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Early form of the novel, usually a first-person narrative, relating the episodic adventures of a rogue or lowborn adventurer (Spanish, pícaro). The hero drifts from place to place and from one social milieu to another in an effort to survive. The genre originated in Spain and had its prototype in Mateo Alemán's Guzmán de Alfarache (1599). It appeared in various European literatures until the mid-18th century, when the growth of the realistic novel led to its decline. Because of the opportunities for satire they present, picaresque elements enriched many later novels, such as Nikolay Gogol's Dead Souls (1842), Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn (1884), and Thomas Mann's Confessions of Felix Krull (1954).
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on picaresque novel, visit Britannica.com.
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