Published in Journal of Hispanic Philology, 7 (1982 ), pp. 66-68.
Daniel Eisenberg. Romances of Chivalry in the Spanish Golden Age. Proemio by Martín de Riquer. Newark, Delaware: Juan de la Cuesta, 1982. xvii + 182 pp.
It is good to have within the one cover some of what Eisenberg has published (and several new items) on a subject that he has made very much his own. The layout, however, is initially confusing: thus it is not made clear why the new sections of the monograph are numbered whereas the reprinted material is left unnumbered. The "one new item" mentioned in the Proemio consists of seven numbered chapters! Also, in the preface the author makes mention of his work already published and a new article (presumably that already referred to) which, having started off as an introduction, was expanded to become "the most important part of the book"; this could be interpreted to mean Chapter 1 alone. (It is, by the way, rather disconcerting to find the author thus categorizing his own work.) The disarray of the format, while detracting from the overall impression, does not seriously diminish the value of the work. A second edition, however, must order the material properly and remove these ambiguities. [p. 66]
In commending Eisenberg's work, Martín de Riquer makes a few valuable points, emphasising the neo-Arthurian origins of the Amadís, noting the special significance of the romances of chivalry for Don Quixote, and the need for more reliable editions and for much further basic research on the genre and on individual romances. In "By Way of a Prologue" Daniel Eisenberg underlines the point that the influence of the romances on Don Quixote should be studied for its own sake. In Chapter I a convincing attempt is made to state exactly what the genre is and what it has been. Many imprecise definitions and loss classifications, as well as a failure to make a proper distinction between "romance" and romance have contributed to a confusion that has marked much critical writing of the last hundred years or so. This has often not taken account of the views of the first readers, who saw the libro de caballerías as starting with the Amadís in 1505 and not deriving form earlier works in Castilian or from translations. Chapter II deals with critical work on the romances since they first appeared, and it si pointed out that no comprehensive treatment has appeared since H. Thomas's in 1920, most serious attention having been given to the Amadís and other single romances. Chapter III again covers familiar ground int racing the origins and the form and material of the Amadís. Chapter IV is much more substantial in seeking the reasons for the outstanding success of the genre. The new art of printing stimulated a great vogue for fiction in Spanish deriving from the Amadís prototype, and this coincided with the late cult of chivalry during the period 1500-50, roughly the reign of Charles V. Also, the unchanging nature of the material, its relative artistic simplicity and its quasi-historical appeal made the romances a literary staple for the upper classes who saw in them a pleasing reflection of social and other ideals. Finally the eventual attack of the genre as it deteriorated did not prevent its survival into the age of Don Quixote and after, while it was to last even longer in the literatura de cordel. In Chapter V Eisenberg makes a useful attempt to provide the framework of a typical romance with many illustrations in the notes from actual works. Chapter VI also breaks new ground in defending Feliciano de Silva, whose Amadís de Grecia is held to show both innovation and a fresh imaginative use of material inherited from Montalvo, as can be seen by the high esteem in which Silva was held in the sixteenth century. The new section of the book is rounded off by a short statement of research opportunities in the field. It is difficult to see why this was not placed in its natural position, at the end of the monograph.
Three of the last four chapters reprint some of Eisenberg's best work on the genre: his articles on the reading public of the romances, their pseudo-historicity and on the whole question of the significance for Don Quixote. His piece on the priest's comment on the Tirant lo Blanc, in Don Quixote, I, 6, however, seems to cover a lot of ground to no purpose, and concludes that Martorell deserves to be sent to the galleys for trying to write a serious romance which as such is a failure. Surely this misses the point. Why not accept the perfectly reasonable alternative reading of the passage based on the other meaning of galeras, as suggested by Riquer? An Appendix prints two little-known comments on the romances from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and the book ends with a good critical index. The volume is [p. 67] attractively illustrated by woodcuts form the 1545 edition of Cirongilio de Tracia, and each chapter begins with a capital letter from the print shop of Juan de la Cuesta. Most curiously the back cover, which carries a blurb on the author and his book, also has a photograph of him astride a fierce-looking motorcycle wearing a helmet and carrying a large shield!.