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Guzmán de Alfarache y la novela moderna (review)

From: Hispanófila
Volume 166, Septiembre 2012
pp. 147-149 | 10.1353/hsf.2012.0032

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Guzmán de Alfarache y la novela moderna contains some of Michel Cavillac’s essays – revised and updated – previously published between 1990 and 2007, but yet there is an overall coherence and thematic consistency to the work. The book is divided into five parts, with three chapters in each part, and there is considerable thematic coherence to each section. The parts bear the following titles:

  1. I.    Mateo Alemán: ámbito cultural y señas de identidad.

  2. II.    Humanismo y reforma social: la hora del mercader.

  3. III.    Ética, religión y política: el sello de tácito.

  4. IV.    Cuestiones de poética: las verdades del lector.

  5. V.    Sobre la recepción del Guzmán de Alfarache.

    Michel Cavillac presents the reader with some superb readings of a variety of subjects having to do with Guzmán de Alfarache. He is an outstanding and meticulous scholar, and he makes clear throughout his admiration for Alemán’s novel, which he considers “una obra maestra sólo comparable al Quijote” (22). It is in this sense, only, that there is some justification to the reference to the modern novel in the title. Several of the individual chapters are particularly outstanding, but rather than go through the book chapter by chapter, I will merely comment briefly on each part and a few overall themes.

    Part I is in many ways key to Cavillac’s overall purpose: to discuss Guzmán through the lens of the concept of Atalaya, the discursive watchtower from which social, political, and moral commentary is made. Stress is placed – and properly so – on the Counter Reformation thought that infuses the work. By the same token, Guzmán is not merely a work of religious apology, but a serious attempt to bring about political and educational reforms. The author consistently brings Alemán’s San Antonio de Padua (1604), a more explicitly didactic work, into his discussion of Guzmán in order to illuminate the nature of Alemán’s agenda, and he insists that the two works must be read in conjunction, as they mutually illuminate each other. One of his main points is the crucial role of the embedded novela Ozmín y Daraja as an important illustration of the themes of repentance and reformation that are so important to the work as a whole and as an anticipation of the narrator’s own exemplary repentance at the end of the novel.

    Part II deals with mercantilism, begging, and social reform. Cavillac proposes that Alemán’s stance with regard to the elimination of the practice of false beggars is a heartfelt attempt at important social reform. He also places emphasis on the fact that Guzmán is the first long novel set in an urban atmosphere where money is more important than ever before. It is in this part that Cavillac begins his long argument that the crucial scene of Guzmán’s repentance (not conversion, as it is often called by other critics) at the end of the novel is the honest act of a frustrated bourgeois.

    It is in Part III that Cavillac makes his strongest case that the protagonist’s repentance and confession in the final chapter is a rational, pragmatic, and honorable act, and not a matter of hypocrisy, as critics such as Arias, Bran-caforte, Maravall, and Márquez Villanueva, among many others, have argued. In this, Cavillac aligns himself firmly with those like Moreno Báez, Parker, Michaud, Guerreiro, and others who, in varying interesting ways, all agree on the legitimacy of the narrator’s final act. Guzmán’s denunciation of the planned mutiny aboard the galley where he and others are serving as convicted criminals thus becomes a patriotic act as well as a spiritual or ethical one. Cavillac also calls attention to the importance of the example of the figure of San Juan Bautista, a key figure in Alemán’s writings, and especially as is seen in the woodcut that adorns Part I of Guzmán.

    Part IV is, I believe, the heart of the book, the section that deals with the most interesting and important issues. These issues include the nature and significance of the double...



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