From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America
12.2 (1992): 151-53.
Copyright © 1992, The Cervantes Society of America
Daniel Eisenberg's latest offering is an eminently
readable and challenging text that offers a wealth of information about Cervantes
and his works. It is an exceedingly well-documented and erudite collection
In the first chapter, ¿Tenía Cervantes una biblioteca?, Eisenberg argues that Cervantes did indeed have a personal collection of books, despite three arguments traditionally offered by critics to refute this thesis. The first of these traditional arguments is that he read books that were borrowed. Eisenberg counters by stating simply that there is no evidence, either textual or documental, to support it. The second traditional argument is that he was scarcely able to afford to buy his own books. This is countered by a detailed recounting of Cervantes's probable economic status, based upon contemporary documents, evidence from the author's works, and a certain amount of plain conjecture. The third traditional argument is the fact that his best-known protagonist, Don Quijote, owned a personal library, but that its relation to extratextual reality has always been deemed problematic. Eisenberg ends the chapter by conjecturing that Don Quijote's library is probably a more or less faithful recounting of Cervantes's own.
Chapter 2, Cervantes y Tasso vueltos a examinar, demonstrates that Cervantes's knowledge of Bernardo Tasso's literary theory was indirect and undoubtedly mediated by López Pinciano's influential Philosophía antigua poética. The author examines Cervantes's opinions (as expressed in his works) about Italy, Italian culture and literature, and about Tasso's poetry, most of which are rather disparaging, with the exception of references to Ariosto, whose Orlando furioso exercised obvious (though problematic) influence on Cervantes's ironic treatment of the novelas de caballería. Discussing the Italian romanzo and its possible influence on Cervantes, Eisenberg disagrees with Alban Forcione's assertion (in Cervantes, Aristotle and the Persiles) of Tasso's influence on the opinions expressed by the Canon in the Quijote (1, 47): the categories are much more in line with El Pinciano's than with Tasso's. The author conjectures that Cristóbal de Mesa, un fanático promotor de Tasso who spent five years in close contact with Cervantes, might have been the conduit by which the latter was influenced by the Italian poet and theoretician. The chapter ends with the brief but tantalizingly ambiguous suggestion that Bernardo Tasso, father of Torquato, a real-life cuerdo/loco, might have been the model that first suggested the figure of Don Quijote to Cervantes.
El romance visto por Cervantes convincingly demonstrates that Cervantes's masterpiece offers a critique not only of the novela de caballerías, but also of the romance (ballad): both had grave defects, despite their other attractive qualities. Eisenberg delineates the long and complex history of the romance, a term that has retained much ambiguity despite critical efforts to fix its meaning. For Cervantes, the romance's defining feature was its
subject matter, not its versification, and that subject matter was always
history: an actual event. Like the books of knighthood, however, the
ballads that Cervantes himself utilizes in his works relate standard chivalric
themes. Eisenberg astutely points out similarities between the two genres:
both were forms of popular entertainment; both were often published anonymously;
neither normally narrates a complete story. The episodes of the Cave
of Montesinos and of the retablo del maese Pedro are invoked as examples
of Cervantes's deconstruction of the romance, parallel to and contained
within a deconstruction of the books of knighthood. The principal defect
of the romance is shown, paradoxically and much like the case of the
novelas de caballería, to be precisely its lack of
historical verisimilitude. Cervantes's critique of the romance, however,
is not so serious as his attack on the books of knighthood, for the ballads
were not nearly so insistent upon their own veracity, nor were they so widely
consumed by the upper, more influential classes.
As its title proclaims, Repaso crítico de las atribuciones cervantinas is a detailed review of the history of the margins of the Cervantine canon: attributions, frauds, falsifications. One cannot but agree with the author's conclusion that a tremendous amount of intrigue political, academic, and personal has greatly problematized the question of what, exactly, did Cervantes write? It is a question that is both ironic and self-reflexive: bristling, in short, with the type of enigma and paradox that Cervantes himself would appreciate.
La teoría cervantina del tiempo starts by bemoaning the fact that so little critical attention has been given to the theme of time in Cervantes's works. Eisenberg mentions Murillo's The Golden Dial as the basic work in this area, along with articles by Seiber, Allen, and Egido. The approach here is thematic; this chapter is essentially a listing of explicit references to this theme in Cervantes's works: time's inevitable effects; enchantment; the comedia's lack of temporal verisimilitude; how the effects of time may be resisted; the relation between literature and time; and, finally, the immortality of God and truth. Eisenberg ends this chapter by citing Kenneth Allen's observation in Aspects of Time in Los trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda (Revista Hispánica Moderna 20 [1970-71; 1973] 77-107) that external time appears to run backwards in this last of Cervantes's works and then relating it to other appearances of this phenomenon in the Quijote.
In Cervantes, Lope, Avellaneda Eisenberg examines the greatest unresolved mystery surrounding Cervantes: the identity of Avellaneda, author of the apocryphal Part Il of Don Quijote. After describing the rivalry that existed between Cervantes and Lope, the author conjectures that Lope may indeed have written the apocryphal sequel as a form of critique of both the first Part of the Quijote and its author, but then discards this notion due to linguistic and stylistic differences between the sequel and Lope's other works. The remainder of the chapter is devoted to establishing Gerónimo
de Passamonte, who wrote an autobiography, as its author. Aside from the
obvious connection between this figure and the self-consciously picaresque
character Ginés de Pasamonte, who appears in both parts of the Quijote
and who has written his own autobiography, Eisenberg invokes stylistic and
linguistic similarities between Gerónimo's autobiography and the
apocryphal sequel, as well as a possible antagonism between him and Cervantes,
as proof of this claim.
The final (seventh) chapter, El rucio de Sancho y la fecha de composición de la segunda parte del Quijote, studies the chronological implications of the well-known inconsistencies surrounding Sancho's mule. Eisenberg discards the explanation given in Part II that they are due to error on the part of the printers: this explanation is, of course, offered by Cide Hamete, and must therefore be taken with all appropriate irony. He leans towards Geoffrey Stagg's conjecture of later editorial changes and interpolations made by Cervantes himself. The remainder of the chapter ingeniously and convincingly supports this claim with stylistic evidence derived from the text.
I have, finally, two minor concerns about this book. The first is simply a question of personal preference in terms of methodology: the approach utilized is strictly extrinsic, that is (and this is clear from the chapter titles), the principal aim here is literary history and not so much a practical, textual, intrinsic investigation of Cervantes's works. Such an approach, in apparent defiance of more poststructuralist, reader-oriented ones (see Catherine Larson's review of his A Study of Don Quixote, Cervantes 11.2 [Fall, 1991] 103-05), can sometimes lead to risky and somewhat positivistic assumptions (rather than questions) about the relation between extratextual and textual reality. My second concern has to do with the question of the book's unity: the only discernible unifying motif or structuring principle of these essays is the figure of Cervantes himself.
These minor concerns, however, do not diminish the magnitude of Professor Eisenberg's accomplishment: Estudios cervantinos is must reading for anyone interested in Cervantes. It is a work of formidable and careful scholarship that is both challenging and rewarding. The sheer erudition behind the arguments offered throughout is, as in all of Eisenberg's work, most impressive. With a wealth of detail, the author has successfully painted a fascinating portrait of the social, economic, cultural, and literary milieu in which Cervantes lived and wrote. At the same time, he has helped us towards a fuller understanding of the worlds that such characters as Don Quijote, Sancho, Galatea, and Sigismunda (among many others) inhabit, something he has already accomplished to a great extent, both masterfully and controversially, in his earlier A Study of Don Quixote.
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