Cervantes’ Don Quixote is indeed a “great book” in every sense. I make it almost half a million words, and I’m just a third of the way through its 1100 pages. Clearly at that scale, it’s full of stories within stories, and from the fact that the stories people quote from it – the “giant” windmills and the “army” of sheep – are half a page each in the first 50 or so pages, leads me suspect that not many people stay the course.
Who is really mad, what makes a story true or real, and what makes a good justification or rationalisation for action are the main themes. The device of portraying Quixote as completely barmy and Sancho as a simpleton, simply allows Cervantes to put into their mouths his unpalatable truths. The book-burning curate is the recurring baddie in the plot so far – now there’s a surprise.
(Must research whether the logical inconsistencies in the plot, pointed out by Smollett, were believed to be deliberate or genuine accidents – if this was cinema, continuity would be sacked over Sancho’s re-appearing ass. Talking of ass, the coarse and lewd descriptions of bodily functions put me in mind of Melville’s butchery in Moby Dick – you can almost smell it.)
The story of Anselmo and Lothario (8 sheets of manuscript but over 50 pages of the book ?) is an excellent parable of best-laid plans, road-to-hell, best intentions. Put me in mind of William James (or was it Barrett) – “the most rational plans often bring about the complete opposite of what they intend”. Oh, and the women are cleverer than the men, naturally. ‘Twas ever thus.
Can’t help thinking about those million 21st century Venezuelan’s ploughing through the 17th century Spanish – the 18th century English is tough enough. I wonder what Chavez was (is) hoping to inspire – intriguing.
(I have ten other unread books stacking up behind me – but I may be some weeks before I can get round to them.)
[Post Note – my conclusions after finishing the read.]
[Post Note – 2003 review from Harold Bloom.]