From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America
19.1 (1999): 149-53.
Copyright © 1999, The Cervantes Society of America
Clamurro, William H. Beneath the Fiction: The Contrary Worlds of
Cervantes's Novelas ejemplares. New York: Peter Lang, 1997. 317
The decade of the 1990s resonates with
a renewed interest in Cervantes's Novelas ejemplares. Thomas R. Hart,
Joseph V. Ricapito, Francisco J. Sánchez, and Theresa Ann Sears, among
others, have all recently published book-length studies of the
novelas. In addition, numerous articles, dissertations, and theses
have focused their attention on these shorter companions of Don Quijote.
Poststructural critical tendencies have allowed scholars to view the Novelas
ejemplares, previous critical investigations, and the reading process
itself in creatively new yet textually valid ways. Many scholars have discovered
that the novelas provide a rich synthesis of the themes, devices,
and novelties that Cervantes employs in his other narrative and dramatic
works, particularly in Don Quijote. In Beneath the Fiction: The
Contrary Worlds of Cervantes's Novelas ejemplares, William H. Clamurro,
a seasoned reader and an impeccable writer, adds fresh, thoughtful insights
and delightful prose to the ever-expanding roster of interpretations that
contribute to our interaction with the corpus of Cervantine works and
What Clamurro sees beneath the fiction or beyond the plot in the majority of the novelas is a search for identity played out within the often contrary worlds of discourse and meaning, of narration and interpretation, and of dominant versus deviant cultures. Clamurro contends that although most of the tales champion a conservative view of society and morality, in so doing they
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also uncover social inequalities, prejudices, and repressed cultures. The
ironic and inconsistent presentation of non-favored cultures problematizes
the question of exemplarity and the message received by the reader. As implied
in Cervantes's prologue, reading becomes a game; the text, a mystery. Clamurro
suggests that by playing the game, the reader gains an exemplary
education (13) and (re)confronts the mysteries of his or her own life.
Clamurro demonstrates through his own approach one reader's interpretation
(albeit with extensive and careful consideration of previous scholarship)
of the highly complex novelas, giving special attention to questions
of identity, of language, and of social order.
Chapter 1, La gitanilla: Value and Identity, recognizes the elements of romance present in the text but emphasizes the subversion of romantic conventions. Money, economic exchange, and the objectification of women all tend to dissipate the clouds of romantic illusion. Andrés and Preciosa, for example, are both partially defined by their unwillingness to participate in the less savory aspects of the gypsy lifestyle, particularly theft. Ironically, Preciosa finds her identity by losing her autonomy or, as Clamurro aptly states, through restoration and subsequent loss the opposite of the normal sequence of events in romance (32). Among the many other interesting points that Clamurro successfully argues in this chapter is that Clemente, the paje-poeta, is best viewed as a complement of don Juan de Cárcamo (Andrés), not as his rival.
Chapter 2, The Frontiers of Identity: El amante liberal, emphasizes the importance of the world of the Turks in the transformation of the main characters' identity. Clamurro suggests that in order to understand Ricardo's dilemma more fully, we must recognize the dangerous parallels between his plight and that of the renegade Mahamut. The Ottoman Empire held an enticing, exotic appeal to single, young, educated, Christian males who were willing to embrace Islam. For Ricardo and Mahamut, captivity and apostasy are destinations, destinies, or detours that mutually intersect and illuminate each other (51). Each character chooses a distinct path, and each depends upon the other in order to regain his true identity. Clamurro also demonstrates that the discourse reflects Ricardo's general evolution from egotism to liberality. Leonisa, represented or bound throughout the story by Ricardo's narrations, regains her own voice, her own verbal space in the text, as her bonds of captivity are loosed. Although her freedom is still subjected to the will of her father, she nevertheless emerges from her ordeal with a limited autonomy and freely chooses her husband.
In chapter 3, The Carnival of Crime: Rinconete y Cortadillo, Clamurro entertains the notion that this novela serves as an entremés within the collection as a whole. Whereas the majority of the novelas focus on problems of identity, Rinconete y Cortadillo lacks plot and character development and emphasizes, rather, questions of language and social order (73). The two boys, in a state of pre-sexual innocence, serve as guides into Monipodio's subworld of violence and sex, viewing, experiencing, and commenting on a previously unexplored world with fresh eyes. Yet, although the criminal world is unveiled, little attention is
placed on the social implications of the deviant behavior. The text seems
to decriminalize Monipodio's world at the same time that it launches a
conventional condemnation. The emphasis of the text, Clamurro explains, is
on language. The characters are mere masquers, actors in an
entremés who evaporate as soon as the clatter of the stage
and the banter of the dialogue ceases (97).
Chapter 4, The Sins of the Father: La española inglesa, highlights the ignominy of Clotaldo's kidnaping of Isabela. Clamurro suggests that Clotaldo's motivation for abducting Isabela was sexual. Ricaredo's later attraction replaces his father's suppressed desires, and the lovers' pain and suffering in their trials partially redeems Clotaldo's sin. Clamurro points out, however, that while it may appear that Ricaredo, a noble, would be honoring Isabela, a merchant's daughter, by marrying her, perhaps that was not the case. Ricaredo, though noble, was English. Isabela, lacking aristocratic titles, was nevertheless rich and, more importantly, Spanish. Clamurro concludes that the story suggests a quite radical inversion of social hierarchical values, identities, and conventional beliefs (121). With Cervantine complexity, the novela ends without resolving serious questions regarding paternal redemption and the social status of the protagonists.
Chapter 5, Anonymity, Madness, and the Decadence of Empire: El licenciado Vidriera, discusses the elusive identity of the protagonist and extrapolates parallels in Spanish society. Tomás's futile death in Flanders and his insignificant wanderings in his early years tellingly remind us, suggests Clamurro, of the decline of Spain. Throughout the novela, Tomás demonstrates an aptitude for adaptation but an inability to adopt a single persona. His identity, therefore, remains ambiguous. In a similar fashion, Spain at the time was having difficulty defining its national boundaries, both cultural and geographical. Through Vidriera's invectives, the text exposes the social prejudices and attitudes that marked the day. Tomás Rueda/Vidriera/Rodaja, an anonymous man with multiple or no identity, represents the many-faceted decadence (148) of the Spanish Empire.
In chapter 6, Redemption and Identity: La fuerza de la sangre, Clamurro focuses on the problem of identity. On the one hand, identity is determined by social rank; on the other, through individual conflicts. Clamurro suggests that the inferior social status of Leocadia's family places them in a position of weakness from the beginning of the story. As a result of Rodolfo's social status and violence, Leocadia is forced to abandon her identity, to suffer her shame in silence. Her eventual marriage to Rodolfo restores her honor, and, suggests Clamurro, her identity. Yet at what cost? Clamurro hints that it is improbable that Rodolfo did not recognize Leocadia upon his return from Italy; he also, however, highlights the darkness, swiftness, and confusion of the abduction and rape. Clamurro notes that Rodolfo does not ask for forgiveness, but he does not mention that the rapist might be impenitent. Is it not possible, and even probable, that both times that Rodolfo sees Leocadia his hormones blind his vision, making it unlikely that he will remember the delicate physical details of a face? Perhaps, Leocadia's identity is blurred forever. As Clamurro suggests, she is woman
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returned to silence and conventional submission (162), submission,
that is, to male authority and desire.
Chapter 7, Eros, Material, and the Architecture of Desire: El celoso extremeño, convincingly demonstrates the absence of love, the emphasis on materiality, and the brilliant construction of a plot driven by non-erotic desires. Carrizales uses his wealth to stifle rather than to stimulate erotic desire. Loaysa penetrates the home to satisfy vanity, not lust. Leonora's betrayal of her husband's trust owes more to curiosity than to lechery. Clamurro highlights the selfishness of Carrizales, the feminine aspects of Loaysa (his seduction of Luis, the display and adoration of his body, his inability to violate Leonora), and the non-adulterous yet destructive infidelities of Leonora. The denouement, concludes Clamurro, is disturbingly difficult to interpret: Carrizales is selfishly magnanimous; Loaysa, a weak imitation of Carrizales, departs for the New World with high hopes and poor possibilities; Leonora enters a convent without clarifying the mystery surrounding the violation of her vows. In the end, we are not sure how to view personal identity, moral values, or social order (189).
Chapter 8, Identity and Social Order: La ilustre fregona, highlights the heterogeneity of discourse and by so doing underscores the complexity of individual identity and social order. Clamurro suggests that in addition to mixing genres, in this novela Cervantes creates textual spaces such as the inn in which characters of different social ranks and linguistic abilities can mix and associate, creating numerous languages and discourses. This particular posada also serves as a theater that draws spectators and actors from all levels of society in their efforts to observe or to court (ironically, at the inn) the fregona. Heterogeneity also often manifests itself in the speech of a single given character, mixing the languages and registers of society. Clamurro concludes that in this novela questions of personal identity are normally satisfied with reference to money, social rank, and, significantly, to the written word. In addition, with the multiple wedding of the denouement Cervantes expands the restoration theme from the individual to the society, establishing, once again, conventional conservative values.
In chapter 9, Pathos and Melodrama: Las dos doncellas and La señora Cornelia, Clamurro underscores the role of disguise, of sexual transgressions, and of broken promises in defining personal identity and social relationships. As in previous novelas, individual identity is defined according to the values of the aristocracy. Women are allowed to cross-dress under certain conventional circumstances, and while dressed as men, they enjoy masculine freedoms and often extraordinary physical prowess. Clamurro notes that the clothes one wears is so tied to one's identity that Cornelia failed to recognize her baby when it was clothed in rags yet immediately identified it when its proper clothes were restored. Clamurro also notes that wealth and nobility seem to grant a certain licence to Cervantine aristocratic males to mislead and to lie to members of the opposite sex. Later, whether repentant or not, these young libertines are rewarded with marriage to a beautiful woman and assume a respectable position in the traditional patriarchal society in which his wife no longer has a voice.
The final chapter, Confession, Commentary,
and the End of Fiction: El casamiento engañoso and El coloquio
de los perros, highlights the metafictionality of Campuzano's tales
and stresses the playfulness and openness of the collection as a whole. Clamurro
insists that the Casamiento/Coloquio is a text about how to read texts,
that it implicitly urges us to reread all the novelas. He strongly
disagrees with critics who only see chaotic episodes in these final tales.
Structurally and thematically ordered to near perfection, these stories,
Clamurro suggests, display chaos only in their disruption of our systematic
interpretation of the previous texts. Love relationships, personal identity,
the value of social relationships, and the act of fabulation itself are all
scrutinized and questioned in these tales. In the Casamiento/Coloquio,
identity is, in its acutely complex and shifting nature, a device for
the exploring of larger questions. Social order . . . [is] revealed
as something other than the comforting, always renewed and renewable source
of affirmation (289). Unlike the first ten stories, the
Casamiento/Coloquio purposely leaves loose ends and apparent disorder,
forcing the reader to reassess his or her interpretations of other
novelas and of previous assumptions regarding the dependability of
the patriarchal system.
Clamurro's interpretations expand the thesis proposed by Theresa Ann Sears in A Marriage of Convenience (1994). Sears appears to deny the validity of critical analyses that refuse to grant priority to the hegemony of the patriarchal order in the novelas. Clamurro confirms that most of the stories provide a prescriptive example of submission to the will of the father, of eventual suppression of individual identity for the betterment of the family, but he also emphasizes the presence and the importance of the other (sub-cultures, doubles) in Cervantes's texts. Although Clamurro does not explicitly counter Sears's thesis, he seems clearly to suggest that the text itself invites the reader to challenge the surface structure, to look for deeper issues. From simulated gypsies to talking dogs, the Novelas ejemplares continuously stress that things are not what they seem, that we always need to take another look, to make an additional evaluation from a new perspective.
In the short amount of space that I have taken to review a number of Clamurro's key points, I have only uncovered a small portion of his original contributions. Clamurro's discussion tends to focus on identity, language, and society; nevertheless, his insights range over a wide variety of subjects and include commentary and references to numerous scholars and critical approaches. His poststructuralist, reader-oriented approach respects previous scholarship, recognizes the legitimacy of differing opinions, and presents itself with clarity and conviction. In addition to its value to cervantistas, the well-defined arguments, the concise plot summaries, and the clear explanations of critical trends make Clamurro's book an excellent choice for advanced and graduate novela courses. Specialist and novice alike will enjoy examining the contrary worlds of Beneath the Fiction.
|Eric J. Kartchner|
|University of North Texas|
|Fred Jehle firstname.lastname@example.org||Publications of the CSA||HCervantes|