By Chapter XXIV in Part I, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza have endured – among other ignominies – ridicule, blanket-bouncing, grievous injuries, and “the tempest of stones” (p. 172) with which the galley slaves repay their freedom. Despite the measured (or, as some have suggested, darker) opening of Part II, however, this week’s reading shows the hapless heroes of our tale the faces of success, abundance, and even a degree of respect. Once he has handily dispatched Bachelor Sansón Carrasco*, Don Quixote encounters the Knight of the Green Coat (also known as Don Diego de Miranda), who, following the adventure of the lions, invites the newly renamed Knight of the Lions to his home. In this “castle,” Don Quixote and Sancho Panza enjoy such food, conversation, company, and bounty as to render this encounter a perfect inverse of their experiences at the inn in Part I.

To his son, Don Diego confides, “I can only say that I have seen him do things worthy of the greatest madman in the world, and heard him say things so intelligent that they wipe out and undo his mad acts” (p. 569), an observation that rightly describes the waffling this reader experiences when contemplating Cervantes’ intent. Following his lengthy discussion with the Knight of the Lions, Don Lorenzo is as puzzled as his father. “Once again the father and son were astonished by the mixed speech of Don Quixote, sometimes intelligent and sometimes utterly foolish, and by the persistence and perseverance of his complete devotion to the search for his misadventurous adventures, which were the object and goal of all his desires” (p. 575).

Not long after their departure from Don Diego’s home, Don Quixote and Sancho Panzo meet the licentiate and Cochuelo and learn about yet another besotted shepherd. (Pastoral alert!) The fair (of course!) Quiteria, object of Basilio’s affections, is about to marry the much wealthier Camacho, and thus our knight and squire find themselves guests in the second generous and abundant setting of Part II. With nary an interpolated novel, miscreant (here’s looking at you, Don Fernando), or mistreated woman in sight, a ruse works, Don Quixote brandishes his lance, love prevails, and, contrary to Sancho’s gloomy grousing, the abundance continues in a third location.

What book is this? Following the remarkably benign (Arthurian-inspired?) dive into the cave, that was my chief question. What am I reading? And why does the relative success of these several “misadventurous adventures” worry me – in fact, fill me with foreboding? “All things are possible,” Don Quixote tells us on page 559, but we already know – spoiler alert – the hero dies. Will his successes, such as they are, continue, or will Carrasco end them?

Other notes and marginalia

“Señor, sorrows were not made for animals but for men; but if men feel them too much, they turn into animals; your grace should restrain yourself….” (p. 521)

“[T]here is more rashness than courage in a single man attacking an army that has Death in it, and emperors fighting in person, and the help of good and bad angels….” (p. 525)

“Every day, Sancho,” said Don Quixote, “you are becoming less simple and more intelligent.” (p. 527)

“I tell you, Sancho, with your natural wit and intelligence, you could mount a pulpit and go around preaching some very nice things.” (p. 590)

The sagacity of “good Sancho, wise Sancho, Christian Sancho, sincere Sancho” (p. 526) continues to grow – perhaps because the knight’s “conversation has been the manure that has fallen on the barren soil of [Sancho’s] dry wits” (p. 528). Or perhaps because the inversions at work here are not only in the knight’s fortune?

“[S]ince I am a devil, all things are within my grasp.” (p. 523)

The scenes featuring the cart of actors put me in mind of the Player and the Tragedians in Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.

“I love him with all my heart and couldn’t leave him no matter how many crazy things he does.” (p. 536)

Watson and Wilson could intone the same of Holmes and House, no? I was reminded of these dynamic pairings again on page 570, when Don Quixote described the “science” of knight errantry, a science that shares some characteristics with the art of detection.

“Certainly, Señor Sansón Carrasco, we’ve gotten what we deserved: it’s easy enough to think up and begin an enterprise, but most of the time it’s hard to end it. Don Quixote’s crazy, we’re sane, and he walks away healthy and laughing, while your grace is bruised and sad.” (p. 549)


“…I shall recount to you some of what I have seen down there, which will make you believe what have recounted here, whose truth admits neither argument nor dispute.” (p. 614)

And, yes, I remain fascinated by the uses and definitions of “true” and “truth” in this work.


* Are you a Parks and Recreation fan? For some reason, from the moment of Carrasco’s introduction in Part II, I was reminded of Justin Anderson, about whom Ron wisely observes, “He’s a tourist. He vacations in people’s lives, takes pictures, puts them in his scrapbook, and moves on. All he’s interested in are stories. Basically, Leslie, he’s selfish, and you’re not, and that’s why you don’t like him.”

Pages remaining in journey: 364


“As for your grace’s valor, courtesy, deeds, and undertakings,” Sancho continued, “there are different opinions. Some say, ‘Crazy, but amusing’; others, ‘Brave, but unfortunate’; and others, ‘Courteous, but insolent’; and they go on and on so much in this vein that they don’t leave an untouched bone in your grace’s body or mine” (p. 472).

It sounds as if Sancho has overheard a few book discussions, doesn’t it?

Earlier this week, one of my reading groups finished Crime and Punishment. Despite ten weeks of engaged reading and discussion, we failed to build consensus around any single idea about the philosophy and/or psychology of Raskolnikov. Might he be a psychopath or, at the very least, disturbed? Did the extremities of hunger and poverty inform his disordered thinking? Do his thought patterns simply underscore the limits of nihilism? Some combination of all of this? None of this? In our eighth meeting, I posited that the compulsion to pin a character to a specimen tray and label each of his acts (or, as Sancho might say, bones) might represent a contemporary tendency, one fueled by popular psychology, legal dramas, and the assumption that everything we do can be ascribed a concrete motive and, by extension, a value judgment: He did [insert act] because [insert motive], and that is [insert moral value]. After all, I suggested, sometimes thoughts and acts follow no discernible logic. Shakespeare gives us a fabulous example of this in The Winter’s Tale. Leontes’ jealous rage occurs in one short speech after his departing friend acquiesces to the queen’s entreaties that he, the friend, remain — for her husband’s sake! Leontes’ inexplicable madness results in the deaths of his son and a courtier, as well as the apparent deaths of his newborn and his wife. In a move that can confound readers, audiences, actors, and directors, Shakespeare provides no explanation for Leontes’ unbridled jealousy. Nothing in the text points to a motive. Rather, the writer seems to say, Some people are like this; here is a story about one. And it works! Why? Because more often than anyone would like to admit, what we say, do, and believe defies both logic and diagnosis.

I reread The Winter’s Tale following that meeting and was struck again by how inessential Leontes’ motive is to the plot. In Shakespeare’s blend of tragedy (the first three acts, the fall of the king), comedy (the fourth act, the pastoral involving the shepherdess and the prince), and history (the fifth act, the kingdom in need of an heir), the why of Leontes’ behavior proves far less critical to the play than the fallout of that behavior. Similarly, the why of Raskolnikov’s behavior – in this reader’s opinion, anyway – proves far less critical to Crime and Punishment than the fallout of that behavior. Like Shakespeare, Dostoevsky refrains from defining a motive for the main character’s action. Yes, he draws readers into Raskolnikov’s head; in fact, many early paragraphs read like soliloquies; but the novel seems rooted in the effects of Raskolnikov’s act, on him and on the characters with whom he interacts. It is not, then, a story about why Raskolnikov kills, any more than The Winter’s Tale is a story about why Leontes spirals out of control. Crime and Punishment concerns what occurs in the aftermath of a brutal act.

Of course, because I am also reading Don Quixote, I have found myself wondering about the Knight of the Sorrowful Face. “[T]he common people think your grace is a madman, and that I’m just as great a simpleton” (p. 471), Sancho informs Don Quixote. The gentry suggest he has overstepped his bounds, and other knights want nothing to do with him. Crazy, amusing; brave, unfortunate; courteous, insolent. Maybe the compulsion to pin a character to a specimen tray and label each of his bones is not as contemporary as I thought, eh? Increasingly, however, I find myself drawn to the idea that we need to keep this character far, far away from tray and pins.

A participant in the tutorial has noted that some of us have been “cheating” on Don Quixote and wondered how that has affected our experience of other novels. I loved the use of “cheating” because I often refer to myself as a recklessly and unapologetically promiscuous reader, one who will leave books partially read to pursue others, only to return to books begun well before any of those, all with the cologne of new books clinging to my sweater. Seriously, though, it is not so much that I have been cheating on Don Quixote but rather that I have added Cervantes to a conversation occurring in one of the rooms of my imagination. While participating in the tutorial, I have also completed two courses on one of my favorite works of fiction, Moby-Dick, a short course on The Odyssey, and the reading group for Crime and Punishment. That puts Melville, Homer, Cervantes, Dostoevsky, and Shakespeare in the same mental living room; imagine my delight! Although I am still working out Dostoevsky’s relationship to the other writers, it is clear that Melville is indebted to both Cervantes and Shakespeare, and that these three have a running tab with the oral tradition that yielded the Homeric epics. In anticipation of another course, I began rereading Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, which begins, “Call me Jonah.” With that nod to Melville, Vonnegut entered the living room. (Speaking of Melville and specimen trays, has anyone yet satisfactorily explained Ahab? Of course not, although CLR James makes some insightful, if dated, points about who Ahab may have become to the collective American imagination.) These authors have a lot to talk about, and I am listening.

The other books I am reading have not been enveloped by Don Quixote; nor the reverse. Rather, each of the books amplifies the others.

“…I give you a Don Quixote who is, at the end, dead and buried, so that no one will dare tell more tales about him, for the ones told in the past are enough…” (p. 458).
Spoiler alert, right? Since January 2022, I have participated in one discussion group and two courses on Moby- Dick, and in each, participants were upset when the conclusion was referenced. And our Crime and Punishment group agreed to avoid spoilers, although privately I argued that the title is as much a spoiler as this quote from Don Quixote.

“…I only devote myself to making the world understand its error in not restoring that happiest of times when the order of knight errantry was in flower” (p. 464).
Don Quixote has a vision board.

“It seems to me,” said Don Quixote, “there is no human history in the world that does not have its ups and downs, especially those that deal with chivalry; they cannot be filled with nothing but successful exploits” (p. 476).
Given my reflection above, you will understand how the idea of Don Quixote saying this to Leontes or Ahab simply cracked me up.

“To say witty things and to write cleverly requires great intelligence: the most perceptive character in a play is the fool, because the man who wishes to seem simple cannot possibly be a simpleton. History is like a sacred thing; it must be truthful, and wherever truth is, there God is; but despite this, there are some who write and toss off books as if they were fritters” (p. 478).
Elsewhere, while discussing Moby-Dick, I observed the parallels between Pip and Lear’s fool, which, naturally, ensured I added King Lear to my to-be-(re)read stack, but arriving at this passage, I wondered, Does Don Quixote have a fool? If so, is it Sancho? Or is the Knight of the Sorrowful Face the author’s fool? (And, yes, there is truth, my readerly kryptonite.)

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.


The material in this post was adapted from a September 8, 2005, post to my previous site.

An online acquaintance once observed that there is nothing less revealing than a “ten books list” that contains nothing but classics. Truth. So, what if we talked about ten books that reveal something about ourselves, instead? That’s a challenge. What books tell (part of) the stories of our lives? Which books say something about where we’ve been or where we’re headed? Which books helped shape and define our sense of ourselves? Of our world?

An annotated list:

1. Children’s Guide to Knowledge (1971 edition)

I’ve written about this treasure before. It is, as I have said, partially responsible for preventing my young mind from atrophying in my parents’ blue-collar, book-barren home. Published by Parents’ Magazine Press, the subtitle is Wonders of Nature, Marvels of Science and Man. Fifty years ago, an aunt inscribed it, “This book will help you with your 4th grade reports!” And it did. Children’s Guide to Knowledge delivered a compelling world of animals, plants, history, geography, and scientific achievement (through early space exploration, anyway). The spine of my original copy is crumbling, and the book has a damp, forgotten smell, but, like my tiny collection of “How and Why” books, it still beguiles.

2. Blubber (Judy Blume; 1974)

My closest friend in fifth grade, Mary Ann, pressed this book on me. “It is just like this class,” she said. “It’s true.”

Mary Ann and I formed a two-student workshop led by our newly minted teacher. Miss T. had identified us as “advanced” readers and writers (“Well, no kidding,” Mary Ann muttered), but we suspected that the “workshop” was about isolating us from the other students while she was teaching. She certainly didn’t do well under our scrutiny: “But Miss T.,” coming from Mary Ann or me was capable of reducing her to tears. (Unsurprisingly, my preoccupation with exposing mediocrity began around this time.)

In workshop, Mary Ann and I read books like The Red Badge of Courage and collections of O. Henry and Edgar Allan Poe stories (most of which I reread in adulthood and realized, “Man, I never appreciated these until now”) and (over)wrote and illustrated wildly creative stories about our secret lives as witches.

We didn’t spend much time trying to play well with the other girls in our class.

And our inexperienced fifth-grade teacher watched us carefully.

Anyway, the ease and truthfulness with which Blubber unfolded resonated with me in a way that the Little House books or even A Wrinkle in Time hadn’t. I knew I was a writer by the time I was in third grade, but with Blubber, I became fascinated with writing “the truth.”

Mary Ann and I didn’t write many more stories about witches after that.

3. Harriet the Spy (Louise Fitzhugh; 1964)

I popped the lenses from my sunglasses, donned an old hooded sweatshirt, and took to carrying a composition notebook wherever I went. My classmates never read the notebooks, but my mother did. Let’s leave it at “That wasn’t the best day of my childhood.”

4. Ronnie and Rosey (Judy Angell; 1977)

By any standard, this book is, if not ridiculous, then overwrought, as many “problem novels” are. But when I first read it, its truth electrified me. Ronnie and Rosey helped me realize, “Someday, perhaps someday soon, I will feel strong enough as a person to act and think without worrying about what Mom will say and do.” So, yeah, I credit this sometimes silly book with helping me grow up (which means, of course, that at the time, it wasn’t silly to me, at all).

5. Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White; 1952)

Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. Although he loved her children and grandchildren dearly, none of the new spiders ever quite took her place in his heart. She was in a class by herself. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.

E.B. White died when I was an undergraduate. To mark his passing, I reread Charlotte’s Web.

And cried.

Just as I had when Mrs. S. read it aloud to our third-grade class.

I have, since then, reread it several times. And cried each time.

Rereading Charlotte’s Web as a first-generation college student hovering between childhood and adulthood reawakened in me the desire to arrive at essential truths through clear, measured writing.

6. The Mists of Avalon (Marion Zimmer Bradley; 1983)

Through this now-cancelled book, I met Arthur, which sent me on a quest that filled several shelves and many of my mind’s rooms and chambers, so it is important to me. A belated thank-you to Ines, who recommended it as I headed home for the summer before my junior year of college.

7. Slaughterhouse-Five (Kurt Vonnegut; 1969)

I read this during my final semester as an undergraduate. Mr. R., my mentor, insisted. It is heresy, I know, to mention these two books in the same entry, let alone the same sentence, but, like The Mists of Avalon, Slaughterhouse-Five sent me on a journey of discovery that, again, filled several shelves and many of my mind’s rooms and chambers.

Years later, while in grad school, I spent the day with Vonnegut. I was a grad assistant at a small liberal arts school where he offered two workshops for the English department and a ninety-minute address followed by a book-signing for the general college population. By then, I had read everything of his that was in print. My assignment that day was to help usher him from here to there. Trust me, faculty members vied for his attention, and my services proved non-critical.

But I sat beside him for both workshops. “And this is enough,” I thought. “To know that he is a real person who grows impatient and smells old and loses his train of thought sometimes. This writer is real.”

Perhaps that is the essence of my reading and writing life: discerning what is real and true for me and recommitting to it periodically.

8. (Wo)Man Writer: Occasions and Opportunities (Joyce Carol Oates; 1988)

The work of Joyce Carol Oates was partially responsible for my success in graduate school: One of two scholarly essays of mine to capture honors in my second year of study concerned JCO, and part of my oral defense concerned Oates and the Burkean pentad. In many ways, she is to me what Joan Didion was to other women readers and writers — both writer and subject, an icon, an impossible ideal.

9. The Complete Pelican Shakespeare, 10. Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human (Harold Bloom; 1998), and 11. Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare (1970)

(Yes, I’m aware that I have listed more than ten books.)

I’ve amassed a collection of thousands of volumes, but if it were all lost tomorrow, the only books I would need to replace immediately are these three. Nothing has reworked the geography of my imagination like my (re)discovery of Shakespeare. (Except maybe parenting, but that’s an altogether different subject, isn’t it?)

Shakespeare. Talk about a recommitment to what is real and true.

Postscript: Nearly eighteen years have passed since I first assembled this annotated list. I must now add Moby-Dick; or, The Whale (Herman Melville; 1851). Enough said. 

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? 

“Not as they were, but as they should have been”

In what is perhaps best described as an embarrassment of riches, I am, in addition to a Catherine Project tutorial on Don Quixote and both University of Chicago Graham School and Night School Bar courses on Moby-Dick, enrolled in a short course on The Odyssey with the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research. It may not surprise you, then, to learn that I have begun to discern not only the debt Melville owes Cervantes but the debt both authors owe the oral tradition that yielded the Homeric epics. In the Don Quixote reading over the last three weeks, I encountered many narrative forms (e.g., “found” history, ballad, verses, confessions, autobiography, diary, letter), as well as a diverse cast of narrators. Although their mastery of the craft varies widely, these storytellers generally receive from their audiences the time and space needed to share their tales in full (or, in the case of the Knight of the Sorrowful Face, to expound on the virtues and vicissitudes of knight errantry). Might these plot-advancing soliloquys be the kin of the poets’ songs to the guests of kings, of Nestor’s rueful recollections of Odysseus and Agamemnon, and of Odysseus’ calculated retelling of the (mis)adventures that befell him following the sack of Troy? Not long after making this tentative connection, I encountered the following passage, in which Don Quixote is, once again, schooling Sancho Panza on the chivalric code:

I say, too, that when a painter wishes to win fame in his art, he attempts to copy the original works of the most talented painters he knows; this same rule applies to all the important occupations and professions that serve to embellish nations, and it must be, and is, followed when the man who wishes to be known as prudent and long-suffering imitates Ulysses [Odysseus], in whose person and hardships Homer painted a living portrait of prudence and forbearance; Virgil, too, in the person of Aeneas, portrayed for us the valor of a devoted son and the sagacity of a valiant and experienced captain; they were depicted and described not as they were, but as they should have been, to serve as examples of virtue to men who came after them. (Chapter XXV, p. 193)

Prudence and forbearance? Perhaps Don Quixote and I have not read the same translations of The Odyssey.Where the crafty, cunning Odysseus repeatedly shape-shifts through his layered lies stories, Don Quixote commits unswervingly to the code of conduct espoused by chivalric romances: “‘I thank you for your good intentions, friend Sancho,’” responded Don Quixote, ‘but I want you to realize that all the things I am doing are not jokes but very real; otherwise, I would be contravening the rules of chivalry that command us never to lie….’” Although the knight better exemplifies virtue, suffering, and forbearance than does adroitly deceptive Odysseus, the mad knight and the many-minded Greek do seem to share a need (compulsion?) to “rewrite” the world to conform to their own stories. That said, while Odysseus ostensibly achieves his goal (with Athena’s considerable intervention), Don Quixote seems destined to endure beating after beating. 

I made three other notes about this week’s reading: 

(1) The (apparently) temporary madness of the tattered Knight of the Sierra and the unrelenting madness of Don Quixote. I moved no further along that line of inquiry than a sentence fragment and the idea that if I fronted it with the word “discuss” (i.e., “Discuss the (apparently) temporary madness….”), it would make an infuriating essay question.

(2) Don Quixote’s antics in Chapter XXVI reminded me both of Edgar disguised as “poor Tom” and Lear on the heath. These two old men – Lear and Quixote – seem like psychological brothers. I revisited Bloom’s introduction to the Grossman translation, and he seems to list toward Hamlet.

(3) “And to conclude, I imagine that everything I say is true, no more and no less….” (p. 201) While it may be a fool’s quest, I remain fascinated by the uses and definitions of “true” and “truth” in this work. In the comments last week, Jeanne suggested that Cervantes is “foregrounding something about the perspective of the storytellers in relation to what we commonly think of as truth.” Similarly, Mcanultymaccom observed, “Since its naming/defining is so allusive, perhaps we need better terms: framing devices, constructions, peculiar assertions, etc. All of which foreground the actor/framer vs any claim to ‘truth’ with all its classical undertones.”

“Truths so appealing and entertaining…”

Because I am also studying Moby-Dick this semester, I appreciated Harold Bloom’s assertion (see introduction to the Edith Grossman translation) that “Melville blended Don Quixote and Hamlet in Captain Ahab (with a touch of Milton’s Satan added for seasoning).” Returning to a book again and again (and again), as I have Moby-Dick, creates a familiar, well-creased mental map. With this, a reader can travel along the accustomed channels or more easily attempt new routes (meanings, metaphors, implications, associations, links to other works, etc.). On my current voyage through Moby-Dick, for example, I have been navigating ideas about how Melville (perhaps as Ishmael, perhaps as the story’s creator) shapes the narrative and what, precisely, we readers are meant to understand as truth in that narrative. Oh, how I wish I had something even approaching that level of familiarity with Don Quixote because Cervantes is also clearly experimenting (perhaps we can even say, playing?) with narrative structure and truth, but I have only the barest outline of a mental map by which to chart my course through this vast novel.

In last week’s tutorial meeting, we discussed Cervantes’ (playful? deceptive? ironic?) intent in the prologue and dedication and touched on the idea of the novel as a “found” history. In Chapters XI through XXI of Part I, readers encounter a number of other approaches to storytelling, including Quixote’s “long harangue” to the goatherds; Antonio’s ballad; Pedro’s account of Grisóstomo and Marcela; the verses of the deceased shepherd; Sancho Panza’s deceptive explanation of his and Don Quixote’s injuries; a reference to the history of the deeds of Don Quixote penned by “the wise man whose task it will be to write” it; Sancho’s “best of all stories” (which, “[a]s finished as his mother,” ends abruptly); the confessions of the prisoners; and the pawned autobiography of Ginés (a narrative of “truths so appealing and entertaining that no lies can equal them”). This variety surely represents more than simple diversion; what is its meaning and purpose?

I wonder, too, if, as with Melville’s sprawling novel (which also employs a variety of narrative forms, from sermon to soliloquy to taxonomy to stage play to sailor’s yarn and more), the varied structure is related to an underlying assertion about the role of truth in storytelling; or do I have that inverted? Is it, rather, an indication that storytelling undergirds truth? In the Grossman translation, I am struck by the repetition of the words “truth” (at least twenty-one in this week’s reading) and “true” (at least nineteen). In fact, Bloom’s introduction opens with the query, “What is the true object of Don Quixote’s quest?” I might parry, What is Don Quixote’s truth? Alternately, What do “true” and “truth” mean to the Knight of the Sorrowful Face? (I have, as I reread Moby-Dick, similarly asked, What is Ahab’s truth? How does it differ from Ishmael’s, the crew’s, and the author’s?) When I concluded this week’s Don Quixote chapters, I affixed two questions like pins to my as-yet faint mental map: Why do the novel’s assorted storytellers insist on the veracity of each narrative? More philosophically, why, when we storytelling animals narrate, do we claim to have proffered the truth?

Four passages particularly speak to the ideas above:

“Since everything I’ve told you is the absolute truth, I take it for granted that what our lad said about what people were saying about the reason for Grisóstomo’s death is also true.” (p. 85)

“I didn’t know her,” responded Sancho. “But the man who told me this story said it was so true and correct that I certainly could, when I told it to somebody else, affirm and swear I had seen it all….” (p. 145)

“… [W]asn’t it laughable how frightened we were, and wouldn’t it make a good story? At least, how frightened I was, for I already know that your grace doesn’t know what fright is or understand the meaning of fear or terror.”

“I do not deny,” responded Don Quixote, “that what happened to us is deserving of laughter, but it does not deserve to be told, for not all persons are wise enough to put things in their proper place.” (p. 151)

“It’s so good,” responded Ginés, “that it’s too bad for Lazarillo de Tormes and all the other books of that genre that have been or will be written. What I can tell your grace is that it deals with truths, and they are truths so appealing and entertaining that no lies can equal them.” (p. 169)


At the Art Institute.

From Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast :

p. 13
I was learning something from the painting of Cezanne that made writing simple true sentences far from enough to make the stories have the dimensions that I was trying to put in them. I was learning very much from him but I was not articulate enough to explain it to anyone. Besides it was a secret.

p. 69
I learned to understand Cezanne much better and to see truly how he made landscapes when I was hungry. I used to wonder if were hungry too when he painted; but I thought possibly it was only that he had forgotten to eat. It was one of those unsound but illuminating thoughts you have when you have been sleepless or hungry. Later I thought Cezanne was probably hungry in a different way.


A few new books.

And from Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea:

p. 13
He was too simple to wonder when he had attained humility. But he knew he had attained it and he knew it was not disgraceful and it carried no loss of true pride.

p. 39
He did not remember when he had first started to talk aloud when he was by himself. He had sung when he was by himself in the old days and he had sung at night sometimes when he was alone steering on his watch in the smacks or in the turtle boats. He had probably started to talk aloud, when alone, when the boy had left. But he did not remember.

p. 48
No one should be alone in their old age, he thought. But it is unavoidable. I must remember to eat the tuna before he spoils in order to keep strong. Remember, no matter how little you want to, that you must eat him in the morning. Remember, he said to himself.

p. 103
“But man is not made for defeat,“ he said. “A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” I am sorry that I killed the fish though, he thought. Now the bad time is coming and I do not even have the harpoon. The dentuso is cruel and able and strong and intelligent. But I was more intelligent than he was. Perhaps not, he thought. Perhaps I was only better armed. 

“Don’t think, old man,“ he said aloud. “Sail on this course and take it when it comes.“