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Mapping the Social Body: Urbanisation, the Gaze, and the Novels of Galdós (review)

From: Anales Galdosianos
Volume 47, 2012
pp. 113-114 | 10.1353/ang.2012.0013

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The guiding trope of Collin McKinney's fascinating study is that maps and mapping express power relations and middle-class anxieties in nineteenth-century Spain. McKinney argues that Galdós, originally a purveyor of easily understood and reliable social "maps" in novels like La desheredada and La de Bringas, later ironized both the "maps" and the mapping process from Fortunata y Jacinta onward (at least in the novelas contemporáneas—no mention is made of the episodios nacionales or the theatrical works). The physical maps used in urban planning such as Carlos María del Castro's Ensanche de Madrid (1861) display efforts to segregate the working and impoverished classes because of the threat of diseases and crime they were seen to pose for the wealthier classes. The street map (a nineteenth-century creation) implies control and manipulation of the image of a city, as do metaphorical "maps" and "mapping" processes delineating and regulating class, gender, family, and the body. Drawing lines along geographic features or between neighborhoods establishes new realities, just as literary depictions of marital and familial relations, economic and social aspirations, poverty, and health or physical and mental illnesses record, reinforce and even create the realities encountered in Galdós's fiction. McKinney affirms that the panoptic gaze implicit in mapping highlights nineteenth-century Spain's sensitivity to visual order and representation, with submission to and struggle against the controlling gaze characterizing all social interaction.

The ostensibly straightforward chapter titles belie both the increasing sophistication of Galdós's insights and ways of "mapping" as he continued to write through the 1890s, as well as the astuteness of McKinney's analysis: "Mapping the City," "Mapping Class in La desheredada," "Mapping Gender in Tormento and La de Bringas," "Mapping the Family in Fortunata y Jacinta," "Mapping the Body in Nazarín," and "Mapping the Soul in Misericordia." In each chapter, McKinney interweaves anthropological, criminological, and sociological discourse (e.g., Morel, Lombroso, Charcot) with Galdós's creations of characters and situations, all against the backdrop of the increasing urbanization of Madrid. The common goal of the various fields of discourse concerning class, gender, family and the body was to provide a legible social map, an enterprise appealing most to the bourgeoisie. Additionally, McKinney stresses how Galdós challenges the reader to interpret "maps" and mapping. In the earlier novels, Galdós's mimesis of Spanish cultural reality invites the reader to participate in the panopticism and social organization sought by that reality, practices seen as important and reliable. In the later novels, Galdós repeatedly undermines the "maps" and how they are produced, showing them to be inaccurate, subjective, and ultimately harmful.

As must all critics of Galdós's corpus, McKinney has had to be selective in his choice of primary texts. The account of how Galdós maps the family focuses on Fortunata yet omits La familia de León Roch, Lo prohibido and Miau, the chapter on mapping of class analyzes La desheredada yet not the Torquemada series, and the section on gender treats Tormento and La de Bringas without mentioning Tristana. It is important to note that because McKinney discerns changes in Galdós's thinking about the legitimacy of the mapping project, he organizes his study around stages in that evolution, and so these omissions do not controvert the project. It is not that Galdós's understanding of class relationships and the mapping of the same does not change over time, but rather that La desheredada presents a good example of the earlier phase of Galdós's social mapping as it concerns class, and so should be presented in the second chapter of Mapping the Social Body, rather than later. Presumably, León Roch's unhappy marriage, Ramón Villaamil's concern for his family, José María Bueno de Guzmán's affairs with his married cousins, Torquemada's marital relations and also his meteoric rise through various levels of wealth and class, and the unhappy ambiguities of Tristana's situation, all function according to McKinney's model of the changing relationship between Galdós's practice of, and later critique of, social mapping. However, some of these omitted texts...

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