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Cover > Translations of catalan literature > Joanot Martorell > Tirant lo Blanc (1405/1410-1465) (english)

Tirant lo Blanc (1405/1410-1465) (english)

by Xavier Bonillo Hoyos
Shortly before the last reconciliation between King John II of Aragon (1258-1479) and his son Charles, Prince of Viana (d. 1463), on January 2, 1460, Joanot Martorell, a knight in the services of Charles since 1458, finished Tirant lo Blanc , the voluminous and wide-ranging novel that he had begun to write a decade earlier in the context of a total revitalization of the chivalric discourse. Four years later, at the height of the civil conflict, with the arrival in Catalonia of the pretender to the throne from the Generalitat's side, Peter of Portugal (whose son to whom he dedicated the book), Martorell pledged the manuscript of his novel to Martí Joan de Galba for one hundred silver royal coins. Shortly after that, in 1465, his brother Galceran reclaimed the manuscript from Galba when Joanot died in Valencia.

Traditionally, the novel has been divided into four thematic strands. The first recounts Tirant's adventures in England (chapters 1-97). By way of a prologue to the novel, an old English knight named Guillem de Varoic (Guy of Warwick), retired to an hermitage, teaches the young Tirant, who heads towards a tournament that is to be celebrated during the festivities of the King of England's wedding. Tirant is proclaimed the best knight of the tournament and is admitted to the Order of the Garter. The second book describes Tirant's adventures in the Mediterranean (Sicily and Rhodes, chapters 98-114). When Tirant and his knights arrive in Nantes, they hear that the Egyptians and the Genovese want to conquer Rhodes. Tirant arrives in Sicily, accompanied by the heir to the throne of France, Philip. Afterwards, he liberates Rhodes, makes a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and settles in Alexandria. The third book narrates the adventures of Tirant in Greece (chapters 115-296). While returning from Sicily, a letter from the Emperor of Constantinople arrives, asking for aid. Tirant goes, is named captain of the Greek armies, and falls utterly in love with the princess Carmesina, daughter of the Emperor. After vanquishing the enemies of the empire, Tirant is badly wounded by the traitor Duke of Macedonia. Three months of truce are agreed upon, during which Tirant grows closer to Carmesina and is involved in other amorous relations in the imperial court. After a misunderstanding, Tirant secretly sets sail, but a strong storm shipwrecks him near the coasts of North Africa. Finally, the fourth book tells of Tirant's adventures in North Africa and on his return to Constantinople, with which the author concludes the story. Tirant is welcomed by a noble named Cabdillo, who makes him fight against the king of Ethiopia, his enemy. After the victory, Tirant succeeds in arranging the marriage of Cabdillo's daughter and the king of Ethiopia. He then receives news that Constantinople is again under siege by the Turks and he returns. When the Turks hear of Tirant's return, they ask for peace. Tirant is married in secret to Carmesina, frees the whole Empire, but while returning home dies of pneumonia. The emperor and Carmesina die of sorrow.

Beyond the plot or the treatment of characters, the great literary value of Joanot Martorell's novel comes from the absolute verisimilitude and realism of the narrative, quite different from the habitual miraculous models of chivalresque fiction in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Martorell achieves this through the use of humor and irony in many passages of the novel and through the combination of historical and fictional elements, and the conjunction of two contrasting styles: one, solemn and oratory (this rather rhetorical style generally submits to the canons of incipient renaissance literature and of Valencian prose in the manner of Joan Roís de Corella) and another, colloquial (lacking any rhetorical artifice, but full of subtlety, grace, and expressive naturalness, which confers on the characters a credible and familiar tone). Martorell, like any author of the fifteenth century, legitimized his creation using the adoption of hallowed literary models and the unconditional defense of the values they represented. The wide range of sources used in Tirant by Martorell gives an idea of the literary and historical references that the author must have shared with his work's readers: the recreation of the historical figures of Joan Hunyadi and Roger de Flor (as much Desclot's vision as that of Muntaner) for the construction of Tirant's character, the adaption of the Norman novel Guy de Warwick and Ramon Llull's Llibre de l'order de cavalleria (Book of the Order of Chivalry) in Tirant's adventures in England, and the reworking of various passages of Guido delle Colonne's Trojan Histories , among other works and authors.

From the first Valencian printing of 1490, the novel's success has been explosive. It was immediately translated into other languages, such as Spanish, Italian and French, and since then, right up to our own days, it has awakened the admiration of writers and readers of all kinds, captivated by the force, intensity, magnitude, magic and universality of the book by that Valencian knight, Joanot Martorell. Without a doubt, this is the most important novel of Catalan literature of all time.

Translated by Robin Vogelzang
Tirant lo Blanch. Portada de la traducció espanyola. Valladolid, 1511
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