LIMORTI PAYÀ, Paül. "Tirant lo Blanc" i la historiografia catalana medieval. Valencia: Generalitat / Institut Juan Gilabert, 1999. 154 pp.
SIVIERO, Donatella. "Tirant lo Blanch" e la tradizione medievale. Echi testuali e modelli generici. Messina: Rubbettino, 1997, 260 pp.
TERRY, Arthur, ed. "Tirant lo Blanc". New Approaches. London: Tamesis, 1999. 142 pp.
These three books have their roots in the excitement created by the centenary of the printing of TlB in 1490. Professors started assigning TlB as dissertation topic or decided to help making this novel better known in the English-speaking world. Ten years have gone by, and since it takes that long to publish a book, the most recent discoveries about TlB had no impact on these three works. While for years we thought that there are about a dozen "quotations" from Corella in TlB, we only recently learned that there are more than a dozen dozens (J. Guia, Descobrint l'autor de TlB, 1996), and only even more recently has it been shown that there are also masses of similar "quotations" from Catalan translations of Boccaccio (Fiammetta, Filocolo, Decameron), Seneca and Ovid (see J. Pujol, Escriptura, imitació i memòria al TlB, Els Marges 65, 1999, 23-50, with bibliography). The TlB starts looking more and more like a cento, a literary genre Martorell had never even heard about. But if all those "quotations" came to him unconsciously, he was not just another example of how medieval people had 'amazing memories' (nobody else wrote like him), but his mind must have worked as does the one of an "idiot savant".
Readers interested in "cutting edge" Tirant scholarship might prefer Terry's anthology. But they should be familiar with the historical, literary and cultural background of the novel, which are well surveyed by Limorti and Siviero.
Limorti describes how the author of TlB creates the impression of historical truth by presenting his biography of Tirant as a translation and by introducing eyewitnesses, especially Diafebus. Martorell could have found models for this procedure in medieval Catalan chronicles, for instance the one by Muntaner, who described the actual deeds of Roger de Flor. Limorti also studies how the novel's various episodes are linked and how the book was divided into chapters. This second point leads to a most important question: What happened to Martorell's manuscript in the twenty-five years before it was printed? Here Limorti makes his most original, and daring, statement: "TlB was, for me, concebut per a ser llegit en públic" (p. 121). Even Martí de Riquer now believes that TlB circulated in Valencia already before 1490. But neither discusses the questions this hypothesis opens. Is it plausible that under these circumstances the novel remained unchanged? Is it believable to think that Corella remained unaware of the TlB? But how would he have reacted discovering the dozens of "quotations" lifted from his works? We hope Limorti takes up these questions in future publications.
Siviero's book is well written, with a good index and bibliography. It can be recommended to readers of Italian as a summary of what one ought to know about the literary background on which moved the author of TlB. Siviero does not introduce new hypotheses on any particular point, but in a well-rounded way, free of jargon, she fleshes out what the book's subtitle announces: Echi testuali e modelli generici. In chap. 2 she surveys narrative texts known in Catalan-speaking regions in the 13th to 15th centuries, pointing out their overall archaizing character. She then analyses the author's narrative technique: his own voice in the novel, the fiction of the translation, interpolated stories (the dream of the Empress, the Lady of Rhodes, etc.), inserted letters and documents (about forty!). Chap. 5 points out poetical echoes of, and parallelisms with, traditional lyric situations. (In my opinion, Martorell is made to look too much like a professional writer, capable of dealing ironically with troubadour material. With all the historical information we now have about him, it is high time we work out his psychologic profile, believable and without anachronisms.) Chap. 6 looks at courtly prose, including the "novela sentimental", and didactic chivalric texts.
The final chapter returns to the question, what literary genre TlB wanted to be, in order to determine the ultimate intent of the author and the meaning of his novel. But the conclusion is a copout. If, because it is a masterpiece, TlB must have more than one possible interpretation, being at the same time the expression of a pessimistic Weltanschauung AND of the author's ironic humor, everything goes, everybody is right! Siviero has elaborated a vast background to the novel, but a background that makes in unlikely that Martorell could have written it. We are, again, at a dead end. We have to ask new questions, dare to engage on new approaches.
Not all contributions to Terry's anthology present a new approach, but since they are all written in English, it is to be hoped that they will be widely read; especially by scholars who thanks to their personal expertise can react to particular questions in a new and unprejudiced way.
The first paper, by Jesús Rodríguez, on Chivalresque Worlds in TlB, shows that in regard to the concept of chivalry followed, the reader of TlB "experiences an ideological tension... which verges on contradiction". Rafael Beltran, "Comedy and Performance in TlB, analyses chap. 282 (the three hour long recital of Tirant's feats, followed by reenactments), 436 (Carmesina's defloration), 53 (the allegorical stage in London), 189 (the spectacle with the Sybil), and 265 (Carmesina's faked tryst with the gardener). Josep Pujol discusses, in Poets and Historians in TlB, Martorell's models. As did Limorti and Siviero, Pujol too treats the dedication, which calls the novel a translation, as a literary strategy. (I still believe that that page really was a dedication of a translation, of Guy de Varoic, but then ended up at the beginning of the Tirant.) Montserrat Piera starts her article TlB: Rehistoricizing the 'Other' Reconquista with the interesting question if Cervantes was in a position to understand the historical facts that influenced the writing of TlB. She shows that the decline of Byzantium chronicled by Martorell mirrors the disintegration of the Catalan regions after the imposition of foreign rulers in 1412. María Jesús Rubiera, in TlB and the Muslim World in the Fifteenth Century, restates her discovery that in chap. 301 to 349 statements are made about the Muslim religion which cannot come from the person who wrote the rest of the book (e.g., Mohammed called 'a god'). Albert Hauf shows, in The Eschatological framework of Tirant's African Adventure, that just as the imagined reconquest of Constantinople from the infidels was wishful thinking by the author, Tirant's North African campaign also expresses preoccupations of contemporary Valencians. (Hauf transcribes letters which comment on the demographic decline due to the plague, famines and increased emigration to Italy, the disintegration of the economy, etc., at a time when King Alfons 'the Magnanimous' was having a grand time in Naples.) Thomas Hart, Language and Intimacy in TlB, analyses how the author shows intimacy in the novel even though he never tries to enter the minds of his characters. Jeremy Lawrance, Death in TlB, reviews how critics have explained the conflicting signals found in the novel's final chapters (tragedy? parody? sarcasm?) and concludes that the author mixed tragic and comic effects not for any moral-didactic purpose, but out of an artistic intent. Finally, Josep Guia and Curt Wittlin lay out Nine Problem Areas Concerning TlB which have to be addressed by whoever wants to get a coherent and convincing picture of what happened between 1464, when Martorell gave his manuscript to Galba, and 1490, when the novel was printed. They review the problems with the book's Dedication and Colophon, the novel's stylistic and lexical incoherences, the repeated passages, the strange way other authors are excerpted, and MS Madrid BN 7811.
Arthur Terry, animator and editor of these articles (and translator of five of them) is to be thanked for his initiative. May it inspire other such undertakings and increase Tirant scholarship in the English-speaking world. Catalan Review would be pleased to provide a platform for new research on "el mejor libro del mundo".
UNIVERSITY OF SASKATCHEWAN