• Statue of La Regenta in front of the Casa de la Rúa.

    Statue of "La Regenta" in front of the Casa de la Rúa

    Plaza de Alfonso II El Casto, also known as Plaza de la Catedral

    La Regenta

    Antonio Fernández Insuela

    Professor of Spanish Literature at the University of Oviedo

    In Oviedo at the beginning of January 1885, Leopoldo Alas (Clarín) received the anxiously awaited copies of the first volume of his first novel, La Regenta (Barcelona, Daniel Cortezo y Cía., Biblioteca "Arte y Letras", 1884). By then, the Asturian writer and lecturer was recognized in the Spanish cultural world as the author of a number of short stories, but above all as an insightful, cultured critic leaning towards literary Naturalism, one who was demanding and often quite aggressive towards other writers, which afforded him corresponding enemies. He was also known for his republican ideology and as an advocate of the Institución Libre de Enseñanza (promoting academic freedom). It has been established from his correspondence that he was somewhat apprehensive as to the artistic result of his novel, as he was convinced it would very closely examined by those whom he had harshly criticized, possibly providing them with serious arguments to retaliate in kind.

  • Former Monastery of San Vicente, now home to the Archaeological Museum of Asturias.

    Former Monastery of San Vicente, now home to the Archaeological Museum of Asturias.

    San Vicente Street

    It was common knowledge in Oviedo that Alas' book was based on people and places in the city. These were sometimes presented explicitly, at other times, subject to minor changes that did not make it difficult to identify them, and, in some cases, characterised with deliberately contradictory or imagined details. The novelist's aim was not to reflect a mathematic reality, but to allow himself to also be guided by his imagination, elaborating on, distorting or doing without certain aspects. Clarín gave a detailed account of many of the city's physical environments and of the behaviour – the many vices and few virtues – of various social milieus in Vetusta, a literary placename which, beyond its obvious identification with Oviedo, also serves to characterize any city where moral and social hypocrisy predominate, together with political corruption, and where religiosity is a question of appearances rather than sincere belief.

    The reviews posted in his city were not exactly favourable. The Bishop of Oviedo, Fray Ramón Martínez Vigil, echoed the rumour that Clarín had given his students at the University of Oviedo "as a reward and as a stimulus, a book saturated with eroticism, mockery of Christian practices and insulting allusions to highly respectable people". Meanwhile, a few days after the second volume of La Regenta came out, a very brief anonymous text written in a jocular and dismissive tone appeared in a lighthearted newspaper, Tambor y Gaita (Drum and Bagpipe), recommending Clarín's novel as a remedy for insomnia:"The

    majority of the chapters in La Regenta almost instantly produce tranquil and restful slumber. The most persistent [form of] insomnia abates with a couple of chapters, which is the highest dose.

    The literary context in which La Regenta appeared must be taken into account in order to understand both the favourable and the negative reviews it received. These were a period of years in which some Spanish novels leaned towards Naturalism, recently created in France by Emile Zola. Zola believed that the novel had to present real-life characters and situations in which physiological and environmental determinism prevailed. Accordingly, the characters were not free to act, because their physiology and the environment inexcusably forced them to behave in a particular way. Consequently, the behaviour of such characters could not be judged in terms of morality or immorality, vice or virtue, as they lacked the freedom of choice. Although, in theory, a naturalist novel would address all sorts of subjects, in reality it almost always merely reflected the most bitter aspects of society, illness, physical handicaps, the harshest or even most abject occupations, because determinism is more easily demonstrated in such environments. From this ideological conception stemmed, among other technical issues, the need for the novelist to describe in great detail the physiology of the characters as well as the physical and social environment in which they moved, in order to explain their behaviour.

  • During the days of the controversy with the bishop, Alas had concluded the second volume of La Regenta and, in a letter to his friend Pepín Quevedo, he wrote that he was proud to have completed "a work of art" by the age of thirty-three. After publishing this second volume, the critics agreed in highlighting Clarin's great ability to describe the reality of Vetusta, although some commentators believed that there was excessive immoral and hypocritical behaviour, accusing Clarín of having given way to "an exaggeration much more pernicious than that of pure idealism". Though without the acrimony of the above criticism, another pundit noted that Clarín "studies the human document, as Zola puts it, and studies it influenced, modified and determined in a specially characteristic way by the atmosphere breathed in Vetusta". Special attention was paid to the psychological characterisation of the characters, and there were those who did not fail to allude to a number of indeterminate obscene details of the work, which could have been quite easily dispensed with.

    After the response immediately following the publication of the second volume of La Regenta, most of which was positive, including several reviews of genuine conceptual depth, Clarín felt satisfied with his work. However, he missed the comments he had expected from certain liberal newspapers, the absence of which may in some cases have been due to personal issues stemming from his status having been a scathing critic.

    Palacio de Camposagrado.

    Palacio de Camposagrado

    Plaza de Porlier

  • Side view of Oviedo Cathedral from the Travesía de Santa Barbara

    Side view of Oviedo Cathedral from the Travesía de Santa Barbara

    From the first edition until 1963, when the Planeta publishing house published a luxury, rather than popular, edition prepared by the great Clarín scholar and lecturer at the University of Oviedo, Don José María Martínez Cachero, eight editions of La Regenta were published in the Spanish-speaking world – Barcelona, Madrid, Buenos Aires and Mexico –, including the one forming part of the expensive volume of Obras Selectas [Selected Works], published by Biblioteca Nueva in 1947 and edited by Juan Antonio Cabezas. It should be noted that not one edition was published either in Spain or in Latin America between 1908 and 1946. It was from 1966 on, with the publication in

    paperback by the Alianza Editorial publishing house, when La Regenta became easily available in Spain at an affordable price.La Regenta were published in the Spanish-speaking world – Barcelona, Madrid, Buenos Aires and Mexico –, including the one forming part of the expensive volume of Obras Selectas [Selected Works], published by Biblioteca Nueva in 1947 and edited by Juan Antonio Cabezas. It should be noted that not one edition was published either in Spain or in Latin America between 1908 and 1946. It was from 1966 on, with the publication in paperback by the Alianza Editorial publishing house, when La Regenta became easily available in Spain at an affordable price. Thereafter, Clarin's great novel has become readily accessible to readers through numerous popular editions as well as scholarly editions, such as those by Gonzalo Sobejano for the Castalia publishing house, (1981), Mariano Baquero Goyal (Espasa Calpe, 1984), Juan Oleza (Cátedra, 1984), José Luis Gómez (Planeta, 1989), José María Martínez Cachero (Nobel/Ayuntamiento de Oviedo, 1994), Victor Fuentes (Akal, 1999) and Gregorio Torres Nebrera (DeBolsillo, 2006), all reprinted several times.

    There are other indirect ways of disseminating and popularizing a text, although they be incomplete and not always true to the essence of a work. They are what may generally be called spinoffs, which can take different forms. In the field of theatre, which necessarily reduces the number of characters and situations in the pre-existing novel, director and playwright

    Church of San Tirso

    Church of San Tirso

    Plaza de Alfonso II El Casto

    Álvaro Custodio, a former member of La Barraca, premiered a very decent and relatively detailed stage version of La Regenta on 1stSeptember 1983, which was to be published by Oviedo City Council, chaired by Mayor Antonio Masip, in 1985, with a foreword by councillor Professor Rodrigo Grossi. In the mid-eighties, the playwright Benito Francisco Prieto wrote Sombras y fantasmas de Ana Ozores [Shadows and Ghosts of Ana Ozores], a short dramatic text (including a cast of only ten) with notorious resonances of Unamuno, in which Ana Ozores, after the end of the novel,demands Clarín explain himself. Part of this text (which was published in 1997 by Oris Teatro) was incorporated into the

  • The “Fuentona” (Large Fountain) and the Paseo del Bombé (“the Esplanade” in La Regenta)

    The “Fuentona” (Large Fountain) and the Paseo del Bombé (“the Esplanade” in La Regenta)

    San Francisco Park

  • stage version of Clarin's novel by the Margen theatre group entitled La Regenta en el recuerdo [Remembering La Regenta], which was staged in different parts of Asturias on the centenary of Clarin's death (2001). In 2011, playwright and lecturer at the Asturias Advanced School of Drama (ESAD) Eladio de Paul wrote and directed another version, La larga noche de bodas de Anita Ozores [Anita Ozores' Long Wedding Night], a sketch of the essence of Clarin's novel replete with humour and satire. Furthermore, Marina Bollaín premiered an even more farcical version of Clarin's novel in Avilés on 23rd March 2012 which she co-wrote with Vanessa Montfort. Without any doubt, this piece "based on" La Regenta is the most tongue-in-cheek of those we are aware of. The action is organised following the structure of a "celebrity talk show" in which seven characters from Clarin's novel, including changes in their professions and even their gender with respect to the original text, once more portray the hypocrisies and different types of manipulation exerted by certain types of people. A digital edition of this version is available (from the Musa a las 9 publishing house).

    Another stage version, though not theatrical, was the "fantasy" based on La Regenta performed by the University of Oviedo Dance Laboratory in 1978, created by vice-rector José Benito Álvarez-Buylla. Although its members were not professional dancers (they were to stand out later in other professions:e.g.writer Ángeles Caso, actor Nacho Martínez,

    director of opera and operetta Emilio Sagi and musicologist Beatriz Martínez del Fresno), they managed to create a magnificent spectacle in Los sapos de Vetusta [The Toads of Vetusta], which won a prize at the very prestigious Sitges Theatre Festival in 1980. The final scene, in which Ana Ozores is crushed by some dancers who have imprisoned and destroyed her, conveyed with overwhelming plasticity and stifling dramatism the bitter outcome of the work, the earthly hell that awaited the judge's widow.

    Mention must also be made of the 1974 film version, directed by Gonzalo Suárez, written by Juan Antonio Porto and starring Emma Penella, Keith Baxter, Nigel Davenport and Adolfo Marsillach, which received somewhat mixed reviews. In contrast, the television version by Fernando Mendez-Leite starring Aitana Sanchez-Gijon, Carmelo Gómez and Juan Luis Galiardo was generally acclaimed both by critics and the public, including wise choices such as that of highlighting the role of Doña Paula, the canon's mother (played by Amparo Rivelles). No doubt this TV series, which featured an all-star cast and painstaking staging, marked a milestone in increasing public attention of Clarin's novel. In the field of graphic images, there is the interesting two-volume version released in 1999 and 2001 with script and illustrations by the renowned comics illustrator Isaac del Rivero.Let us also say that, in the field of fiction, a novel entitled La segunda vida de Anita Ozores [Ana Ozores' Second

    Life] appeared in 2000, written by politician and economist Ramón Tamames, who invented a story in which the protagonist of La Regenta leaves for Madrid, where she leads a hectic social life and love life. This novel and its author had the support of certain journalistic personalities from Madrid, but the text did not merit further consideration in the field of Spanish studies or by readers in general.

    Finally, note should be made of another demonstration of the interest a work raises:its translation into other languages. In this respect, according to the information provided about Clarin's bibliographical repertoire by Noël M. Valis, between 1971 and 2002 La Regenta was translated into Italian, German, English, Romanian, Chinese, French, Greek, Polish, Portuguese, Swedish, Japanese and Norwegian.

    Now, even when La Regenta is considered one of the great novels of Spanish literature, its readers, like those 19th-century critics, still question the relevance of the extensive descriptions of the moral, political and religious environment of a city in Restoration Spain (and in that of present-day Spain?)and the scope of the author's poetic vision, his irony, physiological or environmental determinism, his ability to create truly strong characters, the naturalness or contrivance in a work telling a story that begins and ends at the same place, the "romantic poem in stone" that is the tower of Vetusta's cathedral.