Utopic / dystopic mirroring : the romance and the picaresque in the Spanish and Russian traditions




Šetek, Nika

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This dissertation explores the relationship between the romance and the picaresque and their mirroring structures of correlated utopianism/dystopianism through the Spanish and Russian traditions. The romance and the picaresque are related modes: while the romance is a utopic vision of life as a quest, the picaresque is its carnivalesque inversion. The two modes are mirror images of each other, and while the romance is predominantly utopic, the picaresque is primarily dystopic. I argue that, in addition to a dominant utopianism/dystopianism, each of these modes contain recessive undertones – dystopic in the romance, and utopic in the picaresque – which are indispensable to their structure. I trace this pattern of utopianism/dystopianism through different types of romance and picaresque texts, beginning with the most popular Spanish chivalric romance, Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo’s 16th century Amadís de Gaula, in which the dominant utopianism is accompanied by numerous dystopic disruptions, which are necessary to move the plot forward, but which showcase the futility of the knight’s efforts. Similarly, in the Russian socialist romance, such as Nikolai Chernyshevsky’s 1863 novel Что делать? (What Is to Be Done?), the dystopic undertone is a necessary motivation for the achievement of a revolutionary utopia. I further show that, through a carnivalesque inversion, the picaresque creates a contrasting structure in which recessive utopianism underlies the dominant dystopianism. In the Early Modern Spanish picaresque texts, such as the anonymous Lazarillo de Tormes (1554), Mateo Alemán’s Guzmán de Alfarache (1599) and Francisco de Quevedo’s El buscón (The Swindler, 1626), the pícaro is moved by a belief that he can rise above his birth and circumstances, disrupting the strict hierarchy that the chivalric romance promotes. In Venedikt Erofeev’s Москва - Петушки (Moscow to the End of the Line, 1970), the Soviet pícaro believes in a personal paradise that exists just out of reach, in which he could be free from restrictions of life in the USSR. My analysis of these texts is primarily informed by Northtrop Frye’s work on the romance, particularly The Secular Scripture: A Study of the Structure of Romance, and Mikhail Bakhtin’s writing on carnival and the carnivalesque.


LCSH Subject Headings