Benito Pérez Galdós and the novel of Spanish national identity

Brian Hamnett

in The Historical Novel in Nineteenth-Century Europe

Published in print November 2011 | ISBN: 9780199695041
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191732164 | DOI:
Benito Pérez Galdós and the novel of Spanish national identity

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The polemic between Neo-Classicists of the French mode and younger Romantics was also played out in Spain. Although with an earlier presence, Romanticism took shape in Spain mainly after the restoration of constitutional government in 1833. A few historical novels appeared in the 1820s and 1830s, dealing partly with recent conflicts but also with medieval Spanish themes. The main impetus, however, followed the development of liberal historiography from the 1850s, and the principal expression was Galdós’s ‘Episodios Nacionales’, after 1869, considerably influenced by Balzac and contemporary English novelists. These ‘episodes’ struck existentially into a frequently seamless combination of ongoing historical and fictionalised events, sometimes with the same characters. The five series covered forty-six relatively short volumes which formed a parallel with Galdós’s contemporary novels, themselves infused with recent history. Galdós departed from Scott in his adoption of a continuous chronology for his historical novels, and the disjunction of the narratives differentiated Galdós from the integrated scheme in Tolstoy’s portrayal of Russia’s struggle against Napoleon. Galdós’s first series, written in the 1870s, constitutes an unrelated Spanish parallel to the Russian novel ‘War and Peace’. Valera’s ‘Morsamor’ (1899)—his little-known last novel—combined fantasy with the serious purpose of contrasting the fallen Spain of the 1890s with the great days of conquest and exploration in the sixteenth century, suggesting alternative moralities in the religions of the East.

Keywords: absolutism; Peninsular War; monarchy; court; rebellion; conspiracy; Carlism; liberalism; nationalism; republicanism; localism

Chapter.  14493 words. 

Subjects: Literature

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