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Cervantes' Los Trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda: A Study of Genre.

Maria Alberta Sacchetti. Cervantes' Los Trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda: A Study of Genre.

London: Tamesis, 2001. viii + 207 pp. index. bibl. $75. ISBN: 1-8556-6077-6.

Basically a doctoral dissertation defended in 1995, this book should have taken advantage of the considerable amount of work published on the Persiles since. As it happens, the last ten years have been possibly the richest in recent memory, as far as work on the Persiles goes. By not incorporating that work, Sacchetti's book, while being a good monograph on its subject, is born old already.

Other self-imposed limitations of the book are its theoretical frame, its subject, and the aspects of that subject that the author covers. Cervantes' Los Trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda: A Study of Genre poses from a Northrop Fryean perspective, and inspired mostly by the works of Alastair Fowler (specifically his Kinds of Literature: An Introduction to the Theory of Genres of 1982), the classic question: "Persiles, novel? romance? both? neither?" and concentrates on characterization as the litmus test to answer it. For readers who concentrate on such a study of literary genre, in relation to perhaps the one major work which both defines and un-defines novell romance, this book is useful. To readers who would expect the very word "genre" to be inextricably linked with things other than "literature," the book has little to give. E.D. Hirsch's position in favor of an author-fixed meaning, and Iser's and Jauss' reader-oriented counter-arguments, constitute the parameters within which the very idea of genre is discussed.

One interesting aspect of Cervantes' Los Trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda: A Study of Genre--after "we demonstrate that [Cervantes] deviated from the norm of traditional Byzantine romance" (22)--could be Sacchetri's contention "that he wrote his modified romance as a kind of response to the new literary vogue of picaresque novel" (22). While not a new idea, the book could provide much needed insight into it. Alas, only the very short chapter 8 deals with it. Eight pages out of 207 is not a lot of space devoted to what promised to be the center of the thesis.

Chapter 2, "The Byzantine Romance: Origins and Development," is a good summary of the matter at hand. It is informative for students but falls a bit flat in its conclusion that the genre "can be described as belonging to the genre of romance with its flat characterisation, its moral polarisation of good and evil, and its unfailing happy ending" (40). Chatacterization takes command of the book from this point on. While the analysis is good, it serves a very weak master. The logic of the subsequent chapters follows a predictable syllogism: flat characters are typical of romance; Auristela (or Periandro, or some other character) is not flat; therefore the Persiles is not a romance (or at least, not a typical one). Thus the book proceeds with Auristela (chap. 3), Heliodorus' Charikleia vs. Cervantes' Auristela (chap. 5), "The Heroine in the Works of Tatius, Reinoso and Contreras" (chap. 6), and "Periandro and some Secondary Characters" (chap. 7).

Chapter 4 could be another high point of Cervantes' Los Trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda: A Study of Genre. "The Role of Irony and the Question of the Ending" are among the topics most body debated on the Persiles and most deeply studied in the last ten years. Here is where this book shows its weakness and its lack of care for what was published after it was defended as--I think-- a very solid thesis in 1995. Central to the issue at hand--just to name one title--is Amy Williamsen's Co(s)mic Chaos, published around the time of the thesis defense. The absence is more perplexing, since Williamsen's previous work has been used by the author. Only Wayne Booth is used consistently as a theoretical source for such a complex issue as irony. In the same chapter is included the problem of the ending of the Persiles, as it should. But the book fails to benefit from the fact that many of us have addressed the same problem in recent years and from many angles.

In sum, Cervantes' Les Trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda: A Study of Genre provides good analysis of one specific aspect-characterization--of one specific problem--genre attribution--of the Persiles, with limited theoretical aims. Rich in research--up to the 1990s--and good in synthesis, it exemplifies the concept of "monograph" in its difference with other, more pretentious labels. Had it been less timid in its approach, it could have been an important book, which the rest of us should have used, in 1995.
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Author:Baena, Julio
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 2003
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