From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America 3.1 (1983): 77-78.
Copyright © 1983, The Cervantes Society of America

REVIEW

Harry Sieber, ed. Novelas ejemplares. Madrid: Ediciones Cátedra, 1980. 2 vols.

     The stated purpose of Professor Sieber's edition of the Novelas ejemplares is to provide a corrected and partly modernized text of the princeps of 1613. The intended readership —unstated— is obviously academic. It seems reasonable, therefore, to judge the new edition for its utility to advanced students of literature rather than to the researcher or casual Spanish reader, and the following observations are, as a consequence, colored by the reaction of my students to the text and apparatus.
     The semi-modernization of the language is a sensible compromise between pointless fidelity to the original and tampering. Orthography, accents, punctuation, etc., follow now current practice; spelling preserves the vagaries of the 1613 text (recibir / recebir). In a perhaps unnecessary concession to modernity, Sieber has chosen to restore consonants in the combinations -cc-, -ct-, -sc-, -gn-, -nm-, -nn-, by inserting bracketed letters (vi[c]toria, de[s]cendía) or, in a few cases, adding notes (punéis, noted pugnéis). Scores of such changes produce inevitable lapses (both efeto and efe[c]to, Erito for Ericto, etc.). And cases of seventeenth-century classicizing, which are as unlikely to reflect Cervantes' pronunciation as, say, vi[c]toria, stand: asumpto (asunto), epitecto (epíteto), and so on. The numerous alterations belabor a minor difficulty of spelling which an interested reader could surely cope with if he were forewarned in the statement of criteria.
     The notes to the text, on language and historical matters, are pertinent, often interesting in their own right, and full of what Golden Age readers would have considered choice erudition (e.g., the notes on the fountains of Spain, II. 144:23. 145:26).
     The prefatory material is excellent. A general introduction touches on the questions of literary antecedents, on the exemplarity of the novellas (Cervantes may have meant that his stories were literary exemplars, worthy of imitation, according to Sieber), and on what makes the stories novelables (some extraordinary “parenthesis” in the lives of protagonists).
     Brief essays devoted to each novel fairly bristle with insights and suggestive points of departure. One of the most provocative is Sieber's notion that exchange-systems, like the patterns which Lévi-Strauss has perceived in his anthropological studies, provide a structuring principle for the novellas. The relationship between love and money-exchange is particularly apparent in La gitanilla and La española inglesa. Theft and restoration,

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another form of exchange, appear in variations like kidnapping / restoration, slavery / ransom, rape / marriage. Other pairs of “symmetries” which Sieber finds as common motifs are deception / revelation and flight / return. in the guise of truancy-pilgrimage-tourism / return. Especially convincing, in my opinion, is Sieber's succinct discussion of sexual symbolism in El celoso extremeño and his speculation on why Cervantes suppressed the physical adultery found in the early version of the novella with an emotional infidelity that wrecks Carrizales' fantasy-world. Less convincing but worth pondering is Sieber's view that the clichés and exaggerations of La señora Cornelia are intended by Cervantes to be comical.
     Sieber saves his longest essay for the Casamiento-Coloquio pair. He suggests (if I correctly understand the sometimes elusive argument) that while Cervantes uses the dialogue of the two dogs as a way to satirize and show up the unsatisfactory techniques of the picaresque novel, he employs both the dialogue and its relationship with the Casamiento engañoso to probe —as he continually does— the limits of fiction, or how to make a lie the vehicle for a higher kind of truth.
     The introductory pages are accompanied by a select but copious bibliography (I, 35-40) as well as by a basic list of studies singled out by the author for special notice (I, 17). The footnotes throughout contain additional references to specific topics.
     Slow readers like me will discover numerous typos (which transatlantic proofreading seems unable to eradicate), and professional scholars will be secretly pleased to find —in a few of the notes—questionable interpretations on which to grind their axes. On the whole, however, Sieber's edition presents a well-integrated combination of originality and of previous scholarship, in both the introductions and the notes. It is the sort of attractive, handy, reasonably-priced text of the Spanish classics that we have come to demand, and my students and I are grateful to have it.

JOSEPH R. JONES
University of Kentucky


Fred Jehle jehle@ipfw.edu Publications of the CSA HCervantes
URL: http://www.h-net.org/~cervantes/csa/artics83/jones.htm