Out of the Wings

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Los buenos días perdidos (1969-1972), Antonio Gala Velasco

English title: The Bells of Orleans
Date written: from 1969 to 1972
First publication date: 1972
First production date: 10 October 1972
Keywords: violence > social, violence > suicide, violence > cruelty, identity > class/social standing, family > marriage, family > duty, power > use and abuse, love > desire
Genre and type: tragedy

The bells of Orleans are ringing. Are they a call to paradise? Or do they sound the death knell of a young woman’s dreams?


Los buenos días perdidos (The Bells of Orleans) is set in 1970s Spain inside the Chapel of Saint Thomas. It has been crudely converted into a home for the sexton Cleofás, his simple wife Consuelito and his indomitable mother Hortensia. These three spend their days trying to eke out a decent existence: Consuelito frosts cardboard stars to sell; Cleofás teaches Latin and runs a small barbershop on the premises to supplement his income. As for Hortensia, it is unclear what exactly she does, other than shout at her daughter-in-law and drink alcohol – purely for medicinal purposes, of course.

As the play begins, the handsome Lorenzo enters the family’s life. On his unexpected arrival at the chapel, the first person he meets is Consuelito. Lorenzo quickly charms her, and she talks openly to him about her past as a travelling contortionist. After her marriage to Cleofás that itinerant life ended, but Consuelito admits that she still dreams of running free. Lorenzo shares his dream of becoming the bell-ringer of Orleans. Consuelito has never heard of Orleans and is caught up in the romanticism of Lorenzo’s account of it, only to be brought back to earth by the return of her mother-in-law Hortensia from market.

From the moment Hortensia first speaks, it is clear that she has an extremely low opinion of Consuelito. Yet while she frequently insults Consuelito, she takes pains to endear herself to the charming Lorenzo, who claims he has arrived to take up a post as policeman in the parish – bell-ringing not being a terribly lucrative occupation. Since he is a former colleague of her son in the seminary – and a particularly handsome man – Hortensia offers Lorenzo a place to stay and suggests that he could be the chapel’s temporary bell-ringer. And so, Lorenzo establishes himself in the chapel, from where he will charm both Hortensia and Consuelito and manipulate his old friend, Cleofás.

Cleofás first appears at the beginning of act 1 scene 2, pontificating on the state of the nation while cutting a client’s hair. Hortensia listens, becoming increasingly irritable as she drinks more and more alcohol. She attacks Cleofás for his choice of wife – an idiot who cannot even bear children! Cleofás turns his mother’s attention to a more pressing subject. The parish gossips are talking. People are suspicious about how the family can afford all their electrical appliances. It is at this point that we learn what exactly has been going on – the family has been systematically selling off the chapel’s religious artefacts for money. Up until now nobody has noticed, since the parish priest, Don Remigio, is old and senile. With his death or retirement imminent, Cleofás is concerned that the Bishop’s Office will learn that half the chapel is missing! He insists that they must repay the money, or perhaps flee as Lorenzo suggests. Consuelito comes up with a novel idea for raising funds – why not raffle off ornaments from the church for ‘charity’? For once, Hortensia is impressed with her daughter-in-law and all agree on this plan. In private, Hortensia and Lorenzo discuss the selling-off of church items in a little more depth. But Lorenzo is not solely interested in Hortensia. At the end of the scene he turns his attention back to Consuelito. He charms her with declarations of love and promises to take her with him to Orleans. Won over by his magnetism, Consuelito eventually gives in to his passionate kisses.

In act 2 scene 1 Lorenzo now sits in the barber’s chair while he reminisces with Cleofás about their student days in the seminary. Both failed to become priests: Cleofás lacked the intelligence; Lorenzo was expelled for his antics with young ladies. As he cuts Lorenzo’s hair, Cleofás opens up about his relationship with his wife. Theirs is not a passionate union, admits Cleofás, but he believes that Consuelito is just as happy as he is. Meanwhile, however, Consuelito furtively blows kisses to Lorenzo behind her husband’s back, and when Cleofás leaves the room she gives Lorenzo half her proceeds from the raffle to finance their journey to Orleans.

It soon becomes clear that Lorenzo’s interest in money goes beyond the proceeds from the raffle. In the dead of night he removes one of the tower bells with the intention of selling it. He also sets about opening the tomb ensconced in the wall. It is the grave of the very wealthy – but very dead – Doña Leonor, and Lorenzo is eager to discover what riches it holds. But nothing that goes on in the house escapes Hortensia’s attention for long. She startles her houseguest by the tomb. Both as greedy as each other, the two characters agree to share any financial rewards, just as they have already been doing in the case of several women in the parish who Lorenzo has been ‘visiting’ for money. A former brothel madam, Hortensia is well practised in underhand financial transactions … Yet when Doña Leonor’s tomb is opened, there is no treasure. Instead, her mummified remains fall out. Feigning shock, Hortensia falls into Lorenzo’s arms, only to be seen by Consuelito, who jealously harangues her mother-in-law. Eager to keep her handsome business associate for herself, Hortensia threatens to tell Cleofás all about Consuelito’s dalliances with Lorenzo – these, too, not having escaped her attention. The argument between the two women escalates, until Consuelito finally locks Hortensia in the bathroom. Alone with Lorenzo, Consuelito tries to interest him in mementoes from her childhood. Yet the ever-mercenary Lorenzo is more interested in what might be in Hortensia’s trunk that he could sell. Finally, however, Consuelito dramatically regains her lover’s attention. She is pregnant. While Lorenzo looks on in shock, she happily pictures their future in Orleans: the two of them, together with their child.

Act 2 scene 2 begins with a conversation between Cleofás and his wife. Cleofás is reflective, remembering when he first set eyes on Consuelito. In contrast to his mood of contemplation, Consuelito is full of nervous energy. In her mind she has already left for Orleans. But she is not yet free. In fact, as the family and Lorenzo come together for the last time, Cleofás produces a letter that will drastically ruin her plans. It is from the Bishop’s Office, informing them of Don Remigio’s forthcoming retirement. It also announces that Lorenzo has been appointed official bell-ringer of the cathedral of Orleans. Lorenzo states that he can leave immediately, since his suitcase is already packed. Consuelito forlornly mentions that she is pregnant. Artfully, Cleofás says that Lorenzo already knows and is very happy about it, implying that he intends to take responsibility for the illegitimate child. Hortensia is incensed at Lorenzo’s departure, realising that he has used her. She angrily goes to rip up his letter of appointment, only to discover that it has been forged by Cleofás. Hortensia devises a way to use Lorenzo’s departure to the family’s advantage – they can blame him for all the missing artefacts. Meanwhile, despite the fact that her lover has abandoned her, Consuelito remains fixated on Orleans and the earthly paradise it offers. In a daze, and ignoring everything around her, she goes up to the bell tower to ring the Angelus, despite the fact that all the bells have been sold off. Cleofás rushes after his wife, perturbed by her behaviour. But he is too late. She falls to her death – perhaps accidentally, perhaps on purpose – taking her dreams of Orleans with her.


The 1987 version of the text, edited by Andrés Amorós, contains a detailed introduction and annotated play text, listing a large number of background sources. Many of these relate to the way in which the play and its characters reference contemporary Spanish politics and society. Gala mentions that the play has a very direct relationship to its socio-historical setting, reflecting the changing attitudes of a country in a period of transition (Gala 1987: 40). One example of the way in which the play engages with its socio-political context comes in act 1 scene 2, in which Cleofás delivers a ‘sermon’ (Gala 1987: 56) on the state of the Spanish nation. He compares Spain with the goat Amaltea, a Greek goddess who often took goat form to suckle infant gods. Andrés Amorós notes that while this comparison reflects the sentiments of Nationalism, such nationalistic statements are later undermined in the play by subtle criticisms of the contemporary political regime in Spain (Gala 1987: 57).

Orleans has a historical resonance as a place of freedom, in that it is the city associated with Joan of Arc and her defeat of the English during the Siege of Orleans between 1428 and 1429. Martínez Moreno argues that symbolic parallels can be made between the characters of Consuelito and Lorenzo and the historical tale of Joan of Arc. In this scholar’s framework, Consuelito can be identified with Joan of Arc; Lorenzo with her military companion, Gilles de Rais (1992: 219).

Parallels have been drawn between the play – and the character of Lorenzo in particular – and the 1891 French novel Là-Bas (Down There), by Joris-Karl Huysmans (Martínez Moreno 1992: 219-25). In this novel the character Durtal is tasked to investigate the satanic crimes of Gilles de Rais, and Martínez Moreno points out similarities between de Rais and the amoral ‘false redeemer’, Lorenzo (1992: 220). She also notes the presence of a bell-ringer in this novel, called Carhaix, whose biography has similarities with that of Lorenzo (1992: 220).

In act 1 scene 2 Cleofás is marking exercise books in which his students have been studying (badly) Latin versions of fables. He specifically mentions a fable attributed to the Greek fabulist Aesop (620-564 BCE), called ‘The Old Man, the Donkey and the Pack Saddles’, and rendered in Latin by the Roman writer Phaedrus (15 BCE–50 CE). This fable tells of enemies approaching an old man and his donkey. The old man urges the donkey to flee with him. The donkey, however, sees no need, since it will have to bear the same load on it back, no matter who its master is. The moral of this fable is that ‘When there is a change of government, nothing changes for the poor folk except their master’s name’ (Aesop 2002: 9).

At one point in act 2 scene 1 a nasty rhyme making fun of the family is found in an anonymous note sent to the chapel. Cleofás and Hortensia try and imagine what tune the parishioners will sing it to. Hortensia suggests the music from ‘Gato Montes’. This was a popular opera written by Manuel Penella in 1916. She also mentions the ‘Himno de Riego’. This is a well-known chorus, dating from the seventeenth century, that was used as the national anthem of Spain between 1931 and 1939.

In act 2 scene 2 Hortensia makes an ironic quip about the senile parish priest, Don Remigio. Compared to the Bishop who has selected Lorenzo as bell-ringer of Orleans, Hortensia claims Don Remigio is ‘Ramón y Cajal’. This is a comic reference to the Spanish Nobel Laureate, Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852-1934).

  • Aesop. 2002. Aesop’s Fables, trans. Laura Gibbs. Oxford, Oxford University Press

  • Gala, Antonio. 1987. Los buenos días perdidos. Anillos para una dama, ed. Andrés Amorós. Madrid, Editorial Castalia (in Spanish)

  • Martínez Moreno, Isabel. 1992. ‘Orléans: espacio de libertad en Los buenos días perdidos, de Antonio Gala’, Anuario de estudios filológicos, 15, 217-25 (in Spanish)

Critical response


Los buenos días perdidos (The Bells of Orleans) was extremely successful when it was first performed in the 1970s. It won Gala the National Literature Prize in 1972 and, after its premier that same year, it ran for over 500 performances.


The play has been analysed from a number of perspectives. Some studies focus on the way in which the play engages with its socio-historical context. Written in the 1970s, it is seen by many as a criticism of the increasing materialism of Spanish society at that time. Phyllis Zatlin points out, for example, that it is one of several of Gala’s plays that serve to ‘demystify the present, revealing the cultural and spiritual emptiness that lies at the heart of supposed progress’ (Gala 1983: 73). Writing after the first performances of the play, Gala himself points to the way the play engages with the idea of spiritual emptiness and broken dreams, stating that ‘No matter how cruel they are, truths and heartache never kill us. What kills us are the dreams we invent and deception’ (Gala and Laborda 1972).

The relationship between the play and its author interests Fausto Díaz Padilla, who in his Prologue to Gala’s Obras escogidas (Selected Works) points out a similarity between the position of a bell-ringer and that of a writer:

The symbolic vocation of his character – bell-ringing – is the poetic equivalent of that of Antonio Gala – writing. As becomes clear as the play progresses, the bells are instruments that must awaken the conscious. The poet’s mission is the same: to touch the hearts and minds of others so that they respond positively to the wonderful gift of life. (Gala 1981: xxiv)

The significance of Orleans in the play has been studied from the perspective of the city as a symbol of freedom. Isabel Martínez Moreno notes that, for Consuelito, Orleans seems an idyllic place of liberation. This, she points out, is characteristic of Antonio Gala’s work, in which he often instils geographical places with a sense of ‘Edenic potiential’ (1992: 218). Martínez Moreno goes further in her study of the religious elements of the play. She calls attention to the parallels drawn by characters between the authorities of the church and the army, in that both entities bestow privilege and distinction to their members (1992: 220). She also points out that the playing of the Angelus as Lorenzo first arrives is significant, in that this bell is associated with the Angel Gabriel. Just as the Angel Gabriel gives life-changing news to Mary, Lorenzo comes to ‘announce, conceive and awaken the characters of Saint Thomas to new ways of Life’ (1992: 223).

  • Gala, Antonio and Laborda, Ángel. 1972. Interview with Antonio Gala, ABC, 10 October (in Spanish)

  • Gala, Antonio. 1981. Obras escogidas. Madrid, Aguilar (in Spanish)

  • Gala, Antonio. 1983. Noviembre y un poco de yerba y Petra Regalada, ed. Phyllis Zatlin. Madrid, Cátedra (in Spanish)

  • Martínez Moreno, Isabel. 1992. ‘Orléans: espacio de libertad en Los buenos días perdidos, de Antonio Gala’, Anuario de estudios filológicos, 15, 217-25 (in Spanish)

Further information

A film of the play was released in 1975 in Spain, directed by Rafael Gil.

  • Gala, Antonio. 1973. Los buenos días perdidos: comedia en tres actos. Madrid, Escelicer

  • Gala, Antonio. 1987. Los buenos días perdidos. Anillos para una dama, ed. Andrés Amorós. Madrid, Editorial Castalia

Entry written by Gwynneth Dowling. Last updated on 13 November 2010.

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