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pi·​ca·​resque ˌpi-kə-ˈresk How to pronounce picaresque (audio)
: of or relating to rogues or rascals
also : of, relating to, suggesting, or being a type of fiction dealing with the episodic adventures of a usually roguish protagonist
a picaresque novel


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: one that is picaresque

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What is a picaresque novel?

Picaresque derives from Spanish picaresco, which means "of or relating to a picaro," the picaro being the rogue or bohemian usually at the center of picaresque fiction. The typical picaro is a wandering individual of low social standing who happens into a series of adventures among people of various higher classes, and often relies on wits and a little dishonesty to get by. The first known novel in this style is Lazarillo de Tormes (circa 1554), an irreverent work about a poor boy who works for a series of masters of dubious character. The novel has been attributed to Diego Hurtado de Mendoza, but his authorship is disputable.

Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web
Here the picaresque nineteenth-century adventures of his previous book are replaced by the tale of a fifty-one-year-old man in 2011 buying a large notepad and trying to write a long account of himself for his twenty-six-year-old daughter, Maggie. James Walton, The New York Review of Books, 21 Sep. 2022 Of course, in his picaresque travelogue of Texan political activism, O’Rourke is also telling his own story — as a careful listener and tireless avatar of all those who have fought against injustice, past and present. Lee Drutman, Washington Post, 19 Aug. 2022 The White Tiger is a picaresque tale of an Indian man’s escape from poverty to business success, and of ambition being muddied by morality. David Sims, The Atlantic, 26 Feb. 2022 Fielding's is a picaresque novel, an early literary genre which focuses on a roguish but lovable underdog hero on a series of adventures. Emma Dibdin, Town & Country, 9 Sep. 2021 In a picaresque life, Ms. Ginsberg lived in New York City, Switzerland, Israel and Ecuador. Annabelle Williams, New York Times, 26 Aug. 2021 Jim Harrison reviewed this picaresque tale of a young writer on the brink of success for The Times — and loved it. Tina Jordan, New York Times, 26 Mar. 2021 There are picaresque detours, slapstick-heavy set pieces and a thick veneer of corporate-culture satire, mostly aimed at the Great Beyond’s overseers, each one a marvel of translucent forms and squiggly lines. Justin Chang Film Critic, Los Angeles Times, 22 Dec. 2020 After Cabortes throws him out, Pattie makes his way to Monterey and has more picaresque adventures, including taking part on both sides of a minor civil war. Gary Kamiya, SFChronicle.com, 1 May 2020
Suttree, somewhat of an indulgence, a romp, a Knoxville picaresque, closed out the Seventies. Joy Williams, Harper’s Magazine , 14 Dec. 2022 In fact, the book is Cervantes’s satire of literary tropes (including the novel of chivalry, epic poetry, the pastoral novel, and, to a lesser degree, the picaresque). The New Yorker, 18 July 2022 This picaresque satire set in Russia's early aughts exposes the absurdity of totalitarianism when David, an investment banker who goes bust because of Enron, moves to Russia and is caught in a dizzyingly absurd plot. Barbara Vandenburgh, USA TODAY, 10 Dec. 2022 But the picaresque novel, as Cervantes would have understood it, is characterized by the first-person narration of a poor individual—the picaro—who relates his own misadventures and misdeeds. The New Yorker, 18 July 2022 The book was written by two young Russian writers, Ilya Ilf and Yevgeny Petrov, and it’s a crazy picaresque adventure set during the turbulent times immediately following the Russian Revolution. New York Times, 10 Nov. 2022 But its two-hour runtime compressed Rice’s vampire picaresque in a way that undermined the book’s languid, Southern gothic pace. Time, 27 Oct. 2022 That's another cinematic tradition Guadagnino is locking into: the American picaresque as seen through a touristing European's eyes. A.a. Dowd, Chron, 23 Nov. 2022 Or at least, that’s the most generous reading of this perverse picaresque. Ann Hornaday, Washington Post, 22 Nov. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'picaresque.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History



Spanish picaresco, from pícaro

First Known Use


1810, in the meaning defined above


1895, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of picaresque was in 1810


Dictionary Entries Near picaresque

Cite this Entry

“Picaresque.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/picaresque. Accessed 27 Mar. 2023.

Kids Definition


: of, relating to, or being a type of fiction which presents the adventures of a usually rascally character
a picaresque novel

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