Thursday, June 20, 2013

Nubosidad Variable

Carmen Martín Gaite stepped away from the writing of novels for fourteen years after the publication of El Cuarto de Atras in 1978, three years after the death of Francisco Franco.  In the interim, she published scholarly essays, poetry and some stories for children.  In Nubosidad Variable, published in 1992, Martín Gaite confronted a new society in Spain which had largely put Franco and the War behind it.

Back in the 1960s when she wrote Ritmo Lento, there were signs that the dictatorship would ultimately crumble because of it own rotten core as well as
the inevitable seepage in of new ideas from a rapidly changing wider world beyond Spain's borders.  For individuals who did not fit the regime's mold, however, there was no clear path at that time to a freer future, and many like David, the main charcter of Ritmo Lento, and his father found themselves in fatal dead-ends.

By the 1990s there were few real political barriers left to impede individual development and expression, but those who had reached adulthood during Franco's four-decade reign still found themselves constrained by custom and habit in such a way that they were unable to easily grasp the new opportunities that a freer political and economic system were offering.  Two such people are the principle characters of Nubosidad Variable, Mariana and Sofía, both aspiring writers who renew a friendship through a chance meeting.  They are unable to meet again for some time, but a single exchange of letters allows each of them to form an image of an ideal interlocutor with whom they can share their memories and use them to construct a way forward toward more rewarding lives.

Sofía maintains a close and nurturing relationship with her three grown children, but shares neither values, interests nor affection with her husband.  The written narrative Sofia constructs with a combination of her memories of a brief but more passionate attachment, and the imagined empathetic connection to her friend  allows her to clarify her feelings about her present predicament and points her toward resolution.  Sofía's progress toward self-realization is signaled by a dream in which she overcomes the conflicting aspects of her relationship with her long-dead, domineering mother.  She takes the final step into independence with the help of her children who have left the old ways behind to embrace the new with all its opportunities and risks.

Mariana has sidestepped some traditional constraints through devoting herself to building a career as a psychiatra.  We are given little information about the specifics of her techniques, but it appears that she employs a psychoanalytic methodology with her patients.  Mariana appears to have achieved a level of success in her practice, but she finds it increasingly unrewarding and devoid of any real value to herself or her patients.  Part of her career building has been accomplished through avoiding personal commitments, and she ultimately finds herself trapped in a profession she no longer believes in and with no chance of retrieving viable relationships from the wreckage of the past.  Like Sofia, she uses the development of a journal, addressing her thoughts to her friend, as a tool to search the past for answers to a possible future.

The two women do ultimately have the opportunity to meet again and to share the journals they have written.  The story thus ends on a much more optimistic note than was the case for the doomed characters in Ritmo Lento who could find no way out of Franco's labyrinth.  Sofía's blossoming self-awareness seems both credible and admirable.  She is an appealing character who seems to embody the intelligence, directness and quirky spontaneity that contemporaries of Martín Gaite admired in the author.

Mariana's is a very different story, from a character whose behavior is enigmatic.  She is able to articulate her complex inner thoughts and feelings in a manner that seems consistent with the orientation of a psychotherapist.  At the same time, she seems nearly devoid of any sense of empathy or compassion.  She also demonstrates a disconcerting absence of any ethical code that one might expect from a psychotherapist.  Her story begins, for instance, with the unraveling of an intimate relationship with one of her patients, Raimundo, who she describes in a letter to her friend as having  issues with homosexuality.  When Raimundo narrowly survives a suicide attempt, Mariana severs the relationship as he lies in his hospital bed, and then she flees the city to recuperate from the experience.

Martín Gaite clearly had a low opinion of psychoanalysts, which was already apparent in her much earlier work.  Mariana's egregious blurring of the lines between the personal and professional, however, strains believability, as does her failure to recognize it explicitly anywhere along her journey of self-discovery.  It is conceivable that a person caught in such a dilemma as hers might be willing to abandon a long-nurtured  commitment to a profession, but Mariana seems to be left with little to build on in the end beyond raw intelligence and the attachment to a better-grounded old friend.

Perhaps the intention of Martín Gaite in telling this story is to demonstrate the possibility of reconstructing  a single new life from the disparate pieces of two lives retrieved from the past through the written down memories of the two women.  That seems consistent with literary evaluations of her work, as well as with statements the author made in interviews. Or, maybe the author was offering a glimpse of how she might bring together two sides of her own personality.  A whole academic industry has been constructed around such speculations.  I'm not qualified to sort out any of it at this point, but I am looking forward to reading more of Carmiña's stories.

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