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El curioso impertinente

This long short story, or novela, is deeply embedded into the text of Part I of Don Quijote. Discovered in a piece of luggage left behind by a previous guest, the manuscript is read aloud by the priest to the assembled company at the inn in chapters 33-35. The mysterious traveller who left the bag behind must have been Cervantes himself, since there was another manuscript novela in the bag, the text of Rinconete y Cortadillo.

El curioso impertinente is one of Cervantes’s masterpieces of short fiction. It tells the story of Anselmo who prevails upon his best friend Lotario to test the virtue of his new wife Camila. Despite Lotario’s protestations about Camila’s virtue, and about the dangers of submitting her to such a pointless and senseless test, he agrees, and the inevitable happens. Despite the apparent misogyny of the theme – no woman can be expected to withstand such a test of her virtue – and the fairly traditional narrative treatment, Cervantes’s novela is an extremely complex examination of a triangular relationships, in which the erotic tension is not always where the reader might expect to find it. Part of Anselmo wants to see his best friend make love to his wife, and the cuckoldry which results is far from conventional, as the friendship between Anselmo and Lotario is consummated through the woman they have in common.

This interpolated novela is one of many examples of Cervantes’s use of themes and sources from classical literature, and Barry Ife has argued that the story of Gyges and Candaules, from Book I of the Histories of Herodotus is an important analogue for understanding the true nature of Anselmo’s motivation [see relevant publication].

Link to El curioso impertinente.

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