The Ingenious Gentleman: Don Quixote de la Manchaby Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
Don Quixote has become so entranced by reading chivalry romances that he determines to turn knight-errant himself. In the company of his faithful squire, Sancho Panza, these exploits blossom in all sorts of wonderful ways. While Quixote's fancy often leads him astray -- he tilts at windmills, imagining them to be giants -- Sancho acquires cunning and a certain… See more details below
Don Quixote has become so entranced by reading chivalry romances that he determines to turn knight-errant himself. In the company of his faithful squire, Sancho Panza, these exploits blossom in all sorts of wonderful ways. While Quixote's fancy often leads him astray -- he tilts at windmills, imagining them to be giants -- Sancho acquires cunning and a certain sagacity. Sane madman and wise fool, they roam the world together -- and together they have haunted readers' imaginations for nearly four hundred years.
With its experimental form and literary playfulness, Don Quixote has been generally recognized as the first modern novel. The book has been enormously influential on a host of writers, from Fielding and Sterne to Flaubert, Dickens, Melville, and Faulkner, who reread it once a year, "just as some people read the Bible." This Penguin Classics edition includes John Rutherford's masterly new translation, which does full justice to the energy and wit of Cervantes's prose, as well as a brilliant new critical introduction by Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria.
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The Life of Cervantes
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra was at once the glory and reproach of Spain; for, if his admirable genius and heroic spirit conduced to the honour of his country, the distress and obscurity which attended his old age, as effectually redounded to her disgrace. Had he lived amidst Gothic darkness and barbarity, where no records were used, and letters altogether unknown, we might have expected to derive from tradition, a number of particulars relating to the family and fortune of a man so remarkably admired even in his own time. But, one would imagine pains had been taken to throw a veil of oblivion over the personal concerns of this excellent author. No inquiry hath, as yet, been able to ascertain the place of his nativity;1 and, although in his works he has declared himself a gentleman by birth, no house has hitherto laid claim to such an illustrious descendant.
One author* says he was born at Esquivias; but, offers no argument in support of his assertion: and probably the conjecture was founded upon the encomiums which Cervantes himself bestows on that place, to which he gives the epithet of Renowned, in his preface to Persiles and Sigismunda.2 Others affirm he first drew breath in Lucena, grounding their opinion upon a vague tradition which there prevails: and a third* set take it for granted that he was a native of Seville, because there are families in that city known by the names of Cervantes and Saavedra; and our author mentions his having, in his early youth, seen plays acted by Lope Rueda, who was a Sevilian. These, indeed, are presumptions that deserve some regard, tho', far from implying certain information, they scarce even amount toprobable conjecture: nay, these very circumstances seem to disprove the supposition; for, had he been actually descended from those families, they would, in all likelihood, have preserved some memorials of his birth, which Don Nicholas Antonio would have recorded, in speaking of his fellow-citizen. All these pretensions are now generally set aside in favour of Madrid, which claims the honour of having produced Cervantes, and builds her title on an expression? in his Voyage to Parnassus, which, in my opinion, is altogether equivocal and inconclusive.
In the midst of such undecided contention, if I may be allowed to hazard a conjecture, I would suppose that there was something mysterious in his extraction, which he had no inclination to explain, and that his family had domestic reasons for maintaining the like reserve. Without admitting some such motive, we can hardly account for his silence on a subject that would have afforded him an opportunity to indulge that self-respect which he so honestly displays in the course of his writings. Unless we conclude that he was instigated to renounce all connexion with his kindred and allies, by some contempt'ous flight, mortifying repulse, or real injury he had sustained; a supposition which, I own, is not at all improbable, considering the jealous sensibility of the Spaniards in general, and the warmth of resentment peculiar to our author, which glows through his productions, unrestrained by all the fears of poverty, and all the maxims of old age and experience.
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