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Benito Pérez Galdós as a Dramatic Writer

By S. GRISWOLD MORLEY, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Spanish in the University of California

1921


 

I. The Background.—The closing decades of the nineteenth century saw a curious state of affairs in the drama of Spain. They were years when dogmatic naturalism, with its systematically crude presentation of life, was at its height in France, and France, during the nineteenth century, had more often than not set the fashion for Spain in literary matters. The baldness of Zola and the pessimism of de Maupassant were quickly taken up on the French stage, and Henri Becque and the Théâtre libre served slices of raw life to audiences fascinated by a tickling horror. The same naturalism had, indeed, crossed the Pyrenees and found a few half-hearted disciples among Spanish novelists, but, on the whole, Spanish writers resolutely refused to follow this particular French current.

During the years from 1874 to 1892, when Europe was permeated with the new doctrine, the stage of Spain was dominated by one man, who gave no sign that he had ever heard the name of Zola. José Echegaray held the audiences of Madrid for twenty years with his hectic and rhetorical plays. The great dramatic talent of this mathematician and politician drew upon the cheap tricks of Scribe and the appalling situations of Sardou, and combined them with a few dashes of Ibsenian thesis and the historical pundonor, to form a dose which would harrow the vitals of the most hardened playgoer. Only a gift of sonorous, rather hollow lyrism and a sincere intention to emphasize psychology saved the work of this belated Romanticist from being the cheapest melodrama.

Romanticism is never wholly out of season in Spain, and that is doubtless why the art of Echegaray held its own so long, for it was neither novel nor especially perfect. In spite of the solitary and unrewarded efforts of Enrique Gaspar, a Spanish John the Baptist of realism in the drama, the reaction was slow in coming, and the year 1892 may be said to mark its arrival. That was the date of Realidad, Pérez Galdós' first drama. Two years later Jacinto Benavente made his début with El nido ajeno. In 1897 the brothers Quintero produced their first characteristic work. It will be seen that although the contemporary era of literature in Spain is generally considered to date from the Spanish-American war, the remarkable efflorescence of her drama was well under way before that event. The new school, of which Pérez Galdós is admitted to be the father, is a school of literary and social progress, vitally interested in a new Spain, where the conditions of life may be more just.

II. Galdós Turns from Novel to Drama.—When Realidad was performed, Galdós was the most popular novelist in Spain, the peer of any in his own generation, and the master of the younger men of letters. He was known as a radical, an anti-clerical, who exercised a powerful influence upon the thought of his nation, but, above all, as a marvelous creator of fictional characters. He had revealed Spain to herself in nineteen novels of manners, and evoked her recent past in twenty historical novels. He had proved, in short, that in his own sphere he was one of the great vital forces of modern times.

What persuaded this giant of the novel to depart from the field of his mastery and attempt the drama, in which he was a novice? Was it because he desired a more direct method of influencing public opinion in Spain? Was it, as Sra. Pardo Bazán suggests, with the hope of infusing new life into the Spanish national drama, which had been too long in a rut? Both these motives may have been present, but I do not doubt that the chief was the pure creative urge, the eagerness of an explorer to conquer an unknown region. The example of certain French novelists, his contemporaries, was not such as to encourage him. Zola, Daudet, de Maupassant, the de Goncourts, had all tried the drama with indifferent success or failure. But Galdós held the theory that novel and drama are not essentially different arts, that the rules of one are not notably divergent from the rules of the other. Few or no dramatic critics will subscribe to this opinion, which explains most of the weaknesses of Galdós' plays.

Again, Galdós had been working toward a dramatic form in his novels, by the increasing use of pure dialog and the exclusion of narrative and description. This tendency culminated in the novelas dialogadas, El abuelo and Realidad, and, later, in Casandra and La razón de la sinrazón. The inner reason for the gradual shift toward dialog was increasing interest in human motives and character, and a corresponding distaste for colorful description. Galdós had never, like Pereda, taken great delight in word pictures per se, though his early novels contain some admirable ones, and as he grew older his genius was more and more absorbed in the study of man.

His transition to the drama was not, then, so abrupt as might appear. But two things were against his success. First, few writers have approached the stage with so poor a practical equipment. His friends assure us that, cut off as Galdós was from social diversions by his continuous writing, he had hardly attended the theater once from his university days till the performance of Realidad, although it is true that his lack of practical experience was compensated at first by the personal advice of a trained impresario, don Emilio Mario. Second, the drama is above all the genre of condensation, and Galdós, even as a novelist, never condensed. His art was not that of the lapidary, nor even that of the short story writer. He has few novelas cortas to his credit, and he required pages and pages to develop a situation or a character.

III. His Dramatic Technique.—His Success.—It is not to be wondered at, then, that Galdós found himself hampered by the time limit of the play. He uttered now and then rather querulous protests against the conventions (artificial, as he regarded them) which prevented him from developing his ideas with the richness of detail to which he was accustomed. Such complaints are only confessions of weakness on the part of an author. One has only to study the first five pages of any comedy of the brothers Quintero to see how a genuine theatrical talent can make each character define itself perfectly with its first few speeches. To such an art as this Galdós brought a fertile imagination, the habit of the broad canvas, a love of multiplying secondary figures, and of studying the minutiae of their psychology. Only by sheer genius and power of ideas could he have succeeded in becoming, as he did, a truly great dramatist. Naturally enough, he never attained the technical skill of infinitely lesser playwrights. His usual defects are, as one would suppose, clumsy exposition, superfluous minor characters and scenes, mistakes in counting upon a dramatic effect where the audience found none, and tedious dilution of a situation. Bad motivation and unsustained characters are rarer. The unity of time is observed in Pedro Minio and Alceste; the unity of place, in Voluntad and El tacaño Salomón.

Galdós was not an imitator of specific foreign models. His first play, Realidad, was a pure expression of his own genius. But it placed him at once in the modern school which aims to discard the factitious devices of the "well-made" play, and to present upon the stage a picture of life approximately as it is. If he frequently deviated from this ideal (the farthest in La de San Quintín), it was due more to his innate romanticism, of which we shall speak later, than to a straining for effect. Never, except in the play just named, did he restore to the stock coincidences of Scribe and Pinero.

In the modern drama the conduct of the plot is of secondary importance, and character, ideas and dialog become the primary elements. In the first two Galdós needed no lessons. In naturalness and intensity of dialog he never reached the skill which distinguishes the pure dramatic talents of contemporary Spain: Benavente, the Quintero brothers, Linares Rivas. Galdós' dialog varies considerably in vitality, and it may happen that it is spirited and nervous in some plays otherwise weak (Electra, Celia en los infiernos), while in others, intrinsically more important (Amor y ciencia, Mariucha), it inclines toward rhetoric. Realidad and El abuelo, however, are strong plays strongly written. Galdós never succeeded in forging an instrument perfectly adapted to his needs, like the Quinteros' imitation of the speech of real life, or Benavente's conventional literary language. It took him long to get rid of the old-fashioned soliloquy and aside. In his very last works, however, in Sor Simona and Santa Juana de Castilla, as in the novels El caballero encantado and La razón de la sinrazón, Galdós, through severe self-discipline, attained a fluidity and chastity of style which place him among the most distinguished masters of pure Castilian.

But at the same time signs of flagging constructive energy began to appear. Pedro Minio and the plays after it reveal a certain slothfulness of working out. The writer shrinks from the labor required to extract their full value from certain situations and characters, and he is prone to find the solution of the plot in a deus ex machina. Fortunately, the last drama, Santa Juana de Castilla, does not suffer from such weaknesses, and is, in its way, as perfect a structure as El abuelo.

Galdós experienced almost every variety of reception from audiences. It is not recorded that any play of his was ever hissed off the stage, but Gerona ended in absolute silence, and was not given after the first night. Los condenados was nearly as unsuccessful. His greatest triumph was at the first performance of Electra, when the author was carried home on the shoulders of his admirers. La de San Quintín and El abuelo were not far behind. But neither success nor failure made the dramatist swerve a hair's breadth in his methods. Firmly serene in his consciousness of artistic right, he kept on his way with characteristic stubbornness and impassivity. Only on two occasions did he allow the criticisms of the press to goad him into a reply. In the prefaces to Los condenados and Alma y vida he defended those plays and explained his aims and methods with entire self-control and urbanity. But he never deigned to cater to applause. The attack upon Los condenados did not deter him from employing a similar symbolism and similar motifs again; and, after the tremendous hit of Electra, he deliberately chose, for Alma y vida, his next effort, a subject and style which should discourage popular applause. Such was the modesty, unconsciousness and intellectual probity of this man.

IV. The Development of Galdós.—M. E. Martinenche, writing in 1906, classified the dramatic work of Galdós into three periods, and as his classification has sometimes been quoted, it may be worth while to repeat it. In the first period, according to him, which extends from Realidad to Los condenados, Galdós presented broad moral theses, and accustomed his countrymen to witness on the stage the clash of ideas instead of that of swords. Then (Voluntad to Alma y vida) he narrowed his subjects so as to present matters of purely national interest. In the succeeding works (Mariucha to Amor y ciencia), he strove to unite Spanish color with philosophic breadth, and to lay aside even the appearance of polemic. Such a classification is ingenious, but, we feel, untenable. Aside from the fact that M. Martinenche was not acquainted with Galdós' third play, Gerona, which does not fit into his scheme, it seems apparent that there is no essential difference in localization between La de San Quintín of the first period and Mariucha of the third; and that the former has no more general thesis than Voluntad, of the second. And later plays, such as Casandra of 1910, so closely allied to Electra, have come to disturb the arrangement.

The only division by time which it is safe to attempt must be very general. No one will dispute that in his last years Galdós rose to a less particular, a more broad and poetic vision, to describe which we cannot do better than to quote some words of Gómez de Baquero. "The last works of Galdós, which belong to his allegorical manner, offer a sharp contrast to the intense realism, so plastic and so picturesque," of earlier writings. First he mastered inner motivation and minute description of external detail, and from that mastery he passed to "the art, rather vague and diffuse, though lofty and noble, of allegories, of personifications of ideas, of symbols." This tendency appeared even as early as Miau (1888), then in Electra, and more strongly in Alma y vida, in Bárbara, and in most of the later plays. "Tired of imitating the concrete figures of life, Galdós rose to the region of ideas. His spirit passed from the contemplation of the external to the representation of the inward life of individuals, and took delight in wandering in that serene circle where particular accidents are only shadows projected by the inner light of each person and of each theme. His style became poetic, a Pythagorean harmony, a distant music of ideas." These words apply especially to Alma y vida, Bárbara, Sor Simona, and Santa Juana de Castilla, but they indicate in general Galdós' growing simplicity of manner and his increasing interest in purely moral qualities.

V. The Subject-matter of His Plays.—Rather than by time, it is better to classify Galdós' plays by their subject-matter, although the different threads are often tangled. Galdós had three central interests in all his work, novels and dramas alike: the study of characters for their own sake; the national problems of Spain; the philosophy of life.

1. Character Study.—"Del misterio de las conciencias se alimentan las almas superiores," said Victoria in La loca de la casa (IV, 7), and that phrase may serve as a guide to all his writings that are not purely historical. The study of the human conscience, not propaganda, was the central interest of the early novel, Doña Perfecta, just as it was in Electra, and to a far greater degree in works of broader scope.

Yet the statement, often made, that Galdós was a realist, as if he were primarily an observer, a transcriber of life, requires to be modified where the dramas are concerned. Pure realism is present in his dramatic work, but it does not occupy anything like the predominant place which some suppose. A "keen, minute, subtle study of the manners of humble folk" (Azorín) formed, indeed, the backbone of certain novels, but in the later period, to which the plays belong, it was already overshadowed by other interests. In the dramas, realism is usually abandoned to the secondary characters and the minor scenes. For genre studies of a purely observed type one may turn to the picture of a dry-goods store in Voluntad, to the parasites and the children in El abuelo, to the peasants in Doña Perfecta and Santa Juana de Castilla, and to other details, but hardly to any crucial scene or front-rank personage. So too, Galdós' humor, the almost unfailing accompaniment of his realism, is reserved for the background. Only in Pedro Minio, the sole true comedy, is the chief figure a comic type. Not a single play of Galdós, not even Realidad, can be called a genuine realistic drama.

To demonstrate was Galdós' aim, not to entertain or to reproduce life. Hence, in the studies of unusual or mystical types, in which he grew steadily more interested, one always feels the presence of a cerebral element; that is, one feels that these persons are not so much plastic, living beings as creations of a superior imagination. In this respect also Galdós resembles Balzac. The plays having the largest proportion of realism are the most convincing. That is why Realidad, with its immortal three, La loca de la casa, with the splendidly-conceived Pepet, Bárbara, which contains extraordinarily successful studies of complex characters, and especially El abuelo, with the lion of Albrit and the fine group of cleanly visualized secondary characters, are the ones which seem destined to live upon the stage.

We should like to emphasize the cerebral or intellectual quality of Galdós' work, because it has been often overlooked. It contrasts sharply with the naturalness of Palacio Valdés, the most human of Spain's recent novelists. Nothing shows this characteristic of Galdós more clearly than his weakness in rendering the passion of love. The Quinteros, in their slightest comedy, will give you a love-scene warm, living, straight from the heart. But the Galdós of middle age seemed to have lost the freshness of his youthful passions, and Doña Perfecta, precisely because its story dated from his youth, is the only play which contains a really affecting love interest. Read the passional scenes of Mariucha, as of La fiera, Voluntad, or of any other, and you will see that the intellectual interest is always to the fore. Examine the scene in Voluntad (II, 9) where Isidora, who has been living with a lover and who has plucked up strength to break away from him, is sought out by him and urged to return. The motif is precisely the same as that used by the Quinteros in the third act of Las flores (Gabriel and Rosa María), but a comparison of the handling will show that all the emotional advantage is in favor of the Quinteros. Galdós depicts a purely intellectual battle between two wills; while the creations of the Andalusian brothers vibrate with the intense passion of the human heart. For the same reason, Galdós, in remodeling Euripides' Alceste, was unable to clothe the queen with the tenderness of the original, and substituted a rational motive, the desire to preserve Admetus for the good of his kingdom, in the place of personal affection. The neglect of the sex problem in the dramas is indeed striking: in Amor y ciencia, Voluntad and Bárbara it enters as a secondary interest, but Realidad is the only play based upon it.

This may be the place to advert to Galdós' romantic tendencies, which French critics have duly noted. In his plays Galdós, when imaginative, was incurably romantic, almost as romantic as Echegaray, and proof of it lies on every side. Sra. Pardo Bazán coined his formula exactly when she christened his dramatic genre "el realismo romántico-filosófico" (Obras, VI, 233). Many of the leading characters are pure romantic types: the poor hero of unknown parentage, Víctor of La de San Quintín; the outlaw beloved of a noble lady, José León, of Los condenados; the redeemed courtesan, Paulina, of Amor y ciencia. In his fondness for the reapparition of departed spirits (Realidad, Electra, Casandra, novela), a device decidedly out of place in the modern drama, the same tendency crops out. Some of the speeches in Gerona (II, 12) might have been written in 1835; and the plot of La fiera dates from the same era.

All this shows that Galdós was not, in the direction of pure realism, an original creator. The Quintero brothers and Benavente excel him in presenting a clear-cut profile of life, informed by a vivifying human spirit.

2. National Problems.—Galdós is not the most skilled technician among the Spaniards who discuss, through the drama, the burning problems of the day. Linares Rivas excels him in this rather ephemeral branch of dramaturgy. But Galdós has the great advantage of breadth. He is never didactic in the narrow sense. He sometimes hints at a moral in the last words of a play, but he is never so lacking in artistic feeling as to expound his thesis in set terms, like Echegaray and Brieux. The intention speaks from the action.

Galdós has said that the three great evils which afflict Spain to-day are the power of the Church, caciquismo or political bossism, and la frescura nacional or brazen indifference to need of improvement. All three he tried to combat. In spite of the common belief, however, his plays—thesis plays as they nearly all are in one way or another—seldom attack these evils directly. Caciquismo is an issue only in Mariucha and Alma y vida, and in them occupies no more than a niche in the background. Sloth and degeneracy are a more frequent butt, and Voluntad, Mariucha, La de San Quintín, and, in less degree, La loca de la casa, hold up to scorn the indolent members of the bourgeoisie or aristocracy, and spur them into action. From this motive, perhaps, Galdós devoted so much space to domestic finance. The often made comparison with Balzac holds good also in the fluency with which he handled complicated money transactions on paper, and in the business embarrassment which overtook him in real life. He had a lurking affection for a spendthrift: witness Pedro Minio and El tacaño Salomón.

Against the organization of the Catholic Church Galdós harbored intense feeling, yet he never displayed the bitterness which clericals are wont to impute to him. In view of his flaming zeal to remedy the backwardness of Spain, a zeal so great as to force him into politics, which he detested, Galdós' moderation is noteworthy. The dramas in which the clerical question appears are Electra, and Casandra. Doña Perfecta attacks, not the Church, but religious fanaticism, just as La fiera and Sor Simona attack political fanaticism; and the dramatist is so far from showing bias that he allows each side to appear in its own favorable light. Thus, in Casandra, Doña Juana, the bigot, is a more attractive figure personally than the greedy heirs. Doña Perfecta gives the impression of an inevitable tragic conflict between two stages of culture, rather than of a murder instigated by the malice of any one person. One can even detect a growing feeling of kindliness toward the clergy themselves: there was a time when Galdós would not have chosen a priest to be the good angel of his lovers, as he did in Mariucha.

For Galdós was not only by nature impartial, but he was fundamentally religious. It may be necessary to stress this fact, but only for those who are not well acquainted with his work. If the direct testimony of his friend Clarín be needed, it is there (Obras completas, I, 34); but careful attention to his writings could leave no doubt of it. Máximo in Electra repeats, "I trust in God"; Los condenados and Sor Simona are full of Christian spirit, and the last play, Santa Juana de Castilla, is practically a confession of faith.

The problems which concern Galdós the dramatist are, then, not so often the purely local ones of the Peninsula as broader social questions. The political tolerance which it is the aim of La fiera to induce, is not needed by Spain alone, though perhaps there more urgent; the comity of social classes eulogized in La de San Quintín, the courage and energy of Voluntad, the charity of Celia en los infiernos, the thrift of El tacaño Salomón, and the divine love of Sor Simona, would profit any nation. The loftier moral studies which we shall approach in the next section are, of course, still more universal.

One point should be made clear at once, however, and that is that Galdós, with regard to social questions, was neither a radical nor an original thinker. When one considers the sort of ideas which had been bandied about Europe under the impulse of Ibsen, Tolstoy and others,—the Nietzschean doctrine of self-expression at any cost, the right of woman to live her own life regardless of convention, the new theories of governmental organization or lack of organization—one cannot regard Galdós as other than a social conservative, who could be considered a radical nowhere outside of Spain. In how many plays does a conventional marriage furnish the facile cure for all varieties of social affliction (Voluntad, La de San Quintín, La fiera, Mariucha, etc.)! The only socialist whom he brings upon the stage—Víctor of La de San Quintín—has received an expensive education from his father, and, though compelled to do manual labor, it is apparent that he is not concerned with any far-reaching rational reorganization of society, but only with the betterment of his own position. In Celia en los infiernos, a mere broadcasting of coin by the wealthy will relieve all suffering; in El tacaño Salomón, the death of a rich relative lifts the spendthrift out of straits before he has reformed. It is clear that in this order of ideas Galdós is strictly conventional.

Various possible attitudes may be adopted by one who sees political and social evils, and desires to abolish them. The natural conservative dreams of a benevolent despotism as the surest path to improvement. This attitude Galdós never held, for he was born an optimist, and believed in the regenerative power of human nature. The natural liberal believes in a reform obtainable through radical propaganda in writing and at the polls. Such a man was the Galdós of the early novels and of some of the dramas,—the Galdós of La de San Quintín, of Voluntad, of Mariucha, full of exhortations to labor and change as the hope of redemption. Then, there is a third attitude, likely to be that of older persons, whom sad experience has led to despair of political action, and to believe that society can be improved only through a conversion of the race to loyalty and brotherly love; in short, through practical application of the Christian virtues. This change in Galdós' point of view was foreshadowed in Alma y vida, where one tyranny (absolutism) is replaced by another (parliamentarism); without soul, "wickedness, corruption, injustice continue to reign among men." In his old age the reformer appeared to renounce his faith in vote or revolution, and to place himself by the side of Tolstoy. The note which rings with increasing clearness is that of charity, of the healing power of love. There is something pathetic in the spectacle of this powerful genius who, as the shadow of death drew near him, became more and more absorbed in spiritual problems, and less in practical ones. Amor y ciencia, Celia en los infiernos, Sor Simona, Santa Juana de Castilla, reiterate that love is the only force which can relieve the suffering and injustice of the world. And, in harmony with the gentle theme of the last plays, their form becomes simple and even naïve, while the characters are enveloped in a vaporous softness which suffuses them with a halo of humane divinity.

3. Galdós' Philosophy.—Before passing to a consideration of Galdós' ideas, we should examine for a moment his manner of conveying them. He was able to express himself in forceful, direct language when he chose, but he came to prefer the indirect suggestion of symbolism.

Symbolism, of course, is nothing but a device by which a person or idea is made to do double duty; it possesses, besides its obvious, external meaning, another meaning parallel to that, but hidden, and which must be supplied by the intelligence of the reader or spectator.

The interpretation of a symbol may be more or less obvious, and the esoteric meaning may be conveyed in a variety of ways. Galdós has expressed his opinion about the legitimate uses of symbolism in his prefaces to Los condenados and Alma y vida, in passages capital for the understanding of his methods. In the earlier work he said, "To my mind, the only symbolism admissible in the drama is that which consists in representing an idea with material forms and acts." This he did himself in the famous kneading scene of La de San Quintín, in the fusion of metal in the third act of Electra, etc. "That the figures of a dramatic work should be personifications of abstract ideas, has never pleased me." Personified abstractions Galdós never did, we believe, employ in his plays, though critics have sometimes credited him with such a use. Nevertheless we should remember that precisely this kind of symbolism was very popular in Spain in the seventeenth century, and gave rise to the splendid literary art of the autos sacramentales. Galdós then goes on to refute the allegation of certain critics that he was influenced by Ibsen.

"I admire and enjoy," he says, "those of Ibsen's dramas which are sane and clear, but those generally termed symbolic have been unintelligible to me, and I have never found the pleasure in them which those may who can disentangle their intricate meaning." What a curious statement, in the light of the other preface, written eight years later! "Symbolism," he there wrote, "would not be beautiful if it were clear, with a solution which can be arrived at mechanically, like a charade. Leave it its dream-vagueness, and do not look for a logical explanation, or a moral like that of a child's tale. If the figures and acts were arranged to fit a key, those who observe them would be deprived of the joy of a personal interpretation.... Clearness is not a condition of art." Did Galdós change his mind in the interval between writing these two prefaces? I think not. The change merely illustrates the difference in viewpoint between an author and a reader. For very, very many persons in his audiences have regarded the symbolism of Los condenados (if it be there), of Electra, of Casandra, of Pedro Minio, of Santa Juana de Castilla, and especially of Alma y vida and Bárbara, with the same feeling of hopeless bewilderment which Galdós experienced when he read The Wild Duck, The Master-builder and The Lady from the Sea. To the creator his creation is clear and lovely.

Leaving aside the question of influence, it cannot be denied that the symbolism of Galdós has much in common with that of Ibsen. Both have the delightful vagueness which permits of diverse interpretations,—in Alma y vida the author was obliged to come to the rescue with his own version; in neither is the identification of person and idea carried so far that the character loses its definite human contour; and both are employed to convey a profound philosophy.

What is Galdós' philosophy? First and foremost, he believed that nothing in life is too insignificant or too wicked to be entirely despised. Sympathy with everything human stands out even above his keen indignation against those who oppress the unfortunate. A search through his works will reveal few figures wholly bad, too wicked to receive some touch of pity. César of La de San Quintín and Monegro of Alma y vida are probably the closest to stage villains, and this precisely because they are a part of the melodramatic elements of those plays, not of the central thought.

A corollary of his universal sympathy is the doctrine, not very profound or novel, that opposite qualities complement one another, and must be joined in order to give life a happy completeness. This thread runs through many plays, sometimes unobtrusively, as in La fiera, Amor y ciencia, La de San Quintín, sometimes erected into the dogma of primary concern, as in Alma y vida (the union of spirit and physical vigor), La loca de la casa (evil and good, selfishness and sacrifice), and Voluntad (practical sense and dreamy imagination).

This is one manifestation of that splendid impartiality, that impassiveness which enabled Galdós to retain his balance and serenity in the trials of a stormy and disastrous era. Another evidence of his desire to present both sides of each question is found in those dramas which appear to contradict one another. Pedro Minio supports literally, in a way to dishearten earnest toilers, the Biblical injunction to take no thought for the morrow, and to give away all that one has; but El tacaño Salomón teaches thrift. Most of Galdós' writing advocates change, advancement, rebellion against old forms; but Bárbara drives home the strange burden that all things must return to their primitive state. I do not add El abuelo, with its anti-determinist lesson, because Galdós never was a determinist; he never believed, as did Zola, that the secrets of heredity can be laid bare by a set of rules worked out by the human mind.

These citations prove, at least, that Galdós was careful not to be caught enslaved by any dogma, and they show, too, that he set no store by the letter of the law, and prized only the spirit. That is the secret of his fondness for the dangerous situation of the beneficent lie, or justifiable false oath, which brought him severe criticism when he first used it in Los condenados (II, 16), and which nevertheless he repeated in an equally conspicuous climax in Sor Simona (II, 10). Galdós defended the lie through which good may come, in the preface to Los condenados, with reasoning like that of a trained casuist; and such a lie appears hypocritical upon the lips of Pantoja (Electra, IV, 8), though it is not so intended. As a dramatic theme the idea is not entirely novel, for Ibsen, in the Wild Duck, had said that happiness may be based upon a lie. As usual, Galdós provided his own antidote, for, with what appeared a strange inconsistency, and was really a desire for balance, the lesson of the very drama, Los condenados, is that "man lives surrounded by lies, and can find salvation only by embracing the truth, and accepting expiation." This idea also can be paralleled in Ibsen and Tolstoy, but it was overbold to exhibit both sides of the shield in the same play.

There still remain the major threads in the broad and varied fabric of Galdós' ideology. Stoicism, that characteristic Spanish attitude of mind, allured him often, and he succeeded in giving dramatic interest to the least emotional of philosophies. In Realidad and Mariucha is found the most explicit setting forth of that theory of life which enables an oppressed spirit to rise above its conditioning circumstances. At times Galdós appeared to dally with Buddhism: at least some critics have so explained the reincarnation of doña Juana in Casandra, novela. Another tenet of Buddhism, or, as some would have it, of Krausism, was often in Galdós' thought, and is emphasized particularly in Los condenados and Bárbara. Every sin of man must be at some time expiated; and not alone sins actually committed against the statutes, but sins of thought, sins against ideal justice, which is far more exacting than any human laws.

All these phases of thought spring from one mother-idea, the perfectioning of the human soul. For Galdós, in spite of the unfortunate times in which his life fell, in spite of the clearness with which he observed the character of those times, was an unconquerable optimist. He believed that Spain could be remade, or he would not have worked to that end. He believed that humanity is capable of better impulses than it ordinarily exhibits, and his life was devoted to calling forth generous and charitable sentiments in men. Whether through stoicism, which is the beautifying of the individual soul, or through divine and all-embracing love, which is the primal social virtue, Galdós worked in a spirit of the purest self-sacrifice for the betterment of his nation and of humanity. He had grasped a truth which Goethe knew, but which Ibsen and his followers overlooked—that the price of advance, either in the individual or in society, is self-control.

VI. The Position of Galdós as a Dramatist.—The enemies of Pérez Galdós have often declared that he had no dramatic gifts, and should never have gone outside his sphere as a novelist. Other distinguished writers, among them Benavente, consider him one of the greatest dramatists of modern times. The truth lies close to the second estimate, surely. Galdós will always be thought of first as a novelist, since as a novelist he labored during his most fertile years, and the novel best suited his luxuriant genius. But he possessed a very definite theatrical sense, and it would be possible to show, if space permitted, how it enabled him to achieve success in the writing of difficult situations, and how he never avoided the difficult. Had Galdós entered the dramatic field earlier in life, he might have been a more skilled technician, but as it is, El abuelo and Bárbara are there to prove him a creative dramatist of the first order.

From what has been said in the preceding sections, it will be evident that Pérez Galdós does not fit exactly into any single one of the convenient classifications which dramatic criticism has formulated. His genius was too exuberant, too varied. Of the three stages which mark the progress of the modern drama, romanticism, naturalism, and symbolism, the second, in its strict dogmatic form, affected Galdós not at all. Realism, in the good old sense of the Spanish costumbristas, furnishes a background for his plays, but only a background. A picture of Spanish society does emerge from the dramas, indeed. It is a society in which there are great extremes of wealth and poverty, in which the old titled families are generally degenerate and slothful, and the middle classes display admirable spiritual qualities, but are too often unthrifty and inefficient. Of the laboring classes, Galdós has little to say. Bitter religious and political intolerance creates an atmosphere of hatred which a few exceptional characters strive to dissipate. Galdós, however, was seldom willing to face these conditions frankly and tell us what he saw and what must result from such conditions. In the later period of his life, to which the plays belong, the sincere study of reality was swept away by a combination of romanticism and symbolism which lifted the author into the realm of pure speculation, giving his work a universal philosophic value as it lost in the representation of life. From the spectacle of his unfortunate land he fled willingly to the contemplation of general truth. El abuelo, because it unites a faithful picture of local society and well-observed figures with a sublime thought, is beyond doubt Galdós' greatest drama.

Menéndez y Pelayo pointed out that Galdós lacks the lyric flame which touches with poignant emotion the common things of life. He did not entirely escape the rhetoric of his race. And he was curiously little interested in the passions of sex—too little to be altogether human, perhaps. But his work appears extraordinarily vast and many-sided when one compares it with that of his French contemporaries of the naturalistic drama, who observed little except sex. He was not an exquisite artist; he was, judged by the standards of the day, naïve, unsophisticated, old-fashioned. But he was a creative giant, a lofty soul throbbing with sympathy for humanity, and with yearning for the infinite.

Galdós wrote but five tragedies: Realidad, Los condenados, Doña Perfecta, Alma y vida, Santa Juana de Castilla. Of them, Doña Perfecta creates the deepest, most realistic tragic emotion, the tragic emotion of a thwarted prime of life; and after it, Santa Juana de Castilla, the tragedy of lonely old age. El abuelo and Bárbara, also, in some way intimate the mysterious and crushing power of natural conditions,—the conception which is at the heart of modern tragedy. Galdós attained that serene vision of the inevitableness of sorrow too seldom to be ranked with the foremost of genuine realists. Instead, he reaches a very eminent position as an imaginative philosopher. 

Benito  Pérez Galdós