Wednesday, October 12, 2011
What Don Quixote contributes to world literature
I'm really surprised, so far, at what a delight it is to read Miguel de Cervantes's "Don Quixote," how easily the story flows, how funny, how strange. I remember that my mother tried to re-read the novel when the new (Grossman) translation came out and she found it too violent, and I guess it is filled with pratfalls and combat and head bashing, but it's also a great story and fully captivating, at least to me. Think of the many contributions Cervantes made to world literature with the publication of Don Quixote in, what, 1615? First of all, he established for all time one of the most memorable characters in the literature of the world. Second, he pretty much gave shape to the picaresque novel - what till then, for the most part, was a shapeless form or a collection of related stories, became a narrative line, a process of growth and change, a movement from innocence to experience and finally to understanding (Dante did this to a degree, but through more of an allegorical process, rather than through a narrative of maturation through experiences and events and conflicts.) He also established the parameters for metafiction - a novel that is in some ways about being a novel, a novel that looks at itself and laughs at itself, as the narrator continues to posit that these are true adventures of a noble knight. He also establishes, I think, the first modern narrator, totally observant of characters and events but also a personality in himself, and a conduit linking the story with the reader.