Noble ambitions

The fifteenth-century Catalan prose romance Curial e Güelfa has puzzled scholars for centuries with its many ambiguities and perplexing features. It was written in Catalan by an anonymous author between 1440 and 1460 and remained unknown until the 19th century and was then first published in 1901.

It is a singular work, halfway between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, in which the features of chivalry and sentimentalism and a touch of Humanism are brilliantly combined. Although the main character performs his heroic deeds in Italy, Germany, Hungary, France, England, Greece, the Holy Land, Egypt and Tunisia, the atmosphere is essentially Italian. Its anonymity and its language have always disconcerted the linguists and literary historians who have approached it. The novel, now available in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, German and Italian is sponsored by IVITRA, is increasingly attracting the attention of scholars, not only because of its delighting style and its wonderfully traced structure, but also because of its rich cultural European background. For the two volume publication, please see the library catalogue record:

This new volume of studies tries to solve most of the questions that have puzzled scholars over the years with forty outstanding contributions. Contemporary readers can now become critics and subcategorize this medieval mystery for themselves, be it as a sentimental, chivalric, travel or Byzantine romance. Some may even see contemporary trends in a novel that casts learned figures and women who are helpless to change their fate as powerless “other”. In addition to undermining the importance of educational attainment by characterizing learned figures as weak, Curial e Güelfa includes several illustrative passages that idealize aggression as a characteristic that elevates knights who possess it over other men who populate the court.

The romance charts the social ascent of Curial, a young man of meagre means. Güelfa, the beautiful and recently widowed sister of the Marquis of Montferrat, falls in love with handsome Curial, the marquis’s favourite page. Intent on making Curial into a nobleman through her financial support, Güelfa outfits him as a knight; he soon gains renown for his abilities on and off the battlefield. The second book documents Curial’s rise to international celebrity. His seamless assimilation into elite culture comes to an abrupt halt toward the end of the second book. Motivated by jealousy, Güelfa terminates her financial support. Without her patronage, Curial is rejected from all the European courts. In the third and final book, Curial travels to the Holy Land, but he is taken captive and sold as a slave in Tunisia after a shipwreck. Through the assistance of a noble Moorish maiden named Camar, Curial escapes, returns to Europe, regains respect by fighting several important battles against the Ottomans, rekindles his relationship with Güelfa, and the rest remains to be seen by the reader. Among 15th-century literature in the Romance languages, Curial and Guelfa is one of the most successful romances of chivalry. It is a veritable jewel of late medieval European literature and of narrative in the Crown of Aragon in particular.