I’ve got one last entry for Spanish Literature Month, the 1886 novel The House of Ulloa by Emilia Pardo Bazán. My understanding is that in Spain this is and has always been a much-read book, of similar stature as Clarín’s La Regenta (1884-5) and Benito Pérez Galdós’s Fortunata y Jacinta (1886-7). In the edition I read, translated by Roser Caminals-Heath, the novel is 260 pages long, compared to the 800 plus pages of each of those other two novels, so the Pardo Bazán is the easiest one to deal with is what I am suggesting.
Look at those dates. What a burst of books.
In The House of Ulloa a young nitwit priest joins a noble household in the Galician countryside where he is shocked by the young Marquis’s mistress and illegitimate son, as well as by the decay of the chapel, house, and entire way of life. He makes attempts at improvement; some succeed, some fail. The priest has “an aversion to purely material things” (Ch. 6), a handicap in a Naturalist novel.
Pardo Bazán had absorbed her French neighbors pretty well, Zola and Flaubert and Balzac, so the novel is written with their bundle of tricks – a lot of good descriptive writing, a mostly limited point of view that freely moves among the characters, and a strong sense of how ordinary life functions underneath whatever excitement might be occurring in the plot.
Something like this, the description of an enormous uncle:
Constricted to a sedentary life, he clearly had flesh and blood in excess and did not know what to do with them. Without being exactly obesity, his corpulence spread in all directions: each foot was like a boat, each hand like a carpenter’s hammer. He suffocated in formal dress, did not fit in small rooms, panted loudly in a theater seat, and at mass elbowed his neighbors to conquer more space. A magnificent specimen suited for mountain life and the warfare of feudal days, he wasted away pathetically in the vile idleness of the city, where he who produces nothing, teaches nothing, and learns nothing is good for nothing and does nothing. (Ch.9)
Nothing here would have seemed too out of place in the Zola novels I have read.
One reason to read a novel like this, even one less well written than Ulloa, is that it has an interesting, unusual setting. The Galician mountains, Santiago de Compostela – where else can I read about these people, and these places? Every place and every time should have its own Balzac, its own Trollope, its own novel of The Way We Live Now.
The House of Ulloa frequently reminded me of several different Eça de Queirós novels, the ones set in the countryside of northern Portugal, like The Sin of Father Amaro (1875) which also stars a young priest, or The Noble House of Ramires (1900), with another old aristocratic house in decay. But Galicia borders Portugal; Pardo Bazán’s characters are practically neighbors with Eça’s. This was not much of an insight. Yet here I am, typing it out.
While I am wandering, readers of Tirso de Molina’s The Trickster of Seville may remember that one of the noblemen in that 17th century play was from the Ulloa family. The name could hardly have a better literary pedigree.
I guess I’ll save the baby for tomorrow.