Essays and Criticism
Don Quixote as Post-Modern
In 1605, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra wrote the first part of his ingenious novel, El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha, known in English as Don Quixote. Written because Cervantes was in financial trouble and he needed to make some money, Don Quixote met with immediate commercial success.
Indeed, the novel was so popular that in 1614, another writer imitating Cervantes' subject and style published a book called Segundo tomo del ingenioso hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha. While imitation might be the most sincere form of flattery, Cervantes was not amused. Already working on the second volume of Don Quixote, he wrote into the book a chapter castigating the impostor and denigrating the imitative work. This second volume was published in 1615, and once again met with both critical and popular approval.
Since the seventeenth century, Don Quixote has grown to be one of the most regarded and highly influential novels in the western world. It continues to generate critical study and controversy, and has been called the most important novel ever written, particularly by South American writers. Indeed, important writers such as Michel Foucault and Jorge Luis Borges have both discussed Don Quixote at length.
What is there about the novel that makes it the subject of so many literary studies, centuries after its first publication? Perhaps it is because the novel offers readers nearly...
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On the Reading and Interpretation of Don Quixote
[Today], there is scarcely a literature that yields less individual and more insipid works than that of Spain, and there is scarcely a cultured nation—or one that passes for such—where there is such a manifest incapacity for philosophy.
[This] philosophical incapacity which Spain has always shown, as well as a certain poetic incapacity—poetry is not the same as literature—has allowed a host of pedants and spiritual sluggards, who constitute what might be called the school of the Cervantist Masora, to fall upon Don Quixote.
The Masora was, as the reader will doubtless remember, a Jewish undertaking, consisting of critical annotations to the Hebrew text of Holy Scripture, the work of various rabbis of the school at Tiberias during the eighth and ninth centuries. The Masoretes, as these rabbis were called, counted all the letters which compose the Biblical text and determined the incidence of each letter and the number of times each one was preceded by one of the others, and other curious matters of this type.
The Cervantist Masoretes have not yet indulged in such excesses with Don Quixote; but they are not far off. As regards our book, all manner of unimportant minutiae and every kind of insignificant detail have been recorded. The book has been turned upside down and considered from every angle, but scarcely anyone has examined its entrails, nor entered into its inner meaning.
Even worse: whenever...
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The Soul of Spain
There can be no doubt, Don Quixote is the world's greatest and most typical novel. There are other novels which are finer works of art, more exquisite in style, of more perfect architectonic plan. But such books appeal less to the world at large than to the literary critic; they are not equally amusing, equally profound, to the men of all nations, and all ages, and all degrees of mental capacity. Even if we put aside monuments of literary perfection, like some of the novels of Flaubert, and consider only the great European novels of widest appeal and deepest influence, they still fall short of the standard which this book, their predecessor and often their model, had set. Tristram Shandy, perhaps the most cosmopolitan of English novels, a book that in humour and wisdom often approaches Don Quixote, has not the same universality of appeal. Robinson Crusoe, the most typical of English novels, the Odyssey of the Anglo-Saxon on his mission of colonising the earth—Godfearing, practical, inventive—is equally fascinating to the simplest intellect and the deepest. Yet, wide as its reputation is, it has not the splendid affluence, the universal humanity, of Don Quixote. Tom Jones, always a great English novel, can never become a great European novel; while the genius of Scott, which was truly cosmopolitan in its significance and its influence, was not only too literary in its inspirations, but too widely diffused over a wilderness...
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