Exemplary Stories by Miguel de Cervantes.

This week for the Deal Me In Challenge I drew The Dialogue of Dogs by Miguel de Cervantes, but, as with Carmen and Other Stories by Prosper Mérimée, I did want to finish Exemplary Stories and write a review of the entire book when I drew this final Cervantes title, so here it is! 

Exemplary Stories (Novelas ejemplares) is a collection of twelve short stories and novellas by Miguel de Cervantes (unfortunately I've only just learned that I had an abridged version with only eight of the tales!) and was most likely composed in the 1590s, but not published until 1613, just three years before his death. They are:
  1. 'The Little Gypsy Girl' (La Gitanilla)
  2. 'Rinconete and Cortadillo' (Rinconete y Cortadillo)
  3. 'The Glass Graduate' (El licenciado Vidriera)
  4. 'The Power of Blood' (La fuerza de la sangre)
  5. 'The Jealous Old Man from Extremadura' (El celoso extremeño)
  6. 'The Illustrious Kitchen Maid' (La ilustre fregona)
  7. 'The Deceitful Marriage' (El casamiento engañoso)
  8. 'The Dialogue of the Dogs' (El coloquio de los perros)
  9. 'The Lady Cornelia' (La señora Cornelia)
  10. 'The Two Damsels' (Las dos doncellas)
  11. 'The Generous Lover' (El amante liberal)
  12. 'The Spanish English Lady' (La española inglesa)
I am rather disappointed my edition didn't contain all the stories. I have read stories 1 - 8, and as you can see I've already written posts on 'The Little Gypsy Girl' and 'The Glass Graduate'. 'The Glass Graduate' is certainly one of my favourites, and so too is 'The Jealous Old Man from Extremadura'.

The book begins with a prologue in which Cervantes explains why he called his stories "Exemplary", and his motivations for writing them:
I have called them exemplary, because if you rightly consider them, there is not one of them from which you may not draw some useful example; and were I not afraid of being too prolix, I might show you what savoury and wholesome fruit might be extracted from them, collectively and severally. 
My intention has been to set up, in the midst of our community, a billiard-table, at which every one may amuse himself without hurt to body and soul; for innocent recreations do good rather than harm. One cannot be always at church, or always saying one's prayers, or always engaged in one's business, however important it may be; there are hours for recreation when the wearied mind should take repose. It is to this end that alleys of trees are planted to walk in, waters are conveyed from remote fountains, hills are levelled, and gardens are cultivated with such care. One thing I boldly declare: could I by any means suppose that these novels could excite any bad thought or desire in those who read them, I would rather cut off the hand with which I write them, than give them to the public. I am at an age when it does not become me to trifle with the life to come, for I am upwards of sixty-four.
The first story in my edition is 'The Little Gypsy Girl', which I've already written about. The next - 'Rinconete and Cortadillo', two young men who meet at the Molinillo Inn, on the edge of the plain of Alcudia. One of a card-sharper, the other a pickpocket. They join forces, but they draw the attention of a criminal gang in Seville which the join, and the story tells of the various crimes they witness, all the while contrasted with the religious setting around and amongst the Cathedral and its people. Though it may sound an unpleasant tale is manages to be rather humorous.

The third tale, 'The Glass Graduate', is again another story I've already written about. The fourth: 'The Power of Blood'. In this Leocadia, the daughter of a respectable family is kidnapped and raped by Rodolfo who then abandons her. She is pregnant, and she has her son and lives in seclusion, not telling anyone of what happened until her son is seven years old, after which she informs Rodolfo's parents. His mother arranges for them to meet, they fall in love, and they live happily together for the rest of their lives. In this story Cervantes writes on power, privilege, and what it is to be noble.

The fifth tale, 'The Jealous Old Man from Extremadura', is possibly my favourite, and it did have an air of 'The Merchant's Tale' from The Canterbury Tales. In this we're told the story of Felipe Carrizales, who returns to Spain having wasted his money on alcohol and women. Now an old man he decides to settle day and marry. He picks Leonora, a very young woman, they marry, and such is his jealous and paranoia he keeps her locked up: only maids and a eunuch may wait on her. However the young Loaysa foils Carrizales' plot and attempts to seduce Leonora. She is not technically unfaithful, however clearly looks as though she has been. Nevertheless Carrizales blames himself for his unfair treatment of her. As with the fairly numerous 'May - December' relationship stories this is concerned with male paranoia and pride, however it is more subtle than others, for example The Merchant's Tale or Panfilo's tale from The Decameron (the ninth story told on the seventh day) from which Chaucer's tale was inspired. Carrizales, though unpleasant, is at times sympathetic, and Leonora is more complex than simply a young woman desperate to have an affair with anyone who comes her way: her stunted emotional and sexual growth is portrayed sensitively, despite this being farcical at times.

The next story, 'The Illustrious Kitchen Maid', is about two young noblemen in love with a kitchen maid. It is, I think, my least favourite. The two men live the lives of pícaros (adventurers) and, as I've said, they fall in love with a woman very much beneath them - a kitchen maid. Again Cervantes examines privilege and experience, and also the nature of the romance genre.

The final two stories, 'The Deceitful Marriage' and 'The Dialogue of the Dogs' are a pair. In 'The Deceitful Marriage' Campuzano tells his friend Peralta of his rather unsuccessful marriage: the upshot is he is being treated for syphilis. He tells Peralta that while on the ward he has heard the conversation of two dogs. He promises to tell him all that has been said, and we go from this story to the next, 'The Dialogue of Dogs' subtitled "Story and dialogue that took place between Scipio and Berganza, who are commonly known as Mahude's dogs and who belong to the Hospital of Resurrection, which is in the city of Valladolid, outside the Camo Gate". It's a satire on the human condition in a conversation not unlike the framework of some Greek dialogues. They talk about the society in which live, human traits, sex, education, race, and even witchcraft. A fun and occasionally enlightening tale.

I wish my edition had the final four stories, but as I say they weren't included. What I read though I enjoyed on the whole. It is, if I can try and sum it up, a funny collection of snapshots of ideas and social mores rather than an attempt at a realistic portrayal of 16th and 17th Century Spain and for that is most interesting. It felt more of a frame story, like the Decameron or The Canterbury Tales than simply a collection of short stories, and with the odd moralising in parts of the stories it had a Medieval feel too. I think it's a good introduction to Cervantes, possibly more so than his most famous work Don Quixote.

Comments

Popular Posts of the Month