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ArribaAbajoFood Imagery in Fortunata y Jacinta

Sarah E. King

When Benito Pérez Galdós wrote Fortunata y Jacinta at the end of the nineteenth century, Naturalism, with all of its emphasis on man as a biologically motivated creature, was the major influential force in European literature. In light of the general concerns of that mainly novelistic school, it is not surprising that the basic physical functions on life, the vital urges common to all animals, should appear as the central preoccupation of a great number of the works which it produced. The major instinctual traits found in all men were singled out by the Naturalists and subjected to a literary and sometimes to a pseudo-clinical scrutiny, and in the process, new creative possibilities were discovered in such common denominators of life as sex, fear, violence and hunger. The latter of these considerations, hunger, perhaps on the surface the least promising from a novelistic point of view, was shown in fact to be a quite fruitful source of material by one of the greatest of the Naturalists, Emile Zola, for example in his Le Ventre de Paris. In that novel, appropriately set in the city's market district, the French writer exploited the food theme to its fullest potential, on both the literal and the metaphorical levels, in a graphic manner that had never before been accomplished.

Although food per se is not central to Fortunata y Jacinta, this novel in some respects can be seen as the Madrid version of Zola's depiction of Paris, and there is little doubt that Galdós, in creating here his own version of the food theme run-rampant borrowed heavily from the Naturalist tradition in general (in which food was frequently employed as an instrument of satire) and from Zola's novel in particular, in which eating and food references appear with almost obsessive frequency.

As in the French novel, food in Fortunata y Jacinta appears literally- often serving to indicate a character's class or economic situation -as well as metaphorically, in which case it is frequently associated with the erotic. One approach to classifying the complicated network of food and eating references in the novel to include both these considerations, the literal as well as the symbolic, is to look at all food-related imagery in terms of its context. According to this scheme, we might first make a broad division between food as life-giving and food in relationship to death. Within the category of food as a life-sustaining substance, we then have the opposing categories of the societal versus the natural. On the other hand, in the reversal of the eating motif which occurs at the end of the novel with the advent of death, the food imagery itself undergoes a drastic change, so that what is presented in essence are anti-foods, either in the form of poison or of tainted food unfit for human consumption.140


At the beginning of the novel, we see that the earliest food references in Fortunata y Jacinta appear in the highly socialized, bourgeois climate of the Santa Cruz family, where they are employed somewhat slyly by Galdós to convey indirectly certain information about the characters and their relationships. One of the first of these psychological profiles which can be drawn strictly from food-related elements in the text occurs in the case of the odiously charming señorito Juanito Santa Cruz.

The first food reference made in connection with Juanito appears at the end of the chapter on his youthful exploits, where we are treated to one of the Delfín's little philosophical gems concerning the nature of life as opposed to literature. The analogy as Juanito outlines it here is that to fully enjoy life is comparable to partaking of a juicy meal, while reading about living is more akin to hearing in minute detail a second-hand account of someone else's gastronomical adventures.141 Certainly, there is as yet nothing particularly condemning about such an observation: it apparently expresses nothing more than the Delfín's youthful hunger for life. This harmless depiction of the «señorito», however, is changed drastically in the next cluster of food imagery in which the character figures. That is, while in that first case, the idea of the meal of life was seen from the subjective point of view of the eater, in Chapter Three the perspective is altered to include one of the prime considerations which is brought to the fore through food imagery in the novel: the idea of victimization. Probably nowhere else in the work is the destructive aspect of eating more graphically portrayed than in the famous «tienda de aves y huevos» scene. It is significant and at the same time ironic that it is Juanito who witnesses this scene of commercial carnage, for it is a replica in microcosm of the destructive role which his own amorous appetite will play in the lives of the women with whom he comes in contact; especially Fortunata who becomes through antonomasia «la víctima».

The passage in effect finds Juanito unconsciously poised on the threshold of his own novel, not only because of the thinly disguised parallel between the «sicario» who fatally caresses the necks of his victims and the Delfín's own well-deserved nickname of «el verdugo», but also in the description of the «presteza y donaire» with which the death blows are dealt -an idea not difficult to associate with Juanito's silver-tongued persuasiveness throughout. Also reminiscent of our «lady killer» and his future methods of operation is the description of how this professional fowl slaughterer «apenas soltaba una víctima... cogía otra para hacerle la misma caricia» (p. 61) just as our «señorito» moves back and forth between Fortunata, Jacinta and finally Aurora as well, no sooner tiring of one and turning to the next before feeling a renewed interest in the first.

In fact, if we reread this paragraph in light of later occurrences in the novel, we find in retrospect that there is a certain sense of familiarity to the entire scene, beginning with Juanito's first unaware acts of destruction as he enters the shop «pisando plumas y aplastando cascarones» despite his best efforts to pick his way carefully around «los sitios en que había plumas y algo de sangre». Yet it is only with the mention of the cartons of eggs which meet the Delfín's curious gaze that we come to the truly memorable line in this passage, undoubtedly of greater significance than the ironically exaggerated   —81→   lament for the plight of eggs which on the surface it purports to be. «La voracidad del hombre» -Galdós tells us- «no tiene límites, y sacrifica a su apetito no sólo las presentes, sino las futuras generaciones gallináceas» (p. 61). It is the specific choice of vocabulary here, and its applicability to the larger situation, that in this instance alerts us to other less literal implications of the text. First, where a moment earlier we were speaking specifically of Juanito Santa Cruz, here there is a momentary shift of focus to emcompass the larger consideration of man as a predatory species. We then have three highly connotative choices of wording: «voracidad», «sacrifica», and «apetito», each of which offers an interesting variation on the earlier idea formulated by Juanito of life as a meal.

To begin with, the use of the term «voracidad» unmistakably introduces the factor of greed, so that we might now wish to reexamine Juanito's earlier ideas to ask if they really do indicate nothing more than a natural desire to taste life to the fullest, or if instead they reveal the character as greedy not only to devour his own life, but to consume, in a totally unreciprocal fashion, the life resources of others as well. Next, with the word «sacrifica» comes the realization -or better yet, the reiteration- of the fact that eating is by no means a victimless pastime; and we are reminded that at every meal something, or someone, must play the part taken here by these unfortunate birds. The third provocative choice of vocabulary in this sentence was «appetite», which in fact is a key concept for our understanding of Juanito. For it now becomes time to state openly what we have actually known all along: that when we speak of Juanito's desire, or of his selfseeking greediness, we are never referring to literal hunger -what would this pampered Delfín know of that -but rather to the much stronger motivating force of Juanito's insatiable sexual appetite.142

But where all the aggressiveness and destructiveness of Juanito Santa Cruz' amorous insatiability is best summed up is in the hunt imagery used to describe his search for Fortunata at the end of Part I of the novel. First we have the description of a frustrated Juanito tiredly returning home each night in frustration «como el cazador impaciente que se desperna de monte en monte sin ver pasar alimaña cazable» (p. 281). And this hunt image is continued in the most ironical of terms at the very end of the chapter, where it is used by Galdós as his parting shot:

Es mucho Madrid éste. Sale de caza un cristiano por esas calles, noche tras noche. ¿En dónde estará la res? Tira por aquí, tira por allá, y nada. La res no cae. Y cuando más descuidado está el cazador, viene callandito por detrás una pulmonía de las finas, le apunta, tira, y me le deja seco.

(p. 285)                

The hunt becomes an important image from here on in the novel in that it extends the food-love metaphor to include such concepts as entrapment, victimization, and finally death, all of which concerns will eventually come into play in the work via the food motif.

While Juanito Santa Cruz' sexual appetites were being outlined through food imagery in Part I of the novel, insights into other characters and their lives were simultaneously being transmitted in a similar fashion. And if the food-related dossier on Juanito as just discussed can be sub-titled «Appetite   —82→   and Greediness», Jacinta's story might best be called «Hunger and Insatisfaction». Jacinta's sterility, the main source of her insatisfaction, is exemplified by the character's obsession with «canarios de alcoba». This all-important maternity theme is presented through eating imagery in what is almost literally its embryonic stage. That is, beginning with the fairytale account of «la del huevo crudo», which Juanito tells his bride during that strange honeymoon (p. 79), the idea of children begins to hatch in Jacinta's mind. And as we know, it is a theme which she continues to nurture and which acquires increasing significance as the novel progresses.

Aside from presenting the idea of frustrated motherhood, the eating scenes which occur in the honeymoon chapter also reveal other facts about Jacinta, and in particular, about her marriage to Juanito. In one scene, for example, although she says it only in jest, Jacinta might well be describing what very shortly is to become a major complaint about her marriage -speaking on the metaphorical level of emotional fulfillment- when she criticizes Juanito for providing «mucha poesía... pero poco que comer» (p. 90). In keeping with this idea of the foreshadowing of the unfulfilled marriage, in more than one sense, we also have Jacinta demanding a steak and a half from her husband and being glibly offered an orange and a half instead... sweet, but insubstantial (pp. 90-91). And if Juanito is stingy with his affection here, offering little to sustain his love-starved wife, much worse lies in store for her. Even harder to digest than these crumbs of affection from Juanito will be the bitter knowledge of his later unfaithfulness. It is not long before we see Jacinta secretly «tragando el acíbar» of Juanito's increasing coolness (p. 272), and by the end of the book even Fortunata will no longer be able to overlook this disloyalty on the part of her beloved «nene». So it is with something akin to disdain that the heroine makes reference to Juanito's behavior when she offers Jacinta the baby «Para que se consuele de los tragos amargos que le hace pasar su maridillo» (p. 1018).

Finally, we cannot leave our discussion of food and metaphorical hunger in the societal context without making reference to what is probably Galdós' most ironic stab at the middle-class mentality as personified in the figures of Doña Barbarita and Estupiñá, she with her «chifladura de las compras» and he as her «auxiliar inestimable» (pp. 123-124). During the daily shopping expeditions of these two -which in itself reads like a catalogue of the Madrid marketplaces- Barbarita is presented as a figure so steeped in the bourgeois value system of acquisition and material possession that she not only can buy her happiness, but rather, her happiness quite literally is buying. In fact, Galdós takes the idea even one step further by telling us of how Estupiñá «tomaba aquellas cosas cual si en ello le fuera la salvación del alma» (p. 124). In short, eating well at some point becomes not just a way of life, but the very religion of this bourgeois society.

Up until this point we have seen food examined in the strictly social context of the Santa Cruz family; first, to describe the fine art of señoritismo as practiced by Juanito, next to illustrate the marriage prospects for Jacinta in a society which condones the Delfín's type, and finally in connection with another by-product of this nouveau riche mentality: the religion of conspicuous consumption.


The other side of this coin, the portrayal of food in the natural context, revolves of course around the figure of Fortunata. It is impossible to discuss Fortunata in relationship to the food motif without first returning briefly to that earlier scene in which she is initially depicted as the future «víctima», that is, when she is first spotted by Juanito as he mounts the stairs to visit Estupiñá. It has been shown by Stephen Gilman that Fortunata appears in that scene as another bird waiting to be eaten, but the unmistakable eroticism of her actions as pointed out by another critic, Carlos Blanco-Aguinaga, also deserves attention here in that it is conveyed via the food image of the raw egg, which Galdós describes with explicit suggestiveness as «aquellas babas gelatinosas y transparentes» (p. 62) slipping through Fortunata's fingers.143 And if Juanito here does nothing more than to devour this provocative creature with his gaze, that will not always be the case.

That one scene was all we saw of Fortunata as food in the first part of the novel, but by establishing early on the connection between eating and eroticism, Galdós makes inevitable the later food portrayal of the heroine, in that she is the most sensual figure in the book. It is Fortunata herself who first begins this analogy when she admires her teeth as «pedacitos de leche cuajada» (p. 343) with a self-satisfaction which in the next moment vanishes when she thinks of the waste of all this perfection if Juanito is not there to enjoy it. The next time that the heroine's thoughts again present themselves in this fashion, the idea, though expressed differently is essentially the same: her charms are entirely wasted if they are to be tasted only by Maxi. The vast distance between this mismatched pair, a fact bitterly apparent to Fortunata, is again conceived via the eating motif when, during one of their meals together, the rice which seems perfectly seasoned to Maxi, blissfully unaware of his future wife's insatisfaction, is a «fárrago amargo» to the unhappy Fortunata (p. 348). And she must be at least remotely conscious even at this point of her role as the unwilling victim about to be served up to Maxi in their mockery of a marriage, for she thinks to herself as she looks at the rice: «Primero me hacen a mí en pedacitos como éstos que casarme con semejante hombre». Yet it is not until after her marriage to Maxi, when Juanito has once again entered her life, that Fortunata seems to understand fully the extent to which she has become the victim of the sacrifice. Only when it is too late and she has already fallen prey once again to Juanito's charms does she realize: «Me han engañado, me han llevado al casorio, como llevan una res al matadero, y cuando quise recordar, ya estaba degollada» (p. 518).

The idea of Fortunata as victim' of the slaughter, which in turn can be related to the ideas of the hunt and of capture, is central at this point in the novel in its reflection of what will become hereafter the major preoccupation of a number of characters, each of whom will try his hand at the taming or domestication of Fortunata; or, to the extent that she is food, each will try to «cook» her to suit his own taste. That is to say, if the parallel within the food realm to the idea of social intervention is cooking -the mediating process between nature and man- the introduction of the culinary theme is not surprising at the point in which it occurs in the novel, where various attempts will be made to socialize the heroine.144 The figure who most stands   —84→   out among those who will try their hand at remolding Fortunata is Don Evaristo Feijoó, who is enchanted by the simplicity of this «mujer del pueblo».

The clash which had resulted from the coming together of the natural, uncomplicated «madrileña neta y de la Cava de San Miguel» (p. 628) and the no more civilized but much more socialized Juanito, is summed up by Fortunata when she describes their conflicting eating habits for the benefit of Feijoó:

¡Ah, si viera usted lo furioso que se ponía cuando le decía yo que me gustaba un guisado de falda y pecho como los que se comen en los bodegones! Pues nada, que tenía que esconderme para comer a mi gusto.

(p. 619)                

Feijoó on the other hand is much more receptive to and appreciative of this primitive side of Fortunata, and so we have the description of how, between the two of them, «ambos amantes habían convenido en enaltecer y restaurar prácticamente la hispana cocina» (p. 630). Yet despite such good intentions we soon see that Don Evaristo's many concessions to society over the years have robbed him of any ability he might have had to actually live the type of natural existence oblivious to social conventions which he alternately deplores and admires in Fortunata.

At the same time, the description of Feijóo's stomach, presented here alongside the heart as the seat of love, and which the character complains has finally rebelled where once it had functioned like clockwork, is no doubt Galdós' sly way of telling us that age diminishes even the strongest of biological urges (p. 635). Nevertheless, despite his attention to appearance and his old age, Feijoó's authority on the nature of love is not to be questioned, and his theories on the subject become very important, not just because they are expressed through the eating motif, but also because of what they tell us about Fortunata. That is, if Feijoó's comments on the appetite of the soul no longer apply to himself once age has altered his metabolism, they are applicable to Fortunata who suffers no such complaint. Feijoó, in fact, although speaking literally, should be taken figuratively as well when, as he watches this healthy young woman «cuyo apetito era una bendición de Dios» as she eats, he observes, «Hija, tienes un apetito modelo» (p. 638).

Very shortly after this passage appears Feijoó's proclamation of life itself which, if a long time in coming, nevertheless goes a long way towards justifying the entire complicated interweaving and layering of food imagery in the novel. And who could doubt that Galdós and Feijoó are one and the same when the character is made to say:

Si siempre he sostenido lo mismo, si no es de ahora esta opinión. El amor es la reclamación de la especie que quiere perpetuarse, y al estímulo de esta necesidad tan conservadora como el comer, los sexos se buscan y las uniones se verifican por elección fatal, superior y extraña a todos los artificios de la sociedad.

(p. 638)                

In the next chapter, the idea that nature can not be denied, is elaborated to point even more directly to Fortunata when Feijoó advises: «Hay que dar al corazón sus miajitas de carne; es fiera, y las hambres largas le ponen furioso...» (p. 641). But if earlier Fortunata's problem had been diagnosed by   —85→   Feijóo as that of having «el corazón demasiado grande», (p. 616) then how much greater must be her appetite for love, and how much more furious her underfed beast than that of any other character in the novel, even the greedy Juanito. And as we soon see, despite both herself and the very real gratitude which she feels for Feijoó, their relationship, which provides amply for her stomach but not for her heart, begins to appear to Fortunata as a life of forced penitence: «El apetito del corazón, aquella necesidad de querer fuerte, le daba sus desazones de tiempo en tiempo, produciéndole la ilusión triste de estar como encarcelada y puesta a pan y agua» (p. 645).

This is a sign that the tranquil interlude with Feijoó is almost over, and in effect, once Don Evaristo's stomach has «retired», total decline occurs with an alarming rapidity. As Fortunata's lover turned father-figure sets about the business of arranging her reconciliation with Maxi, what we are witnessing is the preparation for «la víctima» to be served up once more on society's platter for what will ultimately prove to be the final sacrifice: her death.

As the end of the work approaches, Death looms increasingly over the characters and the occurrences to such an extent that even the food motif is affected by its presence. The most obvious connection to be drawn between food and death is to be found in the idea of poison, and Galdós wastes no time in introducing this concept into the final section of the novel. The first scene of Part IV reveals Maxi abstractedly mixing up potentially lethal pharmaceutical concoctions until he is banished from the laboratory by Segismundo (p. 783).

In the next chapter it is Maxi himself who is now convinced that he is being poisoned, insisting that there is arsenic in his chocolate. This incident is one in a series that will play with the idea of false poisons and the opposing concept of real poison - on the metaphorical level - camouflaged to appear appetizing. So, the entire problem of artificiality and authenticity which occurs throughout the novel (and one of whose manifestations is the Nature-Society dichotomy we have made reference to) is insistently reintroduced here at the end, where it is directly related to the food motif.

The most significant instance of deceptive appearances in this section of the novel occurs with the introduction of a new character: Fortunata's false friend, Aurora. Galdós immediately gives us a number of clues which should arouse our suspicions concerning this late arrival on the scene - such as the reference to her «robustez fofa» or the description of her ample appetite which ends with the exclamation, «¡Qué golosa era!» (pp. 801 & 804). This food-type characterization of Aurora should serve as a warning signal if we think back to the similar representation of Juanito Santa Cruz and recall how in that earlier case greed, selfishness and lust were all seen to go hand in hand. But perhaps even more revealing here is the specific mention made of the «yema» that Aurora is eating and the fact that she offers one to Fortunata. For later, this specific sweet again turns up in the novel in connection with the idea of poisonous bait; and, although in the case of the teasing Ballester the fear of poison was a false alarm, we might nevertheless be wise not to overlook the deliberate parallel, and to recall therefore those earlier overtures of Aurora in a new light. And in fact, as we are only to learn later on, Aurora in essence was poisoning Fortunata's mind with her «yemas» as she fed her   —86→   these goodies every Sunday which the two women passed together «comiendo dulces y contándose cositas». And it is not long before we realize just how fatal these little stories which Aurora feeds Fortunata prove to be. In short, Aurora comes to be something. of the female counterpart of the honey-tongued Juanito, who up until the very end will still be trying to «endulzar y confitar... las cosas más amargas» which he hopes Jacinta will swallow as she once did (p. 1029). It is really little wonder, therefore, that this well-suited couple, Aurora and Juanito, should have eventually found their way to each other in the novel.

As we approach the scene of the heroine's death, we see a resurgence of a number of the major themes of the work, and along with them come the final variations on the food motif. It is not surprising that death should at one point become the topic of conversation between two of the characters here; nor is it merely coincidence that Segismundo should describe it emblematically as «más fea que el no comer» (p. 824). Time and again in this section we are reminded in similar ways of eating as the prime necessity of life. When Fortunata tries to explain how she was compelled to seek revenge against Aurora, she tells Guillermina: «Me era tan preciso vengarme como el respirar y el comer» (p. 986). And if we look back at that scene in which Fortunata had her revenge, this statement seems almost literally true as we note the description of the predatory expression on the heroine's face «en la cual no era difícil ver la cruel suavidad con que algunas fieras lamen la víctima antes de devorarla» (p. 977). Nor can we ignore Fortunata's choice of words as she warns her victim: «Eso es para que vuelvas, so tunanta, a meter tus dedos en el plato ajeno» (p. 978).

Without a doubt, however, the most important food symbol for establishing the direct equation between life and eating is that of mother's milk, which comes to the fore again in this section of the novel. Throughout the book we have seen the maternity theme play a central role as both the driving force in Jacinta's life and as the crux of Fortunata's «pícara idea» which decrees that the mother of a man's child is his true wife. What we perhaps do not realize until now, however, is the ironic truth that the idea of maternity is actually totally incompatible with Fortunata's nature. True, she may appear to be the ultimate maternal figure, yet we are perhaps confusing this quality that she lacks with that other which she possesses in abundance: fertility. Let us not forget that the first little Pituso dies and that the second will not be raised by Fortunata either. Now, as before, she has given all that she has to feed her destructive passion for Juanito, and has nothing left to nourish even the child whom she loves so dearly.

Evidence to support this idea can be found by looking at those instances in which Fortunata is mentioned in connection with milk. First, as the heroine looked at herself in the mirror way back in Part II, she compares her teeth to «leche cuajada». Then later, when Feijoó is offering his course in practicality, he tells her: «es usted más tierna que el requesón» (p. 616). And finally comes the scene with Ballester in which Fortunata, trying to replenish her own dwindling supply, is repulsed to find flies in her glass of milk. Thus Fortunata, as would be expected, is associated with milk at various times in the novel; what is unexpected is that each time the association in some way goes   —87→   awry - either the milk is curdled or it is tainted. Guillermina is the first to realize that something is wrong in this way when she says without equivocation: «Está visto: no sirve usted para madre...» and then fearfully predicts what in fact does occur: «Me temo que con esos arrebatos se quede usted sin leche» (pp. 985-986). And as we know, ultimately, not only is Fortunata unable to sustain the life of her child, but she loses her own life as well, in essence consumed by her own passions.

The logical final step in this chain of life and eating imagery, of course, would be the idea of death as the devourer. Galdós is not so cruel as to actually depict Fortunata's celebrated beauty destroyed by this ultimate ravisher, but he does suggest the inevitable as Segismundo stands mourning the loss of his friend:

Ballester no se saciaba de contemplarla, observando la serenidad de aquellas facciones que la muerte tenía ya por suyas, pero que no había devorado aún.

(p. 1027)                

In our last glimpse of the heroine, then, as in that first scene in which she stood so vitally revealed to Juanito Santa Cruz, Fortunata is once again being devoured by a man's appreciative gaze... yet how far apart in every other respect these two scenes are!

Harvard University

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