Picaresque Novel: An Analysis

Picaresque Novel: An Analysis


The picaresque novel (Spanish: ‘picaresco’, from ‘picaro’,
for ‘rogue’ and ‘rascal’) is a popular genre of novel that originated in Spain
and flourished in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries
and has continued to influence modern literature. Therefore, picaresque novel
is the life story of rogue or picaro, a clever and amusing adventurer of low
social status. The story is usually narrated in the first person as
autobiography. Episodic in nature, the plot consists of a series of thrilling
incidents. The hero wanders from place to place, from job to job. The
adventures help the picaro to meet with the people of all different social
strata- businessmen, politicians, clergymen, doctors, lawyers, drunkards, poor,
buffoons etc. He is thus charged with opportunities of satirizing the hypocrisy
and corruption of entire society.


Picaresque Novel: An Analysis

Characteristically, the picaresque novel is anti-romantic in
nature. It sharply attacks the romance, courtly marriage and chivalry of the medieval
literature. Dr. Kettle is of the opinion, “What
made their novel possible was the new attitude to the world brought about by
the decadence of feudal society.”
With the passing of the old society, a
vacuum was created and people were faced with a desperate situation. Ruined and demoralized, the aristocracy took to questionable means for mere survival and
the lower classes became rogues and vagabonds. Surely, the picaresque novel came
out in such a vehement context. Lazarillo de Tormes is the
first picaresque novel in Spain that tells us the life story of a picaro boy. History
of the Life of Boscon
is another Spanish picaresque novel
describing the life and adventure of a rascal who follows his wealthy school
mate. He joins a gang of thieves, poses as a cripple, becomes an actor and
finally went to America.

Cervantes’s Don Quixote is somewhat akin
to the Spanish picaresque novel. It is a devastating satire on the entire
mischievous pile of romantic absurdity.
Gil Bilas by Le
Picaresque Novel: An Analysis
Sage is
however the best known picaresque novel that exercised a huge influence on
Fielding and Smollett.

However, it was Thomas Nash, the University Wit who first introduced
the picaresque tradition in his English fiction, The Unfortunate Traveller in
the Life of Jack Wilton
(1594). It is remarkable for its spirit and
wit and for the streak of tragic realism which runs through the major episodes.

Moll Flanders is considered the first picaresque of the
18th century. But critics like Ian Watt, Arnold Kettle and Neill
opposed the idea to call it mere picaresque novel. According to Ian Watt, the
adventures of the heroin are rooted in the dynamics of economic individualism
and so she is different from the picaresque protagonists.

Smollett’s Roderick Random (1748) is another
popular picaresque novel. It is a series of episodes told with vigour and
vividness and is linked together in the life of the selfish and the
unprincipled hero who relates them. His others picaresque novels are Peregrine
Pickle, Fardinand Count Fathom, Humphry Clinker
etc.

Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones is a gorgeous novel in picaresque
tradition. Tom is a traveling foundling. The plot of Tom Jones is a cleverly
constructed framework for a picture of life. It takes the reader to a panoramic
tour through society, a tour in which all
Picaresque Novel: An Analysis
the features of interest would be unobtrusively
highlighted. His another picaresque novel is
Sir Joseph Andrews.

Other novels with element of picaresque include Charles
Dickens’ David Copperfield, Rudyard Kipling’s Kim,
Mark Twin’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Jack Kerouac’s On
the Road
, Helen Zahavi’s Dirty Weekend etc.

To conclude, picaresque novel fells spotlight on the
realistic aspects of the society. The broad social canvas, the vivid
description of trades and professions, the mingling of all social classes, the
ironic scrutiny of the morals- these characteristics surely enrich our taste to
read picaresque novel time and again.

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