The Literary Impact Of The New World: Columbus To Carrizales1
B.W. Ife

The meeting of two cultures which took place on a tiny island in the Bahamas in October 1492 was understandably described by a contemporary as the greatest event in the history of the world, save only for the incarnation and death of Him who created it. 2 With five centuries of hindsight, the encounter gives greater cause for commemoration than celebration. That is equally understandable. The consequences of the 1492 voyage for the peoples of the Caribbean, and of the whole American continent, were truly awful. That first contact unleashed a wave of epidemic, of exploitation, of social and cultural deracination, of demographic catastrophe from which the native peoples of the Americas have only now begun to recover. 3 And for Columbus, too, the encounter brought more heart-ache than joy. But it is fruitless to imagine what might have been; to expect that Spain, once having stumbled clumsily upon a New World, would quietly close the door and tiptoe away. There is no life without contact, and there is no contact without pain. Human beings, human societies and civilisations, are constantly knocking against each other, invading each other's space, each other's bodies, wreaking havoc in each other's lives. And as with so many other encounters, after that meeting on the beach on Guanahaní, in the grey light of dawn on 12 October 1492, nothing in Spain or America was ever the same again.

In this article I want to use that encounter as a way of bringing together two sets of issues, neither of which has really been properly examined in the context of the other: the birth of America in the European consciousness, and the birth of the novel in Spain. These are large and somewhat heterogeneous concepts, too large to be manageable in the space of an article without unacceptable levels of generalisation, yet ripe perhaps for yoking together-I trust without undue violence-in that most sober and festive of devices, the conceit.

Top of page

The conceit I have in mind is embodied in a man of no consequence, in his forties, on board a ship becalmed in mid-Atlantic, on his way to the Indies. Behind him lies a life of restlessness, frustration and despair; ahead, though he is not to know it yet, lies one of success followed by disaster and ruin.

I refer not to Christopher Columbus, though he will be prominent in my argument, but to another-fictional-voyager to the New World, Felipe de Carrizales, the jealous old man from Extremadura, in Cervantes's novel of the same name. The match is not perfect, as befits a conceit. Columbus was 41 when he made his momentous voyage, not 48; he was not a nobleman down on his luck, and he did not leave behind him quite as many broken hearts as Carrizales evidently did. Nevertheless, the parallel which Cervantes draws between these two travellers is eloquent in its way. Separated by a hundred years, and by the thousands of desperate souls who had made the journey in the meantime, these protagonists from history and fiction are brought together by common goals: the search for gold, and the search for self-definition. 4 I often wonder which of these objectives was uppermost in Cervantes's mind when he described the American dream as 'a delusion common to many, and a remedy privy to few'. 5

My purpose in drawing attention to this transient congruence of two figures from history and literature is not just to introduce the theme of the impact of America on literary developments in early modern Spain, but to do so in a way which highlights a larger and more problematic conceit in Spanish literary culture of this period. The real terms of the comparison are two outstanding features of writing in the Spanish Golden Age: the rich body of literature about America on the one hand; and on the other, the great series of experiments in prose fiction which constitute the origins of the modern novel. Are they related, and if so, how? The question indicates vividly how Spanish writing in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries takes us to the heart of what Louis A. Montrose has called 'the historicity of texts and the textuality of history', 6 and ultimately to the larger question which has been burning in my mind for some time: why was the novel born in Spain?

Top of page

Classic accounts of the rise of the novel, such as that of Ian Watt, 7 point to a number of factors which come together in eighteenth-century England to create a recognisably new kind of fiction. The features of this new literary form are said to be the overthrow of conventional plots, a focus on the particularities of person, place and time and on the authentic experience of the individual, and the application of techniques of formal realism. Few nowadays would subscribe to the notion of the novel rising anywhere 8 -still less in eighteenth-century England-but the Spanish literary landscape from the 1480s through to the middle of the seventeenth century is marked by an astonishing quantity, variety, and richness of books of prose fiction: courtly, epistolary, chivalresque, picaresque, byzantine, pastoral; novels in the first person, novels in the third person, novels in dialogue, novels in verse; books set in the past, in the present, in Spain, in Europe, in the Near East and the Far North, books set everywhere and nowhere. Even without Cervantes, the range and the quality of Spanish fiction of the Golden Age is not equalled by any other European culture of the period, and the question why this should have been so cannot be avoided.

Ian Watt's account of the origins of the novel may have been superseded in certain crucial respects, but what has not been overtaken is his strong awareness of the necessary conditions of any literary movement: literacy and education. In the context of eighteenth-century England, Watt emphasises the importance of the growth of a reading public among the newly-literate bourgeoisie, and among women in particular. As far as literacy is concerned, there are reasons to suppose that Spain produced a more literate society at an earlier period than almost any country in Europe. Work done by scholars such as Philippe Berger and Sara Nalle shows surprisingly high levels of book ownership among Spaniards of all classes by the early years of the sixteenth century, and relatively high levels of literacy, particularly among men, by the end of the century. 9 It is not hard to see why. The Catholic Monarchs worked hard at producing a meritocratic letrado class to service their design for a unified state, and they put in place the primary, secondary and university education system which would help to bring that about. 10 The church also gave high priority to promoting the growth of education and literacy, among women as well as men. Clearly, these developments had knock-on benefits for Spanish society as a whole.

But the necessary conditions of education and literacy are, by definition, not sufficient in themselves to account for the extraordinary richness of Spanish prose fiction in the Golden Age. They certainly help to create the environment, but it would be hard to argue that in themselves they constitute the catalyst. Spain may well have enjoyed higher levels of literacy and of educational provision than some other countries in sixteenth-century Europe, but she did not have a monopoly of these benefits, and, in any case, literary culture is very often the preserve of an élite who can be expected to be literate no matter how disadvantaged the cultural context.

Over 25 years ago, A.A. Parker tried to break out of a similar vicious circle created by the growth of the picaresque as a cultural phenomenon in early modern Spain. The question is related to my own. 11 Why, if social conditions in Spain were not dissimilar to those of other European countries, did the picaresque take hold in Spain and not elsewhere: 'It is surely unquestionable that, if the new realistic novel of the sixteenth century needed a society in which vagrancy and delinquency were prominent, it could just as easily have been born in any other country as in Spain.' 12 The solution that Parker proposed was literary rather than socio-economic: 'It would be pointless to deny that there were economic and religious strains in the social life of Spain and that these could be reflected in literature, but it is not easy to assess the influence of such things on the rise of a new literary genre. There must, of course, have been some connexion between its emergence and the social life of the country at that particular period, but it is much safer to look for signs of the connexion in the literature itself...The problem is essentially one of literary history.' (14). In the case of the question which I am posing, it may be possible to find both historical and literary factors which were specific to Spain and which might have stimulated the growth of fiction. For if we ask what did Spain have that others did not, one obvious answer is: America, and writing about America. 13

Top of page

The literature of Spanish discovery and conquest in the New World is extraordinarily rich both in quantity and quality. 14 It falls into four broad categories: the eye-witness accounts by the men of action, men like Columbus, Cortés, and Bernal Díaz; the accounts of the first ethnographers, the friars who were sent to carry out the spiritual conquest and who found themselves recording whatever they could of indigenous culture before it was too late; then there are the dry-shod historians, to borrow Oviedo's disparaging term, 15 men who never got their feet wet, but sat at home trying to make sense of it all; and finally, drawing on all this work as well as the fruits of classical learning, there is the great literature which fuelled the debate about the moral, philosophical, religious, and ethnographical implications of the conquest. 16

Taken as a whole, this enormous body of writing paints a picture of a thrusting, active, mobile society, but not an unthinking one. While the conquistadores pushed forward the frontier of misunderstanding, cutting a great swathe of culture shock through the indigenous societies of mainland America, the missionaries tried to gather up the precious fragments as they fell, and piece together the very mentality which they were attempting to invade. Not all of this is to Spain's discredit. For while the historians applied a uniformly providentialist gloss to events in America, they were engaging in an almost unprecedented way with the contemporary world, writing about events as they were unfolding, talking to and about people who were often still alive, and in the case of Bernal Díaz, provoking a dialogue with those who were there and who took part.

There are a number of obvious parallels here with the contemporary fictional portrayal of action in both its heroic and anti-heroic modes. But there is also a parallel with the contemplative thrust of much sixteenth-century Spanish prose fiction, the propensity to stand back from action and question the moral basis of that action. For the events in America did not go unchallenged, and the outstanding spokesman for the opposition was the Dominican friar Bartolomé de Las Casas: a meticulous scholar when he needed to be (if it were not for him we would know virtually nothing of Columbus's first voyage), and yet at the same time a fanatical propagandist. 17 His advocacy of the Indian cause gave Spain a reputation for brutality from which she has never fully recovered, but also led to an open debate about the legitimacy-legal and moral-of the conquest. It is not often that a nation puts its head in its hands and cries with anguish 'my God, what have we done?'

Top of page

The first sixty years of discovery and conquest produced literally hundreds of works of description and analysis, as Europe tried to fathom the strangeness of the New World. However, the difficulty of adducing this body of writing as evidence in a discussion of the origins of Spanish fiction lies in the fact that to do so is simply to push the crucial question one step backwards. Why should the discoverers and conquerers-men whom we are used to thinking of essentially as men of action-have turned their hand to writing in such large numbers and at such length? Even if the stereotype of the Renaissance soldier/poet-well-bred, cultivated, and polymathic-ever existed, such a figure can only have been exceptional, and the men with whom we are dealing were in any case rarely, if ever, from that class. We may be reasonably certain about the educational background of the friars and the clergymen, but for the rest, what we know of their formal education suggests that it must have been rudimentary in the extreme.

Columbus came from a family of weavers and wine merchants, most of whom were barely literate, and there is no record of his having undergone any formal education at all. Nevertheless, he must have picked up some schooling, because later in life he read widely in contemporary and classical geography. Nor should we forget that the language in which he wrote his Journal was not his mother tongue, nor even his principal adopted language, Portuguese. Cortés's family was of rather better stock and he may have spent a couple of years at Salamanca University, but he had certainly left there by the age of 16, without taking a degree, and earned his living for a time as a notary. Bernal Díaz's father was a local government official and his brother also entered government service, but Bernal himself is not on record as having had any secondary education, and he frequently alludes, and not just in formulaic self-deprecation, to the lack of polish in his written style. Las Casas was the son of a small merchant, studied Latin in the academy at Seville cathedral, but began his career as a soldier rather than a scholar. Whatever scraps of education these men had, they were certainly not among the letrados, the new meritocracy who were flocking to the universities and who would eventually staff the burgeoning government service. The conquistadores were, for the most part, those whom the education system left behind, and perhaps a system which equipped its drop-outs to write on occasion like Livy and Tacitus could repay closer attention today.

However, the quality of education available to the men who carried out the discovery and conquest is not, I think, the important issue. What helps to account more effectively for the existence of such a large body of writing about America are the conditions and the constraints under which it was produced. As I have argued elsewhere, 18 the very notion of the conquistador as a free agent is almost certainly misplaced. The benefits of the modern centralised state under construction in Spain could not be had without the contraints, and the conquistadores were constrained wherever they went by a far-reaching network of controls administered from the centre by the Crown and the Church. Although the discoverers were always in conflict with that bureaucracy, they could not ignore it. The business of discovery and conquest may have been delegated to private individuals, but it was not done without strict contractual obligations which were closely monitored. Columbus himself sailed with two Crown officials on board whose job it was to keep tabs on progress, look after the Crown's interests and see that all the proper formalities were carried out. The control of detail in matters taking place at the furthest edge of the known world is remarkable indeed, as is the rapid growth of the bureaucratic and constitutional mechanisms in Spain needed to keep track of the discoveries across the Atlantic. 19

The close administrative supervision under which men like Columbus and Cortés worked, and the constant requirement to report back to the centre, may help to explain something about the peculiar quality of their writing. By 'quality' I do not mean literary merit, although this is in many cases very considerable indeed. I refer rather to the strong note of defensiveness which frequently comes through in their reports. The administrative imperative may not always produce good literature, but it does foster a strong sense of accountability. The shrewd conquerors learned not just to live with but to harness the power of the document and the written record, and to turn it to their advantage. Nevertheless, when the conquistadores write they often seem to be looking over their shoulder and fending off criticism, justifying themselves and their every action and decision.

Top of page

The requirements of a tightly-organised, centralised administration go some way to accounting for the huge volume of writing which came out of the New World in the early years, but they do not explain everything. When Columbus writes in the prologue to his Journal that he intends to keep a detailed daily record of the voyage, noting everything he may do, see or undergo, 20 he is not responding to purely administrative pressures. Columbus knew that deeds are not enough when one is working at the edge of the known world and the rewards are to be found at the centre. If he was definitively to stamp his personality on his achievements, he would have to do so in writing, and the act of assertion implied in resorting to the written word was particularly crucial in his case. Columbus more than any other discoverer/writer of this period had to face the epistemological consequences of the dramatic conflict between textual authority and first-hand experience. As Anthony Pagden has shown, the power of authority was such that when 'experience directly contradicted the text, it was the experience, which was unstable because of its very novelty, which was likely to be denied or at least obscured'. 21 This conflict was to be that much greater for Columbus because of the interest he had vested in preserving the status of the authorities which had dictated his initial hypothesis.

The way out of this impasse, as Pagden goes on to argue, was to 'create a text where none had existed before' (54), to invent new genres or to make new versions of old genres, to combine chronicle, autobiographical narrative, natural history and legal deposition, to recognize 'that the presence of America demanded a new kind of writing', and then to go on to endow the resultant text with authority by appeal to the authorial voice. José de Acosta's Historia natural y moral de las Indias (1590) may have been the first book not just to do this but to theorize about it, as Pagden asserts, but the practice had certainly been adopted by Columbus a good hundred years earlier. In his Journal of the 1492 voyage he took the simple log-book and the rutter and transformed it, even in the imperfect form in which it has come down to us, into a subtle analysis of his struggle to come to terms with an unknown and barely fathomable reality. 22

The commonplace observation-bequeathed to us by Antonio de Nebrija, the publication of whose grammar of Spanish gave proper cause for quincentenial celebration in 1992-that 'language is the companion of empire' more than proved its worth in the context of America. Not only were the Spanish confident-in themselves, in their technology, command structures, and religious ideology-, they also enjoyed what Samuel Purchas called a 'literall advantage'. 23 The advantage lay less in the fact that they were able to represent the world more accurately or manipulate it more effectively than the indigenous societies-they certainly were able to do the latter, both in the service of the Crown and the Church and in the pursuit of personal interests-; it lay much more in the fact that Spain was able to develop forms of writing through which it could cushion the impact of the New World, and control, mediate and ultimately possess the new reality, both politically and intellectually.

Top of page

We can see this process at work from the outset, in the founding text of the conquest, the Journal of the 1492 voyage. For Columbus's first act in the New World, as he went ashore that October morning in the company of Martín Alonso and Vicente Yáñez Pinzón, captains of the Pinta and the Niña, and the secretary of the expedition, Rodrigo de Escobedo and the accountant, Rodrigo Sánchez de Segovia, was one of possession; the assertion of right to property, and the appropriation of a people and a culture through language. The legality of the act of possession was more problematic than Columbus himself allowed. 24 Whatever view one has of the early modern world, simply marching into another territory and taking over was not acceptable. For an act of possession to be legal there had to be witnesses (the Pinzón brothers); there had to be Crown representatives (the secretary and the accountant); and there had to be someone to give possession. Columbus knew about these formalities, because at the beginning of the prologue of the Journal he describes the handing over of the keys of the Alhambra to the Catholic Monarchs by the defeated Boabdil in a ceremony at which he claims to have been present. 25

There were circumstances under which one of the parties, the present owner, could be dispensed with, but only when the lands being annexed were 'res nullius', when they belonged to no one. But these, surely, were the lands of the Great Khan; how could they be considered 'res nullius'? The legal precedents clearly put Columbus in some difficulty; either the islands belonged to someone, or they did not. Evidently, Columbus decided they did not. And if they did not, who were all these people who inhabited them?

For Columbus to resolve this paradox he had somehow to disregard the reality he had before him, a reality which he describes in some detail: the crowds of young, handsome Indians, mostly men, who swim out to the ships and cheerfully exchange their own goods-cotton, spears, parrots-for the sailors' trinkets. Friendly people, generous, good-looking, but completely characterised by lack. 'It seemed to me that they were a people who were very poor in everything', Columbus writes. 'They go as naked as their mothers bore them...they do not carry arms and do not know of them...they have no iron...they are quick to repeat what is said to them, and I believe that they could very easily become Christians, for it seemed to me that they had no religion of their own. God willing, when I come to leave I will bring six of them to Your Highnesses so that they may learn to speak.' 26 Almost unconsciously, and within minutes of landing, Columbus has scraped bare the reality of the New World and created a tabula rasa on which to inscribe a new political and cultural reality of his own. 27 The negative definitions-they are not aggressive, wear no clothes, know no weapons, have no property, do not speak, 28 and above all have no religion-promote a state of non-existence; and although this is legally and politically convenient (they become thereby 'null'), and evangelically convenient (they are ready for the imprint of the faith), it creates a radical paradox at the heart of the text-lands filled with innumerable people can still be in another, crucial, sense empty. 29

As with the process of stripping bare, that of reinscription begins in the Journal entry for that first morning. We are told that the landfall island was called in the language of the Indians Guanahaní. Columbus, of course, did not know that at the time; the name was supplied by someone who transcribed the Journal at a later date. Columbus himself called the island San Salvador, and he went on to rename all of the islands he visited: Santa María de la Concepción, Fernandina, Isabela, Española. As he made his way gingerly around the shores of the Caribbean, he literally and metaphorically 'christened' the islands, headlands, bays and rivers he encountered on the way. Only one island, Cuba, resisted the permanent imprint of its new name 'Juana', possibly because the form 'Cubanacán' suggested so strongly that this indeed was the territory of 'el Gran Can'.

To say that Columbus 'renames' the islands is not strictly correct; in point of fact, the verb he uses is dar nombre, 'to name'. In spite of the fact that he usually seems to know what the islands are 'really' called in the language of the inhabitants, as far as he is concerned they are nameless until he names them. 30 But there is an irony here: we know that Columbus made his first landfall on an island called 'Guanahaní'. But no-one to this day knows for certain where Guanahaní is or was. By suppressing the Indian name, Columbus inadvertently dis-established the site of his greatest triumph.

Top of page

But linguistic colonialism is not limited to the act of naming. Language, Columbus knew, is legislative by its very nature; 31 it works by classifying and codifying, and its real power lies not in the way it reflects reality, but in the way in constructs a sense of reality. Through writing, Columbus presses the shape of his own culture onto the soft clay he sees before him. And this, in spite of the fact that speech as such was of little use to him in the hours and days which followed that first meeting. In that sense he was powerless-the Indians could not understand him, nor he them. But while he was unable to manipulate them directly through speech, he could manipulate them indirectly through writing.

I saw some (Columbus writes) who had signs of wounds on their bodies and in sign language I asked them what they were, and they indicated that other people came from other islands nearby and tried to capture them, and they defended themselves. I believed then and still believe that they come here from the mainland to take them as slaves. 32

In two sentences Columbus both admits his lack of understanding-they communicated, or failed to communicate, in signs-and claims to intuit a hierarchical world in which these people are attacked and enslaved by another, presumably more powerful and more war-like people; a people who fulfil the role of the great, absent, oriental civilization which is Columbus's ultimate goal. The Journal text is full of such constructions, of the man-eating caribs, of the marvellous landscapes, of the commodious bays in which all the ships of Christendom might safely ride at anchor; and of the naked Indian cacique who comes aboard the Santa María on 18 December and whom Columbus clothes in the discourse of savage nobility, grace, gravitas, innate authority and, above all, generosity: "He and his tutor and counsellors are very sad because they could not understand me nor I them. Nevertheless, I understood him to say that if I wanted anything from there, the whole island was at my disposal". 33

What we see, from the very first pages of the Journal is a picture of a traveller not so much describing as inscribing, literally creating an image in writing as the journey unfolds, and overlaying that image on a reality which has been wiped clean for the purpose. 34 The Journal format is crucial to this process. Day by day, as the fleet edges its way along unknown shorelines and into unknown inlets, so the daily entries in the journal mark the stages by which a new world is constructed. As the ships feel their way towards the horizon, space is converted into place by the inscription of names on a chart and letters in a journal. As Paul Carter has pointed out, there is a headland in NW Australia called Cape Inscription. It was given that name by Emmanuel Hamelin in 1801 when he found there two inscriptions left by Dutch discoverers in 1616 and 1697. It is a paradigm of what Carter calls 'spatial history', the facts of which are:

...not houses and clearings, but phenomena as they appear to the traveller, as his intentional gaze conjures them up. They are the directions and distances in which houses and clearings may be found or founded...spatial history begins not in a particular year, nor in a particular place, but in the act of naming. For by the act of place-naming, space is transformed symbolically into a place, that is, a space with a history. And by the same token, the namer inscribes his passage permanently on the world, making a metaphorical word-place which others may one day inhabit and by which, in the meantime, he asserts his own place in history. 35

In Columbus we have a classic case of a traveller who asserts his own place in history through the act of naming and through the creation of word-places in the pages of his Journal. The first person, the 'I'-witness, which characterises the journal format constantly claims attention and reinforces an overpowering sense of self.

Your Highnesses (he writes in the Prologue to Their Majesties) ...resolved to send me, Christopher Columbus, to the said regions of India to see the said princes and the peoples and lands...and you ordered that I should not go by land to the East, which is the customary route, but by way of the West, a route which to this day we cannot be certain has been taken by anyone else. 36

The touching arrogance of the prologue to the Journal is not untypical of those who seek self-knowledge and self-definition through the passage of time and place. It is echoed by Don Quixote himself as he rides out one morning reciting to himself the account of his adventures which he imagines some chronicler to be writing at that moment. Like all wanderers, Columbus and Quixote are trying to repair their sense of displacement. The traveller's journal staunches that fundamental lack by articulating new places of the imagination, whose creation helps to build a sense of self.

Top of page

In the case of Columbus, however, the realities of textual transmission have been unkind. For what we have is not the journal Columbus wrote, but the Journal which history has decreed would survive. When Columbus returned to Spain in March 1493 he presented his journal to the Catholic Monarchs, in token of his achievement. It must have been a moving and rather satisfying moment for him, to be able to offer tangible proof of something which his detractors had said was not possible. Along with the other tokens of possession-the gold, the spices, the Indians themselves-he offered them the most positive proof of all: words in a book. Isabella had the journal copied, retained the original and gave the copy back to Columbus. Both the original and the copy are lost, but what we do have is a digest made by Las Casas at some time in or after the 1520s. The result is a curious hybrid of first-person narrative and third-person summary.

Las Casas began the digest thinking that he would summarize the whole document, except the prologue which he evidently thought important enough to transcribe in full. What begins, then, as history: 'This is the first voyage with the courses and route which the Admiral don Christopher Columbus took when he discovered the Indies...' is swept aside in a powerful assertion of self: 'Your Highnesses resolved to send me, Christopher the said regions of India.' 37 Thereafter, Las Casas's summary is frequently interrupted by Columbus's own voice bursting through: 'estas son palabras formales del Almirante'-'these are the Admiral's own words'. 38 Throughout the digest, the two persons struggle for supremacy. Columbus's own construction of events is framed and sometimes overlaid with Las Casas's selective and often critical commentary.

Top of page

The Journal of the 1492 voyage, the founding text of America, is, then, in the form in which we have it, an extremely rich and complex document, and one which can be read as a paradigm for many of the salient features of sixteenth-century prose fiction in Spain. At the heart of the Journal there is a traveller, a wanderer, searching for fulfilment through the location of a place. As he travels, he records his progress, not just forward progress in purely geographical and navigational terms, but progress towards the construction of the reality he seeks. He inscribes his cultural and ideological values on the features of the landscape, on the blank sheets of his chart and his journal. As he does so he stakes his claim to selfhood, to permanence and fame. And while all this is going on, another writer in the text is chronicling the career of Christopher Columbus, first Admiral of the Indies.

There is here, I would suggest, a clear analogy with the complex issues raised by the construction of self in the early Spanish novels. On the one hand we have the heroic image of militant christianity in the chivalresque, with the knight as the champion of cultural and religious values at large in a hostile landscape. On the other, lies the self-fashioning picaro, narrating his way through enemy territory, the socially and economically hostile world of the urban poor, and being allowed, in the process, to self-destruct. The text of the Journal as it survives points forward to the complex interaction of first-person narrative and third-person commentary which is so characteristic of Spanish fiction in the sixteenth century. Defining the self through action and destroying the self through the critique of action is a thread which runs throughout both terms of my comparison; and anyone looking, say, for precedents for the structure and ethos of a novel like Guzmán de Alfarache, would be wise to include the 1492 Journal in his enquiry.

Top of page

I have been suggesting that in at least one of the key texts which helped to create the idea of America in the European consciousness, the writer displaces one form of reality with another of his own making. I suspect that this happens to us all from time to time, but what made the procedure so urgent in the case of Columbus was the negative standpoint from which his writing inevitably departed. Put simply, he was not where he expected to be; he had failed to achieve his objective and he had to replace that failure by something else. The skill with which he achieves this displacement is quite astonishing, particularly since he appears able to look at, write about and simultaneously disregard a reality which he had before his eyes: 'innumerable people' can at the same time be 'nothing'.

Nevertheless, the controlled double vision which Columbus sustains throughout large parts of the Journal fails at crucial moments. For of all the ways in which the conquistadores fall short of their objectives-power, wealth, recognition, reward-their failures of comprehension and communication are perhaps the most serious. The absent addressees back in Spain, those who in many cases held the keys to reward and recognition yet had no knowledge or experience of the local conditions, had to be made to understand, to re-live, the problems faced by the conquistadores-the terrain, the culture, the sheer size of everything. And this had to be done when they themselves were often at a loss to understand that reality. In his second letter, before attempting a comprehensive description of Mexico, Cortés voices a characteristic complaint about the difficulties he faces as a narrator:

Most powerful Lord (he writes), in order to give an account to Your Royal Excellency of the magnificence, the strange and marvellous things of this great city of Temixtitan and of the dominion and wealth of this Mutezuma, its ruler, and of the rites and customs of the people, and of the order there is in the government of the capital as well as in the other cities of Mutezuma's dominions, I would need much time and many expert narrators. I cannot describe one hundreth part of all the things which could be mentioned, but, as best I can, I will describe some of those I have seen which, although badly described, will, I well know, be so remarkable as not to be believed, for we who saw them with our own eyes could not grasp them with our understanding. 39

There is nothing formulaic in this admission of failure. No matter how self-sufficient men like Columbus and Cortés may have been in action, in the end they had to appease the politicians and the paymasters. They had to learn quickly and effectively how to set the record straight, and to use the written word to gain political and financial support in the pursuit of their aims. And, as we have seen, they used writing as a tool to stamp political, linguistic and conceptual authority on the unknown. But the reality all too often rebelled.

The results of this rebellion take a number of forms. Sometimes, further acts of appropriation result. Native words and concepts, alien to the world and the language of Spain, are ingested wholesale into the dominant discourse-hamaca, canoa, cacique. Sometimes, the writers give up altogether. Columbus frequently confesses himself at a loss to know what to say, unmanned by his own inarticulacy. At the most functional level, his command of Spanish breaks down at moments of high emotion and great stress (witness the absurdly grandiloquent prologue; or the incomprehensible syntax in the account of the cacique's visit aboard the Santa María). More often he is simply unable, he says, to capture the reality in words, unable to proceed, to explain or describe:

...these lands are so good and so fertile...that there is no one who could describe them, and no one could believe it unless they saw it...(16 December)

...there can be no better people or land, and in such quantity that I do not know how to describe it...(24 December)

...I went in and saw a marvellous arrangement of rooms which I could not describe...(3 December) 40

Columbus's resolution of this problem, as Stephen Greenblatt has shown in an important study, is through recourse to the marvellous, because genuine inarticulacy will not do: there is too much at stake. A show of inarticulacy can be eloquent up to a point; the poet's classic invocation of his muse at moments of emotion can be used to create an illusion of ecstasy, of feelings too intense and a presence too powerful to be articulated in language. And there is undoubtedly something of this in Columbus's constant babbling of the word 'maravilloso', by far the most frequently used adjective in his text. But there comes a point when the explorer simply must devise a form of expression which will make the powerful people back home understand what it is like to operate at the furthest edge of the known world. 41

The usefulness of the word 'marvellous' to Columbus is that it combines two different standpoints in one. As a noun, a 'marvel' is something strange, prodigious, something which induces a strong sense of otherness, of the extraordinary. The source of the marvellous is outside the self. But as a verb, 'to marvel' is to experience an intense inner feeling, a silent awe of the prodigious, and to have both a strong sense of the gulf between self and other and a strong sense of the other in the self. The adjective brings both these meanings into play, and Columbus uses the term both to make the reality exotic and to make the inarticulate expression of wonder stand in for the reality he is attempting to convey.

As Greenblatt has argued, the pursuit of the marvellous lies at the centre of all Columbus's writing because there is a fundamental syncope in his experience, a gap to be filled between expectation and achievement:

...the marvellous is precisely the sense that will confirm the power and validity of Columbus's claims against those cavilling skeptics who want more tangible signs of gain. Not to manifest and arouse wonder is to succumb to the attacks against him. The marvellous stands for the missing caravels laden with gold; it is-like the ritual of possession itself- a word pregnant with what is imagined, desired, promised. 42

The more prodigious the reality can be made to seem, the more he can bring about the desired union of East and West: because the East has always been marvellous, the West must also be marvellous, so that the West and the East can become one.

Top of page

To see this process at work, we do not have to look further than either of the two letters which Columbus addressed to the Catholic Monarchs and to Luis de Santángel immediately on his return to Lisbon in March of 1493. The first of these has recently come to light, in the form of the so-called Libro copiador, a collection of nine transcripts of Columbus documents, of which seven were previously unknown. 43

These brief accounts, like the text of the Journal itself, are powerful tokens of achievement and of claim to reward. They rehearse the trajectory of possession: San Salvador, Santa María de Concepción, Fernandina, Isabela, Juana, 'and so on, to each a new name', and then they go on to detail what we have already learned of the lands and the people. As in the Journal, the people have nothing-no clothes, no property, no weapons, no religion-but the lands themselves are wonderfully rich, both for their flora, their lush, fertile vegetation and copious gold-bearing rivers, and for the supply of some of Europe's most expensive imported goods-gold, pepper, mastic, aloe, rhubarb and cinnamon.

Then, as if to set the seal on these marvels, whose eloquence he has so far largely invoked by appealing to the cupidity of his readership, he concludes by alluding to the truly prodigious. 'I have found no monsters' he confesses to Santángel, 'as many expected', but he ends nevertheless with references to islands populated exclusively by women, cannibals, people with tails, people without hair, and to lands yielding 'gold beyond measure'. 44 The letters of 1493 allow Columbus to assert two kinds of wonder, the monstrous as well as the marvellous: he does not claim to have seen the first kind, but he constantly asserts first-hand experience of the second.

Top of page

In some ways it is not surprising to see the credibility gap bridged by recourse to medieval travel literature, and in particular to Mandeville and Marco Polo, since the expectations of both Columbus and his contemporaries had been based on this conjunction of prior discourses. 45 As Edward Said has shown, for the western world the East has always been a fiction originating in texts and in the imagination.46 46 The most effective way in which Columbus could assert his claim to have reached the East via the western route was simply to recite back to his readers the very texts and images on which the enterprise had been founded-he simply recycles medieval views of the East via the Caribbean. Cortés does it too, more subtly and with greater skill, in the elaborate, awe-struck, descriptions of Moctezuma's palaces and pleasure grounds, the rituals of his court and his collection of curiosities-all of which cast the Aztec emperor in the hybrid role of oriental potentate and Renaissance Man. And Cortés does it also in the set-piece word-pictures-of the market at Tenochtitlan, the pitched battles during the great siege, the prodigious natural obstacles overcome during the march to Honduras.

Top of page

Once again we reach a point at which the two terms of my comparison intersect. The conquistadores are drawing on literary sources to create prodigies in the text and a sense of wonder in their readers; and the novelists are witnessing the effectiveness of energia and admiratio at work in a non-fictional context. 47 Visual vividness and excitement stimulated by the exceptional are, again, constants of Spanish fiction from Amadís through Don Quixote and the Persiles and beyond; 48 and they were techniques not invented in America, but put to such good effect in the American context that writers like Cervantes could not help but develop them within their own aesthetic.

The classic example of the intersection of American history and Spanish fiction is, of course, Bernal Díaz, and the first glimpse of the Aztec capital:

Next morning, we came to a broad causeway and continued our march towards Iztapalapa. And when we saw all those cities and villages built in the water, and other great towns on dry land, and that straight and level causeway leading to Mexico, we were astounded. These great towns and cues and buildings rising from the water, all made of stone, seemed like an enchanted vision from the tale of Amadis. Indeed, some of our soldiers asked whether it was not all a dream. It is not surprising therefore that I should write in this vein. It was all so wonderful that I do not know how to describe this first glimpse of things never heard of, seen or dreamed of before. 49

The passage is an effective one and has attracted much comment. 50 Its effectiveness lies in the way it finds an analogy between the wonder experienced by the men in Mexico, and the wonder experienced from the armchair, by the reader of fiction back home. What I doubt the passage can sustain, however, is the view that the conquistadores in some way modelled themselves on the heroes of the chivalresque. For one thing, this passage was written in the 1560s when reference to Amadís had become a commonplace way of signalling surprise and delight at the exotic, and it appears to be the only allusion of its kind in the first wave of writing about America. And it is worth noting, perhaps, that Columbus had made four voyages to America, and died, and Vespucci had published his account of the New World, before even the first edition of Amadís ever saw the light of day. Rather than the conquerers modelling themselves on Amadís, I wonder if the influence did not run the other way.

In fact, I suspect that we have here a case of two related phenomena arising quite independently from a single set of circumstances. It is difficult to account for the rise and popularity of the chivalresque in sixteenth-century Spain. At first sight it seems anachronistic that fourteenth-century Arthurian material should resurface so vigorously at a time when chivalric issues were all but things of the past. Was the popularity of the novels of chivalry, then, purely nostalgic? But there is also a case to be made for the renewed currency of knighthood in the years immediately following the completion of the reconquest. This was an age which was re-living the spirit of the crusades. Columbus's own true objective was not really China at all, but the recapture of Jerusalem. And Amadís de Gaula embodies not just chivalric heroism, but high religious ideals: his heroism lies in his virtue.

There may well be a clear common cause, then, between the project of the western route, with its promise of a renewed economic, diplomatic and religious thrust against Islam, and the emergence of a fictional symbol of militant christianity. And as I have suggested elsewhere, 51 a White Christian hero makes a good role model for an administration that was trying to build a political and religious hegemony out of what was left of a multi-racial, multi-cultural society. For the better part of the sixteenth century the knight was an unassailable cultural expression of the dominant ideology of Spain.

It is strange, then, to see the conquistadores so often associated with a form of culture which represented a social orthodoxy from which they themselves were excluded. Letters from America are always written from the margins, social as well as geographical. Columbus's construction of self is so often characterised by marginality: he is a foreigner-it shows in his command of language-, he was mocked by his detractors, and the role he feels most comfortable in is that of Job. 52 Cortés writes as a renegade, constantly trying to make his peace with the administration in Spain, yet for ever at odds with the officialdom foisted on him. Bernal Díaz, again, writes as the underdog, the General's right-hand man but never mentioned in dispatches. These men are all outsiders and they all want what outsiders always want: they want in, and they can't get in. If I were looking for literary counterparts, it would be to the picaresque, not necessarily to the chivalresque, that I would turn, and to that whole body of fiction in Spain concerned with the margins of an oppressively orthodox society, with the urban poor, the new christians, gypsies, criminals and women.

Yet it would be unwise to emphasise overmuch the distinctions between the high culture of chivalresque romance and the low culture of the picaresque. For one thing, these genres co-existed and appealed equally to an educated readership; for another, Cervantes showed that the two genres could be reconciled into a new form of imaginative discourse that would become characteristic of Hispanic fiction on both sides of the Atlantic to the present day. Both types grew up in response to the demands for recreational literature made by a new reading public among the professional classes of early modern Spain. The nature of that demand was varied. In terms of plot, what readers liked most was some kind of journey. Virtually all the heroes of Spanish fiction at this time are wanderers, in search of something-a grail, a cure for their love, social acceptability or economic well-being. Like Columbus, whose search for Jerusalem was thwarted, most fail in their objective, but some find peace of mind, or marriage, or in the Persiles, another holy city-Rome. As plots go the quest is pretty conventional, but it was the plot of the age, the plot of a dynamic, restless, questing society. Spanish Golden-Age fiction is open-air stuff, whatever the genre; interior scenes are few, and largely set in taverns, the place where human lives most often intersect. Domestic interiors-such as the parody of bourgeois life to which Carrizales returns from America, or the scene of Leocadia's rape in La fuerza de la sangre-are dark, oppressive, and life-threatening.

Within these plots, the heroes wander across real landscapes, through real towns, and encounter real poverty, corruption and oppression-even if the wicked enchanters have sometimes turned them into giants and ogres-, and in doing so they construct for themselves a sense of who and what they are. Sometimes that sense of self consists in upholding a set of values against a hostile force, whether it be chivalric virtue at the most heroic level or just the everyday personal integrity that Cervantes most admires in his fellows. Sometimes that self is crafty, shifty and morally transparent. But the particularities of time and place, and especially of person, are definitely there, as Lazarillo learns to his cost on the bridge at Salamanca. 53

What we do not find, however, are the techniques of formal realism that Watt considered central to the rise of the novel in eighteenth-century England. A scrupulous concern for versimilitude, yes; real-life and low-life settings and characters, certainly; but not conventional realism of the kind which it has been traditional to associate with the modern novel. I think we are now used to seeing that kind of realism, if there ever was such a thing, as a passing phase in the broader history of the novel. The world of Spanish fiction in the sixteenth century, whether heroic or satirical, is illuminated from within by that light which the writers from America tried to kindle in their readers' imaginations, the light of admiratio, of pleasurable surprise, astonishment, wonder and awe. And it is illuminated from outside by the piercing searchlight of moral significance.

Top of page

The argument of this paper has been constructed around a conceit. If the purpose of a comparison is to draw attention to likeness, a conceit, as Helen Gardner put it, makes us 'concede likeness while being strongly conscious of unlikeness'. 54 Some may find my comparison far-fetched, but I have not been suggesting that there are direct textual influences at work here, although there are reasons to believe that Cervantes for one read widely in the contemporary literature about the New World. 55 If I have concentrated on Columbus, it is largely because he makes such an unlikely literary figure. And, with the exception of the letter to Santángel, no writer of Golden-Age fiction could have read anything Columbus wrote.

But that is not the point. What I am suggesting is that if the novelists of the Golden Age had read Columbus, and the many other letters that arrived in Europe from America, they would have found there a great deal which was central to their own aspirations. They would have found a very eloquent example of the way in which language can bring new worlds into being. 56 They would have found a prototype of the way in which a persona is constructed by interaction with the world through which it moves. They would have found many examples of the vivid representation of the prodigious, and a way of looking at the natural world that saw in it a source of wonder rather than dismay. And they would have found a vision of the world which lay bare the system of moral and spiritual values against which the lives of men and women would ultimately be judged. Like Carrizales, becalmed in mid-Atlantic, they might have thought back over the many perils which they had experienced in their years of wandering and pondered the intemperate course of the lives they had led, and perhaps resolved, like him, to mend their ways in the future.

Top of page

layout text
1. layout text This paper was originally given in Oxford on 22 October 1992, as the 1992 Taylorian Lecture, under the title 'Letters from America. The New World and the Literary Imagination'. In re-working the text for the Institute of Romance Studies Conference on 'Discovery, Conquest and Expulsion: the Cultural Consequences of 1492' on 13 November 1992, and for subsequent publication, I have made the scope of my enquiry more precise. I should like to express my gratitude to Professor Ian Michael and to the Curators of the Taylor Insitution for the original invitation, and to Jo Labanyi and the Institute of Romance Studies for the opportunity to develop the argument. The resulting article is dedicated with respect and affection to Professor P.E. Russell in belated celebration of his 80th birthday.
2. layout text Francisco López de Gómara, Dedication to Hispania victrix. Primera y segunda parte de la Historia general de las Indias, Biblioteca de Autores Españoles, XXII (Madrid, Sucesores de Hernando, 1918), 156: 'La mayor cosa después de la creación del mundo, sacando la encarnación y muerte del que lo crió, es el descubrimiento de Indias'. Few have resisted the temptation to quote this astonishing contemporary judgment of the events of 1492 and I am not one of them.
3. layout text Linda A. Newson, 'The Demographic Collapse of Native Peoples of the Americas 1492-1650' in The Meeting of Two Worlds: Europe and the Americas, 1492-1650, ed. Warwick Bray, Proceedings of the British Academy 81 (London, The British Academy, 1993), 246-288.
4. layout text The image is a powerful but not an original one. For the image of the ship as an emblem of self-definition see Simon Schama, The Embarrassment of Riches. An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age (London: Collins, 1987), I,1,ii: 'The medieval commonplace of the ship as mother church, the allegorical parable of the Narrenschiff, the Ship of Fools, and the humanist image of the Ship of State were garbled together to make a composite metaphor for the Dutch community, set adrift on the "great historical ocean"' (31). Compare also Anthony Pagden, European Encounters with the New World (New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 1993): 'All those who travelled to America, Spaniards, Portuguese, English and French, saw the sea-journey as an ordeal, almost ... as a rite of passage which could convey either purity or a special kind of vision to those who suffered it and survived' (3).
5. layout text '...engaño común de muchos y remedio particular de pocos.' Cervantes, Novela del celoso extremeño in Exemplary Novels, 4 vols (Warminster, Aris and Phillips, 1992), III, 8. Cervantes's image of a man at a turning point in his life and career also anticipates Roberto González Echevarría's perception of what he calls 'the central enabling delusion of Latin American writing: the notion that in the New World a new start can be made, unfettered by history' in Myth and Archive (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1990), 4.
6. layout text Louis A. Montrose, 'Professing the renaissance: the poetics and politics of culture' in The New Historicism, ed. H. Aram Veeser (New York and London, Routledge, 1989), 15-36. This quotation, 20.
7. layout text The Rise of the Novel (Harmondsworth, Penguin Books, 1963).
8. layout text More typical is González Echevarría's view that 'the novel, having no fixed form of its own, often assumes that of a given kind of document endowed with truth-bearing power by society at specific moments in time...The novel therefore, is part of the discursive totality of a given epoch...' (Myth and Archive, 8).
9. layout text Philippe Berger, 'La lecture ˆ Valence de 1474 ˆ 1560, évolution des comportements en fonction des milieux sociaux' in Livre et lecture en Espagne et en France sous l'ancien régime. Colloque de la Casa de Velázquez (Paris, 1981), 97-107; and Libro y lectura en la Valencia del renacimiento, trans. Amparo Balanzá Pérez, 2 vols (Valencia, Institució Valenciana d'Estudis i Investigació, 1987); Sara T. Nalle, 'Literacy and culture in early modern Castile', Past and Present, 125 (1985), 65-95. Other important contributions to the study of literacy in Spain include: Maxime Chevalier, Lectura y lectores en la España de los siglos XVI y XVII (Madrid, Turner, 1976); D.W. Cruickshank, '"Literature" and the book trade in Golden-Age Spain', Modern Language Review 73 (1978), 799-824; Marie-Christine Rodríguez and Bartolomé Bennassar, 'Signatures et niveau culturel des témoins et accusés dans les procs d'inquisition du ressort du Tribunal de Tolde (1525-1632) et du ressort du Tribunal de Cordoue (1595-1632)', Caravelle 32 (1978), 17-46 (I am grateful to Caroline Tonson-Rye for this reference); Juan Eloy Gelabert González, 'Lectura y escritura en una ciudad provinciana del siglo XVI, Santiago de Compostela', Bulletin Hispanique 84 (1982), 264-90; J.N.H. Lawrance, 'The spread of lay literacy in late medieval Castile', Bulletin of Hispanic Studies, 62 (1985), 79-94; and B.W. Ife, Reading and Fiction in Golden-Age Spain (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1985). There are enormous methodological problems in evaluating the evidence from these studies, the evidence for which naturally gives greater prominence to literacy among the male population, particularly the leisured classes and those likely to give evidence to the Inquisition. For comparisons with literacy rates outside Spain see David Cressy, Literacy and the Social Order: Reading and Writing in Tudor and Stuart England (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1981).
10. layout text Richard L. Kagan, Students and Society in Early Modern Spain (Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974).
11. layout text Roberto González Echevarría has also brought these issues together by pointing to 'the synchronicity between the Picaresque and the first narratives of and about Latin America' and the relationship between 'novelistic discourse and nonliterary forms of hegemonic discourse' (Myth and Archive, 39). He goes on to tie the two together in terms of the emergence of the modern state: 'The first and defining set of circumstances that determined the emergence of such narrative was the development in Spain and its colonies of a modern state, and the fashioning of a legal system to sustain it by controlling individuals.'
12. layout text A.A. Parker, Literature and the Delinquent (Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 1967), 12-13.
13. layout text The English colonial experience and its impact on Elizabethan and Jacobean literature has been widely studied by the so-called 'new historicists' such as Stephen Greenblatt. The chronology is significant in the context of America. England had to wait until 1588 for 'the first original book about the first English colony in America' in the shape of Thomas Harriot's Brief and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia (and until 1607 for the establishment of the first permanent base in North America at Jamestown). See Stephen Greenblatt, 'Invisible Bullets' in Shakespearean Negotiations. The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1990), 21-65. This quotation, 21. I am grateful to Dr T.L. Darby for this and other references in the field of English studies.
14. layout text David Brading, The First America. The Spanish Monarchy, Creole Patriots, and the Liberal State 1492-1867 (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1991) is a recent valuable survey. See also Beatriz Pastor Bodmer, The Armature of Conquest (Stanford, Stanford University Press, 1992).
15. layout text Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés, Proemio to the Historia general y natural de las Indias (Seville, 1535) speaks of his own history as 'verdadera e desviada de todas las fábulas que en este caso otros escritores, sin verlo, desde España, a pie enjuto, han presumido escribir.'
16. layout text Lewis Hanke, Aristotle and the American Indians (London, Hollis and Carter, 1959) and Anthony Pagden, The Fall of Natural Man: The American Indian and The Origins of Comparative Ethnology (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1982).
17. layout text My favourable view of Las Casas's scholarship is not shared by David Henige, In Search of Columbus: The Sources for the First Voyage (Tucson, The University of Arizona Press, 1991) and Margarita Zamora, Reading Columbus (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London, University of California Press, 1993). I hope to return to their arguments in an article in preparation.
18. layout text Christopher Columbus, Journal of the First Voyage, ed. B.W. Ife (Warminster, Aris and Phillips, 1991), xiii-xiv.
19. layout text 'Royal officials in the Indies, theoretically at large in the great open spaces of a great New World, in practice found themselves bound by chains of paper to the central government in Spain. Pen, ink and paper were the instruments with which the Spanish crown responded to the unprecedented challenges of distance implicit in the possession of a world-wide empire.' J.H. Elliott, 'Spain and America before 1700' in Colonial Spanish America, ed. Leslie Bethell (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1987), 63.
20. layout text 'También, Señores Prínçipes, allende de escrevir cada noche lo que el día passare, y el día lo que la noche navegare, tengo propósito de hazer carta nueva de navegar; en la qual situaré toda la mar e tierras del mar Occéano en sus proprios lugares debaxo su viento y más componer un libro y poner todo por el semejante por pintura por latitud del equinocial y longitud del Occidente.' (Ife, Journal, 4). Here and elsewhere italic text indicates sections of the Journal which Las Casas attributed to Columbus verbatim. Note also Columbus's concern during the return voyage that his account of the voyage might be lost in a storm which blew up on 14 February, and which may have led to the drafting of the summary letters to Santángel and to the Catholic Monarchs (B.W. Ife, Letters from America. Columbus's First Accounts of the 1492 Voyage (London, King's College London School of Humanities, 1992), 9.
21. layout text Pagden, European Encounters, 53.
22. layout text Margarita Zamora has underlined the significance of Columbus's switch, after the Journal entry for 11 October 1492 (the eve of the landfall and the following day), from navigational to temporal record. 'Although the entries continue to record the route, they begin to focus, like Ca' da Mosto's account, on the events of the voyage as the coherent experience of the individual consciousness of the narrator-navigator...Each entry is a narrative segment, a portion of the story of the voyage that not only tells where Columbus happened to be and the route he followed to get there, but also places the significance of that particular geography (i.e., what occurred there) in the context of the unfolding larger voyage experience...Thus, the reader encounters not so much a "navigational chart in prose", as a culturally inflected discourse whose purpose is to give meaning to the voyage by relating the narrator's subjective experience of it' (Reading Columbus, 122-23).
23. layout text Stephen Greenblatt, Marvelous Possessions. The Wonder of the New World (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), 9.
24. layout text Ife, Journal, xxiv-xxv; F. Morales Padrón, 'Descubrimiento y toma de posesión', Anuario de Estudios Americanos, 12 (1955), 321-80; Greenblatt, Marvelous Possessions, ch. 3.
25. layout text '...este presente año de 1492, después de Vuestras Altezas aver dado fin a la guerra de los moros que reynavan en Europa y aver acabado la guerra en la muy grande çiudad de Granada adonde este presente año a dos días del mes de enero por fuerça de armas vide poner las vanderas reales de Vuestras Altezas en las torres de la Alfambra, que es la fortaleza de la dicha çiudad, y vide salir al rey moro a las puertas de la çiudad y besar las reales manos de Vuestras Altezas y del Príncipe mi Señor' (Ife, Journal, 2).
26. layout text 'Mas me pareçió que era gente muy pobre de todo. Ellos andan todos desnudos como su madre los parió...Ellos no traen armas ni las cognosçen...No tienen algún fierro...muy presto dizen todo lo que les dezía. Y creo que ligeramente se harían cristianos, que me pareçió que ninguna secta tenían. Yo, plaziendo a Nuestro Señor, levaré de aquí al tiempo de mi partida seys a Vuestras Altezas para que deprendan fablar' (Ife, Journal, 28, 30).
27. layout text Compare González Echevarría's use of the metaphor of the clearing in the jungle (Myth and Archive, 17): 'in the writing of the novel [Los pasos perdidos] a clearing has been reached, a metafictional space, a razing that becomes a starting point for the new Latin American narrative...That razing involves the various mediations through which Latin America was narrated', including, of course, the one whose construction we are currently discussing.
28. layout text See Stephen J. Greenblatt, 'Learning to curse: aspects of linguistic colonialism in the sixteenth century' in Learning to Curse. Essays in Early Modern Culture (London, Routledge, 1992), 28: 'If it was immensely difficult in sixteenth-century narratives to represent a language barrier, it is because embedded in the narrative convention of the period was a powerful, unspoken belief in the isomorphic relationship between language and reality...Many sixteenth-century observers of the Indians seemed to have assumed that language-their language-represented the true, rational order of things in the world. Accordingly, Indians were frequently either found defective in speech, and hence pushed toward the zone of the wild things, or granted essentially the same speech as the Europeans.'
29. layout text Greenblatt, Learning to Curse, 17: 'The mention of the nakedness of the Indians is typical; to a ruling class obsessed with the symbolism of dress, the Indians' physical appearance was a token of a cultural void. In the eyes of the Europeans, the Indians were culturally naked.'
30. layout text Brian Friel's play Translations shows the same process at work in a more modern context, that of County Donegal in 1833. The Ordnance Survey works its way through a community and a culture translating and transliterating all the place-names into acceptable English equivalents. Much is made of the fact that one of the English officers mistakenly calls the local translator by the wrong name. The local man affects indifference: 'Owen, Roland,' he says, 'what does it matter? It's the same me, isn't it? Well, isn't it?'
31. layout text Roland Barthes, 'Inaugural Lecture, Collge de France', in A Barthes Reader, ed. Susan Sontag (London, Jonathan Cape, 1982), 460, cited by Richard Wilson and Richard Dutton, 'Historicising New Historicism' in New Historicism and Renaissance Drama (London and New York, Longman, 1992), 3: 'Language is legislation, speech its code. We do not see the power that is in speech because we forget that all speech is classification, and that all classifications are oppressive.'
32. layout text 'Yo vide algunos que tenían señales de feridas en sus cuerpos y les hize señas qué era aquello, y ellos me amostraron cómo allí venían gente de otras yslas que estavan açerca y los querían tomar y se defendían. Y yo crey e creo que aquí vienen de tierra firme a tomarlos por captivos' (30). I have been criticised by Peter Hulme for the rendering 'sign language' on the grounds that the phrase would imply a mutually understood and agreed language system, which is clearly not implied by the original. Hulme's observation strikes me as valid, although I have not adjusted my published text in this citation in the interests of consistency.
33. layout text 'Y él y su ayo y consejeros llevan grande pena porque no me entendían ni yo a ellos. Con todo le cognoscí que me dixo, que si me compliese algo de aquí, que toda la ysla estava a mi mandar' (138).
34. layout text Greenblatt, Learning to Curse, 24, cites Terence Hawkes on Shakespeare's Tempest: 'A colonist acts essentially as a dramatist. He imposes the 'shape' of his own culture, embodied in his speech, on the new world, and makes that world recognizable, habitable, 'natural', able to speak his language', Shakespeare's Talking Animals (London, 1973), 211.
35. layout text Paul Carter, The Road to Botany Bay (London and Boston, Faber and Faber, 1987), xxiv.
36. layout text '...Vuestras Altezas...pensaron de embiarme a mí, Cristóval Colón, a las dichas partidas de Yndia para ver los dichos prínçipes y los pueblos y las tierras...y ordenaron que yo no fuese por tierra al Oriente por donde se costumbra de andar, salvo por el camino de Occidente, por donde hasta oy no sabemos por çierta fe que aya passado nadie' (2).
37. layout text 'Este es el primer viaje y las derrotas y camino que hizo el Almirante don Cristóval Colón quando descubrió las yndias.' 'Vuestras Altezas...pensaron de embiarme a mí, Cristóval Colón, a las dichas partidas de Yndia' (2).
38. layout text Margarita Zamora, '"Todas son palabras formales del Almirante": Las Casas y el Diario de Colón', Hispanic Review, 57 (1989), 25-41; David Henige and Margarita Zamora, 'Text, context, intertext: Columbus's Diario de a bordo as palimpsest', The Americas, 46 (1989), 17-40; Margarita Zamora, Reading Columbus, 42-43, usefully summarises the respective positions of the principal Columbus scholars with respect to the reliability of Las Casas's text.
39. layout text Hernán Cortés, Letters from Mexico, trans. Anthony Pagden (London, Oxford University Press, 1972), 101-02. Hernán Cortés, Cartas de relación (Mexico, Porrúa, 1973), 61-62: 'Porque para dar cuenta, muy poderoso señor, a vuestra real excelencia, de la grandeza, extrañas y maravillosas cosas de esta gran ciudad de Temixtitan, del señorío y servicio de este Mutezuma, señor de ella, y de los ritos y costumbres que esta gente tiene, y de la orden que en la gobernación, así de esta ciudad como de las otras que eran de este señor, hay, sería menester mucho tiempo y ser muchos relatores y muy expertos; no podré yo decir de cien partes una, de las que de ellas se podrían decir, mas como pudiere diré algunas cosas de las que vi, que aunque mal dichas, bien sé que serán de tanta admiración que no se podrán creer, porque los que acá con nuestros propios ojos las vemos, no las podemos con el entendimiento comprender.'
40. layout text 'estas tierras son en tanta cantidad buenas y fértiles...que no ay persona que lo sepa dezir, y nadie lo puede creer si no lo viese' (132); 'que más mejor gente ni tierra puede ser, y la gente y la tierra en tanta cantidad que yo no sé ya cómo lo escriva' (156); 'y entré en ella y vide una obra maravillosa como cámaras hechas por una çierta manera que no lo sabría dezir' (108).
41. layout text The words 'maravilla' and its cognates are used 64 times in the Journal text.
42. layout text Greenblatt, Marvelous Possessions, 73.
43. layout text Libro copiador de Cristóbal Colón, ed. Antonio Rumeu de Armas, (Madrid, Testimonio, 1989). The text of the first letter, addressed to the Catholic Monarchs on 4 March 1493, has been edited and translated in Ife, Letters from America, 24-43, and in Zamora, Reading Columbus, 181-97.
44. layout text 'En estas islas fasta aqui no he hallado ombres mostrudos como muchos pensauan ... ay oro sin cuento...' (Ife, Letters from America, 58, 60).
45. layout text Margarita Zamora reminds us that 'many of the Columbian texts are travel literature. Individually and collectively, the accounts of the voyages tell the Discovery as the story of a journey; that is, they articulate the historical event of the navigation within the rhetorical bounds of the literature of travel available in Columbus's culture' (Reading Columbus, 95).
46. layout text Edward Said, Orientalism (London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978).
47. layout text Stephen J. Greenblatt, 'Resonance and wonder' in Learning to Curse, 178: 'The experience of wonder was not initially regarded as essentially or even primarily visual; reports of marvels had a force equal to the seeing of them. Seeing was important and desirable, of course, but precisely in order to make reports possible, reports which then circulated as virtual equivalents of the marvels themselves.' This view should be seen in the context of Pagden's discussion of the importance of 'I'-witness accounts in European Encounters, ch. 2, 'The autoptic imagination'.
48. layout text E.C. Riley, Cervantes's Theory of the Novel (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1962), 88-94, and Alban K. Forcione, Cervantes, Aristotle and the 'Persiles' (Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 1970), 95-104 and 212-56.
49. layout text Bernal Díaz del Castillo, The Conquest of New Spain, trans. J.M. Cohen, (Harmondsworth, Penguin Books, 1963), 214. Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España (Mexico, Porrúa, 1974), 159: 'Y otro día por la mañana llegamos a la calzada ancha y vamos camino de Estapalapa. Y desde que vimos tantas ciudades y villas pobladas en el agua, y en tierra firme otras grandes poblazones, y aquella clazada tan derecha y por nivel cómo iba a México, nos quedamos admirados, y decíamos que parecía a las cosas de encantamiento que cuentan en el libro de Amadís, por las grandes torres y cúes y edificios que tenían dentro en el agua, y todos de calicanto, y aun algunos de nuestros soldados decían que si aguello que veían si era entre sueños, y no es de maravillar que yo escriba aquí de esta manera, porque hay mucho que ponderar en ello que no sé cómo lo cuente: ver cosas nunca oídas, ni aun soñadas, como veíamos.'
50. layout text In particular, see Greenblatt, Marvelous Possessions, 132-36. For a less obvious example of the intersection of history and fiction see B.W. Ife, 'Alexander in the New World', Renaissance and Modern Studies, 30 (1986), 35-44.
51. layout text B.W. Ife and J.W. Butt, 'The Literary Heritage' in J.H. Elliott, ed., The Hispanic World (London, Thames and Hudson, 1991), 203.
52. layout text In his letter to the Catholic Monarchs, 7 July 1503, Columbus gives an account of the disastrous fourth voyage and writes: '¿Quién nasçió, sin quitar a Job, que no muriera desesperado que por mi salvaçión y de mi fijo, hermano y amigos me fuese en tal tiempo defendido la tierra y los puertos que yo, por voluntad de Dios, gané a España sudando sangre?' See Textos y documentos completos, ed. Consuelo Varela, (Madrid, Alianza, 1984), 317. For an excellent account of Columbus's multiple constructions of his own persona see Felipe Fernández-Armesto, Columbus (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1991).
53. layout text B.W. Ife, 'The real and its effect in the Spanish picaresque', New Comparison, 11 (1991), 3-12.
54. layout text The Metaphysical Poets, ed. Helen Gardner, (Harmondsworth, Penguin Books, 1972), 19.
55. layout text Forcione (Cervantes, 272) writes: 'The historians of the Indies were a source of much of Cervantes' marvelous subject matter.' This view appears to have originated with R. Schevill and A. Bonilla in their edition of Persiles y Sigismunda, 2 vols (Madrid, Bernardo Rodríguez, 1914), xxvi-xxix, where they suggest a number of parallels, particularly with Garcilaso de la Vega the Inca's Comentarios reales (Lisbon, 1609). J.B. Avalle-Arce is more sceptical in his edition: Los trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda (Madrid, Castalia, 1969), 14-15. The issue clearly needs further systematic investigation.
56. layout text González Echevarría, Myth and Archive, 30: 'Latin America became a historical entity as a result of the development of the printing press, not merely by being "discovered" by Columbus.'
layout text layout text
layout text
layout text layout text