Four weeks and thirty-five chapters in

In last week’s reading (Chapter XXVI), the barber and the priest “were astonished again as they considered how powerful the madness of Don Quixote was, for it had pulled along after it the good sense of this poor man” – that is, Sancho Panza. In this week’s reading (Chapter XXX), however, it is from Sancho Panza and not from those who “mocked and deceived” Don Quixote that the “quick-witted and very spirited” Dorotea takes her cues. Faced with an incensed knight, she flatters and placates him and reminds him of the boon he has promised her. She then narrates a clever tale featuring an imperiled kingdom, ghastly giants, and an orphaned princess. In short, she enters Don Quixote’s world and does so seemingly without patronizing him. Later, she privately acknowledges to the priest that she, too, “had often spent time reading” the books of chivalry that have reframed Don Quixote’s reality (p. 257), yet she clearly has not succumbed to their spell since she can so readily recognize that the innkeeper (Chapter XXXII) “doesn’t have far to go to be a second Don Quixote.” (p. 270) My initial – and overly simple – observation concerned the ways in which one may engage with, perhaps even indulge others: Sancho Panza and Dorotea do so in a positive manner; the priest and the barber, less so. A more significant idea that occurred to me this week is that even if they dismiss Don Quixote as mad, members of the ever-expanding cast of characters inevitably engage with him where and how he is. 

As I have shared, I am fascinated by the uses and definitions of “true” and “truth” in this work. While I am not setting that line of inquiry aside, I must, in the wake of Chapters XXXIII, XXXIV, and XXXV, wonder if Cervantes is pointing readers to compelling questions about life and literature. After all, there must be a reason our titular character’s adventures occur between and among so many other stories – including a short book read aloud by, of all characters, the priest. (Yes, while Don Quixote sleeps, the priest reads aloud The Man Who Was Recklessly Curious, and when he finishes, he asserts that while the novel “seems fine,” he “cannot persuade himself that it is true….” (p. 312) He cannot “persuade himself that it is true”? It is a novel! What does he mean? Ah, me and notions of truth; moth and flame.)

Last week, I posited that the manner in which Cardenio’s story sidelines Don Quixote’s may be a juxtaposition of two types of “madness” – the (apparently) unceasing and the (likely) temporary. (I suspect that once his narrative is resolved, Cardenio will have renounced his wandering and fits and be restored to his “true” life.) When the adventures of the Knight of the Sorrowful Face are again upstaged, this time by the novella, I was compelled to review the previous iterations of story that have occurred. The Grossman translation includes a footnote indicating that Cervantes himself was likely criticized for the “interpolated novels,” of which The Man Who Was Recklessly Curious was the first, but Don Quixote’s story has already intersected with several other narratives: histories, ballads, verses, confessions, autobiography, diary, letters; now a novella. In The World of Don Quixote (1967), Richard L. Predmore notes that critics once reviewed this material as “merely literary baggage.” Even after critics agreed that the additional literature “does fulfill an essential function” in the novel, they could not agree what, but later in the same section, Predmore writes, “Cervantes’ masterpiece suggests that any kind of reading is revolutionary.” Isn’t that a remarkable reminder? Any kind of reading is revolutionary. From that, it might follow that any kind of storytelling can also be revolutionary; therefore, the stories in which the central tale of the mad knight is nested will likely prove as integral to Cervantes’ larger narrative as Don Quixote’s battles with windmills and wine sacks.

Two additional notes:

(1) In Chapter XXXI, Don Quixote encounters Andrés, the servant he believes he rescued in Chapter IV. The unfortunate boy joins the growing chorus of characters who maintain that the knight’s intervention caused more harm than good. Ordinarily, I would be inclined to read this as an indictment, but this week, the reappearance of Andrés provoked laughter.

(2) From page 257:

“Well, there’s something else in this,” said the priest. “Aside from the foolish things this good gentleman says with reference to his madness, if you speak to him of other matters, he talks rationally and shows a clear, calm understanding in everything; in other words, except if the subject is chivalry, no one would think he does not have a very good mind.”

Do we agree with the priest’s assessment? If so, are there places in the text in which Don Quixote has discussed “other matters,” or are we meant to take the priest’s word for it? Is it madness if he is rational? 

One thought on “Four weeks and thirty-five chapters in

  1. I remember being interested in the distinction between “fiction” and “lies” when reading about Spencer’s The Fairie Queene, first published in 1590. With the first part of Don Quixote published in 1605, I figure the debate about whether it was okay to write fiction or whether it could fool or mislead people was still going on.
    Some odd echoes of the current state of news and lies.


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