The prolific Spanish author Benito Pérez Galdós wrote his short novel, Tristana, during the closing years of the nineteenth century, a time when very few options were available to women of limited financial means who did not want a husband. Tristana desires independence and freedom, and she possesses the intelligence and ambition to pursue it were it not for circumstances and misfortunes that conspire in forcing her to bend to the expectations of her time.

The novel is built upon a love triangle—the twenty-one year old Tristana; her lover, the young painter Horacio; and Don Lope, Tristana’s benefactor who takes her in, alone and penniless, following the death of her parents. Although Tristana’s growing self-awareness and consequent actions propel the course of the story Tristana is an exceptional novel because of the enigmatic Don Lope.

Don Lope is fifty-seven years old, a life-long bachelor, and a notorious rake. Gentleman seducers in literature are plentiful, and Don Lope is that but also much more. Galdós’s creation feels original, not simply a typical “Don Juan” to whom virtuous women fall victim. Don Lope is a consummate gentleman who upholds old-world chivalry, honor, and decorum to the highest degree. When it comes to satisfying his sexual appetites, however, a different code of conduct applies, but one that, to Don Lope’s mind, is still wholly appropriate. Don Lope’s conquests are many and famously include nuns and women of otherwise inviolable virtue. The innocent Tristana becomes one more victim, and Don Lope feels no guilt, no discomfort in being both “father” and “husband” to Tristana. Don Lope’s understanding of respectable conduct is not ambiguous, but rather patently contradictory, and in Don Lope these contradictions cohabitate peacefully. While maintaining his chivalrous demeanor he feels justified in considering Tristana his chattel, compensation for his promise to her mother that he will be her guardian.

His extraordinary beliefs extend to behaviors that would seem at cross-purposes: he is jealous of Tristana’s feelings for Horacio and simultaneously develops a true and lasting friendship with Horacio; he is extremely vain but he spends what little money he can gather not on new clothes but on paints, music instruction and other things to facilitate Tristana’s vocations; he admires Tristana’s intelligence and ambition and denigrates her desires as childish. Don Lope is an example of what the twentieth century writer and memoirist Sergio Pitol described as Galdós’s gift for showing that “. . . the quotidian and the delirious, the tragic and the grotesque, do not have to be different sides of a coin, rather they are able to be a single fully integrated entity.” (The Art of Flight, trans. George Henson, Deep Vellum 2015).

Beyond domesticity, Tristana’s choices, so limited at the outset, are further circumscribed by fate. Like Emma Bovary and Anna Karenina before her Tristana gets caught up in the colliding forces of early feminist ambition and old-world strictures. While this conflict is present in many works of nineteenth century literature Galdós looks beyond the opposing forces to reveal the practical, that is the accommodations that disallow the ideal but make space for living the life that you are dealt.

Comments are disabled for this article.


By Benito Pérez Galdós
Translated by Margaret Jull Costa
Reviewed by Lori Feathers
192 pages, paperback
ISBN: 9781590177655
I Remember Nightfall
I Remember Nightfall by Marosa di Giorgio
Reviewed by Talia Franks

I Remember Nightfall by Marosa di Giorgio (trans. From the Spanish by Jeannine Marie Pitas) is a bilingual poetry volume in four parts, consisting of the poems “The History of Violets,” “Magnolia,” “The War of the Orchards,” and “The Native. . .

Read More >

Joyce y las gallinas
Joyce y las gallinas by Anna Ballbona
Reviewed by Brendan Riley

This review was originally published as a report on the book at New Spanish Books, and has been reprinted here with permission of the reviewer. The book was originally published in the Catalan by Anagrama as Joyce i les. . .

Read More >

Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World
Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World by Ella Frances Sanders
Reviewed by Kaija Straumanis

Hello and greetings in the 2017 holiday season!

For those of you still looking for something to gift a friend or family member this winter season, or if you’re on the lookout for something to gift in the. . .

Read More >

The Size of the World
The Size of the World by Branko Anđić
Reviewed by Jaimie Lau

Three generations of men—a storyteller, his father and his son—encompass this book’s world. . . . it is a world of historical confusion, illusion, and hope of three generations of Belgraders.

The first and last sentences of the first. . .

Read More >

Island of Point Nemo
Island of Point Nemo by Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès
Reviewed by Katherine Rucker

The Island of Point Nemo is a novel tour by plane, train, automobile, blimp, horse, and submarine through a world that I can only hope is what Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès’s psyche looks like, giant squids and all.

What. . .

Read More >

The Truce
The Truce by Mario Benedetti
Reviewed by Adrianne Aron

Mario Benedetti (1920-2009), Uruguay’s most beloved writer, was a man who loved to bend the rules. He gave his haikus as many syllables as fit his mood, and wrote a play divided into sections instead of acts. In his country,. . .

Read More >

I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World
I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World by Kim Kyung Ju
Reviewed by Jacob Rogers

Kim Kyung Ju’s I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World, translated from the Korean by Jake Levine, is a wonderful absurdist poetry collection. It’s a mix of verse and prose poems, or even poems in the. . .

Read More >