From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America
15.2 (1995): 106-07.
Copyright © 1995, The Cervantes Society of America
The Novelas selected by Hart for analysis are six: La gitanilla, La ilustre fregona, El amante liberal, Rinconete y Cortadillo, El celoso extremeño, and El coloquio de los perros. Most of the chapters included in the book were published in substantially different form (vii) in several journals between 1979 and 1990. The study concentrates on assessing the exemplarity of the Novelas from the perspective of Cervantes's contemporaries. In this context, the reader is often referred at key points to the writings of Heliodorus, Ariosto, Castiglione, Tasso, Amyot, Montaigne, Molière, and Erasmus. This comparative approach is one of the more positive aspects of Hart's contribution. Nevertheless, although his approach is overtly hermeneutical and comparative, Hart believes that [t]oday we are in a better position to appreciate all of the Novelas ejemplares (3), and he does not hesitate to refer throughout to the combined authority of Mikhail Bakhtin (heteroglossia), Gérard Genette (types of narrative), Northrop Frye (romance), William Empson (pastoral), John Lyons and Timothy Hampton (exemplarity), and Susan Suleiman (ideological fiction).
Hart's principal insight into the Novelas consists in underlining their uniqueness by way of their ability to produce admiratio In fact, in his brief and elegant chapters Hart emphasizes repeatedly the oxymoronic nature of Cervantes's title and the inherent possibility of diverse interpretations. For instance, in the case of the romance Novelas, he demonstrates their traditional nature but also their innovative treatment of common motifs and maxims. Cervantes's double interest in the moral dimension and verisimilitude of his Novelas gives rise to two types of admiratio. In the case of El amante liberal, for example, Cervantes awakens wonderment in the reader through the description of the setting and events of the plot, while at the same time, according to Hart, he presents in Ricardo a novelistic character who at the end of the story is no longer the man he was at the beginning (55). Something similar occurs in the case of Rinconete; there is traditional admiration because of the exotic setting and the manner in which language is used during the role playing, while the reaffirmation of his values at the end, the assertion of the individual's freedom, represents a moral victory capable of producing a higher kind of admiration.
A similar strategy is followed in the case of El celoso extremeño. The narrative process of defamiliarization produces admiration to the extent that a comic situation becomes tragic. The difference here is that the characters are not typical, they do not conform to the role given to them by the folkloric tradition in which they originate. The ending, to the extent that is contrary to all expectations, is not only truly exemplary but also admirable. In the case of the Coloquio, there is obvious wonder in the nature of the protagonists and the setting of the story, but the key source of admiration here has to do with the crucial question of the flexibility of the self, seen also in Don Quixote. Berganza fails as a reformer, Hart observes, because he does not see his own limitations, his inner limitations.
Nevertheless, contrary to critical opinion, Hart recognizes hope in the ending
because the dogs' views are questionable; they fail to understand their own
experiences, and Cipión appreciates at the end only the
artificio of the story he has just heard.
Hart insists in his conclusion that the secret of the Novelas is that there is no secret, no single interpretation tacitly endorsed by Cervantes but never openly revealed to his readers (110). I find this affirmation less satisfying that the fact that in his critical practice Hart manages to find a sure path to at least one valid question, that of the double source admiration of the Novelas as an expression of their uniqueness and universality as classic texts.
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