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A picaresque novel is one that follows the often first-person adventures of a shady and duplicitous, but nonetheless likable, character. Often, the protagonist is considered rather unscrupulous, getting themselves into all kinds of trouble as a result, but the protagonist's actions and speech also typically help to reveal the problems...

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A picaresque novel is one that follows the often first-person adventures of a shady and duplicitous, but nonetheless likable, character. Often, the protagonist is considered rather unscrupulous, getting themselves into all kinds of trouble as a result, but the protagonist's actions and speech also typically help to reveal the problems of a flawed society. My personal favorite picaresque novel is called Moll Flanders, and it follows the exploits of a young woman who was born in a prison to a criminal mother and who was sexually exploited by a young upper-class man who said he loved her. She gets married a couple of times and finally finds love with her third husband, but she learns that he's her half-brother (they share a mother), and so on and so forth. Her matrimonial misadventures, which continue, help to point out the problem with marriage traditions and even the social value placed on virginity in this era: women are forced to marry for money, and they are often left in the lurch by dishonest men who lie or take advantage them. When women do marry for money, they are looked down on, but if they marry someone with no money, then they are criticized for that! The experiences of Moll, the picaro, reveal these issues.

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The picaresque is a genre of novel that evolved in Renaissance Spain. It is named after the protagonist, a "picaro", or likeable rogue. Rather than having a closed plot, it is structured episodically, with the protagonist falling in and out of scrapes of various sorts. Although the picaro often ends up on the wrong side of the law or of social convention, he or she generally maintains a degree of personal integrity, and is a sympathetic character. In other words, the picaro may con a bit of money from a rich merchant or have an occasional illicit sexual relationship, but doesn't torture people or kill babies. The first major picaresque was Lazarillo de Tormes. The genre continues ion the Continent and in England, with Tom Jones and Moll Flanders (with a female picaro) being well known examples.

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