Thursday, July 28, 2016

seemly abbreviations and a gongoresque style - some bits of La Regenta

The sarcasm of Leopoldo Alas can be a thing of beauty:

They were going to inspect the hunting dogs and a St Bernard which Paco had bought a few days before.  They were his pride and joy.  After prostitutes, the Young Marquis’s greatest admiration was for tame animals, in particular dogs and horses.  (Ch. 13, p. 284)

You may note that this is not elaborate or poetic prose.  Lively, but not fancy, and not afraid of clichés, which can generally be assigned to the characters, as here, not the narrator, although who knows – the usual slippery result of limited third person.  There is a hilarious example earlier:

The chef almost fell flat on his back from pure delight when, in order to ascertain the amount of boiling required by the peach preserve, Obdulia came up to him and, with a smile, slipped into his mouth the same spoon which had just been caressed by her ruby lips (the ‘ruby’ is the chef’s).  (Ch. 8, 173)

The narrator is so offended by the cliché that he has to protest that it is not his responsibility.

When he wants to, though, Alas can turn on the tap, so to speak:

Dull grey clouds, as broad as the steppes, drove up from the west and were ripped open on the peaks of Mount Corfín.  The rains poured from them on to Vetusta, sometimes cutting down aslant like furious whiplashes, like a biblical punishment, sometimes falling in a calm leisurely flow, in fine vertical threads.  These clouds passed over, and others came, and others – the first clouds back again, it seemed, after going around the world, to be torn open on Corfín once more.  The spongy earth was eaten away like the flesh on Job’s bones; a sluggish grey plume of mist was wafted over the sierra by the languid wind; the country extended, naked and frozen, into the distance, motionless like the corpse of a castaway shedding the water which has flung it ashore.  (Ch. 18, 401)

Five more sentences like this before Alas turns to a character and some stuff about hunting that is part of the plot.  The heroine, Ana, has something like Seasonal Affective Disorder, so the rains will affect her, too – the next chapter, about her illness, is one of the best.  Here is Ana’s husband, helping out:

Every day her abdomen had to be felt and questions asked about the lowest animal functions.  Don Víctor did not trust his memory and, watch in hand, he kept a record in a notebook where, using seemly abbreviations and a gongoresque style, he set down everything the doctor needed to know about these details.  (Ch. 19, 426-7)

When a new, younger doctor arrives, Don Víctor is thrilled, because he and the doctor can argue about politics and “the plurality of inhabited worlds.”  The husband is a marvelous fool.  I am leafing through the chapter – so much happens in it.  Ana is ill, and recovers, entering a new phase in her sainthood.  Meanwhile, the Don Juan character infiltrates her home by flattering her husband, although he “drew the line” at “the examination of the collections of plants and insects,” aside from a stuffed peacock.  “He would stroke its breast while Quintanar discoursed.   A great chapter, full of fine, strange things.


  1. I'm glad you picked out the humour - which is there more than perhaps appears the case at first. The set piece descriptions of scene are often fine - but as with so many of the descriptions (I'm looking at character in the piece I'm drafting now) they...well, just go on too long...Nice choices of quotation.

  2. Go on to long to quote in their entirety or something like that, right?

    Yes, the book is fundamentally a comedy, a folly.

  3. My post just published: I look at the cold, calculating egotism of Fermín De Pas, as described in ch. 1. It didn't occur to me at first that the novel is 'a comedy, a folly', but that's exactly what it is. But a dark one. Grim ending. At first I didn't want Ana to succumb to the creepy Alvaro, then I didn't want her to resist. Similar mixed feelings about De Pas and his campaign to besiege her fortress of virtue. I hope to consider the 'Dangerous Liaisons' parallels next/soon. I'm growing to like this novel more as I revisit it.

  4. The novel is at heart a comic form. Something about the nature of novelistic irony.

    I'm glad you're writing about the characters. I always neglect them, poor creatures.