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


Don Quixote, Part II: Halfway through

In my buddy read of Don Quixote with Emma of Words and Peace, we’ve not kept up with the chapter a day pace, but that’s okay; we’re determined to keep going anyway. I’ve made it to chapter 37 of 74, halfway through Part II, so it seems like a good time for a check-in.

When I started I had wondered whether this half of the book — really Book Two of a two-book series — would stay focused on the adventures of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, or wander into multiple digressions and interpolated tales like Part One. So far, there have been no such interruptions, and that makes for quite a different reading experience. In fact, this part is even more strongly centered on Quixote, as it is based on the premise that the first part of his adventures was published and now he is a famous character. Many of the people he meets know about him and his madness, and either react with compassionate tolerance or with a less kind wish to use him for their own amusement.

This gives a new layer to Cervantes’s commentary on human nature, its folly and its cruelty as well as the possible potential for true nobility. It highlights even more the importance of the stories we tell ourselves, and the relationship between life and narrative. I can see why this novel is considered the foundation of modern literature, which has moved us toward a more complex understanding of self and world than in past ages, frequently leaving us in a state of confusion. In his playing with perspective, consciousness, and multiple realities, Cervantes challenges us to find a new standpoint from which to evaluate our experience. That’s the real “knightly quest,” I feel.

At the point I’ve reached now, we’re in the middle of an elaborate deception perpetrated by a lord Quixote has met along the way. He’s encouraging the self-anointed knight errant in his whims and creating illusory enchantments to egg him on. Particularly, there is the promise that Quixote’s beloved Dulcinea will be released from the spell making her an ugly peasant woman — if Sancho will beat himself to a pulp.

Since Sancho himself encouraged Quixote to believe in this spell, is this perhaps a just punishment? He could break up the whole deception by simply telling the truth, but the lure of his promised governorship keeps him caught in the trap of his own making, and increasingly unsure what is real and what isn’t. The web of untruth and self-interest is growing ever more tangled, and one wonders if there can ever be a way out. But the journey shall continue…

Don Quixote Part II: The first dozen chapters

Don Quixote Reading by Adolf Schroedter

This is the inaugural post of my buddy read of Part II of Don Quixote, which I’ve been meaning to finish for more than a year. I’m so glad Emma from Words and Peace agreed to read a chapter a day (more or less) along with me!

We’ll be taking turns to post about our progress every couple of weeks, so here are my impressions of the opening chapters. In Part II, Don Quixote insists on returning to a life of knight errantry, in spite of the efforts of his friends and neighbors to restore him to sanity, and his long-suffering squire Sancho goes along for the ride once more. It takes a while to get going, but once they do there’s an encounter with the Don’s beloved lady Dulcinea, who has inexplicably been turned by wicked magic into a hideous peasant girl. Following this they meet a troupe of traveling players who play havoc with Sancho’s donkey, and then another lovelorn knight who seems to have the same chivalric madness.

What is real? To what extent do we see only what we want to see? And how can we ever truly meet one another, when we manipulate our perceptions according to our desires? As in Part I, these questions come up over and over again, with both comic and tragic ramifications. Don Quixote’s longing for the ideal feminine is noble, but his refusal to accept what is in front of his face is absurd. His servant is more pragmatic but no less ridiculous, with his eternal hope of gaining an “insula” from this mad quest. Maybe he goes along just because the adventure is more entertaining than ordinary life at home, in spite of all the pratfalls he takes.

So far, I feel Cervantes is just getting warmed up, coming back into the mode of the novel he left off ten years earlier. Where will this journey lead? Will Don Quixote actually learn something this time? I’ll be looking forward to finding out.

Don Quixote: The Next Adventure

I’ve been meaning to read the second half of Don Quixote, having taken a break after Part One. When I found out Emma from Words and Peace was interested too — a chapter-a-day readalong she’d been following seemed to be defunct — I offered to read along with her.

We decided to do alternating posts every couple of weeks – I will start off on March 31, after I’ve read the first ten chapters or so. Next time it will be Emma’s turn, and so on. I hope we can keep it up through all seventy-plus chapters!

If you’d like to join us, please do — or just follow along as we embark on our reading adventure.