Men of the Cloth: Fashioning the Priest in the Restoration Novel in Spain

Wolters, Nicholas, Spanish - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Pope, Randolph, Department for Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese, University of Virginia

This dissertation provides a new context in which to read and understand the priestly protagonists of novels by Benito Pérez Galdós, Leopoldo Alas “Clarín”, and Eduardo López Bago, along with other nineteenth-century and contemporary Spanish cultural products. By contextualizing and historicizing textual depictions of the Roman Catholic priest in novels from Galdós’s Doña Perfecta to Clarín’s La Regenta and López Bago’s El Cura, I show how writers used the priest’s body as a unique site for exploring and registering shifting attitudes towards matters of socioeconomic class, masculinity, and religion at the turn of the century. The Catholic priest served as a particularly generative character for such conversations given his powerful but precarious position in modern Spanish society during the first few decades of the Bourbon Restoration (1875-1923).

Chapter One provides the ideological background for the late nineteenth century in Spain, when dominant discourses of anticlericalism infiltrated the popular imagination’s understanding of the role of the priest through ideologically-charged novels by Galdós, and periodicals like José Nakens’s El Motín (1881-1926). Using an examination of ecclesiastical clothing and dress as a point of departure, Chapter Two explores the ways the sartorial characterization of the priestly protagonists of Clarín’s La Regenta and López Bago’s El Cura appealed to the imaginations of modern Spaniards in ways that exceeded the Manichean boundaries governing more explicitly anticlerical cultural products. Chapter Three focuses on the priest’s problematic embodiment of nineteenth-century paradigms of masculinity in El Doctor Centeno, Tormento, and La Regenta and demonstrates that the priest effectively blurs notions of masculine hegemony and subordination. Chapter Four identifies modern and contemporary adaptations of La Regenta to show that priestly aesthetics and materiality have continued to spur the curiosity, fascination, and scandal of modern artists and their audiences. This dissertation shows that nineteenth-century and contemporary Spanish artists and novelists deploy the material and sartorial world of the Catholic priest in their fictions, and with them meaningfully contribute to the governing myths of masculinity.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Galdós, Clarín, La Regenta, 19th century Spain, realist novel, Catholic priesthood, masculinity, body, dress, fashion
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