Fernando de Rojas (ROH-hahs) is believed to be the author of the Comedia de Calisto y Melibea, or La Celestina, an extended prose drama in dialogue that is considered Spain’s first realistic novel and is one of the gems of its national literature. Rojas nonetheless remains a shadowy figure. Evidence that he wrote this novel lies mainly in an acrostic of the 1502 edition (the “Sevilla edition”), which gives his home as Montalbán. He was probably born there about 1465 (although some scholars have argued that he may have been born in Toledo). A prefatory letter declares that while he was a student at the University of Salamanca he “found” the first act and finished the other fifteen acts of the 1499 Burgos edition at the rate of an act a day during a vacation period.
Modern scholarship has turned up a few more facts and made some deductions. In 1525, Alvaro de Montalbán, accused of relapses into the practice of the Jewish faith, claimed that his daughter had married the converso Fernando de Rojas, author of La Celestina. Converso need not mean that Rojas was a new convert to Christianity; indeed, it is probable that his parents had been forced to convert and that he was born and brought up in the Christian faith. When he died in April, 1541, he was a member of the religious order of La Concepción de la Madre, and in his will he directed that his body be buried in the church of the Monastery of Talavera. In 1584 his grandson sought documents to prove he was an hidalgo, or man of pure Spanish blood traceable back through his great-grandfather.
Whoever he was, Rojas wrote a work much admired for its realistic character drawing. Not only are the lower-class characters true to life, including the go-between Celestina, but even flowery Calisto, the lover, is a typical Petrarch-inspired galán. Why Rojas himself did not claim the book as his own can only be surmised. Perhaps as a lawyer he did not want to be known as a dabbler in fiction. Certainly he did not fear the Inquisition, either as a Jew, since documents proved he was respected, or as an author, since the censors never questioned his novel until 1640, long after his death. La Celestina, tremendously popular, went through 120 editions in thirty-five years, with translations into Italian (1506), German (1520), and French (1527).