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The Life of Benito Pérez Galdós

By S. GRISWOLD MORLEY, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Spanish in the University of California

1921


 

Benito Pérez Galdós was born May 10, 1843, in Las Palmas, Grand Canary Island. The first school he attended was kept by English people; hence perhaps his great admiration for the English. He showed an early and lasting talent for music and drawing. In 1864 or 1865 he went alone to Madrid to study law, which he disliked. He made slow progress, but completed the course in 1869. Latin was his favorite study, and he never practised law.

His first writing was done for Madrid newspapers; he reported sessions of the Cortes, and wrote all sorts of general articles. During this period he wrote two poetic dramas, never performed. His failure to gain the stage turned him to the novel, and he did not again attempt drama till 1892. Dickens and Balzac most influenced his conception of the novel. His first book, La fontana de oro, was published in 1870; the first of the Episodios nacionales, Trafalgar, in 1873. Since then the Episodios reached the number of forty-six; the Novelas de la primera época (those based on history rather than on observation), seven; the Novelas españolas contemporáneas (based on observation), twenty-four; dramas and comedies, twenty-one; opera, one.

Galdós was never entirely dependent on his pen for his living; he always had a slight income from family property. He never married. He traveled all over Europe at different times, and made a special study of Spain, journeying third class, in carriage and on horse, throughout the country, always by day, and usually in the company of a servant. Fondness for children was a distinctive trait. In 1897 he became a member of the Spanish Academy. He was a liberal deputy for Porto Rico from 1886 to 1890. In 1907 he was elected deputy from Madrid by the Republican party, and retained the post for some years, but without any liking for politics. In 1912 he became completely blind.

For many years he published his own works from the famous office at Hortaleza 132; but handling no other books and cheated by an unscrupulous partner, he finally had to transfer the business to a regular firm. Galdós' novels have enjoyed an enormous sale, but at the low price of two or three pesetas a volume, instead of the customary four or five. In 1914 Galdós was represented as in poverty, for reasons never made clear, and a public subscription opened for his benefit; an episode sadder for the sponsors than for him. He died on Jan. 4, 1920.

Benito  Pérez Galdós