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  • Allegory and the Spaces of Love
  • Oscar Martín (bio)

Writing about Spanish sentimental fiction from 1450 to 1550 is not an easy task, as we are discussing a genre with a difficult theoretical configuration. The investigation of sentimental fiction, however, has been sorting out the classifications that applied to a hodgepodge of works previously labeled as “sentimental novel” (“novela sentimental”). This label, once attached uncritically to a bunch of heterogeneous texts that shared such intangibles as “loving focus” or “prevalence of psychological description over narratives,” has been applied more consistently nowaday, thanks in part to the scholarly efforts started in the 1980s like those of Martínez Jiménez and Muñoz Marquina (1982), and Martínez Latre (1989).1 Using some of these research efforts, Alan Deyermond has codified the genre accurately:

Brevity; focus on psychological interest over external action; a tragic vision of love; autobiography (first-person narration or a narrator as a character) and the insertion of letters or poems (or, often, both) into the narration.


Within this scholarly categorization, Regula Rohland de Langbehn has been pivotal in offering—first in 1986, and more recently in 1999—a threefold scheme in the development of the genre she labels as “sentimental novel”: a first group chronologically of the genre would be represented by Siervo libre de amor and Sátira de felice e infelice vida, both works marked by the influence of cancionero poetry—specially in the allegorical structuring and in the characterization of love, and by other subjects being limited to an abstract and general analysis of emotions. Both works also present a debate over the moral value of love. A second group would gravitate around Triste deleytacion and the works of Diego de San Pedro and Juan de Flores, works that show a wider range of topics and the impact of a broader generic textuality like cancionero poetry and such chivalric novels as Tirant. Finally, she distinguishes a third group whose main characteristic is the imprint of Celestina’s influence on both the narrative surface and its thematic approach. In the same vein, Vicenta Blay Manzanera has taken up this threefold scheme, dividing the genre into “the creation of the paradigm” (“la creación del paradigma”) the climactic stage, and the downfall and disarticulation of the narrative sentimental system” (“la fase climática” and “el tercero la fase de declive o desintegración del paradigma”) [“La conciencia genérica” 221]. [End Page 132]

Just as Rohland de Langbehn’s works had at least settled down the arguments about the existence of a sentimental novelistic genre, however, medieval Hispanic scholarship has been shaken by an entrenched debate over not only the identification of this genre (novel or fiction) but whether the genre even existed at all. It was Antonio Cortijo Ocaña who, while editing a critical cluster in La Corónica on sentimental fiction, opened the door to some scholars such as Weissberger who voiced their skepticism over the generic nature of sentimental prose, a skepticism already present in an innovative volume published by Gwara and Gerli in 1997. This skeptical position was also supported by Cortijo Ocaña himself, who in 2001 published a monumental work in which, although using the generic term as a departure point, he ended up suggesting the difficulty of defining it, therefore jettisoning it. This position in turn was contested by Rohland de Langbehn, who in 2002 defended the validity of both the existence of a genre and its name novela sentimental, a position that has sparked a new round of replies in a La Corónica forum in 2003.

In this debate, I would join today’s minority position on the existence of a sentimental genre, because, as I explained in my 2001 review of Rohland de Langbehn’s book and as I find convincingly argued in her 2002 contribution, there are internal traits within sentimental fictional texts that do not appear together in other sentimental generic texts [139]. In addition, once we take into account the obvious intertextuality of those sentimental texts, as Blay Manzanera has shown [“La conciencia genérica”], and the overutilization of central motifs in the configuration of love’s debate, we...