It’s possible that some of you know that Cervantes is my favorite author, but over the years, Galdós has been gaining in ranking. Now I would say the #1 position is shared between these two.
Benito Pérez Galdós was born in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, and his mom sent him to Madrid to study law. He read and admired Dickens, Balzac, and Tolstoy, and he’s been called our Spanish own equal to no less than the three of them. He was a very prolific writer. He had many interests in life, and the variety of his work best reflect those many passions (plays, politics, history, law, society at large, -from foods to clothing, and most specially, the human heart.)
Dialogues and humor are salient qualities in his books. He captures the voice of the people like no other. He used to take endless train trips, just to listen to how people from all breeds of society talked. He’s said to have had a wonderful memory. My favorite of his skills as a writer are numerous: his treatment of minor characters, (all those with a short appearance are unforgettable), his ability to capture an ambiance, (through deft strokes, he paints landscapes, people, and events that pop up from the pages). His tenderness and attention to details make the story gain great momentum, (clothing, food, death, illness, markets, all those make his books lively and delightful), his genius to give you the different views of a conflict, -whether political, sentimental, or the clash of classes, he never ceases to impress.
La corte de Carlos IV, is the second of his 46 Episodios Nacionales. There’s 5 series, each meant to have 10 books, but the last one, series 5, he couldn’t complete, thus having only 5 books and a draft. You can find many free for Kindle or ebook, and there’s even some at Librivox in audio format as well as ebook. Each series has a main character, and Gabriel de Araceli, is the one in these ten. In Trafalgar, he was a lad of just 15 years. In this one, he was only a year older, 16. There’s a few memorable occasions in which Gabriel addresses us, the readers, with his own thoughts, making the book not just historical novel, but also a coming of age for him. I’m looking forward to following Gabriel in the other 8 books in his series.
This book #2, La corte de Carlos IV, is about a time in history where the Prince heir tried to seize power from the King, Queen and Godoy, with Napoleon in the middle of all the contend. He blends the literature, artistic, political and cultural pulse of the narration in the space of a few pages. (This book is around 200 pages only.) Would you believe Goya and Moratín made it to the book? I was surprised to see Goya as a “crafter”, -busy painting backdrops for theater plays, and making paper and oak leave garlands to decorate a place. It’s a minor character the one who voices what will be the end result of this conflict. El Escorial, (where court resided), is one of the two epicenters of this novel. The other is Madrid and its social life, (theater takes center stage in the book.)
While not all these Episodios are translated into English, some are, along with many other of his titles.
I understand this post is for a minority, (though Galdós has always been and will always be read by many of us who can read in Spanish. For those of you who read in English, you have Walter Scott, Dickens, Trollope, Thackeray, George Eliot, Wilkie Collins, and many more Victorian writers that compete for our personal devotion. As if that weren’t enough, we have the French and the Russian available to us, if not in original language, in translation. The great news it’s that we all have a different end of the yarn to pick and unravel the wonderful net of history, culture, literature, and heritage that the XIX century has so generously gifted us through these titans.
Before I leave, I must mention I was not intending to read more of his Episodios yet, but Kalliope, who reviews the book here, and who remarked that her adventure reading the Episodios will be of limited interest, was my motivation to read along with her, and try to complete them in five years time.