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ArribaAbajoFeminine and Masculine Consciousness in Fortunata y Jacinta

Stephen Gilman

When Fortunata returns overwrought from her attack on Aurora, she asks for a soothing glass of milk. Her little maid, Encarnación, brings her one but carelessly allows two flies to light in it. The new mother is repelled. A second glass properly covered is brought and drunk, while the first is consumed by Segismundo Ballester who removes the flies with his little finger and teases Fortunata without being able to «disipar la negra tristeza en que la joven había caído». (523)119 Since Fortunata y Jacinta is perhaps the most intricate and elaborately woven novelistic «sign» or texture of signs to have been created in the 19th century, the reader naturally wonders about the significance of a detail which at first seems not only insignificant but also unbecomingly sordid and Zolaesque at this moment of spiritual climax. Does Galdós really intend here to indicate the delicacy of Fortunata's feminine consciousness (in spite of her recent ferocity) as opposed to Segismundo's good-naturedly gross masculine insensitivity? My answer is decidedly affirmative - although its justification will be more complex than the phrasing of the question seems to require. In any case the incident touches on a crucial aspect of the novel which has attracted almost no critical attention: its four-volume long confrontation of those distinct modes of awareness which are typical of the two sexes.

It is, of course, manifestly premature to rest such a broad generalization on such a miniscule foundation. However, the skilled reader of Galdós will have observed (as we shall observe here in several similar instances) that, when he wishes to suggest the deeper meaning of a given detail, he usually supplies a later variation. The reader, accordingly, must read on patiently in a state of subliminally controlled suspense. In this case, he will not be disappointed. As we remember, a few pages and a few hours later Fortunata suffers two unquestionably significant physiological catastrophes: her own milk begins to dry up with the result that she is less and less capable of nourishing that newly born «tragón», Juan Evaristo Segismundo; and, then, after her fatal hemorrhage she dies, and her body remains as pallid as the milk she drank but was unable to supply. Galdós' description of her in the mortuary is crucial to our comprehension of the feminine consciousness she shared with Jacinta and with the other women and girls of the novel:

En todo aquel día [Ballester] no abandonó la casa mortuoria. Al mediodía estaba solo en ella, y el cuerpo de Fortunata, ya vestido con su hábito negro de los Dolores, yacía en el lecho. Ballester no se saciaba de contemplarla, observando la serenidad de aquellas facciones que la muerte tenía ya por suyas, pero que no había devorado aún. Era el rostro como de marfil, tocado de manchas vinosas en el hueco de los ojos y los labios, y las cejas parecían aún más finas, rasgueadas y negras de lo que eran en vida. Dos o tres moscas se habían posado sobre aquellas   —64→   marchitas facciones. Segismundo sintió nuevamente deseos de besar a su amiga. ¿Qué le importaban a él las moscas? Era como cuando caían en la leche. Las sacaba, después bebía como si tal cosa. Las moscas huyeron cuando la cara viva se inclinó sobre la muerta, y al retirarse tornaron a posarse. Entonces Ballester cubrió la faz de su amiga con un pañuelo finísimo.


Visually speaking, the scene just described represents a culmination of the funereal black and white tints which accumulate at the end of Part IV. Thus, Horace's «palida mors» is implicit in the snowfall over the Plaza Mayor (and the subsequent melting of beauty) and in the white corpse shrouded in «su hábito negro de los Dolores». (541) However, we may burrow beneath the surface of mourning, if we consider this last view of Fortunata in terms of the «naturalismo espiritual» which pervades the novel as a whole. That is to say, in terms of the unlikely and indeed unscientific correlation of physiological and spiritual changes which Galdós emphasizes from beginning to end. Here is a «document humain» in which a lover actually dies of a broken heart according to a supposedly serious medical diagnosis120 and another begins his descent into decrepitude (his final «bajón») when he realizes that the consciousness of his beloved possesses dimensions that are beyond his comprehension.121 So too in this case, Fortunata's self-proclaimed spiritual metamorphosis into an angel is reflected in a physiological metaphor. In death she resembles (poetically she is) that most precious of the seven human liquids with which the Naturalists were fascinated: mother's milk.122

It is obvious and correct to attribute Galdós' intention in suggesting this transfiguration to a desire to synthesize at long last the antithetical themes of birth and death, natality and mortality, which alternate all through and which have been commented on elsewhere.123 Nevertheless, the above two incidents, taken together in their immediate context, also serve to remind us of the obsessive role played by breasts and nursing in his presentation of the feminine consciousness which constitutes the foundation of the whole, a role or sub-theme which therefore deserves isolation and critical meditation.

But let us begin with men. In the Madrid of Fortunata y Jacinta they converse emptily, unceasingly, and at times hilariously about politics, history, and even metaphysics - matters which are of little or no importance to the women. As the narrator insists: «¿Qué le importaba a Jacinta que hubiese República o Monarquía, ni que don Amadeo fuera o se quedase?» (83) Or again: «En realidad [doña Lupe] no entendía jota de política, y, si era liberal, éralo por sentimiento, como tributo a la memoria de Jáuregui y por respeto al uniforme de miliciano nacional que éste tan gallardamente ostentaba en su retrato. Pero si le hubieran dicho que explicara los puntos esenciales del dogma liberal, se habría visto muy apurada para responder». (206) Womens' concerns, on the other hand, begin with the reflections of their faces in one mirror after another, the first being Fortunata's tacit comparison of herself to the Virgin at the moment of Annunciation in the phrase, «sus ojos negros... le daban la puñalada al Espíritu Santo». (185)124 There follow an impressive number of references to hair and its most effective presentation: «el peinado», «el peinarse», the first being Papitos' pathetic «sortijillas y patillas». (191) However, Galdós' most intimate, meaningful, and insistant empathy with feminine consciousness centers on breasts and their biological function.


Lest almost a century later readers of Fortunata y Jacinta may dismiss Galdós as a male chauvinist for the reasons just presented, let us remember that his men in one café after another are characterized as incontinent, impotent, frigid, senile, or physically grotesque. Of all of these defective creatures the most despicable (insofar as they are also spiritually crippled) are those who belong to the first category: the incontinent «heros» or «señoritos». And it is they who pay obsessive attention to he organs which now concern us. Indeed, their sensual fascination with the sources of their infantile nourishment fully justifies Simone de Beauvoir's accusation that they (we!) convert women into objects - objects which are all the more seductive when artificially enhanced. Let us listen again to the cynical dandy, Jacinto María Villalonga, when he comments on Fortunata's changed appearance upon her return to Madrid at the end of Part I:

Vamos, que si la ves tiras piedras. Te acordarás de aquel cuerpo sin igual, de aquel busto estatuario, de esos que se dan en el pueblo y mueren en la oscuridad cuando la civilización no los busca y los presenta. Cuantas veces lo dijimos: «¡Si este busto supiera explotarse...!» Pues, ¡hala!, ya lo tienes en perfecta explotación. ¿Te acuerdas de lo que sostenías?... «El pueblo es la cantera. De él salen las grandes ideas y las grandes bellezas. Viene luego la inteligencia, el arte, la mano de obra, saca el bloque, lo talla». Pues chico, ahí la tienes bien labrada... ¡Qué líneas tan primorosas!


As we remember, those inhabitants of the novel who have the good fortune to encounter Fortunata usually feel an imperative urge to take charge of her spiritual or social formation. As a result they compare her frequently to raw material: to wax, to clay, to dough, to wood, or even to a diamond in the rough. However, these «señoritos disolutos» (as Torquemada terms them) who are only concerned with her flesh debase her even further. Instead of being a person in her own right, for them she is only a living statue. And that this is not merely the idle chitchat of masculine decadence is testified to by Fortunata herself when she tells Feijóo how Juanito «se empeñaba en que me pusiera yo esos cuerpos tan ceñidos, tan ceñidos, que con ellos parece que enseña una todo lo que Dios le ha dado». (195)

In so saying we must remember that the person of the narrator who identifies himself at the beginning as a friend of Villalonga is a «señorito» himself who in his own sly fashion seems to be as lascivious as the others. Thus his initial attention to doña Lupe's «arrogante busto», to Aurora's «pecho... desproporcionadamente abultado», and to the Amazon-like appearance of both Fortunata and Mauricia when in moments of violent or domestic carelessness they display themselves. Thus too the malice of his «chismografía». As much of a male gossip as Villalonga, he diverts himself stylistically with neo-Quevedesque variations on the theme of doña Lupe's amputation. For example, she is described as nursing money at her artificial breast as if it were her baby (196) and later as willing to sacrifice «el único pecho que poseía» in exchange for acceptance in doña Guillermina's circle of philanthropic ladies. (357) Again, when he describes the executive excitement she feels when she takes on the responsibility of arranging the wedding, he remarks gratuitously that her «pelota de algodón parecía recibir también su parte de vida, palpitando y permitiéndose doler». (268) And finally he gloats at Papitos' diabolical attempt at   —66→   revenge while seeming to regret that the inattention of the passers-by and the girl's fear that her mistress would retaliate later by cutting off «las dos cosas de verdad que pensaba tener» caused it to fail. (231)

However, beneath the narrative mask, beneath its caricature of the most trivial sort of masculine consciousness, there is the genuine author. Let us call him «Galdós», and let us recognize that he is as capable as Shakespeare, Tolstoy, or Fernando de Rojas of creating and inhabiting a seemingly infinite cast of other lives in all their diversity. His is a sensibility which can empathize both with the encaged chickens who are concerned jealously whether «tú sacaste más el pico que yo» to the encaged «Filomenas» stretching to glimpse the fleeting sunset over the gradually rising wall of «Las Micaelas». It is this profound and immense creative sensibility (in the present context only comparable to that of a Tiresias who had the advantage of direct experience!) that empathizes with feminine consciousness and that explores with all delicacy its engagement with this functionally problematical portion of the female body.

But why «functionally problematical»? As we remember, the mothers of «el cuarto estado» nurse their «mamones» who «chupan el seno mirando por el rabo del ojo» (70) with unthinking ease. And Isabel Cordero was able to suckle no less than 17 infants, postponing the economic and social difficulties caused by the survivors until later years. So too Fortunata - in Juanito's initial and spuriously remorseful description - appears as a wild creature instinctively feeding pigeons on her bosom, thereby anticipating both her future prayers to «la Virgen de la Paloma» and the hatching of her own «polluelo hermosísimo». (497) However, within the world of the novel successful nursing is exceptional, a matter of deep concern both to the two titular women and by extension to their author. We have already noted the deleterious effect (and the resulting anguish) of Fortunata's passionate eruption on her supply of milk, and we may observe now that all throughout there are repeated references - apparently casual but cunningly calculated - to customary substitutes. The most obvious example is, of course, the corrupt and sordid institution which is portrayed at length in a scene from El amigo Manso that can best be described as a Naturalistic «comédie noire». More subtly and long before Estupiñá rounds up three «amas de cría» («con cada ubre como el de una vaca suiza. Género excelente!») (527), we learn in passing that one of Izquierdo's previous occupations was minding a store specializing in «regalos para amas». That this is not mere happenstance but rather a manifestation of intricate composition becomes clear, if we remember that it was there that Juanito and Fortunata enjoyed their initial rendezvous. As Estupiñá again, now in his role as parental spy, informs his mistress: «Ayer y anteayer entró el niño en una tienda de la Concepción Jerónima, donde venden filigranas y corales de los que usan las amas de cría...» (43)

In addition to human substitutes, animal milk -with or without flies- is frequently mentioned. Juan Evaristo Segismundo «al principio le extrañaba la dureza del pezón del biberón muy malo que en su boquita le metían. Hizo algunos ascos; pero al fin pudo más el hambre que los remilgos, y apencó con la teta artificial». (534-535) Maxi, too (his mother being what she was), was nursed «con biberón y con cabra». (158) The subject is touched on also   —67→   by the snobbish persona of the narrator when he remarks that the painter of Jáuregui's infamous portrait must have specialized in «las muestras de casas de vacas y de burras de leche». (192) Finally and far more profoundly the most thorough snob of the whole cast, Moreno Isla, is repelled almost physically by a vendor's cry he hears when he awakens in a Guadarrama station on his yearly railroad journey to Madrid: «el botico e leche». (319) A man with death in his soul, he cannot explain to himself why amid all the myriad discomforts of his native land «le carga mucho, pero mucho, oír el tal pregón...» (459) In spite of -or perhaps because of- his nostalgia for his irretrievable childhood, he cannot abide oral advertisement of life itself.

But what of Jacinta who needs neither wet nurses nor «burras de leche», Jacinta who might have provided or would have provided all the milk a baby could desire, if only...? Stated rather pedantically, in the dialectical title there are implicit two antithetical insufficiencies, both feminine and both biological: dry breasts and a barren womb. In the case of the latter, what reader can forget Jacinta's repeated dream of a suckling infant mouth or her cloying nocturnal charades with Juanito? Continuing their honeymoon babytalk, he begs for her «teta», and she answers, «Ahola no... teta caca... cosa fea...» Then relenting, instead of the genuine article, she offers him a finger with which he pretends to be satisfied. (131) It is clear that Jacinta's failure to conceive makes her all the more conscious of her useless physical femininity. We are inevitably reminded of Yerma and her «pechos de arena».

This curious scene of marital intimacy with its initial reluctance and its ersatz consent suggests among other things that there has occurred a process of identification of Jacinta's sexual inhibitions with maternal frustration. Her vivid and anguishing earlier dream while drowsing through Wagner at the «teatro Real» has been in this sense replayed and so rendered harmless. Let us look inside that dream once again for it has much to tell us, even literally and without tempting Freudian interpretation. In a layette-fined boudoir and seated on a «puff» Jacinta is accosted by a

muchacho lindísimo, que primero le cogía la cara, después le metía la mano en el pecho. «Quita, quita... eso es caca... ¡qué asco!... cosa fea, es para el gato...» Pero el muchacho no se daba a partido. No tenía más que la camisa de finísima holanda, y sus carnes finas resbalaban sobre la seda de la bata de su mamá... [...] «No, no... quita... caca...» Y él insistiendo siempre, pesadito, monísimo. Quería desabotonar la bata y meter mano. Después dio cabezadas contra el seno. Viendo que nada conseguía, se puso serio, tan extraordinariamente serio, que parecía un hombre. La miraba con sus ojazos vivos y húmedos, expresando en ellos y en la boca todo el desconsuelo que en la humanidad cabe. Adán echado del paraíso, no miraría de otro modo el bien que perdía. Jacinta quería reírse pero no podía, porque el pequeño le clavaba su inflamado mirar en el alma. Pasaba mucho tiempo así, el niño-hombre mirando a su madre, y derritiendo lentamente la entereza de ella con el rayo de sus ojos. Jacinta sentía que se le desgajaba algo en sus entrañas. [...] sin saber lo que hacía soltó un botón... Luego otro. Pero la cara del chico no perdía su seriedad. La madre se alarmaba y... fuera el tercer botón... Nada, la cara y la mirada del nene siempre adusta, con una gravedad hermosa que iba siendo terrible... El cuarto botón, el quinto, todos los botones salieron de los ojales, haciendo gemir la tela. Perdió cuenta de los botones que soltaba. Fueron ciento, puede que mil... Ni por esas... La cara iba tomando una inmovilidad sospechosa. Jacinta al fin metió la mano en su seno, sacó lo que el muchacho deseaba y le miró segura de que se desenojaría cuando viera una cosa tan rica y tan bonita... Nada; cogió entonces la cabeza del muchacho, la atrajo a sí, y, que quieras que no, le metió en la boca... Pero la boca era insensible,125 y los labios no se movían. Toda la cara   —68→   parecía de una estatua. El contacto que Jacinta sintió en parte tan delicada de su epidermis era el roce espeluznante del yeso, roce de superficie áspera y polvorosa.


Let us begin by observing the obvious: a woman desperate solely for motherhood would not oppose so much initial resistance to her dream-child's supplication, nor would she imagine it as exclusively masculine. The designations, «muchacho», «Adán», «niño-hombre», «hombre», «chico», and «nene», all indicate that the child is her husband and that the child's desire has been substituted for her husband's desire. Which clearly implies that sexual intercourse in her case, as opposed to Fortunata,126 cannot be faced directly. Only in terms of her breasts, only by converting Juanito into a suckling rather more advanced in years than might have been expected, can Jacinta reconcile his biological urgency with her own. Or even admit to her own -given the sexual prejudices of her time. Less apparent but even more telling perhaps is «el inflamado mirar [que] le clavaba en el alma». The literary critic would have no justification at all in alluding to Santa Teresa and Bernini in this connection, were there not an undeniable reference to the same symbol of penetration in the overtly phallic127 yet functionally similar dream of Fortunata in Part III: «De repente, ¡ay!, cree que le clavan un dardo. Bajando por la calle Imperial... viene Juanito Santa Cruz». (410)

The above comments should not be construed as an attempt to justify Juanito in terms of the classic 19th-century excuse for male incontinence: arranged marriage with an inhibited and unsatisfactory bourgeoise. The hidden similarity of these two very different feminine dreams consists precisely in their revelation of his inadequacy both as husband and lover. In the revery of Jacinta, when an inner barrier «se le desgaja» and the process of surrender (symbolized by endless unbuttoning) ends with the unwanted gift of her breast (which is to say of herself), the recipient has congealed into a cold and lifeless statue. And in the same way the ruined and ragged Juanito whom Fortunata dreams of supporting returns to his status as an unavailable «señorito» «con un gabán muy majo». (410) Both vitally and socially the scion of the Santa Cruz dynasty is incapable of responding to the feminine treasures at his disposal. It is indeed appropriate that his last affair should be with Aurora Samaniego whose most characteristic gesture is the insertion not of arrows but of sewing pins into her unfeeling dressmaker's bodice.

A warning in conclusion: it would be mistaken to think of the novel as a psychological study and in that sense being about masculine and feminine forms of consciousness as such. On the one hand, the citizens of the model Madrid that was created in Part I are presented individually as conscious men and women living separate varieties of experience. Which is to say, each living his or her own life, although none of them with the angelic intensity and clarity of Fortunata. And on the other, as suggested previously, the omnipotent mind of their creator, «Galdós» (or as our contemporaries might say, the text itself in its dense structural coherence) enfolds their masculine and feminine privacy in an intricate texture of slyly patterned repetition, foreshadowing, false forshadowing, distant echoing, and ironical variation. To use the terminology of Percy Lubbock, the «shape of the whole» is just as remarkable as its seemingly endless «passage of experience»128.


The notion of «shape», however, like «design», «pattern», and even «texture», has graphic and spatial connotations which are misleading. What the reader of Fortunata y Jacinta ultimately confronts (whether he realizes it or not) is a controlling consciousness that is both masculine and feminine and that exploits its own ambivalence. The narrator who converts doña Lupe's false breast comically into an imitation symbol and the creator who is capable of dreaming Jacinta's pathetic dream of exposing one of flesh as a true symbol function in tandem. All of which amounts to saying that there is a feminine quality to the novel's hidden profundities. How extraordinary, for example, it is to discover that Jacinta's dream of frustration should reappear in the description of Fortunata's first dwelling after her return to Madrid: «Es una casa que está entre la tienda de figuras de yeso y el establecimiento de burras de leche..., allí» The sisterhood, the sense of feminine identity, the shared victimization, which both will come to realize far in the future is already in a state of incubation.

But perhaps the most uncanny revelation of the brooding consciousness that underlies the whole (and makes it whole) is the description of Fortunata after death cited here at the beginning. To be specific, it quite clearly is a reprise of Galdós' first expedition into and assimilation of her feminine selfawareness upon first looking into a mirror. After her self-identification with the Virgin as being equally attractive to the Holy Ghost, Fortunata goes on thinking:

La tez era una preciosidad por su pureza mate y su transparencia y tono de marfil recién labrada; la boca un poco grande, pero tan fresca y tan mona en la risa como en el enojo... Y luego unos dientes! «Tengo unos dientes -decía ella mostrándoselos... como pedacitos de leche cuajada». La nariz era perfecta. «Narices como la mía pocas se ven...» Y, por fin, componiéndose la cabellera negra y abundante como los malos pensamientos, decía: «¡Vaya un pelito que Dios me ha dado!»


Neither the verbal vulgarity of this first self-portrait (or self-sketch, for as both Eoff and Montesinos point out, Fortunata is probably the most observed but undescribed of all novelistic heroines)129 nor the funeral conventionality of Segismundo's last contemplation affect their uncanny convergence. Ivory and milk accentuated by blackness frame the span of our intimacy with a consciousness at once angelic and diabolical.

Harvard University

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