Throughout the sixteenth century, the development of long fiction took two directions. Paralleling the novelistic prose that portrayed the world in the idealistic terms of the chivalric, pastoral, and Byzantine modes was a type of fiction more firmly based on the truth of sixteenth century experience. The earliest example is one of the masterpieces of Spanish literature, first published anonymously in 1499 as the Comedia de Calisto y Melibea (comedy of Calisto and Melibea). It reappeared several years later in a series of expanded versions titled Tragicomedia de Calisto y Melibea (1502; Celestina, 1631), in which there was textual evidence that the author of at least the major part of the work was Fernando de Rojas (c. 1465-1541). The printers of the novel changed the title to La Celestina because of the popularity of the main character, an earthy old woman who uses her skills of witchcraft to further her professional reputation as a go-between. It is a story of the passionate love of Calisto and Melibea, doomed to failure by the circumstances of their birth. Some critics have called La Celestina the first novel in Spanish, because it portrayed characters from all social classes in a more realistic manner than did the romances, which tended to idealize and perfect the world that they created.
La Celestina became a very popular work, and the name of the old witch, Celestina, entered the lexicon of Spanish as the generic term for a go-between or pimp. Throughout the sixteenth century, there were imitations of La Celestina and examples of prose fiction influenced by Rojas’s work that presented a fairly realistic portrayal of certain baser aspects of sixteenth century life. A surprisingly frank and erotic account of the life of a prostitute appeared in the Retrato de la lozana andaluza(1528; Portrait of Lozana, the Lusty Andalusian Woman, 1987), by Francisco Delicado (c. 1480-c. 1534), a priest who published in the following year a treatise on a supposed cure for syphilis, a disease from which he himself suffered.
The sixteenth century work of fiction that had perhaps the greatest impact on the development of the European novel was La vida de Lazarillo de Tormes y de sus fortunas y adversidades, published anonymously in 1554 and translated into English as The Pleasant Historie of Lazarillo de Tormes (1576; commonly known as Lazarillo de Tormes). His work was the first example of what later was called the picaresque novel, the fictional biography (or often, as in this case, autobiography) of a parasitic delinquent. Lazaro, the picaro who narrates his own story, rises above his miserable surroundings by serving a series of masters, using all of his cunning and wit to survive in a cruel society. As he changes from a child to an adult, he accumulates the experience of sustained contact with a deceptive world and becomes as cynical and dishonest as the people who have exploited and mistreated him. Lazarillo de Tormes is extraordinary for its brutal satire and comic narrative, particularly in the context of the prevailing literary vogue of heroic chivalric adventures, courtly conduct, and pastoral love.
Lazarillo de Tormes continued the tradition of social realism established by La Celestina, and part of that...