On Reading Don Quixote

At the beginning of this year I made a list of New Year’s Reading Resolutions (see January 2 blog): “Twelve books, one per month, that I’ve never read, that I really do want to read, expect to enjoy reading and anticipate benefitting from reading.” My intention is that I’ll post a blog at the end of each month (or close to it) with some thoughts and observations about or from the books. (You, of course, are more than welcome to add your own knowledge to what little I have.) During the month of July my reading was Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes.

Generally regarded as the “Father of the Modern Novel” Don Quixote is actually entitled The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha. Published in two volumes a decade apart, in 1605 and 1615, we are, within those pages, introduced to the most famous knight in all of literature: “The Knight of the Sad Countenance.”

This is a funny, fun book.

The plot is not complex. An elderly madman who has read too many stories of knights, battles, and damsels in distress falls “into the strangest fancy that ever a mad man had in the whole world. He thought it fit and proper, both in order to increase his renown and to serve the state, to turn knight errant and travel through the world with horse and armour in search of adventures, following in every way the practice of knights errant he had read of, redressing all manner of wrongs….”

But it is a novel of depth.

Russian novelist, Vladamir Nabakov, wrote, “The parody that is Quixote becomes paragon.”

“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.”  –Don Quixote

The great Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote, “One of the most profound and mysterious aspects of the human spirit [is] reflected in this narrative.”

Quixote takes his neighbor, Sancho Panza, on as his squire. Panza is the ultimate realist and between him and Quixote you have both sides of human nature represented.

According to David Allen White (former professor of Shakespeare and Literature at the United States Naval Academy), you have “all that is idealistic, glorious, uplifting and everything that is down-to-earth, practical, commonsensical. We all have these two sides…

“[Quixote] doesn’t know who he is, but is fighting for all the things we should be fighting for…

“At the core of every adventure is something real, something good, something positive… ”

If you think you might want to read, Don Quixote, let me encourage you with this information:

  • There is no consistent plot. You can pick it up, put it down and a month later pick it up again and not miss anything. This is because it moves from one adventure to another.   
  • The best translation is by J. M. Cohen (1950). Penquin Classics, Barnes and Noble, and The Franklin Library have all published  this one, which, according to White, this is the one that “gets the joke and can deliver the comedy.”
  • Because, at its core, it concerns the human spirit, people of all ages can read, enjoy and benefit from Don Quixote.

FWI: Quixote and King Lear; Cervantes and Shakespeare

  • Don Quixote was published in two parts. The first in 1605, the same time William Shakespeare was writing King Lear, about another mad old man.
  • The sequel was published in 1615, a year before Cervantes died. He died the day before Shakespeare died.  The greatest Spanish writer and the greatest English writer (certainly of their day).

During the month of August, I’ll be reading Alexander Dumas’ The Three Musketeers. Join me, if you’d like.


1 Comment

Filed under Literature

One response to “On Reading Don Quixote

  1. Michael

    Surely you Joust… but must pick it up…. or dream possibly about it at least.
    For I have certainly had a life of chasing adventure and jousting windmills.

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