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Armando Palacio Valdés

Tristán o el pesimismo [in Spanish]

Book review by Anthony Campbell. The review is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence.
This book tells the stories of two very different marriage breakdowns.

Tristán, the eponymous central character named in the title, is described as a pessimist, but his real problem might better be designated paranoia. He is a talented poet and playwright (although perhaps not as talented as he thinks he is), but he comes to believe that not only his rivals but even his closest friend and admirer are conspiring against him. Worst of all, however, is his unfounded but ultimately catastrophic suspicion that his loving wife Clara is attracted to a rather juvenile minor aristocrat who happens to share her passion for country sports.

Elena, is Tristán's sister-in-law, She is younger than her husband Germán, who loves her passionately and gives in to her every childish whim. She loves him too but craves excitement; she persuades him to leave his beloved country estate near the Escorial and move to Madrid. Here she takes up with a group of promiscuous socialites, with predictable results.

I found both Tristán and Elena, in their different ways, to be tiresome and unsympathetic characters—particularly Tristán, who, unlike Elena, doesn't have naivete as an excuse for his behaviour. Clara loves him but her tolerance has a limit, unlike that of her brother Germán, whose forgiveness of his erring wife approaches sanctity. It's difficult to avoid the thought that if he had been less indulgent a lot of suffering on both sides might have been avoided.

This novel was published in 1906, seventeen years after La Hermana San Sulpicio. The two books are very different in tone. Although there are amusing scenes in both, here these quite often switch abruptly from comedy to tragedy, seemingly reflecting the author's sense of the absurdity of human life. We receive the news of Elena's infidelity from a character whose role in the plot is otherwise purely the provision of comic relief, so that at first no one takes it seriously. And the description of a society wedding starts as a comic set piece but ends with the ducal bridegroom suffering a sudden and presumably fatal pulmonary haemorrhage. This is simultaneously a tragedy and a comedy, because the aborted wedding was the culmination of determined scheming on the part of the bride, whose lifelong ambition it had been to marry an aristocrat. It takes considerable skill to manage these abrupt changes of mood so adroitly.

Like many of the author's books, this one was translated into numerous languages including English.


%T Tristán o el pesimismo
lhh %A Palacio Valdés, Armando
%I The Project Gutenberg
%D 1906, 2008
%G EBook #26655 %K fiction
%O kindle version, downloaded from Gutenberg 2921

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