Early didactic fiction

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

The first examples of exemplum prose fiction—probably translations or adaptations of Arabic works—include Calila e Dimna (c. 1251; Calila and Dimna) and the Libro de los engaños e los asayamientos de las mujeres (c. 1253; Book of Women’s Wiles and Deceits, 1882). The propagation of these early didactic works was facilitated by the increase in the manufacturing of paper in Spain during the thirteenth century and the invention of eyeglasses toward the end of it. This exemplum literature belongs to the tradition of short fiction because of its form—collections of brief prose pieces, each serving as an example of appropriate or inappropriate social conduct—but it presages some of the characteristics of the longer prose forms that eventually evolved into the novelistic form of the seventeenth century and after. As the titles of some of these collections indicate—the anonymous Libro del consejo e de los consejeros (early 1200’s; book of advice and advisers) and the Libro de los exemplos del Conde Lucanor y de Patronio (1328-1335; Count Lucanor: Or, The Fifty Pleasant Stories of Patronio, 1868) of Juan Manuel (1282-1348)—the exempla are linked together by a fictional device involving the relationship of central characters: usually an older, wiser counselor who tells the stories to a naïve, inexperienced person for whom the counselor is in some way responsible. Although the “short stories” that form...

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