Academic journal article Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America

Early Modern Illusions of Perfect Male Friendship: The Case of Cervantes's "El Curioso Impertinente"

Academic journal article Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America

Early Modern Illusions of Perfect Male Friendship: The Case of Cervantes's "El Curioso Impertinente"

Article excerpt

The rhetoric of male friendship occupied an impossible space. ALAN BRAY. The Friend

Mi amigo usque ad portam. CERVANTES. "El viejo celoso" (1)

"El CURIOSO IMPERTINENTE" CULMINATES in the death of all three main characters. One traditional explanation of this dramatic ending points to the extravagant curiosity of Anselmo, who plots to test his wife's fidelity by tempting her with his best friend, Lotario. Anselmo forces Camila and Lotario to share an artificially contrived intimacy for such a prolonged period that they eventually end up falling in love, thus confirming Anselmo's deepest fears. Later, on the brink of death, Anselmo asserts that his curiosity regarding the limits of his wife's virtue was a "necio e im pertinente deseo" (422). Mortally ill after discovering the unfaithfulness of his wife and his best friend, he seeks refuge in the house of another friend. This friend is the anonymous reader of Anselmo's last writing, in which he repents for his wrongdoings. The actions of this anonymous friend at the end of "El curioso impertinente" are neither idealistic nor heroic; they ate grounded in simple common sense. He does what any sensible friend would do--help in moments of distress. But this novella is not a story about common sense in friendship; rather, it is about male perfect friendship, a highly codified set of rules of male, as well as female, behavior, which underwent a transformation between the Middle Ages and Modernity. (2) In this paper, I will analyze the connections between the fraught friendship of "El curioso impertinente" and the models of friendship proposed for commercial societies, as well as the weakening of the patronage economy in Western Europe. In order to do so, I will answer the following questions: Is friendship in "El curioso impertinente" modern, pre-modern, or a mixture of both? How do our post-Enlightenment practices of friendship affect our judgment of this novella? Does the creation of professional literature markets affect the textual representations of male friendship?

In recent years, we have seen a full fleshed trend of studies on the "material world" in Cervantes and more generally in the early modern literature of Iberia. Works such as Cervantes and the Material World by Carroll B. Johnson, Modernidad bajo sospecha: Salas Barbadillo y la cultura material del Siglo XVII by Enrique Garcia Santo-Tomas, Cervantes's Novel of Modern Times by David Quint, Writers on the Market by Donald Gilbert-Santamaria, and An Early Bourgeois Literature in Golden Age Spain by Francisco J. Sanchez all illustrate how thought provoking the connections between literature and the marketplace can be. Although addressing the will of Cervantes's patrons would be an interesting undertaking to understand better the material world of Cervantes, this lies outside the scope of the present study, and in any case would be difficult to undertake given the absence of extant documents pertinent to such an inquiry. For our current purposes, I will assume, as Harry Sieber puts it, that Cervantes himself was dissatisfied with his patrons:

Whatever favor and protection he may have received from the Count of Lemos and the Archbishop of Toledo, Bernardo de Sandoval y Rojas, in the end he may have found himself captured in a system which was--at least metaphorically--as constraining and frustrating as his imprisonment at Algiers. Freedom would come only in a marketplace in which readers--not patrons--provided the necessary ransom. ("The Magnificent" 109)

On the other hand, to recognize that Cervantes's intellectual property was unprotected by the laws and his patrons had neither an interest nor an obligation to support him, revalidate my purpose of proving that the lack of satisfaction in a given literary career can be detected through the analysis of the textual representations of friendship in connection with seventeenth century patronage economy.

After reading the extensive criticism on "El curioso impertinente," one realizes that exemplarity and fidelity in marriage, (3) curiositas, (4) gender, (5) mimetic desire, (6) and psychoanalytic, (7) as well as literary history and theory, (8) have frequently been brought to bear on "El curioso impertinente," though without addressing Cervantes's textual representations of friendship in a satisfactory way in terms of the theory of friendship. …

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