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This volume contains two plays by Jose Echegaray originally published in 1895 in London.
The play opens in Madrid where a young would-be playwright, Ernest has come to live with his father’s former business partner, Don Julian, and to write. However, he is having no luck writing at all. Nonetheless, Don Julian is very kind and gives him the run of his own very large and gracious Madrid home. The Don’s young wife, Teodora, is very kind to him as well. The household also holds the Don’s brother, his wife and nephew, plus several servants.
The play is a phenomenal story of love, respect, appreciation as well as of gossip, mean-spiritedness, stupidity and, alas, a bit of predictability. Nonetheless, I was gripped by the play which centers on the Don’s relatives implying that Teodora and the young Ernest are having an affair and that the Don is being made a fool of. The Don tries desperately to refuse to accept these allegations, but it is so difficult for him to be sure.
His doubt, the utter naivety of his wife and Ernest lead to some desperate and even tragic consequences.
I think the play is really brilliant. It is suspenseful, fast moving, dramatic and beautifully written.
The second play of this volume seemed to me as I read along that it was going to be one of the most astonishing and marvelous plays I had ever read. It was so close, yet I think it simply ran out of steam or imagination. I’ve tried for some days to figure out how in the world might Echegarary have done the ending other than he did, and alas, I simply can’t come up with a resolution that would have satisfied me.
Perhaps the genius of the play is that Echegarary set up a situation in which there simply wasn’t a resolution that could satisfy all parties. If so, it may be a play about a very real problem of decent humans for which there simply isn’t a decent solution that solves the dilemmas of all concerned.
As the play opens we meet the scholar and very decent Don Lorenzo. He is read Cervantes’ novel Don Quixote and reflecting on the honesty and decency of Quixote without at all acknowledging his madness and/or his wild imaginings.
He is married to Dona Angela and has a lovely young daughter, Ines, who is madly in love with Edward, who returns her love. The last member of the nearly daily household is Dr. Tomas, a medical doctor and very close friend of Don Lorenzo.
Lorenzo is quite wealthy, having inherited a huge fortune and they live a very respectable life in Madrid.
Ines’ beloved Edward is the son of the Duchess of Almonte, also wealthy, but not in the class of Lorenzo, however, she is of higher “rank” in social standing of the time.
All things seem to be going just marvelously as Lorenzo is prepared to go to Edward’s mother and seek her permission for the young lovers to marry, however, on that very day news comes to Edward that his nurse of his childhood, Juana, is dying and wants to see him before she dies. He postpones his visit to Edward’s mother to meet with her and Juana reveals to him a secret that completely undoes the learned and honorable Edward. He is NOT the son of his mother and father, and not really entitled to the inheritance he has. Rather, he is actually Juana’s son, his “family’s” maid.
Lorenzo is simply devastated and begins to behave very much like Don Quixote. He has to do what he sees as “right.” He must give up his title, return his inherited fortune to those to whom it should have gone. The complexity is that this will upset absolutely everything in their home. Edward and Inez will not be able to marry, they will lose their home and fortune and what their lives will be like is simply unknown.
Lorenzo is faced with a terrible dilemma, and he becomes more and more the Don Quixote of the novel. He simply MUST do the honorable thing, and even though only this tiny handful of people know of this development, and not one of them would dream of telling anyone else, Lorenzo simply must do “the honorable” thing. Yet, doing this will destroy the happiness of his daughter and complete leave he and his wife in a limbo of what will happen to them.
Up to this point this was a simply incredibly magnificent “set up.” There was this dilemma of honor, and this character, Lorenzo who was, indeed, an honorable man, yet doing the “honorable thing” would virtually destroy his daughter’s future and the best interests of the family itself.
Jose Echegarary has indeed set up a situation with seeming no decent solution at all. What is to be done? Alas and alack, what does happen in the end is simply not satisfying or believable even within the freedoms of fiction. It was as though the author was within just a few steps of what would have been an absolutely awesome play, but there wasn’t a solution to the family’s dilemma that would work. I so wish I could have even imagined one to propose, but I think that the situation was so well set up that there simply is no solution that would have fit the characters and the situation and not have destroyed someone in the process.
A simply intriguing read, at times so very funny and at other times so seriously tragic.
A few notes along the way.
For Lorenzo “honor” is a key virtue in his life.
Edward says of him: “. . . a new Don Quixote minus wit and plus pedantry.”
Edward’s mother asks for a solution to Lorenzo’s dilemma. Edward suggest just go ahead and give away the family fortune, but not to spill the beans on his parentage, thus only the money would be lost. His mother says this won’t work, it would be too hard to get away with. Edward replies:
“If you had to beg for a fortune, it might be difficult to find one, but when it comes to giving, don’t be afraid. It is easy enough, and any pretext is equally welcome to those who receive it.”
Ah my, I think Edward is likely to be correct. There aren’t too many folks as rigorously “proper” as Lorenzo!!
On the other hand, Edward’s mother is much more sympathy to Lorenzo scruples of what he must do:
“You magnetise me Edward. I scarce know what to say. But an inward voice warns me that what you suggest is neither right nor just, - that deception can never be preferable to truth, and despite Don Lorenzo’s ravings, I feel that duty triumphs in him, while in our it is passion that triumphs, for all your arguments.”
But the genius of the situation that Echegaray creates always has some problems. His wife tells him:
Bob Corbett firstname.lastname@example.org“Ah, Lorenzo, Lorenzo, you are everything, -- philosopher, morality, jurisconsult, and, needless to say, a gentleman. All, all, wretched reglecting machine, except a father.”
Bob Corbett email@example.com