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Spanish literature




Lazarillo de Tormes

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The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes and of His Fortunes and Adversities (La vida de Lazarillo de Tormes y de sus fortunas y adversidades) is a Spanish novella, published anonymously, because of its heretical content. It was published simultaneously in two cities, in 1554 in Alcalá de Henares, Spain (7 years after Cervantes was born there), and, in 1555, in Antwerp, Flanders, then under Spanish rule, and where the book Till Eulenspiegel had been published in 1529 and become popular. The book was published during the period known as the Spanish Inquisition, and the first Spanish trials against Lutherans was about to take place.

Besides its importance in the Spanish literature of the Golden Age, Lazarillo de Tormes is credited with founding a literary genre, the picaresque novel, so called from Spanish pícaro meaning "rogue" or "rascal". In these novels, the adventures of the pícaro expose injustice while amusing the reader. This extensive genre includes Don Quixote, by Cervantes, Tom Jones by Henry Fielding and Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, and shows its influence in twentieth century novels, dramas, and films featuring the "anti-hero".

Lazarillo de Tormes was banned by the Spanish Crown and included in the Index of Forbidden Books of the Spanish Inquisition; this was at least in part for the book's anti-clerical flavour. In 1573, the Crown allowed circulation of a version which omitted Chapters 4 and 5 and assorted paragraphs from other parts of the book. (A complete version did not appear in Spain until the Nineteenth century.) It was the Antwerp version that circulated throughout Europe, in French translation (1560), in English translation (1576), in Dutch translation (1579) after Flanders went under Dutch rule (1578), in German translation (1617), and in Italian translation (1622).


From the sixteenth century Spanish town of Salamanca, a boy named Lazarillo, tells the story of his rising from poverty to a supposed higher official. His mother, widow of a miller turned Spanish soldier, after being found guilty of bleeding the sacks of flour of his clients and common-law wife of a Moor thief, apprenticed Lazarillo (in Chapter 1) to a wily blind beggar, the first of his many masters, described (after a Prólogo) in seven chapters (tratados) united only by the adventures of a determined, resourceful boy. Struggling to survive when the poor must try to serve their purported betters, Lázaro succeeds in marrying the mistress of a local churchman, who accepts the cover of a Ménage à trois.

Lazarillo introduced the picaresque device of delineating various professions and levels of society. A young boy or young man or woman describing masters or "betters" ingenuously presented realistic details. But Lazarillo spoke of "the blind man," "the squire," "the pardoner," presenting these characters as types. Significantly, the only names of characters in this book are those of Lazarillo, his mother (Antona Pérez), his father (Tomé Gonzáles), and his stepfather (El Zayde), members of his family.

Table of contents "of His Fortunes and Adversities":

Tratado 1: childhood and apprenticeship to a blind man.
Tratado 2: serving a priest.
Tratado 3: serving a squire.
Tratado 4: serving a friar.
Tratado 5: serving a pardoner.
Tratado 6: serving a chaplain.
Tratado 7: serving a bailiff and an archbishop.


Primary objections to Lazarillo were to its vivid and realistic descriptions of the world of the pauper and the petty thief. This was in contrast to the superhuman events of chivalric novels such as the classic from the previous century, Amadís de Gaula. In Antwerp it followed the tradition of the impudent trickster figure Till Eulenspiegel.

Objections to characters not being "high-born" continued to be made in the literature of other countries for centuries. It resulted in censorship of novels by Pierre Beaumarchais, one of whose plays was used for the operatic libretto of The Marriage of Figaro by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. And the 1767 première of the German drama, Minna von Barnhelm, by Gotthold Lessing as well as the 1830 première of the French drama, Ernani, by Victor Hugo caused riots simply because these dramas featured middle-class characters, not nobles or religious figures.

The name Lazarillo is the diminutive of the Spanish name Lázaro. There are two appearances of the name Lazarus in the Bible, and not all critics agree as to which story the author was referring to when he chose the name. The more well-known tale of Lazarus occurs in John 11:41-44, in which Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. The second occurrence of the name is in Luke 16:19-31, which is a parable about a beggar named Lazarus who begs at the gates of a rich, stingy man's house. The surname de Tormes comes from the river Tormes. In the narrative, Lazarillo explains that his father ran a mill on the river where he was literally born on the river. The Tormes runs through Lazarillo's home town, Salamanca, a Castilian university city. There is an old mill on the river Tormes and there is a statue of Lazarillo and the blind man next to the Roman bridge (or puente romano) of the city. Because of Lazarillo's first adventures, the Spanish word lazarillo has taken the meaning of "guide", as to a blind person. Consequently, in Spain a guide dog is called a perro lazarillo.

In contrast to the fancifully poetic language devoted to fantastic and supernatural events about unbelievable creatures and chivalric knights, the realistic prose of Lazarillo described suppliants purchasing indulgences from the Church, servants forced to die with masters on the battlefield (as Lazarillo's father did), thousands of refugees wandering from town to town, poor beggars flogged out by whips because of the lack of food. The anonymous author included many popular sayings and ironically interpreted popular stories.

The Prologue with Lázaro's extensive protest against injustice is addressed to a high-level cleric, and four of his seven masters in the novel served the church. Lazarillo attacked the appearance of the church and its hypocrisy, though not its essential beliefs, a balance not often present in picaresque novels that followed.

The work is a masterpiece for its internal artistic unity. For example, as Lázaro's masters rise up the social scale (from beggar to priest to nobleman) so their ability to feed him diminishes; Lázaro leaves his first master, is thrown out by the second and is abandoned by the third.

The work is riotously funny, often relying upon slapstick humour (such as the young Lázaro leading his blind master to jump against a stone column, in revenge for his master banging his young servant's head against a stone statue); some of its funniest episodes are apparently based upon traditional material. But there is a deeper, more unsettling humour and irony here. Nothing is what it seems in this book: the blind beggar's public prayers are a sham and the nobleman's nobility is pure façade; and at the end of the book, Lázaro professes to have reached the pinnacle of success, but is little more than a cuckold living off the immoral earnings of his wife.

Besides creating a new genre, Lazarillo de Tormes was critically innovative in world literature in several aspects:

Long before the Emile (Jean-Jacques Rousseau) or Oliver Twist (Charles Dickens) or Huckleberry Finn the anonymous author of Lazarillo treated a boy as a boy, not a small adult.
Long before Moll Flanders (Daniel Defoe), Lazarillo describes the domestic and working life of a poor woman, wife, mother, climaxing in the flogging of Lazarillo's mother through the streets of the town after her black husband Zayde is hanged as a thief.
Long before modern treatment of "persons of color", this author treats sympathetically the pleasures and pains of an interracial family in his descriptions of life with his black stepfather and negrito half-brother, though their characterization is based on stereotypes.



Type of work: Novel
Author: Unknown
Type of plot: Picaresque romance
Time of plot: Sixteenth century
Locale: Spain
First published: 1553 (English translation, 1576)


This early picaresque novel is actually a series of brief sketches which gave a vivid picture of the stratagems used by the poor to stay alive. Without a trace of self-pity, the author shows the humorous side of continual penury and want. The book greatly influenced later picaresque tales such as Gil Bias.


Principal Characters

Lazarillo de Tormes (latha-re'lyo tha tor'mas), so named because he was born in a mill over the River Tormes. Bereaved at an early age by the death of his father, Lazarillo is given by his impoverished mother to his first master, a blind beggar whose cruelty is precisely the kind of education the unfortunate lad needs to strip away his naivete and prepare him for a cruel world which promises only hardships for him. Treated cruelly, Lazarillo learns all the tricks of providing himself with food and drink. Becoming sharp and witty, although keeping his good nature, he develops the ability to please people and impress them. He is a kindhearted, generous lad, though his environment might well train him in the oppo-site direction. He is what may be best described as one of nature's gentlemen. Given an opportunity by a kindly chaplain, Lazarillo settles down to a respectable career as a town crier. A diligent worker, he saves enough money to become respectable. Another friend, the archpriest of St. Savior's Church, in Toledo, provides Lazarillo with an opportunity to marry an honest and hardworking woman who gives her husband no trouble, though gossip, until silenced by Lazarillo, tries to make out that the young woman is the Archpriest's mistress. By his wit, competence, and industry Lazarillo thrives and becomes a government inspector of wines at Toledo, a post which provides him with comfort and self-respect, if not affluence or great honor.
Antonia Perez Goncales (an-to'nya pa'rath gon-tha'las), Lazarillo's mother. A good but poor woman, she faces adversity following the death of her husband. To help her keep alive and provide for her small son, she takes a Moorish lover, by whom she has a darkskinned child. After her lover's conviction of theft she is thrown upon her own meager resources, at which time she tries to provide for Lazarillo by putting him in the service of a blind beggar.
Thome Goncales (to'ma gon-tha'las), Lazarillo's father, a miller. Convicted of fraud and theft, he enters military service and is killed shortly thereafter, in a battle with the Moors, while Lazarillo is a small child.
The Zayde (tha'e-tha), a stable master for the Comendador de la Magdalena. He is a Moor who becomes the lover the Lazarillo's mother. Being a poor man, the Zayde steals to provide for his mistress and the two children, Lazarillo and his half brother. His thievery discovered, the unhappy man is punished brutally and forbidden to see his adopted family.
The Blind Beggar, Lazarillo's first master. He treats Lazarillo cruelly from the first, beating the boy and starving him. He is a clever man who imparts his knowledge of human nature to the boy. No better master could have been found to acquaint Lazarillo with the rigors of life for a poor boy in sixteenth century Spain, though Lazarillo realizes this fact only later in life. As a boy he becomes bitter toward the man because of brutality and starvation.
The Penurious Priest, Lazarillo's second master, who also starves the lad and keeps up a battle for months to prevent his acolyte from stealing either food or money; he has little success against the ingenious Lazarillo.
The Proud Squire, Lazarillo's third master. A man of honor, he starves himself rather than admit he is without money. Lazarillo joins him in the expectation of finding a rich master, only to learn he must beg on behalf of his master as well as for himself. Eventually the squire, besieged by creditors, disappears.
The Friar, Lazarillo's fourth master, who is so busy and walks so far each day that Lazarillo leaves him after a few days.
The Seller of Papal Indulgences, a hypocritical pardoner who knows, like Chaucer's famous Pardoner, all the tricks to part poor Christians from their money. He is a fraud in every way, but he has little effect on the quite honest Lazarillo.
The Chaplain, Lazarillo's sixth master and first real benefactor. He gives Lazarillo work as his water carrier, enters into a partnership with the lad, and provides Lazarillo with a mule and the other necessities of his work.
The Archpriest of St. Savior's Church, a good and benevolent clergyman who helps Lazarillo to preferment and becomes his friend. He introduces Lazarillo to his future wife.
Lazarillo's Wife, a former servant of the archpriest. She gives birth to Lazarillo's child, a daughter.


The Story

Lazarillo's surname came from the peculiar circumstance of his birth. His mother happened to stay the night at the mill where his father was employed. Lazarillo was born on the mill floor just over the river Tormes, after which he was named.
He had reached his ninth year when his father was caught taking flour from customers' sacks. After being soundly punished, the father joined an army that was preparing to move against the Moors. He became a mule driver for a gentleman soldier and was killed in action.
Lazarillo's mother opened an eating house near a nobleman's estate. The widow soon made the acquaintance of Zayde, a black groom who frequently visited them. At first Lazarillo was afraid of the black man, but he quickly learned that Zayde's visits meant food and firewood. One consequence was a bit displeasing: Lazarillo acquired a small, dark brother to look after.
The nobleman's steward began to miss horseshoes and brushes as well as other supplies. When he was asked directly about the thefts, Lazarillo told all that he knew of Zayde's peccadillos. Zayde was soundly flogged, and boiling fat was poured on his ribs. To avoid further scandal, Lazarillo's mother set up a new eating house in a different neighborhood.
When Lazarillo was fairly well grown, his mother apprenticed him to a blind man who wanted a boy to lead him about. Though old, the blind man was shrewd and tough. As they were leaving the city, they passed by a stone bull. When the blind man told the boy to put his ear to the statue and listen for a peculiar noise, Lazarillo obeyed. Then the old man knocked the boy's head sharply against the stone, hard enough so his ears rang for three days. Lazarillo was forced to learn a few tricks for himself in order to survive.
The blind man, when they squatted over a fire to cook a meal, kept his hand over the mouth of his wine jug. Lazarillo bored a tiny hole in the jug, and, lying down, let the liquid trickle into his mouth. Then he stopped up the hole with beeswax. When the suspicious old man felt the jug, the wax melted and he found the hole. Giving no sign, the next night he again put the jug in front of him and Lazarillo again lay down expecting to guzzle wine once more. Suddenly the blind man raised the jug and brought it down with great force in Lazarillo's face. All the boy's teeth were loosened.
On another occasion, Lazarillo seized a roasting sausage from the spit and substituted a rotten turnip. When the blind man bit into his supposed sausage, he roared with rage and scratched the boy severely with his long nails. Resolved to leave his master, Lazarillo guided him to the shores of a brook. Telling the blind man he must run and leap, he placed his master behind a stone pillar. The old man gave a mighty jump, cracked his head on the stone, and fell down senseless. Lazarillo left town quickly.
His next master was a penurious priest who engaged him to assist at mass. Unfortunately, the priest watched the collection box like at hawk, and Lazarillo had no chance to filch a single coin. For food, the priest allowed him an onion every fourth day. If it had not been for an occasional funeral feast, the boy would have starved to death.
The priest kept his fine bread securely locked in a chest. Luckily, Lazarillo met a strolling tinker who made him a key. Then to avoid suspicion, he gnawed each loaf to make it look as if rats had got into the chest. The alarmed priest nailed up the holes securely, but Lazarillo made new holes. Then the priest set numerous traps from which Lazarillo ate the cheese. The puzzled priest was forced to conclude that a snake was stealing his bread.
Fearing a search while he was asleep, Lazarillo kept his key in his mouth while he was in bed. One night the key shifted so that he was blowing through the keyhole. The resulting whistle awoke the priest. Seizing a club, he broke it over Lazarillo's head. After his head had been bandaged by a kind neighbor, Lazarillo was dismissed. Hoping to find employment in a larger city, he sought further fortune in Toledo.
One night while his pockets were full of crusts he had begged on the city streets, a careless young dandy, a real esquire, engaged Lazarillo as a servant. Thinking himself lucky to have a wealthy master, Lazarillo followed him to a bare, mean house with scarcely a stick of furniture. After waiting a long time for a meal, the boy began to eat his crusts. To his surprise, his master joined him. The days went by, both of them living on what Lazarillo could beg.
At last the esquire procured a little money and sent Lazarillo out for bread and wine. On the way he met a funeral procession. The weeping widow loudly lamented her husband and cried out that the dead man was going to an inhospitable house where there was no food or furniture. Thinking they were going to bring the corpse to his esquire's house, Lazarillo ran home in fear. His master disabused him of his fear and sent him back on his errand.
At last the master left town. Lazarillo was forced to meet the bailiffs and the wrathful landlord. After some difficulty, he persuaded the bailiffs of his innocence and was allowed to go free.
His next master was a bulero, a dealer in papal indulgences, who was an accomplished rogue. Rumors began to spread that his indulgences were forged, and even the alguazil accused him publicly of fraud. The wily bulero prayed openly for his accuser to be confounded, and forthwith the alguazil, falling down in a fit, foamed at the mouth and grew rigid. The prayers and forgiveness of the bulero were effective, however, and little by little the alguazil recovered. From that time on the bulero earned a rich harvest selling his papal indulgences. Lazarillo, now wise in roguery, wondered how the bulero worked the trick; but he never found out.
Four years of service with a chaplain who sold water enabled Lazarillo to save a little money and buy respectable clothes. At last he was on his way to some standing in the community. On the strength of his new clothes, he was appointed to a government post which would furnish him an income for life. All business matters of the town passed through his hands.
The archpriest of Salvador, seeing how affluent Lazarillo had become, gave him a wife from his own house-hold. The woman made a useful wife, for the archpriest frequently gave them substantial presents. Lazarillo's wife repaid the holy man by taking care of his wardrobe; but evil tongues wagged, and the archpriest asked Lazarillo if he had heard stories about his wife. Lazarillo disclosed that he had been told that his wife had borne three of the archpriests' children. The archpriest advised him sagely to think of his profit more and his honor less. Lazarillo was content, for surely the archpriest was an honorable man.
Lazarillo was now so influential that it was said that he could commit any crime with impunity. His happiness increased when his wife presented him with a baby daughter. The good lady swore that it was truly Lazarillo's child.


Critical Evaluation

In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the Spanish novel began to develop into a modern form. This early novel form—particularly during the sixteenth century, the Spanish Golden Age of literature—evolved into four types. The earliest was the novel of chivalry. Amadis de Gaul, written in about the mid-fourteenth century but not published until 1508, is one of the best known of this type. Next in chronological order was the dramatic novel— a novel in dialogue—of which La Celestina (1499) is the prime exemplar. The other two types appeared at approximately the same time, midsixteenth century. One was the pastoral novel, the first and greatest being Jorge de Montemayor's La Diana (1559; Diana, 1596). The other was the picaresque novel, exemplified by Lazarillo de Tormes (La vida de Lazarillo de Tormes у de susfortunas v adversidades).
Lazarillo de Tonnes is generally conceded to be the earliest and the best of the picaresque novels. Episodic in form, the picaresque novel is usually told in the first person, the story dealing with the life of a ptcaro or rogue, who is both narrator and protagonist. In spite of much scholarly investigation, the origin of the terms picaresque and pfcaro is still doubtful, and etymological research has so far proved fruitless. Picaro, however, is understood to designate a wandering knave, a poor adventurer, who lives by his wits on the fringes of a class-conscious society and who must subordinate the luxury of ethics to the necessities of survival—in other words, the very essence of Lazarillo. Since the picaro typically serves several masters sequentially and in the course of his service observes their weaknesses and those of others, the picaresque novel becomes an ideal vehicle for depicting a wide cross-section of society and, with its satirical tone, manages to attack broad segments of that society in the process. Yet these picaresque elements of satire, parody, caricature, and the like were not unique to pic-aresque novels; they also existed in earlier literature— such as Juan Ruiz, the Archpriest of Hita's El libro de buen amor and Fernando de Rojas' La Celestina—which influenced the development of the picaresque novel. Still, it was in the picaresque novel that society was held up to most careful scrutiny and given the most scathing denunciation.
In addition, Lazarillo de Tormes is often thought, by virtue of its form, to be autobiographical. The likelihood of such an eventuality, however, is slim. The anonymous author refers to Latin authors—improbable for a real-life Lazarillo—and reveals a distinct influence of the philosopher Erasmus—equally improbable for Lazarillo, whose formal education might charitably be described as lacking; but the intrinsically fascinating adventures of Lazarillo need no autobiographical buttress. The instant and enduring popularity of the novel—three editions from 1554 alone are extant—is testimony to its compelling qualities as literature. So, too, is the number of translations: French, English, Dutch, German, and Italian versions appeared within less than seventy years of Lazarillo de Tormes' first publication; others followed. Imitation is another gauge of the novel's popularity and influence: in addition to Lesage's Gil Bias (1715-1735), among many others, there were even two sequels to Lazarillo de Tormes. Perhaps the ultimate accolade, however, was that the novel was placed on the Index librorum prohibitorum for its anticlericalism. (This anticlericalism is routinely attributed to the influence of Erasmus.) The work's popularity and influence evidently posed a threat to the Roman Catholic church.
As a character, Lazarillo is not original, cut from the whole cloth of the author's imagination. Before becoming the novel's protagonist, he was a character in folklore, with his name appearing in early proverbs and anecdotes. In fact, a quarter century before Lazarillo de Tormes was published, Lazarillo had a cameo role in Francisco Delicado's novel La lozana andaluza (1528), which features a picara, a female rogue after the La Celestina model. Following Lazarillo de Tormes, however, Lazarillo himself became such a staple that the very name itself became a generic term. Most particularly, the name was associated with the first episode in the novel: Lazarillo's service to the blind man. Hence, un lazarillo is, even now, a term used to designate a guide for blind persons.
The most important aspect of Lazarillo de Tormes, however, is satiric, and this satire is precisely targeted. All in all, Lazarillo serves seven masters before becoming his own master, so to speak. The story is thus divided into seven tratados (treatises or chapters), each dealing with a particular employer. The first is the blind beggar; the next, a priest; the third, a nobleman; the fourth, a friar; the fifth, a seller of indulgences; the sixth, a chaplain; the last, a constable. After narrating his unconventional background, Lazarillo launches his attack on social stratification, beginning with the blind man and continuing through the penniless nobleman and the constable; but his harshest commentary is reserved for the clergy— priest, friar, seller of indulgences, and chaplain—whose duplicity and venality are a constant source of amazement and embarrassment to him. Lazarillo's implicit and explicit criticism of the clergy constitutes the preponder-ant thrust of the novel. Yet Lazarillo's observations are astute, and the account accurately reflects contemporary conditions. Nevertheless, in such perceptivity lies a chal-lenge to the status quo, a challenge which those in power must suppress, as they did by banning the novel.
Above all, Lazarillo de Tormes conveys a mood, a temper, a tenor: a cynical antidote to idealistic world-views, secular or religious, which characterized the medieval age of faith. In this sense, the novel is refreshingly Renaissance, breathing clear air into a musty, closed era and musty, closed minds. It wafts a clarity which should, but does not, make the blind man see, the exploiter turn philanthropist, the self-seeking cleric become true shepherd, and so on. The unalloyed power of this novel in fact stems from its lack of malice: It deplores corruption, but it does not hate. Although it focuses on the lower levels of society, it is not Balzacian social criticism designed to reform. Although it attacks clerical depredations, it is not sacrilegious. Still, Lazarillo de Tormes is, in the last analysis, more than a bitter tale of personal privation. It is a realistic commentary—counterfoil to the competing idealism of somewhat earlier chivalric romances—on life as it is actually lived by common people who have neither privilege nor power but try to exercise those prerogatives in order to maintain or improve their positions in a hostile environment. Beyond cynicism and despair, it offers hope for better things to come, for Lazarillo ultimately gets his foot on the bottom rung of the ladder to respectable success. As town crier, he has a steady, assured income, even if his wife is a hand-me-down mistress of the archpriest of Salvador. Lazarillo is willing thus to compromise. The reader must finally respect Lazarillo's judgment.



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