By Gibbs J.W.
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This man in animal skin, a reminder of his former foolish self, is in the end a man of wisdom, but only after having learned from his own faults and from the books he has studied. Given to self-imposed loneliness and strange wanderings in the night, Fielding’s Man of the Hill is also the classical melancholic. He shares this with the heroes of other picaresque novels, such as Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759–67), which owes much to Robert Burton’s seminal study Anatomy of Melancholy (1621) about the causes and cures of melancholy.
Simplicius’s vanitas conclusion, which he draws in absolute seclusion, that all life is both vain and in vain, is, in the end, a political thought sustaining his identity as a political being. It finally reinstates his life as a human life, liberating him from the animal life or bare life that he has displayed while still living in Europe. Although the text directs its criticism at the Church,73 it does, on the whole, not question the idea of salvation. Whatever we do is ultimately deemed to be in vain due to the evanescence of all things terrestrial.
Simplicius’s development extends from initial animal life as a youthful fool and wolf-like rogue without peace in the forest to human life at peace on the island. Because of this kind of development Grimmelshausen’s novel has often been seen as a Bildungsroman and has been compared to Wolfram von Eschenbach’s (c. 1170–c. 1225) Parzival (c. 74 That it is a picaresque novel and not a Bildungsroman, a genre that arose in the Age of Enlightenment, has been established since the 1970s. As we pointed out, the Schelm’s metamorphosis from a man ruled by his animal nature to a good Christian is steeped in menippean satire, a genre that displayed the metamorphosis concretely as shape-shifting from a human to an animal and back.