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Anònim Curial e Güelfa

Visat núm. 6
(octubre 2008)
by Xavier Bonillo Hoyos
This epic chivalric Catalan novel, conserved in a single manuscript from the 15th century in Spain’s National Library of Madrid, was written by an anonymous author during the second or last third of the century. At the beginning of the 20th century, the prestigious literary historian and critic Antoni Rubió i Lluch edited the work for the first time and proposed the title Curial e Güelfa (Curial and Güelfa) as the manuscript offered none. Despite the constant efforts of those who study the text, a satisfactory answer as to the identity of its author has never been found.

Some hypotheses are that the author may have been Italian or French. However, this belief has been abandoned for another that takes for certain the Catalan nationality of the author. In this vein, the most recent investigations argue that the author must have been from Valencia (given the clearly Valencian turns of phrase and some Castilianisms commonly used in the region at the time it was written) and was probably part of the court of King Alfons V the Magnanimous (1416 – 1458). This would have made possible the novel’s writing in Naples, where Alfons was reigning monarch from 1442. However, there have been no lack of views to the contrary, claiming that the text of Curial e Güelfa is not really a medieval text at all but one written by a much later author, most probably in the 19th century. Specifically by one of the most prominent figures of the Renaixença, the romantic revivalist movement in Catalan language and culture: Manuel Milà i Fontanals, who discovered and was the first to speak about the manuscript.

Like Tirant lo Blanc, Curial e Güelfa builds on two themes straddling both the medieval tradition and the incipient Renaissance aesthetic: the love story of Curial and Güelfa and the knighthood training of Curial. The novel is divided into three books, each one beginning with an illustrative prologue in which the anonymous author describes, amongst other things, their own personal conception of literature. In the first book the protagonist, Curial, is presented: a son born to a humble family of elderly parents. Curial loses his father at a young age and decides to leave with the young marquis of Montferrat and his sister, Güelfa, to find his fortune. When the marquis meets Curial he employs him as a manservant. Some years later, Güelfa marries the Duke of Milan and the marquis his sister, Andrea. However, just two years later the Duke dies and Güelfa, a young widow, has to return to her brother. During this period Curial has been studying intensively and becomes a renowned poet. Güelfa, deeply troubled by her brother’s lack of interest in finding her a husband, decides to give her love, in secret, to one of the young men of the court. The chosen one is Curial, who accepts her protection in order to advance his social position and become a great knight. One day two aged and envious courtiers discover their secret and immediately inform the marquis. The marquis calls Curial to him to expel him from the court for having kissed his sister. Curial, to keep the secret, claims it is a lie and that he will fight anyone who claims to the contrary. The marquis believes him and allows him to remain in the court so long as he desists in meeting with Güelfa. One day a herald arrives from Austria in search of a knight at the court of Montferrat, because the duchess of Austria had been accused of adultery and condemned to death by her husband, the duke. However, if two knights manage to kill the two men accusing her, the duchess could win her freedom. Curial offers himself and departs for Austria with another knight. Before the duel, the Emperor knights Curial. With the other knight he defeats the duchess’ accusers, who admit slander and are sentenced to death by being burnt at the stake. The duke of Bavaria — the father of the accused duchess — offers the hand of his youngest daughter, Lachesis, to Curial by way of thanks for having saved his daughter’s life and honour. Thereupon an emissary of Güelfa reminds him of his obligations towards her. A short time later Curial learns of another tournament organised in Melun by the King of France. Güelfa, in his absence, has taken refuge in a convent although letters keep her constantly informed of his actions.

In the second book, after many battles and other adventures typical of the errant knight, Curial arrives at the tournament in Melun. There he receives a letter from Lachesis, whilst King Peter III of Aragon — Pere el Gran — arrives in disguise. Curial and the king are chosen as the best jousters. Thereupon an envoy of Güelfa’s advises him to spend some time at the French court. The aged and envious courtiers from Montferrat, still set upon tarnishing Curial’s reputation and having him expelled from the court, go to Paris to speak ill of him to the French king. Upon their return, they make Güelfa believe that Curial is in love with Lachesis. The young knight returns to Montferrat to defend himself against the false accusations and plead with Güelfa but is unable to convince her and she tells him that from this moment on he has lost her protection. Curial returns to Paris and discovers that Lachesis has married the Duke of Orleans. Left with nothing in Europe, he returns to Montferrat to try and change Güelfa’s mind once more but she makes it clear she will never forgive him until such as time as all of the French court of Puig de Nostra Dona, the King and Queen of France and all the lovers in the world pray for his forgiveness.

In the third book Curial, conscious of his dire circumstances, sells his worldly possessions and, via Genoa, sets sail for Alexandria. After being attacked by Genoese pirates he arrives in Sicily. Whilst leaving the island he is apprehended and accused of being a traitor, but King Charles of Naples releases him. From here he reaches Alexandria, visits the Holy Land and returns to Alexandria. During his return to Genoa a storm carries him to Tripoli, where he is attacked. All the crew are killed, except for Curial and one other man, who are given up for dead and sold as slaves to a rich Tunisian. When Güelfa hears of the shipwreck she despairs and twice sends ships to try and find Curial, but to no avail. The years go by until Curial is able to buy his freedom and, finally, via Genoa, returns to Montferrat. He finds Güelfa but, when she recognises him, accuses him of betrayal. Curial returns to France and there he lives a good life until hearing news that the Turkish army has invaded the German empire. Curial assembles his own army and sets off for the battle, where he finds the marquis of Montferrat and defeats the commander of the Turkish army. Then, he sets off for France with the intention of attending the French court at Puig de Nostra Dona, where the marquis and his sister will also be in attendance. The second day of the tournament, Curial — in disguise — implores the whole court to ask for the forgiveness of his beloved. Finally, Güelfa’s request fulfilled: the King of France asks that the marquis of Montferrat gives Curial Güelfa’s hand in marriage and gives him the Principality of Orange.

As in historic novels, the action takes place in the second half of the 13th century, specifically during the reign of King Peter III of Aragon (1276 -1285). King Peter has a more prominent role in the second book, based on the portrait of him created in Bernat Desclot’s chronicle which is, in itself, a recreation of the Llegenda del bon comte de Barcelona (‘Legend of a good count of Barcelona’). In this way, the anonymous author combines the appearance of historical figures from the 13th and 14th centuries with others who are completely fictitious. In addition, the unknown author demonstrates great knowledge of traditional Romanesque narrative: from the Troubadors to Dante, Boccaccio, and the Trojan stories of Guido delle Colonne, including the Arthurian legends. However, the novel was not the immediate success that Tirant lo Blanc was as there are no known medieval translations. Thanks to translations into Spanish, English, French and Dutch it has begun to spread through other countries, albeit little by little.

Translated by Katherine Reynolds
Extracts
Curial e Güelfa
Català | Español | Français | Neerlandès
Curial e Güelfa
Català | Español | Français | Neerlandès
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