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To speak of the modernist fictions of Ramón Pérez de Ayala is to invite at once reevaluation of both his fictions and modernism, something John Macklin does adroitly throughout this compact, densely-referenced study. Although a wealth of recent criticism has been dedicated to expanding our understanding of modernism and although the old restrictive definitions of modernismo within the context of Hispanic letters have now been abandoned by most scholars, nevertheless, it was not so long ago that the phrase prosa modernista called to mind La gloria de don Ramiro for many Hispanists. Macklin's Preface, Introduction, and first chapter explain lucidly and elegantly (one is tempted to say, once and for all) why previous rigid definitions and the distinctions formerly drawn between the Generation of '98 and modernismo are of scant use to us today and why realist and modernist fictions do not represent polar opposites but rather different aspects of an ever-evolving literary tradition. As Macklin puts it: "We have seen that the Realist novel contains elements which come to artistic fruition in the Modernist novel and that the Modernist novel relies on conventions which are part of the Realist legacy." To prove this, Macklin begins with a fresh reading of Galdos, traditionally considered a monument of realism, seeing even in early works like Doña Perfecta prefiguration of modernism in the characters' "fixed emotional stance which distorts their perception of reality," a trend he finds even more pronounced in Galdós' later novels. He then explains that he considers the self-consciousness of Pío Baroja's Camino de perfección, Unamuno's Amor y pedagogía and Niebla, Valle-Inclán's Sonata de Otoño, and Azorín's La voluntad as a clearly modernist element. [End Page 364]
The first chapter ends by isolating six features of modernist fiction-profound theoretical concern, a search for alternate modes of ordering, exploration of consciousness, self-referentiality, appropriation of and relation to existing literary modes and texts, and concern with language. The succeeding chapters follow these general aspects through five distinct readings of the author's canon, five views of the garden through different windows.
In "The Integral Novel" Macklin examines the labels novela-ensayo and novela intelectual normally applied to Pérez de Ayala and finds them insufficient. Pointing out that Pérez de Ayala's poetics of fiction are better discerned from his novels than his criticism, Macklin concludes that the real challenge of modernism is the "artistic problem of finding a form that will convey the complexity of reality, and yet retain an artistic unity and coherence."
In an elegant third chapter, "The Modern Palimpsest: Myth and Literary Tradition," Maeklin begins with Eliot's notions on tradition and the individual talent and then examines the use of myth and allusion in Pérez de Ayala's novels. Macklin does not mention David Lodge (whose critical works are cited frequently elsewhere in the text) here, but one cannot help feeling that Lodge's fictional Persse McGarrigle (inventor, if not writer, of a thesis on the effect of T. S. Eliot on Shakespeare) would approve heartily of this reading of texts as palimpsests.
The psychology of the novels, alienation, and integration are discussed in Chapter Four, and Chapter Five studies their narrative introversion, denying the claim that pastiche and parody prevail. Chapter Six deals with the fictional heterocosm, language, and structure. In the Conclusion Macklin traces Pérez de Ayala's concern with consciousness and the integrating tendency of modernism and ends by placing his subject alongside Joyce and Proust (whom the Spaniard ironically considered "el tope . . . de aquel callejon sin salida de la novela psicológica") and also Gide, Unamuno, and Borges, based on their mutual concern with the nature of fictional illusion.
The book is an essential work on the fiction of Pérez de Ayala and a major contribution to the reforging of theories on modernism. And unlike the paradox posed by the title (based...