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  • Writers on the Market: Consuming Literature in Early Seventeenth-Century Spain
  • Lori A. Bernard
Donald Gilbert-Santamaría . Writers on the Market: Consuming Literature in Early Seventeenth-Century Spain. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 2005. 262 pp. index. bibl. $47.50. ISBN: 0–8387–5588–7.

Writers on the Market: Consuming Literature in Early Seventeenth-Century Spain explores the influence that the emerging phenomenon of cultural consumerism had on the works of three canonical writers of the Spanish Golden Age: Lope de Vega, Mateo Alemán, and Cervantes. In the introductory chapter, "Economics, Literature, and the Choler of a Seated Spaniard," Gilbert-Santamaría quickly establishes the focus of his study: cultural consumerism and its effect on both aesthetic values and on the rise of the novel and public theater in Spain. The book is divided into three parts, each with three subcategories, complemented by an introduction, notes, bibliography, and index.

Part 1, "Playing to the Masses: Lope de Vega and the Comedia," studies three of Lope's works from the perspectives of economics, marketing, and audience influence. Using the Arte nuevo as his guide, Gilbert-Santamaría demonstrates how the role of economics, vis-à-vis the paying consumer, produced a "transfiguration of inherited ideas about literary composition" (24). Whereas poetic authority once triumphed over taste, the new consumer market compromised the essential values of Renaissance humanism. Subsequently, since the spectator and his money contributed to the popularity of one's works, in order to cultivate mass interest it was necessary for the author to appeal to all levels of Spanish society. But how to accomplish such a feat? Through the process of social integration. According to Gilbert-Santamaría, "only by subordinating class difference to the claims of meritorious actions is Lope able to transcend the class distinctions inhabiting his socially diverse audience. Regardless of their own class affiliations, all members of the audience can participate" (54).

While part 1 studies Lope's preoccupation with artistic freedom and social integration, part 2, "Markets, Morality, and Violence in the Picaresque Novel: Mateo Alemán's Guzmán de Alfarache," explores the latter's moral, didactic approach. Lope, while at times resentful of having to cater to this new market, perhaps because of his "nostalgic attachment to the prestigious perceptive tradition of Aristotle (El arte nuevo de hacer comedias) and the philosophical values of Renaissance Neoplatonism (Fuenteovejuna)," often turned to myths and the idea of merit to encourage social integration and identification with the protagonist (149). On the other hand, Alemán, who attempted "to script the reception of his text in a way that would preempt any independent claim to interpretive mastery by the reader that might interfere with his explicit moralizing purpose" (149), must turn to the abstract idea of freedom to overcome the audience's lack of desire to identify with Guzmanillo.

An important distinction between the authors studied in parts 1 and 2 and Cervantes is highlighted in part 3, "Selling the Subject: Cervantes and the Quijote." Whereas Lope and Alemán seem to be at odds with the new system, Cervantes's novel "displays an unprecedented willingness to cater to its consumer audience" [End Page 171] (151). Don Quijote de la Mancha was heavily influenced by cultural consumerism, as demonstrated by the numerous examples quoted throughout part 3. Two unique ideas presented in part 3 are Don Quijote's over-identification with the literary characters of the libros de caballería and the novel's preoccupation with economic compensation. Examples of this preoccupation were: the innkeeper's advice to Don Quijote that he carry money with him, Don Quijote trying to pay Sancho to disenchant Dulcinea, and Don Quijote's offer to reimburse Maese Pedro after destroying his puppet show.

Gilbert-Santamaría clearly achieves his dual purpose of publishing a new study of early modern Spain and its literature while contributing at "least one new historical perspective on the raging polemic over cultural consumerism in our own time" (13). The book is clearly written, with concrete examples supported by a wide variety of sources that range from antiquity to the present day. Especially interesting are parts 1 and 3. Part 2, although well supported...


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pp. 171-172
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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Archived 2009
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