Analysis

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 387

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Miguel de Cervantes established his reputation as a writer primarily through the success of Don Quixote, a long, complicated novel. Cervantes also wrote a considerable amount of short fiction, which he published as a group of novels (or novellas) that he claimed would be “exemplary”: they would be examples of good moral character, if not of good literature. Some of them he clearly intended to expand or follow upon, while others were self-contained. Cervantes told his readers in a preface that he had issues with the immorality in much popular fiction, especially the kinds of romances produced in Italy. While his condemnations are at least partly tongue-in-cheek, he was surely making a point about the public’s taste for foreign, as opposed to Spanish, authors. Some of the works included in the collection of twelve novellas are satirical treatments of the same themes that the Italian writers routinely employed.

Complicated plots full of romantic entanglements are one area where the similarities with the Italian models emerge strongly. Jilted lovers, illegitimate children, cross-dressed heroines, abducted damsels, and reunions of long-separated siblings are among the commonplace tropes that emerge in some of the stories. Features of the plot of “The Two Damsels,” in which Theodosia disguises herself as a man so she can travel freely and unravel a mystery, likewise occur in other European stories, such as Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Whimsical fantasy also appears, especially through the use of canine protagonists in “The Dialog Between Cipion and Berganza, Dogs of the Hospital of the Resurrection.”

While Cervantes is firmly placed in his own era’s literary traditions, some of the short works are as pioneering as Don Quixote had been. An especially modern-seeming novel is “Doctor Glass Case,” a psychological investigation of Tomas Rodaja’s total mental collapse. Driven over the brink of sanity when his fiancée deserts him, the once-brilliant student becomes convinced that his fragility is manifested in a literal way: he swears that he is made of glass. Although Rodaja had begun life as a servant, his masters supported his studies until the breakdown forced him away from an academic life; all that remained was the military, which led to his death. In portraying his retreat into a fantasy world, the novel seems be equally at home with Edgar Allan Poe or Franz Kafka.

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