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  • The Good, the Bad, and the Sentimental Savage:Native Americans in Representative Novels from the Spanish Enlightenment
  • Mark R. Malin (bio)

Alluding to the critical interest in the theme of the Noble Savage, Ter Ellingson includes the following epigraph in The Myth of the Noble Savage: "Advice from a World Wide Web search engine, after finding more than 1,000 references to the 'Noble Savage': Refine your search."1 Apparently, the topic has not lost its allure despite Hayden White's contention that "the theme of the Noble Savage may be one of the few historical topics about which there is nothing new to say."2 While White maintained that there was little scholarly disagreement on the subject, the literary representation of natives continues to draw critical attention as the wide body of literature attests. Little, however, has been written about the depictions of natives in Spanish enlightenment prose fiction, either translations or original novels.3 Colonial accounts of actual encounters with New World inhabitants are major constituents of the canon, yet literary accounts from Spanish writers from the Enlightenment are less well known.

Early Spanish explorers documented their encounters with natives in the literature of the Colonial era, some of which were more anthropologically accurate than others. Despite this colonial tradition, criticism of eighteenth-century texts in Spain in which the representation of natives was a major theme has not enjoyed the currency that it has in France and other nations. In his informative and compelling historical study of the relationship between [End Page 145] Spaniards and natives, David Weber, cites a personal communication with Joaquín Alvarez Barrientos, who assures Weber that the good Indian as literary protagonist in Spain "no tuvo tanto eco ni utilidad como en otras culturas."4 Weber goes on to explain this in part by stating that "Catholic Spain had rejected the deism that allowed some European intellectuals to believe in the natural virtue of pagans."5 While this is a very plausible explanation for a dearth of novels that reject Catholicism, it does not account for the conspicuous absence of the theme of the so-called Noble Savage in Hispanist criticism.

The fact that the theme of the Noble Savage has not enjoyed greater currency does not necessarily mean that it does not bear further consideration. It may just mean that the search for texts may require patience and perseverance. At one point, it was thought that Spain's Enlightenment literati had ignored the epistolary novel, but Ana Rueda's Cartas sin lacrar and other studies clearly prove otherwise. In fact, studies such as Alvarez Barrientos' La novela del siglo XVIII (and Reginald Brown's work before that) have disproved conclusively the all too common assertion writers in eighteenth-century Spain did not cultivate the novel.6 It is true that the representation of natives was not as common a theme in Spanish literature as it was in French texts. However, natives do appear in some late eighteenth-century prose fiction in Spain, and this essay will explore three such works.7 One is a translation of a novel whose major theme is the portrayal of natives; the second is another translation in which the portrayal of natives is but a subplot or episode of the novel; and the third is an original Spanish novel.

The question of the legitimacy of emphasizing translations is a valid one. While I do not agree with Juan Ignacio Ferreras that eighteenth-century Spanish literature is "poor," it is certain that the translation of novels was a significant activity during the time.8 Both Alvarez Barrientos and Joaquín Marco write that the moral didacticism of a novel, translated or original, and its influence on Spain's youth were considered more important than whether a work was original or not, so there was little distinction between translating and writing something new.9 However, in many cases, as Alvarez Barrientos notes, the translations could actually be considered original works in that the translators had to make omissions, adaptations, and changes when they rendered the foreign texts into Spanish to make them suitable for Spanish political or moral aesthetics.10 Because novels were popular in England and France...


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