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Forum THE GENRE OF "SENTIMENTAL ROMANCE" Responses to Regula Rohland de Langbehn, "Una lanza por el género sentimental...¿ficción o novela?" (La corónica 31.1 [Fall, 2002]: 137-41) GENRE, HISTORY, AND THE NOVELA SENTIMENTAL Marina Brownlee Princeton University Acknowledging the necessarily provisional, hypothetical nature of literary historiography in his engaging exposé entitled /5 Literary History Possible?, David Perkins identifies its three primary motivations, namely, ideology, poetics, or careerism (69). The validity of Perkins's formulation is nowhere more visible than in scholarship devoted to the novela sentimental, if I may invoke this much maligned, and now also apparently endangered, species. I have been asked by the Editor of this journal, George Greenia, to address two timely and related issues in this regard: "whether we have to salvage some working model of literary genres at all", and "whether literary genres are useful for understanding the (now so-called) sentimental romance:" What follows is a meditation on genre and on its viability for studying the novela sentimental. The current controversy surrounding this literary form is, in my opinion, predicated on an imprecise understanding of the nature and function of genre, and on the persistent terminological problem of novela which, lamentably, continues to be dangerously bandied about as if unproblematically designating both romance and novel. Evoking this terminological confusion is not a matter of quibbling over details or yielding to some current, inevitably short lived, academic fashion. Rather, it is intended to remind us of the inherent epistemological chasm that separates these two literary forms (romance and novel) and the mentalities constructed by each of them. As we know, the term novela sentimental and the concept which defined it originated in 1905 with Menéndez Pelayo's formulation of this hybrid category: a mixture of chivalric and [Italian] erotic literature, a combination ofAmadis and the Elegia di madonna Fiammetta" (1 : 304). La corónica 31.2 (Spring, 2003): 239-44 240ForumLa corónica 31.2, 2003 There is a problem inherent in this definition, given that chivalric romance is decidedly erotic—more erotic than Fiammetta's solipcistic, retrospective account of unrequited passion. An even more serious reservation to this foundational formulation stems from the fact that the Amadis and the Elegia exhibit two mutually exclusive discursive environments that reflect two totally antithetical world-views—the first belongs to the idealizing teleology of romance, the second to the unstable world of the novel. It is not simply a question of subject matter but of discursive environment, the imaginary universe constructed by a text, that is crucially important. As Hans-Robert Jauss wryly observes : "One puts a princess in a fairy tale next to a princess in a novella , and one notices the difference" (82). The value system implied by the novel is as alien to romance as the novella is to the fairy tale. It is this critical difference that must be acknowledged and explored in the context of the novela sentimental if we are to account for its inherent contradictions. As stated above, a key part of the problem involves the notorious terminological imprecision of the word novela itself, its indiscriminate usage to designate both novel and romance as if they were synonymous terms. Of course, Spanish is not alone in this proliferation of confusion; we have the examples of French and German with respect to the term roman. With a similar degree of imprecision, English enlists the term "novel" to indicate any long prose fiction. Yet the difference is decidedly qualitative in terms of discourse and the imaginary projected, it is not a question of book length. Admittedly, definitions of the novel and novelistic discourse are heterogeneous. Literary historians labor to discern a diachronic progression for this narrative form, while theorists posit enduring, ahistorical distinctive features. Nonetheless, amid this plurality of approaches and perspectives, one feature remains constant—namely, the novel's status as Other, as oppositional discourse, as the noncanonical genre por excelencia. A character's failure to conform to mythic paradigms of behavior, such as those clebrated by epic and romance, is one fundamental way of identifying the novel.1 This problematization of heroic self-fulfillment corresponds to the shift in focus from the successful physical...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-4261
Print ISSN
0193-3892
Pages
pp. 237-244
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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