Don Quixote, Part II: The End

Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote, Part II (1615)

Though I did not stick very well to my chapter-a-day intention, by reading in fits and starts I have finished Don Quixote. When I last checked in, I was in the middle of Part II; Don Quixote and Sancho Panza were being deceived by their aristocratic hosts, who wanted to encourage them in their role as knight errant and squire. This went on for a good while longer, and included Don Quixote having the opportunity to defend his virtue against a lovely young admirer, along with Sancho finally getting to be the governor of his insula.

The latter was one of the most successfully conceived episodes, I thought, with Sancho showing surprising acumen in his role, yet soon wisely deciding the responsibility of governing is not for him (largely because the doctor in charge of the governor’s health won’t let him eat anything he likes). He goes back to serving his master and they have a few more adventures which end in Don Quixote being sent back to his village, where he comes into his right mind at last.

Don Quixote Consulting the Enchanted Head – Charles-Antoine Corypel IV, ca. 1714

If that sounds a bit anticlimactic, it is. Overall, I found the pacing of this part of the novel decidedly odd. Where the first part suffered from layers of interpolated tales, this part was full of false starts and red herrings, plot threads that Cervantes seemed to lose interest in and quickly abandon. For example, in one chapter Sancho gets stuck in a cave, which would seem to promise some trials or other escapades … but in the next chapter Don Quixote hears him calling and he is released without further ado. Ho, hum.

The promise of playing with multiple realities and points of view also dissipated. There were a few piquant observations — for example that the Duke and Duchess are as mad as their knightly guest, for taking so much trouble to deceive him — but otherwise I had the sense the author was getting bored and just wanting to wrap up. After a peculiar meeting with a man who has supposedly met the “other” Don Quixote and Sancho Panza from the pirated second half of the tale (to which Cervantes is constantly referring in this part, as well as to the “real” version by a Moorish author), the Don just goes home and — dies? Perhaps this was an attempt to put an end to further literary piracy, but for me it was something of a letdown.

Don Quixote – Paula Modersohn-Becker, 1900

And what about Dulcinea? After being the subject of so much of the action and conversation within the novel, and after Sancho’s finally pretending to give himself the blows supposedly needed to release her from her enchantment, she never appears — which is logical enough, as she doesn’t exist. And yet I wish she could have been more than a figment, that there could have been some interesting clash with the reality of an actual woman. But as usual, it’s only Sancho and his wife who provide us with anything close to a real-life relationship in the novel.

This is all very postmodern, and I’m sure there is much to be drawn from the subverting of my narrative expectations, but in the end I was left with a sense of disappointment. Maybe another read-through, now that I have the overall picture, would grant me more insight into this famous story. But for now, I’m going to move onto other quests.

Thanks to Emma of Words and Peace for reading along with me. You helped me to get going, and I hope you reach your own goal!

Classics Club List #71


20 thoughts on “Don Quixote, Part II: The End

  1. This is such an amazing work. I think the unusual, seemingly shortcomings, in the narrative might be attributed to the fact that a lot of what we take for granted as effective and logical storytelling had not been invented yet.

    I kind of would like to see modern filming where these threads could be worked out in a satisfying way. Perhaps such would work well in the form of one of these modern television series that produce 8 – 15 episodes a season.


    1. I am really glad I finally read it in the unabridged version. It is certainly a many-layered and multifaceted work that could bear several readings. I think I might appreciate it more on another go-round.

      It would take a genius to do a satisfactory film version. There are so many literary and narrative tropes that would need to be translated into the visual without just flattening and simplifying them. But it’s an interesting project to contemplate.


  2. Thank you for sharing this literary pilgrimage with us, Lory, I’ve certainly learnt a lot from it and, if nothing else, you’ve encouraged me to consider giving this a go some time soon instead of leaving it as a masterpiece familiar only for being famous. But first I have Rabelais in my sights, especially the early translation (or should I say Englished version as it wasn’t always faithful to the original) — I’ve read chunks out of the three-volume edition I’ve got but never in sequence.


  3. Congratulations…this is one of those reads that is an achievement. I was not a hug fan of the second part either, but still glad I read it. Twice now. I may have to give it one more chance.


    1. Yup, I do feel like I achieved something. I think rereading is a good idea with a huge work like this, but I’ll move on to other things for a while.


  4. I’m still making my way through Part I which I started at the beginning of 2019. I.m very impressed with your accomplishment! Yes to the post modernism feeling…which it can’t be unless Cervantes had a time machine. That is what I love about reading classics: they make the reader understand that “modern” thought isn’t always that modern. πŸ˜€


    1. It’s postmodern in structure but not thematically. Yes, the Reinasance was closer to us in literature style because it was a more similar world to us in worldview and in the questions they faced and how they explored them. But the content failed to evoke the nostalgia and connectedness it does in me. (It’s possible that the Spanishness of the book is lost in the not Spanish reader, much as Children of Midnight, or Pickwick Papers are lost to me.

      I thought you all would love the reflected and tired nature of part II. Part II reflects life. It doesn’t have the adventure candid feeling of part I. DQ is now real, and when life brings back his own image he sees his own madness. Sancho is now the one still living DQ’s fantasy, and we are left hurting to witness the cruelty of the Marquee and wife who want to laugh at his expense.

      All those thwarted adventures are a realization of life and its disenchantment. Yes, Cervantes did something innovative, he gave life to DQ, and he sent him to narrate his death and proclaim his own legend.

      I congratulate you for having read this book unabridged and in full. Time may make it grow in you even more. If not, you have experienced it and can relate to it.


      1. Oh, if nothing else, remember the beautiful speech that childless DQ gives to us parents about resisting the temptation to want to better ourselves in them, to desire certain occupations for them instead of loving who they are and respecting who they want to become.
        And remember the time when DQ fights the lion! And the funny sayings of Sancho when he believes he is truly a governor.


        1. There were many wonderful passages in both parts! My reservations were more about how they all fit together. But I think I was influenced by later novelistic developments to expect something that Cervantes in no way set out to do. That’s why I think a reread would give me a better perspective, because those expectations won’t get in the way. Let’s hope I can get to that in another decade or so. πŸ™‚


  5. Woohoo! It’s been so much fun following your read of this one, and good on you for making it through!! Don Quixote has felled many a brave soul πŸ˜‰

    I know there’s a lot of disappointment from a reader-experience perspective, as you’ve outlined here, but I think it’s fascinating how clearly we can see Cervantes’ thinking and writing, how it changed and developed as he went along. It’s rare in contemporary writing that we get such insight into the writer’s craft. Wishing you many more happy bookish adventures now that this one can be put up on the “read” shelf! πŸ˜‰


  6. Congratulations on finishing the book! I’ve wanted to read it but I’m pretty sure I lack the patience right now, and I still need to get to Les Miserables. I’m glad to hear your thoughts on the book, and even though you didn’t love it, it sounds like you still found it a worthwhile read.


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