Trafalgar and The Battle of Salamanca: Two Novels of the Spanish Wars

Written by Benito Pérez Galdós Rick Morgan (trans.)
Review by Alan Pearson

Benito Pérez Galdós’ books have been placed alongside the writings of Spain’s other great author, Miguel de Cervantes. His prose is of the same vintage, though not as flowery. It tells the story of Gabriel Araceli, who Galdós describes as “having been born with nothing, but had everything”. Gabriel’s father is never spoken of, and his mother dies when he is young, leaving Gabriel to roam the streets of Cádiz in the district of Viña, which he describes as “no academy for decent people”. Finally, trying to escape a press gang of Marines, he takes refuge in the house of Don Alonso Gutiérrez Cisniega, a retired Navy captain and his wife, Doña Francisca. They adopt him and he accompanies Don Alonso when he is recalled by the navy to fight the British fleet. They are at the centre of the battle which occurs off the Cabo de Trafalgar, one of the greatest battles in history.

After the battle, Gabriel makes his way to Madrid. There he meets Inés, a fourteen-year-old seamstress, and their mutual attraction turns to love. The deathbed confession of her mother was that she was not the real mother of Inés, but that she is the child of a wealthy aristocrat. Gabriel sets out to find her. Finally, after many convoluted escapades, he finds himself as a Spanish officer serving with the Duke of Wellington, and volunteers to go into Salamanca to reconnoitre the defences before the Duke attacks. He is eager to go into the town because he has discovered that Inés is being held prisoner there, and he intends to rescue her.

Despite its sometimes-overcomplicated plot, if the story were told in modern prose, it would rank as equal to the Sharpe novels of Bernard Cornwell. A heroic story, and well worth reading.