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ArribaAbajo Francisco J. Sánchez, Lectura y representación: Análisis cultural de las Novelas ejemplares de Cervantes

New York: Peter Lang, 1993. 202 pp.

Marsha Swislocki

Dartmouth College

In Lectura y representación: Análisis cultural de las Novelas ejemplares de Cervantes, Francisco J. Sánchez takes us to the opposite side of the looking glass forged by Nicholas Spadaccini and Jenaro Talens in Through the Shattering Glass: Cervantes and the Self-Made World (Minneapolis, 1993). Whereas the authors of the latter study present their view of Cervantes's theatre through the lens of textuality and propose essentially that Cervantes's plays were written to be read rather than performed, Sánchez focuses on the theatricality of Cervantes's short fiction, offering an analysis of the novelas ejemplares refracted through the imaging power of the dialogized voice as dramatic discourse.

Sánchez's study of the novelas reveals a solid grounding in theories of orality (Zumthor, Ong) and communication theory (Bakhtin, Iser, Jauss). His cultural analysis of Cervantine fiction rests on the socioeconomic framework and historical analyses of Maravall's seminal studies of Baroque culture (Sánchez's book is Vol. 3 in the Lang series, Sociocriticism: Literature, Society and History), mass culture and the theatre; his readings of the individual novels register the sense of crisis in social relations produced by the shift in population to urban areas and the breakdown of feudal social structure in seventeenth-century Spain. He has drawn substantially on the sociocritical readings of Cervantes's theatre by Spadaccini and Talens, et al., as well as Díez Borque's studies on Baroque theatre. Although I am not a specialist in Cervantes studies, I find that the bibliography indicates a familiarity with fundamental studies in Cervantine scholarship, including the writings of El Saffar and Forcione on the novelas ejemplares. (There are some obvious omissions, such as Syverson-Stork's study of theatricality in Don Quixote). I assume that the present study is a revised version of his doctoral dissertation; an earlier version of one of the chapters was included in N. Spadaccini and M. Nerlich's Cervantes's Exemplary Novels and the Adventure of Writing (Minneapolis, 1989).

Sánchez formulates his theoretical approach in a two-part introductory chapter («Introducción. Teatralidad y Novela»), in which he anticipates the ideas and interpretations that will be developed in the subsequent portions of his book. The first subsection, Teatralidad y ejemplaridad, develops the concept of «lo teatral» as a constitutive element of discursive practices in narrative fiction   —92→   and moral writings of the Baroque and applies it to the notion of Cervantine exemplarity. Asserting that fiction in Cervantes is inseparable from its novelistic treatment of dramatic discourse, Sánchez's view of the novelas, developed in the second subsection (La recepción del espectáculo como dialecto novelístico), is that they provide a fictional space in which the imagination of the individuated reader of the printed text-as distinguished from the «público masivo» of the public theatre, assumed to be uniformly unequipped with the capacity for discernment and critical response that characterizes the solitary reader-may confront the «modelos oficiales» of neo-absolutist ideology. It is in these novelistic spaces that questions of individual and collective identity are opened to debate and inquiry, and the reader, distanced from the overwhelming and unifying effects of theatrical spectacle, may engage in critical reflection on the production of fiction as well as the socio/ideological conditions of reception. In Sánchez's own words:

La escena, real, virtual, temática o implícita es, pues un centro y un espacio de representación en los cuales el público es participante, colaborador y productor de la creación... La escritura, la novela, recrea dicha escenografía y, a su vez, sienta ciertos momentos de reflexión que realzan el papel de la lectura y por lo tanto, desde ella, el diseño de entidades colectivas.


Each of the three chapters of Sánchez's book elaborates these basic ideas in relation to specific novelas and from varying perspectives, with complex and convincing argumentation and abundant examples from each novel, and always with reference to the equation lo teatral / lo social / lo moral. Chapter 1 (the visual: «La imagen de la belleza y el valor señoriales») focuses on the «traslado de los elementos visuales del acto dramático a la escritura», and on the iconographic value («corporal, monetario, social, étnico y jurisdiccional») of images and actions-as-images. The texts analyzed are La fuerza de la sangre («el retrato de una mirada»), La ilustre fregona and La gitanilla («el retrato de una virgen y de un corregidor»), La española inglesa, La señora Cornelia, El amante liberal («los retratos de una rica, de una señora y de una compraventa»), and Las dos doncellas («el retrato de una expectativa»). Chapter 2 (the auditive: «Voz e imagen. Justicia, plata y educación») considers «la textualización de registros de oralidad». In this chapter, Sánchez focuses on the representation of justice and the illusion of social mobility in Rinconete y Cortadillo, El celoso extremeño and El licenciado Vidriera, where in «el espacio monetario establece el sentido de las relaciones entre hablar y ver». Here it is the inscription of orality and the technique of the entremés (rather than lo visual) that highlights the difference (in terms of reception) between the solitary reader and the theatre-going public. Finally in Chapter 3 (the absent: «Magia y crisis social»), with the analysis of El casamiento engañoso y Coloquio de los perros, «la burla, el engaño y lo mágico se entrelazan como medios de representación, de teatralización de la experiencia y de los conflictos» (150).

There is much in this book that is meritorious and thought provoking, whether or not the reader accepts all of its premises and conclusions. Few readers will disagree that Cervantes's experience as a playwright informed the writing   —93→   of his prose fiction. The notion of the monolithic and passive «público receptor» of the corrales, however, is, to my mode of thinking, outdated and in need of modulation, and lends rigidity rather than suppleness to Sánchez's arguments. I find the analyses of El celoso extremeño and El licenciado Vidriera, for example -indeed, the entire treatment of orality, voice and image in Chapter 2, where Sánchez works as well with the notion of the «entremés implícito»- extremely interesting and, in places, illuminating. Unfortunately, Sánchez's writing style is at times all but impenetrable and renders his ideas less accessible than one might wish, or even expect, given the author's expertise in reception theory. Potential readers are advised to arm themselves with the patience of a dental surgeon before sitting down to have it out with Sánchez's user-unfriendly prose. In addition, the book is plagued with an unconscionable number of errata (up to six on some pages, and there is at least one typographical error on almost every page), misspellings, and other editing mishaps that suggest that the book was carelessly proofread or, more likely, not at all. Forewarned is forearmed, however, and the diligent reader will be rewarded with intelligent insights and stimulating readings of Cervantes's novelas ejemplares.