Mapping the Social Body: Urbanisation, the Gaze, and the Novels of Galdós

Mapping the Social Body: Urbanisation, the Gaze, and the Novels of Galdós

Mapping the Social Body: Urbanisation, the Gaze, and the Novels of Galdós

Mapping the Social Body: Urbanisation, the Gaze, and the Novels of Galdós


Influenced by trends in medicine, town planning and social etiquette, Madrid's middle class viewed urban growth with apprehension in the second half of the nineteenth century. In Mapping the Social Body, Collin McKinney examines manifestations and critiques of that reaction in the work of Benito Perez Galdos, Spain's greatest modern novelist. Drawing on a wide range of recent cultural theory as well as contemporary non-literary texts, this book provides modern readers with a metatextual map of Galdos's Madrid and Spanish society as they experienced urbanisation.

In a century obsessed with all things visual, the map became a useful model with which the recently formed middle class hoped to reform a social body ravaged by disease, crime, prostitution, and class conflict. This study finds that Galdos's attitude toward the middle class and its mapping enterprise changes over time. Whereas his early novels depict dividing practices as reliable and perhaps necessary, his later works show Spain's social maps to be subjective and discriminatory. In La desheredada, Tormento, and La de Bringas the social body is mapped according to class, genealogy, gender and physical difference. Physically and morally ambiguous, the characters in Fortunata y Jacinta, Nazarin, and Misericordia are unmappable and thus resistant to the bourgeois categorising gaze.


I admit nothing but on the faith of the eyes.

–Francis Bacon

Arecent anthropological study by Constance Classen (2005) shows that cultures are characterised by “sense ratios”. According to this theory, a culture is said to be visual, tactile, oral/aural, etc., depending on the extent to which it emphasizes one sense above the others, whether as a means of communication, through the manner in which it interacts with its environment, or in constructing a worldview. By way of example, the inhabitants of the Andes are an oral/aural society inasmuch as they are “animated by sound” (Classen 2005: 148), the Mayan culture, especially the Tzotzil of the Chiapas highlands, display a “thermal cosmology” and can therefore be considered a tactile culture (Classen 2005: 148–52), and the Ongee people of the Andaman Islands are an olfactory society using odour as “the reason for communal life” (Classen 2005: 153).

Because vision provided the basis for personal identity and dictated social relationships, there can be little doubt that nineteenthcentury Madrid was a visual culture. in a century of notable scientific progress, which saw significant advances in microscopy, the invention of photography, and the continuing belief–popularised by Locke and the other sensationalists but inherited by Comte and the positivists–that knowledge comes through the senses and that vision is the most reliable of the senses, it is understandable that Spain’s middle classes would turn to the so-called noblest of the senses as they tried to solve the problem of social disorder brought . . .

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