Narrators of nineteenth-century realistic fiction pride themselves on effective mimesis, on representing material and emotional reality as accurately as possible. Their discourse attempts to recreate the material world and present characters who move within and react to it. This linguistic imitation builds and decorates rooms, clothes its characters, paints their faces and paves their city streets. The various social classes, marked by their titles, manners, servants and speech, slide into their carved-out niches.
Within this clearly-defined marking of material and linguistic signs, the narration must also account for "ces phenomenes... [qui] se passent dans une sphere inaccessible a l'observation humaine. . ." (Balzac, "Sarrasine" in Barthes 243). In these extremely material worlds, where even the emotional and the psychological manifest themselves as visible and tangible, hidden madness, the supernatural, religious mysticism and demons also have their part. These latter experiences fall under the category of the marvellous or the fantastic, experiences which challenge, contradict or overturn the rules governing the world of the narrative, or which cause the reader, character or narrator to hesitate in explaining the phenomena (Rabkin 8, Todorov 28-9). This reading of Leopoldo Alas "Clarin"'s La Regenta locates the fantastic as one of the "diagrammable" readings woven into the text that pulls at the achieved realism. The fantastic in the narrative serves to advance the suspense of the story, by confusing the realms of material reality with the subjectively interior. Through the fantastic, narration and reading become alternative realities within the world of the text.
"All art, all mental wholes, are, to some extent at least, fantastic" (Rabkin 215). What various critics define as the fantastic, its elements and continuum, ranges from uncanny coincidence to the fantasy of fairy tales and science fiction. All seem to agree on the reader's response as a necessary function to the fantastic, for the reader must detect the reversal or contradiction in the ordered rules of the text's world. The narrative sets out, then, its own parameters of reality, with "language that avoids calling attention to itself once the register of everyday discourse has been established" (Lucente 14), and any transgressions (technological, physiological or logical) cause a shock or hesitation in the reader, often shared by the narrator and/or the characters.
The Fantastic as Opposition
Rather than a shocking fantastic in La Regenta, Clarin juxtaposes the realism of his narrative (material reality, Spanish nineteenth-century class structure, and religious hierarchies in a historically and sociologically grounded setting) with supernatural, diabolical and myst'cal alternatives to that world. Clarin tells the story of characters who are trapped in the intellectual mediocrity and hypocritical social reality of Vetusta, and of their "anhelo de volar mas alla de las estrechas paredes de su caseron" (Clarin II, 70). In fact, from the church to individuals' homes, the material structures of Vetusta become imprisoning labyrinths for main characters Ana and Fermin. The town is not only the "dynamic axis around which all the different themes revolve" (Durand 325), but a controlling and ordering presence from which the characters attempt to escape. Clarin's "psychological realism" ties the characters to their physical environment, entretejiendo casi imperceptiblemente, y de manera muy sutil, una intima interrelacion entre ambos elementos" (Roberts 199). The fantastic springs from this foundation of physical and social realities, contrasting their oppressive control with alternatives ranging from fantasy to the macabre.
The narrator offers these alternatives, not as actual supernatural or otherworldly happenings, but as suggestive descriptions. According to Hamon, description expands what is "real" in the world of the text, either conserving or transforming it (466). …