The contribution of comparative literature to the humanities: Open endings in the picaresque

Luigi Gussago

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review


This paper advocates the importance of comparative literature not only as an area of exotic intersection between distant national cultures and languages, but also as a stimulating vantage point in the revision of stereotypes and top-down evaluations. After describing the mainstream approaches to literary comparisons-influence and imitation, reception and survival, thematology, etc.-I will apply a comparative method to one of the most imperishable forms of story-telling in a European context: the picaresque novel. Originating in late-Renaissance Spain as a polemical response to the conformism imposed by the Catholic Counter-Reformation, this kind of narrative centered on a rogue's farcical adventures has crossed frontiers and divides incessantly, from Britain to Germany, Italy, Russia and France, to name but a few. It has become the unreliable messenger of Enlightened modernity and its inevitable quandaries. In more recent history, the pícaros have joined the voices of Post-war disillusionment and the outcry announcing the end of all ideologies, in keeping with their usual understatement and unyielding self-indulgence. In this perspective, the analysis of the typical open-ended structure of a tale of roguery will help explain the essence of the picaresque anti-epos and fully justify a wide-ranging use of a comparative slant in the humanities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)25-37
Number of pages13
JournalThe International Journal of Literary Humanities
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Comparative
  • Literature
  • Picaresque

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