Galdos: The Novelist as Historian

In his long series of novels, Galdos presents a vision of Spanish history from Napoleonic times until the 1880s. By Douglas Hilt.

A few years ago, during an informal chat I enjoyed with Don Cipriano Rivas Cherif, one of Garcia Lorca’s closest friends and a noted writer himself, the conversation turned towards nineteenth-century Spain, that labyrinth of civil wars, pronunciamientos, and bewildering changes of government.

‘There is only one way to obtain a true picture of this complex period,’ he assured me, ‘and that is to read the Episodios Nacionales of Galdos in their entirety. Not just as history, but as a living experience illuminating every facet of life.’

Few persons have read all forty-six novels, which represent about half of Galdos’ total output; in all candour, it will be some time before I finish reading every volume in the five series.

Nevertheless, the following essay is offered as an introduction to one of the most ambitious literary projects ever conceived, an undertaking that spanned the novelist’s entire adult life.

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