From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America 16.2 (1996): 118-20.
Copyright © 1996, The Cervantes Society of America

Harrison, Stephen. La composición de Los trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda. Madrid: Pliegos, 1993. 219 pp.

     Had this intensive analysis of Cervantes's method of composition appeared in a more widely-distributed press, it certainly would have attracted a good deal more attention and perhaps some controversy. As it is, Harrison's substantial contribution has thus far been largely ignored in English-speaking circles of Cervantine criticism, thereby depriving all concerned of a potentially fruitful critical debate.
     Harrison proposes here to shed light on the murky question of where Persiles y Sigismunda belongs in the chronology of the entire Cervantine opus. In the process he intends to add to our understanding of the way Cervantes worked and the methods he might have used in composing his longer works, as well as how he evolved as a literary artist. Harrison also seeks to demonstrate that various critical studies on Cervantes and especially the Persiles “son totalmente erróneos en su interpretación del propósito del autor, por haber creído poder pasar por alto el problema de las fechas y del proceso de composición de esta obra” (19). In the process he confronts —politely but energetically— some of the giants of modern Cervantes studies (Forcione, El Saffar, Avalle-Arce, and others), while reminding us of our indebtedness to various earlier critics, such as Mack Singleton. He particularly objects to assertions that Cervantes as writer developed or “progressed” from realism to romance, that most of Persiles was a product of the mature Cervantes and thereby the culminating point of his literary art, or indeed that, as he puts it, “la humanidad de Don Quijote estimuló el neoplatonismo en vez de atenuarlo” (23). Despite the proofs Harrison adduces for the relatively early composition date of the Persiles, however, he does not propose what he views as the simplistic counter-argument that Cervantes's artistic evolution was a simple matter of developing from “idealism” to “realism.” Rather, he inclines toward the view of Blanco Aguinaga and George Hainsworth, among others, that realism and idealism are in constant interplay in all of Cervantes's works, but especially the Quixote.
     Harrison cites Geoffrey Stagg's theories on the way Cervantes went about composing Don Quixote, Part I as a starting point for his study. Three are significant here: that Cervantes made substantial revisions in the order of episodes of his original manuscript, with little regard for the “incongruencias” that might


16.2 (1996) Review 119

result thereby; that it was important for Cervantes to establish some “equilibrio” between the main thread of the narration and the episodes; and that several features of Don Quijote, Part I (notably the role of Cide Hamete) were interpolated relatively late in the composition process. After a detailed introductory exposition of purpose, Harrison begins his study in the second and third chapters with a thorough analysis of the Persiles's probable sources, along with a reconsideration of the historical references within the text and their relevance for establishing dates and stages of composition. Although he inevitably goes over some well-trodden ground here, I found his meticulous close reading of the text and his thorough familiarity with Cervantine source material to be quite convincing.
     Also persuasive, although potentially more controversial, are his observations in the fourth chapter (“Las narraciones independientes y los comentarios sobre la teoría literaria”) on the evolution of Cervantes's literary technique in Persiles y Sigismunda, compared to Don Quixote and La Galatea. In seeking to substantiate his claims, Harrison analyzes all of the interpolated material in these three works and the critiques they provoke by listeners within the text. It is his contention that the information gleaned thereby constitutes the most important evidence of Cervantes's impatience with the old romances as well as what is in effect an implicit literary theory.
     One of Harrison's more interesting contributions —already published in an important 1980 article and revised for the fifth chapter of the present work— is that Cervantes added much of the attenuation and rationalization of the magical and miraculous elements in the Persiles at a much later date. Harrison speculates on Cervantes' reasons: perhaps a result of his close connections with the Franciscan order toward the end of his life, or perhaps “un deseo piadoso de hacer las paces con la iglesia que una vez le descomulgó y con el Hacedor que Cervantes esperaba ver pronto” (144). Indeed, the noticeable contrast between Cervantes's smooth inclusion of such rationalizations in the Quijote, for example, and the tacked-on quality of these statements in the Persiles, as well as the inconsistency with which they appear and the incongruencies that they leave in the text, provide further evidence for placing the composition of most of the Persiles at an earlier date. In his sixth and final chapter Harrison summarizes his findings and further develops his central point: that Persiles was a relatively early work, and that parts of it were written even before La Galatea. That is, despite the poignant “Con el pie ya en el estribo” of the Persiles's dedication, at the end of his life Cervantes actually wrote only small portions of what is commonly called his last novel.
     As a very minor point, I would quibble with Harrison's decision to cite the Peyton edition of Lope's El peregrino en su patria (1971), given the easier availability of the Avalle-Arce edition in Castalia (1973). In any case, however, it would be much more convenient for the reader to know which book of the Peregrino is being cited —a practice followed scrupulously in citations to Don Quixote and Persiles. The only major gap in Harrison's otherwise excellent study is his curious failure —despite the 1993 publication date— to engage significantly with Cervantes criticism (particularly on the Persiles) of the past dozen years.


Although he acknowledges that a substantial portion of his theory was formulated around the time he completed his dissertation in 1979, it would be interesting to hear his comments on various recent studies, whether or not they would have any effect on his own theories. I will look forward to such engagement in the future —perhaps as a kind of afterword in article form.

Judith A. Whitenack
University of Nevada, Reno

Prepared with the help of Sue Dirrim
Fred Jehle Publications of the CSA HCervantes