Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1101
Blas of Santillane retires from the wars and marries a chambermaid no longer young. After the birth of Gil, the parents settle in Oviedo, where the father becomes a minor squire and the mother goes into service. Happily, Gil Perez, Gil Blas’s uncle, is a canon in the town. He is three and a half feet high and enormously overweight. Without his aid, Gil Blas would never have received an education. Perez provides a tutor for his nephew, and at the age of seventeen, Gil Blas has studied the classics and some logic.
When the time comes for him to seek his fortune, the family sends Gil Blas to Salamanca to study. The uncle provides him with forty pistoles and a mule. Shortly after setting out, Gil Blas is foolish enough to join the train of a muleteer who concocts a story that he has been robbed of a hundred pistoles and threatens all of his passengers with arrest and torture. His purpose is to frighten the men away so that he can seduce the wife of one of the travelers. Gil Blas has some thought of helping the woman, but he flees upon the arrival of a police patrol.
Gil Blas is found in the woods by a band of ruffians who have an underground hideout nearby. Under Captain Rolando, they make Gil Blas their serving boy. After an unsuccessful escape attempt, he sets out to ingratiate himself with the captain. At the end of six months, he becomes a member of the gang and embarks on a career of robbery and murder. One day the robbers attack a coach, kill all the men, and capture a beautiful woman. She is well-born and modest, and Gil Blas resolves to rescue her. Waiting until the robbers are asleep, he ties up the cook and escapes with the woman, whose name, he learns, is Doña Mencia. Grateful for her rescue, she dresses Gil Blas in fine clothes and presents him with a bag of money. He goes on his way, comparatively rich and comfortable.
On his travels, he meets Fabricio, a former schoolmate who has become a barber. Scornful of Gil Blas’s intention to study, Fabricio soon persuades him to go into service as a lackey. Gil Blas turns out to be well adapted to flattery and intrigue, and he soon becomes proficient by serving a variety of masters, among them Doctor Sangrado, a physician. The doctor’s one remedy for all maladies is forced drinking of water and frequent bleeding. Gil Blas wins the doctor’s esteem and is permitted to attend poor patients in his master’s place. During an epidemic, he has a record as good as that of Sangrado; all of their patients die.
Another master is Don Matthias, a fashionable man about town. By means of a little judicious thievery and daring, Gil Blas finds his new life highly satisfying. Each day is spent in eating and polite conversation and every night in carousing. During this service, Gil Blas dresses in his master’s clothes and tries to get a mistress among the titled ladies of the town. An old lady who arranges these affairs introduces him to a grand lady who is pining for a lover. Gil Blas is disillusioned when he goes with Don Matthias to the house of Arsenia, an actress, and finds that his grand lady is really a serving maid.
After Don Matthias is killed in a duel, Gil Blas attends Arsenia for a time. Later he goes into service in the household of Aurora, a virtuous young woman who grieves because a student named Lewis pays no attention to her charms. At Gil Blas’s suggestion, Aurora disguises herself as a man and takes an apartment in the same house with Lewis. Striking up a friendship with him, Aurora skillfully leads him on. Then she receives him in her own house in her proper person, and soon Lewis and Aurora are married. Gil Blas leaves their service content with his part in the romance.
On the road again, Gil Blas is able to frustrate a band of robbers who had planned to kill Don Alphonso. Thus, he and the don begin a lasting friendship.
After losing a situation because he learns that the dueña has an ulcer on her back, Gil Blas next takes service with an archbishop. His work is to write out the homilies composed by the archbishop. After he wins his master’s confidence, the churchman makes Gil Blas promise to tell him when his homilies show signs of degenerating in quality. After a stroke, the archbishop fails mentally, and Gil Blas tells him his homilies are not up to the usual standard. In his rage, the archbishop dismisses Gil Blas, who learns in this manner the folly of being too truthful.
Engaged as secretary by the duke of Lerma, prime minister of Spain, Gil Blas soon becomes the duke’s confidential agent. Gil Blas is now in a position to sell favors, and his avarice grows apace with his success in court intrigue. During this successful period, he engages Scipio as his servant. Gil Blas’s high position enables him to secure the governorship of Valencia for Don Alphonso.
Gil Blas becomes involved in a high court scandal. At the request of the prime minister, he acts as panderer for the prince of Spain, the heir apparent. About the same time, Scipio arranges a wealthy marriage for Gil Blas with the daughter of a rich goldsmith. One night, however, the king’s spies catch Gil Blas conducting the prince to a house of pleasure, and Gil Blas is confined to prison. Faithful Scipio shares his imprisonment. After months of sickness, Gil Blas is released and exiled from Madrid. Fortunately, Don Alphonso gives Gil Blas a country estate at Lirias, and there he and Scipio settle to lead the simple lives of country gentlemen. Attracted by Antonia, the daughter of one of his farmers, Gil Blas marries, but his happiness is brief. After Antonia and his baby daughter die, Gil Blas becomes restless for new adventures. The prince is now king, and Gil Blas resolves to try court life again. He becomes an intimate of the new prime minister, Count Olivarez. Once again, he is employed to arrange a liaison for the king, a mission that turns out badly. Forced to resign, Gil Blas returns for good to Lirias. There, he marries again, to a girl named Dorothea. Now content, Gil Blas hopes for children whose education will provide amusement for his old age.
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