Regularly updated blog charting the most important novels of the last 2000 and something years
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
8. Fernando de Rojas - The Celestina (La Celestina) (1499)
This is an interesting book, firstly it is a pretty short one, which is always nice in these early ages, it can become incredibly dull (look for the upcoming review of Amadis de Gaula). That is not, however what makes this an interesting book.
Firstly, it is written in the format of a play, but it does not seem to have been intended for performance, but for reading aloud. This is an interesting remnant of orality, but that said it is also the most modern book up to now. The themes, characters and situations are not those of even the racy Tirant Lo Blanc.
The Celestina is not a cavalry romance, it isn't set in some distant past and the characters are better rounded than any book before it. It it the birth of the golden age of Spanish renaissance writing, which would culminate with Quixote. It is not perfect, the plot is overly complicated and almost farcical in a bad way, the tragic ending(s) feel tacked on, and the best character (Celestina) is secondary, but there is enough here to make this work a landmark. Read it, it takes only an hour or so. Final Grade
Fernando de Rojas liked to create characters in pairs, to help build character development through relationships between complimentary or opposing characters. In the play in general there are two opposite groups of characters, the servants and the nobles, and within each group are characters divided into pairs: Pármeno and Sempronio, Tristán and Sosia, Elicia and Areusa, in the group of servants, and Calisto and Melibea, Pleberio and Alisa, in the group of nobles. Only Celestina and Lucrecia do not have a corresponding character, but this is because they perform opposite roles in the plot: Celestina is the element that catalizes the tragedy, and represents a life lived with wild abandon, while Lucrecia, Melibea’s personal servant, represents the other extreme, total oppression. In this sense, the character of the rascal Centurino added in the second version is an addition with little function, although he has something to do with the disorder that calls the attention of Calisto and causes his death.
Thank the internets... the ending of Celestina in Playmobil... in the original language:
Sorry for all of this delay, I have read plenty of the books on the list since I last updated, but I have been frustrated waiting for my wife to read them and from now on, seeing as she isn't an obsessed freak she will only read those books that she feels like, making this mainly my blog, she'll chime in if she wants to.
Now let's move on to Tirant Lo Blanc, this was actually a very entertaining read, albeit a quite inconsistent one. The book is divided into several episodes, and you only really start getting into the meat of it about 200 pages into the thing. And then there is much to like there.
The last 15th century romance you read probably did not have much girl-on-girl action to it. Well that can all be remedied by a reading of Tirant, it is hard to imagine how this book could have been published all that time ago, we all seem to have this "evolutionary" concept of history that would tell us that times are more permissive now than in the past. Well, that is bollocks, this book would be seen as "depraved" in the 19th century, hell it would shock sensibilities today.
I have finished reading it quite a while ago, but what sticks in your memory are not the par for the course cavalry exploits but the extremely interesting sexual contents of the whole thing. Lesbianism, threesomes and so forth are all things practised by the heroes and heroins of the story, you actually get the sense that this wasn't really frowned upon, it is never presented as morally reprehensible, if anything it is seen as a bit mischievous. All in all a pretty fun book that will show you that those 15th century people were really not that innocent, and had a lot more fun that us historical revisionists give them credit for.
It is considered a major influence for Miguel de Cervantes' book, Don Quixote de la Mancha, which was written in 1605 (Part I) and 1615 (Part II); comparisons between the two show many similarities. The similarities in both works can also be appreciated in their critical and skeptical view of the unlikely and exaggerated and fantastic chivalric novels in use at the time. At the time Don Quixote was written, there was only one Spanish translation of the Tirant (Valladolid, 1511) published anonymously, and Cervantes was probably not aware the original was written in Valencian.
In the following passage from Don Quixote, the famous "scrutiny of the library" the priest and the barber throw Don Alonso Quijada's (Don Quixote) books onto the bonfire:
"God help me!" said the priest in a loud voice, "That we have here the 'Tirant lo Blanch' ! Hand it over to me, my friend, for I am telling you that I found on it a treasure of enjoyment and a gold mine of recreation. Here it is Don Kyrieleison of Montalvan, valiant knight, and his brother Thomas of Montalvan, and the knight Fonseca, and the battle the brave Tirante fought with the mastiff, and the witt of damsel Placerdemivida (Pleasureofmylife - ed. note), and the loves and lies of the widow Reposada (Rested -ed note), and lady Emperatriz (Empress - ed note) in love with the squire Hipolito--in all truth, my friend, by right of its style this is the best book in the world: here Knights eat, sleep, and they die even doing a will, things that all the rest of books of this genre lack. Having said all this, I am telling you that he deserved to have this book written because he did not do as many silly things as to deserve to be thrown to the galleys for the rest of his life. Take the book home and read it, and then you will realize that all I told you about it is true."
Trailer for a film made in Spain in 2006, not safe for work: