A picaresque story or novel is about a character who wanders from adventure to adventure. The plot is not an overarching structure that builds to a climax, but is episodic. The central character - the "picaro" or rogue - is not ruled by the constraints of normal society, and because he is outside its structure, has an interesting and ironic point of view.

Some picaresque novels:

Outside of book reviews or literary criticism, you might refer to a road-trip style of journey as picaresque.

A novel that presents the life of a rascally, amoral character, usually from a low social class, who goes through life taking part in adventures. Usually in the first person by the "picaro" him/herself, this cheerful, raffish character gets through life on his/her wits, often cheating (or nearly cheating) the gullible, the pompous, and the rich.

An example of a picaresque novel is Willam Makepeace Thackeray's Barry Lyndon, told in the form of the autobiography of Irishman who serves in both the English and Prussian armies, becomes a successful gambler, and marries a wealthy countess whom he treats cruelly and whose fortune he squanders. Eventually, he dies in prison of delirium tremens.

The picaro's adventures usually follow no particular order, and episode in his/her life does not lead logically into next. Although a picaresque novel often has no recognizable climax or resolution, its author generally strives for a style, especially in the creation of characters who are not "too good to be true."

Other picaresque novels have included Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders, Erica Jong's Fanny: Being the True History of Adventures of Fanny Hackabout-Jones, Saul Bellow's The Adventures of Augie March, and Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn.

Pic`a*resque" (?), a. [F., fr. Sp. picaro rogue.]

Applied to that class of literature in which the principal personage is the Spanish picaro, meaning a rascal, a knave, a rogue, an adventurer.

 

© Webster 1913.

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