My working theory is that long books make the worst readalong books, yet there has been interest in La Regenta (1885) by Clarín, also known as Leopoldo Alas, one of the gigantic classics of 19th century Spanish literature alongside Fortunato and Jacinta (1886) by Benito Pérez Galdós. Emilia Pardo Bazán’s The House of Ulloa is also from 1886, but it is a more sensible length.
Alas was a professor of Roman law whose literary output amounted to just two novels and some short stories, while Pérez Galdós was some kind of tapas-powered fiction machine, writing over seventy novels, dozens of them forming a series covering episodes in 19th century Spanish history in what must be pretty thorough detail. His models are French, Balzac, Hugo, and Dumas. Alas is I believe closer to Flaubert and Zola, although less conceptual and physical. Probably not so many loving descriptions of la comida Asturiana. Just look at that bean stew, la fabada; Zola would give a paragraph to each variety of pork.
The story is of a married woman in a provincial city who is buffeted between a local Don Juan and a priest. La Regenta is out for a walk on the promenade:
For a moment Ana was a part of this ragged sensuality. She thought about herself, about her life devoted to sacrifice and to an absolute prohibition of pleasure, and felt the profound self-pity of egotism aroused by its misfortune. ‘I am poorer than any of these girls. My maid has her miller who whispers into her ears words which set her face alight; and here I am listening to these guffaws of pleasure which give rise to emotions I have never experienced.’ (194)
Working through that idea ought to fill up a novel, especially when the entire town is pulled in. La Regenta is famous for having an enormous number of supporting characters.
I was impressed by the review at seraillon – if that post does not make the book sound appealing, nothing will – especially that the first half of the long novel covers only three days. Intense.
Let’s try a page 99 test. First non-dialogue line:
As soon as they were in Vetusta the orphan girl suffered ‘a set-back to her convalescence’, according to the family doctor, who was prudent and did not call things by their right names.
All right, there we have an example of something else mentioned at seraillon, the ironic acidity of the narrator. “[M]akes… Flaubert and Eça de Queiroz seem almost timid,” says Scott.
The Penguin Classics edition, tr. John Rutherford, I believe the only version in English, is 700 pages, and dense pages, inky. The endnotes are in tiny print, and in two columns! Twenty pages a day will need thirty-five days, which would put be right in the middle of July, which is as an accepted fact Spanish Literature Month. So that is where I am aiming.
I am expecting as many as two other people to read La Regenta with me. I hope many more enjoy whatever we think to write about it.
This will be what I read in June, when not reading other things. Perhaps the 1818 edition of Frankenstein – I did not know there was such a difference between editions – for a June readalong suggested by Dolce Bellezza, then later Arnold Bennett’s The Old Wives’ Tale (1908) as organized by seraillon, if I have the fortitude for it after the bulk of La Regenta.