I am quite behind schedule in my reading of Don Quixote. This week I should be reading chapters 41-45 but find that I am currently only on chapter 23. The proprietesses of Pages Turned and Bookworld are on the same reading schedule for this book as I am. Both have been suspiciously quiet on the matter of late. This could mean one of two things, either they are on schedule and have nothing to say about it, or are as woefully behind as I am and have nothing to say about it. Prior to the weekend I was even further behind than I am, but had a burst of enjoyable reading and want to make note of some of the bits I found particularly enjoyable.
One of those bits would be in chapter 16 of part 2 where the wise Don Quixote discourses on the nature of poetry:
Although poetry is less useful than pleasurable, it is not one of those that dishonors the one who knows it. Poetry, Senor, in my opinion, is like an innocent young maiden who is extremely beautiful, and whom many other maidens, who are the other fields of knowledge, are careful to enrich, polish, and adorn, and she must be served by all of them, and all of them must encourage her, but this maiden does not wish to be pawed or dragged through the streets or proclaimed at the corners of the squares or in the corners of palaces. Her alchemy is such that the person who knows how to treat her will turn her into purest gold of inestimable value; the man who has her must keep her within bounds and not allow her to turn to indecent satires or cruel sonnets; she should never be in the marketplace except in heroic poems, heartfelt tragedies, or joyful, witty comedies; she should not be allowed in the company of scoundrels or the ignorant mob incapable of knowing or appreciating the treasures that lie within her. And do not think, Senor, that when I say mob I mean only humble, plebeian people; for anyone who is ignorant, even a lord and prince, can and should be counted as one of the mob. And so the man who uses and treats poetry in the requisite ways that I have mentioned will be famous, and his name esteemed, in all the civilized nations of the world.
This is one of DQ’s sane moments. It is moments like these that confuse the people he meets. By his dress and exclamations of knight errantry he must be crazy. Then he’ll say something like the above and put doubt into the minds of those who had judged him mad.
People can’t help but be drawn to him though. In chapter 19 he meets two students and two peasants on the rode traveling in the same direction. By DQ’s manner and dress they are immediately curious, “both students and peasants experienced the same astonishment felt by all who saw Don Quixote for the first time, and they longed to know who this man might be who was so different from other men.” You meet a man like DQ on the road and you know that he is a story waiting to happen.
Then there is the ever chattering Sancho who sometimes manages to impress even DQ with his combination of proverbs, sermons heard in church and peasant sense and nonsense. The rest of the time DQ just wants Sancho to shut up. But Sancho, a man who would do Mrs. Malaprop proud, cannot help himself:
“Damn you, Sancho where will you stop?” said Don Quixote. “When you begin to string together proverbs and stories, nobody can endure it but Judas himself, and may Judas himself take you. Tell me, you brute, what do you know of nails, or wheels, or anything else?”
“Oh, well, if none of you understand me,” responded Sancho, “it’s no wonder my sayings are taken for nonsense. but it doesn’t matter: I understand what I am saying, and I know there’s not much foolishness in what said, but your grace is always sentencing what I say, and even what I do.”
“Censuring is what you should say,” said Don Quixote, “and not sentencing, you corrupter of good language, may God confound you!” (chapter 19)
It tickles my funnybone whenever Sancho gets his words wrong.
The idea came to me a little way into part two that DQ can be seen as a precursor to the road novel. I’m not sure if this is true or not yet since the ending is still quite far away and I have only a vague notion of how it all comes out. In road novels the protagonist generally learns much about himself/herself and has some sort of epiphany at the end. Maybe DQ is more like a road movie, a bookish version of Thelma and Louise or Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. I’ve got some time to think about this one.
While I can’t say that I am worshipping at the altar of Don Quixote like it seems so many modern critics and writers do, I will say that I am entertained and not regretting spending my time reading it. Now if I can only get myself back on schedule so I can finish the book before the end of the year.