"En blanco y sin figura": Prologue, Portrait, and Signature in Cervantes' Novelas Ejemplares

Javier Lorenzo
go assess the influence of Don Quijote, and of the Cervantine oeuvre in general, on Hispanic letters is certainly a daunting task. The legacy of creativeness and innovation that pervades the works of "el manco sano," as he is admiringly called in the prologue of the Persiles, is so diverse and staggering that one might feel tempted to conclude, with Alejo Carpentier, "que todo está ya en Cervantes" (qtd. in González Echevarría par. 1). 1 Indeed, most of the narrative strategies and defining
more » ... es and defining attributes that we currently identify with modern and postmodern fiction are already established, or at least hinted at, in the pages of Don Quijote, the Persiles, and the Novelas ejemplares: the use of the self-conscious narrator; the juxtaposition of various levels of fictionality; the questioning of reality through the manipulation of point of view; the integration and combination of different genres and literary styles; the emergence of the autonomous character. These are some of the features that have secured Cervantes a place of honor in Hispanic and world literature and that have endeared him to countless generations of readers. The purpose of this essay is to explore another innovative aspect of the Cervantine heritage: the prologues. If the author of Don Quijote is commonly known as "el padre de la novela moderna," he is also "uno de los escritores con los que el prólogo alcanza sus más altas cimas" (Martín 1) in the history of Hispanic letters. These "cimas" are often climbed in an experimental and playful mood that rejects the well-trodden path of tradition. A good example of this is the prologue of Don Quijote part one, in which Cervantes resorts to a dialogue between the prologuist and a resourceful friend to provide the substance of the preface and to mock the conventional nature of all prologues. Another example is the Novelas ejemplares, in which the prologue occupies the empty space left by a portrait of the author that a friend forgot to insert at the beginning of the book: Quisiera yo, si fuera posible, lector amantísimo, excusarme de escribir este prólogo, porque no me fue tan bien con el que puse en mi Don Quijote, que quedase con gana de segundar con éste. Desto tiene la culpa algún amigo. .. el cual amigo bien pudiera, como es uso y costumbre, grabarme y esculpirme en la primera hoja deste libro, pues le diera mi retrato el famoso Juan de Jaúrigui. .. En fin, pues ya esta ocasión se pasó y yo he quedado en blanco y sin figura, será forzoso valerme por mi pico, que aunque tartamudo, no lo será para decir verdades, que dichas por señas, suelen ser entendidas. (50-51) 2