Department of Spanish, Portuguese & Latin American Studies

Contact Details

Departmental Coordinators:
Ms Alex Lopez Alvarez
Ms Clare Szembek (Mon-Wed)
tel: 020 7679 3109
ext: 33109

Head of Department:
Dr Humberto Núñez-Faraco
tel: 020 7679 4332
ext: 34332



Course unit value: 0.5
Duration: First term
Day and Time:  Tuesdays 4-6pm
Venue:  TBC
Tutor: Dr Gareth Wood

Examined by 1 essay, and a 2-hour examination.


This course examines the work of two of the best novelists in the Spanish language, Benito Pérez Galdós and Emilia Pardo Bazán. The course takes a snapshot of their novelistic output between the 1880s and 1890s, a time when each was not only writing their best work but also hoping to reflect on social change in Spain as never before. Their attempts to enter and influence public debate touched on issues including juvenile crime, marriage, politics, prostitution and, above all, the role of women in society.

As we shall see, both Galdós and Pardo Bazán were writing in the wake of French Naturalism and its claims to be able to describe human behaviour and predictability in scientifically determined ways. Their sceptical dialogue with Naturalist theory invites them to question how and why human beings behave as we do. In the meantime, of course, that dialogue also brings out the best in them as they create realistic and satisfying human dramas out of scenarios that encourage their readers to question their prejudices.

We will be studying four novels in turn and in chronological order. Our classes will take the form of lectures and seminars. A new text will always be introduced by a substantial background lecture, then we will move on to seminar work, usually based around worksheets of quotations from the text addressing a particular area. Below are synopses of the novels we will be studying and some recommendations for background reading.

La desheredada : called the first Naturalist novel in Spain, it concerns the fate of Isidora Rufete, a woman who believes herself to be the disinherited daughter (hence the title) of a Spanish noblewoman. She comes to the rapidly growing and empoverished Madrid to press her claim. The outcome of her attempts and the cast of characters who do their best to help her along the way make this novel a wide-ranging portait of Spain’s capital city and its inhabitants. Above all, Galdós wants his readers to ask where responsibility lies for urban depravation, for the unhappiness and failure of individuals, and what can reasonably be done about such things.

La Tribuna : Pardo Bazán’s novel concerns Amparo, a working-class young woman who finds a job in her local cigarette factory in the fictional city of Marineda (closely based on Pardo Bazán’s own native city of La Coruña in Galicia, north west Spain). There, Amparo becomes involved in the rising proletarian movement, campaigning on behalf of her fellow workers for a socialist revolution and a decentralized state (more power to regions of Spain, like Galicia). Running in parallel with her collective involvement in great events is a more private and intimate story of her relationship with a caddish soldier named Baltasar Sobrado. While Amparo believes that the social revolution will come along and break down the class barriers that stand between them, Sobrado has more immediate and base desires. This novel has caused controversy because of the suggestion that Pardo Bazán – a member of Spain’s aristocracy – was talking down to her working class protagonists, but the novel is a sceptical examination of political solutions to social problems.

Tormento : Galdós’s novel concerns the fate of Amparo Sánchez Emperador, an orphaned young woman who lives with her sister on the breadline in Madrid. Amparo works as an unofficial servant in the home of her upper middle class relative, Rosalía de Bringas. The tight-fisted Bringas family exploit her as much as they can, just as they do with their fabulously wealthy cousin, Agustín Caballero, a man who has made his fortune in the Spanish colonies. Caballero is a man of few words but of some discernment and when he sees the goodness and beauty in Amparo and asks her to marry him, he sets the cat very much among the pigeons in the Bringas household. The path towards true love does not run smooth from Amparo’s point of view since she guards a guilty secret in the shape of her dishonour at the hands of Pedro Polo, a fallen priest. Galdós again asks his reader to consider the position of women in Spain, the nature of “civilized” society, and the values that underpin the Spanish middle classes. He does so by playing with the reader’s expectations of a sensationalist treatment of the plot and has his own novel run subtly in parallel with another telling of the same facts by a different author.

Memorias de un solterón : Written after Pardo Bazán had translated into Spanish and published a version of John Stuart Mill’s pivotal essay The Subjection of Women (a key text in the development of Western Feminism), Memorias de un solterón is a fascinating exploration of how a woman might achieve independence in late nineteenth century Spain. The ‘solterón’ (bachelor) referred to in the title is the novel’s narrator, Mauro Pareja, a self-absorbed and aloof intellectual who finds himself strangely attracted to the emancipated Feíta. The latter wants to forge a place for herself in Spain’s sexist and conservative society. How she will manage to do so and reach an understanding with Pareja forms the main action of the novel.


Benito Pérez Galdós, La desheredada, ed. by Germán Gullón ( Madrid: Cátedra)
Emilia Pardo Bazán, La Tribuna, ed. by Benito Varela Jácome ( Madrid: Cátedra)
Benito Pérez Galdós, Tormento, ed. by Teresa Barjau and Joaquim Parellada (Barcelona: Crítica)
Emilia Pardo Bazán, Memorias de un solterón, ed. by María Ángeles Ayala (Madrid: Cátedra)

Background Reading

Some historical background to this period would be an immense help for your understanding of the novels we will study. There are two studies in particular of Galdós’s novels in their historical context that might help to explain aspects of La desheredada and Tormento. They are: Peter Bly, Galdós’s Novel of the Historical Imagination, Liverpool Monographs in Hispanic Studies, 2 (Liverpool: Frances Cairns, 1983) and Geoffrey Ribbans, History and Fiction in Galdós’s Narratives (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993) [use the index of this study]. There are also concise histories of Spain that would give you a useful overview of the period. They are: Spain: A History, ed. by Raymond Carr (Oxford: OUP, 2000), pp. 205-42; William D. Phillips Jr. and Carla Rahn Phillips, A Concise History of Spain (Cambridge: CUP, 2010), pp. 206-45; Mary Vincent, Spain 1833-2002: People and State (Oxford: OUP, 2007), pp. 9-78.