*Torres Villarroel, Diego de
Torres Villarroel, Diego de
Spanish, c. 1694–1770
In the canon of 18th-century Spanish literature, the works of Diego de Torres Villarroel represent the antithesis of Enlightenment reason and a model of the baroque with all its linguistic intricacies. Torres Villarroel realizes this endeavor by blending humor, common sense, and personal observation into a series of works that reveal the attitude of the commoner. Unlike many of his contemporaries, who relied on encyclopedic didacticism, this author allows the foibles and frailties of human nature to be the catalysts for his commentary. As Russell Sebold (1963) suggests, Torres Villarroel was “one of the most humane spirits and because of this the most tormented there is among the Catholic writers of Spain.”
The two works that reflect clearly the disposition of Torres Villarroel and his essay style are Visiones y visitas con Francisco de Quevedo (1727–28; Visions and visits with Francisco de Quevedo) and Vida, ascendencia, nacimiento, crianza y aventuras (1743– 58; Life, lineage, birth, upbringing, and adventures; translated as The Remarkable Life of Don Diego). Speaking of the author, Ivy McClelland (1976) observes that”…his witness to mass-minded suspicion and incomprehension is of supreme value to historians attempting to examine the reason for any country’s resistance to scientific common sense; for it is the lesser scholars—such as Torres—who represent the ordinary state of mind of the ordinary man and make history three-dimensional. Torres is as stimulatingly alive as Feijóo. But he lived his life on the reverse side of eighteenth-century Enlightenment.”
These works offer the reader two significant viewpoints regarding Torres Villarroel’s attitude toward his own person and toward society at large.
The prologue to Visiones y visitas provides an excellent example of how the worlds of the author and the reader come together. First, Torres Villarroel treats his reader as a friend by using the familiar tú form of address. Under the guise of friendship and familiarity, readers are bombarded with a series of twisted, bombastic remarks. Each comment is carefully couched in humor as if to lull them and dull the senses. However, lying just below the surface Torres Villarroel subtly suggests that his discourse will bite and tear at the very fabric of his readers’ moral, intellectual, and physical reality. More important, Torres Villarroel insinuates that his perspective, which is conveyed through this series of “dreams,” will prove beneficial to his readers. Thus, he warns that anyone determined to read the work should also be willing to reflect on what is said. The author asks only that readers willingly suspend all prejudice and by so doing find wholesome doctrine that will protect them from the vices of the times. Immediately following this invitation, Torres Villarroel states that some readers lack the depth and ability to understand his writings. He greatly fears his readers because too often they approach his work with “evil intentions,” “only grasp at trivialities,” and “censure” the style and the tone of his writing without understanding the message. Furthermore, he chastises them for their intellectual indiscretion. He warns that if they wish to “nibble away” at his writing, they must first learn to speak and write correctly. However, if the reading public relies only on what they have learned at the knees of their mothers or wet nurses, they should stay clear of the author’s “dreams,” or they might get burned.
From the playful tone of the discourses the reader might assume that Torres Villarroel’s primary purpose is to amuse. However, beneath the playful façade there is a harsh and direct criticism of society. To accomplish his task, Torres Villarroel relies on the power and subtlety of satire. With this rhetorical device in hand he corrupts the sanctity of long-held traditions and subverts the newly adopted methodologies of the Enlightenment. Whether intentionally or not, Torres Villarroel espouses the need for introspection and self-criticism. The examination of oneself appears to be an integral part of both Visiones y visitas and Remarkable Life. More important, the introspection the author recommends to his reader is equally applicable to himself.
Torres Villarroel’s Remarkable Life is a parody of confessional works by religious figures such as St. Augustine and Santa Teresa. In this work he relies heavily on the frequent reference to his own unworthiness and ignorance. Like Cervantes, who often imbued his foolish characters with sagelike wisdom, Torres ridicules his own persona in order to speak more clearly the truths he sees being ignored by society. Interestingly, he opens the prologue to Remarkable Life with both a critique of the confessional autobiography and a selfdefense: “You will say (as if I were listening), as soon as you take in your hand this paper, that in Torres there is no virtue, humility nor amusement to write his life, rather the pure impudence, the strong roguery and the insolent philosophy of a rascal who has made a living making fun of himself and enjoys teasing and creating an uproar among the people of the world. And I will say that you are right, like I am a Christian.” Here the reader notes that there is no denial of Torres Villarroel’s motivation for writing, only an affirmation. From the outset of the work, Torres Villarroel takes control of the reader and dictates how the work is to be interpreted. It can be assumed that he does this with the intention of distracting the reader away from the harsh criticisms he scatters throughout the work.
Torres Villarroel represents an important cog in the literary mechanism of Spanish Enlightenment. McClelland states clearly, “When Feijóo, the empiric scholar, and Torres, the dilettante, confronted each other in battle they exteriorized their epoch’s conflicts of misunderstanding that affected the speed of change.” More important, Torres Villarroel rediscovered the power of the word and used it to reveal the conflict of his internal and external worlds.
ALVIN F.SHERMAN, JR.
Baptized 18 June 1694 in Salamanca. Traveled and worked variously in Spain and Portugal, 1713–15. Took minor orders, 1715, then abandoned clerical career, though later ordained, 1745. Studied at the University of Salamanca, 1718–20. Began publishing almanacs (Almanaques y Proviósticos) under the name “El Gran Piscator Salmantino,” 1720s. Chair of mathematics, University of Salamanca, 1726–32 and 1734–51: banished
for involvement in a criminal case, 1732–34, then obtained royal pardon. Died in Salamanca, 19 June 1770.
Essays and Related Prose
Visiones y visitas con Francisco de Quevedo, 3 vols., 1727–28; edited by Russell P.Sebold, 1966
La barca de Aqueronte, 1731; edited by Guy Mercadier, 1969
Los desahuciados del mundo, 3 vols., 1736–37; edited by Manuel María Pérez, 1979
Vida, ascendencia, nacimiento, crianza y aventuras, 6 vols., 1743–58; edited by Federico de Onís, 1912, Guy Mercadier, 1972, and Dámaso Chicharro, 1980; as The Remarkable Life of Don Diego, translated by W.C.Atkinson, 1958
Other writings: almanacs, works about mathematics, poetry, and plays.
Collected works edition: Obras completas, 15 vols., 1794–99.
Aguilar Pinal, Francisco, “Pronósticos de Torres Villarroel en México y Perú,” in Homenaje a Noel Salomon: Ilustración española e independencia de América, edited by Alberto Gil Novales, Barcelona: University of Barcelona, 1979:345–53
Ettinghausen, Henry, “Torres Villarroel’s Self-Portrait: The Mask Behind the Mask,” Bulletin of Hispanic Studies 55 (1978): 321–28
Fernández Cifuentes, Luis, “Autobiography and Print: The Negotiation of Authorship in Eighteenth-century Spain,” Journal of Interdisciplinary Literary Studies 5, no. 1 (1993):3–21
Ilie, Paul, “Grotesque Portraits in Torres Villarroel,” Bulletin of Hispanic Studies 45 (1968):16–37
Ilie, Paul, “Franklin and Villarroel: Social Consciousness in Two Autobiographies,” Eighteenth-century Studies 7 (1974):321–42
Ilie, Paul, “Dream Cognition and the Spanish Enlightenment: Judging Torres Villarroel,” Modern Language Notes 101, no. 2 (1986):270–97
Kahiluoto Rudat, Eva M., “Imagination and Popular Humor in Torres Villarroel’s Visiones y Visitas,” in Pen and Peruke: Spanish Literature of the Eighteenth Century, edited by Monroe Z.Hafter, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Department of Romance Languages, 1992:73–86
McClelland, I.L., Diego de Torres Villarroel, Boston: Twayne, 1976
Marichal, Juan, “Torres Villarroel: Autobiografía burguesa al hispánico modo,” Papels de Son Armadans 36 (1965):297–306
Mercadier, Guy, “¿Cuándo nació Diego Torres de Villarroel?,” Insula 18, no. 197 (1963):14
Peset Reig, Mariano, and José L.Peset Reig, “Un buen negocio de Torres Villarroel,” Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos 279 (1973): 514–36
Sebold, Russell P., “Mixtificacion y estructura picarescas en la Vida de Torres Villarroel,” Insula 18, no. 204 (1963):7, 12
Varela, Antonio, “Narration and Theme in Vida of Diego de Torres Villarroel,” American Hispanist 4, nos. 34–35 (1979):5–7
Zavala, Iris M., “Utopia y astrología en la literatura popular del setecientos: Los almanaques de Torres Villarroel,” Nueva Revista de Filología Hispánica 33, no. 1 (1984):196–212
Zavala, Iris M., Lecturas y lectores del discurso narrativo dieciochesco, Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1987
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