Sixteenth -century self -help: Reception of the dialogue in Spain
An enormously popular form across Europe, more than 170 Castilian and Latin dialogues in sixteenth-century Spain treated subjects from prayer to artillery. Establishing the intended audience of this important form helps situate it in its literary, intellectual, and social context. A majority of these works were didactic and monologic: they were essentially persuasive works intended to inform, to convince the reader toward right beliefs, or to persuade him to engage in or avoid certain behaviors. Many readers would have selected these volumes as a tool of self-instruction through private reading, a relatively new custom at the dawn of the century that was more widely practiced by its end.
Traces of the reader gleaned from an investigation of more than 100 dialogues in Spanish form the raw material for this study. In chapter three paratexts—especially prologues and dedications—receive attention because they manifest the author's imagined reader. Many dialogue writers constructed a reader who was curious, did not know Latin, and wanted books that were accessible—an image compatible with the new readers in the merchant and artisan classes. Written primarily by men, dialogues typically represented a conversation between men intended for male readers. The few exceptions represent a female voice entering this conversation or show evidence of an intended reader who was female, and are treated in chapter four.
In chapter five a close reading of several dialogues related to the world of work show that these texts were likely directed toward the new readers in the sixteenth century: merchants and artisans. Evidence suggests that these groups sought skills and knowledge for self-improvement in order to increase their social standing. Thus a dialogue on good handwriting could give a merchant a useful skill and also form part of a plan to move into the lower nobility.
Contemporary critics have at times shown little interest in didactic and devotional literature, even though such works enjoyed wide popularity in the sixteenth century. This thesis recovers a sense of the importance of the dialogue for lay readers, and situates it more firmly in its immediate context.
0335: European history