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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Benito Pérez Galdós

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To purchase Tristana

Title: Tristana
Author: Benito Pérez Galdós
Genre: Novel
Written: 1892 (Eng. 2014)
Length: 172 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Tristana - US
Tristana - US (Spanish)
Tristana - UK
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  • Spanish title: Tristana
  • Translated by Margaret Jull Costa
  • With an Introduction by Jeremy Treglown
  • Previously translated by R.Selden Rose (1961)
  • The basis for the 1970 film of the same name by Luis Buñuel, starring Catherine Deneuve, Fernando Rey, and Franco Nero

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Our Assessment:

A- : unusual period-piece

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Kirkus Reviews . 1/9/2014 .
Publishers Weekly . 25/8/2014 .
TLS . 27/3/2015 Colin Thompson

  From the Reviews:
  • "A strong entry for a college course on feminism and literature, this is too contrived and didactic to do well outside the world of required reading." - Kirkus Reviews

  • "Readers both new to this haunting tale and those already familiar with the exquisite 1970 Luis Buñuel film adaptation (starring Catherine Deneuve) should rejoice at the arrival of this brilliant new translation of a mesmerizing novel from Galdós." - Publishers Weekly

  • "Margaret Jull Costa’s fluent translation happily captures the novel’s subtleties, including its many allusions to older Spanish archetypes (.....) The novel is both sad and funny (...). Its real pleasure lies in its depiction of the instability of grandiloquent youthful passion and in its final act of redemption" - Colin Thompson, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Tristana begins with Don Lope, a Lothario now past his prime, vainly still admitting only to being forty-nine even as he has by now reached his late fifties. What wealth he had has dissipated over the years as well -- but in part also because of a fundamental generosity that saw him give a great deal in aid of a friend who went to prison. When that friend died, and his wife followed him shortly later, Don Lope was left with their daughter, Tristana, barely in her twenties; he generously took her in -- but less generously also quickly took advantage of her. He simply has no moral compass when it comes to seduction -- he: "accepted neither guilt nor responsibility when it came to anything involving the ladies" -- and when one practically falls into his lap like this ....
       It makes for an odd domestic situation, however: as Tristana at one point tries to explain the relationship:

I am not married to my husband, I mean, my papa, I mean to that man ...
       Not surprisingly, Tristana falls for a younger man, the talented painter Horacio Díaz. He brings out the best in her: while she displays not the least talents for the sort of domestic work usually assigned women, like running a household, it turns out she's bright and quick to pick up everything from languages to mastery of various arts. A great talent -- and useful, too, since she warns Horacio that she will not be a kept woman, indeed refuses even to become a wife:
My ambition is to not have to depend on anyone, not even on the man I adore. I don't want to be his mistress -- so undignified -- or a woman maintained by a few men purely for their amusement, like a hunting dog; nor do I want the man of my dreams to become a husband. I see no happiness in marriage. To put it in my own words, I want to be married to myself and to be my own head of the household.
       Given her talents, she would seem to have the opportunity to take such a path, uncertain only what she wants to do -- become a painter ? an actress ? The men in her life -- Horacio and Don Lope -- have different ideas (or at least hopes), preferring to see her more traditionally subservient at their side, but they limit how far they impose their will on her. Each, in his own way, proves supportive.
       It is not these two men, or even society, that ultimately holds back Tristana, but a more prosaic everyday tragedy. In losing part of herself, she also loses what enthusiasm she had, and almost all that had flourished in her when she saw an opportunity of independent life. She winds up a literally and figuratively broken woman. The two men continue to be supportive, after a fashion -- but now very much prioritizing their self-interest. The result is unsurprising -- tragic, if there weren't such a sense of inevitability to it, the closing lines less cruel than necessarily resigned, as each is to their fate:
Were they happy, the two of them ? Perhaps.
       Pérez Galdós handles his characters beautifully. Tristana is the one who undergoes the most transformations, from near-uncomprehending youth who is taken advantage of to one who adapts to the more limited paths this then leaves open to her, then blossoming when she finds love and, more importantly, recognizes her own incredible talents -- only then to collapse again into a much more limited role, accepting a fate nature (and only secondarily society) imposes on her.
       Don Lope is a cad, but he really does mean well, too, and is self-sacrificing, when need be. As Tristana notes:
he's a strange mixture of things, a monstrous combination of good qualities and horrible defects, he has two consciences, one very pure and noble in certain respects, the other like a mudhole; and he chooses which to apply depending on the circumstances; he puts them on and off like shirts.
       Besotted Horacio, who can't quite rid himself of his image of what the perfect female companion should be like -- someone slightly more subservient that Tristana keeps telling him she is willing to be -- is a convincing young lover -- as is how he extricates himself from the situation.
       Some of what happens in Tristana is perhaps too hurriedly dealt with or passed over -- it is a novel that could well have done with being fleshed out more, beginning with Tristana becoming part of Don Lope's household -- which is all the more noticeable because Pérez Galdós is so good in his focused detail-work, such as Tristana's operation. or her letters to her beloved. Perhaps Pérez Galdós felt he could only go so far in his daring portrayal of such a (briefly) independent-minded and capable woman, leaving a certain sketchy quality to aspects of it. It still makes for a powerful work, all the more impressive for how his flawed characters nevertheless have redeeming qualities -- and yet nothing can redeem cruel fate.

- M.A.Orthofer, 22 November 2014

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Tristana: Reviews: Tristana - the film: Benito Perez Galdos: Other books by Benito Pérez Galdós under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Benito Pérez Galdós (1843-1920) was among the leading Spanish authors of his time.

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© 2014-2015 the complete review

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