Page images

But Fanferlot was too joyous to squander a moment. He did not run,- he flew along the way toward the Palais de Justice and M. Patrigent the judge.

At last he had the opportunity of demonstrating his own superior perspicacity.

It never occurred to him that he was striving to triumph through the ideas of another man. The greater part of the world is content to strut, like the jackdaw, in peacock's feathers.

The result did not blight his hopes. If M. Patrigent was not altogether convinced, he at least admired the ingenuity of the proceeding.

« This is what I will do,” he said in dismissing Fanferlot: «I will present a favorable report to the council chamber, and tomorrow, most likely, the cashier will be released.”

Immediately he began to write one of those terrible decisions of “Not Proven,” which restores liberty to the accused man, but not honor; which says that he is not guilty, but which does not declare him innocent:

«Whereas, against the prisoner Prosper Bertomy sufficient charges do not exist, in accordance with Article 128 of the Criminal Code, we declare there are no grounds at present for prosecution against the aforesaid prisoner: we therefore order that he be released from the prison where he is now detained, and set at liberty by the jailer," etc.

When this was finished, M. Patrigent remarked to his registrar Sigault:— "Here is one of those mysterious crimes which baffle justice! This is another file to be added to the archives of the record office.” And with his own hand he wrote upon the outside the official number, “File No. 113."

Translated for (A Library of the World's Best Literature.)

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

T he contemporary school of Spanish fiction dates from about SE S the revolution of 1868, which drove out Isabel II. and GG brought in a more liberal form of government. Without this revolution, it would scarcely have found opportunity for the free expression of opinion and the bold critical tone towards ancient institutions which are among its leading characteristics. It is a fresh stirring of the human intellect, a distinctly new product, and a valuable contribution to the world's literature. It has affiliation with the Russian, the English, and other vital modern movements in fiction, and yet it can by no means be confused with that of any other country. Its method is realistic; but one of its leading figures, De Pereda, a strong delineator of rural life, protests, as to him and his works, against the use of the word,—“if,” he says vigorously, it means to rank me under the triumphal French banner of foulsmelling realism.” That is to say, they consider the best material for fiction to be the better and sweeter part of life and its higher aspirations, and not that coarse part of it to which the French would seem to have devoted an undue amount of attention. The reader of Anglo-Saxon origin approaches this fiction with ease and sympathy; he has not to acquire any new point of view in order to understand it, nor to unlearn any wonted standards of taste or morals.

An informing Spanish critic, Emilia Pardo Bazan, herself a novelist of talent, points out that the present Spanish school cannot be said to have a "yesterday,” but only "a day before yesterday.” She means that it has skipped a certain interval, and connects itself with remoter, and not with recent, tradition. It really comes down from a time antedating even the great “Golden Age.” It takes its rise in the wonderful naturalness of the Celestina,' a quaint «tragi-comedy » of the year 1499. It bears a close relationship, next, to Don Quixote and to the Novelas Picarescas,” the stories of amusing knaves in very low life, of which Lazarillo de Tormes) and (Guzman de Alfarache' are the best examples, and that French imitation, (Gil Blas,' better than the originals. A period of very stiff Classicism in the eighteenth century, and of extravagant Romanticism in the beginning of the nineteenth, followed, constituting the omitted "yesterday"; and then arrived the vigorous literature of the present time, here in question. The qualities of truth to nature, practical good sense, genuine humor, and play of imagination, have nearly always characterized Spanish fiction and these qurlities seem possessed by the contemporary novelists in a higher degree than ever before. The Picaresque or Rogue stories seem to be — their naturalness admitted -a mere string of disconnected adventures, written to the taste of a period that had not the habit of keeping its attention fixed upon anything long; and we scarcely know any leading character more intimately at the end than at the beginning. As against this, we have now complete and lengthy novels, in which situations and characters are all worked out upon a symmetrical plan, and in which the conclusions generally follow like those of fate; that is to say, they are not arbitrary, but inevitably result from the conditions and circumstances given.

So far as there is English influence in this literature, it may be said to be more in the form of example than as a direct component. It has given the Spanish movement courage and persistence, to see the same ideals elsewhere affording profit and pleasure to millions of men. Otherwise it is a mere coloring, a superficial trace. In particular, Pérez Galdós is fond of introducing English characters. Some of them have the Dickens-like trait of a beaming, exuberant benevolence, and the athletic parson in (Gloria” who risks his life pulling out to the rescue of a wrecked steamer is like Barrie's Little Minister. Many of his leading characters are of that mixed blood, at Cadiz and elsewhere in the South, where one parent is English and the other Spanish, and the offspring have had the advantage of an education in England. He admires English types and ways, and yet with a reluctance too; which brings it about that they are generally introduced subject to considerable satire and mockery. English steadiness and thrift, -yes, very well; but he has a lingering tenderness still for Spanish levity and improvidence. In Halma,' all the Marquis de Feramor's children have English names, as “Sandy” (Alexandrito), “Frank” (Paquito), and “Kitty) (Catalanita). The Marquis has been a student at Cambridge, and he imports into his career in Spanish politics the thorough study of the question at issue, the conservative temper and abhorrence of extremes, and the correct "good form of some finished English statesman. These ideas of English policy and conservatism are talked over again, in the tertulias of the amusing family in 'El Amigo Manso,' who have come back wealthy from Cuba, the head of the household with the purpose of going into Parliament and securing a title. The English and the Spanish literary movements may be said to accompany each other amicably, much as Wellington's red-coats and the Spanish troops marched side by side in the War of Independence, which has left a feeling of friendship between the two nations ever since.

At the head of the school of fiction in question are four writers, namely, José María de Pereda, Armando Palacio Valdés, Benito Pérez Galdós, and Juan Valera. They may be considered, in their various ways, as of well-nigh equal merit; each one has some very distinguished and distinguishing quality, in virtue of which he cannot justly be rated below the others. De Pereda occupies a position apart in devoting himself wholly to the lives of humble people, the mountaineers and fishermen of the Biscayan Provinces. He never willingly departs from these scenes either in his literary or personal excursions; he has his home among them, near Santander. Valera stands apart in a different way, and would occupy himself by preference with the opposite class of society. He is the most learned and scholarly of the quartette, and his writing is the most carefully polished in style. He is a scholarly critic and essayist as well as a novelist. He is a realist like the rest, yet eschews, for instance, the imitation of dialect: he is not a realist in quite the same energetic and conscientious way; his atmosphere, while no doubt equally true, is rather dreamy and poetic. Valdés and Galdós are much more vividly modern, and they treat many of the same kind of subjects, the events of real life such as we see it all around us. Of the four, Valdés has perhaps, in certain passages, the truest tenderness and most delicate pathos, and the most genuine humor, of that sunny kind which allows us to laugh without bitterness. He can sometimes be bitter too, and such a severe social satire as Froth' and such books as “The Grandee) and “The Origin of Thought leave, like many of those of Galdós, an impression of gloom; yet even in these we are charmed on the way by his light touch and easy grace of treatment. Galdós is he who takes the gravest attitude; many great problems of life and destiny occupy him seriously; he not only is very earnest, but seems so,— which does not however preclude a plentiful use of humor, as will be seen in the examples given. Furthermore, he is much the most prolific of the distinguished group, and to that extent he may be said to have the widest range.

These writers are a highly beneficent influence in Spain at the present time, spreading over it as they do a multitude of stimulating pictures and liberalizing ideas, cast into charming literary form. They cannot fail to have a considerable effect upon conduct. In its manner, its aversion to obscurity, and fondness for floods of daylight that almost abolish shadow, this fiction is like the Spanish-Roman school of art, the painting of Fortuny, the two Madrazos, and others: the two seem but manifestations of a common impulse. On another side it is to be recommended to foreigners, as affording a body of information about Spain such as the mere traveler could never attain, and which it is useless to look for in fiction depending for its interest upon clever devices of plot and fantastic adventure. It lets an illumination into the heart of what has been the most reserved and mysterious country of Europe. It shows the true Spain, and not merely the conventional one of strumming guitars and jingling mule bells. With all its strangeness, we see it full of that genuine human nature that makes the world akin; and we see, with pleasure and hope, the breaking up of the forces of medievalism, the working of a mental and moral turmoil that is preparing the way for a general betterment.

It would not be reasonable to suppose that Spanish literature remained wholly unaffected by the vigorous French movement just across the border. On the contrary, it clearly shows the trace of the robust modern style that has prevailed in France from Balzac to Zola. This trace, however, is in the style and not in the matter. It may possibly have aided the plainness of speech in the Spanish work, which is greater than in English books; and yet this plainness of speech is probably not greater than all books should be allowed, in the interest of their own usefulness, and in order not to be narrow instead of broad pictures of life. The tone towards sexual problems is never flippant; immorality is never put in an attractive light; there is hardly anywhere a more severe homily on the text that “the wages of sin is death” than is found in the wretched career of the transgressors in such books as Galdós's (Lo Prohibido,' «Tormento,' and (La Desheredada.'

Just as in English books, the young girl, her aspirations and her innocent love affairs before marriage, figure largely in these novels. It is not necessary for her to wait until she is married in order to become a suitable heroine for fiction. Religious revolt or dissent, again, is one of the features most often used. There is still a very close union of Church and State in Spain, and life has a very ecclesiastical coloring. Nearly every family has ties of relationship or intimacy with some ecclesiastical person of either sex. This brings it about that such figures are as frequent in books as, correspondingly, in real life. In Valera's Pepita Ximenez' we find an earnest young student, a candidate for the priesthood, son of a noble house, turned aside from his holy career — through his father's connivance — by the fascinations of a most charming woman, their neighbor. In Valdés's 'Sister San Sulpicio' it is a young novice, a delightfully gay and bright creature, whom love and matrimony withdraw from her convent. In the same author's Marta y Maria' a fair young girl is seen

« PreviousContinue »