We’ve made it through our first three weeks of Don Quixote and at this point, halfway through the first part of the novel, it is clear that there are many ways to read Cervantes’ classic. One fact that I want to bring up before diving into everyone’s thoughts, this novel was originally published in 1612, that is over four hundred years ago. Everyone here at CHB is reading Edith Grossman’s 2013 English translation of the novel and there is much to be said about her abilities as a translator and just how readable her translation is to a modern audience. But as John says, “There is a lot to unpack regarding perception, identity, reality, perspective, relationships, shared experience and so much more.” Due to its age and stature the novel does ask a bit more of its readers than typical of general fiction and Katherine admits “Don Quixote is very daunting now that I’m actually reading it. It is so far outside of my usual read that I’m struggling to get into the story. I do appreciate the comedic relief, but nonetheless it’s rough going for me.” I have enjoyed Grossman’s minimal footnotes that guide the reader but never feel intrusive or as though the text is something to be wrestled with, but for Matthieu they were not quite enough he is “tapping out on Don Quixote.” He says that “despite it being an important landmark in Western literature, Don Quixote did not shape up to be the reading experience I'd hoped for.” But acknowledges, like Katherine, the “wit, charm, and humor” present in the novel. John has “always been intrigued by everything he’d heard about Don Quixote but because of the book’s size and stature always assumed it would take a great deal of focus and concentration to get through.” He admits he “couldn't have been more wrong! Don Quixote is hilarious and extremely accessible!” For the modern reader, this novel in its fourth centenary speaks broadly to the truths of the human condition. Between the universal themes and the effortless language of the translated text, our shared reading has led to a great deal of discussion and debate.
One of the major themes that kicked off debate quickly was that of perception and delusion. Fiction has a way of being truer than true; it gets to the core of the meaning of things without the burden of facts, which can always be spun. Cervantes even acknowledges this within the novel praising the ‘joyful entertainment’ offered by the novel and saying, “the stories and episodes that appear in it and are, in some ways, no less agreeable and artful and true than the history itself.” While noting that she has “been captured by the concepts of perception and delusion from the very start” Peggy argues that “Don Quixote vividly depicts how men can delude themselves and interweave their idealistic motives of patriotism with their own ambition for personal fame and glory.” Quoting Cervantes she says “after all, ‘it seemed reasonable and necessary to him, both for the sake of his honor and as a service to the nation’ that he undertake what he is driven to do. He can right all wrongs while attaining everlasting glory,” and arguing that these “words could be seconded by so many nationalistic and despotic crusaders.” John counters saying “I can definitely see how using a misinformed worldview can be a tool of manipulation, but I think the honor bound delusions and attitude of Quixote go beyond that. Quixote's delusions are rooted in an ideal that was never something felt in a collective sense but was rather held in high esteem as fable and allegory. I see the possibility for despotic behavior, but think we have to hope for better with Quixote as we follow his journey.”
Sophie here brings up Sancho Panza mentioning the dangers inherent in his blind faith in Quixote. She notes their differences in education citing the disparity between Quixote and Sancho saying, “It’s funny that even while Quixote is so self-deluded, he's actually quite intelligent. It's obvious he's well-educated, not only in the stories of knights, but in other things in the world. Such as in the scene with the goat-herds, Quixote corrects Pedro several times when the shepherd misuses words. ‘Old as my mouth sores’ instead of ‘old as Methuselah’ was hilarious. I laughed for about five minutes over that.” Sancho seems to take scenes such as this, which prove Quixote’s obvious intelligence and education, as such a credit to the man that, as Sophie says, “instead of taking a hint from the many people who argue that Don Quixote is no knight, Sancho remains totally ignorant and trusts in Don Quixote’s unwavering confidence in himself as a knight errant despite how many people try to tell him he is no such thing. And that happens to be one of my favorite things about Quixote as well.”