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ArribaAbajoBalzac, Galdós and Phrenology

Martha G. Krow-Lucal

With the appearance of La desheredada in 1881 came what was to become one of Galdós' longest-lived novelistic families: the Peces. Don Manuel José Ramón, the patriarch of the clan, his wife Carolina Pipaón (later to be transformed into a Lantigua) and their seven children Joaquín, Josefa, Rosa, Luis, Antonio, Federico and Adolfo all make their debut in this novel, and expose the family character for all time: they will be like a dirty thread running through the fabric of Galdós' fictional world, inescapable and unredeemable, corrupting everything they touch.

The Peces are the bureaucrats of the novelas contemporáneas and the later Episodios who prosper no matter who happens to be in power; Isabel, Amadeo, the Republic and the Restoration are all the same to them. Their absolute venality and corruption seem simplistic to Montesinos, who admonishes: «Los Peces, cualquiera que sea el avatar en que los veamos, llegan a no ser sino pura oquedad, una máscara, frases y gestos, y ello puede ser una lástima. Nadie es así del todo en la vida real. [Don Manuel] Pez, otro caso de caquexia moral hispánica, hubiera merecido más estudio».1 Montesinos does not realize that Galdós uses members of the Pez family for their representational value above all, and that if they were less simplistic and odious, they would be less useful to their author. However, Montesinos is correct when he says that Pez deserves more attention. A close examination of the manuscript version of this seeming flat patriarchal bureaucrat yields some interesting insights into Galdós' creative processes.

In Part I, chapter XII of the manuscript version of La desheredada, where Pez and his family are first described at length, there is a curious description of Don Manuel. It will be remembered that the most salient feature of his character is his desire to accommodate and serve everyone in the world, though he prefers, because of what Galdós calls the law of social gravity, to serve the rich and powerful. But there is more:

No como [una manifestación del] una [nueva fase] segunda fase de su carácter servicial sino como una ampliación de él [(que (que en prestar servicios] tenía D. [José] Manuel José Ramón la virtud de la filogenitura (muy bien [acu acusada] indicada en su cabeza por [atroz protuberancia] un lóbulo como el puño, [por la cual] al decir de su frenólogo) o sea protección decidida, incondicional, [a [una protección frenética y [desbordada, sin freno] [desb] delirante, señores, a la copiosísima, a la inacabable a la infinita familia de los Peces.2

Galdós is of course referring to the notorious nepotism of nineteenth-century Spain, but to do so he uses a word that is not found in any present-day dictionary: filogenitura. It is a translation of «Philoprogenitiveness» (i.e., love of one's offspring), one of the descriptive terms from F. J. Gall and   —8→   J. G. Spurtzheim's nineteenth-century «science», phrenology, Pez, then, has a bump the size of a fist (according to his phrenologist) that corresponds to the area of his brain governing love of offspring. But though this passage is not crossed out in the final manuscript version, it does not appear in the printed text of the first edition, which is as follows:

No como una segunda fase de su carácter servicial, sino como una ampliación de él, tenía D. Manuel la virtud de la filogenitura, o sea protección frenética y delirante, a la copiosísima, a la inacabable, a la infinita familia de los Peces.3

The word filogenitura remains, but the bump and the phrenologist are gone. Two questions present themselves immediately. First, why does Galdós mention phrenology? And second, after taking the trouble to make it part of the characterization of Don Manuel, why did he cross it out right before the novel went to press?4 Some background material on phrenology may help illuminate Don Benito's motives.

The inventor of this nineteenth-century pseudoscience was Dr. Franz Joseph Gall (1758-1828). A physician who had studied in Strasbourg and Vienna, he gave his first series of lectures on phrenology in Vienna in 1796. In 1807 he and his collaborator Johann Gaspard Spurtzheim (1776-1832) went to Paris to bring the principles of their newly-organized science to the attention of the world.

The basic tenet of phrenology is explained by Luis Granjel: «El tamaño y forma del cerebro, consecuencia del desarrollo de las distintas potencias o facultades [mentales], se manifiesta en la superficie exterior del cráneo, lo que permite, por su examen y palpitación, el conocimiento de la personalidad».5 That is, the brain fills the entire cranial cavity and shapes it; thus any protuberances or depressions on the skull are reflections of the physical and mental configurations beneath. The brain is divided into a number of sections (twenty-seven to forty-seven, depending on the particular authority), and these sections correspond to such qualities as Amativeness, Philoprogenitiveness, Adhesiveness (i.e., affectionate attachment to people or objects), Destructiveness, Acquisitiveness, Secretiveness, etc. A bump on the skull directly above one of these sections indicates that the particular faculty, called an organ, is more than normally developed, while a depression in that area signifies an underdeveloped faculty. Character can therefore be explained -and predicted- by palpitation of the skull.

Phrenology was a great success in England and the United States,6 but was less so in France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Austria. Its heydey seems to have been from the 1820s to the 1840s, after which it had been discarded by the intellectual élite and had come to rest among the lower-middle class. In Spain a few translations and defenses of Gall's theories appeared early on (1806, possibly 1811, 1822, 1825),7 but the one person most responsible for the diffusion and popularization of phrenology did not arrive on the scene until 1842: the Catalan professor, philologist, penal reformer and mesmerist Mariano Cubí y Soler (1801-1875).

Cubí discovered (and was converted to) phrenology not in Europe but in the United States, where enthusiasm for the pseudoscience remained long after   —9→   it had faded on the Continent.8 He had lived in Baltimore from 1821 to 1828, teaching Spanish and writing grammar books and translation manuals. In 1829 he went to Cuba, where he founded the Colegio de Buenavista in Havana. In 1832 he left Cuba for New Orleans and the following year emigrated to Mexico, where he founded another secondary school, this one called Fuente de la Libertad. Three years later he returned to New Orleans and began to study phrenology seriously.9 From 1838 to 1842 he was a professor of modern languages at the University of Louisiana (Jackson), but his true interest lay in the phrenological society that he founded there. In 1842, says Ramón Carnicer, «cuando por último se cree bien preparado para difundir la Frenología en España, dimite su cátedra».10 Within two years of his arrival in Barcelona, Cubí had published two books on phrenology11 and had begun to give lectures and courses on it in Catalonia and the Balearic Islands, and had founded phrenological societies in Barcelona, Igualada, Manresa, Cardona, Villanueva y Geltrú, Villafranca del Panadés, Palma de Mallorca and Figueras.12

In spite of Cubí's heroic efforts from the 1840s to the 1860s, however, phrenology never took root in Spain as it had in England and the United States. On the one hand, it was frowned upon by the ecclesiastical authorities because of its determinist bent,13 while on the other, it was all too susceptible to parody by the quick-witted. As early as 1837, years before Cubí arrived on the scene, Mesonero Romanos was satirizing his «sobrino romántico», noting that «en los ratos en que menos propenso estaba a la melancolía, entreteníase en estudiar la craneoscopia del doctor Gall».14 At the height of Cubí's proselytizing campaign, in 1845, a comedy by Bretón de los Herreros called Frenología y magnetismo opened in Madrid, a play in which «narrada queda la historia de la difusión de aquel ideario entre científico y populachero, a la que tanto contribuyó el denodado esfuerzo, henchido de fervor y buenas intenciones, de don Mariano Cubí y Soler, frenólogo y magnetista como el personaje que protagoniza la obra».15 Though the play leaves in doubt whether the tenets of phrenology are true or not, the «phrenologist» don Lucas Pérez Orduña is a comic figure whose attempt to choose an honest servant by means of cranial palpitation produces a servant who will steal his watch. The whole idea lent itself to parody much too easily; Cubí might have been able to impress a portion of the new middle class with his elocutionary skills and craneoscopic readings, but the impression was shortlived. By the time of his death in 1874, phrenology was all but forgotten. Carnicer sums up all accounts when he says that «con Cubí moría la Frenología en España, pero de hecho había muerto bastantes años atrás. La nota necrológica del Diario de Barcelona la recuerda a sus lectores como cosa probablemente olvidada».16

It was forgotten not only because of the disappearance of its dynamic leader, but because the medical knowledge of the time had made it scientifically obsolete. Even so conservative (and sometimes antiscientific) a critic as Menéndez Pelayo was able to say in 1882: «Científicamente, la frenología es hoy un empirismo completamente abandonado. La moderna fisiología cerebral ha venido a destronarla en ánimo de los mismos naturalistas»,17 and he concludes that «lo cierto es que, desde Broussais y sus discípulos, la frenología degeneró rápidamente en una forma popular y aun callejera del materialismo y del fatalismo».18 It seems plausible that Galdós would have heard   —10→   about phrenology in the café chitchat of the 1860s, or by talking to Mesonero and those of his generation, or through his own reading.19 But it seems highly unlikely that he took it seriously, given his interest in medicine and his personal friendships with physicians. Whence, then, Don Manuel's bump and his phrenologist? For reasons explained below, I would suggest the following hypothesis: they come from the inhabitants of Balzac's Maison Vauquer in Le père Goriot.

Balzac was born in 1799 and died in 1849. His career as a writer coincided with the heyday of phrenology, and as has been amply demonstrated by his critics, he was fascinated throughout his life by science and what later turned out to be pseudoscience. He was especially taken by phrenology; in fact, in his juvenile Théorie de la démarche he ranks Gall with Newton, Cuvier and Bernard Palissy in scientific importance. As early as 1823 phrenology appears in his fiction (La dernière fee) and continues to appear periodically throughout the Comédie Humaine, always taken with the utmost seriousness. An examination of its appearance in Le père Goriot (1833) demonstrates this.

Horace Bianchon, the doctor of the Comédie Humaine, is a medical student when the novel takes place. He is living in a boarding-house -the Maison Vauquer- where the protagonist, Eugène de Rastignac, also lives. Rastignac is puzzled by the behavior of another boarder, old Goriot who seems utterly lethargic and stupid most of the time, but abruptly becomes alert every so often. Eugène asks Bianchon, who has studied phrenology, to examine Goriot's head without arousing too much suspicion.20 Bianchon does so and reports back: «Je lui ai pris la tete: il n'y a qu'une bosse, celle de la paternité, ce sera un Père Éternel».21 The medical student laughs, but he is right. Goriot is the Eternal Father; there is nothing in the world for him except his daughters. Earlier in the novel Bianchon has stated categorically that he does not like another boarder at the Maison Vauquer, Mlle Michonneau, because «Moi qui étudis le système de Gall, je lui trouve les bosses de Judas».22 He is right again; Mlle Michonneau is a spy for the police who will be paid to discover and betray the identity of yet another boarder, Vautrin, who is really the arch-criminal Jacques Collin. Anatomy really is destiny to Balzac, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that for him the outer form of the human being expresses the inner substance.

Rodolfo Cardona has shown that, Galdós' memoirs notwithstanding, Don Benito owned a sizable portion of Balzac's complete works by the time he went to Paris in 1867 and bought Eugénie Grandet.23 By the time he wrote La desheredada fourteen years later he must have read most of the Comédie Humaine, given his predilection for Balzac; certainly he would have read a novel as central to the series as Le père Goriot. I suspect that Pez's phrenological leanings come from this novel partly because of the simple fact of their presence there, but principally because of a major theme that Le père Goriot and La desheredada share:24 the breakdown of the family, and, more specifically, the corruption of children by parents.

The malfunctioning family is of course a place of nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature, and La desheredada, like so many other modern novels, is at least in part a story about families that are ruined by the members who   —11→   are supposed to wield authority. Tomás Rufete and Santiago Quijano-Quijada ruin Isidora, José de Relimpio abandons his own children to follow her, the Marquesa de Aransis kills her daughter, and Don Manuel Pez, a parliamentary padre de la patria as well as the patriarch of the Pez clan, goes a long way toward ruining Spain and his seven children at the same time. The Pez children are spoiled by receiving everything they ask for, and it is in just this way that Goriot's daughters Anastasie and Delphine are perverted. Goriot confesses on his deathbed: «Moi seul ai causé les désordres de mes fille, je les ai gâtées. Elles veulent aujourd'hui le plaisir, comme elles coulaient autrefois du bonbon. Je leurs ai toujours permis de satisfaire leurs fantaisies de jeunes filles. A quinze ans, elles avaient voiture! Rien ne leur a résisté. Moi seul suis coupable...»25 In Part I, chapter XII of La desheredada Pez pays his daughters' seemingly endless bills: season tickets to the Royal Theater, a box at the opera, the dressmaker, the florist, their fans, a horse and on and on. In «Galdós as Reader» Stephen Gilman suggests that «Galdós' creative process has a certain resemblance to the epic recitation of those South Slavic 'singers of tales' described by Millman Parry and Albert Lord».26 Galdós' mind must have been, he says, like a «vast nether warehouse of narrative possibilities... which seemed to summon each other, to invoke each other in the process of composition».27 In a similar manner, the theme of parents who indulge their children to the point of disaster suggested Goriot to Galdós, and with the character came a nonessential detail: phrenology.

But why, then, did he cross out in the proof the reference to the phrenologist and the bump? First, because he realized that it was simply an unnecessary detail that might become troublesome later if something had to be done with it; why introduce it and then leave it hanging, or be forced to write something about a disproven pseudoscience in which he had very little interest?28 Certainly this practical reason would be sufficient to make Galdós decide to cross out the phrenological passage. Yet I believe that a deeper philosophical reason intervened at this point to make sure that phrenology disappeared once and for all. It has to do with the conception and application of this and many other pseudosciences, and is best explained by reference to a most interesting article by the Harvard biologist Stephen Jay Gould on another nineteenth-century pseudoscience of which phrenology is generally considered the precursor,29 Cesare Lombroso's theory of criminal man as set forth in L'uomo delinquente (1876).

Gould shows that to Lombroso (1835-1909) criminals «are not simply deranged or diseased; they are, literally, throwbacks to a previous evolutionary age».30 Criminals are apes in a society of humans, according to Lombroso, and while their behavior might have been acceptable among apes, it is antisocial among people.31 These criminal throwbacks, fortunately, can be recognized by physical signs, if one knows what to look for: «relatively long arms, prehensile feet with mobile big toes, long and narrow forehead, large ears, thick skull, large and prognathous jaw, large canine teeth and a flat palate, etcétera.32

This theory, as Gould points out, was not meant to be merely academic or abstract. It was rather to be the definitive solution to the problem of   —12→   criminal behavior, especially recurrent criminal behavior, and it could eventually provide a system of preventative criminology. Anyone with prehensile feet and large ears, for example, could be «identified in early childhood and whisked away at the first manifestation of his irrevocable nature».33 The word irrevocable is the key to the whole theory: most criminals are predestined to commit crimes. Whether they should be executed (as soon as their stigmata were identified) or simply exiled was a point of contention.

Phrenology as conceived by Gall and Spurtzheim evinced the same sort of concern with criminality. The so-called proof of their theories is demonstrated by their examination of criminals. In an 1835 translation of Gall's system, the anonymous Philadelphian translator writes: «Of thirty women I have seen, says Spurtzheim, who had committed infanticide, twenty-five had the organ [of philoprogenitiveness] very slightly developed, and the others had been led to the commission of the crime from the urgency of circumstance»34 -- that is, they were not born criminals. If they had been, more or less favorable circumstances would make no difference whatsoever; they would have committed the crime anyway. If the propensity (and its corresponding bump) exists, says Gall, «every precaution is useless».35

The basic tenet of Gall's and Lombroso's systems is the same: that behavior is determined biologically, that long arms or bumps on the skull cause and predict, by their very existence, people's actions. And this is finally why Galdós could never have left such a reference to phrenology in his work: because the essence of Galdós' novelistic world is the freedom to act and the necessity of taking responsibility for one's actions. Such characters as Fortunata, who brings her pícara idea to life against all odds, and Tomás Orozco, who refuses to accuse his adulterous wife, choose their path and accept its consequences.

What is true of them is true of Don Manuel José Ramón del Pez. He is influenced by his circumstances, as are all of his fellow characters, and yet ultimately he must make his decisions and abide by their results. He, and not the bump at the base of his skull, decides that his children will have everything they desire; he, and not the bump on his head, will help spread the net of nepotism all over Spain. He will double his income by taking bribes from the railroad companies, and he will do it of his own volition. Don Manuel is not helpless is the hands of fate, and to blame his actions on the shape of his skull instead of on his consciously-taken decisions would mean that he is not responsible for his misdeeds. just as his son Joaquín and Isidora herself must take responsibility for who they are and what they do, so must Don Manuel; Galdós never exonerates his characters for purely physiological reasons.

As this article was written in 1981, it has been over one hundred years since La desheredada was published. In these times of sociobiology, the «intellectual inferiority» of one race or another, and the «genetically programmed differences» between the sexes (such as the «gene for mathematical ability»), Don Benito and the description that he chose not to write may have more than a literary lesson to teach us.

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