BOOK 184: DON QUIXOTE: MIGUEL DE CERVANTES SAAVEDRA
While I was researching this book I noticed it had a few different names including The Ingenious Nobleman Sir Quixote of La Mancha, Don Quixote de la Mancha and The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote of La Mancha.
Published in two volumes, in 1605 and 1615, Don Quixote is considered the most influential work of literature from the Spanish Golden Age and the entire Spanish literary canon. As a founding work of modern Western literature and one of the earliest canonical novels, it regularly appears high on lists of the greatest works of fiction ever published, such as the Bokklubben World Library collection that cites Don Quixote as the authors' choice for the "best literary work ever written".
The story follows the adventures of a noble (hidalgo) named Alonso Quixano who reads so many chivalric romances that he loses his sanity and decides to set out to revive chivalry, undo wrongs, and bring justice to the world, under the name Don Quixote de la Mancha. He recruits a simple farmer, Sancho Panza, as his squire, who often employs a unique, earthy wit in dealing with Don Quixote's rhetorical orations on antiquated knighthood. Don Quixote, in the first part of the book, does not see the world for what it is and prefers to imagine that he is living out a knightly story.
In the course of their travels, the protagonists meet innkeepers, prostitutes, goatherders, soldiers, priests, escaped convicts and scorned lovers. The aforementioned characters sometimes tell tales that incorporate events from the real world, like the conquest of the Kingdom of Maynila or battles in the Eighty Years' War. Their encounters are magnified by Don Quixote's imagination into chivalrous quests. Don Quixote's tendency to intervene violently in matters irrelevant to himself, and his habit of not paying debts, result in privations, injuries, and humiliations (with Sancho often the victim).
Edith Grossman, who wrote and published a highly acclaimed English translation of the novel in 2003, says that the book is mostly meant to move people into emotion using a systematic change of course, on the verge of both tragedy and comedy at the same time. Grossman has stated:
The question is that Quixote has multiple interpretations [...] and how do I deal with that in my translation. I'm going to answer your question by avoiding it [...] so when I first started reading the Quixote I thought it was the most tragic book in the world, and I would read it and weep [...] As I grew older [...] my skin grew thicker [...] and so when I was working on the translation I was actually sitting at my computer and laughing out loud. This is done [...] as Cervantes did it [...] by never letting the reader rest. You are never certain that you truly got it. Because as soon as you think you understand something, Cervantes introduces something that contradicts your premise.
WORKS INFLUENCED BY DON QUIXOTE: 1759–1767 The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne was influenced by Cervantes' novel in several ways, including its genre-defying structure and the Don Quixote-like character of Uncle Toby. Intentional nods include Sterne's own description of his characters' "Cervantic humour" and naming Parson Yorick's horse 'Rocinante'.
1856 Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert was heavily influenced by Don Quixote. In the view of the critic Howard Mancing, "of all the many female incarnations of Don Quixote, Emma [Bovary] is the most original, profound and influential. Flaubert's admiration for Cervantes knew no bounds. It has been suggested that it was his reading of Don Quixote in childhood which convinced Flaubert to become a novelist rather than a dramatist." In Madame Bovary, the heroine, like Don Quixote, tries to escape from the tedium of provincial life through books, in Bovary's case women's romances and historical novels.
1869 The Idiot by Dostoyevsky. Prince Myshkin, the title character of the novel, was explicitly modeled on Don Quixote.
1917-1919 (published posthumously in 1948) "The Truth About Sancho Panza" by Franz Kafka imagines Sancho as Author.
2002 Lost in La Mancha, a documentary film about Terry Gilliam's failed first attempt to make a film adaptation of Don Quixote.
Don Quixote has inspired many illustrators, painters and sculptors, including Gustave Doré, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí and Antonio de la Gandara. The French artist Honoré Daumier produced 29 paintings and 49 drawings based on the book and characters of Don Quixote, starting with an exhibition at the 1850 Paris Salon, which would later inspire Pablo Picasso.
TRIVIA: Though he’d eventually go on to pen one of the most famous novels in world history, a young Miguel de Cervantes suffered from a plight familiar to any aspiring writer: working a day job to pay the bills. Among the varied gigs Cervantes kept in the years before his literary breakout was a job as a tax collector for the Spanish government. However, frequent “mathematic irregularities” landed Cervantes in the Crown Jail of Seville twice between 1597 and 1602. It was during this time in the slammer that Cervantes is believed to have first thought up the story that would become Don Quixote.
The variant of the Spanish language in which Cervantes penned his novel was actually a rather new development at the turn of the 17th century and would be much more familiar to contemporary Spanish speakers than the colloquial tongue of the era. The popularity of Don Quixote cemented the modern Spanish that is now the second most commonly spoken language in the world, behind Mandarin.
A particularly empathetic sequence in the novel sees the hero and Sancho Panza freeing a group of galley slaves from captivity. Cervantes’ special sensitivity to these recipients of Don Quixote’s chivalry likely stems from his own experiences in servitude in the 1570s. Cervantes spent five years as a slave in Algiers, attempting escape on more than one occasion.
Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky committed his admiration for Don Quixote to print on numerous occasions. In a letter to his niece Sophia Ivanova, Dostoevsky heralded Cervantes’ protagonist as the superlative literary hero: “Of all the beautiful individuals in Christian literature, one stands out as the most perfect, Don Quixote,” adding, “but he is beautiful only because he is ridiculous.”
While the age of the novel makes it hard to fully estimate the scope of its distribution, many scholars estimate that it has reached a readership of 500 million. This figure would make it the best selling novel in world history by far, topping Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities’ 200 million count and J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy’s 150 million count.
(Information found from Modern Floss and Wikipedia)