A few weeks ago I was able to attend a conference on this work by Miguel Delibes (1920-2010) given by Professor Nieves Gómez at the Villanueva University in Madrid. I felt like reading this magnificent book that reflects the intense relationship that the Spanish writer had with his wife, Ángeles de Castro, with whom he had 7 children and the fulminating end of her in 1974, due to a brain disease. It is a personal and very delicate book, written in an intimate style. They had met when they were very young and married in 1946, in Valladolid (Delibes was 26 years old and Ángeles, 20). It was, then, almost 30 years of very fruitful marriage, not only because of their children, but also because of Delibes' literary vocation, which was born after their marriage, probably due to her faith in his talent: "I was moved by his confidence in my possibilities. I imagined that if I had excelled at painting anywhere, by doing it properly I could become a genius."
The book is a reflection of his personal life, under the identity of a painter who has lost his inspiration after the death of his wife and muse. He then takes refuge in drink with great nostalgia (mostly because it makes him have moments when he thinks he can see his wife again). It transmits the rich personality of Ángeles de Castro and a concrete sample of how the feminine vital reason is. She was a determined woman, with a harmonious figure -which the 7 pregnancies did not spoil-, with her eyes wide open to reality and the capacity to improve the world around her.
Someone who liked to give surprises and receive them, with a natural elegance and a "selective intuition". innate. A woman "of complicit gaze", which had "an admirable ability to create ambience" and that it was "enemy of spreading bad news". But this necessarily had to have its counterpart: "When she faded away, everything languished around", "her joy was missing".A person who had "an admirable ability to create ambience" and that in her travels she was able to go beyond the stuffy academic environments (which Delibes did not like). He recalls how she had played castanets at a faculty meeting at Yale University and had enlivened the gathering.
She had great personal charm and people skills. At a certain point in the book, it is said: "Aesthetics count too." The protagonist of the story tells his daughter that "your mother's power of seduction was rapturous." and in another fragment, "his faith made me fertile because the creative energy was somehow transmissible". She was a woman of enormous kindness and ability to inhabit the lives of others: "He had the ability to intrude in other people's homes, even to interrupt his neighbor's sleep, without irritating him, perhaps because deep down everyone owed him something". Someone who disliked vulgarity and bureaucracy, as she was impervious to their charms. A woman with an innate talent for interpersonal relationships and for receiving confidences. In this sense, the writer highlights her "his tact for coexistence, his original criteria about things, his delicate taste, his sensitivity".. One of his tips in times of low creativity was to "Don't be dazed; let yourself live.".
A woman with a fine musical ear, who could make herself understood within a few days of staying in a foreign country and who was able to have rhythmHis was an intuitive ear that sometimes allowed him to capture the unexpressed". A woman who hated routine and knew how to make every day a unique event. She was a woman who knew how to be happy. When she was diagnosed with a brain tumor, her expression was: Today these things are fixable," he said. At worst, I've been happy for 48 years; some people can't be happy for forty-eight hours in a lifetime." Someone who did not mind accumulating years (and experience), because not only do the years go by, but they stay: "Every morning, when she opened her eyes, she would ask herself: Why am I happy? And immediately, she would smile to herself and say: 'I have a granddaughter.
Delibes leaves us in this work fascinating reflections on life, on true knowledge, on beauty, describing his wife as a person with the gift of discovering it in the most precarious places and even creating it: "From whom did he learn then that a rose in a vase could be more beautiful than a bouquet of roses or that beauty could be hidden in a gutted old wall clock filled with books?" As it could not be otherwise, the book is a profound reflection on death, but not so much in the biological sense, but biographically, as the loss of a shared life. And this, with delicately achieved moments, as when, on the eve of the operation, the sick woman reads a poem by the Italian writer Giuseppe Ungaretti, entitled "Agony": To die like the thirsty larks/ in the mirage. / Or, like the quail/ once across the sea/ in the first bushes.../ But not to live on lamentation/ like a blinded goldfinch.
Undoubtedly, it is a reflection on the complementarity that exists between men and women, and how we balance each other. In this sense, he highlights his woman's "vivid imagination and a delicate sensibility. She was balanced, different; exactly the renewal that my blood needed". In another passage, he states concisely but accurately: "Ours was a company of two, one produced and the other managed."
This particular work is an in-depth reflection on daily happiness, on how the key to it lies in continued coexistence: "We were together and it was enough. When she left, I saw it even more clearly: those conversations without words, those glances without a plan, without expecting great things from life, were simply happiness".
The book is also a reflection of a daily religiosity, lived by Ángeles de Castro: "Your mother always kept her belief alive. Before the operation she confessed and received communion. Her faith was simple but stable. She never based her faith on mystical accesses or theological problems. She was not a devout woman, but she was loyal to her principles: she loved and knew how to put herself in the place of the other. She was a Christian and accepted the mystery. Her image of God was Jesus Christ. She needed a human image of the Almighty with whom she could understand herself".
The work also speaks -indirectly- of the vicissitudes of Spanish society at the time (1970s): student strikes, arrests, revolts, torture in prisons. In this sense, the writer refers to the arrest of the couple's two children, Léo and Ana, who is the painter's interlocutor. A mention of Franco appears at a moment when the painter and his wife visit their children in prison. In this sense, the artist's wife says: ' "That man is not going to be eternal"., as if taking him down from the pedestal'. It is also, certainly, a work that carries an implicit criticism of uniform and standardized education, which does not allow the development of the personality: "He was irritated by the structure of the career, by the indoctrinated professors, by the imposed ideas. His head was moving too fast, he was ahead of his mentors'."
Other themes that were always in Delibes' mind: The combination of the rural and the modern: "It was necessary to insert the modern into the rural without resorting to violence." The loneliness of the elderly, as when he recounts his wife's ability to give company to the elderly: "These crazy, lonely old men were never absent from your mother's life: [...] They were all irreparable old men, caught unawares by the lack of solidarity of modern life. They felt lost in the maelstrom of lights and noises, and it seemed as if she, like a good fairy, was taking them by the hand, one by one, to transfer them to the other shore". Communication between generations: "He was attentive to everyone, both to the old, with their cominías, and to the adolescents with their equivocal intimacies. He did not bargain for his devotion".
All in all, a book worth reading.