Benito Pérez Galdós

Second only to Cervantes in stature, Galdós was a prolific writer with over 60 works to his credit.  Galdós was born in Las Palmas, Canary Islands in 1843 where he remained until moving to Madrid at the age of 19.  Galdós is often compared to Dickens, Balzac and Tolstoy, each of whom he freely admits were major influences.

Galdós wrote in three basic groups: Drama.   The Episodios nacionales, which comprise 50 volumes, are a series of historical fiction in which Galdós portrays Spain's history from the Peninsular War's to the Bourbon restoration. They are written through the eyes of fictional characters in order to give readers more relevance to the present day. 

His third and best group is his novelas españolas contemporáneas, which were written concurrently with the Episodios nacionales.  These are works of fiction set in Madrid which portray the lives of a divergent group of character's who breath life into the late 19th century city.  Galdós took the novel approach of having character's appear and reappear in various books, often with a significantly different portrayal of them, depending on each narrator's viewpoint.  He was particularly adept at describing the "lower classes" and often explored the uniquely Spanish concept of quedar bien.  This is a tendency to pretend that everything is going well, when in fact you may be on the verge of financial (and/or emotional) collapse.  His female characters, in particular, would exhibit pretenses of affluence by attending plays frequently, dressed in new, exotic gowns, while actually having to rely on a lover or some creative financial machinations to keep up this lifestyle without letting anyone realize their true predicament.  His masterpiece is the voluminous Fortunata y Jacinta (1886-7).

Galdós suffered from poor vision throughout his life, and actually went blind in 1912 which understandably slowed his output.  His chance at long-lasting international fame was sabotaged by his own jealous countrymen, when they launched a slander campaign against him after learning that he would be nominated for the Nobel Prize.  A statue to Galdós was constructed in Retiro Park in Madrid shortly before his death, financed solely by public contributions.  Perhaps the "common people" he wrote so much about understood his rightful place in Spanish culture, more than his less talented and envious peers ever could.

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