From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America
8.1 (1988): 115-18.
Copyright © 1988, The Cervantes Society of America
Ruth El Saffar's contribution to the G. K. Hall series makes available in English a carefully selected set of critical studies on Cervantes's works. Faced with the difficult task of choosing a representative variety of critical approaches from the vast field of Cervantine studies, her edition has provided a balanced overview of the development of modern Cervantine criticism and has indicated some current directions in research. A fair proportion of the essays selected, therefore, deal with the interrelated nature of the critical enterprise and seek new implications for the exchange between author and reader in Cervantes's works. Of the eighteen essays included, three have been translated to English for the first time and two others were written specifically for the collection. The reprinted essays might be considered classics of Cervantine criticism even though several of them were published relatively recently. El Saffar's edition does not duplicate any of the essays found in the earlier and briefer collection in English by Lowry Nelson (1969), and it provides a greater range of critical approaches than can be found in another recent grouping of studies on Cervantes edited by Harold Bloom (1987). Additional benefits for students in El Saffar's collection are a brief yet pertinent bibliography of critical works and an insightful introduction in which she indicates several important works of Cervantine criticism which were too lengthy or otherwise not adaptable for inclusion in her edition.
A general historical overview to Cervantine studies is provided by the first essay in the series, Helmut Hatzfeld's Thirty Years of Cervantes Criticism (1947). Appropriate to the tone of El Saffar's collection, the article emphasizes that each individual sees Don Quixote according to his spirit or that of his generation. The remaining essays are arranged in the edition to comply with the chronological order in which Cervantes's works were published. Jennifer Lowe's The Cuestión de Amor and the Structure of Cervantes's Galatea (1966) argues against criticism that judges the narrative of Cervantes's first published work to be too frequently interrupted and too confusing in structure. Lowe shows how the variations on cuestiones de amor in the Galatea provide thematic and structural unity to the work, and she reminds us that sixteenth-century readers would have enjoyed the structural challenges presented by the cuestiones and other familiar topics. A more recent study by
Mary Gaylord Randel, The Language of Limits and the Limits of Language:
The Crisis of Poetry in La Galatea (1982), reveals how Cervantes's
contradictory stance on poetry constitutes a pastoral paradox. Contrary to
the expressed purpose of the Galatea and to the generically privileged
position of poetry in the pastoral, Cervantes's text ultimately reveals the
insufficiency of verse.
Opening the set of essays on Don Quixote is Luis Murillo's historical survey, Cervantic Irony in Don Quijote: The Problem for Literary Criticism (1966). Commencing his study with the eighteenth century and ending with the analysis of Américo Castro, Murillo traces the evolution of the concept of irony which modern readers and critics take for granted. Partial Magic in the Quixote (1952 in Spanish) by Jorge Luis Borges points out what writers as well as readers have found so fascinating and yet so disturbing in the Quixote: if Don Quixote is a reader of the Quixote, we as readers can be fictitious. Dámaso Alonso in Oscillation in the Character of Sancho (1969) shows that Sancho waivers between roguishness and idealism throughout the entire Quixote and that his fluctuating identity is more complex than initially thought. An essay treating the novel's other central character is Charles Aubrun's The Reason of Don Quixote's Unreason (1972). Aubrun explores the socio-economic motives that could explain the early adventures of Lord Quixada / Quesada. Javier Herrero discusses the thematic relevance of the interpolated tales and the role of Don Quixote in Part I of the novel in his study Sierra Morena as Labyrinth: From Wildness to Christian Knighthood (1981). With Don Quixote's moral victory in the battle of the wineskins and with the transformation of Cervantes's characters from a labyrinthine state of moral confusion to one of harmonious love and friendship, Christian humanistic values are seen to triumph over courtly and Neoplatonic conceptions of love. In Don Quixote: Story or History (1981), Bruce W. Wardropper describes the confused notions of history in Cervantes's era in order to reveal how the author of Don Quixote focuses on the ill-defined frontier between history and story or that between truth and uncertainty. On a related topic, George Haley reveals that Cervantes's narrative strategies warn the reader to beware of fiction passing as history. His essay, The Narrator in Don Quijote: Maese Pedro's Puppet Show, explores how the interplay of story, storyteller, and reader in the novel are repeated on a smaller scale in one of Don Quixote's adventures. Marthe Robert casts light on the problematic relationship between Cervantes and his character Don Quixote. In Doubles (1963 in French), she describes the Cervantine process of character creation as a doubling activity in which the author continually disguises himself. Michel Foucault's Don Quixote in the Lettered World (1966 in French) recognizes Cervantes's novel as the first modern work of literature for its exposure of the arbitrary relationship between things and words, and for its modern concepts of textuality. The only article dealing with Cervantes's shorter prose fiction works is William C. Atkinson's essay, Cervantes, El Pinciano, and the Novelas ejemplares (1948). Atkinson discusses the Novelas as a series of Cervantine experimentations on the difficult relationship between art and reality.
Another study demonstrating Cervantes's literary range is Elias Rivers's
Cervantes's Journey to Parnassus (1970). Rivers shows how Cervantes's
satirical burlesque and self-deprecating irony in the mock-epic Viaje
del Parnaso are part of the poet's attempt to secure his public image
as author and critic of poetry.
The first of two studies on Cervantes's theater is Jean Canavaggio's Cervantine Variations on the Theme of Theater within the Theater (1972). His article explores the ways in which the Cervantine interplay of main action and framed action is infinitely richer than the mere use of the technical device. The essay Writing for Reading: Cervantes's Aesthetics of Reception in the Entremeses was written by Nicholas Spadaccini specifically for the El Saffar edition. Spadaccini argues that Cervantes undermines the established definition of the comic genre entremés by redefining its receptors as readers for whom the predictable reception for the public performance of a work is likely to be circumvented through the subversive act of private reading. Basing his arguments chiefly on El retablo de las maravillas, Spadaccini attempts to show how Cervantes's demystification of the privileged position held by Old Christian landed peasants in the official culture and in comedias such as Lope's Peribáñez is made possible by redirecting his entremés to an ideal reader rather than to the theater-going common man. The altered horizon of expectations for his receptors thus enables Cervantes to textualize material drawn from folklore and from his own personal reflections about contemporary Spanish society and to redirect it without suffering an otherwise predictable trivialization of the material. While Spadaccini's study offers some interesting insights on Cervantes as playwright, his thesis rests upon an overly generalized conception of the comedia's portrayal of the Spanish peasant, a view which critical research continues to debunk. In addition, his assumptions about audience reception overlook complex issues of performance theory as well as the opinions of Cervantes's ecclesiastical contemporaries who held that theater was the most subversive genre.
Alban Forcione's excerpted essay The Christian Romance Structure of Cervantes's Persiles (1972) contributes to our understanding of the thematic and symbolic unity of Cervantes's posthumous novel by showing that the Persiles had a coherence of its own. Forcione reveals how the sequencing of adventures repeats the cyclical pattern of the Persiles's overall quest and how its structure is animated by the spirit of orthodox Christianity. The final article of the collection and the second one written especially for it is Diana Wilson's study on the Persiles, Uncanonical Nativities: Cervantes's Perversion of Pastoral. Centering her discussion about the episode of Feliciana de la Voz, Wilson shows how that character's acquisition of a female narrative voice has ramifications for our critical readings of the entire work. Wilson points out that Cervantes's ironic intertextuality strategically sets Feliciana's narration of her delivery of an illegitimate child alongside two subtexts of parturition: that of the Virgin Mary and that of Ovid's mythical Myrrha. Feliciana's voiced story thus constitutes a significant contrast to the speechless deliveries of Mary and Myrrha and to the silence of women in the
Barbaric Isle of the Persiles. Revelations such as these on Cervantes's
experiments with new narrative strategies in his last work make Wilson's
study a valuable contribution to Cervantine studies.
In sum, this excellent collection of essays organized by Ruth El Saffar will make accessible to students in humanities courses a wide variety of critical studies in English on Cervantes's works, and it will also serve Cervantine scholars as a handy source for many classic essays.
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