Don Quixote, post #3, Volume 1, Part I, ch 1-8

Fellow readers, how is everyone? I’m receiving emails from some of you who tell me they are enjoying this book profusely, which makes my heart sing. Many of you tell me you are laughing with it, some are sticking to the book they acquired, others are exploring and loving an audio version, comparing a bit and also finding out which is their preferred translation. (I can’t say one translation is better than other, but I can say that Ormsby’s translation is rich. The language can be off putting for those who don’t like older English, but Cervantes’s Spanish is also old, and rich, and some of us love that, -others prefer one of the more modern renderings-.)

To the book. I’m going to discuss chapters 1-8 of part I. Cervantes’s books ended up divided like this:

BOOK 1
PART 1, chapters 1 – 8
PART 2, chapters 9 – 14
PART 3, chapters 15 – 27
PART 4, 28 – 52

BOOK 2
74 Chapters

I’m going to discuss here Book 1, Part 1, chapters 1-8

This book is so rich, and so fresh every time I read it, that we could discuss it to no end. Wait!, that’s what we are doing, aren’t we? I’m finding a lot of information in the notes, and while that’s important, I sometimes ignore the footnotes and just read. I don’t want to know about Don Quixote, I want to read Don Quixote. I’m specially eager to share the thoughts that the book stirs in me. I’ll add some bits and pieces here that helped me make sense of some parts, or that I believe can make you appreciate what’s going on. Other than that, this is our reading together experience, and I’d love for you to leave me a comment, albeit short, to know you are there too.

Image from GoBeyond

Don Quixote is introduced. There’s some things we can infer. He is not married. Doesn’t have children. He’s of noble birth but with little means. Poor, but rich in books. He’s an educated man. Mature in age. He’s a fan of knightly literature. And he’s determined to leave his life and started a new one as a knight. How many of you have left your life as you knew it and start anew? I have. Once I left to the States to never return to my life in Madrid. People told me I was crazy. I just had a dream. But mine was not based on a literature character. This day and age, many have left their luxurious urban lives, and moved to an uncertain life in the countryside with a few belongings. Anytime one decides to break with her life and start something completely different, we deem that person crazy.

The part where he’s preparing to leave was hilarious. He’s pretty isolated and, I believe, not in touch with reality outside the walls of his house. He has no self esteem issues. It’s go grand or stay home. He pictures himself as this knight the world is already missing. His makeshift armor is pitiful. His horse will become a dear animal to us, readers, but we can tell his prime years are gone, -such as his owner’s-.

Don Quixote knows the importance of language and form. To be a knight, you have to adopt their speech, have what they have, talk as they talk, and behave as they do. He even attempts a narration of the day he takes off with the pompous sounding language of those books he’s memorized, and with all the cliches and formulas.

From the beginning, we have Cervantes claiming to be one of the two authors, (the other will be Cide Hamete Berengeli), and claims Don Quixote as a true legend both of them are rendering or translating. In the book burning chapter, Cervante’s Galatea appears as a book they talk about.

Painting by Michelle Yegros

Is Don Quixote a character taken from real life, a mad man who claims to be a knight, and who is featured in a world of fiction?, or is this the story of a real legendary knight who showed up in a pretend world copy of our own? In any case, it’s Cervantes license to unload everything he wanted to share with us. An invented medium to explore life’s questions in a unique combination of reality and fantasy. A versatile way to devise a novel that allows to include stories within the story, theories, rants, criticisms, homages, and all that interested the author. The skill of his amazing talent to narrate, and his innovative mastery of language, are as captivating today as 400 years ago.

I have not read any of those knightly books that dried up Don Quixote’s brain. But I’ve heard a professor say that Cervantes was the first who revolutionized both form and content. He wrote about the mundane. He ended knightly literature by eating it all up. Don Quixote busted the knight figure by becoming the first real knight which happens to be a real mad man.

Ortega, in his Meditations on Don Quixote, tells us how it’s not about what’s told, but how it’s told what makes it special. When the substance of literature becomes as low as our real, (and petty) happenings in life, I’m with Ortega, I’d detest to have it told in our common English in a casual conversation. Even if I were a great narrator, whenever I talk to others about what happens in the book, I manage to ruin it. The arresting beauty resides in the complex way in which Cervantes tells this story. That can only be accomplished in writing, and appreciated in reading, (or listening to it being read.)

Cervantes, from Wikipedia

Back to that moment in which Alonso Quijada decides to leave his home in search of adventure. La Mancha is a real place, yet it feels such a magical place when we read these pages. Even more since it is in the past, and even if some of the landscape is the same, the full scenario only exists in our imagination.

We can say Alonso Quesada (o Quijada) had a mid life crisis. Maybe he realized that, if he waited one minute longer, he won’t do anything with his life, or become anyone. At the same time, he’s been reading about those fascinating lives in books, filled with honor, recognition, and where the laws of nature are suspended. Like in a video game, we can come back to the screen with a new life. We earn powers in the process. There’s magic, and not only, there’s purpose. Knights live for their beloved dame, and they right the wrongs of the world. The good gets rewarded, and the bad gets punished. All the trials and tribulations of the knight, accomplish him something, they become his adventures, and they are sung and acclaimed in his days and are written for posterity. We enter the adventure in high spirits, like Don Quixote himself, which helps him to not dwell in how ill equipped he truly is.

Chapter 2 hits, and Don Quixote goes to an inn he perceives to be a castle. Interesting how people react to DQ. The innkeeper doesn’t see he’s mad right away. He’s worried about finding out if DQ has money or not. When he realizes he doesn’t, he decides to play DQ’s game to get what he wants, and tells him that knights have clean shirts, healing concoctions, AND money. DQ responds well to that logic, and he’ll try to get all that soon a la ‘garage sale’ style, -selling all he can possibly find around for not much-.

At the inn, -a castle for DQ-, he tries to get knighted with a proper ceremony. As a rookie, DQ is not well versed in how this ceremony takes place. It’s a bit like a wedding. I knew what weddings are supposed to accomplished, but there’s so much room to do this however one wants, that there’s that uncertainty about how to proceed.

The innkeeper, after feeding him a meager meal, finds a practical solution, and dismisses him to the patio, by the water place, telling him to do a vigil for his weapons. When a muleteer tries to use the water fountain, DQ charges at him with no mercy. At this point, the innkeeper needs to get rid of DQ, -he’s bad for his business-. He convinces him of a plan of action, and DQ follows it and believes it completely.

The women he sees at the inn are prostitutes, yet DQ addresses them as if they were ladies of noble birth and of moral conduct. They seem to be amused by his ‘strange talk’, and like the game of being rechristened by DQ. Once more, observe what DQ means and brings to different people, and the varied ways in which people relate and respond to him.

I’m not going to discuss chapter by chapter, but I’ll mention things in all of the ones covered here. Chapter 4 is sadder each time I come to the book. DQ sees this master hitting his servant, and feels compelled to know why that’s happening. When he hears the reasons, he firmly believes that the master needs to, not only stop the corporal punishment, but to pay him the wages that his servant says he owes him. DQ is very detached from reality. And he’s gullible. Masters saw themselves always right. Many of them considered their servants guilty of disobedience and truancy, (and some may have been), so even if they were mistreating their servants, they thought this to be right. It’s like life eventually saw people in either end of the stick. Servants became masters, or grew to have others under their care. The abuse was perpetuated, -that’s what I’m trying to say-.

Image from Online Literature

DQ believes that an external intervention will make everlasting results, just because it appeals to those noble principles he believes people still live by, and that they may have forgotten. Cervantes is showing us his world by contrasting it to the utopia DQ sports. The servant has a short lived hope in what just happened. The master wasn’t fooled. This master didn’t try to make DQ understand, but, like the innkeeper, he plays DQ’s game, to get rid of him, and get back to his business with redoubled anger for having been exposed in his immorality.

DQ continues hitting others or getting beaten up. Some have deemed the book full of violence, and asked how is it we can laugh at this insane display. I’m of the different view that believes Cervantes’s world was a very violent place, and he wants to present us that tragic component along with the comic and inseparable side of life. Cervantes himself was the subject of much of that physical harshness. This is fiction, don’t forget. It’s the laughter we get when we watch Tom and Jerry, or Roadrunner splashing onto a road after falling from a high distance.

This is also a world of hit or get beaten. There’s the other encounter where the lad sees DQ on the floor, and takes advantage to beat him up. We can speculate he’s been on the receiving end of the stick, and when he sees DQ there, he seizes his probably first opportunity in life to administer punishment instead of receiving it.

Image from Online Literature

A neighbor sees DQ in this pitiful condition. He calls him by his name, Quijada, but DQ responds he is Don Quixote. When challenged by the neighbor about his real identity, DQ says, “I know very well who I am.” Back at home, we see DQ has a niece, and friends who are important to the community, -barber, priest, professor; the hierarchy of life, clergy, academia, working class.- They are worried. They saw his progression into madness, but the niece failed to warn these men earlier about how feverish and delirious DQ was becoming as a consequence of reading too many chivalry books.

This is one of my favorite chapters. In it, I read for the first time what would become a very ingrained idea for most people, the impossibility of translating poetry. Thought that has been almost set in stone, with which I am not in full agreement. I believe Cervantes enjoyed writing this chapter. Perfect opportunity to talk about his thoughts on books, authors, genres, and his shot at literary criticism, -even of himself!-.

Image from here

I chuckle every time they contemplate whether to burn a book or not, and they give the following for a reason, ‘but why!, I do love this one’. Also, notice that if we know that the son doesn’t inherit the sins of the father, he doesn’t inherit his merits either, (they say that when they save a book with a famous knight like Amadís de Gaula, but not that which features Amadís’s son, even if he’s a legitimate son.) They also speak about Cervantes being a friend, and thus not burning his book, Galatea, and how sand he did not conclude it. (Cervantes eventually wrote a second part). They even say how they are going to save some books but not let anyone read them, -good for me but not for others, :)-

They devise a great trick to keep DQ at home and away from the books. They build a wall at his library, and tell DQ when he finally ends his convalescence, that an enchanter must have made his books and full library disappear. DQ believes this. Hard as they try to keep him home, DQ prepares to leave again. This time with a squire, -as the innkeeper also told him knights should have-. He finds a common man, named Sancho, who also flees his home, wife, and children.

Have you ever wondered how is it that Sancho follows DQ without a doubt? He must be another man tired of his fate in life, eager to change it. He’s obviously burning to obtain money and position. He sees DQ as an educated man, in a better place in the social scale than himself, and capable of giving him all that DQ promises. Funny how when Sancho hears those crazy promises, his own greed makes him believe in them and follow him.

We don’t have to wait long to come to the ultra famous adventure, the windmills. DQ claims they are giants, Sancho is sure they are not, and DQ, as it’ll be a pattern, has an explanation as to why they are windmills, -enchantment!-, it must be the work of the same enchanter who took his books and removed his library.

There’s one more adventure before the first part ends. That with the Basque. This is quite hilarious and revealing. We see how Sancho is determined to get his share of all this, comes sun or rain.

The friars are peaceful, they tell DQ he’s in the wrong. The Basque is not intimidated by DQ, and doesn’t want to bulge. The ladies in the carriage are all witnessing this impromptu duel. And we are left at this cliffhanger. Cervantes has done it again!

Part II will force us into a delightful break before we know how this encounter ends.

Today I wrote a ton, next time it may just be a short paragraph!

19 thoughts on “Don Quixote, post #3, Volume 1, Part I, ch 1-8

  1. The windmill scene had me laughing out loud! I am amazed at Don Quixote’s imagination. But as I read the first few chapters, I wondered….is he just imagining though? Because how could he see the truth but think it’s something different? For example, how could he see windmills but say they are giants. See the inn but thinks it’s a castle. Etc. I get that his answer for the giants and the windmill is enchantment. But is that his answer for every scenario? That’s what I’ve been wondering. Does this get explained as the novel progresses?

    Your thoughts on why Don Quixote set out really helped me have context. As I started reading, I wondered why was he leaving and deciding to do this adventure? Was there a reason behind that other than that he just wanted to be a knight like in all the books he read? The things you pointed out make sense: feeling isolated, lacking purpose, the need to feel like he’s accomplishing something and doing some good.

    Also, I need to read through the intro. notes in my book, but what’s the time frame of Don Quixote’s time in the novel itself? How far removed is he from the age of chivalry and knights?

    Regarding Sancho, I did wonder why he would leave his family behind. But then after reading a bit and seeing his comments off and on about going with Don Quixote, I got the impression that he did this in order to provide something better for his family. I can see the idea of him maybe being eager to change his current circumstances and seeing this chance with Don Quixote as an opportunity to do just that. I didn’t see him as being greedy though. That’s an interesting thought. Makes me want to go back and re-read already! As I’ve been reading, I do see Sancho as a reasoning force for Don Quixote at times. It will be interesting to see if that continues throughout the novel.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great thoughts, Karen. I’m not sure there’s an explanation as to why he sees what he sees other than he’s gone mad. Mad people hear voices where there’s none, and see things others can’t see. And his answer for every scenario is one within the realm of knightly conduct and things he knows or he’s told that happened to other knights who came before him.

      Sancho is definitely a reasoning force, but he is ‘his own’ reasoning force, always trying to see the advantage in every situation that will get him what he desires. However, greedy was a bad choice. It’s difficult to say. Through the book, there’s real love and friendship both develop toward each other. But I’m not so sure Sancho was thinking about bettering his family. Maybe yes, to some extent. The fact that he leaves without communicating it to his family is what concerns me about him. If Sancho is not mad as DQ, he surely is, as Cervantes puts it, a non very intelligent individual. But then he’ll show us a different side to him in volume II. Now it’s early in the book to say. I may have made the mistake of applying what I know it’s coming to these first chapters, so you all reading for the first time are better equipped than me to see how this all look in the first pass.

      This is from wiki:
      Published in two parts, in 1605 and 1615, Don Quixote is the most influential work of literature from the Spanish Golden Age and the entire Spanish literary canon.

      At another place I read and translate that the “libros de caballerias” were popular specially in Spain above all countries, and in lesser way in France, Italy and Portugal, from the XV century up until 1602, they lost popularity around 1550. So YES, they were right before Cervantes and Don Quixote.

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      1. Ok. Thanks for looking that up. I haven’t had a chance to yet. I was just curious how close to the age of knights and chivalry Don Quixote was just to kind of get a feel for why and how people would react to him trying to be a knight in general. I know we already have some reacting in the novel already. I just wanted to have a bit of context for the time frame if that makes sense. 🙂

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      2. But it wasn’t the age of the knights, that was Medieval Ages, it was the era of the knight legends in literature, some based on earlier real people.

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      3. I mean to say that people know knights in the books. I am not sure they have seen any in real life. But DQ acts as if people behave in life with the code of honor proper to chivalry, – if that makes sense-. But people don’t! The picaresque novel is the true reflection of the times. It’s about masters abusing their servants or their equals, and people trying to better their station in life through whatever means possible, regardless of morality.

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    2. Bingo! Chapter XIII, when he’s talking to the shepherds, he explains his ‘profession’, errant knight, and he tells the men, “have you all not read?”. My note says Cervantes indicates that DQ sees himself as a knight in the books, specially those of the British tradition, and Arthurian legends, not a historical or cultural view of chivalry, -though there are overlaps-.The note says it’s chivalry as envisioned by aristocracy and courtesans in the Middle Ages, specially in Great Britain, where the knight-hero adventures happen in the context of the unexpected, the magical and the marvelous, and where the love for a dame is romantically complicated, secret, unrequited, or illicit, such as Lancelot and Guinevere. The note continues saying that Cervantes nailed it, and DQ makes his own peculiar simplification of the things in books that were so beloved by readers and authors alike throughout the Middle Ages.(And, -this is my own note-, we all know that books reflect to some extent the values, beliefs, and characteristics of their time).

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      1. Ahhh….okay. Thanks so much for sharing that!

        Also, regarding what Don Quixote actually sees (when we were talking about him seeing giants instead of windmills, a castle instead of an inn, etc.). This is in said in Ch. 21 (it shouldn’t give any spoilers). Speaking of Don Quixote it says:

        “…for, he accommodated every thing he saw, with incredible facility, to the extravagant ravings of his disordered judgment.” (pg. 150 in my translation)

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Love, love that quote. I think it says it all. I’m excited by you catching that, and me finding the clarification on the knight thing. Now you mention it, this is super consistent with DQ’s logic. He has such a logic that he finds explanation for everything that tries to dismiss any of the knightly elements or vision he gives to people. Much of the wit and humor I find, it’s to hear him argue his point to not be deterred from his completely crazy ‘worldview’. But those arguments he has, are deeper than it meets the eye, I believe, they end up being exchanges on the way different people look at life. One of the most fascinating things to me this reading, is to pay attention to the many different responses people have towards DQ’s madness. (Some don’t have reaction time, ha ha ha, he charges against them, but others do, and they choose different ways of interaction, confronting, playing along… it’s interesting to me).

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      3. That’s an interesting point….that the exchanges could be a view into how the various characters look at life. I want to pay attention to that more as I continue to read. And you know, as I read and we’re discussing this, I’m beginning to see that Don Quixote is more complex than may meet the eye at first, just as you mentioned.

        And you’re right, some of the people have no time to react because he kind of just plows forward! Ha!

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      4. He’s complex. He doesn’t ‘reason’ like a madman, but he is because of his ‘calling’, which is recognized by others as no ‘real’ profession, of course. But notice that later, for example, when he meets the shepherds, they don’t question his sanity until they ask what he does in life. His speech is educated and courteous. And him being master over Sancho is also not dissonant, yesterday I also found a sentence that says that Sancho had known DQ since birth, and that’s why he didn’t hesitate to go with him. Sancho intrigues me as well. How come he’s not bothered by the type of madness his master has? I said greed. It’s not greed, -greed was a strong word, and it conjures a Mr. Scrooge more than Sancho, who is described as having as a good uneducated man-, but obviously Sancho wants to believe there’s a way to get out of his poverty. And is Sancho’s poverty just monetary, or is he after a rich life, a life with some ‘power’, versus being at the bottom of the hierarchy? I’m going to try to collect these thoughts in our comments in my next post. There’s also the question of education too, and what it achieves in life, Sancho is obviously moved more by the earthly pleasures, 🙂 -not in a bad way-, and DQ is supposedly of the more idealistic way. Both will, -as Rushdie writes- leak into each other, LOL.

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      5. What chapter is that in where Sancho talks about knowing Don Quixote from birth? I’m wondering if I missed that or if I’m not there yet. 🙂

        Regarding Sancho, yes, that’s the impression I got of him that it’s more that he’s hoping it’s a way out of their circumstances…hoping for a better life for him and his family. But you know, I hadn’t thought about it until you mentioned it, but that’s a good question: could he also be drawn to the power of the position Don Quixote is offering him when they have the land (was it an island maybe? I’m drawing a blank right now…).

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  2. I love that you’re hosting this. I’m unfortunately not quite ready to start the book, so I’m not reading the bulk of the discussion, but when I eventually do read it, I’ll have to come back and revisit these posts!

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  3. I’ve really been enjoying DQ and especially liked the book burning chapter…so entertaining! And yes how they made the decision as to which to keep and burn was good too. I like how determine DQ is to be the knight that he is. He makes me believe he really is our errant knight. I’m surprised at how readable the novel is and am glad I started. 🙂

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  4. There’s so much richness in this book! Beside being original and so hilarious, I like it as a reflection, on language, on books and what they can do to us (lol), I also enjoy the passages where Cervantes debates the challenges of translation!

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    1. Yessss. That’s exactly what I adore. How avangard is that? A book on adventure, on books, and language, and translation, and so philosophical while so approachable and generously ententaining from page 1 to last. I am at the part where Marcella is about to defend herself from being the cause of Grisostomo’s death. Priceless speech on what it means to be a woman.

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  5. Karen. I would love for you and others to tell me how you understand DQ’s behavior. Does he imagine things, or pretends? I don’t know if he just sees what he wants knowing it’s not so, or if he is delirious.

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    1. I just mentioned that in my comment above before seeing your comment here. LOL I’ll re-post what I said in reply to your comment here. 🙂

      Also, regarding what Don Quixote actually sees (when we were talking about him seeing giants instead of windmills, a castle instead of an inn, etc.). This is in said in Ch. 21 (it shouldn’t give any spoilers). Speaking of Don Quixote it says:

      “…for, he accommodated every thing he saw, with incredible facility, to the extravagant ravings of his disordered judgment.” (pg. 150 in my translation)

      I don’t know that I’m far enough in the novel to say one way or the other. But I think that statement above sheds some light on it.

      Liked by 2 people

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