1001 Reads

Regularly updated blog charting the most important novels of the last 2000 and something years

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

10. Anonymous - Lazarillo de Tormes ( The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes and of His Fortunes and Adversities) (1554)


We now move to some more interesting writing, Lazarillo is one of the first picaresque novels, and it is a pretty funny and amazing one. Lazarillo is basically a Huck Finn kind of character, who moves through several masters and on the way you get a witty criticism of the society of the time through the eyes of a child.

The book is genuinely funny, and is incredibly influential or just prescient, as I said above you have Huck Finn, and you have Tom Jones and the never-ending roster of young witty children criticising the society around them.

The last thing Lazarillo is is another of those gallant knights to chivalry romances, he is the ultimate anti-hero, and for that he is all the more human, it is this humanity that endears him to the reader and makes his feel much more multi-dimensional than heroes in previous books here.

Final Grade



From Wikipedia:

In contrast to the fancifully poetic language devoted to fantastic and supernatural events about unbelievable creatures and chivalric knights, the realistic prose of Lazarillo described suppliants purchasing indulgences from the Church, servants forced to die with masters on the battlefield (as Lazarillo's father did), thousands of refugees wandering from town to town, poor beggars flogged out by whips because of the lack of food. The anonymous author included many popular sayings and ironically interpreted popular stories.

The Prologue with Lazaro's extensive protest against injustice is addressed to a high-level cleric, and four of his seven masters in the novel served the church. Lazarillo attacked the appearance of the church and its hypocrisy, though not its essential beliefs, a balance not often present in picaresque novels that followed.

The work is a masterpiece for its internal artistic unity. For example, as Lázaro's masters rise up the social scale (from beggar to priest to nobleman) so their ability to feed him diminishes; Lázaro leaves his first master, is thrown out by the second and is abandoned by the third.

The work is riotously funny, often relying upon slapstick humour (such as the young Lázaro leading his blind master to jump against a stone column, in revenge for his master banging his young servant's head against a stone statue); some of its funniest episodes are apparently based upon traditional material. But there is a deeper, more unsettling humour and irony here. Nothing is what it seems in this book: the blind beggar's public prayers are a sham and the nobleman's nobility is pure facade; and at the end of the book, Lázaro professes to have reached the pinnacle of success, but is little more than a cuckold living off the immoral earnings of his wife.

Besides creating a new genre, Lazarillo de Tormes was critically innovative in world literature in several aspects:

1. Long before the Emile (Jean-Jacques Rousseau) or Oliver Twist (Charles Dickens) or Huckleberry Finn the anonymous author of Lazarillo treated a boy as a boy, not a small adult.

2. Long before Moll Flanders (Daniel Defoe), Lazarillo describes the domestic and working life of a poor woman, wife, mother, climaxing in the flogging of Lazarillo's mother through the streets of the town after her black husband Zayde is hanged as a thief.

3. Long before modern treatment of "persons of color", this author treats sympathetically the pleasures and pains of an interracial family in his descriptions of life with his black stepfather and negrito half-brother, though their characterization is based on stereotypes

A little video resuming the story of Lazarillo... does anyone know if this is a trailer for an actual film? :


  • At 7:55 AM, Blogger Eleni said…

    Hello Francisco,

    yes this is a trailer of the latest film based on the novel La vida de Lazarillo de Tormes. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0244624/

    The movie is pretty good, the main role (Lázaro) is played by a real good theatrical actor, called "el Brujo". You can get the movie on dvd.

    See you



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