- Realism as Resistance: Romanticism and Authorship in Galdós, Clarín, and Baroja
The volume at hand emerges from the recent accent on market competition in the literary arena, and from the need to shade in with greater subtlety the differences between literary categories of the past, in this case romanticism and realism. Stemming from the reasonable claim that romanticism was never truly over, but lived on in many forms in the fiction of late-nineteenth century realism and beyond, the study focuses on the "character-author" or "author-protagonist." This figure is examined in selected novels of Galdós, Clarín, and Baroja because "[T]hese three external authors lived the dichotomy of competing literary styles, navigating a course of textual production that straddles realism and romanticism, and working through their divided loyalties by way of the internal authors of their novels" (13). In particular, competition from French novels and from emergent women writers and the changing tastes of a growing Spanish readership may have prompted these writers to discard the romantic residue that would have been inevitable from their own backgrounds and to pursue a more critically and culturally aware project. Yet if they were to completely abandon romanticism, the impulse for heroism, seduction, self-expression, and other plot motivations would be lost.
The first three chapters ably demonstrate these principles at work in Galdós's First Series of Episodios nacionales (1873–75). Chosen for their treatment of a pivotal time in the formation of a modern Spanish national identity, in these ten novels the narrator "battles for autonomy by defending his status as authority and author, but also by coming to terms with the interior demons of romanticism, a heritage he learns he cannot escape by projecting it onto others" (24). The study meticulously follows Gabriel Araceli as the novels do (narrated by himself as an old man), from the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 in which he fought the English, coming full circle to the Battle of the Arapiles, in which he fought alongside them. Somewhat less convincing is the chapter on Baroja's La lucha por la vida (1904). The leap in time frame is not accompanied by any update on the renewed relevance and special developments in the romanticism vs. realism debate for the dawn of the twentieth century and advent of a new generation of writers. Anarchism is quickly subsumed under the rubric of romanticism with little qualification. The writing is also [End Page 443] less compelling, with phrasing such as, "[H]e [Manuel Alcázar] erases his authorial 'I' when he gives up romanticism, and this authorial self is, in some sense, the self itself" (141).
For the purpose of placing the template of realism vs. romanticism over La Regenta (1884–85), such disparate modes as religious fervor, sentimentality, poetic idealism, melodrama, and worldly passion are grouped together as romantic. By this chapter it becomes clear that the loose definition of romanticism is a weakness of the volume, as well as its refusal to theorize romanticism or the associated concepts of idealism, irrationality, and quixotism. Since romantic idealism is identified as whatever does not fit the mold of realism or pragmatism, it turns into a catchall that fails to enlighten about the true divergences in thought that enliven the dialogical novels being studied. Correlative to this is a reluctance to contextualize these debates either for the time of writing or the milieu of the narrative focus, except for the brief grounding in relevant aspects of nineteenth-century Spanish literary history provided in the introduction.
The highlight of the study, nonetheless, is the close reading of La Regenta that traces the struggle for authorship among each of the points on the romantic triangle formed by Fermín, Álvaro, and Ana. Each one attempts to manipulate the discourse in order to write a story of his or own choosing; for Fermín it is the possibility of crafting a poetically idealized beloved, for Álvaro the enactment of a virile power-grabbing and seductive Don Juan is primary, while...