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