This is a coming-of-age novel, a bildungsroman. Its hero, Miguel Rivera, is a slightly-built young man of wit and charm who receives the nickname Riverita (a diminutive). We first meet him when, as a young boy, he is notified by his uncle that his widowed father is about to remarry. His new stepmother is a striking beauty from Seville who takes an instant dislike to him and soon manages to have him packed off to boarding school. However her daughter Julia (Julita) proves to be a very different character and her mutually loving relationship with Miguel is an important element in the story.
Although Miguel is the central character, many others appear in the novel, all vividly realised and convincingly portrayed. They give plenty of scope for comedy. One of these, a school friend named Mendoza, reminded me of Widmerpool in Antony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time. There are descriptions of various aspects of life in Madrid at the end of the nineteenth century, including an account of a bullfight which ends fatally for one of the toreros.
Miguel becomes a journalist and his experiences in this role are presumably based on those of the author; this culminates in his fighting an absurd but almost fatal duel. He has a love affair with a heautiful but histrionic older woman, Lucía. He feels some guilt initially because she is the wife of an absent family friend, although he salves his conscience by reflecting that she has already had numerous lovers. At first this is an exciting adventure although Miguel always retains a cool sense of the falsity of his sometimes farcical situation. He hreaks off the affair when he falls in love with Maximina, a young girl who is at the opposite end of the scale from Lucía emotionally, socially, and in every other way.
This novel is linked with two later books by the same author. It mentions Sister San Sulpicio who figures in the book of that title, in which we learn that Maximina died not long after her marriage to Miguel. And Maximina's story is told in a novel that bears her name as its title.
%S Novela de costumbres
%A Palacio Valdés, Armando
%I The Project Gutenberg
%D 1886, 2009, 2012
%G EBook #29831 %K fiction
%O kindle version downloaded 2019