Academic journal article Philological Quarterly

"A Poor, Hungry Plot": Lazarillo De Tormes in English Translation and the Episodic Structure of the Picaresque

Academic journal article Philological Quarterly

"A Poor, Hungry Plot": Lazarillo De Tormes in English Translation and the Episodic Structure of the Picaresque

Article excerpt

Though La vida del Lazarillo de Tormes, y de sus fortunas y adversidades (1554) has long been acknowledged the seminal text of the picaresque genre, a gap has opened between historical and theoretical accounts of its role in literary history. This article explores the divergences between some of the most prominent theorizations of the picaresque and the English language editions of Lazarillo that were published between 1586 and the nineteenth century. Before 1908, when Lazarillo was published with its original ending for the first time in English, all previous extant editions had concluded with one of several continuations. (1) The successful recovery of the original ending has obscured the fact that for over three hundred years, Anglophone editions were notably different from the original. In order to properly understand Lazarillo's place in literary history, especially its status in relation to the emergence of the modern novel, it is necessary to look at the editions that were actually published in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, despite their considerable shortcomings. Important work by Julio-Cesar Santoyo, Alan Paterson, and Gareth Alban Davis on the translation history of Lazarillo has tended to put the emphasis (with some exceptions) on the first extant edition (1586) and the now-lost edition it was based upon (1576). (2) Extending our account of the reception of Lazarillo into the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries reveals that the picaresque continued to be an important reference point for understanding later developments in narrative form in a transnational context. What is most significant is that readers tended to highlight its divergence from, rather than its similarity to, the modern novel because editions during this period were decidedly episodic, piecemeal, and nonteleological.

English editions of Lazarillo during this period are especially noteworthy because theorizations of the picaresque, starting with Francisco Rico's La novela picaresca y el punto de vista (1970), have often emphasized Lazarillo 's teleological drive toward the "final situation" as crucial to the unity and significance of the narrative. Though deviations from the original were possibly due to careless editorial practices, the alternative endings colored the way that readers interpreted the text as well as the way that it was regarded as exemplary of a particular kind of narrative. In assessing the divergence between the Spanish original and English translation, we should ask ourselves to what degree these deviations might have, in fact, acted as formative influences within the transnational picaresque tradition--not just editorial errors but evolutionary mutations that became part of the genetic code of the picaresque, as it were. Lazarillo's iconic status as origin and primary example of the picaresque makes the task of tracking its influence both more pressing and more difficult because examining the publication history shows that there was not just one Lazarillo but there have been many Lazarillos. One might even say that the macrohistory of Lazarillo's publication history recapitulates the episodic form of the text itself, as the protagonist has adapted to various sociohistoric and generic contexts.

The picaresque has long been understood to involve the interface between the protagonist and his or her sociohistorical context, or "the interaction between a growing individual and his environment." (3) English language editions of Lazarillo embodied this dynamic and reciprocally transformative relationship between protagonist and social context, though, less as growth than as oscillating rhythm, less as teleology than as the barometer of continuous individual and collective transformation. The picaresque's thematization of dynamic social processes makes it especially sensitive to analogical correspondences between social and literary norms because of the way that its episodic narrative structure maps the social terrain. …

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