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The Manuscript Found in Saragossa

From Academic Kids

The Manuscript Found in Saragossa (original French title Manuscrit trouvé ŕ Saragosse, also known in English as Saragossa Manuscript), by the Polish author Jan Potocki (1761-1815), is a frame tale novel from the period of the Napoleonic Wars. The novel was adapted as a Polish-language film by the director Wojciech Has in 1965 and later as a Romanian-language play, Saragosa, 66 de Zile (Saragossa, 66 Days) written and directed by Alexandru Dabija.

The Manuscript Found in Saragossa collects the intertwining stories, all of them set in whole or in part in Spain, with a large and colorful cast of gypsies, thieves, inquisitors, a cabbalist, a geometer, the cabbalist's beautiful sister, two Moorish princesses (Emina and Zibelda), and others that the brave, perhaps foolhardy, Walloon Guard Alphonse van Worden meets, imagines, or reads about in the Sierra Morena mountains of 18th century Spain while en route to Madrid. Recounted to the narrator over the course of sixty-six days, the novel's stories quickly overshadow van Worden's frame story, and the bulk of the novel's stories revolve around the gypsy chief Avadoro, whose story becomes a frame story itself; eventually the narrative focus moves again towards van Worden's frame story and a conspiracy involving an underground — or perhaps entirely hallucinated — Muslim society, revealing the connections and correspondences between the hundred or so stories told over the novel's sixty-six days.

The stories cover a wide range of genres and subjects, including the gothic, the picaresque, the erotic, the historical, the moral, and the philosophic; and as a whole the novel reflects Potocki's far-reaching interests, but especially his deep fascination with secret societies, the supernatural, and so-called Oriental cultures. The stories-within-stories of the novel sometimes reach several levels of depth, and characters and themes — a few prominent themes being honor, disguise, metamorphosis, and conspiracy — recur and change shape throughout. Because of this rich interlocking structure, the novel has drawn favorable comparisons to such celebrated works as the Decameron and the Arabian Nights.

Textual history

The first several 'days' of The Manuscript Found in Saragossa were initially published apart from the rest of the novel in 1797, while the stories comprising the Gypsy chief's tale were added later; the novel was written incrementally, left in its final form (although never exactly completed) at the time of the author's suicide in 1815. The novel as a whole was written in French, but sections of the original text have been lost. Existing translations of the novel are based on a Polish translation of the original French novel. The current English-language edition is published by Penguin Books and was translated by Ian MacLean.

The film

In 1965 the director Wojciech Has adapted the novel into the Polish-language black-and-white film Rękopis znaleziony w Saragossie (The Saragossa Manuscript), starring Zbigniew Cybulski. It was admired by many participants of the 1960s counterculture, notably Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia.

Notable characters

  • Alphonse van Worden, the narrator
  • The Sheikh Gomelez, mysterious locus of conspiracy
  • The twin sisters Emina and Zubeida
  • The hermit
  • Pacheco, the demoniac servant of the hermit
  • Don Pedro Uzeda, the cabbalist
  • Donna Rebecca Uzeda, the cabbalist's sister
  • Ahasuerus, the Wandering Jew
  • Don Pedro Velasquez, the geometer
  • Don Avadoro, the gypsy chief
  • Don Toledo, the amorous knight
  • Busqueros, the nuisance
  • The Soto brothers, hanging from the gallows
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