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ArribaAbajoSainthood for a city?: Hagiography and Galdós' Zaragoza.

Marsha S. Collins

Umberto Eco has written of television audiences that the «public [...] not only wants to know what is happening in the world but also expects to hear or see it in the shape of a well-constructed novel, since this is the way it chooses to perceive 'real' life -stripped of all chance elements and reconstructed as plot» (118). Eco's observation applies equally well to another mass audience, the readers of Zaragoza, for in March, 1874, when Galdós began to write the episodio nacional about the second siege of the city by Napoleon's troops, the court of public opinion and collective memory had long since reached a verdict regarding the type of novel required to capture the famous battle in narrative form. The Conde de Toreno's Historia del levantamiento, guerra y revolución de España, a primary source for Galdós's novel, confirms that in the popular imagination the events that occurred in the Aragonese metropolis between December 21, 1808 and February 20, 1809 had acquired a mythic aura49. The defence of Zaragoza was deemed an heroic, admirable example of steadfast, courageous patriotism, worthy of comparison with the legendary self-immolation of Sagunto and Numancia even by the French general, Rogniat, an eyewitness of the siege (Toreno 155). The Spanish historian supports this judgement, pronouncing the city's fierce struggle «gloriosísima y extraordinaria» (155).

Galdós's fictionalization of the fall of Zaragoza to the French seems in many ways a calculated response to the Spanish public's high regard for the patriots who sacrificed all for their country50. According to Wolfgang Iser, fictionalization in general is an act of boundary- crossing in which the author sets up systems of referentiality (literary and sociocultural) and then transgresses these established referential limits within the work. Extratextual selection and intratextual combination of referential fields generate the imaginary, the reader's guided, but creative and interactive response to the fictional world (1-17)51. I believe that to meet readers' expectations of an idealized representation of the Spanish defeat, Galdós employs hagiography as his principal literary field of referentiality in Zaragoza, adapting a variety of select, extratextual material -historical facts, contemporary perception of those facts, popular beliefs, local legends- to fit the framework of his elected model.

A conservative genre of well-established conventions with a long oral and written tradition, hagiography is a logical choice to serve as the basis for an account that culminates in a familiar, predictable conclusion in which spirituality triumphs over the material world52. Saints' lives frequently blend fact and fiction, the verisimilar and the improbable, endowing ordinary life with profound spirituality and linking human activity with divine purpose in a pointed, teleological narrative. Their simple linear structure and broad appeal across dividing lines of age, sex, and social class offer Galdós the perfect literary   —88→   medium to articulate the secular apotheosis of Zaragoza as a symbolic monument to the ideal of Spanish nationalism and patriotic pride. Hagiographic texts function as «exempla», which dovetails with Galdós's stated purpose of entertaining and instructing readers through the Episodios nacionales, and produce dramatic tension through conflicts between the individual and the collective, self-interest and self-sacrifice, the desire for material and spiritual rewards53. Such conflicts create melodramatic suspense in Zaragoza and lay the groundwork for more subtle, complex thematics and human dynamics in this episodio as well as the Novelas contemporáneas.

Traditional hagiographic narratives consist of two interactive schemata, what Iser terms forms of «text play': (1) «alea», which concerns the intervention in and control of the story by chance, fate, or superhuman powers; and (2) «agon», which involves conflict, triumph, and loss. As a rule, literary works like saints' lives that unfold through the interplay of aleatory and agonic forces emphasize results, acquired knowledge, and/or vicarious experience (Iser 258-77). Hagiography enacts this eschatological imperative in a structure consisting of three major components arranged in an order of spiritual ascension: (1) aspects of the saint's personal background that convey his/her predilection for good; (2) episodes in which the protagonist performs miracles, commits acts of piety, or defeats evil; and (3) the saint's martyrdom and apotheosis, or triumph over death.

How then does Galdós initiate the canonization of a collective entity, that is, how does he create sainthood for a city? First, he merges the secular and religious history of Zaragoza into one mythic continuum. At the beginning of the novel, a weary Gabriel Araceli, who has escaped his French captors, stumbles into Zaragoza and takes refuge in the ruins of the monastery of Santa Engracia. Literally and figuratively, he finds sanctuary in one of the most hallowed places in the city, the church containing the crypt of countless martyrs, as legend has it, Christians put to death in the third century by order of Diocletian (García Rodríguez 324-34). Despite the air of chaos and destruction that reigns in the sacred spot, a souvenir of the first siege by Napoleon's army, Araceli notes that the church's façade remains standing in silent, if somewhat mocking, tribute to the indomitable patriotism of Zaragoza's citizens, whose religious faith fuels their will to fight: «La pared de la fachada continuaba en pie, con su pórtico de mármol poblado de innumerables figuras de santos, que permanecían enteros y tranquilos como si ignoraran la catástrofe» (669). One could view these saints as symbols of heaven's indifference to the carnage witnessed from on high. But the façade more likely represents the imperviousness of «zaragozanos» to suffering and death in their steadfast commitment to king and country. Readers familiar with the outcome of the second siege would readily grasp the implicit comparison between the city's Holy Martyrs and the over 52000 inhabitants who will eventually give their lives for the lofty ideal of national sovereignty, put on a plane in the novel with Christianity itself Galdós foregrounds Zaragoza's sacred past, the tradition of martyrdom that bespeaks a proud religious heritage and predisposes the entire community to heroic acts of sacrifice for the collective good. As if to emphasize this point, the novelist turns from the distant to the immediate past in Chapter 2 with the discourse of Sursum Corda, a beggar and former sacristan, who regales the reluctant audience of Araceli and his companion, Don Roque, with tales of Spanish daring from the earlier siege. Galdós's audience listens in eager anticipation of the noble deeds yet to   —89→   come, casting a knowing glance at the past from a future perspective in just one case of prolepsis, a technique Geoffrey Ribbans has identified as typical of the author's treatment of history54.

In Chapter 7, shortly after the military encounters have begun, Araceli makes a pilgrimage to Zaragoza's Marian shrine, the Basilica of the Virgen del Pilar. This icon figures prominently in the novel as the other major link between Zaragoza's mythic religious past and the present conflict, and the entire city pays homage to her with frenzied and decidedly intimate devotion:

estos y aquellos eran hijos del desbordamiento de la devoción, semejante a un delirio. Faltaba el silencio solemne de los lugares sagrados: todos estaban allí como en su casa; como si la casa de la Virgen querida, la madre, ama y reina de los zaragozanos, fuese también la casa de sus hijos, siervos y súbditos.


The blind religious fervour stuns Araceli, but he soon discovers that the Marian cult forms the heart and soul of the defenders' relentless fight. Small wonder, then, that the Virgen del Pilar is a ubiquitous presence whose spiritual power is invariably invoked in combat scenes. She provides a unifying myth that creates the «harmony of consciousness» necessary to mount the successful defence of the city (Gilman 182-83). The novel rings with the sounds of «¡Viva la Santa Virgen del Pilar!» and «¡Zaragozanos, morid por la Virgen del Pilar o venced!» (689); and again, towards the end of the book at the battle for the Church of San Agustín: «La Santa Virgen del Pilar es entre vosotros. Cerrad los ojos al peligro, mirad con serenidad al enemigo, y entre las nubes veréis la santa figura de la Madre de Dios. ¡Viva España y Fernando Séptimo!» (728). By saturating the text with religious allusions, Galdós transforms the «zaragozanos» into crusaders in a holy war, immortal dwellers in an eternal time and place somehow synchronous and synonymous with the steady, linear march of carefully demarcated dates and urban locations that characterizes the novel. Divine Providence becomes a palpable force in Zaragoza, a source of inspiration, motivation, and endurance that supports the readers' view of the siege as a moral victory embodied in martyrdom and material defeat.

Miracles pepper the text, signifying that divine forces are at work. In fact, the entire siege has a miraculous quality about it, since virtually every aspect of Zaragoza's defence defies human logic. The Aragonese capital occupies neither a favourable strategic position nor possesses strong fortifications. Citizens must build barricades, at times filling the gaps with the bodies of fallen comrades, dig trenches, and blow up bridges to hold off the French invaders. In a scene reminiscent of Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People (1830), the young peasant maiden, Manuela Sancho, turns the tide of a near rout of the Spanish forces guarding a major entrance into the city. As the panic-stricken men flee from the rapidly advancing enemy, «vimos que entre el denso humo y el espeso polvo, saltando sobre los exánimes cuerpos y los montones de tierra y las ruinas, [...] una mujer [...] marchaba majestuosa hasta la horrible brecha» (694). The sudden apparition of one of the novel's female icons, an historical figure who acquires a Marian aura in this context, inspires the men to stop their retreat and fight the French with renewed, superhuman energy:


movidos todos por una fuerza extraordinaria, poderosísima, sobrehumana, nos lanzamos a la brecha tras la heroica mujer, [...]; y sin que tampoco sepa decir la causa, nos sentimos con centuplicadas energías, y aplastamos, arrojándolos en lo profundo del foso, a aquellos hombres de algodón que antes nos parecieron de acero.


Displays of nearly suicidal bravery continue until the very end of the siege. Araceli describes the ferocious fight over the Church of San Agustín, which occurs less than three weeks before the fall of Zaragoza, as an impossible battle sustained by sheer devotion to a higher cause: «nos impulsaba a las luchas desesperadas una fuerza secreta, irresistible, que no me puedo explicar sino por la fuerte tensión erectiva del espíritu y una aspiración poderosa hacia lo ideal» (730). Even when officials give the order to abandon the church, several men shut themselves off in the belltower and for several days hurl grenades at the French below them.

Of all Zaragoza's episodes highlighting the remarkable tenacity of the Spanish patriots in the face of overwhelming odds, however, those featuring house-to-house, room-to-room combat are, by far, the most memorable. Gabriel provides an eyewitness account of the hellish skirmishes that take place in small, dark spaces with bullets flying and soldiers knocking down walls to attack each other, but he also expresses admiration for the unprecedented heroism revealed by such dogged resistance: «Lo que aún no se había escrito [la historia] era lo siguiente: 'Después de dos días y dos noches de combate hemos tomado la casa número 1 de la calle de Pabostre. Ignoramos cuando se podrá tomar el número 2'» (716). Curiously, Araceli encounters Manuela Sancho again under these circumstances as she fires on the French from a room covered with prints of saints and the Virgin, a subliminal message that God is on Zaragoza's side55.

The author chooses to construe the clash between good and evil typical of saints' lives as a struggle between two strictly fictional stereotypes. To be sure, the swarms of French soldiers who descend on Zaragoza and dynamite the city into submission bode naught but ill for Spanish patriots and their fight for freedom. But Galdós portrays the foreign troops mostly as impersonal masses responding to the will of others, and therefore blameless as individuals for the atrocities they commit. Only in the final pages of the novel does he demonize the invaders in the symbolic form of their commander, General Lannes, who murders two of Zaragoza's most prominent battling clerics, tosses their bodies into the Ebro, carts a wounded Palafox off to a French prison, and desecrates the icon of the Virgen del Pilar, the spiritual core of the community, by stealing the precious gems that adorn her figure. An older, more reflective Araceli, however, expresses the novel's predominant, more sympathetic viewpoint: «el que siente instintiva compasión al matar un conejo en una cacería, salta de júbilo viendo caer centenares de hombres robustos, jóvenes y alegres, que después de todo no han hecho mal a nadie» (682). Narrator and implied author acknowledge the dehumanizing forces of war, which turns morals upside down and normal people into savages.

Galdós shows much greater interest in Zaragoza in exploring the struggle with the enemy who lies within the bosom of the Spanish populace. The two antagonists locked in combat are José de Montoria, who represents the «polis», and Jerónimo Candiola, who represents himself, an egocentric, avaricious usurer. A wealthy landowner, Montoria epitomizes   —91→   the selfless spirit of community that unites «zaragozanos» and pushes them towards collective martyrdom. Galdós informs the readers that Montoria loves the Virgen del Pilar «con fanático amor de familia», an emotion inseparable from his sense of civic pride and duty (676). Over the course of the siege he will sacrifice all of his material possessions and two sons to the cause of Spanish freedom. The patriot, whose quick temper sometimes gets the better of him, inevitably clashes in a violent fashion with Candiola, a self-proclaimed outsider who loves to count his loot, but refuses to contribute any of it to the war effort. As the novel progresses, these figures appear to grow increasingly more polarized, hyperbolic, and caricaturesque in their speech and actions. For example, while Montoria expresses disappointment that neither his son, Agustín, nor Araceli bears a bullet wound or has lost a limb, Candiola berates his daughter, María, for substituting concern for others for her obligation to guard his treasure. Galdós adds more flames to the fire of melodramatic conflict with the doomed love affair between Agustín, a romantic dreamer supposedly destined for the priesthood, and María, a beautiful, lonely recluse. As expected, Candiola eventually embraces the treacherous role of Judas, when his sale of a defensive secret to the French seals Zaragoza's fate. The miser ends his days before a firing squad commanded by Araceli, who exacts horrific, but just retribution from Napoleon's «fifth column» within the city.

The Spanish public had already bestowed a degree of immortality on Zaragoza's martyrs before Galdós set pen to paper, but in yet another instance of prolepsis, the author projects that awareness of canonization onto the very consciousness of Araceli. The narrator experiences first-hand the transfiguration of Zaragoza's defenders, noting early in the fight the strange sensation of alterity that grips the men after combat: «no nos conocíamos; estábamos transfigurados, y algo nuevo y desconocido palpitaba en lo íntimo de nuestras almas, dándonos una ferocidad inaudita» (695). The odd sentiments could be dismissed as the result of pumping adrenalin, but, as the siege continues, Araceli and his compatriots exhibit a superhuman disdain for death: «Siguió, pues, la resistencia, sustituyendo los vivos a los muertos con entereza sublime. Morir era un accidente, un detalle trivial, un tropiezo del cual no debía hacerse caso» (715). Inevitably, the city's body and soul separate, leaving only a pure, disembodied collective spirit at the end of the novel: «Zaragoza no se rinde. La reducirán a polvo; de sus históricas casas no quedará ladrillo sobre ladrillo; [...]; pero entre los escombros y entre los muertos habrá siempre una lengua viva para decir que Zaragoza no se rinde» (751). A new voice, that of the implied author, steps into the narrative space of the text to reconstitute the sacrifice of the saintly city as an «exemplum» of Spanish nationalism: «Cuando otros pueblos sucumbían, ella mantiene su derecho, lo defiende, y sacrificando su propia sangre y vida, lo consagra, como consagraban los mártires en el circo la idea cristiana» (759).

The consecration of these «zaragozanos» as modern Christian martyrs explains why Galdós has frequently been identified as the codifier of Spanish patriotism56. In fact, the bulk of this exalted discourse reappeared separately in an article he wrote for the magazine, La Guirnalda, on May 1, 1874, and was reprinted the next day in the Madrid newspaper, El Gobierno (Hoar 107-08). The novelist refits the celebration of patriotism to commemorate the liberation of Bilbao from the siege of Carlist forces in the spring of 1874. Article and novel safeguard a cherished communal vision, confirming the idealizing   —92→   myth that members of Galdós's reading public wish to believe about themselves. By creating sainthood for a city in Zaragoza, Galdós supplies the myth of nationalism with a scaffolding of fictional truth, in particular a foundation of what Michael Riffaterre calls axiomatic truth, a creative, but tautological affirmation of that which is widely accepted as uncontested, incontrovertible fact (3-10).

Galdós being Galdós, however, nothing in this novel is quite as simple as it might seem. For Zaragoza is a tale of two cities and of two kinds of fictional truth. A number of critics have noted the pervasive presence of disquieting, anti-heroic elements in the first series of Episodios nacionales in general and in Zaragoza in particular57. Scene after scene of destruction, brutality, pestilence, and death, at the very least cast a pall of ambiguity over a narrative purported to wave the flag of nationalism. Galdós's vivid portrayal of war's cruelty introduces another form of «text play» into the novel, unexpected in hagiography, that of «ilinx» or destabilization, which alters the reader's perception of the fictional world, undermining the narrative's axiomatic truth (Iser 258-65). Beneath this unsettling, visual spectacle of horror lies a more subtle, but equally powerful and insidious subtext, the «hidden truth» of fiction that gradually erodes the glowing aureola of immortality encircling Zaragoza's modern martyrs (Riffaterre 102).

A single sememe composed of verbs signifying «flatten / collapse / topple / fall» spins out into a web of words that undercuts the text's saintly exemplarity58. A comprehensive list of this verbal register in Zaragoza would be very long indeed, and it would include all words communicating the notion of disintegration, such as «minar, desmoronarse, caerse, despedazarse», and others. Yet one word, «arrasarse», supplied by the Conde de Toreno, may actually have generated the entire semantic group (139). The term appears in Toreno's historical account in reference to destructive acts which the «zaragozanos» perpetrate on their own city in order to defend it from the French. Significantly, the first time in the novel that Araceli sets eyes on the patriot, Montoria, he is engaged in cutting down trees on his own land, in order to eliminate cover for the French troops. Private property and self-interest give way to the exigencies of the protection of communal property and of the collective interest. This noble image of sacrifice, however, soon evolves into something quite different. As the battle progresses, «zaragozanos» strike out at the «polis», blowing up buildings, digging up streets, tearing down walls, wreaking havoc on their own home in the name of civic and national honor: «¡[...] con tal que se salve el honor, perezcan la ciudad y la casa, la iglesia y el convento, el hospital y la hacienda, que son cosas terrenas!» (693). The expendable buildings, of course, house the human institutions that form the cornerstone of civilization. As citizens gleefully contribute to the dismantling of their own community, they give into barbarism, liquidating the collective entity that they supposedly are seeking to uphold. The wreckage, ruins, and rubble tell the tale of a city that, in the name of a higher ideal, replaces a carefully constructed infrastructure of bricks, mortar, wooden beams and good will with haphazard, treacherous tunnels, grave pits, and walls and stairways made of stacked, human corpses.

The cityscape of gore and desolation mirrors the collapsing psychological infrastructure of humans gripped by irrational forces. Emotional commitment to the Spanish cause reaches such exaggerated proportions that inhabitants gladly abandon their most cherished values for the war effort, serving them up like lambs for slaughter. When Spaniards   —93→   knock down inner walls to fight for their city room by room, they invade and demolish the space of the family, tearing down the very foundation of society. The siege separates and eliminates entire families, who die horrific deaths in combat, or through hunger and disease. Others survive, but are wounded or maimed physically and psychologically. The children orphaned by the conflict offer the most haunting and damning images of war's legacy for the future of society -fragmented families and a generation of youngsters who must survive without parental care and guidance. In the final days of the battle Gabriel Araceli encounters one such child, helpless and alone, wandering aimlessly through the streets and crying. This small figure chants a fitting requiem for Zaragoza's fallen families, echoing the universal loss of society's core unit and of the values it imparts to civilization. As Araceli observes: «No se oía otra cosa que las preguntas: '¿Has visto a mi hermano? ¿Has visto a mi hijo? ¿Has visto a mi padre?' Pero mi hermano, mi hijo y mi padre no parecían por ninguna parte» (735).

The religious fervor of «zaragozanos» also grows tainted in the mad rush to defend the city at all costs. The last stand of the Spanish patriots takes place in the Church of San Agustín. Napoleon's soldiers and the devotees of the Virgen del Pilar confront one another in the sanctuary, desecrating the holy place by turning it into a battleground and making a mockery of the Christian values they espouse. The French take up positions at the main altar, hiding in niches behind the icons of the Virgin and saints, while the Spanish occupy the confessionals and chapels. Both sides concentrate their energy and firepower on gaining possession of the pulpit, and as the armed confrontation escalates, men fight hand to hand and some desperate Spaniards throw saints' statues at the enemy59. The grotesque vision of a once beautiful repository of faith defiled by war, smashed to smithereens, and awash in blood, leaves an indelible impression of spiritual corruption, of religious belief perverted or forgotten in the heat of bellicosity.

The destabilizing play of «ilinx» extends to the conflict between Montoria and Candiola, toppling the seemingly impenetrable barrier between these symbols of good and evil, selfless community sacrifice and selfish personal greed. Despite the considerable distance separating their respective ideologies, the same weakness -intolerance- renders them identical in their blindness and deafness to the perspectives and opinions of others. The moneylender ignores the patriots' pleas for help to the point of denying his own daughter the opportunity to care for the sick and wounded. He cannot even imagine a motive or cause outside the limited circle of his own acquisitive desires, and as a result, sells to the French his own neighbours, who, from his point of view, have leveled his increasing wealth. A period of madness, in which a homeless, impoverished Candiola regresses to a near solipsistic state of infantile jealousy and possessiveness, precedes the act of treason, in which he reduces an entire city to a commodity. Meanwhile, the generous, but equally intransigent Montoria metamorphoses into a patriotic zealot, who accuses the non-fighting, ill and wounded of cowardice, executes suspected traitors without trial or hearing, and adopts an inhuman indifference to the suffering of his own family. Just as Candiola lapses into acquisitive madness, showing a perverse, unnatural attachment to the things of this world, so does Montoria enact a monstrous parody of the faithful job, manifesting a grotesque, total dissociation from private human concerns.


The uncompromising nature of both men has a tragic impact on their children, who, in essence, become martyrs sacrificed on the pyre of personal ideology. Because of the extreme antagonism between Candiola and Montoria, at the beginning of the siege Agustín and María have not yet openly declared their love for each other and have settled for clandestine trysts in the garden of the miser's house. The fact that José Montoria has overlooked his son's poetic sensibility and has destined him for the Church complicates matters even further. When circumstances contrive to reveal the lovers' secret, the fathers react predictably. Candiola reviles and disowns his daughter, while Montoria rejects his son's romantic attachment and insists on assuming the worst about María. After his older son dies in combat, the patriot must rethink his plans for Agustín, but he still refuses to see María as a potential daughter-in-law. Without considering Agustín's thoughts and feelings about war or the future, he declares himself more than willing to offer up another son as cannon fodder: «Si mueres, ¿qué me queda? Pero el deber es lo primero, y antes que cobarde, prefiero verte como tu pobre hermano; con la sien traspasada por una bala enemiga» (739-40). Ironically, young Montoria survives the siege, but his beloved does not. Faced with such a devastating loss, Agustín rails at the emptiness of the universe and decides, in accordance with hagiographic tradition, to renounce this world for the ascetic existence of a monk. For all the elder Montoria's grand plans, his son has chosen death in life.

Galdós portrays María Candiola as an even more pathetic victim of fanaticism. From the beginning, the author identifies the young woman with the Virgen del Pilar. When Araceli accompanies Agustín on a visit to the Marian sanctuary, icon and flesh-and-blood female become confused with each other because of the name they share:

Yo contemplaba la imagen [de la Virgen] cuando Agustín me apretó el brazo, diciéndome: -Mírala, allí está.

-¿Quién, la Virgen? Ya la veo.

-No, hombre; Mariquilla. ¿La ves? Allá enfrente, junto a la columna.


With her dark complexion, air of serenity, and luxurious clothing, Candiola's daughter bears a striking physical resemblance to Zaragoza's patron, but she enjoys a special spiritual connection with the Virgin as well: a form of silent, intimate communication that defies rational explanation: «Si oigo cañonazos, miro a la imagen de la Virgen del Pilar que está en mi cuarto, le pregunto con el pensamiento, y me contesta que no has muerto, sin que yo pueda decir qué signo emplea para responderme» (713). Araceli describes her language and tone as divine music, much like an angel's voice, «una vibración de notas cristalinas, [que] dejaban eco armonioso en el alma» (713). María leads a difficult, isolated life in Zaragoza even before war breaks out. She is ostracized by other citizens on account of her father's nefarious deeds; Candiola limits her activities and acquaintances outside the house. She lacks a parent's unconditional love, a sibling's companionship, and the approval of her beloved's family. When Agustín cannot save Candiola from execution, María sees herself as betrayed and abandoned by everyone. She apparently then dies of a broken heart, since, as in hagiographic iconography, her body remains inviolate, miraculously unsullied by bullets, blemishes or disease.


Some critics have dismissed the fate of the young lovers as unnecessary, sentimental claptrap that detracts from Zaragoza's aesthetic success60. But I believe their martyrdom plays an integral part in the tragic trajectory of collapse and disintegration that constitutes the hidden truth of the novel. María and Agustín are not just stereotypes lifted from popular «folletines». They represent a lost generation, thoughtlessly sacrificed to wars that are waged without consideration of their consequences. The ideals at stake may justify the loss of Spanish youths, but, after all, those same youths symbolize Spain's hope for the future. As Agustín says, dying for the cause may bring honor, «pero es una lástima morir. Somos jóvenes. ¿Quién sabe lo que nos está destinado en la vida?» (678). Many pages later, Agustín and the reader receive the answer to that question in the shape of a vast panorama of desolation where too few «zaragozanos» remain alive to grieve for family and neighbours, and -in a final irony- it is the French who are presented as the witnesses of the disasters of war and who mourn their fallen foes:

Apenas vi a los franceses cuando con más tristeza que júbilo se extendieron por lo que había sido ciudad.

Inmensas, espantosas ruinas la formaban. Era la ciudad de la desolación, de la epopeya digna de que la llorara Jeremías y de que la cantara Homero.


Galdós's novel elicits, on the one hand, admiration and respect for the city of Zaragoza, and on the other, horror and sadness.

In the Prologue to the 1885 illustrated edition of the Episodios nacionales, Galdós issues an engraved invitation to readers to contemplate themselves in the mirror of the past:

Por más que la generación actual se precie de vivir casi exclusivamente de sus propias ideas, la verdad es que no hay adelanto en nuestros días que no haya tenido su ensayo más o menos feliz ni error al cual no se le encuentre fácilmente la veta a poco que se escarbe en la historia para buscarla. Todos los disparates que hacemos hoy los hemos hecho antes en mayor grado.

(Shoemaker 56)                

Hispanists have taken Galdós at his word, graciously accepting his invitation by reading the Episodios as symbolic commentary and criticism of contemporary Spain and human nature in general. Nigel Glendinning, for example, astutely interprets the Candiola-Montoria conflict as an anatomy of the Spanish national character (44-51). I would only add that Galdós views the Spanish national character as one collective whole, a psyche divided against itself, torn by unresolved internal conflicts. Candiola and Montoria represent two diametrically opposed facets of the same national character, both mired in fanaticism, and hence, unable to communicate, negotiate, compromise, and achieve a mutually acceptable consensus on ideology and course of action61. In an equally astute critical reading of the Episodios nacionales, Clara Lida analyzes the novels as a history of Spanish liberalism and the bourgeoisie (61). While she is certainly correct that the first series offers readers a model of patriotism to which Galdós feels they should aspire (62-63), I believe it is also an ideal that the author wanted the public to temper with moderation, born of a careful deliberation of facts and ideas, submitting them to a rational, critical examination.


Galdós does not resolve any of the dilemmas posed within Zaragoza's superstructure of conflictive dialogue and dialectics. Yet in 1874, after nearly a century of wars, uprisings, sham governments, rampant greed and extremism, he clearly believed that Spain's only hope of avoiding disintegration into chaos and marching forward into the future as a unified country lay precisely in reconciling the agonic forces represented symbolically in this episodio. The place of reconciliation can be found, however, not in the pages of Zaragoza, but rather in the realm of the imaginary, in the mind of the reader and of the Spanish collective consciousness. In this psychological locus of mediation and integration, the conventional structure of hagiography resurfaces, adopting the ideological framework of quasi-religious Krausist thought. The citizens of Zaragoza look to Divine Providence for aid and guidance, but for the readers of Zaragoza, Galdós prescribes the aleatory principle of harmonic rationalism. According to Krause, harmony springs from the use of reason to synthesize what appears to be fragmented, disjunctive, and contradictory elements into an orderly, unified whole. He employs dialectics to blend polarized concepts into one (López-Morillas 12-17). With Zaragoza's antitheses, paradoxes, and tensions, Galdós has provided his audience with the blueprint and the raw material of the dialectical method. But the reader must assume responsibility for using logic and reason to complete the exercise, and in the process, move towards peace and prosperity for Spain.

«Galdosistas» commonly acknowledge that the author was assimilating the lessons of Cervantes at the time he composed Zaragoza. The Cervantine legacy is apparent everywhere in the novel, especially in the exploration of fiction's potential as an imaginative forum for discussion and debate of moral and social issues, and in the remaking of literary conventions to accommodate and develop those human concerns. When Galdós fictionalizes the siege of Zaragoza, he also reshapes traditional hagiography into an instrument of moral and social reform, actively engaging the public in determining the narrative's exemplarity. Ratiocination leads to resolution of the intractable polarities rending Spanish society, drawing the audience closer to a moderate, centrist position, a move Galdós considered crucial for the nation's survival. At the same time that Galdós echoes Cervantes, he also realizes the Krausist ideal of literature as a pedagogical tool with an immense capacity to improve humankind (López-Morillas 77-79).

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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