Back to the Classics 2018, Book reviews, Episodios Nacionales, Galdos, The Classics Club

The Court of Carlos IV

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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

17 thoughts on “The Court of Carlos IV”

    1. Difficult to know what to recommend, -since his books vary in intent and length. I have found this English blogger who reviews and links to some of his books, http://bookcents.blogspot.com/2012/11/english-translations-of-novels-by-galdos.html

      And then here, http://amzn.to/2EQILxx, you see titles with two names, Galdos and a translator, and if the price, length, and blurb speak to you, go for it! If you pick a title I have not read (and there’s plenty I haven’t), I’ll join you.

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  1. Thanks Silvia! I’ll check out the links you gave. Plus, I’ll go back and look at the ones you’ve talked about on your blog. I’ll let you know what I pick! 🙂

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      1. Yes! I saw that one too and downloaded it to my Kindle just an hour or so ago. I thought it might be the perfect place to start. What do you think of it so far? I’m reading the Iliad right now and have a certain number of chapters I’m trying to read each day for that. Hopefully, I’ll be able to read The Novel in the Tram tonight! 🙂

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      2. I love it!, I am finishing News of the World, and I will get back to this short one. I think it is a nice break from the Ilyliad, and a good sample of Galdós

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  2. Oh yay! I can’t wait to read it. I’m definitely going to get started on it tonight. I still have a good bit to go with The Iliad. 🙂 I was trying to finish it by the end of February but I don’t think that’s going to happen since I just started it yesterday and I’m reading a couple of others books too. I do really like the Samuel Butler translation so far though. There’s a lot of fighting in it though…isn’t there?! Whew!

    What do you think of News of the World? I heard a lot of good things about it and so I tried to read it several months back and just couldn’t get into it. It may just not have been the right timing for reading it. It’s seems like I had some other books that came in from the library at the same time and had to prioritize. Maybe I’ll try it again another time.

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  3. **Spoiler alert for anyone who might want to read The Novel in the Tram.** I read The Novel in the Tram last night. I really liked it! So question, the ending makes you wonder if he really had gone temporarily mad or if he was institutionalized just because others thought he was. As I was reading the novella, you begin to wonder that maybe he really is seeing these characters from the story and there’s some sort of twist in the novella that will somehow prove that it wasn’t a story after all. So I was left not wanting to put it down until I got to the end. Do you think he was just trying to play out the story with those coming and going on the tram? Or do you think he really did at some points think he saw some of the characters (like the butler, for instance)?

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    1. I read it. (I realize I’ve read this before, 🙂
      My thoughts? It’s said this was written in the spirit of Don Quijote, as if the character was seeing things that weren’t there, like the same DQ. Hard to tell if it was just this incident what made him end up institutionalized, or previous history.

      What I like it’s that Galdós is playing with the idea of what’s real?, the novel, or what we see out there? Does reality reflect the plots of novels?, or do the novels reflect realities? There’s a Spanish notion that says that Life is a Dream, that was the title of a famous play by Spanish writer Calderón de la Barca, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life_Is_a_Dream. In Manso, the character speaks to us, readers, in the first chapter, telling us he only exists on the pages of the book. Conversely, in the Episodio Nacional I’ve just read, Gabriel, the character, talks to us readers, as if he were a real young man writing his memoirs.

      Cervantes, and after him Galdós, are writers that explore the modern and postmodern concept of “metanarrative”, which is nothing more (nor less) than inserting a novel inside a novel, or having characters talk about the book they are part of, or about them as characters, or address the reader, etc.

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  4. I haven’t read Don Quixote (it’s on my TBR classics list!). It’s interesting, I hadn’t even thought if there was a previous history to consider. I also wondered if he was just kind of playing with the story, seeing people on the tram as the characters. But then it felt like he really did think he saw these characters. I thought the writing was very good because it really made you ask questions and wonder what was going on. I also liked that he wasn’t extremely wordy. It felt the writing and descriptions were just right if that makes sense. Dickens has a tendency to be really wordy and at times that aspect of his writing has made it feel that parts of his novels you have to slog through a bit. Not so with Great Expectations though! Loved that one! Anyway, I know this Galdos title was only a novella, but if his writing style in this novella is a good representation of his overall writing style in other works, I think I am really going to like his writing.

    You said: “What I like it’s that Galdós is playing with the idea of what’s real?, the novel, or what we see out there? Does reality reflect the plots of novels?, or do the novels reflect realities?” GREAT questions and I didn’t think about that in those specific terms while reading the novella; but I was definitely thinking about the idea of reality in that I was questioning if what he’s seeing is real or not.

    You mentioned the idea of the Spanish notion that “Life is a Dream”. Could you expand on that more? And do you find that reflected in a lot of Spanish novels you’ve read?

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    1. Yes, I think the same about Dickens, and I too enjoyed Great Expectations.
      I too was trying to discern if what he saw was real or not.

      Life is a Dream… I don’t know if it’s something in other novels, but it seems that Galdós may have had that play title and saying in his mind.

      And yes, Galdós is funny, and more direct than Dickens, imo, but his long Fortunata and Jacinta has a good measure of some of his philosophical and political ramblings at the beginning of each of the 4 parts of the book. However, once in the story, he gets to the point, with lots of nice dialogues.

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