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GENERIC INSTABILITY AND THE "SENTIMENTAL ROMANCES" Emily C. Francomano Georgetown University The recent debate over the generic unity of the group of works commonly referred to as the 'sentimental romances' by scholars working in English and as the 'novelas' or 'ficciones sentimentales' by those working in Spanish, raises questions about medieval genres themselves in addition to the individual and shared characteristics of this group ofworks, which has acquired a defacto generic status through modern scholarly perspectives and practice. Following Menéndez y Pelayo's Orígenes de la novela and Keith Whinnom's later Critical Biography, many hispanomedievalists accept the group as a relatively cohesive genre. Recently, Regula Rohland de Langbehn has reasserted their definite and definable generic unity. On the other hand, in his preface to the essay collection, Studies on the Spanish Sentimental Romance, Joseph Gwara remarks that the collaborators' contributions prove that 'a unified sentimental genre is a chimera' (vii). In a similar vein, Antonio Cortijo Ocaña's introduction to La coronicéis critical cluster on the sentimental romance asks whether la ficción sentimental is an impossible genre, while also calling for the continued study of the group's expanding and experimental limits and boundaries. What these varied approaches all have in common is their use of the traditional generic grouping as a starting point for investigation. Some recent analyses of genre that respond to the hypotheses offered by formalism and reception theory consider genre a useful and even necessary concept for literary study, while also suggesting that genres are always unstable and permeable. For example, Simon Gaunt argues that while ? sense of genre ' is essential both to literary creation and the reception of literary texts', '[g]enres are neither stable nor discrete constructs' (9). In his essay 'The Law of Genre', Jacques Li corónica 31.2 (Spring, 2003): 274-77 The Genre of the "Sentimental Romance": Responses275 Derrida describes the very formation of generic frontiers as dissolution , using the provocative term 'invagination' to describe how a border , once identified, can only fold into and out of itself, erasing its own limits. The absence ofclearly defined generic boundaries and the 'promiscuity ' of works that do not follow received standards of generic decorum, as R. Howard Bloch observes in a discussion of Arthurian Fabliau, can cause discomfort for literary historians (94). Although it is tempting to use terms such as 'invagination' and 'promiscuous' to describe a group oftexts that specialize in embedded narratives, intercalated letters and lyrics, and that at the same time are so deeply preoccupied with amorous and sexual relations, these recent observations not only suggest the slippery nature of generic boundaries but also, in my opinion, alert us to the charged nature of the metaphors we use to discuss literary genres. Genres may be as bounded or boundless as we choose to see them, but in order to share our ideas about the generation, forms, and meanings of the works that critics have called 'sentimental romances' and 'novelas sentimentales', we need working definitions from which to begin analyses of a single work, several interrelated novelas, or literary conventions, sources, and influences. Using working definitions that are mutually intelligible does not have to mean that we are unaware of their problematic natures and ideological and or methodological contexts. In the abundance of terms and definitions of generic boundaries, one word stands out as a rarely questioned working definition in both Spanish and English: 'sentimental'. Barbara Weissberger suggestively argues that this term is as problematic as 'romance' or novela because it is rooted in patriarchal philological practice. As she points out, most romance is 'sentimental', and the 'sentimental romances' do not follow the division between 'battlefield and boudoir' mandated by the traditional taxonomy of romance (214). I would add that, rather than limit themselves thematically to affairs of the heart, governed by feeling rather than reason, the group tends to explore the very confrontation between feeling and reason. 'Sentimental' seems at once too broad to describe the amorous and erotic relationships between the protagonists of the group and too narrow to convey their complex contents, for the group is much more than sentimental, as the many studies on the protean and innovative qualities of...


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pp. 274-277
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