jueves, 15 de enero de 2015

The 19th of March and the 2nd of May - Benito Pérez Galdós

The Classics Spin has helped me continue with my little reading project: reading the 46 National Episodes written by Benito Pérez Galdós. These novels are a series of historical fiction books set in 1805-1880 Spain, and important Spanish literature classics usually studied during high school. Unfortunately, they haven't been translated into English. I reviewed the first two here and here. My spin book was the third Episode, El 19 de marzo y el 2 de mayo, or The 19th of March and the 2nd of May

The main character and narrator is still Gabriel de Araceli, but he has grown quite a lot since we first met him as a rascal in Trafalgar. He is now working in Madrid and in a committed long-distance relationship with Inés, the little seamstress, who is now living with her uncle in Aranjuez. In one of his visits to Inés, Gabriel is unable to leave Aranjuez because a mutiny has been started to overthrow the King, Charles IV, in order to put his son Ferdinand VII in the throne. The Prime Minister Manuel Godoy is held responsible for the recent power concessions to France and prosecuted for his supposed crimes against the Kingdom.

Gabriel serendipitously finds himself in a privileged position to witness the mutiny, until he is forced to flee because of his connections to the Minister. In the meanwhile, Inés' uncle and aunt, Mauro and Restituta Requejo, take Inés with them back to Madrid. While they feign good-will towards their niece, Gabriel discovers they are only interested in the fortune she is going to inherit as the only heir to a countess, a fact Inés is not aware of. As he can't bear that someone wants to take advantage of Inés, he embarks in a mission to rescue her from her cruel relatives, infiltrating in their house pretending to be a mere servant.

Does all of that sound convoluted? Because it is. The whole time I spent reading this, I felt as if I was reading a novelized version of a soap opera: the characters are flat and everything is contrived. Not in vain are they called National Episodes! The first half of this novel left me cold and a little bored - it was a bit of a slog after the first two. Inés, who was quite an interesting and wise character in the second novel, has become not only a mere object of Gabriel's love, but also a Purity Sue. Gabriel is diving head-first into jerk territory, hiding Inés true identity from her in order to "protect" her, and manipulating a rival for his own ends.

Fortunately, the second half of the novel left me with a better impression. During their stay with the Requejos the political situation has worsened. Napoleon is forcing every member and heir of the Royal Crown to abandon Spain, and has sent lots of troops to supposedly help the Spanish Army to keep order after the mutiny. People are finally realizing that what Napoleon truly wants is to conquer Spain, and riots break up exactly the day Gabriel frees Inés. Once again, Gabriel finds himself part of an important historical event, the Dos de Mayo Uprising, magistrally reflected by Goya in his paintings.

The last scenes of the novel describe the fierce and desperate fight of the unarmed Spanish people against the French Army, their shattered hopes and their bitter defeat. I learned a lot about the history of the Malasaña neighbourhood, where most of the battles were held, and about the role of women in the few victories of the day. At the end, when everyone left alive was held captive and executed by a firing squad, my heart was breaking with an overdose of sadness.

Here's hoping that the fourth novel, Bailén, is a brilliantly written as the last part of this book.

Have you read this book? Please, leave a link to your review in the comments and I will link you here!

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