THE SEA-GULL (LA GAVIOTA).*
• The sea-Oull (La Oariola). From the Spanish at Fenton Caballero. By the Hon. Augusta Bethell. 2 vols. Loudon; Bentley. DONA CECILIA FABER, who is, as Miss Bethell informs us, the authoress disguising herself under the well known name of Fernan Caballero, has a very considerable literary power, and a field for description so entirely fresh and full of special character of its own, that we feel no doubt of the success of her stories in this country as well as in her own. There are, no doubt, defects in her art at present. She is too fond of descriptive digression, and in descanting on the historical buildings of Seville gets positively dull. There is a very great difference, too, in the power and finish of her provincial life and of the drawing-room life of the city. The latter seems to us very poor. Spoiled by the vividly outlined charac- ters and sharply marked moral distinctions of her Spanish peasantry, who, having been brought up in the most ignorant corners of the world, have had ample tim.to become knotted and twisted into the most picturesque peculiarities of character, she scarcely understands the finer and more delicate discriminations which are necessary in painting characters tempered by culture and social intercourse into forms of less grotesque and unique features. Doha Cecilia Faber's drawing-room scenes are vastly inferior to many by very second and third-rate English lady novelists. You do not see clearly any of the actors she brings on the carpet, or the drift and meaning of their rather tedious colloquies. Very different indeed is it with the broad, simple, graphic, village pictures, the only fault of which is the tendency to humorous digression in which our authoress indulges too much to the injury of her often really powerfully conceived narrative. It is obvious that Doiia Cecilia Faber has not quite enough even of that value for a dramatic situation on which practised novel-writers depend so much for the interest of
• their stories. She often seems to shrink back on the very verge of a fine situation, and to leave the issue to the imagination of her readers. Yet her best characters are full of dramatic force,
• though the scenes are scarcely equal in power to the actors. The heroine of this tale, the heartless fisherman's daughter, who is nicknamed the Sea-Gull (La Gaviota) by her principal enemy in her native village, from the delight which she takes in roving with naked feet over the wildest rocks of the sea-shore, is a character of whom any novelist might be proud. The coarseness and moral vulgarity of mind concealed under a truly Spanish pride and reserve, and disguised by a passionate animal delight in music such as seems to promise refinement and delicacy of taste, but is really con- sistent with the most stolid, insensible, and ungrateful of natures, though one open nevertheless to intense passion for brutal animal
• courage, are delineated with wonderful force by a few bold strokes. The passion which this girl, with her wonderful voice, her kind husband and noble suitor, forms for the vulgar gladiator of the bull-ring, the almost physical " punishment " by which this fellow subdues her high coarse spirit, the scenes of the bull-fights, and the degraded character in which La Gaviota reappears as the slatternly barber's wife, after she has lost her husband, her lover, her voice, and all such beauty as she had, in the last scene of the book, all speak of real genius of a very uncommon kind. Marisalada or the Sea-Gull is one and the same person from begin- ning to end, and yet the circumstances of her life are such as to task the genius of the author who would make us grasp her character with real force. She is not really much more de- graded when lost to virtue and picked up by the village barber who had been attracted by her in her earlier days, and who makes her his vixenish and soured wife, than when her gentle German phy- sician (afterwards her husband) is training her voice and musical taste in the first chapters of the book. But it takes true power to track such a character through so many changes, and make us feel it the same in all. The true nature of Marisalada (the Sea-Gull) is indicated with great liveliness in the following dialogue between • herself, her tutor, physician and future husband (Stein), and her chief enemy in the village, Momo, an ill natured lad who has always hated the equally selfish-natured girl. Stein is preparing to make her an offer :—
" Marisalada,' said Stein, when she had finished, you, who do not know the world, cannot imagine how much profound truth and how much philosophy there is in these verses. Do you remember my expla- nation of philosophy?'—' Yes, senor,' said Marisalada, 'the science of being happy. But in this matter, neither rules nor science are worth much, for every one is happy according to his own notion. Don Modesto would be so if they would mount some guns on his fort, which is as great a ruin as he is ; Brother Gabriel, in the return of the Prior and his bells to the monastery ; Tia Maria, if you wouldn't go away ; my father, in catching a conger-eel; and Momo, in doing all the mischief he can.' Stein laughed, and placed his hand affectionately on the girl's shoulder, saying, And in what does your happiness consist ?' Marisalada hesitated a moment before answering, raised her large eyes, looked at Stein, dropped them again, glanced at Momo, smiled inwardly on seeing that his ears were redder than a tomato, and at last asked in reply, What would yours consist in, Don Federico ? In returning to your country?'—' No,' replied Stein.—' In what then ?' persisted Maria.—' I will tell you, my nightingale ; but first tell me in what yours would con- sist.'—' In always hearing you play the flute,' replied Marisalada sin- cerely. At this moment old Maria came out of the kitchen with the excellent intention of fanning the flame; it happened to her, however, as it often does to others, that excess of zeal prevents the very things most desired to be brought about. Don't you see, Don Federico,' she said, what a pretty girl Marisalada is ?—what a beautiful figure, and how stout she is?' Momo, overbearing his grandmother, muttered, while biting the head off a sardine, The very model of her father's fishing- rod, with legs and arms that give her the look of a great grasshopper; and she's long and thin enough to make a good bar for my door—ugh !' —‘ Be quiet, you disgusting hunchback, like a cabbage without a stalk,' retorted Gaviota, in a low voice.—' Yes, yes,' replied Stein to Maria ; 'she is beautiful ; her eyes are exactly of the far-famed Arab type?— ' They are more like two hedgehogs, and every glance is a thorn,' grunted Momo. And this pretty mouth, that sings like a seraph,' con- tinued the old woman, stroking her favourite's face.—' Did you ever !' said Momo ; a mouth like a basket, which gives forth toads and snakes !'—' And your horrible mouth !' cried Marisalada, unable to con- tain her rage this time. Your horrible mouth, which only doesn't reach from ear to ear, because your face is so wide that it got tired halfway !' For sole reply Momo channted, in three different keys,—' Gaviota! Gaviota! Gaviota !'—' Romo ! Homo! Rome! Flat-nose!' sang Maria, in her magnificent voice. Is it possible, Mariquita,' said Stein, that you are really vexed at Memo's nonsense ? His jokes are stupid and coarse, but not malicious.'—' A little of what he has to excess wouldn't be amiss in you, Don Federico,' replied Marisalada. 'I'll tell you what it is, I'm not going to put up with this blockhead, who's as hard as a stone, rougher than a thorn tree, and harsher than untanned leather. So I shall go.' And with this the Gaviota left the court ; Stain followed her."
That is lively portraiture enough, and the same hard, selfish, powerful character is sketched through all its brilliant change of fortune, and the last reverses which bring her down again to a lower level than that from which she started. But Marisalada is not the only fine picture in the book. In the village life almost all the pictures are equally good, as in the Seville draw- ing-room almost all are equally poor. The good old grand- mother, Tia Maria, the homely saint of the village, and her old friend the monk Gabriel always waiting in vain for the restora- tion of the monastery, are sketches of very great pathos and beauty. The Spanish type of character, with its deep prejudices, its strong passions, its large remnant of the romantic or ideal age, has more of the elements requisite for true dramatic and narrative interest than probably any national character now left in Europe, and Dealt Cecilia Faber knows well how to handle it so as to bring all its most graphic features into view. Her defect lies in the direction of caring much less for her story, than for those broad human characteristics disguised in various grotesque and pro- vincial costumes which she uses her story merely as a convenient machinery for delineating. But the direction of her defect is one which implies also the highest merit,—the tendency to undervalue the theatrical side of art as compared with the delineative side. This merit Dofia Cecilia Faber shows in every way. That she undervalues the exciting and tragic elements of her story, and makes indeed quite too little of them, is a mistake ; but it is closely allied with the large humanity of feeling which makes her even in her most graphic pictures of local character and custom, care less for the unique pictorial brilliancy than for the deeper and more universal human characteristics illustra- ted by these local and provincial customs. The picture of Tia Maria and of her friend the poor old monk Gabriel would, in less sympathetic hands, have been chiefly brilliant pictures of deep-rooted Spanish superstitions, modified only by the pious benevolence of the originals of the pictures. But in our authoress's hands they have become rather witnesses how the most profound superstitions when worked into truly noble and devoted characters may lose all their noxious qualities, and tend only to deepen the lines of innocent simplicity and childlike piety.
It is worth notice how naturally in Doita Cecilia Faber's story women always seem to take the lead morally and spiritually, not only in the village life, but in the city also. That is, we take it, not merely because the author is a woman, but because it belongs to the condition of a country in which secular intelligence and secular energy are kept down, and only spiritual and moral intelligence and spiritual and moral energy have full swing, to cede the palm to women. Women will almost always be more competent than men to ignore the difficulties which a sceptical intelligence forces upon the devotees of an expiring superstition, and to assimilate all the finest moral elements of the faith that is dying away without troubling themselves with the insoluble problems annexed to them. And, on the other hand, where the intellectual and secular faculties are held by the state of manners in restraint, men are more conscious of embarrass- ments and feel their fetters more, than women, so that un- scrupulous and ambitious women have almost a fairer field than unscrupulous and ambitious men. Certainly, in this Spanish novel, women, good, or bad, or neither the one nor the other, seem to take the lead, and this is a symptom, we take it, of the medimval- modern condition of society, in which while war has ceased to be the main occupation, the trammels on secular intelligence and energy remain.
Miss Bethell has, as far as we can judge without comparing her work with the original, which indeed the present reviewer could not do if he would, translated with great spirit and skill. The dialogue is exceedingly lively and idiomatic, and the humorous passages are rendered into a racy and playful English which never for a moment reminds the reader of a translator's troubles.