Picaresque novel: what it is, its origin, characteristics and most important works


What is the picaresque novel?

It is one of the most important types of literature of the narrative genre that acquires its value mainly because the novel is the format in which it has developed the most. The picaresque novel comprises prose writings that form a fundamental part of the evolution and progress of Spanish literature, although it did not take long to spread throughout the European continent.

What is the picaresque novel

In its beginnings, the picaresca novel is developed as a type of text that is based on parodies of the Renaissance narratives expressed in the epics and in the pastoral novel,among other formats that acquired idealizing tones. In this way, they will be texts that are narrated in the first person and that, in their final development, try to tell a story of their own that may or may not come completely close to reality.

Origin of the picaresca novel

It is considered that the origin of such texts took place during the years between the Renaissance and the Baroque,emerging in the Golden Age in Spain. It is believed that these kinds of texts are motivated by the creation of a critique aimed both at the idealizing narratives highlighted by the Renaissance, as well as to the institutions of Spain, including the Catholic Church.

The clash of values that emerges from the social institutions of this moment, allows the emergence of what was called in the literature “antinovelas”. These kinds of texts possessed antiheroic tints that revealed the historical moment by which the population was passing amid the pretensions of the nobles who had become impoverished, the religious false, among others who oppose the prominent bourgeois.

In this process, the Picaresca novel takes a decisive place, consolidating its foundations from the essence not only social, but also of moral and religious in relation to the real experience of everyday life. He thus confronted two fundamental authorities, the nobles and the servants. In this way works that show these ideas and situations will be the Quixote de Cervantes, the Lazarillo de Tormes, among others.

Literary development of the Picaresca novel

The central point that lays the foundation for such texts is the rogue character. He is a character who is represented by his naughty, buffooning and cheeky personality,who is not afraid to steal or even stops to think about the consequences of his actions. He is a character who dedicates his life to the service of his hands in order to survive.

In many texts, the figure of the rogue is far from representing an empathetic and sensitive character,and instead is shown with a hesitable, cold personality that lacks sensitivity towards others. That is why they are works in which there are no romantic situations and if they appear, it will only be to follow up on the rogue on which they develop. Thus, in their intention to establish criticism of society, the authors build a rogue that represents human conditioning from their own vulgar and humble origin, the power of others over it, the use given to him as a reduced human being at service, among other aspects.

As for the development of such texts, authors often use a fairly simple and concrete language that facilitates the understanding of the common audience, so that it does not have extravagances or a complex language in their creations.

Features of the picaresca novel

It is time to go on to review the most important features of this type of text and that they lay the foundation on which subsequent authors will continue to develop their writings. These are:

Fake autobiography

One of the main aspects of this type of text, has to do with what are stories that are told in the first person, so that both the protagonist and the author, constitute the same person who tells their story. However, there is talk of a false autobiography because it may be much further from reality than you would think.

Portrait of society

Another important point to consider about the Picaresca novel is related to the works that are created under this category, become a portrait of the society on which they develop, so that their content, history, plot and other elements included, reveal traits of society according to the context in which it is written.

Type of storytelling

It is important to consider that as for the narration that follows these kinds of texts, these are presented as a compendium of stories that are not always united with a common common thread without the presence of the protagonist in them. So it’s the character himself who joins the built-in stories.

Conduct and punishment

Another important feature that should be considered when evaluating texts like this, is that such texts acquire a moralizing ideology. In this case, in the face of the actions carried out by the rogue, Catholic morality is on its side and vigilant, a fact that reflects the situation that the Catholic Church occupies during the time and which punishes the behavior of the rogue.

Criticism of society

While the story builds an image of the reality of the society on which it is based, the authors will also take the character of the rogue and its plot to criticize this same society in its different dimensions. In this way, the author can introduce important questions and criticisms in the face of the varied situations that the protagonist moves through.

works from the Picaresca novel

Most important works from the Picaresca novel

The first known work of these characteristicswas El lazarillo de Tormes, published in 1554 as an anonymous author. Other fundamental workswere: Guzmán de Alfarache by Mateo Alemán, The Life of the Sought by Francisco de Quevedo, El guitón Honofre de Gregorio González, The disorderly greed of the property of others of Carlos García, Lazarillo de Manzanares by Juan Cortés de Tolosa, La niña de los embustes, Teresa del Manzanares, natural of Madrid (1632); Adventures of the Baccalaureate Trapaza, quintessence of liars and master of enlisters of Alonso Castillo Solórzano, among others.

Remember that if you want to know more about the world of literature, explore by other types of literature, genres, movements, avant-gardes and more, we have a section dedicated to this field where you can find this and much more information. Just go to Art Types, where the Literature section will be.