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This study of the origins and rise of the Filipino novel, for which the author was awarded a Ph.D. by the University of the Philippines in 1979, clearly demonstrates the social, economic, and political forces that first produced and then continued to shape the genre up to 1940. Yet the study is more than just a chronological history of the moulding of the genre by a specific cultural setting, for it also analyzes and evaluates the internal developments of not just the genre itself but also the indigenous traditions to which it belongs. The Filipino novel, which appeared late in the nineteenth century, developed from a dynamic pre-colonial tradition of folk narratives (epics, ballads) as these interacted with and were modified by the cultural forms (corridos) introduced by the Spanish colonizers. The study traces, within the social context, the formal mutations undergone by the narrative of the epic through the following literary forms, each of which developed from its predecessor: the corrido, the religious conduct book, the vernacular novel, and the novel in English. The approach is eminently successful in answering the one broad question to which the study addresses itself: "What forces in literary tradition (and this necessarily includes the facts of social history) determined or occasioned the shifts that led to the rise of the novel and constituted its formation up to 1940?" The exposition of the social circumstances to which the analysis of the "internal shifts" is related serves to explain the specific characteristics of the Filipino novel: its tendency to be didactic, socialistic, and nationalistic and to develop an idealized rather than an empirical portrayal of life. The study also discusses the rise and generally deleterious impact of popular literature on the art of the Filipino novel early in the twentieth century.
The scope of this study, based on "170 primary texts, most of them novels," is wide. Although it concentrates on novels in four of the many languages of the Philippines—Spanish, English, Tagalog, Cebuano—the few works in Iloko and Hiligayon that are considered help to invest it with a wider national outlook. Further, the discussion of the form and geneology of the novel draws upon not only diverse literary forms such as epics, religious conduct books, romances, lives, novelettes, and works in popular periodicals but also the latest studies [End Page 475] of such allied fields as historiography, and political and social thought. As impressive as its breadth are, its detailed analysis and assessment of works epitomizing the different stages in the evolution of the genre. The result is a finely argued, meticulously documented work, the first to present a diachronic as well as a synchronic estimation of the Filipino novels. One therefore has to reject the author's modest declaration that it "is not the history of the Filipino novel, it is a contribution to the writing of that history," to assert that it is the definitive work in the field.