Sunday, October 26th, 2008
Before the movie this afternoon, Ellen and I swung by Montclair Book Center. Ellen picked up Anne of Green Gables, which she has been wanting to read with Sylvia. I went looking to see if they had cheap used copies of any Saramago titles that I haven't read, and found The Stone Raft; and while I was browsing through the used books I found something I'd never heard of before but that looks interesting: Fortunata and Jacinta, by Benito Pérez Galdós (tr. Agnes Moncy Gullón, 1986) -- a weighty 19th-century novel set in Madrid. I'm looking forward to reading it -- the first couple of pages are good reading -- and speculating that it may give me some background for Saramago and other modern Iberian novelists.
A nice passage, from the end of the first chapter. The narrator is describing how Juanito Santa Cruz changed from an avid reader and thinker in college to an anti-intellectual adult:
Living was relating to others, enjoying and suffering, desiring, hating and loing. Reading was artificial borrowed life... He claimed that the difference between these two ways of living was like the difference between eating a chop yourself and having someone tell you how and when someone else ate it, making the story a really good one of course -- describing the expression on the person's face, his pleasure from chewing the meat, his satisfaction upon swallowing it, and then his placid digestion.
Sunday, November 9th, 2008
As I started reading the second section of Fortunata and Jacinta, "Santa Cruz and Arnáiz: A Historical View of Madrid's Business World," I got kind of spaced out -- this is looking like a long bit of dry exposition that would give me a flavor of the novel's setting maybe, but without contributing much to my understanding of the characters -- this is what I said to myself and I started reading from a distance, not engaging myself in the text. (It did not help that there's been a long break since I read the first section, so I had to be skipping back to remind myself of characters' names.) The text is certainly very dense, and requires a good bit of effort to maintain engagement with.
But a few pages in, something just clicked when I realized Barbarita was going to grow up to be Juanito's mother. (Again, I would have known this right off if I'd been paying better attention.) Suddenly all the relationships start making sense, and I'm looking at the characters as individuals rather than as representatives of families. I want to quote a long piece from Chapter 2 of this section, but will put that below the fold.
The description of the (newly bourgeois) families' economic lives is holding my attention a lot better now; I'm anxious to find out why Don Baldomero will bequeath his business to his two nephews rather than to his son. Also very nice: Galdós' digression lamenting the disappearance of bright primary colors from Spanish fashion as the Spanish economy comes under the sway of the northern model -- "We're under the influence of northern Europe, and the blasted North imposes on us the grays that it gets from its smoky gray sky."
Read on for a picture of Barbarita's childhood.
↷read the rest...
Monday, November 10th, 2008
And now our attention must shift to the Dauphin's visit to his family's friend and humble servant, for if Juanito Santa Cruz had not paid that visit, this story would not have been written. Another story would surely have been written, because wherever man goes he carries his novel with him; but it would not have been this one.The narrator in Fortunata and Jacinta is an interesting case -- he refers to himself in the first person and makes reference to having met some of the characters, but he's an omniscient narrator. I'm hoping he will turn out to play a role in the story, besides as the person relating it -- it seems kind of unlikely but it would be nice.
Friday, November 14th, 2008
The narrative style in Fortunata and Jacinta (at least, as it is filtered through this particular translator) is not exactly my preferred style. As I said before, it takes a lot of work to keep myself engaged with what's going on in the story -- in the works of fiction I really love, entering into the world of the book is an effortless thing. But that said, I think Pérez Galdós has a really exceptionally keen eye for human nature -- his observations of Juanito and Jacinta are resonating with me in a really close-to-home way. I've had a couple of moments recently of nodding my head in agreement and in surprise at the power of his depictions of their relationship.
For instance, when Juanito was drunk on manzanilla and debasing himself before his new wife as a worthless cad for leaving Fortunata, I instinctively knew what was in his head -- I recognized times I've acted the same way and at the same time thought "Oh man, what an asshole he's being!" Now this is not a completely new thought -- I could have identified this behavior and its undesirability before reading this passage -- but I think Pérez Galdós' crystallization of this particular behavior pattern is striking and will stay with me. So nice from, I guess, a pædagogical angle.
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