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Cuentos morales by Leopoldo Alas (review)

From: Anales Galdosianos
Volume 48, 2013
pp. 122-123 | 10.1353/ang.2013.0007

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This recent edition of Clarín’s most important collection of short stories, by the same eminent scholar who, together with Yvan Lissorgues, edited the six volumes of Leopoldo Alas’ articles which appeared in the Obras completas (Ediciones Nobel, 2002–2009), is an essential contribution to nineteenth-century studies in Hispanism. Jean-François Botrel’s earlier work on Clarín includes, but is not limited to, the Clarinian classics Los años de aprendizaje de Leopoldo Alas, Clarín, 1875–1880 (1963), and Preludios de “Clarín” (1972) (see pp. 94–95 of Cuentos morales for a more complete list of Professor Botrel’s relevant publications). As José Manuel González Herrán has observed in his review published in the 2012 volume of Anales Galdosianos, the Nobel Obras completas’ most significant addition to Clarín studies is precisely Botrel and Lissorgues’ six volumes of articles (28). The new edition of the Cuentos morales complements, and dialogues with, the compilations of articles. Appropriately, the editor calls attention to the lack of a definitive distinction, promulgated by Clarín himself, between his short stories and articles (15).

As Professor Botrel explains in his introduction to the Cuentos morales, the 1896 collection of 28 short stories marks a high point in Clarín’s production of short prose pieces, and forms a part of the generalized late nineteenth-century boom of short stories featured in periodical publications. The stated purpose of Botrel’s introduction to the Cuentos morales is to situate the collection in both of these contexts, the personal as well as the historical, and to foreground the vital connection of the short pieces to their origins in periodicals. All but three of the stories –the exceptions are “El señor Isla,” “ ‘Flirtation’ legítima,” and “González Bribón”– appeared previously in periodicals, from 1893 to 1895. According to Botrel, despite the stories’ initial publication in diverse venues, Clarín’s fourth collection of short narrations displays a unity characterized by a particular engagement of the reader by the author-narrator, a suggestive rather than an explicit style, and a sustained preoccupation with an intuited, non-verbalized reality, which is explored with tenderness and irony (16). Although Alas composed his stories quickly, made few revisions, kept no galley proofs or final printed copies, and often wrote continuations of stories printed in earlier periodical issues without looking back at previous installments, Botrel finds that the author took more care and was less spontaneous with his short stories than with his articles (18). Clarín objected to the extremely short format of the microstory, but in general, he adapted to the constraints of word limits and to the fragmentary, interrupted nature of the periodical.

Professor Botrel consistently refers to earlier scholarly work in his comments, making the introduction to Cuentos morales an invaluable guide to all of Clarín’s production, and to the questions and preoccupations that distinguish Alas’s work in several formats and genres. As the editor explains, Clarín developed no explicit theory or specific aesthetics of the short story (21–23). Taking a descriptive, inductive approach, scholars have classified Alas’s short stories in various ways (see pp. 23–27 for details), and have arrived at a general characterization of Clarinian short pieces. According to Botrel and others, Alas’s stories focus on current events along with recurrent personal preoccupations. The titles of the stories are carefully crafted to encapsulate and convey the essence of the pieces in a memorable way. Action is minimal, with much more attention paid to the interiority of certain characters, who may be allegorical or dehumanized – perhaps literally non-human, as in the case of the protagonist of the short story “El Quin.” The stories often take place outside Madrid, but wherever they are situated, the most important space is in fact the interior landscape. Author and narrator often meld, and this organizing figure (the “I”) establishes a characteristic relationship with the reader as “you.” The “I” projects for the “you,” by way of assorted protagonists, his frustrations and desires, particularly the desire to feel, with feeling as an authentic way of knowing, in anticipation of Unamuno’s readings of Kierkegaard...

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