Tuesday, November 6, 2012

She lost count of the buttons she’d undone. There were a hundred, maybe a thousand. - realistic Fortunata and Jacinta

Fortunata and Jacinta is nominally a work of “realism,” whatever that is.  How odd that it is so full of dreams, mental illness, and saints, the same things I find in novels called Romantic or Symbolist  or what have you.  The reality of Benito Pérez Galdós is a strange one.  If you want to argue that it is therefore realistic, I salute you.

Dwight wrote about a long, detailed dream of Jacinta, the wife of the novel’s cad.  The dream’s environment is amusing – Jacinta is at the opera, being punished by Wagner (“[e]xcellent music according to [her husband] and everyone who had taste,” 113), in particular “a descriptive piece in which the orchestra was imitating the buzzing with which mosquitoes amuse mankind on a summer night.”

Her ensuing dream is about her longing for a baby, so it is highly sexualized yet also strangely domestic, literally wrapped in fabric (“Everything was lined in the white flowered satin that she and [her mother-in-law] had seen the day before”).  The breast-feeding theme is explicitly introduced; it will become important at the end of Fortunata’s story, and is one of the many parallels in the scene between Jacinta and her husband’s  mistress, Fortunata.

The button theme, for example (the baby is trying to get at Jacinta’s breast):

The fourth button, the fifth, all the buttons slid through their buttonholes making the material strain.  She lost count of the buttons she’d undone.  There were a hundred, maybe a thousand.

Fortunata later has a button superstition – “’If it’s a button like this – white with four holes – it’s a good sign; but if it’s black, and it has three, it’s bad business’” (II.vii.2, 385). And here is where I pull my hair and say “Arrgh,” because I swear there is another important button scene that I have forgotten.  As if I was looking for buttons while reading the novel!  I should have been looking for buttons.

So the strange dream-baby, once given the breast, begins to change – “his mouth was insensitive and his lips didn’t move…  The touch Jacinta felt on this very delicate area of her skin was the horrifying friction of chalk, friction from a rough, dusty surface.”  Jacinta awakes from the incipient nightmare to find that the orchestra “was still imitating mosquitoes,” and to discover that her husband has still not arrived.

Where is Juanito, the husband?  Galdós tells us, or has the husband tell his wife, but not until ninety pages later (“’You were going to the Royal Opera that night…  You wouldn’t remember,” I.x.7, 204).  He was with Fortunata, his (at this time) former mistress.  Fortunata has contacted Juanito because their baby, their son, is dying.  The poor thing dies more or less just as Jacinta dreams.   Juanito buys a blue coffin for the baby, which may or may not have some relation to the “powder-blue bathrobe” Jacinta is wearing in her dream.  I am sure that garment or one much like it is somewhere else in the novel, too.  No, it’s not the colors, it’s the buttons that recur.  I am back to the buttons.

To recap:  Jacinta dreams about a dying or, I don’t know, calcifying child at the moment her husband is attending to his dying child.  And the word we use for this is “realism.”

What I seem to have done here is rewrite Dwight's post. Please, Dwight, consider this a compliment, rather than theft.


  1. Jacinta finds one of Fortunata's loose buttons in Juanito's possession; maybe in his pocket. This (among other evidence) confirms her suspicions about Juan and Fortunata. Book III, right after all the tertulia talk and the off-stage coronation.

  2. I like the alternate titles "A Book About Buttons" or maybe "Galdós Big Book of Buttons." That roundness contrasts nicely with the many triangles in the book.

    Hey, no worries. There's only so much you can write about this scene. Unless your thesis depends on it, then it's limitless.

  3. Ah ha! There are triangles and squares within the buttons! Four holes & white good, three holes & black bad. Although by the end of the book, everyone is reconciled to the triangle and having problems with the square. Or does Maxi make the square? One could really come up with some nutty stuff here.

    Yes, that is a curious button, Scott, "made of nickel" with "a very elaborate design (con muchos garabatos)." Interesting that it is outside of Fortunata's lucky \ unlucky paradigm. I see now that F. finds one of each after her dream, which is the dream I actually meant to write about with this post. So that's coming up, I guess.