Tuesday, August 25, 2009

210. Don Quixote – Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

History: Published in two volumes a decade apart, in 1605 and 1615. Don Quixote is the most influential work of literature to emerge from the Spanish Golden Age and the entire Spanish literary canon. As a founding work of modern Western literature, it regularly appears high on lists of the greatest works of fiction ever published. Cervantes created a fictional origin for the story based upon a manuscript by the invented Moorish historian, Cide Hamete Benengeli.
Plot: Don Quixote opens with a prologue. Much of the prologue, however, is devoted to a discussion of what a prologue should include, offering the reader some insight into what a seventeenth-century audience might expect. Don Quixote is the story of Alonso Quijano, an aging gentleman of La Mancha. He reads so many chivalric romances that he loses his sanity. He decides to become a knight-errant, which is a knight who travels the countryside performing good deeds and seeking adventure. He puts on an old suit of armor, mounts a bony old horse he calls Rocinante, and renames himself Don Quixote de La Mancha. He also appoints a peasant woman, Aldonza Lorenzo, as his ladylove, and renames her Dulcinea del Toboso. Like the knights of old, Don Quixote performs good deeds in the name of Dulcinea, although she does not know that she is the object of the older man's attention. Just as he considers himself a knight, he imagines that a local inn is a castle and the innkeeper a castellan. As a result of his madness and odd behavior, a group of travelers beat him. After the beating, he makes his way home, where he is interrogated by the local priest and barber. Concerned, they decide to cure him of his madness by burning his books. Don Quixote attributes the missing books to a thieving wizard.
Soon he sets off on another adventure, this time accompanied by Sancho Panza, a rude peasant, but who worships him. In a very famous scene, Don Quixote mistakes some windmills for giants and rushes at them with his spear. When Don Quixote realizes that he has attacked a windmill, he says that the same magician who has stolen his books has also turned the giants into windmills. Don Quixote and Sancho have several more adventures, including mistaking two herds of sheep for armies and a funeral for a parade of monsters. They get beaten up several times, especially Don Quixote, who does not seem to feel his injuries. Furthermore, they free some prisoners on their way to becoming galley slaves. Don Quixote travels to the mountains to fast and pray for his love, Dulcinea, and sends Sancho Panza with a message to Dulcinea. Don Quixote's friends intercept Sancho and learn his master's whereabouts. They finally lure Don Quixote home, hoping that they can keep him safe.
Part II: Don Quixote's friends are unable to keep him at home for long. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza take off in search of adventure again, this time meeting with the Knight of the Wood (a village student in disguise who had promised to impede Don Quixote's adventures), joining a wedding party, and destroying a traveling puppet show.
The second volume of the novel also includes a long section in which Don Quixote and Sancho Panza stay with a duke and a duchess who have read about the pair's famous adventures. The Duke and the Duchess play a series of tricks on Don Quixote, including the "disenchantment" of Dulcinea and the enthronement of Sancho as ruler of an island.
Next, Don Quixote and Sancho decide to go to Barcelona where they have additional adventures. Finally, the student firm the earlier episode finds Don Quixote and challenges him to combat. Don Quixote is defeated. He decides to return home and become a shepherd.
On his return home, Don Quixote falls ill. Although his friends try to cheer him up, Don Quixote grows weaker and weaker. Finally he writes his will and apparently returns to sanity:
I was mad, and now am sane; I was Don Quixote de La Mancha and now, as I have said, I am Alonso Quijano the Good. I pray that my repentance, and my honesty, may return me to the good opinion your graces once held of me.
With this renunciation of chivalry and romance, Don Quixote receives his last rites and subsequently dies. He leaves an inheritance to both Sancho and to his niece, instructing her to marry a man who has never read a book of chivalry.
Review: The characters of Quixote and Sancho Panza, the wisest fool the world will ever know, are immortal now. But there are a whole host of others who enrich the tapestry.
The wit flows quite freely and a lot of it bites even now which I appreciated. Throughout, pretty much every human institution and philosophy comes up as a target at some point.
Fantasy turned into reality which in turn created quite a philosophical challenge. At the start of the book, Quixote is a fool. But when he dies, he is celebrated as a hero. What happened to make that change of state is the genius of this work and makes it a fascinating study in social thought actually. This is a loooong book and I listened to it while driving back and forth to see Daddy. I couldn’t finish it because it was tedious, and I was anxious to listen to other books I had.
Opening Line: “In a village of La Mancha, the name of which I have no desire to call to mind, there lived not long since one of those gentlemen that keep a lance in the lance-rack, an old buckler, a lean hack, and a greyhound for coursing.”
Closing Line: “For my sole aim has been to arouse men’s scorn for the false and absurd stories of knight-errantry, whose prestige has been shaken by this tale of my true Don Quixote, and which will, without any doubt, soon crumble in ruin, Vale.”
Quotes: “Every man is as Heaven made him, and sometimes a great deal worse.”
“Everything is artifice or illusion.”
Rating: Important book, but tedious to read.

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