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  • Humanistic Audiences:Novela Sentimental and Libros de Caballerías in Cinquecento Italy
  • Lucia Binotti

As a result of changing social attitudes and the role of the printing press in making books available to a broader audience in the sixteenth century, Spanish vernacular works began to be accepted in the literary canon in Italy as well as in their country of origin. Current debates on the theoretical and practical modes of including these writings in the body of significant works worthy of study make little or no mention of the importance that the physical format of the edition, and the presence of prefatory and explanatory materials, had in determining the fortune of such canonization.1 Nevertheless, since the seminal work of scholars like Amedeo Quondam, Daniel Javitch, and Brian Richardson has shown us how crucial the presentation of an edition was in sanctioning it as a classic in Cinquecento Italy, one cannot avoid wondering what effects printing conventions had on the consolidation of a discourse of literary authority in Renaissance Spain. If the linguistic and stylistic reflection on content, form, and rhetorical structure that a work in Castilian [End Page 67] must possess to be accepted as a model acquired its physiognomy during the century via the imitation of Italian classics, we can assume that the editorial format with which those models were marketed by Italian printers and read by the Italian public must have in itself created a similarly influential template in Spain. It forms a canonical package, so to speak, important, if not necessary, to guarantee the elevation of a literary work to the loftiness of Parnassus. Francisco de Herrera's heavily annotated edition of Garcilaso de la Vega, undoubtedly the most intentionally canonizing edition in the history of Spanish literature before Góngora, reproduces faithfully the thick volumes of annotations and commentaries that accompanied the classical editions of Francesco Petrarch and Ludovico Ariosto.

However, the drastically different market conditions that sustained the printing press in Spain presupposed that processes of historical canonization occurred through the exploitation of different strategies, absent from the Italian situation yet still very dependent on market demand. Whereas in Cinquecento Italy the chosen literary models were presented to the public in editorial packages that emphasized such canonical status yet invited their fruition by a widening popular audience as the century proceeded, in Spain the absence of collusion between learned channels of discussion and the printing market seems to have created a dichotomous situation in which the works most resonantly hailed as treasures of the Spanish rhetorical and literary vernacular rarely coincided with those literary works most widely sold and read; rather those works, in spite of their broad printed dissemination or perhaps because of it, were criticized and rejected as models by the scholastic, neoclassical and nationalist establishment. George Greenia shows, in regard to the processes of canonization of Fernando de Rojas's Tragicomedia de Calisto y Melibea, that although we know that these texts constituted an operative presence that nurtured the ideario of a majority of the contemporary critical literature from Valdés to Saint Teresa and Miguel Cervantes,2 their popular presence was not enough to grant them the status [End Page 68] of sanctioned imitable model within the prescriptive boundaries of the establishment, nor were they ever the material for a concerted editorial program. The cases of the novelas sentimentales and libros de caballerías are telling in diverging yet complementary ways. Both genres were often reprinted in Spain during the first half of the sixteenth century, while also enjoying wide editorial success abroad.3 They boosted a booming market of best-selling titles, but they were treated solely as commercial products to be sold at a profit. As such they were printed with low-grade paper and ink, flaws in typography and pagination, and a complete disregard for the need of an editorial apparatus to complement the text. While we know that chivalric romances were read voraciously in Spain as much as abroad, we have little information about the Spanish readership of sentimental fiction, whose presence is scant in the inventories of sixteenth century Spanish noble libraries. In both cases -sentimental and chivalric fiction- however, they were consistently excluded from...


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