Additional Book Information

Series: NYRB Classics
Pages: 336
Publication Date: October 4, 2016

His Only Sonwith Doña Berta

by Leopoldo Alas, translated from the Spanish and with an introduction by Margaret Jull Costa

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An NYRB Classics Original

The unlikely hero of His Only Son, Bonifacio Reyes, is a romantic and a flautist by vocation—and a failed clerk and kept husband by necessity—who dreams of a novelesque life. Tied to his shrill and sickly wife by her purse strings, he enters timidly into a love affair with Serafina, a seductive second-rate opera singer, encouraged by her manager who mistakes Bonifacio for a potential patron. Meanwhile, Bonifacio’s wife experiences a parallel awakening and in the midst of a long-barren marriage, surprises them both with a son—but is it Bonifacio’s? In the accompanying novella, Doña Berta, the heroine of the title, an aged, poor, but well-born woman, forfeits her beloved estate in search of a portrait that may be all that remains of the secret love of her life.

While largely unknown outside of Spain, Leopoldo Alas was one of the most celebrated writers of criticism in nineteenth-century Spain and employed his satirical talents to powerful and humorous effect in fiction. His Only Son was Alas’s second and final novel, full of characteristic humor, naturalistic detail, descriptive beauty, and moral complexity. His frail and pitiful characters—irrational, emotional actors drawn inexorably toward their foolish fates—are yet multidimensional individuals, often conscious of their own weaknesses and stymied by their very yearnings to be more than the parts they find themselves playing.

by Leopoldo Alas, introduction by Margaret Jull Costa


His Only Son is the most intense, the most refined, the most intellectual, and the most sensual novel that nineteenth-century Spanish literature has produced.

When I read His Only Son and Doña Berta, I was bowled over by the audacity of the plots, by the diverse cast of characters, and by Alas’s ability to be entirely engaged by his characters.
—Margaret Jull costa, from the Introduction

A delight to read.
A Common Reader blog

Presents an uneasy blend of irony, parody, and—most surprising—tender reverie. [His Only Son] reflects the peculiar ambience of the fin de siècle in its indecisive yet very suggestive contours.
—Noël M. Valis, South Atlantic Review

A Flaubert-type novel [that] displays the author’s power of psychological analysis.
—Harvey L. Johnson, The South Central Bulletin