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ArribaAbajoEl amigo manso, Niebla, and Oblomov: three related incarnations of the «superfluous man»

Thomas R. Franz

Thanks to Ricardo Gullón's superb comparison of El amigo Manso (1882) and Niebla (1914), students of Galdós and Unamuno are well aware of the degree to which Unamuno's novel exhibits a strong intertextuality with that of Galdós. Among the features of textual bonding pointed out by Gullón are: (1) the parodic stances toward the Krausist idealism of the protagonists; (2) the quixotic quest to «be», even in failure and in full knowledge of the fact that one is doomed to exist only within the unsatisfying proofs authorized by literature; (3) the two texts' Dostoevskian view that life is more complicated than the narrator's unreliable vision; (4) the anti-idealist, bourgeois motivations of their heroines, Irene and Eugenia; (5) the existentially «inauthentic» but sexually viable nature of the rivals, Manuel Peña and Mauricio Blanco Clará; (6) the quest of the protagonists to step outside the enclosure imposed by their text; (7) the novels' conscious parallels between the relationship of the protagonist with his author, on the one hand, and that of the human creature and his God, on the other; (8) a similar use of author/character dialogues; (9) the employment of love and its reversals as a catalyst to existential «authenticity»; and (10) a common use of analepsis to reveal the reasons for the «literariness» of the protagonists' behaviour.

There may, however, be a larger, more seminal, and, though not always symmetrical, far more instructive intertext than the one pointed out by Gullón in his acknowledged desire to show why Galdós was -as Gullón alleges- inventively superior to Unamuno. This new intertext involves both novels' intermingling, not only with each other, and not with a text of Dostoevsky; but with that of another celebrated Russian, Ivan Concharov, who, in 1859, after many starts and stops, published his most famous novel, Oblomov. There is no direct proof in the writings of Galdós or Unamuno or in the catalogues of their libraries that either of the writers had ever heard of Goncharov. Categorical as this negation may seem, there is a circumstantial and textual case to be made for both Galdós's and Unamuno's knowledge of Goncharov's celebrated work.

In 1886 Eugène-Marle Melchior de Vogüé published his well-known study, Le Roman russe, which not only mentions Goncharov and his already much-praised novel, but alleges, in undocumented form, that a translation of the work into French had appeared many years earlier (36, 350). According to her own testimony, in 1885 Emilia Pardo Bazán, later a close friend to Unamuno and the soon-to-be lover of Galdós, discovered the field of the Russian novel and dedicated the better part of a year to reading widely in the available mixture of French, German, and Italian translations (10- 11). In 1887 she gave a widely publicized and highly influential series of lectures on her Russian discoveries at the Ateneo of Madrid, an event that Galdós praised for its display of erudition and which Rubia Barcia suggests that Unamuno may have atrended (243). A greatly expanded version of the lectures was published that same year as La revolución y la novela en   —64→   Rusia, a copy of which Galdós owned but apparently never used (Berkowitz 199). Numerous critics have pointed out that large portions of Pardo Bazán's text lean heavily on Vogüé (Portnoff 38, Pattison [1971] 50, Clémessy 125-47), but Pardo Bazán's five-page commentary on Oblomov goes far beyond the mere data presented by the Frenchman, praising the novel for its overall intensity and its characterization of the universal dreamer, Oblomov, as both a pure spirit and a pathological specimen (351-56). Pardo Bazán admits to having read only the first volume of the novel (since the book has four parts, this could be as little as a quarter of its length), the only part she claims was available to her in 1885; but this does not prevent her from declaring it «una de las más sabrosas, graciosas y más características novelas rusas [...]», which «se cuenta entre mis predilectas» (352). Her statement about the unavailability of a complete translation is not correct, as a French translation by Piotre Artamoff was published by the Parisian editor, Didier, in 1877 and reissued by Perrin in 1886 (NUC Pre- 1956 Imprints 205: 484; Catalogue Général 62: 134). Therefore, Pardo Bazán, and particularly Galdós, could have read the novel or heard a great deal about it before the writing of El amigo Manso.

Turner («Metaphor» 895) tells us that, during the Pardo Bazán-Galdós love relationship -which most scholars tend to date well after the publication of El amigo Manso-, Doña Emilia frequently told Galdós the plots of novels that she had read. It is not out of the question that she could have done so earlier. Carmen Bravo Villasante has reproduced 38 of the letters of Pardo Bazán to Galdós during 1889-1890. Nowhere is Oblomov mentioned and, in any case, the date of the letters is too late to prove that Pardo Bazán had discussed Goncharov's novel with Galdós prior to 1882, the year of El amigo Manso's publication. González Arias has discussed the outline and some specifics of another 55 letters, most of them unpublished, which do not mention Goncharov either (169-75). In a private conversation with me, González Arias has stated that none of Pardo Bazán's unpublished letters to Galdós contain references to Goncharov or his novel, though Doña Emilla does discuss them in letters to others. Portnoff (126-207), however, gives strong reasons to suppose that Pardo Bazán's enthusiasm and Galdóss own reading had brought about numerous Galdosian intertexts with major Russian writers beginning in 1889. We now know (González Arias 170, 173) that many letters passed between Pardo Bazán and Galdós prior to these years and, as Bravo Villasante (Emilia Pardo Bazán 1) states, «Es posible que la correspondencia con Galdós datase del año 81», since a letter from José Alcalá Galiano to Galdós places the first Galdós-Pardo Bazán meeting in London in that year45. Writing thirteen years after issuing her compilation, Bravo Villasante (Galdós 73) expresses even greater suspicions that the affair began many years prior to the dates on the letters -a situation hinted at in another letter of Alcalá Galiano. It is always possible that Pardo Bazán knew something of Oblomov, published 23 years earlier, before the alleged 1881 meeting, even if she had not read it in its entirety. In point of fact, the most famous part of the novel, Chapter 9 of Part One, titled «Oblomov's Dream», was published independently in 1849, 10 years before the whole book, and it is very possible that Pardo Bazán or Galdós read it in some magazine translation which has not been recorded. Indeed, Pardo Bazán's first novel, Pascual López (1879), is a story that to some small degree parallels Oblomov, since the title figure is a very lazy fellow who falls in love with a woman with an aristocratic suitor and loses her when she becomes disillusioned with his unfocused personality.


Schanzer's catalogue of Russian literature in Spanish records no translations of Oblomov into Spanish before 1924 (88). Portnoff agrees that the popularity of Russian fiction in France coincides with Pardo Bazán's acquaintanceship with it there in 1885 (34) and points out that La España Moderna, edited by Pardo Bazán's one-time lover, José Lázaro Galdiano, the publisher of Unamuno's En torno al casticismo and various Unamuno translations from German and English, had much to do with the translating and the discussion of the Russians in Spain (37-52). In a 1920 essay, «Sobre el género novelesco», Unamuno (1400), who experienced the early influence of Tolstoi and Dostoevski, admits to reading a wide variety of Russian novels and, more importantly, rejects the term «Realism» so frequently applied to these works. In her essay on the Russian novel, Pardo Bazán (353) makes the same point with respect to Oblomov. It is this same note of anti-Realism that is so outstanding in transparently self-reflexive works like Oblomov, El amigo Manso, and Niebla. In the first chapters of Oblomov, the protagonist scoffs at the budding Realist movement -which he finds extremely pedestrian and boring- to an annoying reviewer of Realist novels who, by discussing the new realistic tendencies, tries to arouse the lethargic Oblomov from his bed.


Throughout all of Part One (approximately 150 pages) of Goncharov's novel, Oblomov unsuccessfully attempts to shake off sleep and get out of bed. The narrative voice retrospectively presents him as indolent, over-protected, unmotivated, and unawakened to the charms of women. He is an orphan, moderately well-off, and, in a Proust-like way, enjoys dreaming of the delicate charms of his deceased mother, all of this clearly presaging similar situations in the novels of Galdós and Unamuno. Taking care of him, and being taken care of in return, is a familly retainer, named Zakhar, who, like a faithful animal, believes the situation preordained and unalterable. The narrator repeatedly insists on Zakhar's dog-like attributes: he is «like a well-trained gun-dog» (74), loves his master and surroundings like «a dog the kennel in which it has been born» and «knows the sound of its master's voice» (94). In short, Zakhar, rather existentially, «could imagine no other master than Oblomov and no other existence» (79), while secretly questioning the basis of his master's authority and resenting his arbitrariness and air of complacent superioriry (93-97). (Compare Augusto's dog Orfeo in Unamuno's Niebla: «¿Dónde se fue mi amo?, ¿dónde el que me acariciaba, el que me hablaba? [...] ¡Qué extraño animal es el hombre! [...] Es un animal enfermo, no cabe duda [...] ¡Y luego nos insulta!» (163-641). Oblomov thrives on routine and fears imagination -what Galdós had termed «la loca de la casa»- «that double-faced companion, friendly on one side and hostile on the other» (162). In a Kant-like way, «He regarded everything that would not stand up to the analysis of reason and objective truth as an optical illusion» (162). In a manner also suggestive of Kant, he dreams of a daily walk along a path under the trees in order to collect his thoughts (177, 230). (Pattison [«El amigo Manso», 140-44] points to the same parallels between Manso and the biographical figure of Kant. Kants intellectual and bachelor habits are similary mocked in Chapter 21 of Niebla.) When Oblomov characterizes   —66→   such habits as the ideal «life», his best friend, Stolz, informs him that they are, rather, symptomatic of a disease of the will that could be termed «Oblomovitis» (180). Using different terms, «panoli», «predestinado», and «ente de ficción», the advice-giving Víctor Goti and the fictional Unamuno point out the same defect to Augusto in Niebla. Doubtless, dozens of post-Goncharov anti-heroes exhibit such tendencies, a product of the voluntarist school of personality initiated by Schopenhauer and more fully developed by Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, and Schelling (Alexander 168-69). None of the others, however, is placed in the particular atmosphere of character types and devices of self-reflexivity to be examined here.

Real Women, Real Existence, and Dog-Like Relationships

All of this stagnant inauthenticity in Goncharov's protagonist changes when Stolz introduces Oblomov to Olga Sergeyevna and her matchmaking aunt, whose double will appear in the person of Doña Ermelinda, Eugenia's go-between aunt in Niebla. In contrast to the outrageously disorganized Oblomov, Olga is for the indolent, would-besquire a model of «harmony» (192), akin to Manso's Krausist «ideal» woman, whom he erroneously believes to have found in Irene (Pattison, «El amigo Manso» 146-49), and to Augusto's unfounded recognition of «harmonies» à la Krause in the piano music of Eugenia. In fact, Oblomov, too, imagines the harmonies of the universe every time Olga sings a few bars of Bellini's «Casta diva» (216-17). The real Olga, like Irene and Eugenia, is very different from the romantic apparition Oblomov sees. She is proud and impatient, prizes organization, expects purpose, discipline, and skilful love-making in a man, and is not opposed to setting about creating these qualities if they appear to be absent (201-10,229).

Like Augusto Pérez, who purchases the burdensome mortgage on Eugenia's house and gives her clear tide in an attempt to «buy» her love, Oblomov is a trustee of Olga's estate and uses his influence to fight off a frustrated suitor threatening foreclosure, thereby to curry the favour of his feminine «ideal» (219). Like Augusto, who offers to take Eugenia away from the piano teacher's career that: she hates, and Manso, who offers to separate Irene from, first, her hated job as a teacher and, then, her condition as a slave to her aunt, Oblomov offers to trade for Olga the reputedly delightful existence as a wife to a country gentleman in exchange for her unsatisfying routine with her aunt. What he gains in return for his offer is not security and harmony but the confusion, insecurity, and anguish of love, which, as in the cases of Manso and Augusto, lifts him momentarily out of the dreamy inauthenticity of the literary character into something approximating the painful consciousness of a human being (225). Stolz urges Oblomov to get married and cease being paralysed by his doubt; Víctor does the same to Augusto and, in a slight variation, Manso ultimately gives the same advice to the hesitant Manuel Peña, who has robbed him of Irene. Oblomov soon realizes that Olga is no Dresden doll but a real woman who makes demands, the threat of which leads him to question his will to act in what, with hindsight, seems a most Augusto-like way: «I could do that if I had some aim in life. But what is my aim? I haven't one» (231). The series of telling glances,   —67→   half-stammered phrases, and concealed mental jousting becomes, in retrospect, almost Unamunian (232, 259-60). As in Manso's dealings with Irene, he begins to dread Olg's coming to him for answers about a life that he really does not have, «as though he were some professor» (238). Like Augusto, who from the beginning follows Eugenia as if he were some little dog, Oblomov becomes Olga's «lapdog» (241), a dependent creature sadly recognizing his future banishment to the corner the moment a legitimate suitor comes her way (245-46). Zakhars dog-like behaviour provides interior duplication of Oblomov's own canine temperament and, when Zakhar exhibits paranoia about his situation the moment his employer falls in love with Olga, he serves as a forerunner to Orfeo and Augustos servant and their similar fears when Augusto abandons them over his infatuation with Eugenia. Of course, Oblomov can never truly leave Zakhar, nor Manso leave his author (Kronik, «El amigo Manso» 76), nor Augusto leave Orfeo because -as is clear from the Don Quijote/Sancho paradigm being followed- they owe their existence to their simultaneous co-creation in a mutual narrative act.

Surrogate Suitors, Interchangeable Women, Metafictional Courtships

Increasingly frustrated with his wooing of Olga, Oblomov gradually turns his attentions to his landlady, Agafya Marveyevna, much as Augusto temporarily turns to the laundress, Rosario. Like Augusto, who is able to summon something akin to passion with the more approachable laundress, Oblomov is shortly seeking excuses to avoid the more difficult encounters with Olga and eventually has a natural child with Agafya. By the time Oblomov is avoiding Olga, she is already his reluctant fiancée, just as Eugenia is Augusto's. At this precise moment, when the relationships have virtually run out of possibilities, the real suitors re-enter the picture in the person of the «tenorio» Mauricio and Oblomov's friend, Stolz. The same occurs in El amigo Manso, as Máximo's student, Manolo Peña, steps forward to finally claim the heart of Irene. Just as Irene and Eugenia give evidence of having enjoyed using Manso and Augusto as bait to catch more sexually viable males, Olga confesses to having manipulated Oblomov for the pleasures of feeling her power over him (409). For his part, Oblomov confesses that the love he felt for Olga and that she in turn felt for him was only a substitute for the more legitimate attraction that he would later feel for Agafya and that Olga would feel for Stolz. What they had felt in the past, once their passion was awakened, was the same generic need to love «a» man and «a» woman (411-12) that Augusto, after meeting Eugenia, would so clearly exemplify in his belated and exceedingly unfocused attraction to «all» women.

Today the most interesting aspect of Oblomov -and this is clearly true of El amigo Manso and Niebla as well- is the self-reflexive nature of its text, beginning with the already mentioned self-contrast with more run-of-the-mill Realist fiction. Late in Goncharov's text, Stolz tells Oblomov that «A man who can't do something doesn't exist» (385), by which he means to imply -at least on one level- that a character is pre-human, a mere literary entity, if he does not exhibit a will to take risks. In his painful attempt to win Olga, although a failure, Oblomov has finally achieved a living discourse that: «does» something and is, in Stolz's words, «Good enough for any novel!» (385). Olga, her perceptions   —68→   now affected by her love of Stolz and plans for a new life, becomes removed from her old fiancée and is not so sure that Oblomov ever ceased being a mere character: «But if -if, if he had changed, if he had come to life...- don't you think I'd have loved him then?» And Stolz, finally won over to these doubts by the charm of Olga, smugly agrees, permanently banishing Olga's conjecture to the realm of fiction: «But that is another love-story and another hero, and it has nothing to do with us» (413). But it is Stolz's and Olga's faulty memories and lack of true involvement in their co-creation of the imagined discourse of the dying Oblomov that lead to this erroneous judgement, since Oblomov himself, who is the only one to have experienced his painful, inner strivings, states «that would have meant forgetting that I was alive once» (424). While all of this debating clearly suggests the process of Augustos emergence from a fog, search for «existence», and problematic achievement of a «will» or descent into nothirigness in the final chapters of Niebla (Ehre [162] and Lyngstad [74] point out a similar structure of emergence and retreat in Oblomov), there is an almost equally fascinating, and, in a few situations, more parallel intertext with El amigo Manso.

It is, in fact, the first-person narrative confinement to Oblomov's and Manso's reflections that maximally «provokes a palpable sense of isolation» within their reader (Turner, «Strategies» 64). It is Manso and not the more defiant Augusto who tells us, in a beginning that is really an end, that he does not exist, that he is a mere «condensación artística» and a «sospecha de una posibilidad» (1165) and ends up rather feebly defending his interior convictions of existence while the doubters, rather unanimously, in his words, «se van olvidando [...] de mí» (1290). At the conclusion of Oblomov, Stolz and an author friend come across Oblomov's old retainer, Zakhar, begging near a church on a St. Petersburg street. The author wonders how so many people have come to be beggars (both the sociological question and the scene are reminiscent of the opening chapters of Misericordia), and Stolz encourages him to pay Zakhar some money to spin out his story so that the author can «write it down and sell it at a profit» (482), much as El amigo Manso's implied author entreats Don Máximo for material with which to turn out his thirtyfirst volume of feuilleton-style fiction. In telling his tale, Zalchar necessarily creates an intertext with the story of Oblomov, and when the author wants to know the identity of Oblomov, Stolz begins the long telling of his tale that, in the implied authors and real author's polished re-telling, will constitute Goncharov's novel. This is precisely the situation of Manso and Augusto who, desirous of telling their own stories, cannot hope to do so unless their implied author friends (and the latters' real authors) refashion their tales into acceptable novelistic form. Between Stolz's tale and the implied author's and the real author's recasting of it there is a significant divergence that makes it clear that Stolz's selftrumpeted efficiency is lacking something far more serious than his friends absence of will: the latter's humanity. The implied and the real authors of El amigo Manso and Niebla, likewise, view sceptically the know-it-all pronouncements of narrators like Víctor Goti, the fictional Unamuno, and the unnamed, fictionalized Galdós, who have either over-interpreted their protagonists or placed untrustworthy self-interpretations into their mouths. Beginning with this self-reflexive framework, the three novels overlay one another with a dizzying array of similar detail of a sometimes metafictional and at other times non-metafictional nature.

Mother Figures, Psychological Experiments, Reluctant Fictions

All three novelistic protagonists -Oblomov, Manso, and Augusto- at first attempt to claim authenticity by pointing out their unrelenting adherence to daily routine. All have regimens essentially shaped by deceased mothers, upon whose death each male has a matronly female friend (Agafya, Javiera, Liduvina) who can serve as a mother figure with which to cushion himself from the material demands of «real» women. Each man has arrived at mid-life or beyond, but none of them have really begun to live. Each also has his inner workings selected and framed by an interlocutor-writer (Stolz, the implied author who serves Manso as narrate and both Víctor Goti and the fictional Unamuno). Just as Manso's jousting for autonomy from his author is duplicated by Irene's and Manolo Peña's struggles to free themselves from Manso (Kronik, «El amigo Manso» 79), Eugenia, Rosario, and Víctor break loose from the innocent fictions that Augusto and the «portera» would create for them (Blanco 191-96), at the same time that Augusto tries to achieve freedom from the fictional Unamuno. Similarly, Stolz and Olga ultimately shock Oblomov with the reality that they cannot be type-cast as mere «advisor» and «fiancée». Parallel to Kronik's delineation («El amigo Manso» 88-89) of the ways in which the metafictional and social-ideological planes of El amigo Manso are fully integrated in a world of daydreams, the encounter with Avito Carrascal and the interpolated stories of Don Eloíno and Paparrigópulos in Niebla underline the deadly fantasies going on both inside and outside Augusto's world. In similar fashion, Oblomov's servant, Zakhar, and the former's continually alluded-to serfs (the book is often viewed as an exposé of the untenability of serfdom) must remonstrate in order to achieve acknowledgement amid Oblomov's dreamy speculations. (To a less obvious extent, this also occurs in Niebla, where Augusto's two servants must continually point out the gulf between the very real precariousness of their economic security and their pampered employer's luxury to engage in metaphysical doubts of his own reality.) All three principal characters erroneously believe that they have found a «rational» woman whom they can easily dominate by their cliché-ridden discourse of reason. Each rather foolishly believes that he can learn to understand women by setting up experiments or tests systematizing the women's responses and then ends up being the subject of the women's examination. Each tries, out of both generosity and self-interest, to be the financial benefactor-hero and purchaser of his lady fair, only to have her deflate his ego and avoid his snares. Each speaks of himself -and is spoken about- in terms of a fictional character undergoing complex changes, but not quite achieving truly human compromises with the world. Each knows he must act to win love and selfhood but cannot do so effectively, even when the object of his fancies lets him know that another suitor is waiting in the wings. All three surrender rather too graciously to their male rivals, on the romantic plane falling back into death and nonexistence rather than press the fight against formidable odds. Each has a name indicative of similar passivity: «Oblomov» means «sluggard» (Lyngstad & Lyngstad 72), while Manso suggests not only «mild» and «cuckhold» (Boudreau 63) but carries clear overtones of «domesticated». «Pérez» is obviously related to the Spanish word for laziness.

«Superfluous» Men and their Lessons for Intertextual Reading

Almost all of these two-and three-level intertexts converge upon what Russian literary criticism has referred to as the phenomenon of the «superfluous man» («lisnij celovek»), so common in literature of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The designation refers to a type of tragic or Romantic hero who «suffers defeat because of the inability of society to understand the individualist» and who «does not fit into society because of his superior qualities» (Chances iii). Universal prototypes would be Goethe's Werther, Byron's Manfred, and Sénancour's Obermann, while the Russian variety includes such figures as Lermontov's Pechorin (A Hero of Our Time), Pushkin's Eugene Onegin (Eugene Onegin), Herzen's Beltov (Who is to Blame?), Turgenev's paradigmatic Chulkaturin (The Diary of a Superfluous Man), and Goncharov's Oblomov. At its core, the term refers to an artistic or intellectual soul «at odds with society», a «dreamy, useless» and «ineffective idealistic» who is «incapable of action» (Chances 18). Ultimately, his inability to function is interpreted as a positive symptom of his commitment to good and of a desire, at least, to avoid evil. His pain betokens a type of martyrdom to human values. Clearly, various characters of Galdós, Unamuno, Ayala, Azorín, and especially Baroja would fit the designation, but Manso and Augusto Pérez are the best examples because they consciously recognize their reluctant belonging to a literary «type»46. Intellectually and psychologically, the appearance of the type can be explained by the nineteenth and twentieth centuries' disillusionment with the rationalist hopes for progress spawned by the Enlightenment, as Alexander and Selesnick observe (133-34): «The eighteenth-century idea that reason could make the world a better place in which to live had come to be viewed as illusory; the consequent disenchantment with the value of rationality was a pessimistic 'tedium vitae', a 'mal de siècle' [...] Man's struggle with his internal self became more fascinating than his struggle with the external world, and this same internal conflict for the first time became a central intellectual issue», thus initiating the long interaction of empiricism and intuition that would culminate in the psychoanalytic movement and, along the way, produce many artistic works of pre-psychoanalytic orientation (135-78; Ceccio 109-10). During this period, philosophical idealism, such as that of the Spanish Krausists, flourished, «for the mind turned inward has to become aware of the depths of inner life» (Alexander and Selesnick 134)47. Of course, political and social disillusionment also served to erode the will to act as much as the new idealism clearly did (Chances 18), and nowhere was the social coercion to inaction stronger than in the discouraging milieu that surrounded Spain's soon-to-be Generation of 1898 during the decades of their youth (Laín Entralgo 50-51, 62-63), when Galdós was penning the most important of his portrayals of Restoration society (see Gullón 61 for the relationship of this atmosphere to El amigo Manso) and the Russian novel of the moribund «old order» of czar and serfdom was beginning to become known in artistic circles. This combination of social and psychological turgidity coalesces in the psycho-social term «abulia» bandied about and fictionalized so frequently by the so-called Generation of 1898 and analysed so well by the two generationists with the best psychological underpinnings, the elder statesmen, Ganivet and Unamuno (Jurkevich 181-85).


El amigo Manso and Niebla have been seen, traditionally, in the Pirandellian and Existentialist molds, as stories of characters seeking autonomy and thus undergoing -and inconclusively passing or falling- the psychic trials that every human being must overcome to achieve the «authenticity» associated with self-determination. More recently, these two novels -like many other complex works of the time- have been reinterpreted to show additionally how the characters' strategies to get «read» as fictionalizer of their authors and readers may also reflect the texts' own strategies for creating meanings beyond the characters', authors', and readers' imposition of creative or re-creative strictures. Although a number of earlier studies hinted at the notion of a metanovel in El amigo Manso and Niebla, the definitive refocusing was achieved by John Kronik («El amigo Manso») and Robert Spires. Placing the two novels within the paradigm supplied by their intertexts with Oblomov, as well as the critical notion of the «superfluous man», however, underlines the texts' reflections back, not only on their coming-to-being as fiction, but on their own «superfluous» nature. That is, this approach draws attention to the fact that these texts, evincing a recognition that they, too, are «misfits» -incapable of naturalization, even within the considerable creative and interpretive drift of their time-, make a plea to be understood -like Oblomov, Manso, and Augusto- in terms both of their own unrepeatable relationships with life and the literary act and of the myriad strivings, successes, and disillusionments engaged in by these two primordial processes48. A reading of El amigo Manso and Niebla, after a belated encounter with Oblomov and its plea to consider all the dimensions (realist, heroic, comic, textual) inherent in its self-reflexive look at the elaboration of a particular «superfluous man», teaches us, ironically, that Galdós' and Unamuno's novels also demand a reading that considers their psychological, philosophical, generic, technical, and social intertexts, and that recognizes their need to be read in terms of their own unique and totally «superfluous» natures.

All of this is clearly inherent in diverse things that have already been said about El amigo Manso and Niebla, but it is only the intertext with Oblomov that lets us gather them together. It was Clarín himself, who, in 1882, underlined the need to see in Galdós' novel the realistic dimension alongside the idealist and, later, the metafictional focus, both of which have tended to obscure it (Kronik, «La reseña» 64). It was also Clarín who pointed out the «mérito» and «grandeza del alma» within Manso's apparent ineptitude, a combination legitimately identifying Manso (and his not so distant relative, Augusto) as a true «superfluous man». It was Kronik who pointed out that «the framed whole» of El amigo Manso «cannot be reduced to what the frame contains» («El amigo Manso» 75), that is, the extremely self-referential dimensions of the novel's first and last chapters cannot be reduced to the referential focus on the Restoration figure in the inner sections, just as the inner chapters cannot be condensed into the self-reflexive frame. This has led Turner («The Control» 45-49) to stress the importance of the total collage of mimetic, didactic, fictive, deterministic, and autonomic features of the novel, and both Blanco Aguinaga (196-205) and Spires (36-43) to show how the discourses of author, fictive author, and character continually violate each other in a similar novel, Niebla. Paul Olson (430), a long-time student of Unamuno's work, has said essentially the same thing, pointing out how the story and discourse of Unamuno's novel create different but innately dependent «estructuras quiásticas». What all of these readers -Clarín, Kronik, Turner,   —72→   Blanco, Spires, and Olson- have implied or said about the metanovel's complex links between its multiple referential and self-referential features is true and extremely useful, provided it does not impose «generic» expectation on the reading of any similar, intertextually related work. Perspectivists like Ortega and hermeneuticists like Gadamer are right to caution against assigning value to the parts -here the individual works- without exploring all of their special relationships with the discursive whole. Ironically, what the intertext with a famous Russian metanovelization of the «superfluous man» so beautifully points out is that, despite the double-generic, «metafictional» and «superfluous» links, each novel insists on being read, not only in its intra and interrelatedness, but also in its unique, intensely dialogic and critically inconvenient combination of the two.

Ohio University

Works cited

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