Radical Politics and Artistic Autonomy: the Lessons Learned from the Theatrical Premiere of Galdós’s Electra

This presentation examines the relation between artistic autonomy and Spain’s radical politics during the fin de siglo. With writers such as Valle-Inclán, Unamuno, and Martínez Ruiz (“Azorín”), a perplexing incongruence emerges between, on one hand, the contemplative and politically detached nature of their first novels, and on the other, their early flirtations with radical politics. To address this perplexity I examine the controversy surrounding the premiere of Galdós’s Electra (1901), because it is there, in the fervent responses by progressive critics, where these writers realize that much of the contemporary radical discourse mimicked the modern capitalist ethos it attacked. From there, I examine a key work of the time, Martínez Ruiz’s La voluntad (1902), as an example of how these writers responded to the broader, more subtle forces of capitalist modernity that were entering Spanish life and liberal ideology. I argue that by embracing ambiguity and contradiction as its formal aesthetic principle, La voluntad is not merely an expression of confused pessimism or bitter resignation, but is rather a higher order form of political engagement that breaks from the confines of the modern ethos of calculation and expediency. By focusing on La voluntad’s formal dynamics—the feel and texture of its language, its gaps in tone, and shifting resonances—I argue that this novel sought to animate in the reader flexible forms of thinking—and thus of imagining new social configurations—that were not available within the anarchist and socialist orthodoxies that prompted the euphoria of Electra’s public reception.


  • Spanish Peninsular Studies