OUR FRIEND MANSO by Benito Perez Galdos; translated by Robert Russell (Columbia University: $25; 224 pp.). Although Benito Perez Galdos (1843-1920) is generally regarded as Spain's greatest novelist after Cervantes, his work is little known in the English-speaking world. This is regrettable because Galdos is, by any measure, an imposing literary figure. He wrote more than 80 novels and single-handedly attempted the reform of Spanish literature and theater. Galdos was the great novelist of Madrid, chronicling bourgeois, urban manners with a clarity and understanding critics have found comparable to that of Dickens, Balzac and Flaubert.
Columbia University Press has recently undertaken to make Galdos more accessible to English readers. Columbia brought out "Torquemada" and now offers "El Amigo Manso," originally published in 1882. "Manso" recasts the classic tale of conflict between the bookish, introspective man and the extroverted and shallow man of action who, of course, easily vanquishes his unwilling rival. The protagonist Manso bears the qualities his name suggests: timidity, tractability, softness. As a practitioner of Krausismo , a philosophical style which emphasized simplicity in personal habits and social reform, Manso is sadly irrelevant in a world that cares little for decency and honor. "Our Friend Manso" is consistently engaging and along the way offers some remarkable insights into the very nature of the novel.
The English version by Robert Russell is quite satisfactory and dispels the old notion that Galdos is "too Spanish to endure translation."