Saturday, June 19, 2010
I didn't read Don Quixote in school and I have always regretted that. So for quite awhile it has been a goal of mine to take on that huge book. I've tried reading it previously, but my busy life has always kept me from completing it. Now by combining reading a printed copy with listening to an MP3 version from Project Gutenberg, I'm well on my way to getting through. (I'm on page 668 of 891.)
My impression is that it is a fairly interesting book that could have used some serious editing. Every character who says anything seems to follow his comments with a dissertation on the reasons and moral implications of whatever he has just said. Yes, I'm fairly certain that Don Quixote is on more lists of best novels ever written than any other book. But I believe that opinion has come from people who have studied it rather than people who have just decided to read it. And that most of those people have taken it on in a classroom situation. There is no question that a discussion group improves the experience of reading because it changes it from passive to active. The story of Don Quixote also has the advantage of having been translated into other forms. The song "To Dream and Impossible Dream" is often in my mind as I'm reading the book. Of course, that might again be due to the challenge of its length.
When I'm listening in my car I often think how amazing it is that I'm hearing the thoughts of a man who lived in Spain in the sixteenth century and that for me to understand his thoughts they had to be translated from Spanish and eventually recorded in a digital form that will play on my MP3 player. That alone is awe inspiring.
The thing that surprised me the most about Cervantes' novel is that it is not entirely about Don Quixote. There are many stories within the larger story, although it constantly comes back to the man who attacks windmills and wineskins. There is a romantic aspect throughout the novel that is probably what has kept it alive for so many centuries.
Love is valued for its own sake. Don Quixote constantly talks of the wonderful attributes of his lady, Dulcinea, who hasn't appeared in the book yet. There are also other characters who have lost their ways because of impediments to the satisfaction of their loves. The story of Cardenio, Lucinda, Ferdinand, and Dorothea tells of arrogance and betrayal, but everyone eventually ends up with the lover they want. In a novel set in modern times the discovery that the man a woman loves has betrayed her would send her packing, but in this story Dorothea wants to be married to Ferdinand and the small fact that he dumped her for someone he considered to be better looking doesn't dissuade her.
I'm still not through with this novel (actually two books in one), so I'll probably be writing about it some more. It's been a wonderful experience so far. I should finish it up in a couple of weeks.