Historian Idealist in “The Gypsy Woman in the Exemplary Novels,” by Saavedra

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The Gypsy Woman, or La Gitanilla, written by Cervantes, is a fairy tale story typically representing a “historian idealist,” although some components expose to readers the harsh realities of the Cervantine era as evidenced in the storyline and historical background. The fine arts dominate this novel as the powers of music and oration are lauded in the serenades used to earn a living and win hearts. These aspects give a general idea of literacy and entertainment in society. This fact throws light on the influence of the renaissance period and the blossoming of letters, fine art, and philosophy in Cervantes’ time. Spain was at her peak as a ruler in the ‘New World’ and a wealthy hegemony in the European world.

Principally, the novel is classed as “idealistic.” Elements constituting this idealism include the perfect love-struck gentleman who is of noble extraction and descending from a wealthy family. The gentleman’s virtue and honor that witness for him and his female compeer, the ideal Renaissance woman. She is more assertive than the rest, precociously witty and wise, abnormally beautiful, and endowed with incredible artistic talent.

This ideal woman, donned with exemplary feminine qualities, is both the blessing and bane for the male protagonist. Her suitor’s main challenge in the novel is to woo and win her heart; however, the apparently insurmountable problems for the woman are the societal inequalities and the dilemma of selecting a husband who fulfills her criteria and makes her an offer for a promising future. In other words, the marriage of convenience was a matter of life and death since for the woman to survive in society, she had to not only marry but marry well.

Motifs prevailing in the novelette speak of the economy, literature, social class, honor, law, and religion. The power of money is presented as the all-consuming occupation of the gypsies (stealing), and the name of the main character, Preciosa, attests to the stereotypical acquisitive and materialistic nature of the gypsies. Her name also communicates that in this novel, worth [either real or perceived] and value come to the forefront. The preponderant place of religion manifests itself when Preciosa, a pseudo-gypsy girl, is transformed and is reconciled to the Mother Church, the Christian Religion, as she becomes knit to a new family and a new faith.

The role of law and justice play a commanding part in the novella because here we see two distinct authorities, the Gypsy and the Spanish. The gypsies are viewed as outlaws and robbers and considered the scum of society, whereas the conventional Spanish society ostracizes, stigmatizes, and tortures guilty gypsies. Clemency, Bribery and, castigation, flogging/ whipping were not uncommon. The clash of cultures is a theme that in Golden Age results in misunderstanding, prejudice, and marginalization against the Gypsies in Spain. However, it is my belief that the gypsy nation and the Spanish world are both reconciled at the end of the novel through the union of Preciosa and Andres (Dona Constanza y Don Juan de Carcamo).

We may recognize that many aspects of the Renaissance with regard to capital punishment, criminal justice, and law are featured as themes in the decadent society of Golden Age Spain. “The Gypsy Woman” or “La Gitanilla” simply mirrors the situation with respect to the Gypsy world, marginalized and notorious for its misdemeanors and felonies. Cervantes uses historical truth as a background to this novel.

Therefore we see that even though the characters strive to be exemplary in themselves, the real world is not. Again, by the end of the story, we witness the serendipity of the female protagonist being reunited with her long-lost parents, discovering the fortune that they also are of noble blood and, therefore, wealthy again and economically stable; and finally, the consequent marriage is contracted for Preciosa and her fiancé in which the parents and the Church bless the union of both lovers, happily ever after with prosperity, love, and happiness.


  1. Cervantes Saavedra, M. (1855). The Exemplary Novels. Henry G. Bohn.
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Historian Idealist in “The Gypsy Woman in the Exemplary Novels,” by Saavedra. (2023, Mar 09). Retrieved May 30, 2024 , from

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