The House of Ulloa by Emilia Pardo Bazán.
The House of Ulloa is a novel by Emilia Pardo Bazán, famous for being one of the earliest writers to adopt Naturalism in Spain. Given Émile Zola was a pioneer of the movement in France, I was eager to check it out. It was first published in 1886, and is one of her most famous novels.
It begins with the arrival of Father Julián Alvarez who has been sent to manage the affairs of the House of Ulloa headed by Don Pedro. He, Don Pedro, is quite the libertine and the home is decaying both physically and morally; if we could be in any doubt, Pardo Bazán describes the first evening of Father Alvarez in which a toddler (who we learn is the illegitimate child of the marquis) is forced to drink copious amounts of alcohol and then sent to bed to sleep it off. To make matters more complicated, the marquis is not the only one responsible for the fall of the House of UIloa: the estate manager Primitivo is quite the manipulator who is pocketing what funds are available, and we learn it is his sister with whom the marquis had the illegitimate child. When Don Pedro finally marries it seems to Father Julián, who is somewhat naïve, that things will get much brighter and the future more certain, but of course it only succeeds is making things all the more difficult.
It is, at times, a humorous novel but much of it is very dark. Father Julián is very innocent and young, and he is thrown into a seedy world with which he is ill-equipped to cope. It's a very atmospheric work, almost Gothic at times, and one can very much see how it belongs as a part of the Naturalist movement. I also enjoyed the humour, which was often rather lacking in the works of Zola. It's a remarkable work, but truth be told it's not a favourite. Still, it was enjoyable and, availability permitting, I would certainly read more Emilia Pardo Bazán.