Thursday, February 19, 2015

Characters in The Manuscript Found in Saragossa: Don Juan van Worden

Reading The Manuscript Found in Saragossa means traveling through the bleak Sierra Morena mountains of southern Spain with Alphonse van Worden, a young man who is headed to Madrid to serve the king of Spain as the captain of a company of Walloon Guards. Alphonse himself is almost a blank slate; he's young and hasn't done very much, or developed much personality, apparently. In the story he mainly functions as a kind of Joe Average, expressing an appropriate degree of confusion at all the bizarre adventures that happen to him.

Alphonse's only distinctive trait seems to be his preoccupation with his own honor. This is what sends him into the dangerous, mysterious mountains, in fact, in spite of various innkeepers warning him that "Travellers who ventured into that wild country found themselves assailed, it was said, by countless terrors which would make even the stoutest of hearts tremble."

Alphonse dismisses such warnings, refusing to take a safer road to Madrid.

I replied to him that this choice of route might suit ordinary travellers, but that as King Philip V had graciously bestowed on me a commission in the Walloon Guards, I was bound by the sacred laws of honour to take the shortest route to Madrid without considering whether it was the most dangerous.
The Manuscript Found in Saragossa, Day 1

This overblown sense of his own personal honor, we soon learn, is something that Alphonse has gotten from his father, Don Juan van Worden. While Alphonse himself raises some interesting questions, which I'll look at later, I'm more interested in his father, who I find a lot more absurd and therefore a lot more fun.

Juan is part of an ancient family that runs a fief called Worden in Wallonia, which today is the southern region of Belgium. In the early 18th century, it was part of the Spanish Netherlands, under the control of Spain. King Philip V of Spain ordered infantry regiments to be recruited from the Netherlands starting in 1702, which is how Juan ends up as a lieutenant-colonel in the Walloon Guards.

"At that time in the Spanish army there was a strong sense of honour which was sometimes taken to extremes," Alphonse explains on Day 3; "my father went even further."

That is one of the book's great understatements. In Madrid Juan becomes the man to get if you're challenging someone to a duel and want to make sure the duel is conducted properly. He keeps a history of all the local duels, which makes him a respected authority. He also shows no hesitation whatsoever when it comes to fighting duels himself.

Traveling through France on his way back to his ancestral castle in Wallonia, Juan's carriage is passed on the road by the carriage of a French army officer. What does Juan do? Challenge the man to a duel and very nearly get killed, of course.

French and Spanish fencing racks, an illustration from an 18th century book called (in Russian) "The School of Fencing," by Domenico Angelo.

My favorite bit about Juan is the description that Alphonse gives of his father's wedding:

My father thought it appropriate to invite to his wedding all the men with whom he had fought duels (I only mean those, of course, whom he had not killed). A hundred and twenty-two came to the wedding feast. Thirteen of those absent were away from Madrid, and it had been impossible to trace a further thirty-three whom he had fought while in the army. My mother told me on more than one occasion that the feast had been extraordinarily merry and that there was an atmosphere of great cordiality. I do not find this difficult to believe, for my father had at bottom an excellent heart and was much loved by everyone.
The Manuscript Found in Saragossa, Day 3

Later in the book, when the Duchess of Medina Sidonia is telling how her father and mother separated, Don Juan van Worden suddenly pops up as a secondary character. He's a member of a military tribunal sitting in judgement to determine whether the Flemish commander van Berg was fairly killed by a Spanish officer in a duel or was murdered. Van Worden contradicts his fellow Flemings on the tribunal by voting in favor of the Spanish officer's innocence.

   "It is my conviction which makes me speak in this way, although I hate having to contradict the opinion of my eleven comrades. Being almost certain of having the misfortune of having lost their affection, and in the hopes of forestalling in the least violent manner any manifestation of their displeasure, I ask all eleven of them to do me the honour of duelling with me, six tomorrow morning and five tomorrow afternoon."
   This argument gave rise to a general murmuring but the challenge had, in propriety, to be taken up. Van Worden wounded the first six, who came in the morning. He then began on the last five. The first three were wounded by van Worden, the tenth wounded him in the shoulder and the eleventh ran him through and left him for dead.
The Manuscript Found in Saragossa, Day 28

In recounting all this, Alphonse expresses nothing but admiration for his father's intelligence and honorable conduct. Clearly author Jan Potocki is satirizing the code of honor; the witty Rebecca comments to Alphonse, "If your father hadn't duelled with eleven officers a quarrel might well have arisen. This he did very well to avoid."

Why Potocki was so interested in satirizing the code of honor is something I don't fully understand. My first guess was that it might be a spoof of a perceived exaggerated sense of honor among the Spanish, but Don Juan van Worden is Flemish, not Spanish, and there are plenty of Spanish figures in the book who carry their sense of honor much more lightly. Maybe it was a Flemish thing?

Another idea is that the ritual of fighting duels for honor was an element of the Age of Enlightenment that was beginning to fall out of favor by the 1770s. Perhaps Potocki saw the hypocrisy in rational, educated aristocrats stabbing each other to satisfy their sense of personal honor.

If anyone has alternate theories or can provide more historical context, please comment or email me!

This character is introduced in Day 3. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Characters in The Manuscript Found in Saragossa: Don Enrique de Velásquez

The Manuscript Found in Saragossa is full of fathers and sons, and the inescapable bonds between them. Zoto's father, a skilled armourer, enters into a life of banditry reluctantly, but Zoto seems born for it and takes to it enthusiastically, from a young age. Don Felipe Avadoro deservedly has "the reputation of being the most serious and methodical man of his age" and is a slave to rigid daily routines; his son, Pandesowna, the gypsy chief, recalls a life that seems to bounce from one adventure to the next, including swapping places with a pretty young girl to allow her to escape an unwanted marriage, and later being mistaken for a corpse and smuggled out of a graveyard. Alphonse van Worden avoids his father's mania for duels but seems almost as obsessed with following a strict code of honor.

Perhaps the closest resemblance is between Don Pedro de Velásquez and his father. When the mathematician describes his father as "earnest, studious, over-sensitive," he could just as easily be describing himself. Don Enrique de Velásquez starts out as a brilliant young man, adored by his betrothed and about to win acclaim from the king for his remarkable analysis of the best way to redesign the country's military strongholds. Enrique is naively attached to his brother, a man "frivolous, rash, and incapable of applying himself to anything" — who their guardian has wisely sent off to France to keep him from messing up the seemingly perfect situation.

But Enrique insists on a reunion with his brother and is ecstatic when it happens. He's so overjoyed that, in a moment of extreme absent-mindedness, he literally signs his beloved, his new title, and his governmental post all over to his frivolous brother. By the time he figures out what has happened and why, his fiancée has fallen in love with his brother's elegant dancing and flashy French style. Brokenhearted, Enrique surrenders the title and the job as well, then has a total breakdown, ending up locked in a cell in a monastery as a madman.

When he eventually recovers, the only government post available to him is commandant of Ceuta, a remote port city on the north coast of Africa. Enrique takes the job gratefully, seeing in it a second chance at life. Overqualified for the simple bureaucratic duties, he devotes his considerable mental powers to improving the lives of the residents, the soldiers, and the political prisoners of Ceuta alike. In time he comes to be revered by everyone in the city, and he ends up marrying the lieutenant-governor's daughter, a young woman who worships him. They have a son, Pedro.

One reason I like Enrique de Velásquez so much is that he loves his newborn son and does what so many of us parents do: he tries to help his child avoid making the same mistakes in life that caused him misery.

   When the weak child that I was first saw the light of day, my father took me in his arms, raised his eyes to heaven and said, "Oh almighty power, whose exponent is immensity, oh last term of all ascending series, oh my God, behold another sensible being projected into space. If he is destined to be as unhappy as his father may you in your mercy mark him with the sign of subtraction."
   Having thus prayed, my father kissed me passionately and said, "No, my poor child, you will not be as unhappy as I have been. I swear by the holy name of God that I will never teach you mathematics but you will know the saraband [a popular French dance], the ballets of Louis XIV and every other form of impertinence which comes to my attention." Then my father bathed me in his tears and gave me back to the midwife.
— Pedro de Velásquez, The Manuscript Found in Saragossa, Day 19

Enrique fails completely at this, of course, which is how we have the pleasure of reading about his son, Velásquez the Geometer.

Only when his son experiences rejection and depression does Enrique come to terms with his son's true nature. His understanding and wisdom gives Pedro the courage and confidence to travel to Spain to take his place in the world.

   "In nearly all men the self is almost never inactive. You will detect their self-interest in nearly all the advice they give you, in the contacts they make, in the friendships they form. They are deeply attached to the things which affect their interests however remotely, and are indifferent to all others, When they encounter a man who is indifferent to personal interest they cannot understand him. They suspect him of hidden motives, of affectation, or of insanity. They cast him from their bosom, revile him and relegate him to a rock in Africa.
   "Oh my son, we both belong to this proscribed race, but we also have our compensations, which I must tell you about. I have tried everything to make you a dandy and a fool. But heaven has not crowned my efforts, for you are a sensitive soul with an enlightened mind. So I must tell you that we too have our pleasures. They are private and solitary but are sweet and pure...."
The Manuscript Found in Saragossa, Day 25

This character is introduced in Day 19. 

Friday, February 6, 2015

Characters in The Manuscript Found in Saragossa: Rebecca de Uzeda

Note: This blog entry contains some spoilers. If you have not read all of The Manuscript Found in Saragossa, you might want to skip this one. 

One of the problems that the male characters in The Manuscript Found in Saragossa struggle with is how to determine the true character of the women in their lives. I don't see much real misogyny in the book — in playing the game of love, both male and female characters use strategies of flattery, seduction, and deception, and women and men are portrayed as being equally capable of faithfulness and infidelity.

Many of the men who are most confident in their assessment of women's characters are completely mistaken — often with tragic results. The Conde de Rovellas furiously disowns his pregnant wife Elvira, sure she has been unfaithful to him with Don Sancho de Peña, when actually the closest the young man ever got to her was singing outside her window before she was married. Similarly, the jealous Marqués de Val Florida unjustly accuses his wife Leonor of infidelity with Hermosito when he finds them together, minutes after the two friends from childhood have been reunited after years apart.

At the other end of the spectrum we have Señor Cornádez, who never realizes that the ghosts plaguing him are part of a scheme concocted by his wife Frasqueta and her lover, in order to humble the husband, and also get him to conveniently leave town. Throughout this part of the story, her married lover, the Duke of Arcos, has been disguised as a pious neighbor woman, whom Cornádez trusts to act as a chaperone for his pretty young wife.

All this brings us to Rebecca de Uzeda, by far my favorite female character in the whole book. It's true that Rebecca remains something of a mystery. Is she really a reformed cabbalist who has rejected her father's plans of marriage for her, to "the two Thamin which the Greeks knew by the name of Dioscuri and the Phoenicians Cabirir, in other words, the celestial Gemeni"? Or is all this a fiction, her role in the great conspiracy arranged by the Great Sheikh of the Gomelez, in order to continue his ancient family's bloodline?

Does she really love Velásquez the Geometer, or is it all an act in order to bring about the marriage and offspring desired by the Great Sheikh? When she changes her name to Laura, is it because she is rejecting her identity as a cabbalist and establishing herself as a mere mortal, content to love a human husband, or is she just playing a new role?

   "I would willingly entrust to you the secret of my name," said the Jewess, "if I did not have to fear the results of your absent-mindedness."
   "There is nothing to fear," interrupted Velásquez. "Through the frequent practice of substitution in calculations I have acquired the habit of always designating the same values in the same way. As soon as you have given me your name you couldn't change it even if you wanted to."
   "Very well," said Rebecca. "Call me Laura de Uzeda."
   "With the greatest pleasure," said Velásquez. "Or fair Laura, clever Laura, charming Laura, for there are many mathematical exponents of your base value."
The Manuscript Found in Saragossa, Day 12

Even if every word she speaks throughout the novel is a lie (and it well may be), it would be hard not to like Rebecca. She's the only character we meet who is educated and intelligent enough to keep up with Velásquez's calculations and complex reasoning. Her gentle teasing makes it clear that she is fully aware of the mathematician's eccentricity, but she is careful never to humiliate him. Even if her relationship with Velásquez is part of the great Gomelez conspiracy, I have to think they'll both enjoy married life together.

This character is introduced in Day 9. 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Characters in The Manuscript Found in Saragossa: Velásquez the Geometer

Velásquez the Geometer is not only my favorite character in The Manuscript Found in Saragossa; he's one of my favorite characters in all of 19th century literature. Obsessed with mathematics, Don Pedro de Velásquez finds ways of relating to every aspect of  life through formulas, ratios, or geometry. Impatience is in inverse ratio to the square of the force of inertia; the pursuit of happiness can be compared to the solution of a quadratic or cubic equation; human intelligence can be understood as permutations of the number of ideas people have been exposed to. In considering the relationship between Antony and Cleopatra, Velásquez sees a parallelogram composed of lines representing Antony's dueling emotions of ambition and love.
   "Now let us suppose love to have a positive value marked by a plus sign; hate, which is the opposite of love, will have a minus sign; and indifference, which is no feeling at all, will be equal to zero.
   "If I multiply love by itself, whether I love love, or love to love love, I still have positive values, for a plus multiplied by a plus always makes a plus.
   "But if I hate hate, I come back to feelings of love or positive qualities, for a minus multiplied by a minus makes a plus. But if on the contrary I hate the hate of hate, I come back to feelings which are the opposite of love, that is to say, negative values, just as the cube of a minus is a minus.
   "As for the product of love and hate, or hate and love, they are always negative, just as are the products of a plus and a minus or a minus and a plus. So whether I hate love or love hate my feelings are always opposed to love. Can you think of any argument against my reasoning, fair Laura?"
   "None at all," said the Jewess, "and I am convinced that there is not a woman who would not yield when faced by such arguments."
The Manuscript Found in Saragossa, Day 33

I believe that, in the character of Velásquez, author Jan Potocki is spoofing the exaggerated rationalism of some figures of the Age of Enlightenment; this seems to be the case with many of the intellectuals encountered in the book. Velásquez the Geometer exhibits an absurd degree of cluelessness, naivete, and absent-mindedness. Following Pandesowna and his associates as they stroll and exchange stories, he becomes so immersed in his calculations that he accidentally wanders down a separate trail and falls into the water. Alphonse saves him from drowning, but upon Velásquez's recovery, he becomes confused about what has happened and thinks that he has saved Alphonse from drowning. Throughout the rest of the book, he quietly congratulates himself on the brave rescue.

In spite of his foolishness, Velásquez remains endearing. His approach to God and nature is humble and thoughtful. As other characters plot, deceive, and seduce, consumed by greed, wrath, lust, or pride, Velásquez is consistently gentle and kind-hearted. His feeling are hurt when he becomes aware that others consider him insane or an imbecile, but when his equally eccentric father explains that the general public will never understand or respect people like them, Velásquez resigns himself and accepts the world for what it is.

Finally, The Manuscript Found in Saragossa is full of stories in which people fall passionately in love with each other based on the most superficial of traits: the perfect face, the noble family, the sensual body, the gallant manner. Velásquez comes to love Rebecca for her intelligence and wit as well as her beauty. As a geeky girl myself, I like that in a man.

This character is introduced in Day 18. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Stories within Stories: An Outline of The Manuscript Found in Saragossa

"I have tried in vain to concentrate all my attention on the gypsy chief's words but I am unable to discover any coherence whatsoever in them. I do not know who is speaking and who is listening. Sometimes the Marqués de Val Florida is telling the story of his life to his daughter, sometimes it is she who is relating it to the gypsy chief, who in turn is repeating it to us. It is a veritable labyrinth. I had always thought that novels and other works of that kind should be written in several columns like chronological tables."
Velásquez the Geometer, on Day 28 of The Manuscript Found in Saragossa

People attempting to describe The Manuscript Found in Saragossa have sometimes compared it to "Chinese nesting boxes" in which a large box contains a smaller box which contains a still smaller box, etc. Since most people in the West no longer have experience with such boxes, it may be more helpful to us to picture a set of matryoshkas, or Russian nesting dolls.

Matryoshka dolls

History professor and literary critic Robert Irwin compares the structure of The Manuscript Found in Saragossa with that of the novel Melmoth the Wanderer, written by Charles Maturin in 1820:
Both open with the reading of a discovered manuscipt; in each case the manuscript's contents turn out to be a series of interactive boxed stories (that is to say, of boxed stories of which developments in some stories have consequences in others) . . . .
The Arabian Nights: A Companion, page 255

A few examples of such interactivity in The Manuscript Found in Saragossa:
  • Pandesowna, the Gypsy Chief, tells Alphonse van Worden how, as a boy, he helped Lonzeto and Elvira elope. Later in the book, Pandesowna and Alphonse meet the middle-aged Lonzeto, who is traveling through the Sierra Morena. 
  • As part of his long life story, Pandesowna explains how hearing the story of Lope Suarez gave him insight into the experiences of his friend the Knight of Toledo.
  • The character of Fraqueta Salero is first introduced as part of a story told by Don Roque Busqueros to Lope Suarez (who, of course, is part of the story being told by Pandesowna to Alphonse). Later, Pandesowna describes to Alphonse his own past encounters with Fraqueta Salero, before and during his relationship with the Duchess of Avila.

Reading the book, I found myself wondering how "deep" these levels of stories within stories actually went. Partially to figure that out, and partially just to use as a general reference, I constructed the outline below, in which each story within a story is represented by a sub-item underneath an item.

Frame story: A narrator identified only as a French officer finds a handwritten manuscript in an empty house following the Second Siege of Saragossa

  1. Main Story: Alphonse van Worden journeys through the Sierra Morena in Spain in 1739 [Days 1–66]
    1. The Story of Emina and Her Sister Zubeida [Day 1]
    2. The Story of the Castle of Cassar Gomelez [Day 1]
    3. The Story of Pacheco the Demoniac [Day 2]
    4. The Story of Alphonse van Worden — Alphonse tells the hermit his backstory, which includes an account of his father, Juan van Worden, who is a duel fanatic [Day 3]
      1. The Story of Trivulzio of Ravenna, a ghost story [Day 3]
      2. The Story of Landulpho of Ferrara, another ghost story [Day 3]
    5. Zoto’s Story — Alphonse, Emina, and Zubeida are now in the underground dwelling of the famous bandit, and they persuade him to tell his own story, which includes the account of how his father became an assassin because of his wife’s demands, and also the story of Zoto’s feud with the son of the Princess de Rocca Florita [Days 5–7]
    6. Pacheco’s Story — the possessed man gives his account of what happened the night that Alphonse was seduced by Emina and Zubeida, and how he ended up back under the gallows at Los Hermanos [Day 8]
    7. The Cabbalist’s Story — Don Pedro de Uzeda, aka Rabbi Zadok ben Mamoun, tells his life story [Day 9]
    8. The Story of Thibaud de la Jacquière — a ghost story Alphonse reads in a book in the castle of Uzeda [Day 10]
      1. The Story of the Fair Maiden of the Castle of Sombre — the story Orlandine tells Thibaud de la Jacquière [Day 10]
    9. The Story of Menippus of Lycia — a story that Uzeda reads from Philostratus [Day 11]
    10. The Story of Athenagoras the Philosopher — a story that the hermit reads from Pliny’s letters [Day 11]
    11. The Story of Pandesowna, the Gypsy Chief — The leader of the gypsy band, aka Avadoro, tells his life story, including the story of his father, Don Felipe Avadoro, nicknamed Don Felipe del Tintero Largo (Don Felipe of the Large Inkpot) [Days 12-13]
      1. The Story of Giulio Romati and the Principessa di Monte Salerno — a traveler at a roadside inn tells Pandesowna his story, which includes an encounter with Zoto and which turns out to be another ghost story [Day 12-13]
        1. The Principessa di Monte Salerno’s Story [Day 13]
    12. Rebecca’s Story — The life story of Rebecca de Uzeda (sister of Don Pedro de Uzeda), who eventually changes her name to Laura de Uzeda [Day 14]
    13. The Story of Pandesowna, the Gypsy Chief, continues, with Avadoro (aka Pandesowna) and his aunt traveling from Madrid to Burgos [Days 15-20]
      1. Maria de Torre’s Story — A woman that Pandesowna and his aunt meet at the inn at Olmedo tells her life story. It involves her son, Lonzeto; her younger sister, Elvira; her niece (also called Elvira); the Conde de Rovellas, a wealthy man from Mexico; and Don Sancho de Peña Sombra, a mysterious suitor [Day 15-17]
      2. The Conde de Peña Vélez’s Story — This is the new title given to Don Sancho de Peña Sombra, who has sworn to marry the younger Elvira after the tragic death of Elvira the Elder [Day 18]
    14. Velásquez the Geometer’s Story — Don Pedro de Velásquez, who was traveling through Spain and found himself under the gallows at Los Hermanos, tells his life story, which includes the story of his father, Don Enrique de Velásquez, an intellectual who lost his bride, his fortune, and his position in one moment of distraction [Day 19, 23-25]
    15. The Wandering Jew’s Story — Don Pedro de Uzeda has summoned Ahasuerus, a legendary character doomed to live until the end of the world because he taunted Jesus on the way to the Crucifixion. Ahasuerus (aka Antipas) tells his story of life in first-century Egypt and Israel, a story which alternates with the continuation of Pandesowna’s story and never reaches the encounter with Jesus [Days 21, 31-36, 38-39, 46]
    16. The Story of Pandesowna, the Gypsy Chief, continues, with the story of how he and his childhood friend Veyras play a cruel prank on their teacher, Father Sanudo, and how Pandesowna ends up getting mistaken for a corpse; later, he works for the Knight of Toledo and Lope Soarez [Days 26-36]
      1. The Duchess of Medina Sidonia’s Story — The unfortunate Leonor, also called Señora de Val Florida, tells Pandesowna of the devotion of her nurse’s son, nicknamed Hermosito [Day 27-29]
        1. The Marqués de Val Florida’s Story — Leonor’s father explains that he and Leonor’s mother separated because of a Walloon commander named van Berg, and how a legal issue around a duel involved Juan van Worden, Alphonse’s father [Day 28]
        2. Hermosito’s Story [Day 29]
      2. Lope Suarez’s Story — Suarez, a man hospitalized with many broken bones, explains how he came to Madrid and how the meddler Don Roque Busqueros attached himself to him; his story wraps around to connect with the Knight of Toledo’s experience [Day 32-6]
        1. The Story of the House of Soarez [Day 32]
        2. Don Roque Busqueros’s Story — the meddler explains how he developed the habit of voyeurism [Day 35]
          1. Fraqueta Salero’s Story — the young woman whom Busqueros met by peeking in windows, aka Doña Francisca Cornádez, explains why her husband Cornádez freaked out upon seeing Busqueros’s head at the window [Day 35]
    17. The Marqués de Torres Rovella’s Story — Lonzeto, now an old man with an honorable title, is reunited with Avadoro/Pandesowna; he relates the events leading up to his marriage to Elvira and relates their adventures in Mexico, where they were embraced by the social circle of the Conde de Peña Vélez (aka the Viceroy of Mexico, Don Sancho de Peña Sombra) and met Tlascala de Montezuma [Day 41-45]
      1. The Story of Monsignor Ricardi and Laura Cerella, Known as La Marchesa Paduli — Sylvia, La Marchesa Paduli’s maidservant, explains to Lonzeto why the Marchesa seduced him [Day 42]
    18. The Story of Pandesowna, the Gypsy Chief, (aka Avadoro) continues, with an account of how he and the Knight of Toledo (who calls him Avarito) go to Madrid and find Lope Suarez, who is being cared for by Don Roque Busqueros; later, he finds out that Busqueros is plotting to marry a female relative of his to Avadoro’s father, Don Felipe Avadoro. Still later, Avadoro begins a romance with the Duchess of Avila (aka Manuela) and the Knight of Toledo courts the Duchess of Sidona (aka Leonor, aka Señora de Val Florida) [Days 47-61]
      1. Cornádez’s Story as Told by Busqueros — The Knight of Toledo persuades Busqueros to reveal what became of Cornádez, the husband of Fraqueta Salero; Busqueros relates how Cornádez met a man claiming to be the son of the atheist Diego Hervas [Days 48-53]
        1. The Story of Diego Hervas Told by His Son, the Reprobate Pilgrim [Days 48-50]
        2. The Story of Blas Hervas, the Reprobate Pilgrim [Days 51-3]
          1. The Commander of Toralva’s Story — One final ghost story [Day 53]
    19. The Great Sheikh of the Gomelez’s Story [Days 62-66]
      1. The Story of the Uzeda Family [Day 65]
  2. Epilogue: What happens to Alphonse van Worden, and why he hides the manuscript in Saragossa.

From the outline you can tell that the maximum story depth reached in The Manuscript Found in Saragossa is five stories deep: Fraqueta Salero’s Story is within Don Roque Busqueros’s Story, which is within Lope Suarez’s Story, which is within The Story of Pandesowna the Gypsy Chief, which is part of the adventures of Alphonse van Worden, which are described in the manuscript found in Saragossa. (The Commander of Toralva’s Story is also buried five stories deep, but that part of the book has much less interactivity with the rest of the book, so I find it less interesting.)

I think Velásquez the Geometer would approve. 

Postscript, added 5/26/2015:

Since writing this post in February, I've become aware of an equally detailed online plot outline for the 1965 Wojciech Has film The Saragossa Manuscript, which is based on The Manuscript Found in Saragossa. For anyone interested in the film or in comparing the structure of the novel with the structure of the film, I recommend Martin Schell's website at