Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Exemplary Novels by Miguel de Cervantes is a collection of twelve novellas written between 1590 and 1612. Paying homage to the Italian novella genre, Cervantes wrote each of these novellas in order to depict the differences between idealism and realism within human nature. Each novella tells a different story of how human relationships develop and change, highlighting for readers the juxtaposition between the ideal of love and the reality of love.
Ideal love, as Cervantes depicts it, is steadfast, principled, and pure. These motifs emerge in stories like "The Gypsy" and "The Generous Lover." In "The Gypsy," a man runs away with a woman he loves and whom he believes to be a gypsy. When it is discovered that she is actually the governor's daughter, he is imprisoned for pursuing a woman so far above his station. However, their love ultimately is rewarded when his secret is discovered: he descends from nobility. The story ends with their wedding.
The similarly twisty plot of "The Generous Lover" also concedes that love conquers all. Ricardo and his beloved, Leonisa, are separated from one another during a shipwreck. Believing that Leonisa has drowned, Ricardo prepares to live a life plagued by grief. However, he discovers she is not dead, though their happiness still hangs in the balance because she has been enslaved by and is betrothed to another man. Fortunately, their love, because it is steadfast, principled, and pure, is enough to overcome these obstacles. These two stories, and the others in the book that celebrate the triumph of idealistic love, are not entirely devoid of the complications and complexities of real love.
Of the twelve novellas in Exemplary Novels, stories like "The Glass Bachelor" and "Extreme Jealousy" exemplify how the realities of life can convolute, pollute, and ultimately sabotage any romantic or intimate relationships human beings might have. In "The Glass Bachelor," an abandoned young boy defies his tragic childhood to become a lawyer. But he then suffers a tragic accident that leaves him frail, invalid, and isolated, thus earning his nickname: the Glass Bachelor. When he does dare to venture out into the world, he discovers that he is repulsed by the amount of attention he receives and decides to join the military where he dies in battle. "Extreme Jealousy" chronicles the tale of a young soldier who isolates the woman he loves from the rest of the world in order to protect her from it. His plan backfires, and she ultimately leaves him. Forlorn and ashamed, he dies. The contrast between these two stories and the two discussed earlier highlights the overall contrast between the six realistic and six idealistic stories contained in Exemplary Novels.