The title of Fortunata and Jacinta is misleading, suggesting some sort of balance between the two characters, and Galdós does his best to increase the confusion. The novel does not begin with Jacinta – it begins with a detailed history of the retail fabric trade in Madrid, including a baffling genealogies of the key families (“a tangle whose threads are almost impossible to follow,” I.vi.2, 83), much of the latter in a section amusingly titled “Still More Details about the Distinguished Family.” “There’s more yet,” Galdós warns me (83), and he means it.
The novel is divided into four roughly equal parts. It turns out that Jacinta only has a starring role in the first, and even there we meet Fortunata first. It is a heck of a debut: “a pretty woman, young and tall” – no that’s not so interesting, I have to skip a sentence or two:
The girl wore a light blue scarf on her head and a large, heavy shawl over her shoulders, and the minute she saw the Dauphin she swelled up at him, I mean, she put her hands on her hips and raised her shoulders with that characteristic gesture the low-class women of Madrid have, filling out their shawls with a movement that reminds you of a hen ruffling her feathers and swelling out before coming down to normal size again. (I.iii.4, 43-4)
And that’s not the best part:
“What are you eating, sweetheart?”
“Can’t you see?” she replied, showing it to him. “An egg.”
“A raw egg!”
Very gracefully , the girl lifted the broken egg to her mouth for the second time and sucked it again. (44)
There is no way the heroine of the novel is going to live up to this introduction. Talk about vigor: “Then she finished sucking the egg and threw away the shell, which smashed against the wall one flight below them.”
All of the business about birds and eggs and shells is going to return near the end of the novel. This was vivid enough that, even seven hundred pages later, I knew exactly which earlier scene Galdós was invoking.
It is not uncommon for authors of difficult novels to at some point give readers their theory of the novel, instructions on how to read their books. It is also common for these instructions to appear near the end of the book, because writers are perverse cusses who enjoy suffering. Galdós waits until five pages from the end, when a secondary character tells Fortunata’s story to a literary critic:
The response from the famous judge of literary works was that it had the makings of a play or a novel, although in his opinion the artistic texture wouldn’t be especially attractive unless it were warped in places so that the vulgarity of life might be converted into esthetic material. He didn’t tolerate “raw life” in art; it had to be scrubbed, seasoned with aromatic spices, and then thoroughly cooked… in the end they agreed that well-ripened raw fruit was very good, but so were compotes, if the cook knew what he was doing.” (IV.vi.16, 813)
As I read this, I remembered the woman they were discussing, who declared, almost eight hundred pages in the past, “’They’re better raw.’”
Dwight: thanks for the hosting and motivation and twenty-one posts!