The Medical Context
Galdós’s interest in doctors, medicine and abnormal mental states is well known and has been the subject of many studies.1 More than 50 doctors populate the pages of his fiction prompting Granjel to refer to a “colegio médico galdosiano” (167). Almost invariably these physicians are portrayed in a favorable light (García Lisbona, 105, note 3), epitomized particularly in the combination of scientific outlook and humane concern of Galdosian characters such as Augusto Miquis, Teodoro Golfín and Moreno Rubio. References to medications abound in the novels 2 while the medical sciences appear in a significant sample of Galdós’s journalistic articles more often than any other science.3 It is somewhat surprising, therefore, that Galdós’s knowledge of the medical sciences of his time should remain incompletely explored. It is the purpose of this paper to draw attention to the depth of Galdós’s understanding of the medical advances of his day, which still remains under-appreciated.
Galdós wrote at a time of revolutionary changes in medicine. Gradually replacing the older vitalistic and humoral conceptions of disease, positivist medicine emanating especially from France identified anatomical abnormalities associated with many diseases (Laín Entralgo 273–308). Microscopical studies by Virchow and others from the 1840s onwards identified the cellular basis of disease. From the 1860s Pasteur and Koch showed the role of bacteria in infection while Lister found practical applications in his antiseptic, and later, aseptic techniques that revolutionized the scope and safety of surgery. In the decades of the 1870s and 1880s, when Galdós was writing many of his finest novels, dozens of disease-producing micro-organisms were identified.4 Prominent discoveries in human disease were the germs responsible for leprosy, tuberculosis, cholera, diphtheria, tetanus, anthrax and bacterial meningitis. These advances contributed to the high social esteem in which Madrid physicians were held in the 1880s, an admiration that Galdós shared.5
It might be asked how and where Galdós acquired his remarkably extensive knowledge of medicine. I know of no records of his research to indicate where he looked,6 but there are ample indications of likely sources. Firstly, he could be an indefatigable researcher when he wanted background information to give authenticity to his novels: financial speculation in Lo prohibido, the textile trade in Fortunata y Jacinta and women’s fashion in La de Bringas are good examples. Berkowitz describes how he would pursue individuals and sources of all kinds in search of the information he wanted (Biblioteca 9–10); Leopoldo Alas notes the penetration with which he gathered information that he wanted.7 His special interest in medicine and doctors led him to cultivate the friendship of some of the leading Madrid physicians of his day. Foremost among these was his close, almost 40-year, friendship with Manuel Tolosa Latour (1857–1919) that is well [End Page 97] documented, as are his letters soliciting and receiving from Tolosa detailed medical information.8
Tolosa Latour was Galdós’s probable contact with a remarkable group of physicians who played prominent roles in Madrid medicine in the last quarter of the Nineteenth Century, for he had been one of the disciples of the charismatic alienista José María Esquerdo who lectured in General Pathology as well as psychiatry in the newly liberated environment of medical education that followed the Gloriosa Revolución of 1868 (Eleizegui 29). Tolosa’s fellow students included the alienistas Jose María Escuder and Victoriano Garrido, the alienista-neuropsychologist Luís Simarro, the alienista-politician Jaime Vera, the criminal anthropologist Rafael Salillas and the medical journalist and campaigner Ángel Pulido (Ortega 65). In addition to this network, Galdós played host at home to other leading physicians like the surgeon Enrique Diego-Madrazo, who was one of those responsible for introducing Lister’s surgical techniques into Spain, and the professor of surgery at San Carlos, Alejandro San Martín, famous for introducing new surgical techniques and for his role in the adoption of inhalational anaesthesia (Marañón, 171).9
The 1880s saw much medical publishing...