From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America 5.1 (1985): 72-76.
Copyright © 1985, The Cervantes Society of America

Kathleen McNerney. “Tirant lo Blanc” Revisited. A Critical Study. Detroit: Michigan Consortium for Medieval and Early Modern Studies, 1983. 121 pages.

Antonio Torres-Alcalá. El realismo de “Tirant lo Blanch” y su influencia en el “Quijote”. Barcelona: Puvill, 1979. 172 pages.

     These two critical studies plus David Rosenthal's recent English translation of Tirant lo Blanc (NY: Schocken, 1983) signal the growing interest in Catalan studies in the United States, itself perhaps a product of


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the current resurgence of Catalan literature and autonomy. While Prof. McNerney's book —the major study of Tirant in English— provides a sound, insightful introduction to Joanot Martorell/Martí Joan de Galba's fifteenth-century chivalric novel, Prof. Torres-Alcalá's book proves to be a sad disappointment. In this good news/bad news review, I shall start with the bad news.
     Although Torres-Alcalá claims that prior studies of the realism of Tirant and of its influence on the Quijote are superficial, his book relies heavily on the work of several critics (especially Martí de Riquer, William Entwistle, and Constantin Marinescu) while ignoring the studies of others. After citing selected literary historians and philosophers to show that there is little critical consensus on the definition of “realism,” Torres-Alcalá settles on the Aristotelian notion of verisimilitude, which, he believes, “ha representado un papel muy vago y secundario en la crítica moderna” (p. 31). A footnote much later in the book (p. 148) suggests that he has read E. C. Riley's Cervantes' Theory of the Novel, but obviously not with much care. In fact, the term verosimilitud is conspicuously absent from his brief discussion of Don Quijote at the end of Chapter 3. In Chapter 2 —the analysis of realism in Tirant which comprises one half of the book— literary verisimilitude initially cedes to a discussion of realism as historical accuracy.
     In order to show how Tirant, as opposed to the Spanish romances of chivalry, faithfully reflects world geography and events, Torres-Alcalá provides long lists of place names and historical personages woven into the fictional fabric of the novel. This entire section about the novel's historical background is essentially a synthesis of the research of others. Torres-Alcalá's major addition is to indicate that Martorell changed some English counts into dukes; conversely, Torres-Alcalá misidentifies the Duchess of Don Quijote II as “Condesa” (p. 137). His categories for discussing Martorell's techniques for creating the illusion of reality (rational explanation of phenomena, circumstantial evidence, colloquial dialogue, uninhibited eroticism) were first established, as he acknowledges, by Dámaso Alonso and Mario Vargas Llosa. Torres-Alcalá's one interesting and original contribution to this chapter is his definition of humor in Tirant as the product of situations which are “imposible pero verosímil.” Parody is not a general informing principle of Tirant as it is in the Quijote. Parody is employed exclusively to deflate the hierarchical and ceremonious court of Constantinople by revealing sexual foibles more common to the novella or the bourgeois society of contemporary Valencia. For example, it is unlikely that the Empress of the exemplary Christian court of Constantinople would seduce a mere courtier; however, Martorell presents a very convincing —and funny— portrait of an aging dowager, strapped with an old, impotent husband, lusting after a handsome, virile, young man.
     Chapter 3, which considers Martorell's influence on Cervantes, begins with yet another re-statement of the findings of others —in this case, the various interpretations of “el pasaje más oscuro del Quijote.” An indication


of the poor organization of this book is that Daniel Eisenberg's article on this passage is not discussed until fifteen pages later. Torres-Alcalá proposes three hypothetical readings of the passage. In the first he argues that both Tirant and its author are being praised, the condemnation of Martorell to the galleys being an indirect ironic attack on the other chivalric romancers. Thus, Cervantes is just joking when he condemns Martorell precisely for not writing the traditional chivalric “necedades.” Torres-Alcalá finds no irony in the praise of the novel. In the second reading, the book is praised and the author condemned for his shameless amorality. In the third and least convincing interpretation, Cervantes is attacking Martorell for writing “necedades sin industria,” that is, without a clearly stated purpose or without having to disguise his intention. Torres-Alcalá reads both Tirant and Don Quijote as social satires written to attack the false pretensions of the nobility: Martorell by means of depicting amoral nobles and Cervantes by means of creating a mad knight. My principal objection to this study is that Torres-Alcalá shows no real appreciation of the works as literature. It is no wonder that Torres-Alcalá finds it difficult to trace direct influences of Tirant on the Quijote since he sees both works as the product of their social milieu: Cervantes' condition as a “caballero desilusionado” led to a parody of chivalric ideals and Tirant's realism is simply a reflection of the positivistic, mercantile, Catalan mentality. Torres-Alcalá's brief list of similarities between the two novels omits the sham of being translated from another language, the tale-within-a-tale technique, the episodes of the yeguas, and the allegorical elements in the weddings of the King of England and of Camacho, to name a few. There is no detailed comparative study of the techniques of humor and, as noted earlier, no appreciation of Cervantes' techniques for creating verisimilitude. This study, in short, is poorly written, derivative, and incomplete.
     Prof. McNerney's “Tirant lo BlancRevisited is a clear and thoughtful guide to the novel. For those readers who know no Catalan, English translations are provided. McNerney's book is two-tiered: a cogent, concise summary of the present state of Tirant scholarship (Chapters 1 and 4) and a sensitive, critical analysis of selected, significant topics (Chapters 2, 3, 5). Chapter 1 presents a comprehensive overview of the externals (editions and translations), internals (a succinct rehearsal of the long, complicated plot), and antecedents (the historical and literary sources) of the novel without advancing any new theories about sources or the division of labor between Martorell and Galba. Chapter 4, “Martorell and the Critics,” follows much the same pattern in its review of the critical reception of Tirant from the priest's comments in Don Quijote I, 6, to 20th century scholars. McNerney outlines the general trends of this scholarship without indulging in long summaries of the particular arguments of the different critics. For example, the section on “el pasaje más oscuro” is only a page long and proposes no new interpretations. The third section of the Bibliography (pp. 111-113) lists all the relevant studies. Of special interest to cervantistas is McNerney's

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checklist of similarities between Tirant and Don Quijote (pp. 62-64). Her principal contribution in this chapter is an enlightening comparison of Vargas Llosa's comments on Tirant and Cien años de soledad with his own narrative techniques. The “modernity” of Tirant, first signaled by D. Alonso and Vargas Llosa, is enhanced by this reflective reading.
     The remaining chapters in the book constitute an important, new contribution to the study of the structure and diction of the novel. McNerney's first step in the assessment of Martorell's place in the evolution of the modern novel is to define Tirant as a closed, fictional biography of an heroic but human knight-become-captain in opposition to the open-ended, fanciful romances of chivalry. Cervantes attacked these romances for their reliance on the marvelous and for their lack of organic cohesion. In Chapter 2, “Balance, Opposition and Geometric Patterns,” McNerney shows how Martorell establishes a sense of unity throughout 487 chapters of adventures that range from England to Rhodes to Constantinople to North Africa and back to Constantinople. Foreshadowing and prophecies, parallelism in personalities and events, circularity in time and space, and interlocking sets of triangular relationships among the principal characters all reinforce the structural unity provided by the focus on Tirant's evolution from a fearless, somewhat ignorant knight to a shrewd diplomat and military leader. The basic tension of the novel's structure is the alternation between battlefield and bedroom campaigns. The central armed opposition is between Christians and Moors; the principal amorous opposition is between Tirant and Carmesina, the Princess of Constantinople. Their social inequality is brought into balance by an exchange of letters, gifts, and vows.
     Chapter 3, “Fact, Fiction, and Form,” is an appreciation of Tirant as a stylistic bridge between the chronicles of the Old World (such as Ramón Muntaner's 1328 Crónica of the exploits of Roger de Flor, a major historical source for Martorell) and the New World chronicles (whose techniques are shared by Francisco de Moncada's 1623 Expedición de los catalanes y aragoneses contra turcos y griegos). McNerney shows how both history and fiction employed the same language to establish narrative authority. The two halves of her discussion of the Muntaner/Moncada chronicles are curiously separated by another study of life/literature linguistic interplay: Martorell's incorporation of the formulaic rhetoric of the lletres de batalla and vots as well as his use of proverbs and the religious imagery of amorous discourse in order to animate and give verisimilitude to the dialogues.
     Chapter 5, “Images of Women and the Lyric Element,” continues the analysis of Martorell's characteristic diction. The first half of the chapter compares the lyrical imagery of the unrequited lover in the poetry of Ausiás March with that of his brother-in-law's novel. The liveliest, most sustained and cohesive discussion in the book is that of the images of women in Tirant. Martorell was not immune to the misogynistic prejudices of his time, but the vivid portraits of the lusty, yet sympathetic Plaerdemavida and the Empress reveal that he was not bound by these conventions.


     McNerney's study, as she makes clear in the preface, is selective. As a consequence, there is much more discussion of the erotic elements in Tirant than of its battle scenes and court rituals. I suspect this reading will reflect the modern readers' preference for amorous intrigue and verisimilar characterization over catalogues and costumes. Her study may not be as “balanced” as Martorell's novel, but it shares the novelist's sense of moderation and humor.
     There are some lapses which must be noted. Cide Hamete Benengeli was the chronicler, not the “translator” of Don Quijote (p. 10). Daniel Eisenberg is erroneously listed in the Bibliography as “David” (p. 112). Omitting the original publication date of Moncada's chronicle (1623) results in the contradictory identification of the work as from “the sixteenth century” (p. 20, n. 8) and “the seventeenth century” (p. 54). The bibliography seems quite complete, with the exception of McNerney's own “Humor in Tirant lo Blanc,” Fifteenth-Century Studies, 3 (1980), 107-114, which should be read in conjunction with this book. The final paragraph of Chapter 2 strikes me as a more appropriate conclusion for the book than for that chapter. In general, McNerney is well served by her typist (the text is a photocopy of the typescript).
     Despite the minor problems mentioned above, this study is to be recommended for its admirable synthesis and critical insights. It is a persuasive argument in support of McNerney's call for new studies of the literary value of this transitional, rewarding, and, at times, very funny novel.

Vassar College

Prepared with the help of Myrna Douglas
Fred Jehle Publications of the CSA HCervantes