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A History of Spain by Charles E. Chapman

Sidenote The Novelas exemplares


The _Novelas exemplares_.]

Miguel de Cervantes y Saavedra (1547-1616) had a long and varied career before his publication of the book which was to place him at a bound in the front rank of the literary men of all time. He was a pupil of the Humanist Hoyos in 1568; a chamberlain of Cardinal Acquaviva at Rome in 1569; a soldier from 1570 to 1575, taking part in the battle of Lepanto; and a captive in Algiers from 1575 to 1580. A devotee of _belles lettres_ from youth, he produced many works between 1583 and 1602 in poetry, the drama, and the pastoral novel, in none of which did he attain to real eminence, though a writer of note. In 1603 he wrote the first part of the _Quixote_, and published it in 1605. The book leaped into immediate favor, ran through a number of editions, and was almost at once translated, at least in part, into all the languages of western Europe. It is easy to point out the relationship of _Don Quixote_ to the many types of literature which had preceded it. There was the influence of Lucian in its audacious criticism, piquancy, and jovial and independent humor, in its satire, in fine; of Rojas' _La Celestina_ or of Rueda in dialogue; of Boccaccio in style, variety, freedom, and artistic devices; of the Italian story-writers and poets of the era; even of Homer's _Odyssey_; and especially of the novels of chivalry. Nevertheless, Cervantes took all this and moulded it in his own way into something new. The case of the novel of

chivalry may be taken for purposes of illustration. While pretending to annihilate that type of work, which was already dead, Cervantes in fact caught the epic spirit of idealism which the novelists had wished to represent but had drowned in a flood of extravagances and impossible happenings, raising it in the _Quixote_ to a point of sublimity which revealed the eternal significance in human psychology of the knightly ideal,--and all in the genial reflection of chimerical undertakings amid the real problems of life. On this account some have said that the _Quixote_ was the last and the best, the perfected novel of chivalry. Withal, it was set forth in prose of inexpressible beauty, superior to any of its models in its depth and spontaneity, its rich abundance, its irresistibly comic force, and its handling of conversation. The surprise occasioned by this totally unlooked for kind of book can in part be understood when one recalls that in the domain of the real and human, the public had had only the three picaresque novels already alluded to, before the appearance of _Don Quixote_. In his few remaining years of life Cervantes added yet other works in his inimitable style, of which the two most notable were the second part of the _Quixote_ (1615), said by many to be superior to the first, and the _Novelas exemplares_, or Model tales (1612-1613), a series of short stories bearing a close relationship to the picaresque novels in their dealings with the lives of rogues, vagabonds, and profligates, but as demonstrably different from them as the _Quixote_ was from the novels of chivalry, especially in that Cervantes was not satirizing, or idealizing, or even drawing a moral concerning the life he depicted, but merely telling his tale, as an artist and a poet. Well might he say that he was the first to write novels in Castilian. There were many writers of fiction after him in the era, but since the novel had reached its culminating point in its first issue, it is natural that the art did not progress,--for it could not!

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