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  • The Subversive Tradition in Spanish Renaissance Writing
  • Ignacio Navarrete
Antonio Pérez-Romero . The Subversive Tradition in Spanish Renaissance Writing. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 2005. 339 pp. index. bibl. $65. ISBN: 0-8387-5589-5.

Antonio Pérez-Romero's well-written, clearly-organized, and lucid new book examines a number of works written during the Spanish Renaissance from a "liberationist" perspective, that is, one that emphasizes the struggle of various oppressed groups against the social structures that marginalize them. In this it follows a long tradition of Hispanist criticism that has underscored the contienda social of the period, but by defining this social struggle in a particularly broad way that includes questions of gender and resistance to the dominant ideologies, the author is able to cast a particularly broad net and consider works not usually included in the subversive canon. It is when discussing these that the book is most original and most interesting. Thus, for example, he argues that the frequent incorporation of a formal misogynist-profeminist debate within many of the works generally classified as sentimental romances, links these to the contemporary French querelle des femmes — and, moreover, that these debates are not merely rhetorical displays but a representation of the actual resentments among women of masculine hegemony. In this context, then, the women's torture of the misogynist Torrellas at the conclusion of Juan de Flores's Grisel y Mirabella (1495) does not serve to support his earlier characterization of their duplicity, but rather represents "women's hatred for their male oppressors. . . . Using him as a symbolic target of their vengeance, they savage men's culture and treatment of women and all that is feminine" (82). Similarly, Mirabella's lack of remorse over her extramarital relationship with Grisel shows her commitment to the fight against official idealization that suppresses the expression of sexuality. This argument allows the author to move from Grisel to a satirical poem, the Carajicomedia, first published in 1519. To Pérez-Romero this poem subverts, through both language and plot, dominant idealizing ideologies as represented particularly by Juan de Mena's Trescientas, "the disdain of ordinary people for elite culture and the ridicule to which they dare subject it" (90).

This chapter is particularly good for bringing serious attention to a relatively little-known work; on the other hand, the following one, dedicated to Fernando de Rojas's Celestina (1499, 1507), consists primarily of an extensive discussion of prior criticism, and a detailed summary of the plot, elucidating elements of social conflict (involving both gender and class) that are not really difficult to discern. In the author's reading, the whores' resentment of Melibea is justified by the oppression of the lower classes, but Melibea herself is a heroine in her determination to experience sexual gratification, and her father Pleberio is admired for refusing to appeal to official ideology after her suicide, while her lover Calisto emerges as a complete villain rather than weak-willed and easily manipulated. Curiously, Pérez-Romero chooses to read the work within a frame of its author's conservative support for the status quo: "in so doing, however, he has portrayed a range of [End Page 174] subversions and an array of believable characters with ambiguous and contradictory objectives and desires" (130). From Celestina the author moves on to a series of works that he believes exemplify class rather than gender conflicts. These include Juan Maldonado's chronicle of the comunero uprising, De motu Hispaniae (ca. 1524), Alfonso de Valdés's Diálogo de Mercurio y Caronte (1529), and Lazarillo de Tormes (1554). The chapter on Maldonado is quite interesting in elucidating this little-known work, although Pérez-Romero is often forced to read beneath what he sees as a superficial adherence to the official condemnation of the rebellion, to a secret sympathy as suggested by an emphasis on the protagonism of the urban and rural poor, who refused to be coopted by the nobles and merchants who repeatedly tried to redirect the uprising to their own advantage. Valdés is read as the most radical statement of an Erasmian-derived social theory, while Lazarillo is examined for its biting satire of...


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pp. 174-175
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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Archived 2009
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