restricted access Plumbing the Depths of Galdos’s View of Spain: The Confounding Accomplishment of José Bergamín
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Plumbing the Depths of Galdos’s View of Spain:
The Confounding Accomplishment of José Bergamín1

In Memoriam Nigel Dennis (1949–2013)

The name of José Bergamín (1895–1983), generally ranked as a minor poet of the Generation of 1927, is not one that contemporary scholars would automatically and firmly associate with Galdós criticism, yet barely two months ago, during the X Congreso Internacional Galdosiano, the novelist and writer, Juan José Armas Marcelo, pointedly did so in his plenary paper, as was reported on-line:

Relató cómo José Bergamín le dijo en los años 70 que las novelas de Galdós y los Episodios Nacionales “le parecieron rancios, viejos, y sobre todo, mal escritos.” “Pasados los años, volvió a releer a Galdós y quedó deslumbrado y, sobre todo, sorprendido porque en la primera lectura no había visto con ojos objetivos la grandeza literaria que significaba,” rememoró.


In fact, Armas Marcelo was repeating a “tópico” or common place in the history of Galdós criticism, however insignificant it may seem, to wit, that Bergamín—like a number of other members of the Generation of 1927—changed over time his evaluation of Galdós’s work. Equally representative of this “tradition” were the vagueness and confusion generated by Armas Marcelo’s words: it is not clear whether Bergamín revised his opinions in the 1970s or earlier, although, if the latter, the exact time is not indicated. Furthermore, the reasons Armas Marcelo gives for the revision merely relate to the perceived greatness of Galdós’s work on a second reading, whatever that may mean. None the less, his comments have the merit of being the reported words of Bergamín himself.

It was J. E. Varey (1), in his 1970 review of post-1920 views of Galdós, who first called attention to the initial—negative—phase in Bergamín’s opinions, as displayed in a 1933 article (see below), but without referring to the later ones, an omission that Stephen Gilman (249, note 4) subsequently followed. In his mammoth critical review of Galdosian criticism, Anthony Percival (86) did highlight Bergamín’s 1957 essay on Galdós and Goya as one of only a few on the topic, but failed to identify his 1933 dismissal of Galdós, merely noting that like other writers between 1920–35, he tended to ignore Galdós’s work (205). Percival then identifies (209) Bergamín as one of the many exiled Spaniards who wrote in 1943 centenary studies on Galdós in South American journals, but without ranking his contribution amongst the more interesting ones that he cites. Even those scholars who have treated, for example, the topic of “Tolstoy and Galdós” that Bergamín had treated before them, either fail to acknowledge his work (Arnáiz Amigo, Colin) or ignore it as too general (Turner “Metaphor” 895). For their part, Bergamín scholars have been equally remiss in providing concrete data about their author’s [End Page 11] writings on Galdós, likewise preferring to make general statements. Diego Martínez Torrón includes—albeit with qualifications—the name of Galdós in his chapter on Bergamín’s literary mentors:

También hay otros autores del XIX, si bien no muchos, a que se refiere Bergamín, por ejemplo, a Galdós, que podría parecer muy lejano de la estética de nuestro poeta. Le interesa la España de Galdós y el tema religioso en su novela, siguiendo los criterios de Menéndez Pelayo y Azorín. Y en otro sitio se refiere a Galdós y al pueblo español. Obviamente la influencia galdosiana incide más como guía populista y sentimental que de eficacia en el modo de expresión poética.


Even the recently departed and sadly missed doyen of Bergamín scholars, Nigel Dennis, committed the same error, albeit with his customary wryness, in a footnote to his edition of the writer’s collection of essays, El pasajero:

Es curioso constatar en los escritos de Bergamín anteriores a 1935, aproximadamente, una notable indiferencia o incluso hostilidad...