Saturday, June 26, 2010

Love in La Mancha

One of the most fascinating aspects of reading Don Quixote is the chance to take a journey into a different time. Much of the book is about love and it is very different from the way a love story (or stories) would be written today.

Although Don Quixote professes his love for Dulcinea, he is more in love with love than he is with the woman he has chosen to hold in his heart. But that aspect of his character could be unique to him rather than an indication of life in the sixteenth century.

But Cervantes has told a number of love stories in his novel and they all have common threads. For example, there is the story of Cardenio, Luscinda, Don Fernando, and Dorotea. These are people Don Quixote encounters while he and Sancho Panza are traveling about, seeking out adventures. Cardenio is engaged and in love with Luscinda, but Don Fernando tries to steal the fiancé away. The Don drops his own love, Dorotea, to do this. And Cardenio is so upset he ends up wandering in the wilderness dressed in rags.

What's interesting here is that Cardenio and Don Fernando both seem to fall in love with Luscinda due to her great beauty. This is common in the book. Beautiful women are wonderful, while plain women are not so worthy. I suppose this says a great deal about attitudes among men throughout history rather than just in the sixteenth century (at least in literature). I recently read Oral History by Lee Smith and that same assumption about women was in that book.

Women in Don Quixote seem to be more concerned with the marriage contract than they are with love. Don Fernando might have proven himself to be a cad, but Dorotea still wants to marry him. This happens throughout the book. If marriage has been promised the woman still wants it no matter how her fiancĂ©’s attitude has changed or what character flaws he has demonstrated. Again, it would be nice to know how much of this is a literary device and how much is true to the times.

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