El Lazarillo de Tormes
Considered the first modern novel, “Lazarillo” unveiled a classic novel genre called the picaresque. This form of writing continued well into 20th century with “La Familia de Pascal Duarte” by Nobel Prize winner Camilo José Cela.
The main features of these books are:
- They are autobiographical: the narrator speaks in the first person and relates the events that have happened to him in the style of a personal confession, e.g. “El mundo me ha hecho así, pero yo soy bueno” (lit: the world did this to me, but I myself am good).
- They narrate the life of the protagonist from his birth and infancy.
- Realism dominates the story, describing facts and real places.
- The protagonist is from a low social class and his life has not allowed him to climb the social ladder. He moves in bad crowds and with the poor.
- The cynic attitude and social criticisms of the protagonist are essential to this type of story.
“El Lazarillo de Tormes” unveiled this movement, which would be continued by other novels such as “Guzmán de Alfarache” or “El Buscón” by Fancisco de Quevedo.
The protagonist is Lázaro de Tormes who was born in Salamanca, in the waters of the river. When he was still a little boy his mum sent him to accompany a blind man because she could not afford to feed him. The young boy loses his innocence through the cunning deeds of the blind man. But after abandoning him, things go from bad to worse for Lázaro. He is the prototype of the anti-hero. Up until this point stories about knights had been full of idealized heroes who went on incredible adventures, but here the main character is a human full of flaws, one that makes mistakes. The book was persecuted by the Spanish inquisition, which only permitted the publication of some of the chapters. The novel was not known as a whole until the 19th century.
At this point literature was in the middle of the Renaissance. It had changed from the theocentricism (belief that God is the central aspect of our existence) to the Middle Ages, to the Humanist anthropocentrism (belief that life centers around us). Man, with all his virtues and flaws, is the center of the novel. Critics have said that glimpses of the economic crisis that would arise in Spain during the following reign of the Asturias family can be seen in this novel. It was a crisis that would last for centuries, during which time the Empire would fall but by bit until it disappeared completely at the end of the 19th century.