Cervantes's Novel of Modern Times: A New Reading of Don Quijoteby David Quint
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This book offers a radically new reading of Don Quijote, understanding it as a whole much greater than the sum of its famous parts. David Quint discovers a unified narrative and deliberate thematic design in a novel long taught as the very definition of the picaresque and as a rambling succession of individual episodes. Quint shows how repeated motifs and verbal details link the episodes, often in surprising and heretofore unnoticed ways.
"Quint's approach is stimulating and insightful."Choice
"There is much more that could be said of this appealing and suggestive new interpretation of Don Quijote. But it is for the reader to encounter the pleasures of the critical text, the magic of analogy, and the amazement of interlacing. Adding a dab of modernity and monetary practices to the whole project further enhances the value of this multi-faceted book. David Quint has produced an exciting and important new reading of Cervante's novel."Frederick A. De Armas, Studies in the Novel
"Cervante's Novel of Modern Times. A New Reading of Don Quijote . . . is an innovative reading which examines the narrative geometries of the novel, its architectural and thematic unity, arguing that interlace techniques allowed C. to reflect upon the historical transition from feudalism to a moneyed, commercial, modern society, exploring the impact of crucial social and economic changes in the Castilian mentality."Carmen Peraita, The Year's Work in Modern Language Studies
"This important new book . . . offers multitudes of insights. . . . David Quint . . . has made a valuable contribution to the study of the novel."Carroll B. Johnson, Cervantes
Frederick A. De Armas
Carroll B. Johnson
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Cervantes's Novel of Modern TimesA New Reading of Don Quijote
By David Quint
Princeton University PressDavid Quint
All right reserved.
CERVANTES'S METHOD AND MEANING
CERVANTES indicates to his reader how to read Don Quijote, as a whole and not as the sum of it parts, in the story of Leandra in Chapter 51, the last of the interpolated tales in Part One of Don Quijote. It is a kind of laboratory case set inside the novel to demonstrate one of the book's salient literary techniques, for it picks up echoes and details of all the other interpolated tales that precede it.
The charlatan soldier Vicente de la Roca, who runs off with Leandra, her jewels, and her father's money, is a debased version of the Captive, Captain Viedma, who recounts his escape from Algiers with his beloved Moor Zoraida, (Chapters 39-41). When the beautiful Leandra is compared to a miracle-working image ["imagen de milagros" (502; 506)] we are reminded of Zoraida, who brought about the Captive's "miraculous delivery" ["milagrosa libertad" (429; 431)], and who is closely associated with the Virgin Mary, whose name she takes as her own and whose images ["imágenes" (430; 432)] she recognizes when she first enters a church in Spain.1 The phrase also anticipates Don Quijote's last exploit in the First Part, his attack on the disciplinants who are carrying an image of the Virgin Mary in the following Chapter 52. In its pastoral setting, and in the behavior of those lovers of Leandra who accuse her of disdain without ever having spoken to her, the episode obviously repeats the first of the interpolated stories, the episode of Grisóstomo and Marcela (Chapters 12-14). The songs that Vicente sings to Leandra evoke the story of Luis and Clara (Chapters 42-43). Leandra, the rich farmer's daughter who is seduced and abandoned, resembles Dorotea, dishonored and abandoned by Fernando (Chapter 28). The narrator of the tale, Eugenio, has a rival, Anselmo, whose name recalls the Anselmo of the "Curioso impertinente" (Chapters 33-35). When Eugenio, who has decided to blame the fickleness of women for his loss of Leandra, brawls with Don Quijote and Sancho in the next chapter, we should be reminded of Cardenio, who, similarly inveighing against the supposed falseness of Luscinda, fights with the hidalgo and his squire in the Sierra Morena (Chapter 24). Finally, when the braggart Vicente is said to claim that his right arm is his father, his deeds his lineage, and that as a soldier he owes nothing, even to the king (504; 507), he becomes a parodic mirror of Don Quijote himself, who in Chapter 4 had made the proverbial declaration that every man is the son of his own works (76; 57) and at the end of Chapter 45 had asserted to the police force of the Holy Brotherhood that he and other knights-errant were exempt from all jurisdiction (462; 465).2
As it recapitulates the episodes of Part One of Cervantes's novel, the story of Leandra suggests how these episodes interpolated into the adventures of Don Quijote and Sancho Panza are themselves interconnected. The stories of characters whom Don Quijote meets on his way (Marcela and Grisóstomo, Cardenio, Dorotea, Eugenio), the stories of the characters who arrive at the inn (the Captive, Don Luis, and Clara), the story of the "Curioso impertinente" that is labeled precisely as an interpolated tale, drawn out of a trunk and read at the inn, and, not least of all, the miniature chivalric romance that Don Quijote tells to Sancho in Chapter 21, itself another inset tale-these are all thematically linked not only to the deeds of knight and squire, but to one another. They take up the larger part of the narrative space of the first installment of the novel, and for long stretches can seem to crowd Don Quijote out of his own story.3 The first readers of the novel appear to have objected particularly to the "Curioso impertinente"; Sansón Carrasco tells us in Chapter 3 of Part Two that they complained that the story "is out of place and has nothing to do with the history of his worship, Don Quijote" ["por no ser de aquel lugar, ni tiene que ver con la historia de su merced del señor don Quijote" (549; 562)]. Still later in Chapter 44, Cervantes seems to be answering his critics when the narrator Cide Hamete links the "Curioso impertinente" with the Captive's Tale as digressions and episodes that seem detachable from the rest of the book ["como separadas de la historia" (833; 848)].4
Cervantes is being ironic. These first critics were not strong readers. And it is still one of the weaknesses of the tradition of criticism on Don Quijote that it has generally treated the novel's episodes individually rather than as integral parts whose mirroring relationship creates its larger whole.5 In doing so, such criticism may have emphasized the picaresque elements of Don Quijote over its inheritance from the chivalric romances the novel sets out to destroy and replace.6 To accomplish this satirical demolition, Cervantes treats the picaresque and the chivalric romance as inversions of one another, transforming the quest of his mad knight-errant into a series of picaresque wanderings. He signals the overlay and reciprocity of the modern and the medieval genres early on in Chapter 3 of the novel, when the first innkeeper whom Don Quijote meets poses as a retired knight and describes his own earlier picaresque career as thief and criminal as a series of chivalric adventures (69; 49).7 Cervantes thus gives his novel the formal appearance of a picaresque narrative, a collection of disparate episodes, one thing after another. Claudio Guillén writes that the picaresque "novel is loosely episodic, strung together like a freight train and apparently with no other common link than the hero."8 In Lazarillo de Tormes, the urpicaresque novel that Cervantes evokes in Chapter 22, the hero, as his name implies, appears to die and be reborn from one episode to the next as if to denote the discrete quality of each and the discontinuity of his human experience. (So, to a certain extent, does Don Quijote dust himself off after each defeat, assess the damage to his body, and ride off to his next adventure.) Guillén is careful to suggest, however, that despite appearances, even the picaresque narrative finds ways to link its parts together.
For the purpose of making such connections, Don Quijote turns back to the model of chivalric romance itself. Cervantes's method of playing one episode of the novel off against another derives from and is inspired by the technique of narrative interlace ("entrelacement") that organizes the great chivalric romances of the Middle Ages such as the prose Lancelot.9 The romance follows the careers of some eight or ten questing knights, telling a segment of one knight's story before turning to a segment of another's, and thus keeps multiple plots going at once. The plots parallel one another and may share common motifs, and the reader begins to realize that the romance coheres and generates meaning not so much from the endings of the knights' stories, which are hardly in sight, as from the juxtaposition of the stories and their reflection upon one another.10 Narrative strands that initially seem to be discrete can turn out to be symbolically related. To take an example from the Lancelot: when one knight fights a giant in his story line, and another knight kills a villainous baron oppressing a damsel in his, we are invited to see the baron as a kind of giant.11
So, in a rather clear-cut Cervantine adaptation of this technique in Chapter 29 of Don Quijote, Dorotea, cast by the Curate and Barber in the role of Princess Micomicona, tries to kiss the hands of Don Quijote after he has promised to champion her against the giant who persecutes her (295; 295). A few pages earlier Dorotea has in her own person tried to kiss the feet of Cardenio, who has promised to defend her honor against her seducer Don Fernando (290; 291). The reader sees the parallel between Dorotea's real-life situation and the chivalric scenario invented for the benefit of Don Quijote-Don Fernando is like a wicked giant, she is a genuine damsel-in-distress. Cervantes gives this narrative juxtaposition his typical psychological twist when Dorotea improvises upon and embroiders this scenario in Chapter 30: she seems quite conscious of the parallel and to be indulging in autobiography beneath the fiction that she is an exotic princess.12 We may be led to a secondary reflection that if one inverts the parallel, the fantastic stories of chivalry may contain disguised versions of lived human experience in the first place.13
Interlace is the principle of narrative organization in Ludovico Ariosto's Orlando furioso (1516), the literary work that most deeply influenced Cervantes in Don Quijote.14 Not only does Ariosto juxtapose, contrast, and compare the adventures of the myriad knights and ladies who zigzag across the map of his romance; he also introduces interpolated tales, often in the form of Bocaccian novellas, into its sprawling narrative. The "Curioso impertinente" is a rewriting of the two novellas in Canto 43 (9-46; 72-143) of the Furioso that recount husbands testing the fidelity of their wives, and Cervantes signals his debt by giving his overly curious husband Anselmo the same name as the jealous husband in Ariosto's second tale. It is important to emphasize that Ariosto builds these tales into the larger interlace structure of his poem: thus these stories of Mantuan and Ferrarese husbands and wives comment on the climactic marriage of the heroes Ruggiero and Bradamante, who will found the Este dynasty that produced Ariosto's patrons, the Cardinal of Ferrara and the Duchess of Mantua. In a more pointed example, the notorious, salacious novella that Ariosto advises his lady readers to skip in Canto 28 describes sexual intercourse with the conventional metaphor of horseback riding; in the next canto the mad Orlando rides the horse of his beloved Angelica to death in what is clearly a symbolic substitution for rape; in between, the woman-hating Rodomonte, for whom the novella was told, journeys by boat to save wear and tear on his own horse: the juxtaposition tells us something about men who treat women like horses, horses like women, horses better than women.15
Cervantes masters his own version of interlace in Part One of Don Quijote. While he does not present a series of concurrent stories and jump from one to another-though he will do something of this sort in Part Two when he alternates chapters between Don Quijote's experience in the castle of the Duke and Duchess and Sancho's tenure of his "governorship" (44-53)16-he makes full use, as I have already suggested, of the interpolated stories of other characters and of the interpolated tale itself. He establishes connections among them and between them and the main plot of Don Quijote's madness with an artistry that can be dizzying. Thus he requires his reader not only to understand a given episode of Don Quijote on its own terms, but to juxtapose it with other episodes that may at first appear unrelated to it. A motif central to one story will turn up displaced in a peripheral position in another, as seemingly out of place ("no ser de aquel lugar") as the entire interpolated tale of the "Curioso impertinente." But in this scheme, nothing, in fact, may be out of place in the novel; the apparently extraneous detail, no less than an entire digressive episode, can be found to fit into a larger web of meaning. The reader or critic does not need to share a romantic notion of the organic unity of the literary work of art or a classical aesthetic of the work's architectonic unity.17 The practical experience of reading literature itself produces the axiom that precisely those elements of the text that on the face of it do not seem to fit-the digression, the subplot, the story-within-the-story-will almost always reward close attention and offer commentary, often through contrast and irony, upon a principal or central story. In Part One of Don Quijote the madness and career plans of Don Quijote reveal their full implications in the stories of the other characters that jostle for narrative space in the novel alongside his own. Their stories, reciprocally, are deepened by parallels among themselves-and to Don Quijote's motives, ideas, and behavior: an obvious, continuous irony of the novel suggests, sometimes gently, sometimes savagely, that these other characters are not much saner than the mad hidalgo.
Arms and Letters
The analyses that follow in this book seek to apply a method of reading Don Quijote by tracing and examining Cervantes's technique of interlacing his novel's episodes and of distributing its thematic motifs. They also propose an interpretation of the novel that emerges from this method. To suggest how one gets from the first to the second, I want to look now at two secondary instances of Cervantine interlace; they will give some idea of the technique in question. The first of my examples arches across nearly the entirety of Part One of the novel. It concerns the debate between arms and letters-that is, which is the nobler profession, that of the soldier or that of the man of learning?-a time-honored topos in Renaissance writing at least since the discussions of Castiglione's Book of the Courtier (1.42-46).18
Don Quijote, who is always ready to spout long passages from his reading, and who thereby repeatedly gains from those around him the opinion that he is a man of good sense when he is not pursuing his chivalric mania, gives an elaborate version of the debate of arms and letters in Chapters 37 and 38. The would-be knight naturally enough awards primacy to arms, whether or not he reflects the opinion of Cervantes, who could claim experience both as man of letters and as soldier. The author of Don Quijote had been wounded and lost the use of his left hand at the battle of Lepanto in 1571, as he tells us in the Prologue to Part Two, "the greatest occasion that present, past, or future ages have ever seen or can ever hope to see" ["la más alta ocasión que vieron los siglos pasados, los presentes, ni esperan ver los venideros" (526; 535)]. Cervantes weaves his character's version of this by now commonplace debate into a whole sequence of episodes in the novel, and we are invited to watch how its terms develop and change: the logic of this development will turn out to be historical, suggesting a movement from an earlier feudal social formation to the modern, money-driven society of Cervantes's age. This historical logic governs both the shape and the meaning of the first part of Don Quijote; it becomes a main subject of the larger novel.
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What People are Saying About This
Maria DiBattista, Princeton University.
Diana de Armas Wilson, University of Denver
Meet the Author
David Quint is George M. Bodman Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Yale University. He is the author of "Epic and Empire" and "Montaigne and the Quality of Mercy" (both Princeton)
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