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From: "Alice K. Turner" 
Subject: Re: (urth) Picaresque
Date: Mon, 23 Dec 2002 00:57:34 -0500

> Patera Nutria wrote:
> >>I won't argue that picaresque tales are not
> >>still around. I'm happy to be corrected.
> >>      However: "The word picaresque derives
> >>from the Spanish picaro, which means rascal
> >>or crafty good-for-nothing" (Michael Alpert,
> introduction [p.7] to *Two Spanish Picaresque
> >>Novels*, pub. by Penguin.)
> >>*Tom Jones* is a decent example, from the same
> historical period (roughly).
> >>         But that's just a detail.
> For while Patera Nutria is certainly correct about the origin of the term
> "picaresque", I would strongly want to dispute that "Tom Jones" is a good
> example of the form in English.
> While "picaresque" narratives are typically about rogues, their
> distinguishing structural feature is that they are loosely plotted and
> episodic. Generally, the central character moves around the place and
> different people and encounters various, often unrelated, adventures. Some
> critics therefore regard it as a "bridge" form from the chivalric romance
> the novel. The argument in a nutshell would be that the picareque story
> usually makes some attempt at characterisation (though often carricatured
> and grotesque), and thereby rises above the archetypal approach to
> used in the mediaeval romance and its renaissance literary descendants. On
> the other hand, unlike the novel, the plotting of the picaresque tale is
> loose and unstructured.

Correct--the last sentence, that is. The meaning has changed. I invite you
both to do a Google on "picaresque Tom Jones." Follow it up with "picaresque
Don Quixote" and then with "picaresque Candide." No one could possibly call
Candide or the Don rogues; in their different ways they are as saintly (or
delusional) as Silk himself. It is the form that is the defining factor now.
(I wish I could cite you examples from my once beloved OED CD-ROM but alas
it no longer works with XP. Grrrr.)

Just for fun, I kept an eye out, reading yesterday's New York Times Book
Review, for use of the word in reviews of new novels. I found it twice, once
about two girls who found a rock band that goes on the road ("So we follow
Hopey as she stumbles into social conundrums and sexual adventures as all
good picaresque heroines (or heros) must.") and one featuring the straight
man on a vaudeville comedy team. ("[T]his picaresque tale...whose fortunes
spanned the glory days of burlesque, Hollywood's golden age and the
ascendance of television.")

That first line (about Hopey) strikes me as a pretty good example of the
modern usage.




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