Here you see Galdós painted by master Sorolla. And below, a picture.
Benito Pérez Galdós was born on a May 10th, 1843, 175 years ago.
I missed my other favorite author, Cervantes, who died on April 22nd of 1616, on different dates (different calendars), but same day as Shakespeare.
My first encounter with Galdós was in high school, when we were required to read his book Marianela. It didn’t leave a positive impression. What happens with these classic authors is that they write from a place in life very remote from most teens. And let’s face it, many of us were willing to read anything but that which our teachers and eldest suggested or loved themselves. That was my time of enjoying Stephen King, Michael Crichton, and not only, also Dostoevsky, Cortázar, Günter Grass, Thomas Mann. Sometimes, a class on one of these I considered rancid classics wasn’t bad at all, as when we read The Celestina, by Fernando de Rojas. But I digress.
Marianela is a novella about a poor blind girl. Nothing exciting for a young person. Galdós felt old in this novel about a plain girl living in the country, her story so far removed from my reality at the time. With time, I’m looking at it from a different angle, and I’d say that it’s available in English, and worth reading. Apart from this book, I also knew that he was specially known by his brick novel, Fortunata and Jacinta. Who’d want to read 800+ pages?
And six years ago, while at my parents home in Madrid, I felt the urge to read in Spanish, and I have no idea why, but I looked at my kindle titles, and found Fortunata and Jacinta. I started and couldn’t stop. I thought something was wrong, though. The 1% at the bottom of the kindle wasn’t moving, even after I had turned the pages many times. (I don’t think I had read such a long book on my kindle before.) Finally, one day it just switched to 2%.
The book has 4 even parts. Galdós, -like Dickens and other Victorian writers of mega novels, wrote this in installments that were published weekly. Reading it at once, as I did, would be the equivalent of a Netflix 4 season series binge!
After that, I got into more of his work, and realized he was prolific, and as such, uneven in the quality and purpose of his books. While some of his books gave me more than others, or felt more complete, he’s such a writer that will never leave you indifferent.
Where can you find some of his books in English?
Here, at Project Gutemberg
I recommend his The Novel on the Tram. (Short and intriguing tale.)
If you don’t wish to dive into his longest and most rounded of his books, Fortunata and Jacinta, I recommend you these other titles:
Those I have read. There’s also movies of Nazarín, by Buñuel, (the place is changed, but I have watched it and it’s good), and Marianela. Play adaptations of Doña Perfecta, a long mini series of Fortunata and Jacinta, etc.
I have not read, (but plan to, :), his two part book Leon Roch. That one is also free at Gutemberg.
He is also widely known in Spanish literary circles, by his 5 series of 10 episodes, (only 6 for series 5, since he died), of what’s known as his Episodios Nacionales. 46 books. They are divided into five series and they deal with Spanish History from roughly 1805 to 1880, and he wrote them between 1872 and 1912. He did want to stop after the first few, but the public wouldn’t let him. Galdós enjoyed a vast popularity by his contemporary readers, but it did not translate into respect or recognition among fellow writers. (I know they must have been green with envy, ha ha ha.)
Some of his Episodios exist in English. I have read the first four, and have loved every single one. They are short, -around 200 pages, and they have a perfect combination of history, weaved into the life events of, in the case of the first series, Gabriel, who was 14 in the first episode, Trafalgar, that narrates the famous ship battle against the English, and who continues being tangled up in historical developments as he’s getting older.
This year I’ve met two fascinating women who are reading his Episodios, and who also happen to love Galdós, one of them, Raquel, blogs at Marea Literaria, and she also wrote a homage to him here. The other friend, Kalliope, reviews lots of books at Goodreads. And just this week, I’ve learned of another friend who happens to like him too. She studied Spanish literature, -I believe, and helped one of her professors with a book that recompiled Galdós letters to and from one of his partners and writer, Emilia Pardo Bazán, (known by her The House of Ulloa, -Los pazos de Ulloa.) Emilia called Benito her ratoncito, (mousy.)
Galdós is surely our Dickens, our Balzac, Tolstoi. Our biggest realist, or naturalist writer. He wrote novels, novellas, short stories, historic fiction, and plays, and he wrote abundantly.
It was Raquel who told me about his upcoming birthday anniversary today, and who wrote about his short tale, La pluma en el viento o El viaje de la vida. A feather starts off in her life journey, and goes through four stages, -an allegory to the ages of man. The amazing image below is by my friend, painter and photographer, Heather, who has an Etsy store that will delight you when you visit it.
Before closing, I’d like to extend another book club invitation. (This book club may take place here, or at my dear friend Karen’s blog. Either way, we’ll be reading La de Bringas, or The Spendthrifts, title that promises a good look into Galdós genius. (I’ve been looking at reviews, and I must say this won’t be everybody’s favorite if you don’t like the alternation of descriptions with dialogue and action. I also hope the translation conveys the humor. If that’s not there, the novel can turn into an insufferable brick. Bear in mind the topics Galdós deals with, are 19th century classics: he denounces or exposes the values and hypocrisy of the society he lived in, and he delves into some philosophic and life ruminations too, in the context of Spain, (instead of Britain, France, or Russia.) I believe it’s a book for ‘older’ readers, those who like long haul developments and lavish atmospheric and psychological build ups. A book for those who don’t shy from rich language.
I also have to add that this was the third in a trilogy where it’s not strictly necessary to have read the previous two. It will help that, -I’ve read, the book has less characters than the usual for him, which may make it easier for us to get situated.
The translator that shows at the kindle book at Amazon, is Gamel Woolsey, (May 28, 1897 – January 18, 1968), American poet, novelist and translator. I’m glad to see she was close to Galdós times. Expect her English to have an additional charm; that’s what I hope and pray for.
All in all, I know it’s a book worth reading together by an author worth exploring.