Doña Perfecta

Doña Perfecta

Book - 1999
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Pepe Ray arrives from Madrid in the rural town of Orbajosa expecting only to marry his cousin Rosario and reclaim the land he inherited from his mother. Soon, however, Pepe encounters conflict as his progessive ideals clash with the traditional and fervently religious mood of the town.
Publisher: London : Phoenix House, 1999.
ISBN: 9781861591319
1861591314
Branch Call Number: FIC/Pérez 3588 1
Characteristics: viii, 233 p.

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DWIGHT A GREEN
Mar 11, 2016

The story: José de Rey (Pepe) arrives in the decrepit town of Orbajosa to visit his Aunt Perfecta. Pepe’s father assisted Perfecta when her husband died, saving his sister from ruin and bankruptcy. She had promised her daughter, Rosario, in marriage to Pepe when the children had grown. Pepe’s father has just informed Pepe of the deal but puts no pressure on his son unless he wants to follow through on it. Pepe and Rosario quickly fall in love and plan to marry but Pepe, an engineer and very much a man of science, clashes with the traditional and religious fervor of Orbajosa. He suspects Perfecta of organizing a plot against him as numerous lawsuits attach to his property, he loses his position on a nearby project, and Rosario supposedly falls ill and is unable to see him. When Pepe confronts Perfecta she defiantly acknowledges her role in sabotaging his suit with Rosario and declares he will never marry her daughter. Pepe schemes to elope with Rosario but townspeople, whipped up by Perfecta’s anger, insure tragedy occurs.

Despite the ultimate tragedy, Doña Perfecta is full of humor. The names of the places and the characters establish the irony Galdós intends from the beginning of the novel. Orbajosa, said to be a corruption of urbs augusta, is anything BUT a majestic city. Pepe notes on his way to Orbajosa that the area and town names would make a blind man happy, “for it’s paradise to the tongue and inferno to the eyes.” The difference between intent and reality provide themes for much of the novel. The character’s names often provide laughs, too, Perfecta being the most obvious. Her Father Confessor is Inocencio, a former Latin scholar that remains innocent by washing his hands of impending tragedy in the manner of Pontius Pilate.

Perfecta turns out to be nothing short of a monster, using her religious faith as a cudgel while breaking every Christian precept in the process. Her fanaticism reaches absurd levels, especially at the end when she believes that she is the only figure that can absolve Rosario of her sin. She states her conscience is clear on all she has done and will do while believing changes in education and science undermine and corrupt the Christian faith. Pepe symbolizes progress, embracing scientific publications and changes of the times (the novel is set in the late 1860s). While damning Perfecta for her perversion of the Christian faith, Galdós seems to equally condemn Pepe’s contempt for traditions and customs. In both cases you have characters believing that they alone hold the true way and are intolerant toward anyone not believing as they do.

It’s far from Galdós’ best novels but still a wonderful read. As William Dean Howells notes in his introduction, Galdós shows an admirable management of the story and its characters. Recommended.

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