Picaresque Comedy and Its Discontents
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The emergence of Lazarillo de Tormes in sixteenth-century Spain represents not only the birth of the picaresque genre but also a new comic sensibility--picaresque comedy. The critical new dimension of picaresque comedy is ambivalence derived from the self-deprecation of the picaresque narrator and a newfound sense of pathetic identification with the plight of the poor. Lazarillo artfully interweaves divergent comic traditions into a synthesis, but in the next significant picaresque novel, Mateo Alemán's massive Guzmán de Alfarache, the picaresque comedy of Lazarillo is called into question. Alemán's novel draws on some of the new comic energy of the picaresque, but it ultimately suffocates picaresque comedy under the heavy weight of Counter-Reformation ideology. A fault line is therefore created in the nascent genre, and the source of this rift is the problem of picaresque comedy. The remainder of the study uses this initial contrast in sensibility to trace the trajectory of the picaresque in Spain and elsewhere. Cervantes' critique of the picaresque and its comic sensibility is considered, as are the reactions to the heavy-handed didacticism of Alemán in subsequent Spanish picaresque texts. But the study expands beyond the Spanish tradition to consider the influence of the picaresque in Germany, England, and the United States. Another chapter considers the problem of the feminine picaresque in Úbeda's La Picara Justina, Grimmelshausen's Courasche and Defoe's Moll Flanders. In these works, the picaresque comedy of earlier texts is rendered problematic by the introduction of the female narrator who introduces a special dynamic to picaresque comedy. Later, the epic comedy of Fielding's Joseph Andrews is contrasted with the picaresque comedy of Smollett's Roderick Random. The study concludes with a reading of Saul Bellow's The Adventures of Augie March--a text that demonstrates both the persistence of the picaresque and its churning internal contradiction.