The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes and of His Fortunes and Adversities.

1906 edition of Lazarillo de Tormes.
The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes and of His Fortunes and Adversities (La vida de Lazarillo de Tormes y de sus fortunas y adversidades) is a Spanish novella first published anonymously in 1554 during the Spanish Golden Age of arts and literature. It's a novella that is regarded as the first of the great picaresque novel tradition.

The first chapter begins,
Well, first of all Your Grace should know that my name is Lázaro de Tormes, son of Tomé Gonzáles and Antona Pérez, who lived in Tejares, a village near Salamanca. I was actually born on the River Tormes and that's why I took that surname and this is how it all happened. My father, God rest his soul, was in charge of a water mill on the bank of the river. He'd been there for fifteen years. My mother was there one night during her pregnancy, and her time came and she had me there, so I can say in fact I was born on the river. Now when I was about eight years old they caught my father bleeding the sacks belonging to the people who came to have their crops milled there. So they arrested him, and he confessed, denied nothing and was punished by law. I hope to God he's in Heaven, because the Gospel says that people like him are blessed. About this time there was an expedition against the Moors and my father went with it. He was living away from home as part of his sentence, as a mule driver for a gentleman who went on the expedition, and he ended his life with his master like a loyal servant.
Lazarillo's mother, then, is left alone so she begins a new life with Lazarillo and, soon, a new stepfather, Zaide. Zaide, however, is soon accused of theft along with his mother, and part of their punishment is that they are to be kept apart. And so Lazarillo must find his own way in life, beginning with an apprenticeship to a blind man who turns out to be very cruel. From here Lazarillo goes from place to place working for a squire and variety of clergymen: a priest, a friar, a pardoner, a chaplain, and an archpriest, as well as a police constable.

This work reminds me so much of Henry Fielding, Daniel Defoe and Geoffrey Chaucer. Lazarillo is impoverished and is a petty criminal, and we follow his adventures in his youth as we do in, say, Tom Jones or Moll Flanders, and some of these adventures have a strong flavour of that of Dickens in the poverty and degradation of the poor. The anti-clerical message in the book, which is why it was written anonymously and why it appeared on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, is very much similar to what we see in Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. From this we learn about mid-16th Century Spain, particularly attitudes to the clergy and what it is to be part of the underclass. It's a fun work, yet very pessimistic with the idea that Lazarillo has been brought up by thieves and so is one. Nevertheless it is a great experience to read one of the original and best picaresque novels.

Comments

  1. i have a copy of this and have looked for it, but it's hiding... i think i read it a long timed ago; maybe i have it mixed up with Gil Blas or Cervantes-one of his short ones...

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    Replies
    1. Still not read any Gil Blas... I'm looking forward to reading The Swindler next, which is also in the same edition as Lazarillo de Tormes (Two Spanish Picaresque Novels published by Penguin). So happy I bought it, I nearly didn't :)

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