Fortunata and Jacinta: Two Stories of Married Women

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Fortunata and Jacinta: Two Stories of Married Women

by Benito Pérez Galdós


A novel set in Madrid from 1865 to 1876; published in Spanish (as Fortunata y Jacinta. Dos Historias de Casadas) in 1886–87; in English in 1973 and 1986.


Both the lower-class Fortunata and the middle-class Jacinta are unhappily married and in love with Jacinta’s husband, the idle, rich Juanito Santa Cruz. On her deathbed, having come to identify with jacinta during their five-year rivalry, Fortunata entrusts her and Juanito’s newborn to the childless Jacinta.

Events in History at the Time the Novel Takes Place

The Novel in Focus

Events in History at the Time the Novel Was Written

For More Information

Born in Las Palmas on Grand Canary Island, Benito Pérez Galdós (1843–1920) left his home in 1862 to study law in Madrid. Once there, he abandoned the university in short order, preferring instead to study Spain’s people and national life in its capital city and becoming active in the daily and periodical press. In this environment, Galdós experienced firsthand the increasingly authoritarian government of the Bourbon Queen Isabella II (1830–1904), including the closure of a newspaper for which he worked as a reporter. The action of Fortunata and Jacinta recreates the Madrid of Galdos’s early years there as student and then writer. It coincides also with the revolutionary period that culminated in the queen’s expulsion from Spain in 1868, and records the failure to consolidate a post-Bourbon government in Spain, the growing anarchy of this era, and the 1875 Restoration of the throne to the exiled Isabella’s son, Alfonso XII. Also, the fickle protagonist Juanito Santa Cruz vacillates between dalliance and domesticity in a way that mirrors Spain’s vacillation between revolutionary experiments and a return to monarchical legitimacy.

Events in History at the Time the Novel Takes Place

The fight for democracy in nineteenth-century Spain

Following the failure of the last Habsburg king of Spain to produce an heir, Spain’s monarchy was entrusted to the Bourbon family in 1700. After the turn of the following century, the weak king Charles IV abdicated the throne in favor of his son Ferdinand VII, who, however, was forced to remain in France under the custody of Napoleon from 1808 until 1814. These six years saw the Spanish War of Independence from France imitated in the New World by the early years of the Spanish American fight for independence from Spain. On the Iberian Peninsula, the leaderless populace, sometimes aided by the regular military—in Bailèn, Zaragoza, and Gerona, for example—waged a guerrilla war against the French best known today through Francisco José de Goya’s 85 etchings Disasters of War and his paintings The Battle of May 2, 1808 and The Execution of the Rebels on May 3, 1808. Of key importance during this period was the formulation of the 1812 Constitution of Cadiz, the first document of modern Spanish democracy. The constitution proposed a one-house legislature, giving lawmaking power to it and only a suspensive veto to the crown, thereby transferring authority from the monarch to the people. Though the constitution never would become a legal governing document, it did serve as an ideological rallying point around which Spanish liberals resisted Ferdinand VII’s absolutism following his return to Spain and until his death in 1833.

Between 1834 and 1876 there were three civil conflicts known in Spain as the Carlist Wars. They pitted the constitutionalists, who supported the succession of Ferdinand’s infant daughter, Isabella, against the increasingly minority absolutists, who wanted Ferdinand’s brother, Charles, and his descendants to occupy the throne as Charles (Carlos) V, VI, and VII. Fortunata and Jacinta occurs between April 1865 and April 1876, a period that coincides with the one leading up to and including the last Carlist War (1872-76). The first page of the novel places its male protagonist, the then-student Juanito Santa Cruz, at the April 10, 1865, beating and imprisonment of perhaps 200 demonstrators and the killing of as many as 30 more by the mounted troops of Prime Minister General Ramón María Narváez’s government. This action, known as the Massacre of the Eve of Saint Daniel, signals historically historically the beginning of the revolutionary process that led to the September 1868 expulsion of Queen Isabella II from Spain. The fateful protest—organized by Galdós’s Canary Island friend Luis Fernández Benitez de Lugo, Marqués de la Florida—had received government authorization. But on the actual day of the demonstration, the numbers of university students, laborers, and other protesters caused the nervous, repressive government to cancel its authorization at the last moment and then to attack those who rallied. At issue was a series of government dismissals from university posts. Victims of these dismissals were professors who had either criticized Isabella’s public actions or supported the right to criticize them, perhaps most notably Professor Emilio Castelar, one of four presidents of the First Republic (1873-74).

Other important events of this period include the June 1866 uprisings of the artillery sergeants of Saint Gil barracks in Madrid, the most visible aspect of a failed attempt at armed revolution against the queen and her government by dissident military officers under Generals Francisco Serrano and Juan Prim. There was a public execution of the captured artillery sergeants in July, after which key opposition groups, united in their democratic ideals, met in Ostend, Belgium. The groups declared their purposes: dethrone Isabella II; create universal male suffrage; and elect a constituent assembly to decide between monarchical or republican government in Spain.

When General Narváez died in late April 1868, Isabella lost her last military strongman. By the summer of 1868 her general capricious-ness and scandalous conduct had helped undermine her former popular appeal, fanning the flames of opposition to her government’s undemocratic policies. Liberal generals exiled in France and the Canary Islands returned to Spain at summer’s end to stage what became the September Revolution of 1868. The great military victory of the revolution, whose combined casualty count was more than 1,800 dead and wounded, occurred September 28–29, 1868, at the Battle of Alcolea in southern Spain. Confirmation of the victory came in early October with the unopposed entrances into Madrid of Serrano’s army from the south and of Prim’s army from Valencia and Barcelona.

The time between the September Revolution and the Restoration of the Bourbons on January 9, 1875, called the Liberal Sexenary by Spanish historians, may be divided into three periods. Between October 1868 and December 1870 the liberal Constitution of 1869 was drafted to include the vote for all males 25 and older; freedom of religion, instruction, the press, and of association; and the advisability of a constitutional monarchy. This last item led to the parliamentary election of Amadeus, son of Victor Emmanuel II of Italy, as king of Spain. But the December 1870 assassination of Prim, this king’s principal and strongest supporter, crippled the monarchy at its inception. The second period, the brief two years of Amadeus’s reign, amounted to an unending series of internal and colonial problems. These included

  • The beginning of the third Carlist war in northern Spain
  • The continuation of the first Cuban war of independence
  • The organization and first radicalization of agricultural and industrial workers in eastern and southern Spain
  • A very serious attempted assassination of Amadeus
  • Armed insurrections in northwestern and southern Spain for these regions to obtain legal political autonomy from Madrid

When Amadeus realized that the national problems represented by these events were truly beyond his ability to resolve, he abdicated (February 11, 1873). The third period of the Sexenary saw the founding of the First Republic in Spain, the first attempt to govern Spain with no monarchical component. But this new form of government, in a country lacking practical democratic experience and questioning the legitimacy of its government’s authority, augmented the problems faced by Amadeus. Within two years Emilio Castelar, the fourth and last president of the republic, operated more as a dictator than as the president elected by the representative parliament. Hence there was no real opposition to the coup d’etat of January 3, 1874, led by General Manuel Pavía y Lacy.

Following the year-long regency of General Francisco Serrano y Domínguez, the Bourbon monarchy was restored to Spain in the person of Isabella’s son Alfonso XII. He returned to Spain on January 9, 1875, and in June of 1876 a new Constitution was drafted. It represented a compromise between the two principal governing forces in Spain until the Spanish-American War of 1898 created a new crisis in national life. During the compromise, the conservative Cánovas de Castillo and the liberal Sagasta alternated with each other as prime minister, allowing for the observance of the forms of representative constitutional monarchy. From the vantage point of the conflict-weary forces, the alternating system had two vital components. It assured civilian control over governmental affairs in the wake of too-frequent military interventions into national life from the 1830s until the present. Secondly it oversaw an equitable distribution of economic and political spoils for the oligarchy—a mix of the traditional landed aristocracy and the new self-made, monied aristocracy—regardless of which party ran the government. The political factions renewed support for this strategy after Alfonso XII died (November 25, 1885), when they faced, given the posthumous birth of the infant who would become Alfonso XIII, the prospect of a long regency by the king’s Austrian widow, María Cristina of Habsburg.

Class formation and structure

Although the political, demographic, and economic effects of the Industrial Revolution took longer to appear and were less far reaching in Spain than in England, Germany, France, and other European countries, all post-Ferdinand VII governments tried to make Spain more like their progressive neighbors. Most significant in this effort was the continuation and augmentation, especially after Ferdinand VII’s death, of the disentailment of great landholdings, begun timidly in 1769 under Ferdinand’s grandfather, the enlightened despot Charles III. While the lands of religious orders were especially targeted, leading to dissolution for many and to the adherence of the clergy and country people to the Carlist cause, by the last third of the nineteenth century, most of the entailed religious and governmental, including royal, holdings had been nationalized and sold at auction. By taking lands from so-called “dead hands” and trying to place them in those of the active, profit-oriented middle and upper classes, liberal governments hoped to achieve two aims: create generally increasing economic activity and, through infusions of full-price cash and mortgage payments for the auctioned lands, establish a more solvent basis for the national treasury. While this attempt proved successful in a macro sense, increasing food production for a population that soared from 12.3 million at Ferdinand’s death to 16.6 million by the end of the Third Carlist War, the rural lower classes continued to be landless. At the same time Madrid, Spain’s largest city with a population that approached 400,000, was benefitting from the disentailment-inspired demolition or remodeling of church properties both within the urban center and just outside the former walls of the city. With the growth of Madrid as the governmental and administrative center of Spain, an increasing number of bureaucrats and professionals created larger middle classes. From their ranks emerged the individuals who became large urban property owners, speculators in government securities, and players in the stock market. Galdós’s study in Fortunata and Jacinta of the Santa Cruz family, as well as of families related to them by blood, marriage, and friendship, provides multiple case histories of this process of class formation. In the three generations of the Santa Cruz family upon which Galdós concentrates, the progression from middle class to high bourgeoisie to new monied aristocracy is clear. By the time he was writing Fortunata and Jacinta, the most successful historical equivalents of his fictionalized families were becoming commercial, financial, and industrial dynasties. As happened elsewhere in Europe, the new monied aristocracy became heedless of the lower and middle classes. Through business, political, and marital alliances it either supplanted fallen members of the old aristocracy, ruined by high city living and mismanagement of their rural estates, or shared wealth and influence with nobles who retained their old positions.

Together the old and new aristocracies formed less than 2 percent of the Spanish population while the middle classes consisted of less than 20 percent so that the lower classes formed the vast majority. Centered in Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, and Seville, the middle classes consisted of professionals, bureaucrats, military officers, secular priests, and small businessmen and property holders. Their earliest leaders were born two generations before Galdós and received their practical democratic education in periods of political exile during the worst times of Ferdinand VII. They observed firsthand the highly unfavorable contrast between backward Spain and the advanced political and economic progress of England and France. This led them to advocate Spanish modernization through constitutional government and better, higher-level education for ever larger contingents of society. Despite this laudable goal, roughly four of five Spaniards were either wage-earners and their families or members of the lower classes for whom each day was a struggle for subsistence. In the mid-to-late 1800s less than 5 percent of the lower classes could read and write, so prospects for a better life for those people were remote. For his part, the middle-class Galdós became in his day perhaps the most forceful apologist for a democratic Spain based on talent, education, and work.

The status of women

In the mid-to-late 1800s the dependent situation of women was especially conspicuous in the growing middle-class sector of urban society. Educated to be wives and mothers, the overwhelming majority of Spanish women who lived in urban communities lacked the skills needed to earn their own living. As in the early-nineteenth-century Spain of Goya and Fernández de Moratín and the England of Jane Austen, survival for most women of all social classes meant marriage to an economically well-situated male (see Moratín’s Maiden’s Consent, also in WLAIT 5: Spanish and Portuguese Literatures and Their Times). This often meant marriage to an older man selected by the woman’s parents or guardians. The woman’s lot demanded subordination to her husband and father, and involved, if she was fertile, numerous pregnancies. Other defining characteristics of nineteenth-century women were low literacy rates and no direct political or economic power. According to Spain’s 1860 census, which recorded a population of 15.6 million, women made a paltry showing in the urban work force and had to settle for farmhand status in the countryside, where millions of females worked the soil side-by-side with their fathers, brothers, husbands, and children. Of the approximately 648,000 women employed for wages, two-thirds served as domestics, 7,800 taught at the primary level, and the rest labored in light industries dedicated to the production of such items as textiles, cigars, and confectionar-ies. Yet virtually no woman so employed could support herself. Whether as a domestic servant, a nun in a convent (there were about 19,000 Spanish nuns in 1860), or a daughter or wife in her parents’ or husband’s home, women depended on someone else to provide their shelter. When all else failed, younger women, such as the novel’s Fortunata, prostituted themselves as kept women or streetwalkers or in bordellos, while older women begged in the streets. Many of these unfortunate women originally served as domestics, but after being discovered as the sexual object of one or more of the family’s males and being blackballed by the dominant females, the former servants resorted to prostitution, seeing it as their only economic alternative. The 1860 Spanish census contains a category pobres de solemnidad (“the solemnly poor”). People in this group were able-bodied but without jobs or resources. The breakdown by gender of its membership makes the starkness of the female

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economic condition abundantly clear. While 6,346 men were classified pobres de solemnidad, 178,934 women were so labeled. A simple mathematical calculation could justify the assertion that woman were 29 times worse off economically than men.

The Novel in Focus

Plot summary

Fortunata and Jacinta is divided into four volumes of about 190 pages each. The novel begins with the aforementioned 1865 Massacre of the Eve of Saint Daniel. Introduced in


Baldomero Santa Cruz, Juanito’s father, has capital in the amount of 15,000,000 reales (about $750,000 in the later nineteenth century, when $80,000 was enough to build a 50-room mansion). His capital produces an annual income of 500,000 reales ($24,000). He reinvests 36 percent of this income each year, spending most of the rest on yearly allotments to his wife and son, Juanito. She receives 240,000 reales for household and personal expenses; Juanito, 80,000 as pocket money, a sum to which his mother contributes another 30,000. The richest of the old and new aristocracies have by comparison annual incomes at least 20 times greater than that of the Santa Cruz family. Wealthier middle-class families earn 50,000 to 100,000 reales per year, low middle-class ones struggle to get by on 20,000 or less, and wage earners and the underclass earn low multiples of 1,000.

relation to this incident are the male protagonist, Juanito Santa Cruz, an only son, and his two university chums, Villalonga and Zalamero. The narrator’s characterization of Juanito’s expedient release from jail indicates at the outset that the Santa Cruz family is a rich and influential force of the upper bourgeoisie. The description that follows details Juanito’s subsequent lapse into apolitical idleness, which demonstrates the shallowness of his Saint Daniel Eve liberalism. More generally, these details illustrate how the novel embeds the personal storyline into broader Spanish history, establishing parallels between public events and the private, novelistic action.

The first volume details the formation of the Santa Cruz family fortune, which springs from the Madrilenian cloth trade of the first half of the nineteenth century. The business grew under the guiding hand of Juanito’s father, who passed it on to hardworking middle-class nephews. This left the father free to enjoy his position as an urban landlord and, with dinner-table access to inside information, to speculate successfully in the stock market and in government bonds. One December day in 1869, his idle son Juanito, known also as the Dauphin, has nothing else to do and goes to the heart of old Madrid, the Plaza Mayor, to inquire after the health of an esteemed family dependent, Estupiñá. Climbing some stairs, he meets the striking 18-year-old Fortunata drinking raw egg from its shell. This experience introduces Juanito to the deliciously vulgar, vital world of the urban poor, which soon finds him promising marriage to Fortunata. When he tires of her, ignorant of her pregnant condition, Juanito acts on his watchful mother’s suggestion and marries his first cousin, the middle-class Jacinta, in May 1871.

Two years into her childless marriage to an unfaithful husband, Jacinta learns of the possible presence in Madrid of Juanito’s child by Fortunata. With the help of Guillermina Pacheco, a family friend who has dedicated her life to the urban poor and who is then constructing an asylum for abandoned and orphaned children, Jacinta arranges to buy the child she thinks to be Juanito’s by Fortunata through her uncle José Izquierdo. When Jacinta’s actions become known to the family, Juanito explains that his illegitimate child died. Furthermore, Izquierdo, without Fortunata’s knowledge and aided by the former writer of sensational novels Ido del Sagrario, has tricked Jacinta with a “novel” about the illegitimate child.

The child Jacinta has acquired, who is about the same age Fortunata’s child by Juanito would have been, is actually the offspring of Izquierdo’s dead stepdaughter. In the end, the hapless youngster becomes one more orphan under Guillermina’s care. The last incident of Volume 1 begins with a visit to the Santa Cruz household from Villalonga. His ostensible purpose is to report on Paví’s coup d’état, which ends the First Spanish Republic. But the suspicious Jacinta soon understands that Villalonga is reporting to Juanito on a more beautiful Fortunata, newly returned to Madrid after a long absence as the kept woman of an arms dealer. The volume ends with Juanito catching pneumonia after wintry days spent searching in vain for Fortunata.

The second volume introduces the Rubin family of the childless widow and usurer Aunt Lupe and her three orphaned nephews: the 28-year-old, café dwelling, sometimes salesman, sometimes Carlist conspirator Juan Pablo; his 25-year-old brother Nicholas, a gluttonous priest active with the Carlists; and the 19-year-old malformed, sickly pharmacy student Maximiliano. Maximiliano meets Fortunata at the apartment of a fellow student, Olmedo (her old lover Juanito is on the verge of death about this same time). Fortunata has recently begun street-walking, and, until she can amass some money, stays at Olmedo’s on the strength of an old friendship with his live-in girlfriend. While Maxi is instantly taken by Fortunata, she pays him no more heed than she would a fly. Nonetheless, Maxi makes it his project to redeem Fortunata from the streets and convinces his family to aid in her moral and cultural education. Even though the family sees the obvious contrast between Fortunata’s health and physical appeal and Maxi’s lack of both, they support him, acknowledging how much brighter and more competent he has become since taking an interest in Fortunata. He begins by setting her up in her own apartment and giving her lessons in reading and writing. He then sends her to the Micaelas, a convent for the reform of fallen women.

At the convent, Fortunata spends much time with the daughter of a sometime employee of Maxi’s Aunt Lupe, the drunken Mauricia la Dura. Not only does Mauricia confirm Fortunata’s belief that Fortunata is Juanito’s true wife, but for the first time Fortunata sees Jacinta, who comes to the Micaelas to do charitable work. After Fortunata finishes her term at the convent, she and Maxi marry. But on their wedding night, returning to their new apartment, Maxi falls victim to impotence and an excruciating migraine and takes sleep-inducing drugs. The newlyweds’ unfaithful servant then informs Fortunata that Juanito Santa Cruz is her recently installed next-door neighbor. Although Fortunata resists Juanito at first, her enduring love for him leads to their reconciliation and to her betrayal of Maxi. When confronted by the Rubin family for her infidelity, Fortunata flees from them.

The third volume contains the restoration of domestic order in the marriages between Jacinta and Juanito, and Fortunata and Maxi, as well as the Restoration of the Bourbon dynasty as a constitutional monarchy in Spain, when Alfonso XII assumes the Spanish throne. At the same time, Maxi’s brother Juan Pablo Rubin, advised and aided by an old and influential friend, the retired Colonel Evaristo Feijoo, abandons the Carlist cause and becomes a provincial governor under Alfonso. Meanwhile, Juanito, again bored with Fortunata, returns to Jacinta, and Feijoo, long aware of Fortunata and her history through Juan Pablo, begins a liaison with her. When their life together causes a precipitate decline in his health, Feijoo, also friendly with Aunt Lupe, arranges for a reconciliation between Fortunata and Maxi. One of Feijoo’s parting gifts to Fortunata is “a course in practical philosophy,” during which he preaches to her the necessity of keeping up


Early in his career, Ido del Sagrario (whose name translates to something like “Off-His-Rocker”) wrote cheap, melodramatic novels in which dukes and duchesses had torrid romances producing spurious offspring. Those loves and children had incredible complications, with rags-to-riches outcomes for passion’s innocent byproducts being the most popular plot line. Just as Jacinta falls victim to Ido’s “novel” about Fortunata’s first child, other principle Galdosian characters also try to live as if their lives were a novel. Most notable among these is Isidora Rufete, the protagonist of The Disinherited Lady (1881). Isadora’s institutionalized, insane father and his crazy old cousin Santiago Quijano-Quijada convince her that she is the illegitimate granddaughter of the rich marchioness of Aránsis. Isidora, whose family hails from Don Quixote’s home territory of La Mancha, ruins her life trying to convince the marchioness that she is her dead daughter’s love child (see Don Quixote , also in WLAIT 5: Spanish and Portuguese Literatures and Their Times). For his part Ido, after a hard day in the streets, often explodes into his miserable apartment screaming and yelling, looking to kill the count whom he imagines he will discover making love to his withered, selfless wife.

appearances, of having a husband, of avoiding the temptation of Juanito but of learning to live an outwardly respectable, duplicitous life should she not be able to control that love.

The novel’s subtitle—Two Stories of Married Women —finds special relevance in the fourth and final volume. The volume offers a marked counterpoint to Fortunata and Jacinta’s dependency on men who are unworthy of their women morally or physically, and of Fortunata and Jacinta’s consequent humiliations and sufferings. The two married women now have a common bond—the youngish, childless widow Aurora Samaniego Moreno, a rival to them both in Juanito’s affections. Aurora’s mother, one of the Dauphin’s mother’s dearest friends, resolved to educate her daughters in a trade that would allow them to earn their living should this prove necessary. Aurora attained her education through hands-on experience in France in the occupations of accounting and through marriage to a Frenchman, whose retail business in linens, lace, and intimate apparel she helped run. Returning to Madrid, the talented Aurora became successful in business and gained personal independence. Her daily life rested on the kind of awareness of the world that Feijoo had tried in vain to teach Fortunata. Guided by this understanding, Aurora manages to live well on her own terms. Meanwhile, Fortunata is now pregnant with his second child, and Jacinta again bores him, so Juanito turns to Aurora. They go from being family acquaintances to becoming lovers.

Shortly after delivering her child, Fortunata learns about Aurora. The discovery fills her with rage, having come by now to consider herself and Jacinta as the legitimate spouses of Juanito. As Fortunata sees it, she can accept Jacinta’s legal rights to Juanito and assert simultaneously her rights to him by natural law. But Aurora’s liaison with Juanito affronts Jacinta’s goodness and her own motherhood. In the name of their unique status as a kind of dual wife whose rights to Juanito are being usurped by Aurora, Fortunata leaves her apartment, finds Aurora, and beats her. The violence causes postpartum hemorrhaging, which ends Fortunata’s life in April 1876. She carries her identification with Jacinta, her alter ego, to its logical conclusion by willing her son to the childless wife. Buried the same day as the much-mourned Feijoo, Fortunata’s funeral is scantily attended, with no one from the Santa Cruz family appearing. But Fortunata’s son displaces Juanito as the center of Santa Cruz family life. Fortunata’s husband, Maxi Rubín, is committed to an insane asylum, but he does not care. Unhindered by his weak body, the asylum’s walls, or society, Maxi lives the ideal life of the unbounded mind.

Classless womanhood

The chapter “The Honeymoon,” in Volume 1, chronicles the wedding trip of Juanito and Jacinta to various points in Spain. Jacinta observes firsthand the onerous life of working-class women in industrial Barcelona and learns from Juanito how he seduced the innocent, lower-class Fortunata by promising marriage to her. While visiting a textile factory, Jacinta suddenly has genuine insight into the lives of working-class women. She comprehends that the young women who work there “earn a measly salary that’s not even enough to live on” (Pérez Galdós, Fortunata and Jacinta, p. 63). Given this experience she sees why any one of them would let herself be seduced by a smooth talker promising an easier life: “it’s not that they’re evil; it’s that the time comes when they say, ’It’s better to be a bad girl than a good machine’” (Fortunata and Jacinta, p. 63). Toward the end of the trip, after unaccustomed drinking leaves Juanito inebriated, and he adds details concerning how shabbily he treated Fortunata, including his heedless abandonment of her when she was pregnant with their first child, Jacinta exclaims: “Poor women! They always get the worst of it” (Fortunata and Jacinta, p. 78). Trying to save face, Juanito explains that “There are two worlds, the one you can see and the one you can’t see” (Fortunata and Jacinta, p. 78). He then explains how “Differences in education and background always establish a great difference in conduct in human relations,” stressing that this is not a religious, but a more basic social reality (Fortunata and Jacinta, p. 78). By the end of the novel, Jacinta has experienced and seen so much of Juanito’s double-dealing that she understands that she and Fortunata belong to much the same world—one in which Juanito does as he pleases; they both are in their own ways “poor women.”

By the same token, one can extend Jacinta’s conclusion about poor, exploited women to general observations about how the high bourgeoisie exploits unrepentantly the 98 percent of Spanish society that does not belong to the old or new aristocracy. Recall that it was Maxi, his middle-class family, and even old Feijoo who tried to make Fortunata literate and to impart to her the religious and social instruction that would facilitate her ascent to a new, higher place in society as Maxi’s wife. In contrast, Juanito and the Santa Cruz family simply exploited Fortunata’s body, first for sexual pleasure and then as the source of an heir. It is sobering to consider that everything in the novel, and in Spanish social history of the time, indicates that this child will be “educated” in the same way as Juanito and that he will live much as Juanito did.

Literary context and sources

Galdós gained distinction as the most prominent and prolific Spanish realist and the last major novelist of European realism. He, however, viewed himself as the product of three main literary traditions: Western literature and art since the Greeks, with Shakespeare being the dominant non-Hispanic writer; Spanish literature from the Golden Age to his present; and the European historical novel and novel of manners of Sir Walter Scott, Charles Dickens, and Honoré de Balzac.

In respect to Spanish literary tradition, Galdós divided it into earlier and later epochs. The earlier was formed basically by the picaresque novel and Cervantes. The later, into which he placed himself, included the eighteenth-century dramatists Ramón de la Cruz and Leandro Fernández de Moratín; Ramón de Mesonero Romanos, writer of prose sketches of earlier nineteenth-century Madrid; and Ventura Ruiz Aguilera, poet, short-story writer, editor, novelist and dramatist. In his realist manifesto of 1870, “Observations on the Contemporary Novel in Spain,” a review on three volumes of stories by Aguilera, Galdós laid out a strategy for the creation of a contemporary national novel comparable to that of Balzac and Dickens. Citing the practice of the best Spanish writers and painters of the past in recreating their times, he concluded that anyone who would write such novels in the 1870s must study the persons, places, and conflicts of Spanish society as represented in the strivings of the urban middle classes for a better individual and societal life. He viewed this group as the most active social force in all European countries and hence as the most worthy and important of literary subjects. Galdós hoped that by exposing to Spanish society urban-middle-class vices and virtues, the former would be corrected; the latter cultivated; and socioeconomic progress for Spain would be assured.

A 1981 study of Galdós and the European novel by Stephen Gilman traces an intertextual dialogue between Galdós and other authors. Fortunata and Jacinta harks back, argues this study, to two Spanish novels, Don Quixote and La Regenta , (also in WLAIT 5: Spanish and Portuguese Literatures and Their Times) and one French one (Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary). All three construct an alternative reality for protagonists whose diversely limited horizons cause them to substitute readerly experience for active, worldly lives. In Galdós’s novel, before meeting Fortunata, only reading awakened the dull, poorly formed, impotent Maxi to a dreamy world of beauty and ideals that he tried to reform into the reality of life as Fortunata’s husband. For her part, Fortunata conjures a similarly dreamy “reality,” embarking on a Quixote-like project of becoming as legitimate a spouse to Juanito as his wife Jacinta.

Events in History at the Time the Novel Was Written

Galdós—Restoration politician

In November 1885, shortly after Galdós began writing Fortunata and Jacinta, King Alfonso XII died and a new prime minister, the liberal Sagasta, took power from the conservative Cánovas del Castillo. A half-year later, on May 17, 1886, Sagasta presented Alfonso’s posthumous son as the future king of Spain to 300 persons, including select members of Spanish society, of the government,


Along with the English novelist Charles Dickens and American novelist Mark Twain, Galdós embraced the illustrators of his novels and collaborated fully with them. Between 1880 and 1885 he organized, supervised, and even contributed to the more than 1,200 illustrations for his National Episodes, 20 volumes of novels treating Spanish history between the epic naval battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and the death of the last absolutist Spanish king, Ferdinand VII Before portraying his characters in writing, Galdós would sometimes sketch them—as in the Galdsian drawings relevant to Fortunata and Jacinta that illustrate this entry. Alternatively he would describe them as resembling well-known historical figures (such as Cardinal Cisneros and Napoleon) or works of art (such as the Cumaean sibyl of Michaelangelo and Peter Paul Rubens’s fleshy beauties).

and of the international diplomatic corps. Galdós was part of the seven-member parliamentary delegation that attended the ceremony. This presence of Galdós is important. To begin with, he was a diputado, or a member of parliament only because Sagasta had been attracted to him by virtue of Galdós’s high visibility as a popular, nationally known liberal writer. Considering that Galdós’s prestige could only enhance his new government, Sagasta had intermediaries approach Galdós, and then, in April 1886, had him elected as the diputado from Guayamas, Puerto Rico, a place in which Galdós had never set foot. Although it remains problematic today that Galdós, who would later become a founder of the Republican-Socialist Coalition, let himself be used this way, the experience provided him with an inside look at the maneuvers of Spanish political life. Galdós’s daily legislative activities taught him much about Spanish politics and how upper-class families, such as the Santa Cruces, gained power through their wealth. Such families doubted at first whether the queen mother María Cristina, a woman born and raised outside Spain, could as regent carry out two main functions: select and retain ministers to advance programs of legislation in the bicameral parliament; and consolidate the legitimizing authority that


All biographers and editors of his correspondence agree that the never-married Galdós had hundreds of lovers during his life, many from the working-classes but also from the higher classes such as the novelist, the Countess Emilia Pardo Bazán. While it seems that some of his upper-class companions may have been influential in the direct writing of his later works, his relations with lower-class women probably served to help him in the creation of such characters as Fortunata. Galdós keenly understood that such women as the orphaned Fortunata, once they left the scant protection of relatives, had very hard lives. The alternative to a poor marriage was to be a kept woman, a prostitute, and probably to suffer an early death. In this context it is noteworthy that among the provisions the old retired colonel Evaristo Feijoo, Fortunata’s most altruistic lover, made for her when he felt death coming was to give her a Singer sewing machine. It so happened that it was Galdós’s custom to give Singers to the working-class lover he was leaving for another. In the cottage industry of sewing at home, the machine assured better than subsistence wages for one person.

her husband Alfonso XII had re-established with the 1875 Restoration. As diputado, Galdós helped create the power behind the throne in Restoration Spain. The oligarchy, dissembling in back of the Constitution and a weak monarchy, divided Spain into dozens of fiefdoms over which so-called conservatives and liberals ruled, obtaining benefits for important constituents while also securing personal benefits. The local power in these areas was vested in men called caciques. In the 1890s Galdós’s friend Fertunata León y Castillo, the model in Fortunata and Jacinta for Juanito Santa Cruz’s friend Zalamero, was considered the cacique of the Canary Islands.


Virtually all Spanish nineteenth-century authors complained of the lack of professional criticism in response to novels. Galdós was no exception, though his novels did become a primary subject of the two most important Spanish critics of his time: Manuel de la Revilla and Leopoldo Alas, otherwise known as “Clarín.” Following the publication of his own The Regent’s Wife (1884–85), Alas focused on his own creative work, so his review of Fortunata and Jacinta is laudatory but perfunctory. A much lesser known critic, Pedro Muñoz Peñia, published in 1888 an 88-page pamphlet dedicated to Fortunata and Jacinta, praising it greatly, without the benefit of the important audience Revilla and Alas enjoyed. In 1930 a three-act stage version of the novel met with success, and in 1980 Spanish Television (TVE) became the lead producer of a highly celebrated, ten-hour adaptation screened throughout Europe and the Spanish-speaking world.

The delay until 1973 of the first translation of Fortunata and Jacinta into English caused a late Anglo-American reception. But in 1978, during the so-called “boom era” of the Spanish American novel, C. P. Snow surprised the English-speaking literary world by announcing that a star as bright as Balzac, Dickens, or Fyodor Dosto-evsky had been missing from its literary skies because of poor luck, few translations, and simple ignorance. Snow recognized Fortunata and Jacinta not only as Galdós’s masterwork, but also as one of the best novels of all time and as the most profound study of women’s personalities ever written. He marveled at Galdós’s mastery of technique that allowed for such easy comprehension of hundreds of characters and scores of intertwined lives set in all the socioeconomic classes of Madrid. In touch with Pedro Ortiz-Armengol, Galdós’s most exhaustive and profound biographer in Spanish, Snow shared much information about Galdós’s personal life and how it impacted on his literature. Particularly significant in this regard was the insight into women which the never-married Galdós had gained during 50 years of long- and short-term relationships with women of all social classes.

—Stephen Miller

For More Information

Becker, George J. “Benito Pérez Galdós.” In Master European Realists of the Nineteenth Century. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1982.

Berkowitz, H. Chonon. Pérez Galdós: Spanish Liberal Crusader. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1948.

Bly, Peter A. Galdós’s Novel of the Historical Imagination: A Study of the Contemporary Novels. Liverpool: Francis Cairns, 1983.

Carr, Raymond. Spain, 1808–1939. Oxford: Clarendon, 1966.

______. Modern Spain 1875–1980. Oxford: Clarendon, 1980.

Gilman, Stephen. Galdós and the Art of the European Novel: 1867–1887. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981.

Miller, Stephen. Galdós gráfico (1861–1907): orígenes, técnicas y límites del sociomimetismo. Las Palmas, Spain: Colección Galdós/Ediciones del Cabildo Insular de Gran Canaria, 2001.

Pattison, Walter T. Benito Pérez Galdós. Boston: Twayne, 1975.

Pérez Galdós, Benito. Fortunata and Jacinta: Two Stories of Married Women. Trans. Agnes Moncy

Gullón. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1986.

______. Atlas zoológico. Edición e introduccion de Stephen Miller. Las Palmas, Spain: Colección Galdós/Ediciones del Cabildo Insular de Gran Canaria, 2001.

Ribbans, Geoffrey. Pérez Galdós: “Fortunata y Jacinta.” London: Grant & Cutler, 1977.

Rodgers, Eamonn. From Enlightenment to Realism: The Novels of Galdós 1870–1887. Dublin: Jack Hade, 1987.

Snow, C. P. “Galdós.” In The Realists: Portraits of Eight Novelists: Stendhal, Balzac, Dickens, Dosto-evsky, Tolstoy, Galdós, Henry james, Proust. London: Macmillan, 1978.

Turner, Harriet S. Benito Pérez Galdós: “Fortunata and Jacinta.” Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.