Spanish Literature

Drama Review – The Bonds of Interest by Jacinto Benavente

In The Bonds of Interest Jacinto Benavente presented a farcical tale of a pair of unconventional seventeenth century conmen. This disadvantaged duo duped everyone they met into believing the quiet member of the team a prestigious nobleman. Because of this, everyone granted them luxuries on credit. When part of the scheme entailed marrying the one off to a nobleman’s daughter, the two would discover whether or not the “bonds of interest” could overcome the desire for retribution.

Even though the comedy described an improbable story, the playwright still adhered to sold writing principles. Whenever a narrative focuses upon the exploits of two main characters, one is always portrayed as the dominant of the two. Benavente employed this method to brilliant effect while applying a twist to it.

The tale presented a scheme concocted by Crispin. While the dominant character, he masqueraded as Leander’s servant. When they encountered people, Crispin delivered most, and sometimes all of , the dialog. He touted the praises of his “master”, while serving as the outfit’s mastermind. The playwright balanced this character’s roles through his words very well.

I don’t like to give away spoilers, but the playwright crafted a brilliant plot twist regarding Leander. He did so by making him a well-developed character. While a fugitive from justice, he still behaved nobly in regard to his love interest, Silvia. Even though he participated in a large scale scam, he allowed his feelings for Silvia to allow him to express himself honestly.

The playwright used a clever technique to express this inner decency. He did so in the form of an insult. Crispin told Silvia’s father:

And after all, the only trouble with my master was that he had no money; no one could out do him in nobility of character; your grandchildren will be gentlemen even if that quality does not extend up to the grandfather. (Location 1683)

Leander’s transition illustrated exceptional writing ability on Benavente’s part. I applaud him even more for working it into a farcical story.

The Bonds of Interest included several memorable lines. My favorites included:

Men are like merchandise; they are worth more or less according to the salesman who markets them. (Location 1779)

It is as foolish to trust a man while he lives as a woman while she loves. (Location 661)

Love is all subtleties and the greatest subtlety of them all is not that lovers deceive others—it is that they so easily can deceive themselves. (Location 1240)

I had rather deal with a thousand knaves than one fool. (Location 1550)

With the understanding that the play was a farce regarding an unbelievable series of events, I only had one criticism of it. I admit it’s not a fair one, either. The drama premiered in 1907 and the writing style reflected that of the early twentieth century. At times I read some excessive exposition.

In the following example, Crispin explained his and Leander’s back story.

…But more than this, have you forgotten that they are searching for us in other parts and following on our heels? Can it be that all those glorious exploits of Mantua and Florence have been forgotten? Do you recall that famous lawsuit in Bologna? Three thousand two hundred pages of testimony already admitted against us before we withdrew in alarm at the sight of such prodigious expansive ability! (Location 1261)

To paraphrase Stephen King: everyone has a backstory. Most of it isn’t very interesting. It becomes even less exciting when a character keeps making the same point through consecutive sentences.

While first performed in 1907, The Bonds of Interest contains humor that still resonates. Combine that with the story of two people struggling to advance their station in life through a preposterous “get rich quick scheme.” That makes it just as entertaining today. To borrow a lesson from the play: don’t believe everything I wrote just because I wrote it. Read Benavente’s drama and decide if it bonds to your interest.


Book Review: The Family of Pascual Duarte by Camilo Jose Cela

Camilo Jose Cela crafted an outstanding novel about the results of a sorrowful life. He presented his tale through the writings of the protagonist as he awaited a death sentence. It enabled me to really connect with Pascual Duarte and understand his mindset and motivations. I applaud the author on his excellent choice of narration.

I found the beginning of The Family of Pascual Duarte the best I’ve ever read. Cela opened with a “Preliminary Note from the Transcriber”. He followed up with “Duarte’s Letter to the First Recipient of His Manuscript”. The author wrote both of them so convincingly that I initially thought this a work of non-fiction. That’s not an easy feat to achieve.

While Duarte freely resorted to violence, I could still empathize with the character. During his youth, his father died from rabies. (Page 41) When his 10 year old brother passed away his mother didn’t cry. This event fueled his anger and resentment. (Page 46) Things didn’t get much better for poor Duarte. A horse threw his pregnant wife off its back. This caused his first child to abort. (Page 80) His second son passed away at 11 months. (Page 88) Before killing the man who seduced his wife, the victim asked if Duarte thought his wife still loved him. (Page 129) You’ve got to think the guy had it coming to him just for being stupid.

The blurb on the back of the book mentioned that critics have compared Pascual Duarte to the narrator in Albert Camus’ The Stranger. I disagree. While the author told the story through the protagonists’ eyes, I could understand his motivations for his violent behavior. For instance: Duarte returned to his wife after an absence of several years. Upon his return he discovered the same man who “ruined” (Page 122) his sister impregnated his wife. While I don’t condone violence, I can understand why the narrator resorted to it in this case.

From my reading, it seemed as though Duarte felt some regret over his violent actions throughout the story. At one point he wrote, “A past spent in sin is a heavy burden.” (Page 102) Later he commented that he longed to “put ground between many things.” (Page 150) I didn’t get a sense of that from The Stranger’s protagonist.

With that acknowledgement, the narrator also delivered the following chilling thoughts on conscience.

My conscience did not trouble me. There was no reason why it should. Consciences bite and prick only when an injustice has been committed, such as a drubbing on a child or potting a swallow on a wing. But when hate leads us by the hand, when we are in the throes of an obsession which numbs and overwhelms us, we need never feel the pangs of repentance, and our conscience need neither bite nor prick us. (Page 153)  

I did have an issue with Anthony Kerrigan’s translation, though. I caught a number of clichés in the text. Some of the most egregious included “thorn in my side” (page 37), “turn tail” (page 65) and “if the shoe fits…” (pages 74 – 75). He even wrote three clichés in a row in one paragraph. It read: “Fish get in trouble for opening their mouths, as they say, and whoever talks much errs much, and a shut mouth swallows no flies…” (Page 74) I understand the narrator wasn’t a Nobel Laureate in Literature; but the author was. Cela earned a more dignified translation than this one.

The Family of Pascual Duarte deserves to be more widely read. I’d strongly recommend it to fans of great literature. I encourage others to read it along with Camus’ The Stanger and draw their own conclusions regarding “similarities”. Whether one sympathizes with Duarte or not, I’m sure they’ll admire Cela’s awesome story telling ability.