- Psychology, Religion, and Ethics in Galdós' Novels: The Quest for Authenticity
Arnold M. Penuel is a respected scholar of nineteenth-century Spanish literature who has written extensively and well on many facets of the novels of Benito Pérez Galdós. His new book is a collection of three essays published previously, five additional ones, and a brief but suggestive conclusion that synthesizes from Galdós' [End Page 726] entire novelistic production the importance of the three aspects indicated in the book's title. The theoretical underpinning of Penuel's critical methods comes from the ideas of some key nineteenty-century philosophers and pre-Freudian psychologists (Ludwig Feuerbach, Wilhelm Wundt) and from Freud and his disciples.
The best features of this collection of essays are their coherence and clarity and the fact that they represent virtually all the phases of Galdós' novelistic production: the "thesis" novels (Doña Perfecta, Gloria, La familia de León Roch), naturalism (Miau), realism (La incógnita and Realidad), spiritualism (Nazarin, Halma, and Misericordia), and the mythical-symbolic novel (Casandra).
What is less satisfactory, however, is the fact that as cogent and well-stated as Penuel's studies are, the book contains little that is new within the Galdoós critical canon. The psychological and thematic approaches have less to offer us than we can find in postformalist criticism. Furthermore, neither the previously published studies nor the "new" ones take into account bibliography approaching the book's publication date of 1987. When Penuel is confronted with ironic discourse or intertextuality, even when an awareness of these fundamental aspects of Galdós' art is indicated in the notes and bibliography, he tends to ignore them. The text is also marred to an unnecessary degree by errata in the typescript that could have been corrected.
Limitations notwithstanding, Galdós scholars will find various useful analyses in this book. For example, in Chapter One Penuel demonstrates that Doña Perfecta is more than a presentation of religious fanaticism: it is also a profound psychological study; language is the first casualty in the Orbajosan's "reinvention of reality"; Cayetano Polentino is not merely an "erudito chiflado" but is in fact the chief architect of the "spurious historical consciousness that falsifies the Orbajosan view of reality in the present." The critic's convincing conclusions include the following: Galdós' awareness of both the conscious and unconscious processes of human psychology, the assertion that religion was the force "that more than any other formed—or deformed—the character of the Spaniard and his society," the novelist's exploration of "the mysterious nature of reality," his notion that the reform of religion and society "must begin with the individual," and much evidence that Galdós was "an ethical pragmatist."