Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Spanish Lit Month: The Celestina by Fernando de Rojas

Publisher: Univ. of California Press
Translator: Lesley Byrd Simpson
Date: 1499 (1955)
Format: paperback
Source: BookMooch
Read: for Spanish Lit Month
Pages: 162
Reading time: three days

Country: Spain. La Celestina, or Tragicomedia de Calisto y Melibea, is the only known surviving work of Fernando de Rojas. He wrote the novel as a student and, despite the book's international success in Europe during the 16th century, never returned to writing, instead choosing to practice law.

From GoodReads: The Celestina is the first European novel, a fifteenth-century Spanish masterpiece remarkable for its originality, depth, handling of dialogue, and drawing of character. The plot is simple: a young nobleman enlists the services of Celestina, an old bawd, to help him seduce a girl; the seduction ends in tragedy. It is not, however, the love story that is important. It is Celestina who dominates the scene. She is a frank and lusty old pagan of the Renaissance, brimming over with classical lore and a salty wisdom gained in the course of a vigorous and sinful life, which she still loves with a wonderful heartiness. Her greatest regret, indeed, is that in her remote youth she neglected some few opportunities to enjoy herself. In her old age her pleasure is in purveying pleasures to others. She is one of the great creations of all literature and has a secure place beside her two compatriots, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.

My review: I was a bit nervous about reading a novel written entirely in dialogue (dialogue-driven books and I have had some issues in the past), but The Celestina actually reads more like a play than like your average novel. Indeed, as I was reading I found it fun to imagine the story as how it could take place on a stage. Thematically and even stylistically, there were parts that reminded me of Shakespeare and other playwrights of the era.

Being written in a form more common to drama, The Celestina proved to be a fairly quick read. I didn't become very engaged in the story, however, until closer to the end. It's all just a lot of talking, after all. Some of the humor hasn't aged well - I'm sure there were details that were supposed to be funny that I utterly missed - but there's still some laughable moments amidst the general seriousness of the book. Overall, it's a rather fun novel, suitable for both pleasure and scholarly reading.


  1. I just wanted to drop a note as I picked this as well for Spanish Lit Month. I was wildly enthusiastic about Celestina, and I'm wondering from a couple of your comments whether or not the translation may have had a lot to do with it. I found myself riveted to the work, and, far from finding it dated in its humor, I thought it almost unendingly hilarious. You may be interested in checking out the Peter Bush translation; he seems rather proud of what he's done with Celestina in relation to existing translations, and I'm convinced - from the few passages I've from other translations - that he has good reason to be.

    1. It's quite likely the translation has something to do with it; being from the 1950s, it's certainly not the most recent. I know reading Seaumus Heaney's translation of Beowulf worked wonders for my understanding of the epic (and how much I enjoyed it) after struggling through a 1930s translation. Thanks for your suggestion!