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Literature Glossary

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Picaresque

Definition:

No, not picturesque. Picaresque.

A picaresque novel is kind of narrative fiction made up of the adventures of a wily hero or heroine. You know the type we're talking about here: a scruffy, lower class scoundrel (in other words, he's hardly picturesque) whom everyone just loves, and who always gets through by the skin of his or her teeth. The genre gets its name from the Spanish word picaro, or "rogue." The structure of a picaresque is usually episodic, which means that you get the action in installments, kind of like a television series.

Henry Fielding's The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling is a picaresque novel, as is Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders. (Moll is a lady rogue, by the way.) A more recent example of a picaresque hero? Ignatius P. Riley of John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces.