"Widely regarded as the world's first modern novel, and one of the funniest and most tragic books ever written, Don Quixote chronicles the famous picaresque adventures of the noble knight-errant Don Quixote of La Mancha and his faithful squire, Sancho Panza, as they travel through sixteenth-century Spain."--Jacket.
So I dove headlong into reading Don Quixote. I found out that the English volume contained two "Parts." Evidently the first part was published by Cervantes in 1605 and the second part was published as a sequel 10 years later in 1615. Apparently about 8 or 9 years after the successful publication of the book, an unidentified author wrote and released an unapproved sequel to the story. This anonymous author directly insulted Cervantes in the text and blatantly modified the character, behavior and motivations of the central characters of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. It's unclear exactly when Cervantes started writing his official sequel but he was definitely spurred on by this derogatory piece of literature defaming his own story. In the official "Part 2" of Don Quixote we have some very over-the-top meta fiction in which all of the characters are familiar with the first official book as well as the spurious unauthorized sequel. There are numerous sequences of dialog between characters where they discuss the unauthorized book and condemn it as slanderous drivel. Don Quixote is especially offended and wants to do all he can to make the world know of the false nature of this second book and the true nature of himself and his adventures.
As is likely the case of most readers approaching Don Quixote, I didn't know a lot of the details of the overall story. Naturally I'd heard about the "tilting at windmills" scene through countless allusions elsewhere. And I've long been a fan of the musical "Man of La Mancha" and so I knew some general story aspects from that as well. Certainly not enough to know the entire 1000 page story but I knew that Don Quixote was a man who read a lot of fantastic literature about knights and chivalry and somehow got it into his head that not only were all the stories real but that he was called by divine right to be one of these knights and to ride into the world righting wrongs and fighting for justice. He has sworn his heart to the lovely Dulcinea, also a figment of his troubled mind…a conglomeration of a real woman he knows and a fantasy maiden he idealizes. He takes his friend and neighbor Sancho Panza as squire and the two of them set out into the world looking like the most pathetic knight and squire you can imagine.
Most of the story in Part One focuses on a wide variety of adventures showcasing just how entrenched Don Quixote is in his own personal fantasy as well as how truly inept he is at being a knight. Still, through a large amount of luck and with a large amount of mocking and derision, he manages to come off victorious in a number of very strange situations. He is convinced that an evil enchanter is working to block his way and thus when things do go wrong for one reason or another or when his eyesight drifts closer to reality than fantasy, Don Quixote is quick to excuse any glimpses of reality as evidence of interference from this vile enchanter. In the meantime, Sancho Panza sees the world clearly but rides along very loyally beside his friend and master in the hope of obtaining some part of the fortune. As the story went on I tried to decide just how far Sancho was drawn into the fantasy of Don Quixote. Sancho could certainly see the world for what it was and he ended up getting some bad scrapes and beatings as a result of his master's behavior. And yet he wandered along through the adventures in the hope of some reward. I think he partly believed Don Quixote's madness as truth but part of him also acknowledged that Don Quixote was likely a little bit crazy. In which case what does that say about why Sancho sticks around? He constantly says it's because he hopes to gain fortune and become governor of an island, but I wonder if there is a part of him who knows Don Quixote is crazy and he sticks around in an effort to help protect him or at least be comfort to him.
As Part One goes on, friends and family from Don Quixote's village come up with a variety of plans to try and bring Don Quixote home and to cure him of his madness. These plans end up just as zany and outrageous as some of Don Quixote's "normal" adventures. In the end, they finally do manage to bring him home for some time so he can rest and heal after many tribulations. But he does eventually sally forth again and thus begins Part Two.
As I mentioned above, Part Two has a lot of meta-fictional elements in that it seems that the larger part of the world has already read Part One and is already very aware of who Don Quixote is and what he is doing. Even though Part One made it rather clear that Don Quixote didn't have all of his wits about him, some of the reading public treat him as a true knight errant and are overjoyed to meet him and hear about his ongoing adventures. More frequently however, the people who have read his story know and understand that he is a little off-kilter and they decide to take advantage of both he and Sancho. They treat them as though they truly are knight and squire and they set up fantastic adventures for them all for the purpose of entertaining onlookers who are in on the joke. Even though the scenes often get outrageously funny there is a tragic sense to them in that the central players in the scene are being grotesquely taken advantage of for the sake of amusement. That concept in itself seems like an interesting commentary on just what constitutes entertainment. It didn't seem quite as tragic to laugh at Don Quixote in part one when his fantasy and imagination got him in trouble. But in part two when he embarks on similar adventures prodded by people who know as much as the reader, it feels a little wrong somehow.
Part Two seems to focus a lot more on developing the characters of Don Quixote and Sancho in terms of a more philosophical ilk rather than the first part which made some various political and social commentary but seemed largely invested in having a rollicking adventure at the expense of a madman. I found that I liked some of the adventures and escapades of Part One more than the second part but overall I found Part Two more thoughtful and interesting. On the whole I felt like they made a wonderful counterpart to one another and should definitely be read together.
Overall I really enjoyed reading Don Quixote even though at times I felt very lost and a little bogged down. There are a lot of political, social and literary references throughout the book, some of which had endnotes for me to reference and others did not. There were many very wordy sections filled with commentary on life and virtue and the nature of everything under the sun. These segments usually worked to break the flow of reading for me and left me a little stuck on that section as I tried to digest what was being said and work it into the overall message. There were many great passages that were absolutely brilliant in terms of observation as well as just great turns-of-phrase.
Having finished the novel, I feel like I have completed a major achievement. And yet at the same time, I feel like I only barely scratched the surface of this book. There was just so much meat to be found in every chapter that I felt very overwhelmed and often just "plodded through" to make sure I was making progress. I would love to one day take a course devoted to studying this novel and dissecting some of the major themes and passages. I have no doubt that this book could fill an entire course or more and still leave plenty left untouched.
To those thinking about reading this book alone, don't be daunted by its length or content. It is definitely something that can be completed. At the same time I would suggest that if you have access to anybody with deeper insight into the text, it would certainly not go amiss to ask them four some suggestions and pointers to help direct your reading. I would have loved some outside insight to help guide me through different passages. For now, the book returns to my bookshelf. The story and characters will run through the back of my mind for years to come and I hope that someday I can take the book off the shelf and dive into deeper study of this remarkable work of art.
4.5 out of 5 stars
Don Quixote is one of those books whose influence is so far-reaching as to be almost ubiquitous, like The Odyssey, or the Bible. And like the Bible or Homer’s epic, it is more often talked about than read. But my conclusion upon reading it is to recommend to all: read it and enjoy the stories.
I didn’t realize when I started the book that it consists of two separate volumes published 10 years apart. The first volume includes most of the well-known elements of the story, including Don Quixote’s famous attack on the windmills. In the second volume everyone knows who Don Quixote is because they've read the first volume. It adds an interesting element to the book, because he is now trying to live up to his own legend. He's become a celebrity and his cause and condition have become well known throughout the land.
Alonso Quixano is Don Quixote’s true name. He reads book after book dealing with stories of chivalry throughout the ages. He then becomes convinced that he is in fact a knight errant and he must go on a crusade to help the people who are suffering in Spain.
“It is not the responsibility of knights errant to discover whether the afflicted, the enchained and the oppressed whom they encounter on the road are reduced to these circumstances and suffer this distress for their vices, or for their virtues: the knight's sole responsibility is to succour them as people in need, having eyes only for their sufferings, not for their misdeeds.”
He saddles up his horse, Rocinante, and recruits a local farmer named Sancho Panza to embark on his travels with him. Sancho becomes his faithful squire. The two set off and along the way they “help” those who cross their path. The problem is that Don Quixote is delusional about who actually needs his help. The famous windmill scene comes about because he thinks he is fighting giants. He fights for the honor of a woman who barely knows him, Dulcinea del Toboso. The first volume contains a strange mix of stories. Everyone is able to see the Don’s madness except himself and his proverb-spouting squire. Though this is tragic in some ways, it’s also beautiful. There’s something about having complete faith in another person that gives you strength in your own life.
The first volume is entertaining, but lacks the depth I was expecting. It wasn’t until I got into the second volume that I really fell in love with the book. There’s such a wonderful exploration of motivation, delusion, loyalty, and more. Who is Don Quixote hurting with his quest? Is it wrong to allow him to remain convinced of his knighthood? The second volume also pokes playful fun at the first volume, joking that the author exaggerated stories, etc.
“The truth may be stretched thin, but it never breaks, and it always surfaces above lies, as oil floats on water.”
Don Quixote’s naïveté and earnestness about his field of knight errantry make him an easy target. People who want to play tricks on him or friendly jokes or even rob him are easily able to because they know exactly what his weaknesses are. He believes, without a doubt, in the code of knight errantry that he holds himself to. He's also wise about so many things while remaining blind to his own absurdity.
At times he reminded me of Polonius from “Hamlet” spouting off wisdom to anyone who will listen. Sometimes it's good advice, sometimes not but he believes it wholeheartedly. There's a purity in living a life so full of earnestness that you believe in your dreams without faltering and you hold yourself to a higher standard.
BOTTOM LINE: This isn’t a novel I’ll re-read every year or anything, but it was a richly rewarding experience for me. It made me want to believe in some of the magic in life and to not always question the motives of others. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza will be with me for years to come.
"Then the very same thing, said the knight, happens in the comedy and commerce of this world, where one meets with some people playing the parts of emperors, others in the characters of popes, and finally, all the different personages that can be introduced in a comedy; but, when the play is done, that is, when life is at an end, death strips them of the robes that distinguished their stations, and they become all equal in the grave.”
“Time ripens all things. No man is born wise.”
I thought about that observation frequently as I was reading Don Quixote, which is widely hailed in critical circles as the first modern novel. (And, at just shy of 1,000 pages, I had plenty of time to think about a lot of things during the several weeks it took me to finish the book.) I have to confess that I was not even sure what being labeled the first modern novel even meant. However, the more time I spent immersed in the volume, the more sense that designation made. For as much as I enjoyed the inventiveness of the story, I think I enjoyed considering the historical importance of the work and the influence it has had on literature over the subsequent centuries even more.
As I learned, the present-day version of Don Quixote actually consists of two separate novels that Cervantes wrote about ten years apart. Both parts of the book tell the same well-known tale. An aging Spanish gentleman becomes so obsessed with reading novels on chivalry that he goes “mad” and fancies himself a knight errant, whose duty it is to right wrongs wherever he finds them in the world. Pledging his chaste love and obedience to the lady Dulcinea—who, in reality, is a relatively ordinary peasant woman he barely knows—he sets out across the country on several sallies, eventually accompanied by Sancho Panza, a poor local farmer who serves as his squire.
The myriad adventures the two men have tend to take on a similar form: in his delusional state, Don Quixote confuses an ordinary situation as a threat or a challenge that needs to be addressed (e.g., windmills confused for giant villains to be vanquished), which the simple but sensible Sancho tries to talk him out of. When the encounter goes badly for the heroes, Quixote is quick to blame the work of evil enchanters who are out to get him, rather than accept failure or the possibility that he simply misread the circumstances. This basic plot device is repeated over and over again—accompanied by a considerable amount of philosophical discourse between the knight and the squire—much of which is amusing and, occasionally, memorable.
For me, the second half of the novel was considerably more interesting and rewarding than the first. It is also the part of the book where the “modern” label becomes more apparent. Indeed, the author himself (often in the guise of his Arabic alter-ego Cide Hamete Benengeli) becomes a third central character in the story in a very clever way. While on their adventures in this section, Quixote and Panza often meet people who already know them from having read the first half of the book and are only too happy to encourage their delusional behavior. Also, the author has the Don’s character berate another real-life writer who had produced an unauthorized plagiarism of the Quixote saga in the years between the two volumes that Cervantes himself wrote. That is not only modern, it is down-right post-modern!
In summary, Don Quixote is an altogether remarkable and entertaining book that was also, at times, absolutely exhausting to read. I do not imagine that I will ever find the time or the energy to read it again, but I am so happy to have made it all the way through this once. There are some who rank it among the best novels ever written and I cannot argue too strenuously with that position.
It was only after all the rave reviews that Edith Grossman's recent translation received, that I finally decided to give it a go. And let me say, it is well worth the effort. Grossman has translated Cervantes' Spanish into wonderfully flowing English, capturing as much of the original word play as is possible. Where particular phrases
cannot be translated into English whilst retaining their original humour, Grossman provides footnotes explaining the original Spanish meaning.
I never thought a 400 year old book could make me laugh out loud, but this one has on many occaisons. It has to be the funniest thing I've read all year (but I have spent a lot of this year reading Proust, so maybe it doesn't have much competition). Although the adventures the "Knight of the Sorrowful Face" experiences are hilarious, my
particular favourites being "The Adventure of the Galley Slaves" and "The Adventure of the Cave of Montesinos", they can become a bit repetitive. They all follow the same general pattern, Don Quixote mistakes some common thing or event as a chivalric adventure and is subsequently beaten up. You would think that this would make the book boring, as some reviewers on here have said, but the plot really isn't the point of the book.
What really makes the book for me is the wonderful dialogues between Don Quixote and his squire Sancho Panza. Quixote veers from the coherent discussion of a country gentlemen to the ravings of a madman, whilst Sancho at one moment can be a country bumpkin, the next he is discussing the governship of "insulas" with princes, always relying on his endless supply of mixed metaphors and maxims.
In short, this is one of the best books I've ever read.
There are very, very few classics which can stand with both Chaucer and Sterne.
That fun stuff aside, Quixote must also be one of the great litmus tests in literary history. Once you can answer the question "what do you think about the Don?" you can probably also answer the question "what do you think about literature?" Gabriel Josipovici argued that DQ is a disenchantment of *all* idealism, and thus a founding moment in (his understanding of) modernism. You could easily read the book as an attack on any fictional work at all: it misleads you, it lies to you, it turns you into a lunatic.
But if, like me, you're a soft touch, you can equally well say that, although the narrator of DQ is always talking about how the one thing s/he wanted to do in this book is to convince you not to read chivalric romances, because the more 'truth' there is in a book the better, the point of the book is in fact that the narrator is wrong. If s/he wasn't wrong, DQ wouldn't have the cry/laugh effect I noted above. And it turns out that the characters have a much better grasp of the way we use fiction than the narrator does. The Don might be a little bit nuts, but even his craziness is preferable to a world in which telling stories is thought to be 'wrong,' the position he ends up taking just before he dies. We readers might be as mad as Quixote, and as mad as the Duke and Duchess who play such tricks on him (p 956). But as Don Antonio says, "Don't you see, sir, that the benefits of Don Quixote's recovery can't be compared with the pleasure that his antics provide?" (930) Or as Don Quixote has it, "to tell jokes and write wittily is the work of geniuses; the most intelligent characters in a play is the fool, because the actor playing the part of the simpleton must not be one." (507)
Frankly, I'd much rather build or read a good book than explain why all building and reading are for the birds. My pomo professors would be appalled.
Particularly interesting that a lot of it is still relevant to modern times, just shows how poeple don't really change through time. Some parts actually made me laugh out loud, particularly the slapstick moments and sheer lunacy of the main character.
Glad I finished it and I certainly don't regret reading it.
In "Don Quixote" by Miguel de Cervantes
Don Quixote is one of my favourite novels, exasperating though it is at times with all those stories within stories knockabout humour and cruel practical jokes. Simply because it’s so complex, we both admire and laugh at Don Quixote. When he speaks we are inclined to share his world view. And then Cervantes reminds us of what a ridiculous figure he is and undermines the effect. Until Quixote opens his mouth again. This happens again and again - until we end up seeing the novel - and the world - in two incompatible ways at once. And the relationship between Quixote and Sancho is one of the most beautiful friendships in literature. And then there are all the meta-fictional or postmodern tricks. There’s just so much to talk about.
Violent slapstick isn’t to everyone’s taste and four hundred-year-old Spanish satire, where you have to read the footnotes to get the punch line, is … tricky. There is not in all the world’s literature, and that of the universe, as far as we know, and if you follow positivist logic, being as no other life has as of yet been detected, two palsy and yet hierarchised figures whose genial, sharp, philosophical and jocoserious dialogue, and whose philosophical adventures, bring them so endearing and humanly close to each other as the “Distinguidos” Señores Alonso Quijano and Sancho Panza. It is worth it to learn Spanish and travel the entire peninsula, which Alberti said looks like the hide of a bull, just to appreciate the impressive genius with which a writer can glean and reproduce in words the soul of his land.
Cervantes also proves being a misogynist does not preclude great literature. Nor does being a violent, macho hypocrite. Hemingway sends his regards.
This was moderately painful to get through. Never again. This is probably the one text I would have preferred abridged.
Looking back on the 2 parts of Don Quixote, I must say that I believe the 1st part to be my favorite. Everyone knows the windmill scene. I am reminded of the windmill scenes in the old black and white Frankenstein movie and the one in Evil Dead. I could philosophize on this single adventure for an eternity. I will never forget Dorotea, Cardenio, Don Fernando, Luscinda, the Curate, Camacho... This book is one of the greatest--containing an occult knowledge of life. This is why men such as Voltaire carried it with them. Read Isaac Disraeli's essay "The Man of One Book" to understand me. This perhaps could be my "One Book". It has not only it's own wealth but also a wealth of past histories and chivalrous works within it.
Take to the mountains and fields with this book, ye goat herders!
I do not know if Ms. Grossman's translation does justice to the original Spanish version because I haven't read it but I enjoyed this book tremendously.
I enjoyed that Ms. Grossman tried to capture not only the story, but also the prose, rhythm and style of writing of the era even it was long winded and somewhat tedious. Even Cervantes' self deprecating and self glamorizing humor is intact. The foot notes also help the non-Spanish speaker understand more of background to the stories, the prose and inside jokes.
Even though this book was written centuries ago I found it contemporary, charming, hilarious and accessible. I believe that it is a great disservice to Cervantes that Don Quixote is being thought of as a drama only to disregard the story's comedic aspects.
Among the 1,000 pages of the book, Cervantes weaves unrelated background stories of characters which the duo meets on their adventures. I found that to be an advantage in such a long book because I could put the book down for a few weeks, read another book, and come back without missing a beat.
I believe that if you would take away the "classic literature" label from this book, which so many people find terrifying, you'll find a funny story, sometimes sad yet very modern even by today's standards.
If you are not familiar with the story of Don Quixote then here is a very short summary: Alonso Quixano is a retired country gentleman in his fifties who lives in La Mancha with his niece and housekeeper. Quixano has become obsessed with books about knights and chivalry (very popular at the time the story was written) and believes that they are true to their words despite the fact that many of the events are clearly unrealistic. Quixano's friends think that he has lost his mind from too much reading, too little sleep and food depravation.
From here the delusional Quixano sets out in search of adventure and takes on his nom de'guerre "Don Quixote de la Mancha" while announcing his love to a neighbor's daughter (unbeknown to her) renaming her "Dulcinea del Toboso".
What follows are adventure of mishap occasionally occurring because Don Quixote has a habit for sticking his nose in matters which are none of his business, using chivalry as an excuse to pick a fight wherever he can - only to be defeated, injured and humiliated. However to be fair, Sancho Panza receives the brunt of those punishments.
That is the end of part one.
Part two, which was written ten years later, reintroduces us to the now famous Don Quixote and Sancho Panza which are the victims of cruel jokes by rich neighbors. Don Quixote gains back his sanity and proves a capable ruler only to be met, again, with disastrous results.
He dies sane and sad instead of delusionary and happy.
While part one is whimsical, part two seemed to me very melancholy and more philosophical
Don Quixote, arguably the most influential Spanish work of literature, is a tale told in two volumes, published a decade apart. Within this work, the ingenious hidalgo, Don Quixote de La Mancha, goes slightly mad after a little too much reading and not enough eating or sleeping (haven't we all been there...), and takes it upon himself to perform great feats of chivalry in the name of his unwary love, Dulcinea.
Joined by his dimwitted sidekick, Sancho Panza, the two embark on quests and adventures, great and small. Quixote's niece wishes to get her uncle back and sane, which she and her accomplices team up to do, all the while thwarting Quixote's attempts at great acts of chivalry.
A great work by any means, albeit a thick one. Recommended for anyone who has had to attack windmills, either figuratively or literally.
Always humourous if occasionally a little uncomfortable from a modern perspective.
Through the stories and the mad adventures of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are glimpsed the history, social conditions and attitudes of the time, something missing from my school history lessons (from an English perspective).