El Humorismo, Romantic Irony, and the Carnivalesque World of Galdos's 'El Amigo Manso.' (Benito Perez Galdos)

By Collins, Marsha S. | The Romanic Review, November 1997 | Go to article overview

El Humorismo, Romantic Irony, and the Carnivalesque World of Galdos's 'El Amigo Manso.' (Benito Perez Galdos)


Collins, Marsha S., The Romanic Review


Bienaventurados los mansos, porque ellos recibiran la tierra por heredad.

(Mateo 5.5)

The title of comic masterpiece has graced El amigo Manso ever since Galdos's writer-alter ego first plunged a disembodied Maximo Manso in ink and with additional alchemical hocus-pocus brought the hero painfully to life in the opening pages of the novel. Shortly after the book's publication in 1882, Clarin labeled El amigo Manso "una maravilla de gracia, naturalidad, observacion y estilo" and anticipated the response of generations of future readers with his own reaction of "la carcajada indomita, la alegria franca, la risa estrepitosa" (Kronik, "Clarin" 67, 70). Following on the heels of La desheredada (1881), arguably the author's closest approximation to French naturalism, and emerging on the Madrid literary scene just a few months before the initial installments of Pardo Bazan's La cuestion palpitante, Galdos's prose fiction provides a highly suggestive, personal commentary on the contemporary Spanish novel.(1) In my opinion, El amigo Manso's humor, which surprisingly remains the least studied and understood aspect of this comic masterpiece, offers a provocative key to Galdos's evolving concept of the novel, and the genre's capacity to represent the contingencies of human experience as well as the complexities of the human spirit.(2)

Umberto Eco has characterized fictional worlds as finite microcosms inhabited by entities with distinct properties governed by certain laws.(3) The principles of humorismo and carnivalization rule the small world of El amigo Manso, which distances Galdos's comic narrative from naturalist determinism and the ostensibly mimetic imperative of realist fiction. Clarin himself identifies the novel with humorismo: "La narracion de Manso es de un humorismo triste y dulce, es de un pesimismo resignado, casi optimista, puede decirse, si no se tomara al pie de la letra la paradoja" (Kronik, "Clarin" 68). Manso's tale of unrequited love and disillusionment, punctuated both by remarkable scenes of uproarious slapstick and moments of ennobling self-awareness and self-sacrifice, does evoke a paradoxical, bittersweet tonality that reflects the text's multiple contradictions. Clarin expands the notion of humorismo to embrace the narrator-protagonist's internalized sense of dissociation, noting that Manso "se contempla a si mismo como si fuera un progimo cualquiera," and that the hero's intentions frequently differ considerably from his subsequent actions and results (68). As for the author, Galdos seems to have refined himself out of existence in an almost godlike manner: "[E]n la narracion misma, en el modo de comentar los sucesos, el autor usa una indiferencia aparente, de un sublime humorismo. Esto hay que verlo en el libro, no se explica facilmente" (68). The novel's sublime humorismo may indeed be difficult to explain, nevertheless when he employs the term, Clarin obviously has something quite specific in mind that one cannot render accurately in English simply as "wit," "humor," or "the comic."

Francisco Giner de los Rios's "?Que es lo comico?" (1872) offers a clue to the special meaning of humorismo. As Raquel Asun has shown, Galdos skillfully uses the techniques of point of view outlined in Giner's essay, which the famous educator derived from Jean Paul Richter's Vorschule der Asthetik (1804), in order to generate laughter in response to El amigo Manso.(4) Giner essentially provides a condensed version of Jean Paul's fifth "Programm uber das Lacherliche" [Course on the Ridiculous] to analyze how writers create comic effects and make readers laugh.(5) According to Giner and Richter, the comic arises from a disproportionate relationship or a disjunction between motivation and action, effort and result, what should happen and what actually does happen. The fictional character involved in these disjointed events remains ignorant or blissfully unaware of the mismatch, while readers watch with amusement as they project their own superior knowledge and perspective onto the same occurrences (Giner 34-38; Richter 28. …

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