Mateo Alemán Biography

Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The sixteenth century in Spain brought a flood of idealistic novels as well as the first picaresque novel, which was introduced with Lazarillo de Tormes in 1554. Although religious censorship under Philip II discouraged imitators of Lazarillo de Tormes for a time, the king’s death allowed writers to react against idealistic and didactic fiction and to turn to realistic and satirical novels. The author of one of the best, Guzmán de Alfarache, was Mateo Alemán (ahl-ay-MAHN), who as the son of a prison doctor of Seville had learned about rogues as a child. Trying to follow in his father’s profession, Alemán succumbed to love affairs and debts for which he was jailed three times, the first in Seville in 1580.

Many scholars believe that during Alemán’s second imprisonment, in Seville in 1602, Miguel de Cervantes was a fellow prisoner. The two have many points in common: They were born within a few days of each other, they studied under the same teacher, and they wrote at the same time. Perhaps both were in the army in Italy, and it is known that both sought assignments in the New World, Alemán successfully. There he died, perhaps within a year of the death of his great contemporary.

Where they differ is in the tone of their writing. Alemán was lacking in love for humankind and in a philosophy to compensate for life’s trials. His writing has the cruel, heartless quality of the picaresque tradition. Guzmán, a...

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Mateo Alemán Bibliography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Chandler, Frank Wadleigh. Romances of Roguery: An Episode in the History of the Novel. 1899. Reprint. New York: B. Franklin, 1961. An early study of Alemán in English.

Ife, B. W. Reading and Fiction in Golden-Age Spain: A Platonist Critique and Some Picaresque Replies. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985. Alemán is one of the authors discussed in the context of picaresque Spanish literature. Includes index and bibliography.

Jones, Claude E., comp. Prefaces to Three Eighteenth-Century Novels. New York: Kraus, 1967. Includes Mateo Alemán, dedication and preface of The Life of Guzman d’Alfarache (translated in 1708); Francis Coventry, chapter 1 of book I and chapter 1 of book II of The History of Pompey the Little (1751) and dedication of third edition (1752); and Royal Tyler, dedication and preface of The Algerine Captive (1797).

McGrady, Donald. Mateo Alemán. New York: Twayne, 1968. Part of the Twayne World Authors series. Includes notes, references, and bibliography.

Rico, Francisco. The Spanish Picaresque Novel and the Point of View. Translated by Charles Davis and Harry Sieber. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984. Discusses Alemán and The Life and Adventures of Guzman d’Alfarache in the context of picaresque novels. Includes index and bibliography.