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Coloquio Cervantes
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Some Critical Remarks Regarding the «Curioso impertinente»

          The great edition of Francisco Rico contains two large commentaries on the «Curioso impertinente»1. Nevertheless it might be advisable to give the items some thought.  Cervantes has developed a special way to tackle the problems. He reports.

          By reading romances of chivalry day and night, Don Quixote went mad.  Period.  The books in his library, condemned by the parson--who graduated from Sigüenza--are burned.  Period.

          In the few short dialogues between the parson and Maese Nicolás, the barber, there appears, however, a rudimentary way to comment on what happens or has happened2.  After the brawl with Cardenio, Don Quixote and Sancho discuss the affair of queen Madásima.  A brilliant example for similar ironic commentaries is given when the parson, in the dispute on the books of chivalry, asks the women what they think of the matter. The wife of the innkeeper, the Asturian servant Maritornes, and the innkeeper's attractive daughter answer freely, and reveal by their answers a variety of ironically tainted viewpoints, apt to elucidate the controversial matter.  Cervantes himself does not come to the fore.  As usual, he leaves it to the personages of his novel to utter what he means, approves or detests.

          The way Cervantes stages the «Novela del curioso impertinente» is completely different.  When the innkeeper shows him the manuscript, the parson has a look at it.  Also, Cardenio likes the way the story begins, and he begs the parson to read it aloud to the assembled company. At the end of the tragical novella, the parson utters a fundamental dislike but there is no discussion at all, thanks to the ingenious staging of Cervantes.  New guests are arriving.  While the innkeeper and the women are busy receiving them, Dorotea hides her face with a veil, and Cardenio disappears into the next room.  In other words, Cervantes leaves it to the reader to consider the reasons intimated by the parson. Thereforc, it might be advisable to compare them to another comment he utters.  In chapter six, Pero Pérez tops with the «Galatea», and the analysis he gives is self-complacent, but all the same most competent.  Holding a copy in his hands he says: «Muchos años ha que es grande amigo mío ese Cervantes, y sé que es más versado en desdichas que en versos. Su libro tiene algo de buena invención: propone algo, y no concluye nada: es menester esperar la Segunda parte que promete: quizá con la emienda alcanzará del todo la misericordia que ahora se le niega»3.

          This is a clear-sighted self-criticism of Cervantes.  In the case of «El curioso impertinente», his comment runs like this: «Bien --dijo el cura-- me parece esta novela, pero no me puedo persuadir que esto sea verdad: y si es fingido, fingió mal el autor, porque no se puede imaginar que haya marido tan necio que quiera hacer tan costosa experiencia como Anselmo.  Si este caso se pusiera entre un galán y una dama, pudiérase llevar, pero entre marido y mujer, algo tiene de imposible; y en lo que toca al modo de contarle, no me descontenta».  Rico remarks in a note that «imposible» is an Italianism and that property is a basic concept in the art of Cervantes4.

          Lacking verisimilitude, as practised in the Italianizing novelle, seems to him a fundamental defect.  And he wants to demonstrate his viewpoint by a convincing example. Taking into consideration the title of the «Novelas ejemplares» he wants to criticize the shortcomings of the genre imported from Italy byy exaggerating, by skilfull mockery.  Seen from this angle, the «Curioso impertinente» reveals to be a cunning parody of the Italian novelle and their most cherished motifs.  In other words, the only aspect of the «Curioso impertinente» worth mentioning is the way the author has told the story «lo que toca al modo de contarle».  All the rest is rubbish.


     1 Compare the lecturas of Hans-Jörg Neuschafer in the edition of Francisco Rico. Barcelona 1997, vol. II, pp. 75-77; 77-80 and 80-82. See also Yvonne Jehenson, "Masoquismo versus Machismo or: Camila`s Re-Writing of Gender Assignations in Cervantes`s Tale of Foolish Curiosity." Cervantes 18 (1998) 25-52, and Nicolas Wey-Gómez, "The Jealous and the Curious: Freud, Paranoia and Homosexuality in Cervantine Poetics."  In: Cervantes and His Postmodern Constituencies, ed. Ann J. Cruz and Carroll B. Johnson. New York 1999, pp. 177-198.
     2 With respect to the Chapter on the Burning of the Books see the excellent article of Sylvia Roubaud in the edition of Francisco Rico, o.c., vol. I, pp. 28-30. José García Oro, Los reyes y los libros: la política libraria de la Corona en el Siglo de Oro. 1475-1598. Madrid 1995, and Henri Kamen, The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision. New York 1998.
     3 Ed. Cit., vol. I, p.86.
     4 Ed. Cit., vol. I, p. 423.

Kurt Reichenberger