NOVELS OF GAL1CIA

 

THE inhabitants of Galicia have been held to be the Boeotians of Spain, yet the fact that in the political world many eminent persons are Gallegans seems to show that Galicia has been maligned. To Galicia, too, belong two gifted modern writers, the Condesa Emilia Pardo Bazán and Don Ramon del Valle-Inclán.  Señora Pardo Bazán belongs to the older group of Spanish novelists ; born in 1851,(1) she published her two well-known novels of Galicia, “ Los Pazos de Ulloa,” and “La Madre Naturaleza,” in 1886 and 1887, and “ De mi tierra,” a book of scenes and essays of Galicia, in 1888. It is as a regional novelist that Senora Pardo Bazán has won her most glorious laurels. “Galicienne ella adore les choses de la Galice,” says M. Vézinet,(2) and he adds that she develops the same subjects as French naturalists, but avoids the licentiousness of which they are so fond. 

 

The multitude of her tasks and interests has necessarily hampered her art as a novelist. “She has unfortunately diffused her energies in all directions,” says Mr. Fitzmaurice-Kelly. “ No one can succeed in everything—as a poet, a romancer, an essayist, a critic, a lecturer, and a politician. Yet the Condesa Pardo Bazán is all this, and more. We would gladly exchange all her miscellaneous writings for another novel like “Los Pazos de Ulloa.”(3)

 

 “Los Pazos de Ulloa“ is a novel impregnated with the atmosphere of Galicia. Los Pazos is a large country-house in a remote valley of maize and vines and chestnuts, reached on horseback through a desolate wolf-country, pais de lobos. Its furniture is rickety, its window-frames have no glass, though it is not so ruinous as Los Pazos de Limioso some leagues away, which lacks even window frames.  The village priest of Ulloa has but two devotions, those of the jarro and the escopeta, the wine-jar and the gun ; the drinking of water and the use of soap he holds alike to be effeminate. The Marqués de Ulloa, too, frank, noble at heart, but cynical, often brutal, spends much of his time at village fairs, and shooting partridges in the maize or among pines and scented hill-plants. He is totally in the power of his servant Primitivo, who manages his estates. Primitivo, too, holds the peasants, as he says, in the palm of his hand. They are patient workers who, however, in the opinion of the Marqués de Ulloa, need a strong hand to control them—someone like Primitivo que les de ciento de ventaja en picardia, that is, who will know two tricks to their one. When the Marqués disburdens himself to the new chaplain, Don Julian, in the wild neglected garden, on the subject of Primitivo, he becomes aware by a rustling in the undergrowth that Primitivo has been listening to the outburst. When, as a first step to freedom, he determines to leave Los Pazos on a visit to his uncle at Santiago de Compostella, Primitivo makes no open opposition, but the mare is unshod, the donkey has been mysteriously wounded. The Marqués and Julian determine to go on foot to Cebre, where they will take the diligence. The path grows wilder, the woods close in more thickly, a cross shows where a man has been killed, there is no sound but that of the woodcutters among the chestnuts. The Marqués, keenly alert, sees the glint of a gun’s barrel in the brushwood pointing at the chaplain, who is held to be the instigator of this rebellion. It is Primitivo “out shooting.”

 

The book is a gloomy picture of a rich country ruined by mismanagement, underhand dealing, and ignorance. The Marqués de Ulloa’s agent has the peasants so completely in his power that he is able to turn the scale of an election. He began by methodically robbing his master in the administration of his estate, and the money so obtained he lends to the peasants, who are driven to borrow that they may be able to continue to work their land. Primitivo charges an interest of eight per cent, (per month), and in years of famine he raises the interest.

 

The country and its inhabitants are described with a master-hand. Don Ramon del Valle-Inclán is one of the new school of Spanish novelists, and properly belongs to the twentieth century. He is above all things a stylist. In his sutiles prosas there is an exquisite restraint, with here and there a tinge of archaism and a haunting music of soft languid cadences. He loves the rare, the delicate, the costly, and his art is to write of luxury in sober phrases, instinct with sadness and the magic of regret. It is a style of silk and cut crystal, as of silver-work or polished ivory handled by thin ascetic fingers. » In his four “Sonatas” (Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter) we have the memoirs of the Marqués de Bradomín, the recollections of his former loves. The scene of “ Sonata de Primavera “ is an Italian palazzo with the lilacs in flower along its terraces and roses filling the garden between the cypresses, while the scene of “ Sonata de Estío “ is Mexico in all the luxurious growth of its summer vegetation. In the “ Sonata de Invierno “ the scene is the Carlist Court at Estella and the setting is more gloomy. The Marqués loses an arm in the service of King Charles VII., and from the window of his sick-room at Villareal de Navarra looks out on a road lined with leafless poplars and mountains flecked with snow. But these novels do not equal “ Sonata de Otoño,” the scene of which is in Señor Valle-Inclán’s native Galicia. Two lines of Verlaine in some way describe the novel –

Dans le vieux parc solitaire et glacé

Deux spectres ont évoqué le passé.”

 

It is a book that may be read in little more than an hour, yet it has many arresting pages. A few short sentences, words thrown here and there at random with concealed art, give a wonderfully clear picture of green, rainy Galicia, with its hills and streams.  We see the hills and more hills veiled in mist, the flocks of white and black sheep, the mills, the white smoke rising from the houses among the fig-trees, the distant blue mountains tipped with the first snows, a flight of doves against green fields above the tower of a Pazo, a stony bridle-path with its bramble hedges and great pools of water at which oxen drink, the peasants arriving to pay their tribute of corn at the Palacio, the shepherds coming down from the hills wearing their capes of reeds. Women return singing from the fountain, an old man drives on his cows as they stop to graze, a half-witted woman gathers scented herbs and simples that have mickle grace to “give health to the soul and cure the ills of the herd.” And there is the Palacio de Bradomín, with its flight of wide granite steps ; a path leads to it through the green, drenched countryside, and the autumn sun lights up its windows among tall chestnut-trees.  A fountain trickles and birds sing in the old garden of myrtle, cedar, and cypress, still in late autumn brimmed with roses, though “ the paths were covered with dry and yellow leaves that the wind swept with a slow rustling; the snails, motionless cortio viejos paraliticos, as old paralytics, were taking the sun on the seats of stone.” The passages of the Palacio are long and gloomy, and cold strikes through the large silent rooms, so that in all of them logs of wood burn brightly, stirred with tongs of “ ancient bronze, elaborately worked.” The bare branches of the trees graze the windows of the library, where, among the parchment bindings, reigns a monastic peace, un sueño canónico y doctoral.

 

It is in a minute chiselling of details that lies Señor Valle-Inclán’s strength. The snails in the garden, the shape of the glasses, the silver chains of a hanging-lamp—nothing is passed over as insignificant.  But the details are given in few words, with the clear precision of a skilled craftsman. And he has the power to set his characters in strong relief. Thus in “ Sonata de Otoño “ we have that muy gran señor, Don Juan Manuel, who on his first appearance hurries away “ to Villa del Prior, to thrash a clerk.” It is his custom to ride over from his country-house, his Pazo, two leagues away, tie his horse to the Palacio garden-gate, enter and call to a servant for wine—for that excellent vino de la Fontela which would be the best in the world, he says, if pressed from selected grapes—drink and fall asleep, and then waking up call loudly for his horse, whether it chances to be night or day, and ride back to his Pazo. There is a glimpse of the mother of Concha, who would tell the children stories of the saints, and with “ mystic, noble fingers” slowly turn the pages to show them the pictures ‘of the Christian Year ; of the mother of Xavier, who would pass her days in the recess of a wide balcony spinning for her servants, in a chair of crimson velvet studded with silver nails. There is thin, white Concha, so saintly and so frail ; there is Xavier, Marqués de Bradomín, himself, the gallant, cynical sceptic; there is the page Florisel, the old servant Candelaria, with their rare and far-sought names.

 

In “ Flor de Santidad,” perhaps the best of Señor Valle-Inclan’s books, we have the same delicate descriptions of Galicia—the sinister inn, solitary in a gloomy brown Sierra; the shepherdess, keeping her flock and seeing mystic visions among the Celtic stones, yellowed with ancient lichens, líquenes milenarios ; the simple greeting of the peasants : Alabado sea Dios, “ Glory be to God “ ; pilgrims and witches ; charms and magical incantations to preserve the flocks from evil ; cunning and simplicity, superstition and crime. The same charm of mystical simplicity and innocence that surrounds Adega, the girl shepherdess of “ Flor de Santidad,” surrounds all the heroines of Señor Valle-Inclán’s novels; Maximina, for instance, of the sorrowful, velvet eyes, ojos aterciopelados y tristes, in “Sonata de Invierno.” It is in “ Flor de Santidad “ that occurs the picture, repeated in “Jardín Novelesco,” of the old peasant woman going with her little grandson to find him a master.

 

They meet the Archpriest of Lestrove, who is riding leisurely — de andadura mansa y doctoral—to preach at a village festival. “ May God give us a holy and good day.” The Archpriest draws in his mare. “Are you going to the fair?" he asks. “The poor have nothing to do at the fair. We are going to look for a master for the boy.” “And does he know his catechism?” “Yes, Señor, he knows it. Poverty does not prevent from being a Christian.” The grandmother leaves the nine-year-old child in the service of a blind beggar. “To be the servant of a blind man is a position many would like to have,” says the beggar, and the new Lazarillo answers sorrowfully, “ Si, Señor, si.” As she watches them go slowly away along the road through the wet green country, she murmurs, drying her tears : “Nine years old and already earning the bread he eats. Glory be to God”

 

Incidents and characters are thrown into the relief given by the peculiar and original magic of Señor Valle-Inclán’s delicately chiselled prose. There is in this prose something icily fresh, something of lilacs and hydrangeas, vague reminiscences of the silver tinkling of voices in a glass-roofed market, or of the swish of a scythe in wet grass. The words are cunningly weighed and chosen and set as gouttes d’argent d’orfécrerie And the transparent freshness of his style is admirably suited to describe the primitive simplicity and freshness of Galicia.

Notes

(1)   Six years after Galdds, sixteen before Blasco Ibanez, one before Alas and Picon, and two before Palacio Valde's.

(2)   F. Vézinet, “ Les Maitres du Roman Espagnol Contemporain,” Paris, 1907.

(3)   Indeed, in reading the more recent novels by Señora Pardo Bazán, “ La Químera,” or “ La Sirena

Negra,” or “ Dulce Dueño “ (1911), striking and original as they are, one cannot help looking back from them somewhat regretfully to her Galician novels of the [eighteen] eighties.