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This lengthy first novel, written in 1870 when the author, the ``Spanish Balzac,'' was 27 years old, now seems excessively contrived; nevertheless, as meticulously translated into English for the first time and annotated by a leading Galdos scholar, it exhibits themes and flashes of genius that would later earn Galdos his reputation. The time is the early 1820s, a revolutionary period in Spain's history when King Fernando VII was scheming to undermine the constitution, and crowds heatedly discussed the day's political issues in cafes like The Golden Fountain. One of Fernando's supporters is Elias, an elderly royalist, plotting to infiltrate and subvert the populist gatherings at The Golden Fountain. Elias has raised a young orphan, Clara, who, as a beautiful, unworldly teenager, falls in love with Elias's nephew, Lazaro, a staunch liberal loathed by his uncle. Lazaro learns of Elias's plan to have a group of prominent liberals--including his rival for Clara's affections--murdered; after struggling with his emotions, Lazaro does his duty and saves his rival. Elias is then disgraced, and the two lovers wed. (Dec.)
The author of some 80 novels, Galdos is universally recognized as second only to Cervantes in Spanish letters. This is a political novel set in 1870s Madrid and takes its names from the cafe where the political liberals of the day congregated. Lazaro, symbolic of the idealistic liberal, comes from the provinces, promptly gets himself arrested, and risks losing his beloved Clara. To boot, he becomes the love object of the repressed edlerly spinster Dona Paulita. The costumbrismo typical of Galdos is evident in the attention lavished on Madrid street scenes and character types, but the major thrust is Galdos's message to the liberals to use moderation. In this case happiness for Lazaro and Clara is found only in renunciation of the tumultuous politics of Madrid for the retirement of their villa in Aragon. Since this is Galdos ' s first novel, it will be of most interest to libraries specializing in the history of the European novel.-- Jack Shreve, Allegany Community Coll., Cumberland, Md.