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Nature and Culture in Pepita Jiménez

From: Anales Galdosianos
Volume 47, 2012
pp. 55-69 | 10.1353/ang.2012.0001

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The socialist politician and post-Franco Mayor of Madrid, Enrique Tierno Galván, wrote in an essay "Don Juan Valera o el buen sentido" of what he called Valera's "mentalidad empresarial," which we might translate as a "managerial mind," and which I have linked in a recently published piece (Introduction) to Valera's experience as a diplomat, whose profession would typically involve working behind the scenes, obtaining agreements and managing political relationships. Towards the end of Pepita Jiménez, but chronologically nearer its beginning, the cacique Don Pedro writes to his brother the Dean concerning the cacique's plans to arrange a marriage between his son Luis, a seminarian, and Pepita, the young widow of the title. He sees the two most potent allies to further his plans as Pepita's housekeeper Antoñona, who is about to be encouraged by Don Pedro to fan the flames of the young couple's mutual passion, and the local priest, the Padre Vicario, who has acted as an innocent go-between, praising the one to the other in his talks with both, and unwittingly facilitating proxy communications between the two. This is how Don Pedro sums up his designs in the letter: "Tal poderosa combinación de medios naturales y artificiales debe dar un resultado infallible" (202). Another hint as to how Valera constructed his story of love and marriage in the agricultural and horticultural surroundings of a town in the province of Córdoba lies in the way that Pepita's first husband Don Gumersindo is described by Luis in his opening letter to his uncle, the Dean: "será difícil hallar sobre la tierra persona alguna en cuyo mantenimiento, conservación y bienestar hayan tenido menos que afanarse la madre naturaleza y la industria humana" (145). From these two quotations, with their references, implied or explicit, to the intelligent cultivation of the available resources of nature and artifice, we can see how Valera in Pepita Jiménez created a dialectic between "la madre naturaleza" and the products of "la industria humana": here, in the mutually-fuelled passion of the two young lovers and the social sanctioning of their shared desire, through the benign orchestration of the cacique of the area.

Jo Labanyi, in a densely argued chapter of her book (265-98), views Valera's attitude in Pepita Jiménez as a defensive espousal of "countryside as cultivated nature" (284), blotting out in the process the uncomfortable and troublesome realities of a socially regressive rural Andalusia (288-90). We have already suggested in our first paragraph that there is indeed a strong manipulative element present in the novel, which Harriet Turner (349-50) believes works to its detriment, in the sections "Paralipómenos" and "Cartas de mi hermano", where, she contends, Valera takes too much control as the "sujeto enteramente enterado de todo", and we thereby lose the spontaneous if naïve worldview of Luis in the novel's first half. At least we can say that Turner sees the novel as a kind of dialectic between spontaneity and manipulation, even if in her view the latter unfortunately wins the battle. No doubt, Valera was a sharply opinionated man, to judge by his letters, but I take him at face value when he describes himself in his Appleton Preface to the novel as feeling "simpático a todos" when writing Pepita Jiménez , and hence ready to see the best in, and seek the best from, his reconstruction of his natal surroundings. Darker themes will emerge in Las ilusiones del doctor Faustino (1875), and Doña Luz (1878), for example; as Galdós also explores in Doña Perfecta (1876), where fatal imbalances between culture and nature surface. Valera, without becoming the puppet master that Thackeray seemed to have claimed for himself at the end of Vanity Fair, is able to hold the ring between the presentation of a rural, down-to-earth life involved in the cultivation and management of nature's resources, including its cultural customs, and an opening for an appreciation of other types of "higher" cultivation of the arts and crafts that complement and enhance the natural world, this dialectic being mirrored in the language...

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