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ArribaAbajoA note on the lengua popular of Doña Perfecta159

Sister Eleanor O'Kane

In the most popular of his early novels, Galdós offers us a rather generous assortment of refranes and modismos. Many of these are contributed by the crude and wily Tío Licurgo. In an episodio of the preceding year, a «good» rustic, Baltasar Cipérez, also characterizes himself as a refranero. When the protagonist Gabriel poses as Cipérez's son in order to penetrate the French lines, he succeeds in hoodwinking the enemy precisely by capitalizing on this trait:

-En lo de ensartar refranes -dijo Molichard- se conoce la sangre del señor Cipérez.


A few pages later, when Gabriel's friend Jean-Jean congratulates him on his good performance -Cuidado que hicisteis bien el papel de aldeano -he replies: -No me he olvidado de los refranes (140).160 In other words, Galdós seems to be telling us, the refrán is a rustic attribute fit only for people who must fall back on this kind of homely wisdom to make a point. He will still be saying something like this in 1890; in Ángel Guerra we read:

Medina hablaba un lenguaje ramplón, alardeando de campechana claridad y, de sentido proverbial y refranesco. Creía que con dos palabras resolvía todas las cuestiones y cortaba las más empeñadas disputas.


But this is not the whole story. In Doña Perfecta not only Licurgo, María Remedios and Caballuco, but also the arch hypocrite D. Inocencio, D. Cayetano the pedant, Doña Perfecta herself, even Pepe Rey and his friend Pinzón, as well as the omnipresent author, all use refranes. D. Inocencio represents a long line of priests, good and bad, who will lean heavily on proverbs; at a deeper level he also foreshadows the cruel deviltry of Villaamil's son-in-law Víctor, in Miau. Doña Perfecta is one of many ladies de cierta categoría who draw upon the wisdom of the people.161

And Galdós? Some ten years earlier, as a budding columnist in his early 20's, he had frequently shown a delight and dexterity in handling proverbs162 which would not be matched in his novels for another twenty years. But in Doña Perfecta we have evidence of an ambivalence concerning the lengua popular which was to accompany him, as it did his master Cervantes, throughout his life. Perhaps it will suffice to say for now that in its use of language, as in so many other respects, Doña Perfecta is an important milestone on the road to Galdós' mastery of the novelistic technique.

Washington, D.C.

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