral part of Galdós' thesis. They show us how egotism, in the shape of material greed, is at work in the mines. The extraction of zinc from the earth's body is seen as a robbery of its wealth, designed to satisfy the material needs of l9th century man. This is surely the implication of the following sentence: «Allá, en las más remotas cañadas, centenares de hombres golpeaban con picos la tierra para arrancarle, pedazo a pedazo, su tesoro» (717). Man's brutal, selfish despoliation is vividly conveyed by the concise, swift clauses, with their verbs of violent action:

Los mineros derrumbaban aquí, horadaban allá, cavaban más lejos, rasguñaban en otra parte, rompían la roca cretácea, desbarataban las graciosas láminas de pizarra psamnita y esquistosa, despreciaban la caliza arcillosa, apartaban la limonita y el oligisto, destrozaban la preciosa dolomia, revolviendo incesantemente hasta dar con el silicato de zinc.


In fact, the number and rapidity of these clauses seem absurdly excessive, thereby underlining the absurdity of all this effort put into the mining activity. The Earth is raped by Man in his greed for precious treasures, in the same way that South America was plundered by the Spanish Conquistadores. This seems to be the suggestion of Galdós's description of zinc as «esa plata de Europa» (718). The consequences will be as great: material and moral ruin, not only for the country despoiled but for the despoilers. The irony of the closing sentences only serves to underline the tragic consequences of such selfishness: «Sobre ella ha alzado Bélgica el estandarte de su grandeza moral y política. ¡Oh! la hojalata tiene también su epopeya» (718).101


The effects of this exploitation on the people and animals who work in the mine and on the surrounding countryside are only too clear. People lose their human identity, they become depersonalized. The men around the furnaces «parecían el carbón humanado» (717), the women washing their clothes in the village stream «parecían una pléyade de equívocas ninfas de barro ferruginoso crudo» (718). The mules pulling the trains of wagons are «largos reptiles» (717); when they enter the galleries of the mine the similarity «con los resbaladizos habitantes de las húmedas grietas» (717) becomes perfect. Their whinnies in the tunnel make one believe that «los saurios disputaban, chillando» (717). Neither are the workshops containing the machines of the processing plant a fit place for human beings to work: «No se podía fijar la atención, sin sentir vértigo, en aquel voltear incesante de una infinita madeja de hilos de agua» (717). The noises are likewise unbearable: «Ni cabeza humana que no estuviera hecha a tal espectáculo, podría presenciar el feroz combate de mil ruedas dentadas» (717). The most deafening and terrifying noise of all, «un estampido rítmico, un horrísono compás, a la manera de gigantescos pasos o de un violento latido interior de la madre tierra» is that made by the «gran martillo-pilón del taller» (717).

The startling, grotesque abnormality of the mines is further underlined for the reader by the reaction of Teodoro, the night of his arrival. In Chapter I, he gradually loses his way, but tries to orientate himself by looking for the buildings of the mine:

Un gran establecimiento minero ha de anunciarse con edificios, chimeneas, ruido de arrastres, resoplido de hornos, relincho de caballos, trepidación de máquinas, y yo no veo, no huelo, no oigo nada... Parece que estoy en un desierto...


(The irony of the last phrase only becomes apparent later when we see the damaging effects of the mining activity.) As a man of science, he obviously knows what a mine looks like. But even he is taken aback by its fearsome, nocturnal appearance:

Pero dime: ¿estamos ya cerca?... Porque veo chimeneas que arrojan un humo más negro que el del Infierno y veo también una claridad que parece de fragua.

En efecto: el lugar aparecía a los ojos de Golfín como lo describía Marianela. Esparciéndose el humo por falta de aire, envolvía en una como gasa obscura y sucia todos los edificios, cuyas masas negras señalábanse confusa y fantásticamente sobre el cielo iluminado por la Luna.

-Más hermoso es esto para verlo una vez que para vivir aquí -indicó Golfín, apresurando el paso.


Significantly, this description is given after the reader has been introduced to the horrifying effects of the mine, the grotesque shapes of La Terrible. Galdós is gradually building up a composite picture of the unnatural, destructive character of the mine. Thus, we are prepared for the central detail of his picture, the climax of his protest, which is given in Chapter V in his depiction of the dehumanized workers and their surroundings.102

The ruinous effects of the mineral exploitation are more visible and permanent on the surrounding countryside, where an assortment of grotesquely shaped figures of rock remain from the previous diggings of the miners. They stand as reminders of Man's mad scramble for wealth. Again, I do not think that the passages devoted to their description are extraneous to the theme of the story. By his choice of language, the author not only renders a faithful reproduction of their shape but also implies his   —53→   own judgement of the activities which created them. Significantly, they are described by two strangers to the region: at the beginning of the novel, by Teodoro when he is guided to the village and later by Florentina when she visits the mining area with Pablo and Nela. There are two defined areas connected by underground passages: La Terrible and El Barco. In the former, which seems the crater of a volcano, «se elevaban figuras colosales, hombres disformes, monstruos volcados y patas arriba, brazos inmensos desperezándose, pies truncados, dispersas figuras [...]. Parecía la petrificación de una orgía de gigantescos demonios; sus manotadas, los burlones movimientos de sus disformes cabezas, habían quedado fijos como las inalterables actitudes de la escultura» (705). Reversing the process he used with human beings, the author now personifies inanimate matter. But it is a deformed animation, which joins these shapes to the people who toil there. The landscape, whether human or natural, is uniform in its grotesqueness, so much so that the reader wonders whether this is the real world. That these shapes are the result of a warped sense of human values is underlined by Teodoro's own comparisons: «Estas figuras son como las formas perceptibles que acepta el dolor cefalálgico, confundiéndose con los terroríficos bultos y sombrajos que engendra la fiebre» (706).

El Barco is more impressive. It has the shape of a large upturned shipwreck (hence its name), dashed by the waves. Here the isolated rock shapes seem the decomposing remains of the contents of the ship. Again, the effect is one of grotesque deformation: «creyó ver, entre mil despojos de cosas náuticas, cadáveres medio devorados por los peces, momias, esqueletos, todo muerto, dormido, semidescompuesto» (707). The underground tunnels are compared by Teodoro to «los pensamientos del hombre perverso. Aquí se representa la intuición del malo, cuando penetra en su conciencia para verse en toda su fealdad» (707). After such remarks, one can not but think of the «immoral» reasons why Man created such deformities. Florentina is equally surprised by the spectacle of La Terrible and uses imagery to describe the shapes to Pablo. Again, the effect is of grotesque personification (unlike Teodoro, she is not looking at them in the darkness. Even in the daylight, these rocks are of strange shapes). Her pictures are more expressive and amusing than those given by the author in the earlier description: one shape has a tooth pick in its large mouth; another has a hump in its back; one is smoking a pipe; another is in a drunken stupor; one is standing on its head supporting a cathedral and another is a guitar at the bottom but has the head of a dog with a coffee pot as headgear. More interestingly, there are a pair of shapes «que se están tirando de los pelos» (748). Her original impression of the whole group had been one of «una escultura de perros y gatos que se habían quedado convertidos en piedra en el momento más crítico de una encarnizada reyerta» (748). Florentina possesses a vivid imagination for a young girl, but these images do suggest very successfully the destructive process of mineral exploitation with its consequent dereliction.

Not all of the landscape has been taken over by the advance of technology. The primitive glory of Nature can still be appreciated in the area around the mine. The wood of Saldeoro, to which Nela and Pablo make their way on their first afternoon stroll, is lyrically described: «Era un paisaje cuya contemplación revelaba al alma sus excelsas relaciones con lo infinito» (723). Here, the earth attracts Man's attention for its natural beauty, not because of any rich mineral contained within its bowels. The lanes around Pablo's house are similarly notable for their luxuriant and beautiful vegetation which appeals to the senses of Man and not to his material greed:


Había callejas pobladas de graciosas y aromáticas flores, en cuya multitud pastaban rebaños de abejas y mariposas; había grandes zarzales llenos del negro fruto que tanto apetecen los chicos; había grupos de guinderos, en cuyos troncos se columpiaban las madreselvas, y había también corpulentas encinas, grandes, anchas, redondas, obscuras, que parece se recreaban contemplando su propia sombra.


The sheer abundance and exuberant vitality of this scene is well suggested by such words as «multitud», «rebaños», «grandes zarzales llenos»; the oak trees are wide and corpulent. It is a happy, vibrant Nature when compared to the grotesque shapes of La Terrible. Bordering on the latter, however, is a mysterious cave or opening, La Trascava, whose underground tunnel leads to the sea, according to some people. Others believe that there is a stream of water which cannot escape its underground confinement. A column of air combining with the noise of gushing water produces an eery hissing. Those who have entered the tunnel have never returned to reveal to the outside world its secrets. A split or crevice in a boulder on the La Terrible side of the hillock also emits the same sound. It is behind this boulder that Pablo and Nela sit on their second excursion into the country in Chapter VIII. But pleasant vegetation also abounds around the opening:

La boca de la sima [...] se abría en el terreno en forma parecida a la de un embudo. Finísimo césped cubría las vertientes de aquel pequeño cráter cóncavo y profundo. En lo más hondo, una gran peña oblonga se extendía sobre el césped entre malezas, hinojos, zarzas, juncos y cantidad inmensa de pintadas florecillas. Parecía una gran lengua.


It is covered with birds and butterflies sucking the honey from the flowers. Choto's mad dash down the slippery slope to the cave entrance disturbs the colony of birds, but when Nela calls him back, «la pacífica república de pajarillos volvió a tomar posesión de sus estados» (727). José Montesinos has wisely warned all readers of Galdós's novels about the possibilities of misinterpreting their symbolism.103 But would it be too presumptuous to see in La Trascava a symbol of the ultimate mysteriousness and beauty of the natural world which no wonders of science can probe or conquer?

The savage battle between Nature and Science is seen in close-up in the area around Pablo's house. The neighbouring mines are gradually eating into the cliff on which the former village of Aldeacorba was situated. (There are steps leading up to the higher level.) Francisco's farm is one of the few surviving dwellings. But how much longer will it survive the inexorable march of the greedy mine? The typical sights and smells of a farm are in evidence. As Nela arrives to take Pablo for a walk, the cows are being led out to graze. On the return of the Golfines to the farmstead after their picnic, the cows are mooing in their sheds «y este rumor, unido al grato aroma campesino del heno que los mozos subían al pajar, recreaba dulcemente los sentidos y el ánimo» (736; my italics). The farm is generous in what it offers to Man. The strollers are served with refreshment: «Sacaron los vasos de leche blanca, espumosa, tibia, rebosando de los bordes con hirviente oleada» (737). The house itself takes on the appearance of a person. The vine arbor adorning the house seems like a moustache, the windows eyes, the crest of arms a nose, the long balcony a laughing mouth. The clothesline gives the appearance of a pipe, the chimney that of an ear. The humorous personification is not grotesque; rather it gives the effect of healthy normality. The author's commentary is pertinent: «No era preciso ser fisonomista para comprender que aquella casa respiraba paz, bienestar y una conciencia tranquila» (718).   —55→   It will be remembered that the tunnels in La Terrible represented the bad conscience of the evildoer. Mother Nature is per se a beautiful, happy creation which gives freely of its riches to satisfy Man's material and spiritual needs. It is Man in hid blind selfishness and thirst for a never-ending supply of material wealth who upsets the balance of Nature, reducing it to a grotesque skeleton. This is the ecological ruin wrought by 19th century industrial society. The precarious position of the remaining dwellings; of Aldeacorba above the encroaching mine indicates the possibility of complete ruin.

No less terrifying is the spiritual ruin produced in individual human beings by their living in this mining community. The story of Nela will illustrate the varying degrees to which people have lost awareness of human values in their relationships with others. This deficiency will be reflected at the practical level in their charitable treatment of Nela.

The bottom rung of the «charity scale» is undoubtedly occupied by the Centeno family. They adopt Nela after the suicide of her mother -a charitable action which, one would think, would reflect some feeling on the part of the Centenos for the plight of Nela. But Galdós makes it clear from the outset that their treatment of Nela is nothing but uncharitable. She is no more than a chattel which is left to rest in the kitchen corner amid the baskets. She is worse off than the animals of the house. Even the implements used by the men in their work receive more attention. She does not eat at the table, but is thrown food whenever Señana remembers. She is completely ignored in the Centeno family (as is explicitly stated by Galdós [716]) because she is of no use in the mines and cannot contribute to the ever-increasing wealth of the family. Her importance to them is assessed in merely economic terms. The selfish greed of Señana is clearly expressed in her nightly counting of the coins. The use of language referring to stone or rock or other inanimate objects to describe her and her family closely identifies them with the grotesque shapes of La Terrible. The family as a whole are referred to as «la familia de piedra», Mariuca and Pepina are like «colosales figuras de barro crudo» (715) (the classical comparison to the Carian women adds a comic note). Tanasio has finally turned into «la herramienta más grosera» (715), whilst the head of his father «rivalizaba en dureza con el martillo-pilón montado en los talleres» (715). For Señana, «¿Por ventura había existencia más feliz y ejemplar que la de los peñascos?» (716). The nautical image of El Barco is evoked when Galdós remarks: «toda la familia navegaba ancha y holgadamente por el inmenso piélago de la estupidez» (715). In contrast to the farm of the Penáguilas, their house is a cavern. The Centenos' attitude to Nela reveal their complete lack of any charitable or spiritual feeling (Celipín is, of course, the exception). Even charity in the sense of material relief is hardly applicable because it is not given. It is irregularly tossed at her, or when given, grudgingly. Their complete lack of charity is thrown into comic relief by Señana's self-congratulatory thoughts: «se lo daba [el sustento], creyendo firmemente que su generosidad rayaba en heroísmo. Repetidas veces dijo para sí, al llenar la escudilla de la Nela: '¡Qué bien me gano mi puestecito en el Cielo!'» (716). Presumption and pride now join her other sin of greed. At the root of them all is this egotism, this concern for her own interests. The Centeno family is the most extreme example of this lack of charity in the novel.

Slightly above them, on the scale, come Sofía and Manuel Penáguilas. They should be higher, for they are at least aware of the problem presented by the poor, and of   —56→   the need to dispense charity. Sofía has organized fundraising dances, theatre performances and bullfights in Madrid. Manuel supports these activities and would like to see Florentina organizing similar functions rather than waste her time cutting out dresses for Nela (768). But, as he himself admits, these social functions after the deduction of costs really provide very little help to those who need it most. In fact, he seems more interested in the social occasion than in helping the poor. His motives are self-centered. He wants to show himself to belong to «lo más selecto de la Sociedad» (768). These are the functions which people of their position should put on. He is very annoyed when Florentina runs ecstatically in the fields, because this demonstration of feeling is not in accordance with the good manners of society. He identifies himself with society and modern civilization, the benefits of which have reached his town of Santa Irene de Campó. It is society which dictates his behaviour to other people:

[...] una de las partes principales de ésta [la buena educación] consistía, según él, en una fina apreciación de los grados de urbanidad con que debía obsequiarse a las diferentes personas, según su posición, no dando a ninguna ni más ni menos de lo que correspondía con arreglo al fuero social; y de este modo quedaban todos en su lugar, y la propia dignidad se sublimaba [my italics], conservándose en el justo medio de la cortesía, el cual estriba en no ensoberbecerse demasiado delante de los ricos, ni humillarse demasiado delante de los pobres.


His high opinion of himself and his own position in society blinds him to the real needs of other people, whether they be material or spiritual. Like the Centenos, he ignores Nela (as when he enters Florentina's room in Chapter XXI). He does not even mention her in his conversation with Teodoro and Florentina. He is more concerned that his daughter should perform a more socially acceptable form of charity. Sofía is equally insensitive in her treatment of Nela, although she does notice her presence on the afternoon walk. To Sofía, Nela is a completely insignificant creature. She wrongly and viciously accuses the orphan of attracting Lilí towards the gap of La Trascava. The supposed comments of Lilí on Sofía's behaviour mock the absurdity of her accusations. And, of course, she refuses to buy Nela a pair of shoes because she is sure that the girl will have ruined them within a few days. Yet, this is the lady that in Madrid «había hecho prodigios, ofreciendo ejemplos dignos de imitación a todas las almas aficionadas a la caridad» (730). The time and energy devoted to these activities must be considered favourably. But after her treatment of Nela a few moments previously, the reader wonders what her motives must have been. Consciousness of her own social importance, and, as a woman, a delight in such activities suggest themselves. She certainly does not think of the needs of the poor. Moreover, she is very proud and confident of her charitable efforts:

[...] pero no podrás acusarme de falta de caridad... Alto ahí..., eso sí que no te lo permito. (Al decir esto, tomaba un tono muy serio, con evidente expresión de orgullo.) Y en lo de saber practicar la caridad con prudencia y tino, tampoco creo que me eche el pie adelante persona alguna...


Self-importance and pride blind her to the real needs of the poor, thereby nullifying any good she may do (which seems to be doubtful) with her fundraising functions.


The characters so far discussed are all dominated by their egos. They cannot step outside of their own self-importance or self-gain to consider the needs and wishes of others. Galdós clearly shows them in a very unfavourable light. Such arrogant, blind egotism, not confined to any specific social class' is intolerable and worthy of reprehension. The following characters whom. I will discuss also show themselves to be selfish and self-centered. But their egotism is not so overpowering, or constant. They possess good, spiritual qualities too, which balance or outweigh their egotism. Nonetheless, egotism is discernible in all and seems to be more a human failing here than anything else: the perfectly understandable self-concern that we all have at times. They come, of course, higher on our scale of charity than Sofía, Manuel or the Centenos.

First at the higher level is Francisco Penáguilas, Pablo's father. Associated with the natural world of his farm (he is always busy), «el patriarca de Aldeacorba» is described in glowing terms by Galdós: «era un hombre más que bueno: era inmejorable, superiormente discreto, bondadoso, afable, honrado y magnánimo» (719). Indeed, he is devoted to his son, for whose sight he would willingly sacrifice his own (719). He is extremely concerned for the future material well-being of Pablo. A blind son will not be able to administer his estates. Thus he is overjoyed with the success of the operation, as he can now arrange the very advantageous marriage with Florentina (754). There is no doubt that he lives for his son, attending to his every wish. He certainly does not think of his own particular needs. Yet this natural, understandable love seems somewhat excessive. It blinds him when he considers the relationship between Pablo and Nela. He rejects its seriousness. In spite of his usual friendliness to Nela, he insensitively hurts her feelings when, in her presence, he ridicules Pablo's assertion that she is beautiful: «Hace días que no sale de un tema tan gracioso como original. Ha dado en sostener que la Nela es bonita» (737). The others, sipping their milk, laugh whilst Nela is visibly embarrassed. In the circumstances, it is the worst possible remark he could have made. His excessive concern for his son also leads him to make some rather blasphemous statements: «Yo no sé cómo Dios ha podido privar a un ser humano de admirar una res gorda» (738). Likewise, when he dreams of the success of the operation: «Así es que cuando el señor don Teodoro me ha dado esperanza... he visto el cielo abierto; he visto una especie de Paraíso en la Tierra» (738). Francisco does look outside of himself, but not very far.

Pablo is more successful, if only for a short while. Our first acquaintance with Pablo is favourable. He readily offers to lead Teodoro to the mine. Later he shows himself to be very happy and friendly with Nela on their country walk (he has some chocolate and nuts in his pocket for her). He recognizes her spiritual virtues: «Tu alma está llena de preciosos tesoros» (722) and promises that he will always love her. After his operation, he gradually forgets her (although initially he repeatedly asks for her), as he falls under the spell of Florentina's beauty. He no longer things of his promise. It is his piercing cry on seeing Nela that delivers the death blow. In defence of Pablo, it may be said that he still recognizes the good qualities of his ex-guide: «La Nela es tan buena... ¡Pobre muchacha! Hay que protegerla, Florentina; protegerla, ¿no te parece?» (766). And at her deathbed, he is moved by her affliction «traspasado de dolor», yet his startled question «¿Qué te he hecho yo?» (772) reveals his insensitivity to the problems and real needs of Nela (his love), and the extent to which his selfish concern for his eyesight has destroyed his generosity. His egotism is first suggested in the physical description given of him in Chapter V. His body is perfect but for   —58→   the eyes; it is like a statue «del más excelso barro humano» (718), with a face made of ivory or marble, «la hermosa piedra», lifeless because of the blindness. By comparing Pablo to such inanimate objects as stone, Galdós suggests an identification with the fantastic stone shapes in La Terrible, especially when they had been referred to as «las inalterables actitudes de la escultura» (705).104 The beauty of his body immediately suggests the beautiful works of Classical sculpture: «no había en sus facciones parte alguna ni rasgo que no tuviese aquella perfección soberana con que fue expresado, hace miles de años, el pensamiento helénico» (718). His face is likened to that of the Roman, Antinoüs.105 Another Greek reference106 is suggested when Galdós writes that Pablo cannot appreciate the excellence of his own body («carecía tan sólo de la conciencia de su propia belleza, la cual emana de la facultad de conocer la belleza exterior» [719]): that of Narcissus. After his operation, Pablo does follow the example of the Greek, and looks at himself in a mirror, not an unnatural reaction in the circumstances, but, significantly, like Narcissus, he marvels rather vainly at his own beauty: «Este soy yo... -dijo con loca admiración- Trabajo me cuesta creerlo [...]. Por vida mía, que no soy feo... ¿no es verdad, prima?» (765). For the main part of the novel, if he can not glory in his excellent physique, he can be proud of an exceptional intelligence which allows him to see the truth of life. A typical example of this assuming pride is his conversation with Nela in the wood of Saldeoro: «Lo digo yo, que poseo una verdad inmutable» (725). Like his father, at times in his presumption he borders on blasphemy when he wonders about the outcome of the operation: «¡Oh, Dios mío! Si no he de adquirir la facultad que me privaste al nacer, ¿para qué me has dado esperanzas? Infeliz de mí si no nazco de nuevo en manos del doctor Golfín» (728). He even goes so far as to say that «Mi prima es la imagen más hermosa de Dios» (771). Like his benefactor, Teodoro, he adopts the names of Colón, America, the New and the Old World to describe his new acquisition of sight (765). These references evoke the idea of the Spanish conquest of the riches of America which, within a short time, were to lead to the ruin and collapse of the nation which discovered them. The inference of these and the Classical references seems to be that Pablo's conquest of sight will not bring about any spiritual happiness for him, because of his self-interest and self-pride, and in fact lead to his downfall. One has apprehensions for the success of his marriage. Significantly, in the final chapter there is but a fleeting mention of the married couple.

As I stated at the beginning of this article, Florentina and Teodoro are the characters who show the greatest awareness of Nela's needs. They are obviously at a higher point on the scale of charity than any character so far discussed. They realize the gravity of the problem and try to do something constructive to alleviate it. From her first encounter with Nela, Florentina shows herself to be kind and considerate. She picks blackberries and offers them to Nela and Pablo, and she makes sure that Nela gets her «jicarón» of chocolate when the others are drinking theirs at the farm. She is so disturbed by Nela's condition that she decides to treat her as a newly-discovered sister. She gives Nela her old clothes and sets about making some new ones. She will teach her to do household chores, to read and to pray. And when Marianela falls ill she looks after her in her room. More important, she recognizes that the orphaned girl needs human warmth and affection: «¡Es posible que hasta ahora no la haya querido nadie, ni nadie le haya dado un beso, ni nadie le haya hablado como se habla a las criaturas!... Se me parte el corazón de pensarlo» (749). Yet all of this positive charity, positive both in the material and spiritual senses, does not prevent Nela's death. Where   —59→   does it err? Galdós intends us to appreciate Florentina's charitable works but he does raise some questions about their nature and effectiveness. The clothes Florentina gives to Nela are either her own cast-offs or new ones which she makes herself. The latter, however, are seen to be completely ridiculous: they are badly cut and designed and obviously will be of no use to Nela (767). Florentina, in actual fact, is no dressmaker and she should not have attempted the task. She is really doing more harm than good. A similar futility is discernible in Florentina's plans to teach Nela to pray and read. She wants to tum Nela into another society girl like herself (749). Nela, who «me pertenece» (749), will be a shining reflection of her charitable work. Florentina seems to have a correct idea of Nela's real needs: «Es preciso ofrecerle también aquella limosna que vale más que todos los mendrugos y que todos los trapos imaginables y es la consideración, la dignidad, el nombre» (751). But Florentina fails in the instances given to respond in a spiritual way. Her answer, in fact, is conceived in material terms: clothes and physical nourishment or education, when all Nela needs is sympathy, love and an understanding of her situation. Florentina misapplies her charitable works. They might have been beneficial in another case, but they fail miserably with Nela. They seem eminently praiseworthy and admirable if considered out of this context. But with Nela, this kind of charity fails, because she does not need any material aid at all. Galdós is really saying something very important here: that there are certain occasions and examples when material charity is completely useless and inopportune. The inner reality of the situation demands something more important than clothes and food. It is this «deeper solution» which Florentina fails to apply. Florentina tries to justify her disastrous attempts at dress-making by her good intentions. But Galdós clearly shows us that it is not sufficient to have good intentions. The works of charity have to be good and effective too. If they are not, then, in spite of the donor's intentions, more harm than good will ensue.

Galdós, in fact, probes deeper into Florentina's good works and unearths her real motives and feelings. Her gifts of clothes lack the mark of a true sacrifice: they are too easy to make or the old garments she no longer needs. If she had wanted new ones for herself, she would have sent for them from the stores in Santa Irene de Campó. Why does she not do the same for Nela? More seriously, she promises to take Nela into her house only if Pablo's operation is successful: «Con todas las voces de mi alma le he dicho a la Santísima Virgen que si devuelve la vista a mi primo haré de ti una hermana: serás en mi casa lo mismo que soy yo, serás mi hermana» (751). Such is her adherence to the ways of society that she cannot understand how Marianela does not come to claim her part of the bargain (the reward) after the successful operation: «¿Tu delicadeza te impedía venir a reclamar lo que por la misericordia de Dios habías ganado?» (754). She is most shocked by Nela's refusal, accusing her of ingratitude («La más perversa de todas cosas» [755]). For all her good intentions and works, Florentina can not help thinking of her own good merit in performing such an act of charity. She is more concerned with the latter than with the recipient. She too has the failing of egotism. This high opinion of her own generosity is fully exposed in the concluding chapter where Florentina pays for an impressive funeral and tomb for the orphan: «La señorita Florentina, consecuente con sus sentimientos generosos, quiso atenuar la pena de no haber podido socorrer en vida a la Nela con la satisfacción [my italics] de honrar sus pobres despojos después de la muerte» (774). There is no doubting the sincerity of the action, but one wonders whether it was all really necessary and what good it could do to the dead Nela. It only   —60→   makes sense if considered as an exercise in self-justification on the part of Florentina. She is proving to herself that she can be charitable and is quieting her conscience. The point of reference is herself. Her charity is spontaneous and well-intentioned, but it is not the genuine self-sacrifice Galdós admired, just as the vision Nela has of the Virgin Mary (Florentina) is not genuine either.107

Teodoro Golfín stands above Florentina on our scale of charity. In his theorizing, we have already seen how he recognizes that a more humane attitude to the poor is required, that simply organizing charity appeals or doling out food to them in «asilos de beneficencia» is not enough. The poor need to be treated as decent human beings. In practice, he does carry out what he preaches. He is warm and affectionate to Nela, carrying her home after she has hurt her foot: with a thorn, making sure that she gets a glass of milk at Francisco's farm and defending her against the mocking laughter of his relations. He listens to her problems and comforts her with friendly advice. Yet in the solution he offers to her great problem (he does not have a chance to put it into effect), he shows that he has made the same mistake as Florentina. He comes up with the wrong remedies and cures for the right diagnosis. Like Florentina, he wants to mould her into the ways of Christian society, ridding her of her primitiveness:

Nosotros enseñaremos la verdad a esta pobre criatura, resucitado ejemplar de otros siglos; le haremos conocer las dotes del alma; la traeremos a nuestro siglo; daremos a su espíritu una fuerza que no tiene; sustituiremos su naturalismo y sus rudas supersticiones con una noble conciencia cristiana. Aquí tenemos un campo admirable, una naturaleza primitiva, en el cual ensayaremos la enseñanza de los siglos; haremos rodar el tiempo sobre ella con las múltiples verdades descubiertas; crearemos un nuevo ser, porque esto, querida Florentina (no lo interprete usted mal), es lo mismo que crear un nuevo ser.


She is going to be his property or matter to shape: «te tomo, te cazo [...]. Veremos si sé tallar este hermoso diamante» (762). He too fails to appreciate Nela's real need, because he can not put himself in her position. By denying her the possibility of Pablo's love and encouraging submission to the wishes of others (762), Teodoro is hastening her death. His plan sounds excellent if applied to the needs of some other pauper. But in Nela's case, it seems disastrously inappropriate. She does not need to be educated in the ways of society. She needs something simpler: the love of Pablo. Anything else will be useless.

As with Florentina, Galdós probes deeper into Teodoro's character to lay bare the doctor's egotism, the pride in his own self-importance. This defect does not dominate his personality as it does the Centeno family, but, nonetheless, it exists in his character make-up. The author is explicit: «no dejaba de manifestar a cada momento la estimación en que a sí mismo se tenía» (730). He is proud of the way in which he has made his ascent in society, from orphanhood to universal respectability and fame as a surgeon, as he delights in recalling in a very long speech (734-6). Galdós's intention here is surely to put into relief the materialism of his early life and career. With its series of different masters and episodes, the story recalls the outline of a picaresque novel, except that in Teodoro's account the various masters that he serves are benevolent rather than malicious and cunning in the picaresque tradition. The picaresque is further suggested by the constant identification of God with the bestowing of prosperity, in much the same way as the name of God had been meaninglessly invoked in Lazarillo de Tormes:108 «Dios sonreía dentro de nosotros. ¡Bien por los Golfines!... Dios les había dado la mano» (736). There seems a very strong reminiscence of   —61→   Lazarillo when Teodoro exclaims: «¡Oh, bien sabía yo a quién me arrimaba!» (736).109 I think that Galdós intended the reader to draw, from the parallel with the picaresque novels, the conclusion that material prosperity leads to moral ruin. The same intention is evident, I think, in the reference to the Conquest of South America (736), which adds to those already noted above (Teodoro goes to America after he has established himself in Madrid, and is a constant traveller between the Old and the New World thereafter). These references to the Atlantic crossing are further reinforced by Teodoro's frequent use of the image of life as a stormy sea, and of the people who achieve material prosperity as those who reach the haven across the water. Those who fail are the shipwrecks of the ocean, an image which instantly recalls the shipwrecked figures in El Barco. By a neat and clever use of imagery Galdós seems to suggest that the followers of l9th century materialism carry with them the seeds of their own future ruin.110

Galdós further ridicules this conception of life by the absurd ambition of Celipín to imitate Teodoro in his search for self-advancement. This aping reaches its climax in Celipín's dream in Chapter XII (742). The inordinate admiration of his brother, Carlos, also serves to bring out the destructive consequences, in human terms, of material attitudes. For Carlos, the significance of the operation is that it confirms the brilliance of his brother, of whom he is very proud: «Pero ¡qué triunfo, Sofía, qué triunfo! No hay para mí gozo mayor que ser hermano de mi hermano... Es el rey de los hombres... Si es lo que digo: después de Dios, Teodoro» (752).

At the end of the novel, however, we do see a change in the character of Teodoro which separates him from Florentina. His anguished cries around Nela's deathbed reveal that he realizes the magnitude of his error (772-4). Science has destroyed a creation of Nature, a creation which should have been left to burgeon in its own right.111

What of Nela herself, the character at the top of our scale? How charitable is she to those with whom she comes into contact? Pablo is the meaning of her life: «Mi corazón es todo para él. Este cieguecito que ha tenido el antojo de quererme mucho es para mí lo primero del mundo después de la Virgen María» (743). She would willingly sacrifice herself for him: «Daré mis ojos porque él vea con los suyos; daré mi vida toda» (743). She is genuinely elated when she learns of the success of the operation from Sofía: «¡Bendita sea la Virgen Santísima, que es quien lo ha hecho!... Ella, ella sola es quien lo ha hecho» (751). The sincerity of her exclamation is contrasted with Sofía's mean, materialistic interpretation of Nela's happiness. Nela is so elated for Pablo's sake that she forgets that this news represents the knell of her hopes. She has no need for such material objects as money. She gives Teodoro's coins to the grateful Celipín. Her advice before his departure for Madrid is eminently sensible and unselfish. She warns him against overreaching himself and suggests that he should learn to write so that he can ask his parents' forgiveness for running away (741). She repeats this advice when she meets Celipín setting out for the capital: «Pórtate bien, y no te olvides de Socartes ni de tus padres» (757). But since the first occasion she has learnt of the success of Pablo's operation and is very despondent. In spite of this great personal misfortune, she is able to reach outside of herself and to think of others. Her humble and generous character is reflected in her language: «Sus palabras, al contrario, sorprendieron a Golfín por lo recatadas y humildes, dando indicios de un carácter formal y reflexivo» (709). Nela is firmly identified with the world of Nature. She likes the country walks with Pablo. She appreciates the beauty   —62→   of the flowers and the birds around La Trascava where she is often seen sitting. The two dogs are attracted to her, as can be seen when Lilí dashes away from Sofía towards Nela near La Trascava.112 She herself is often compared to a bird.113 Nela certainly practises the right form of charity. It is appropriate to the recipient's needs.

But even the warm-hearted Nela cannot escape the pull of personal interest. She realizes that her happiness will end with the successful outcome of the operation, and from this point she sinks to her death. She does allow Florentina to take Pablo away from her and joins them together in marriage on her death, but it is a negative act of charity; it is not a spontaneous sacrifice. She allows it, in spite of herself. Her eclipse is a selfish, conscious abandonment, a deliberate suicide:

Si Marianela usara ciertas voces, habría dicho: «Mi dignidad no me permite aceptar el atroz desaire que voy a recibir. Puesto que Dios quiere que sufra esta humillación, sea; pero no he de asistir a mi destronamiento. Dios bendiga a la que por ley natural ocupará mi puesto; pero no tengo valor para sentarla yo misma en él».


Like Pablo and Teodoro, she complains against the will of God: «¿Para qué sirvo yo? ¿Para qué nací?... ¡Dios se equivocó!» (761). «¡Oh! ¡Madre y Reina mía, lo único que tengo me lo vas a quitar!... ¿Para qué permitiste que lo quisiera yo y que él me quisiera a mí? Esto no debió ser así...» (743). Nela makes the same mistake as the rest, if on a much smaller scale. She gives in to her own interests, assuming the worst before anything has happened, although she is later proven correct. She has the right spiritual qualities, but no faith in them. Just as she can not avoid the zinc dust («También ella, sin trabajar en las minas, estaba teñida ligeramente de rojo, porque el polvo de la tierra calaminífera no perdona a nadie» [718]), the power of egotism draws her into the vortex too.

Thus, Galdós finds all the characters imperfect in varying degrees in their dealings with their fellow human beings. Even the most charitable is brought low by a touch of egotism. Positive and perfect charity will only be possible when the individual suppresses and eradicates his ego. And how far is that possible on this earth?

Galdós does formulate an answer to this important question in one of the last novels of the «serie contemporánea», Misericordia (1897). But he only comes to his solution after previously trying out other possibilities. A brief survey of these tests is necessary here to show the importance of Marianela in the corpus of Galdós's novels. There are references to charity in novels prior and subsequent to Marianela (1878), but they are minor and sparse. For example, in Doña Perfecta (1876) we see the beggars in the streets of Orbajosa and the uncharitable behaviour of the townspeople towards Las Troyas. In La de Bringas (1884) there is the farcical display of almsgiving on Maunday Thursday in the Royal Palace in Madrid. Fortunata y Jacinta (1886-7) offers a more extensive treatment in the examination of the attitudes of the members of the Rubín and Santa Cruz families to the destitute Fortunata. Maxi is, of course, the most sympathetic and understanding. Yet his charity also conceals his own sexual desires for Fortunata. The important figure of Doña Guillermina Pacheco is also introduced. She is an active campaigner in collecting funds for new charitable institutions. However, she docs not have much concern for the grave problems confronting Fortunata. Like Sofía, she is proud of her social do-goodism, though her works are more effective and beneficial than those of Sofía.114 But the theme of charity is only one of many in this, the longest of Galdós's novels.


In actual fact, we have to wait until Ángel Guerra (1890-1) for a study of the problem comparable to that given in Marianela. In Ángel Guerra, Nazarín (1895), and Halma (1895), Galdós returns to this fundamental problem in human relationships: how to treat the neighbour who needs your help. He examines a number of possible solutions all based on a very strict and literal interpretation of Christ's words: «Love thy neighbour as thyself.» Ángel Guerra wants to establish a religious brotherhood with Leré outside Toledo. He practises Christ's precept blindly without realizing that the recipients of his good needs are thoroughly evil persons. Moreover, his religious vocation is really a sublimation of his sexual desires. Nor can Ángel overcome his pride and his past tendencies to violence. The ego is still active within him. Nazarín is more passive, but he also fails. He wants to isolate himself from the problems of the world by withdrawing into the country to lead a life of contemplation. At the end of the novel, he returns to Madrid realizing from his experience that his attitude is mistaken and egotistical. The true follower of Christ must now actively combat the forces of evil in the world, and help the oppressed and needy. The solution put forward in Halma115 is equally ineffective. Halma and Urrea follow the advice of Nazarín and withdraw into the country to practise charity within their family unit at Pedralba. Galdós, amidst his humour, shows that their charity, however praiseworthy, is still self-centered. They do not relate it to the rest of society.

Recent Galdós criticism116 has proven, with adequate evidence, that Galdós had read contemporary writings on charity by Tolstoi before he wrote the novels mentioned in the preceding paragraph. I can only agree wholeheartedly with the conclusion that Galdós proves Tolstoi's precepts on charity to be ineffective and impracticable in the modem world. But I would like to point out that Galdós had shown at least twelve years earlier in Marianela that other forms of charity were ineffective and precisely for the same reasons. (If anything, the «charity solutions» examined in these novels of Galdós's so-called «spiritual» period are more escapist and unreal than those criticised in Marianela, even though they are more consciously and systematically thought out.) In Marianela and the «spiritual» novels, there are two reasons for the failure of the solutions, and both really go hand-in-hand. The people who set out to be charitable do not perceive the true reality of the situation which confronts them. Hence, in spite of all their good intentions, their remedies cannot but fail, in the long term, though they may be temporarily effective. The would-be do-gooders do not see the truth of the particular situation before them, because they are blinded, to varying degrees, by their own ego, whether in the form of sublimated sexual desires, self-pride, ambition or materialism. They do not succeed fully in stepping outside of their own persons. Moreover, they seem to start from a pre-conceived notion of charity which they try to impose on reality. Ángel Guerra, Nazarín and Halma do not, then, in my opinion, represent any advance on Marianela, for they do not propose a positive and effective form of charity. The problem remains unresolved.

The perfect solution is provided by Misericordia (1897) in the figure of Benina.117 Her charity is effective and positive because she sees the true needs of the moment and of the individuals concerned and tries to apply the appropriate remedies. She has no preconceived plan or theory of charity. She has no time to think out such ideal solutions, because she is too busy coping with the exigencies of the moment. For the same reason, she has no time to think of herself or her own wants. She has sacrificed her own personality, living only for others. She is another Nela, but now purged of any trace of egotism.


I do not pretend that my interpretation of Marianela covers all the aspects of the novel or invalidates previous interpretations, though it may question some. Yet it seems to me that Galdós succeeds in making a serious study of the ravaging effects of self-interest in 19th century society. Marianela is a novel about the absence of charity in society. He discerns two types of egotism: the immoral materialistic drive which dominates a person's character and is clearly reprehensible, and the perfectly understandable weakness of selfcentredness which we all have. We are all guilty and for this reason even the best-intentioned characters fail in their attempts to help Nela. They cannot step outside of their own selves to view the problem from the standpoint of the recipient of their charity.

Galdós has also successfully linked his settings to this important theme of charity, by his apposite use of descriptive language. Indeed, characters and background are one; there is no division. For José Montesinos, Marianela is «El libro [...] más amargo que jamás escribiera Galdós.»118 That may be an exaggeration, but this early novel of Galdós is certainly bitter. He does not see, in practice, an effective answer to the power of the ego in individual actions.

Perhaps the greatest importance of Marianela is that it makes the first serious presentation of the theme of charity in Galdós's work, clearly anticipating its later treatment in the novels of his «spiritual» period. Significantly, the conclusions of the latter will be the same as Marianela's. Only Misericordia, with its optimistic, positive message, will answer the serious question first raised by Marianela, almost twenty years earlier.

Queen's University. Kingston, Ontario