Critical Overview

(Novels for Students)

Readers have always loved Don Quixote. Critics, however, have offered mixed assessments of the novel. For example, Lord Byron asserted that Cervantes was responsible for finally extinguishing the flame of chivalry in Europe. This charge was repeated by the English author Ford Madox Ford. Other negative reviewers, like Miguel de Unamuno and Giovanni Papini, consider Don Quixote a brilliant novel but deem its author a disorganized hack.

Yet, these authors are in the minority. Most critics appreciate the achievement of the novel and the author. Highest praise for the author came from Victor Hugo: "Cervantes sees the inner man."

Don Quixote's popularity spread throughout Europe soon after the first English translation of the first part of the novel appeared in 1612. By the eighteenth century, Cervantes was a literary icon. In his biography of the author, Tobias Smollet recalled that dignitaries visiting Spain were appalled by the idea that Cervantes was not financially supported for his contribution to Spanish literature. Summarily, said Smollett, "Cervantes, whether considered as a writer or a man, will be found worthy of universal approbation and esteem."

William Hazlitt, in his "Standard Novels and Romances," examined a very popular subject of Cervantes criticism—the delightful characters. "The characters in Don Quixote are strictly individuals; that is, they do not belong to, but form a class of themselves." Hazlitt applauded the linguistic play of the author and the insights into human nature. Furthermore, Cervantes "furnished to the whole of civilized Europe" a great "number of allusions" useful for conversation and for sermonizing. Hazlitt ranked Cervantes with Le Sage as one of the great writers of the ages and ahead of Fielding, Richardson, Smollett and Sterne on the local English stage.

Unlike Lord Byron, many commentators were thankful that Cervantes had, as Heinrech Heine contended, "uprooted the tales of chivalry." Heine asserted that after Don Quixote the "taste for such books died." Indeed, "Cervantes founded the modern novel by...

(The entire section is 867 words.)