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  • Manuscript Diversity, Meaning and Variance in Juan Manuel's El Conde Lucanor
  • E. Michael Gerli
Laurence de Looze . Manuscript Diversity, Meaning and Variance in Juan Manuel's El Conde Lucanor. University of Toronto Press 2006. 358. $75.00

Laurence de Looze is the author of important articles on Prince Juan Manuel's El libro del Conde Lucanor y Patronio, a mid-fourteenth-century didactic prose masterpiece written in Castilian. Building on his earlier [End Page 229] scholarship on the Conde Lucanor, de Looze applies his broad knowledge of cultural and textual theory, as well as his expertise as a comparatist, in this noteworthy new study of the entire five-book version of don Juan Manuel's work.

The short prose narratives that form Book I of Conde Lucanor have traditionally served as a cornerstone of the Castilian medieval literary canon, and have traditionally received great amounts of critical attention. To be sure, read from high school forward in the Hispanic world, many of the tales comprising Book I are broadly, famously, and popularly evoked down to the present day. The remaining four parts of the work, however, have been neglected by lay readers and scholars alike, who have at times even disparaged Books II–IV and the concluding treatise that forms Book V. Divided into thirteen chapters, de Looze's study of the complete Conde Lucanor rectifies this bias and provides a comprehensive critical and philological analysis of all five books that comprise the work, plus a detailed examination of the different textual incarnations (manuscripts, manuscript fragments, early modern editions, and later academic editorial renderings) in which don Juan Manuel's work is transcribed an re-presented, to offer a tour de force of contemporary scholarship.

Throughout his book de Looze weaves together literary and manuscript studies of the Conde Lucanor and subtly suggests that variance in the manuscript witnesses may in fact be the product of the nature of don Juan Manuel's work itself, which invites perpetual rereadings and adaptations to ever new contexts. Citing the Conde Lucanor's recent evocation on a soccer field in Europe, recorded in the sports pages of a popular Spanish daily, de Looze believes that modern readers have come to discover a meta-rhetorical lesson in don Juan Manuel's tales, and enlist them as they will, even to justify social behaviour. This observation brings the question of reception and meaning to the centre of de Looze's argument.

In particular, de Looze's book constitutes a crucial investigation of how each of the five surviving manuscript witnesses of the Conde Lucanor creates meaning differently through their variances and represents one of the most sensitive literary analyses of the five parts of the entire work to date. Don Juan Manuel's work in each of its parts, he contends, leads the reader through a series of meditations on the nature of texts, of language, and of the universe itself as a signifying system of divine creation and understanding.

Much of the literary analysis carried out in Manuscript Diversity leads to the conclusion that the meaning of the Conde Lucanor is the very process of discovering meaning itself, rather than any single, stable, didactic, authorial message. While de Looze insists that we can never know how any single medieval reader might have understood [End Page 230] don Juan Manuel's work, he demonstrates that the manuscript diversity of the Conde Lucanor is so rich that it is likely impossible to cover all the variants among them, and there are indeed many more examples of variance that can shed light on how and what the work means and meant as its reading performances and rewritings (especially in the form of editions) continue to generate new meaning.

Through its eclecticism, de Looze's study marks a critical and methodological watershed not only in don Juan Manuel studies but in philology and reception studies in general, in both theory and practice. By carefully scrutinizing El Conde Lucanor as it is uniquely realized in each of its surviving manuscripts and its sole early modern printed witness (from 1575), as well as how each of these has been received, accommodated, and used by modern textual critics...


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