Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
The title of this story indicates that Jorge Luis Borges is engaging in his customary mischief of rearranging the universe, for almost any reader of the fiction of this master storyteller would know that the author of El ingenioso hidalgo don Quixote de la Mancha (1605, 1615; The History of the Valorous and Wittie Knight-Errant, Don Quixote of the Mancha, 1612-1620; better known as Don Quixote de la Mancha) is not Pierre Menard but Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616). The narrator begins by relating the details of his encounter with Menard through a series of mutual friends, in particular the baroness de Bacourt and the countess de Bagnoregio, formerly of Monaco but now married to an international philanthropist in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
The narrator lists what he calls the “visible” work of Menard, comparing his enumeration of works to the catalog prepared by Madame Henri Bachelier and published by a newspaper suspect for its Protestant tendencies. The list includes translations of classical authors, treatises on philosophical and metaphysical problems, monographs on poetic language, and various works of poetry. The narrator then turns to the other, more important work—the subterranean, heroic, peerless, and unfinished. This extraordinary composition consists of two chapters and a fragment of a third chapter of Don Quixote de la Mancha. Menard’s work is not another Quixote; rather, it is the...
(The entire section is 520 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
In “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote,” Borges combines a sophisticated sense of humor, directed toward the scholasticism of the academic, with one of his favorite images—that of the simulacrum. The story begins as a eulogy written in the first person and dedicated to the memory of an admirable French author, Pierre Menard. The narrator first provides a list of the author’s visible works in a rather pompous, academic style; the narrator often invokes his literary authority by dropping names of famous writers or providing documentary proof through the citation of very real authors or journals in his footnotes. The insertion of footnotes for the purpose of creating an impression of assumed authority is a much-used technique in Borges’s stories. In this story the footnotes add to the general irony, since Borges uses them to mock academic critics. He mimics the style of bookish scholars who catalog literary works and associate themselves with reputable names in order to give themselves some stature as literary critics. Borges implies that such critics remain well on the outskirts of literary activity. Through such spoofs of literary techniques and genres, he invites the reader to participate in a playful activity that exposes the pretentiousness of some brands of scholarship.
From the imitation of bombastic critics and styles, Borges proceeds to another form of imitation. Menard, the eulogized writer, is credited with another set of “subterranean” works, one of which is an attempted imitation of Miguel de Cervantes’s El ingenioso hidalgo don Quixote de la Mancha (1605, 1615; Don Quixote de la Mancha, 1612-1620). The reader is led to another typically Borgesian idea. Since, according to Borges, everything that seeks to amaze has already been said before, there are no longer any new stories left to narrate. Rearrangement of old plots in new patterns is the only available type of creativity that writers in the twentieth century can...
(The entire section is 812 words.)