I know very little about Spain or Spanish literature, so I have little of note to say about this novel, but I was struck by how Galdós alloys biting satire with humanity. His characters are ridiculed but always treated with a certain basic decency. Some of this is done ironically, but not, I think, all of it. Which isn’t to say Galdós is pulling his punches: the humanity sharpens the blade, so it cuts cleaner and deeper.

For an example, we might look to this passage:

‘It’s necessity that makes us who we are,’ she told herself. Necessity leads to many evils, and we should not be too hard on those who stray from the straight and narrow. Before judging them, we should say: ‘Here, take what you need; buy yourself enough to eat, cover your nakedness… Are you well fed and well dressed? Well then… now let’s talk about morality.

This is a good thought, and one we should remember. But while it might evoke some sympathy for Rosalía, its attribution to her does not reflect terribly well on a character who remains well-fed and (to a fault) well-dressed throughout, and who thinks it to absolve herself while continuing to judge others. Compassion and condemnation are bound up together.

I think this is a characteristic often missing in bad satire. When satire’s targets are not treated with humanity, they become either monstrous or contemptible, and the conditions that produced them are let off the hook. Rosalía’s musings on necessity show us two things: that people of her class are subject to pressures they gave not chosen which make fools of them; and that they are fools to succumb to those pressures.

But as I say, I know very little about Spain or Spanish literature, and context can make fools of us all, so I will hedge by awarding That Bringas Woman no stars. ☆☆☆☆☆

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