Culture & History

Lazarillo de Tormes

A practical suggestion for readers wishing to avoid having their literary choices blindsided by a disparaging comment

Pen and Manuscript

It occasionally happens that just as you’re getting into a good book and building up an imaginary rapport with its long-departed author, someone makes a disparaging comment about the writer which you can’t then get out of your head, tainting the entire read.  One way to avoid this popular ad hominem tactic for spoiling other people’s fun is to read anonymous works.

One of the best known works of Spanish literature is such a one – Lazarillo de Tormes.  The delightful 16th century satirical novel is standard fare in schools and is frequently used as an introduction to Spanish literature for both students of Spanish and native speakers.

The novel is considered to be a pioneering work of the genre known as picaresca, to which the later, even better-known Don Quixote de la Mancha belongs.  It’s also plugged as a fine example of Spain’s golden century, and serves to introduce the subject of censorship by the Spanish Inquisition, since it was one of the works that made the Index of Forbidden Books, a sort of a sixteenth century hall of fame.

The book is an autobiographical account of the fictional life of Lázaro, an orphaned boy who describes his adventures with a series of masters, each one a typical character of the society of the time.

And while Don Quixote is better known than Lazarillo, it’s probably not better read, on account of the length of it.  One of the advantages of Lazarillo is that it’s very short, so short that anyone can finish it without the excuses and other dubious claims made by those (of us) who made it some distance past the other’s introduction to an “idle reader” and intend to finish it one day.

Lazarillo should probably grace any bookshelf that includes Spanish works, but the text is also available online at a number of sites, both in Spanish and English.

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