(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Blas of Santillane retires from the wars and marries a chambermaid no longer young. After the birth of Gil, the parents settle in Oviedo, where the father becomes a minor squire and the mother goes into service. Happily, Gil Perez, Gil Blas’s uncle, is a canon in the town. He is three and a half feet high and enormously overweight. Without his aid, Gil Blas would never have received an education. Perez provides a tutor for his nephew, and at the age of seventeen, Gil Blas has studied the classics and some logic.

When the time comes for him to seek his fortune, the family sends Gil Blas to Salamanca to study. The uncle provides him with forty pistoles and a mule. Shortly after setting out, Gil Blas is foolish enough to join the train of a muleteer who concocts a story that he has been robbed of a hundred pistoles and threatens all of his passengers with arrest and torture. His purpose is to frighten the men away so that he can seduce the wife of one of the travelers. Gil Blas has some thought of helping the woman, but he flees upon the arrival of a police patrol.

Gil Blas is found in the woods by a band of ruffians who have an underground hideout nearby. Under Captain Rolando, they make Gil Blas their serving boy. After an unsuccessful escape attempt, he sets out to ingratiate himself with the captain. At the end of six months, he becomes a member of the gang and embarks on a career of robbery and murder. One day the robbers attack a coach, kill all the men, and capture a beautiful woman. She is well-born and modest, and Gil Blas resolves to rescue her. Waiting until the robbers are asleep, he ties up the cook and escapes with the woman, whose name, he learns, is Doña Mencia. Grateful for her rescue, she dresses Gil Blas in fine clothes and presents him with a bag of money. He goes on his way, comparatively rich and comfortable.

On his travels, he meets Fabricio, a former schoolmate who has become a barber. Scornful of Gil Blas’s intention to study, Fabricio soon persuades him to go into service as a lackey. Gil Blas turns out to be well adapted to flattery and intrigue, and he soon becomes proficient by serving a variety of masters, among them Doctor Sangrado, a physician. The doctor’s one remedy for all maladies is forced drinking of water and frequent bleeding. Gil Blas wins the doctor’s esteem and is permitted to attend poor patients in his master’s place. During an epidemic, he has a record as good as that of Sangrado; all of their patients die.

Another master is Don Matthias, a fashionable man about town. By means of a little judicious thievery and daring, Gil Blas finds his new life highly satisfying. Each day is spent in eating and...

(The entire section is 1101 words.)