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Galdós and Medicine


Michael Stannard

Benito Pérez Galdós (1843–1920) is revered as Spain’s greatest nineteenth-century author. Writing in the realist tradition of Dickens, Zola and Balzac, he described life in Madrid with unequalled fidelity. In addition, he was unique among novelists of his time in his knowledge of medicine, revealed in his depictions of mental and physical disease. While critical analyses of his novels abound, this book is the first detailed study of the medicine that appears in his novels and newspaper articles.
Galdós acquired his medical knowledge at a time of great changes: anaesthesia and antisepsis were developed, and the germs responsible for many human diseases identified. French medicine was especially influential, though increasing international exchange resulted in new ideas also being adopted from England, Germany and Italy. The author of this study analyses Galdós’s network of medical contacts, together with some of the sources available to them. Subjects such as epidemic disease, madness and children’s diseases are examined and the light they throw upon the medicine of the time is discussed. The concluding chapter of the book assesses the significance of Galdós’s depictions of disease and of doctors.
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Chapter 8: Conclusions




The passages studied reveal an exceptional knowledge of medicine for a novelist. Galdós’s use of medical detail is judicious, however, such that in the case of many sick characters of the novels their medical background is touched on lightly. As examples, the causes of the blindness of Manolo Trujillo in Lo prohibido, and Rafael de Águila in the Torquemada novels are not given. No doubt they are incidental to the metaphorical blindness that each displays in misinterpreting their differing life circumstances. The brief references to the cause of blindness of Lucía in Ángel Guerra (smallpox) and Almudena in Misericordia (infected water) are entirely secondary to the importance of their roles in the novels. In this they contrast with the blindness of Pablo Penáguilas in Marianela and Francisco Bringas in La de Bringas where details of the characters’ loss of sight are central to the stories.

The majority of medical conditions portrayed by Galdós appear to have a wide social impact. In contrast with the personal and unshared illnesses of doña Lupe’s mastectomy in Fortunata y Jacinta and the heroine’s leg tumour that requires amputation in Tristana, the condition of most sick patients in Galdós has a palpable effect on the circle surrounding them. The visionary lunacy of Tomás Rufete, directly or indirectly, pervades all of La desheredada. Alejandro Miquis’s slow demise is attended by a chorus of characters, many of them bent on taking...

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