Pierre Menard

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Pierre Menard is the subject of the fictional essay "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote," but he is hardly a character in the true sense of that word. Rather, Pierre Menard offers the narrator a reason to expound on his theories of language, memory, reading, and historical context. A historical Pierre Menard did live in Nimes, France, at the time of which Borges writes, though his published essay on the psychoanalytical analysis of handwriting (1931) was unremarkable. A Louis Menard (1822-1901), possibly Pierre's father or grandfather, had attempted to rewrite the Odyssey. Borges' Menard is either a fictional composite or a spin-off, changed by the context into which Borges writes him. According to the narrator, Menard, a French symbolist, decided to write Don Quixote, again, from his own creative mind. To do so, Menard had "to know Spanish well, to reembrace the Catholic faith, to fight against Moors and Turks, to forget European history between 1602 and 1918, and to be Miguel de Cervantes." The narrator cites a letter from Menard to himself in which the French author justified his project and described its inherent problems. For one, Menard has to reconstruct what Cervantes wrote spontaneously. For another, "it is not in vain that three hundred years have passed" between Cervantes' composition and his. Nevertheless, Menard chooses to "arrive at Don Quixote through the experiences of Pierre Menard" rather than attempting somehow to "be" Cervantes. Thus, Menard's text can be read as a twentieth-century work, and its words connote contemporary meanings. As to his choice of texts, Menard considered Don Quixote an "unnecessary" work (unlike Poe's Bateau Ivre, a work he sees as a cornerstone of literary history). In addition, Menard had read the book as an adolescent, and his hazy memory of it would serve the same function as "the imprecise, anterior image of a book not yet written." Unfortunately, Menard's words are compromised by his "resigned habit of propounding ideas which were the strict reverse of those he preferred."

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Other Characters

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Madame Bachelier
A literary lioness who supposedly published a "fallacious" catalogue of Menard's works in a Protestant newspaper. Madame Bachelier, like the other literary personages in this story, is little more than a footnote. As observed by Borges' biographer Martin Stabb, "believable flesh-and-blood people are almost entirely absent in his [Borges'] work." Borges himself said in a 1971 interview, "As to characters, I don't think I have evolved a single character. I think I'm always thinking in terms of myself, of my limitations, and of the possible lives I should have lived and haven't."

Simon Kautsch
A philanthropist married to the Countess de Bagnoregio who has been slandered by those to whom he gives.

Don Quixote
The main character in...

(The entire section contains 692 words.)

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Critical Essays