What To Do While Reading “Fortunata and Jacinta”

take your time!

“Fortunata y Jacinta” is a meganovel which must have taken Benito Pérez Galdós absolutely ages to write. If you ever decide to read it, be warned that it is thousands of pages long and, depending on the edition you get hold of, the footnotes will add umpteen hours of reading time. Not a book to flick through on a lazy Sunday afternoon. (No bursting into song, thank you, you oldsters.)

So you will take your time over this book. Lots of things will happen around you as you are immersed in the tale of these two married women – the original subtitle is “two tales of married women” so I’m not making anything up, ok, or spoiling anything for those who have never read it.

 

Spoiler alert!! Achtung!!  Achtung!! Fortunata has Juanito’s babies. No!! Yes!! Two of them. One before he’s married to Jacinta, and one after Fortunata is married to Maxi. No!! Yes!!

 

Well. I mean, imagine. This is Madrid in the middle of the 19th century. Imagine the palaver. I mean. Honestly. Did you ever. Things move at a slow pace. You could dance a million chotis and crunch a million barquillos before you get to the end of this sorry saga. There are dozens of colourful minor characters who pop up and liven up the proceedings but basically it’s all about the girl. Will she or won’t she. She will. And she screws up. But we knew that already.

 

And it’s true that there’s nothing out of the ordinary in this extraordinary novel. It’s exceptional in that it is the quintessential 19th century novel which would have been written by Balzac if it were French or Tolstoy if it were Russian (although he would have added a few more serfs) and ranks up there with the best of them. Naturally it is quirky – the obsession with buttons, for crying out loud, what is that all about…?? – and because it is set nay rooted in the heart of Madrid which is virtually unchanged since when it was written, Fortunata and Jacinta can be read as a Google Street View experience. You feel you can knock on Estupiñá’s door in the Cavas by the Plaza Mayor, check out the Santa Cruz family house in Pontejos, see where Maxi lived with Aunt Guillermina, drop in for a coffee at the watering holes favoured by Maxi’s brother Juan Pablo … Why, the last time I was in Madrid, I called on Juanito and Jacinta, only to find that they’d moved to an urbanización in La Moraleja.

ah, sweet mysteries of perfidy

Juanito really is a scumbag, isn’t he. Fortunata isn’t as depraved as she thinks she is, largely (I reckon) because Maxi’s madness has rubbed off onto her.

 

 (An aside here, if I may. The only actress I can think of who would do her justice is Claudia Cardinale circa 1960. I have thought hard and long about this, so don’t bother contradicting me, thanks.)

Fortunata Cardinale de Rubín

So, anyway, as I was saying. Galdós must have got up to all sorts of stuff while he was composing Fortunata and Jacinta, and we the reader have that right, too. We must get on with our lives. Read the book then put it down and do something else. Then pick it up where you left off. The author has thoughtfully chopped the book into fun-sized chapterettes so we can have a nibble at will. We should eat and drink and sleep and work and whatever else gets us through the night and the day and then the next day and tomorrow night and the day after and so on and so forth so help me God. We can play Monopoly and take snuff and plant seedlings and laugh at funny videos of cats and read misguided accounts of the siege of Sevastopol, it doesn’t really matter. Do so, then wipe your nose, wash your hands and sit down. And give over wasting time. Honestly.

for instance

 

She would also make a great Jacinta

 

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Electric_Nancy on February 5, 2012 at 7:11 pm

    The novel is apparently about Fortunata, of course, but the real heroine is Jacinta. Think about it and thank me later.

    Reply

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