Unveiling English humour’s Spanish roots

Spanish - English cultural exchange

Title page of The English Rogue (1666). Credit: Public domain/Creative Commons.com

Could it possible that English humour has a Spanish soul?

This intriguing concept finds support in the profound influence that Spanish Golden Age literature had on the English novel, especially in shaping its distinctive sense of humour.

Recently, Catedra published a ground-breaking edition of The English Rogue, a 17th-century work, marking a pivotal moment in recognising this cultural intertwining.

This edition, meticulously curated by Maria Jose Coperias, is celebrated as the first critical and annotated version, a novelty even in its original language.

The birth of the English rogue

The English Rogue, published in 1665 by the Irish novelist Richard Head, was one of the earliest English language books to be translated for an international audience.

It narrates the life of Meriton Latroon, an Irish-born rascal whose criminal escapades begin upon his arrival in England with his mother.

Despite Richard Head’s claims of originality, the novel is heavily inspired by Spanish picaresque classics such as Lazarillo de Tormes, Guzman de Alfarache, and El Buscon. However, this English adaptation stands out for its explicit content and detailed depictions of underworld life.

Cross-cultural legacy

The influence of Spanish literature is undeniable in the works of 18th-century English literary giants like Lawrence Sterne, Henry Fielding, Daniel Defoe, and Tobias Smollett.

The Spanish essence percolates even into the 19th century, influencing authors like Charles Dickens and Jane Austen.

Austen’s Northanger Abbey, for instance, features a protagonist engrossed in Gothic novels, echoing the immersive storytelling of Spanish literature.

The Malaga connection

This latest critical edition highlights a possible connection to Malaga, and underscores the broader impact of Spanish culture on English literature. This link suggests an intriguing blend of literary and gastronomic exchanges, enriching the narrative around the novel’s influence.

In conclusion, The English Rogue serves as a testament to the enduring legacy of Spanish literature in shaping English narrative traditions, from picaresque adventures to quintessential British humour.

This critical edition not only acknowledges Richard Head’s contribution but also highlights the intertwined histories of English and Spanish storytelling.

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Written by

John Ensor

Originally from Doncaster, Yorkshire, John now lives in Galicia, Northern Spain with his wife Nina. He is passionate about news, music, cycling and animals.