In which I finish reading Part I

Part I comprises seven key narratives:

  • the pastoral concerning Marcela’s refusal of Grisóstomo 
  • Cardenio’s story (Cardenio and Luscinda)
  • Dorotea’s story (Dorotea and Don Fernando)
  • the novella (The Man Who Was Recklessly Curious)
  • the captive’s story (Captain Viedma and Zoraida)
  • Doña Clara’s story (Doña Clara and Don Luis)
  • the pastoral concerning Leandra’s refusal of Eugenio and his rival, Anselmo 

Over the last few weeks, I have tried to discern the structure of this novel – no easy task for me, on this, my first encounter with the text. In my last Don Quixote post, though, I did note, “Whatever Cervantes is telling us about storytelling, he intends for us to notice how he positions narrators and listeners in the book’s nested narratives.” (Emphasis added.) And, as it turns out, the structure can be described as a nest:

Pastoral – Romance – Romance – Curious – Romance – Romance – Pastoral

Another way to visualize the structure:

P – R1 – R2 – C – R2 – R1 – P

I sketched my idea on a whiteboard before reducing it to the formula above and immediately identified some (admittedly superficial) similarities between the Ps. Both are narrated by animal tenders (shepherds, a goatherd), for example, and both concern a woman’s virtue or chastity. Marcela clearly possesses more agency than Leandra, though – a difference. And subtle differences exist between the R1s, too; for example, how are the plights of Cardenio and Luis alike? After identifying a similarity in Dorotea’s social situation to Don Fernando and the captive’s to Zoraida (R2s), I set my marker down and turned to the computer. Before yielding to the temptation to type my idea in JSTOR’s search bar, though, I gave myself credit for noticing that Cervantes employs symmetry in the knight’s undergirding (or enveloping) narrative. Consider, for example, that it opens and closes with scenes of Don Quixote in his home and that he encounters friars as he sets out for the second time and penitents as he returns home. More, the knight’s story is framed by the discovered history, as well as verses.

My idea about the structure merited research, if for no other reason than to satisfy a good hunch that others had already mined this territory far more thoroughly and thoughtfully. It did not take long to locate articles exploring the symmetrical structure of the novel. Here are two:

“Structural Symmetry in the Episodic Narratives of Don Quijote, Part One” by Raymond Immerwahr. Comparative Literature, Vol. 10, No. 2 (Spring, 1958), pp. 121-135 (15 pages). Published By: Duke University Press.

“Narrative Framing and the Structure of “Don Quijote” Part I” by Jeremy T. Medina. Confluencia, Vol. 14, No. 2 (SPRING 1999), pp. 165-175 (11 pages). Published By: Colorado State University.

Quick takeaways: Immerwahr discusses the mirroring aspect of the symmetrical structure, including a compelling idea about Don Quixote’s relationship to The Man Who Was Recklessly Curious. Medina considers the novel’s frames within frames (plus he includes a diagram of the structure; see page 169).

I will close with a passage that I marked from this week’s reading (p. 444):

“[I]t’s a fine thing to be out looking for things to happen, crossing mountains, searching forests, climbing peaks, visiting castles, and staying in inns whenever you please and not paying a devil’s maravedí for anything.”

Indeed, Sancho. Indeed.

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