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The Itching Parrot by Jose Joaquin Fernandez De Lizardi. Garden City. 1942. Doubleday. Translated from the Spanish by Katherine Anne Porter. 290 pages.

 

An early Latin American picaresque novel.

 

 

itching parrot doubleday doran 1942FROM THE PUBLISHER -

 

 

  The Mangy Parrot: The Life and Times of Periquillo Sarniento Written by himself for his Children (Spanish: El Periquillo Sarniento) by Mexican author Jose Joaquin Fernandez de Lizardi, is generally considered the first novel written and published in Latin America. El Periquillo was written in 1816, though due to government censorship the last of four volumes were not published until 1831. The novel has been continuously in print in more than twenty editions since then. El Periquillo Sarniento can be read as a nation-building novel, written at a critical moment in the transition of Mexico (and Latin America) from colony to independence. Jean Franco has characterized the novel as 'a ferocious indictment of Spanish administration in Mexico: ignorance, superstition and corruption are seen to be its most notable characteristics' [Jean Franco, An Introduction to Spanish-American Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969), p. 34; cited in Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, revised edition (London: Verso, 1991), p. 29]. Given Lizardi's career as a pioneering Mexican journalist, his novel can also be read as a journal of opinion in the guise of a picaresque novel. It follows the adventures of Pedro Sarmiento (nicknamed 'Periquillo Sarniento' or 'Mangy Parrot' by his disreputable friends), who, like Lizardi himself, is the son of a Criollo family from Mexico City with more pretensions to 'good birth' than means of support. The story begins with Periquillo's birth and miseducation and continues through his endless attempts to make an unearned living, as a student, a friar, a gambler, a notary, a barber, a pharmacist, a doctor, a beggar, a soldier, a count, and a thief, until late in life he sees the light and begins to lead an honest life. At every point along the way, Lizardi uses the deathbed voice of the elderly and repentant Periquillo to lambast the social conditions that led to his wasted life. In this, the novelist mimics the role of the early nineteenth-century journalist more interested in arguing opinions than relating mundane incidents. The marriage of slapstick humor with moralizing social commentary, established in El Periquillo, remained a constant in the Mexican novels that followed on its heels throughout the nineteenth century (Antonio Benitez-Rojo, 'Jose Joaquin Fernandez de Lizardi and the Emergence of the Spanish American Novel as National Project,' Modern Language Quarterly 57 (2): pp. 334-35). Agustin Yanez justifies this often criticized 'moralizing' tendency in Lizardi as 'a constant in the artistic production of Mexico... and moreover, it is a constant in Mexican life' ('El Pensador Mexicano,' in Cedomil Goic, ed., Historia y critica de la literatura hispanoamericana, t. I, Epoca colonial, Barcelona: Grijalbo, 1988, pp. 428-29). At the same time, as critics have noted, Lizardi's interest in depicting the realities and reproducing the speech of Mexicans from all social classes make his novel a bridge between the inherited picaresque mold that forms its overt structure and the costumbrista novels of the nineteenth century. Jose Joaquin Fernandez de Lizardi is emblematic of the generation of intellectuals, artists, and writers who led Mexico into the modern era. His own life history resonates with the ambivalences and outright contradictions of a world between colonial rule and independence. His writings -- four novels, several fables, two plays, dozens of poems, over 250 articles and pamphlets -- are important in three ways: as artistic expressions in themselves; as texts that contributed in vital ways to the intellectual life of Mexico early in its independence; and as windows into the daily life of that period. Of Lizardi's many published works, El Periquillo Sarniento remains the most important. It typifies the dual impulse of his writing: to entertain and to edify. It is also a lively, comic novel that captures much of the reality of Mexico in 1816. In his subsequent novels Noches tristes (1818) and La Quijotita y su prima (1818-19), Lizardi's didactic side won out over his will to entertain. La Quijotita in particular is an exercise in moralizing, populated with flat characters whose function is to model particular foibles or virtues. Lizardi's last novel, Don Catrin de la Fachenda (1820), has on the contrary been held up by some critics as superior to El Periquillo. In Don Catrin, Lizardi took pains to respond to critics of the overt moralizing in his first novel. The result is a slimmed-down, artistically unified, more ironic, and darker picaresque (Nancy Vogeley, 'A Latin American Enlightenment Version of the Picaresque: Lizardi's Don Catrin de la Fachenda,' in Carmen Benito-Vessels and Michael Zappala, eds., The Picaresque, Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1994, pp. 123-46). Yet El Periquillo retains its importance. As Antonio Benitez-Rojo writes, citing Benedict Anderson's use of El Periquillo as an exemplar of the anti-colonial novel, 'the illusion of accompanying Periquillo along the roads and through the villages and towns of the viceroyalty helped awaken in the novel's readers the desire for nationness.' Don Catrin 'is artistically superior to El Periquillo Sarniento,' Benitez-Rojo continues, 'yet for all its defects the latter, because of its great vitality, is a major work of Mexican literature.' ('Jose Joaquin Fernandez de Lizardi and the Emergence of the Spanish American Novel as National Project,' p. 335; p. 336.) Finally, El Periquillo has the virtue of being the first, as Lizardi himself noted: 'I am far from believing that I have written a masterpiece that is free from defects: it has many that I recognize, and must have others still that I have not noticed; but it also has one undeniable distinction, which is that of being the first novel that has been written in this country by an American in three hundred years.' (Cited in Jefferson Rea Spell, Bridging the Gap, Mexico City: Editorial Libros de Mexico, 1971, p. 267.) Because of its status as the first novel written by a Latin American and one emulated by generations of Mexican novelists, El Periquillo Sarniento appears on many 'must-read' lists for graduate programs in Latin American literature, and it is of equal interest to students of Latin American history.Print Editions of El Periquillo in Spanish and English - The most widely available edition in Spanish of El Periquillo Sarniento, edited and annotated by Jefferson Rea Spell, is published in Mexico by Editorial Porrua (many editions since 1949).; An excellent new edition, edited and annotated by Carmen Ruiz Barrionuevo, was published in Madrid by Ediciones Catedra in 1997, but has since gone out of print; A partial translation of El Periquillo Sarniento into English was published in 1942 by Doubleday under the title The Itching Parrot; A new and unabridged English translation, The Mangy Parrot (2004), is published by Hackett Publishing Company. ISBN 0-87720-735-8; An abridgment of the Hackett translation is published under the title The Mangy Parrot, Abridged (2005). ISBN 0-87220-670-X.

 

 

 

 

Lizardi Jose Joaquin Fernandes deJosé Joaquín Fernández de Lizardi (November 15, 1776 – June 21, 1827), Mexican writer and political journalist, best known as the author of El Periquillo Sarniento (1816), translated as The Mangy Parrot in English, reputed to be the first novel written in Latin America. Lizardi, as he is generally known, was born in Mexico City when it was still the capital of the colonial Spanish viceroyalty of New Spain. His father was a physician employed in and around Mexico City, who for a time supplemented the family income by writing. Likewise, his mother came from a family of modest but "decent" means; her own father had been a bookseller in the nearby city of Puebla. The death of Lizardi’s father after a short illness in 1798 forced the young man to leave his studies in the Colegio de San Ildefonso and enter the civil service as a minor magistrate in the Taxco-Acapulco region. He married in Taxco in 1805. The necessity of providing for a growing family led Lizardi to supplement his meager income as his father had, by writing. He began his literary career in 1808 by publishing a poem in honor of Ferdinand VII of Spain. Though Ferdinand VII later became a target of nationalist rage among pro-independence Mexicans because of his tendency toward despotism, his politics were still unknown in 1808, the year of the Napoleonic invasion of Spain. With Napoleon’s brother-in-law usurping the Spanish throne and the legitimate king in exile, raising a public voice in his favor was a patriotic stance for a Mexican intellectual, and in line with Lizardi’s later proto-nationalist views. At the beginning of the Mexican War of Independence in November 1810, Morelos’s insurgent forces fought their way into Taxco where Lizardi was heading the local government as acting Subdelegado (the highest provincial government position in the colonial system). After an initial insurgent victory, Lizardi tried to play both sides: he turned over the city’s armory to the insurgents, but he also informed the vice-royalty of rebel movements. Judged in the context of his later writings, these actions do not appear hypocritical. Lizardi was always supportive of the intellectual aims and reformist politics of the insurgents, but was equally opposed to war and bloodshed. By peacefully capitulating Taxco to the insurgents, he aimed to avoid loss of life in the city then under his command. Following the royalist recapture of Taxco in January 1811, Lizardi was taken prisoner as a rebel sympathizer and sent with the other prisoners of war to Mexico City. There he appealed successfully to the viceroy, arguing that he had acted only to protect Taxco and its citizens from harm. Lizardi was now free and living in Mexico City, but he had lost his job and his possessions. He turned now to full-time writing and publishing to support his family, publishing more than twenty lightly satirical poems in broadsheets and pamphlets in the course of the year. After a limited freedom of the press was declared in Mexico on October 5, 1812 (see Spanish Constitution of 1812), Lizardi quickly organized one of the first non-governmental newspapers in the country. The first issue of his El Pensador Mexicano ("The Mexican Thinker," a title he adopted as his own pseudonym) came out on October 9, just four days after press freedom was allowed. In his journalism, Lizardi turned from the light social criticism of his earlier broadsheets to direct commentary on the political problems of the day, attacking the autocratic tendencies of the viceregal government and supporting the liberal aspirations represented by the Cortes in Spain. His articles show the influence of Enlightenment ideas derived from clandestine readings of forbidden books by Voltaire, Rousseau, and Diderot, a hazardous route to take in those hopeful but uncertain times. In the ninth issue of El Pensador Mexicano (December 1812), Lizardi attacked viceroy Francisco Javier Venegas directly, resulting in his arrest. He continued to issue the paper from his jail cell, but he dismayed pro-independence readers by suppressing his sympathies for the insurgents and muting critiques of the system that had imprisoned him. When a new viceroy, Félix María Calleja, was named in March 1813, Lizardi lavished praise on him; the viceroy responded by freeing Lizardi after seven months of jail. Lizardi continued to write and publish his periodicals after his release, but increased attention from royalist censors and the Inquisition muted his critical tone. When victory over Napoleon in Europe led to the reestablishment of an authoritarian monarchy, the overthrow of the Spanish Cádiz Cortes, and the abrogation of freedom of the press in 1814, Lizardi turned from journalism to literature as a means of expressing his social criticism. This social and political conjuncture led to Lizardi's writing and publication of El Periquillo Sarniento, which is commonly recognized as the first novel by a Mexican and the first Latin American novel. Though it is a novel in form and scope, El Periquillo Sarniento resembled Lizardi’s periodicals in several ways: he printed and sold it in weekly chapter installments throughout 1816; he wove extensive commentary on the political and moral climate of Mexico into the narration; and, like his periodicals, the novel was eventually halted by censorship. The first three volumes slipped past the censor, as Lizardi had hoped they would in their fictionalized guise, but Lizardi’s direct attack on the institution of slavery (in the form called Asiento) in the fourth volume was enough to have the publication stopped. The final sixteen chapters of El Periquillo were only published in 1830 - 1831, after Lizardi’s death and a decade following Mexican independence. Lizardi’s other works of fiction also appeared by installments during the years of renewed royalist repression that lasted until 1820: Fábulas (collection of fables, 1817), Noches tristes (novel, 1818), La Quijotita y su prima (novel, 1818–1819) and Don Catrín de la Fachenda (completed 1820, published 1832). With the re-establishment of the liberal Spanish constitution in 1820, Lizardi returned to journalism, only to be attacked, imprisoned, and censored again by a changing roster of political enemies. Royalists repressed him until the independence of Mexico in 1821; centralists opposed to his federalist leanings attacked him after independence; throughout, he suffered attacks by the Catholic hierarchy, opposed to his Masonic leanings. Lizardi died of tuberculosis in 1827 at the age of 50. Because of his family’s extreme poverty he was buried in an anonymous grave, without the epitaph he had hoped would be engraved on his tombstone: "Here lie the ashes of the Mexican Thinker, who did the best he could for his country." It is unfortunate that today Lizardi is remembered primarily by educators, teachers, university students, and government officials in Latin America, reflecting a possible deterioration of quality education in the region.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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