Places: Doña Perfecta

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1876 (English translation, 1880)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Tragedy

Time of work: Late nineteenth century

Places DiscussedVillahorrenda

Villahorrenda (vee-YAH-or-EN-dah). Doña PerfectaImpoverished, ugly town on the railroad line out of Madrid at which the young engineer José (Pepe) Rey stops while on his way to Orbajosa. Villahorrenda–whose name means “horrid village”–is a gateway to a hell of backbiters, hypocrites, and thieves. Pepe contrasts the poetic beauty of regional names (Flowervale, Lilyhill, Amiable Valley, Richville) befitting his mother’s peaceful pastoral memories with the desolate wasteland of prosaic reality, concluding that this region’s inhabitants live in the imagination, seeing what they will, not the miserable, arid reality. The worst land of all is his inheritance, untended and diminished by predatory neighbors. His journey progresses from this hellhole to a cold, dark place of ignorance, violence, and bigotry from which there is no return.

Orbajosa

Orbajosa (or-bah-YOH-sah). Provincial city that is home to Doña Perfecta Rey and her daughter, Rosario. The town’s name is both a corruption of the Latin term urbs augusta (“majestic city”) and a mocking play on ajosa, the Spanish word for garlic. The city looks like a large “dunghill” to the visitor from Madrid, but its 7,324 inhabitants are proud of its cathedral and wealthy homes, such as the seven mansions along the Adelantado, including that of Doña Perfecta. The city lies in a valley famous for its garlic, a symbol of its close ties to the land and of its residents’ tendency to focus on the soil, not the heavens, to turn inward, cavernously, not outward.

The Nahara River passes through the valley, providing Pepe with a thwarted government commission to examine its bed for mining possibilities. Orbajosans, some of whom are rebels and guerrilla fighters, oppose the Madrid government and are convinced of the virtues of their own way of life. Also gossips, they exaggerate the importance of local agriculture, which they call the “breadbasket” of Spain, although they have produced little in recent years. At the same time, they see the worst in the most trivial deeds of outsiders. Typical is Don Cayetano Polentinos, whose book of genealogy inflates the city’s national significance by citing every former citizen mentioned in any obscure historical record.

Cathedral

Cathedral. Town church that is the embodiment of community solidarity against outsiders such as Pepe, who is deemed an impious atheist because he criticizes the bad taste of the religious art, the individual decorations, the statue of Virgin and child (attired in pretentious modern styles, for which Rosario and Doña Perfecta are responsible), and the music (La Traviata for high mass, a drinking song, and a rondeau). The cathedral reflects the town’s obsession with propriety, its belief in the infallibility of its extreme religious cult, one unforgiving of dissent and fearful of German Lutheranism and the currents of eighteenth century philosophical thought, including pantheism.

Casino

Casino. Orbajosa tavern that is an abstract representation of the masculine center of the town, in which men smoke, argue politics, gamble, and avoid their wives. Pepe’s visit there marks him as a wild layabout.

Troya house

Troya house. Home of Colonel Francisco Troya and his three daughters. Pepe’s pleasure in visiting this home signals his moral decline to other Orbajosans, because the young Troya women scorn hypocrisy and delight in mocking city worthies, dressing up during carnival to go masked into the houses of leading citizens to create havoc.

Doña Perfecta’s house

Doña Perfecta’s house. Abode that is grand on the outside; inside, the house is a labyrinth of intrigue, with dark rooms, dark colors, and doors shut tight against anything new. As the genealogist studies her library, characters come and go in repetitive scenes of gossip, hatred, plots, and fear of change. From this center of her web Doña Perfecta foments rebellion and deceit. Her garden, where Pepe and Rosario meet secretly by night to pledge their love, becomes an evil trap sprung by a vengeful María Remedios, ambitious to match her son and Rosario. With Pepe murdered and Rosario insane and institutionalized, the possibility of solutions ends, and Doña Perfecta’s distorted hopes die.

BibliographyCardwell, Richard A. “Galdós’ Doña Perfecta: Art or Argument?” Anales Galdosianos 7 (1972): 29-47. Discusses and questions the idea of the work as a “thesis novel.” Focuses on whether Pepe Rey is a liberal martyr to a progressive ideal in a backward rural society.Eoff, Sherman. The Novels of Pérez Galdós. The Concept of Life as Dynamic Process. St. Louis, Mo.: Washington University, 1954. A study of the structure of Pérez Galdós’ novels. Includes one small chapter devoted to Doña Perfecta.Shoemaker, William H. The Novelistic Art of Galdós. 2 vols. Valencia, Spain: Albatros Hispanofila, 1980-1987. Volume 1 provides a broad literary critique of Pérez Galdós’ novels in their entirety. Volume 2 discusses each of the novels in turn, giving an overall critique of the specific works, including structure, style, symbolism, and critical consensus.Varey, J. E. Doña Perfecta. London: Grant & Cutler, 1971. A good critical introduction to the novel. Includes a discussion of the novel’s situation and character as well as its social, moral, and political aspects. One chapter is devoted to the stylistic features of the novel.Zahareas, Anthony N. “Galdós’ Doña Perfecta: Fiction, History, and Ideology.” Anales Galdosianos 11 (1976): 29-58. Focuses on the identification of certain moments in the history of Spain during the nineteenth century that might be related to Pérez Galdós’ fictional events. An interesting and enlightening study.
Categories: Places