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What Ispicaresque Novel

  • Date Submitted: 11/24/2012 11:45 PM
  • Flesch-Kincaid Score: 38.1 
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4.6.4.2 Picaresque.
In Spain, the novel about the rogue or pícaro was a recognized form, and such English novels as Defoe's The Fortunate Mistress (1724) can be regarded as picaresque in the etymological sense. But the term has come to connote as much the episodic nature of the original species as the dynamic of roguery. Fielding's Tom Jones, whose hero is a bastard, amoral, and very nearly gallows-meat, has been called picaresque, and the Pickwick Papers of Dickens--whose eponym is a respectable and even childishly ingenuous scholar--can be accommodated in the category.
The requirements for a picaresque novel are apparently length, loosely linked episodes almost complete in themselves, intrigue, fights, amorous adventure, and such optional items as stories within the main narrative, songs, poems, or moral homilies. Perhaps inevitably, with such a structure or lack of it, the driving force must come from a wild or roguish rejection of the settled bourgeois life, a desire for the open road, with adventures in inn bedrooms and meetings with questionable wanderers. In the modern period, Saul Bellow's Adventures of Augie March (1953) and Jack Kerouac's Dharma Bums (1959) have something of the right episodic, wandering, free, questing character. But in an age that lacks the unquestioning acceptance of traditional morality against which the old picaresque heroes played out their villainous lives, it is not easy to revive the novela picaresca as the anonymous author of Lazarillo de Tormes (1554) conceived it, or as such lesser Spanish writers of the beginning of the 17th century as Mateo Alemán, Vicente Espinel, and Luis Vélez de Guevara developed it. The modern criminal wars with the police rather than with society, and his career is one of closed and narrow techniques, not compatible with the gay abandon of the true pícaro.
 

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