Galdos, Benito Perez
New York Review Books, 2014 translation
Set in Madrid in the late 18, early 1900’s, the densely complicated short novel begins with a description of an aging gentleman who’s primary life interest, it seems, is to recall the long list of women he’s slept with and work on adding new ones. Beyond that, though, he’s seen as a very solid and well regarded elder gentleman… which is how he ends up becoming the ward of a friend’s nearly adult daughter after her parents die within a short span of each other. Though not gone into detail, the novel records that he added her to his list a couple of months later.
So begins an awkward relationship. They essentially treat each other from an outside perspective as uncle and niece, but he remains sexually and emotionally interested in her and treats her more like an arraigned marriage wife. After a period of time she meets a young painter and they establish a shadow relationship, and over time she also begins to study to be an actress… but she falls seriously ill and loses a leg to an infection, and in convalescence also finds she is fairly talented in painting and music as well. Her painter gets married to another, the old man is persuaded by his relatives to marry her, and in the end she spends all her time at the local church until the nuns befriend her and on learning that she was once a musician invite her to become the church organist.