‘La Celestina’ by Fernando de Rojas – A Bawdy Brazen Tragicomedy


‘La Celestina’ by Fernando de Rojas (1499) – 215 pages                 Translated from the Spanish by Peter Bush

As you may have surmised I do love novels, so I just had to read what is considered the first European novel ever written, ‘La Celestina’, and what a novel it is!

‘La Celestina’ has been described as the second best classic Spanish novel. With ‘Don Quixote’, probably my favorite novel of all time, being the first best classic Spanish novel, I was willing to take my chances with second best.

What do we really know of the 1400s? We usually just get the stuff about the Kings, the Queens, the nobility, and The Church. But what was life really like for everyone else? That is one reason I read ‘La Celestina’, to find out, and it is an eye-opener.

‘La Celestina’ contains some of the wildest, most scandalous but also most direct, remarks and conversations about men and women you will ever read. In ‘Celestina’ the men are openly obsessed with sex. The women are too, but most of them try to hide it. They resist a man’s advances at first.

Old woman Celestina makes her living procuring fresh virgin girls for the monks, friars, and priests in the church. If the girl doesn’t happen to be a virgin, Celestina does the operation to make the girl a virgin again. Celestina is usually referred to as “the filthy old whore”. However Celestina is a strong female character. She owns this novel.

Celestina is a fount of earthy wisdom. Celestina is “wise in every wickedness that exists”.

One day young man Calisto’s falcon gets away from him, and he wanders into Melibea’s yard to retrieve it. Upon seeing Melibea, he is immediately struck by her beauty. Calisto says, “Melibea, I look at you and see that God is great.” Soon Calisto makes his moves; he’s a hands-on kind of guy. Melibea is offended by the insistent pawing of his rude and annoying hands.

And you, my lord, are such a model of politeness and good manners, how is it you can bid my tongue to sing but not your hands to keep still? Why don’t you give up these ways? Tell them to be quiet and stop their unseemly commerce with me.”

Melibea rejects Calisto’s brazen advances. Calisto is love-sick and distraught.

Calisto’s servant Sempronio gives him some advice about women:

Avoid their double dealing. You will never understand them! They’re hard to fathom. They’ve no sense of measure, reason, or fair play. First they play hard to get. When they’ve let you through the eye of the needle, they insult you in the street: summon and dismiss you; call and reject you; lovey-dovey, then kick you in the teeth, then quick to anger and slow to abate. They always keep you guessing. Their company is incredibly poisonous and infuriating, much more than any tingle of pleasure they might give you in harness!”

Calisto doesn’t listen to his servant’s advice, and later neither does Sempronio himself. Then Calisto comes up with the bright idea of paying Celestina, the filthy old whore, a hundred coins to smooth things over between Melibea and himself and thus procure Melibea for him.

Since every advantage was tilted toward the nobility during this time, everyone else had to survive by subterfuge.

‘La Celestina’ is almost entirely dialogue. In these conversations the author de Rojas frequently has his servant characters “mutter” what they are really thinking so that the ones they are talking with cannot hear before they directly respond. This is good fun for the reader.

This is a recent, 2009, translation of a very old novel, so the language is up to date and I had no difficulty at all following the lascivious story line.


Grade:    A



4 responses to this post.

  1. I never heard of this novel. Sounds like a fun read, thanks for bringing it to my attention.

    Liked by 1 person


    • Hi roughghosts,
      ‘La Celestina’ was mentioned in one of those Guardian Top Ten book lists which they have every Wednesday. The fact that it was written in 1499 intrigued me, and then when I saw it described as the second best Spanish classic novel after ‘Don Quixote’ I wanted to read it. It was a good choice for me.

      Liked by 1 person


  2. Such an odd and enjoyable book!! I quite liked it when I read it a couple years ago . . . I was on a bit of a Spanish kick at the time. Thanks for writing about it 🙂

    Liked by 1 person


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