Historical Timeline: Spain, 1510-1616 Monday, Apr 30 2007 

I’ve put together a quick and dirty timeline of major political, religious, and literary events leading up to and including the life of Miguel de Cervantes. I included some events involving Spain’s arch-enemy, England, and left out most of Spain’s despicable activities in the New World (I would be surprised if most Spaniards were very much aware of them).

I find it quite interesting that despite vigorous censorship in Spain and England, these times produced the greatest literature of both countries. No doubt the influx of wealth from newly discovered lands and trade routes increased artistic patronage, though Cervantes himself saw little of it. I also read that censorship in Spain led to the great flowering of Christian mysticism and mystical literature in that country, an interesting counterpoint to the craze for chivalric romances.

Most of the information comes from the EBSCO Literary Reference Center (check with your library to see if you can access this online resource). Please feel free to add other interesting dates in the comments.

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Nabokov’s Lectures on Don Quixote: Foreward Sunday, Apr 29 2007 

Since I will not be fully participating in the reading of Don Quixote, having just finished it a few months back, I thought it would be fun to read and report on Vladimir Nabokov’s lectures on the novel — a book I’d been wanting to read anyway, and will serve to keep me in the text and on this blog. Today, before officially launching into the lectures or the commentary, I thought I’d give a background on them and paste in a few excellent observations made by Guy Davenport in the Foreward.

Nabokov’s six lectures were given to “600 young strangers” taking Humanities 2 at Harvard University in the spring semester of 1952. Nabokov was a member of the Cornell faculty, and had been given a leave of absence so that he could take the temporary position at Harvard. To prepare for his lectures, Nabokov typed up a full summary of the book, at least one paragraph for every chapter; this commentary is included in the back of my volume.

Nabokov’s guiding purpose, as explained in the Foreward, was to “tear apart” Don Quixote, exposing it as a “cruel and crude old book” which had been softened by hundreds of years of appreciative scholarship.  Davenport explains:

For Don Quixote, as Nabokov knew with some pain and annoyance, is not the book people think it is. Far too many interpolated novelle […] impede the plotless plot. We all rewrite the book in our heads so that it is a picturesque succession of events: the appropriation of the barber’s basin as Mambrino’s helmet, the tilt at the windmills (which became the archetypal quintessence of the book), charging the sheep, and so on. Many people wholly innocent of the text can supply you with a plausible plot summary.

Nabokov’s contrarian perception of the book is that it is in fact cruel, as the follies of Don Quixote and his squire “elicits cruel laughter,” as they are submitted to countless humiliations. This was to become the foundation of his lectures.

The Foreward to the Lectures also provides this helpful historical commentary: “The historical moment in which Don Quixote was written, the reign of Felipe II, that paranoid fanatic who style himself the Most Catholic King, is one we have silvered over with a moonlight of Romance.” It was a period in which the King’s spies were constantly on the lookout for anyone who did not appear to be a “Good Catholic.”

Also, in the history of Europe, Don Quixote was written at a crucial moment:

Europe was going through a time in which reality began to flip-flop. Hamlet teased Polonius with the ambiguous shapes of the clouds. Don Quixote’s abilities to fool himself are a focus of the age’s anxieties. Identity, for the first time in European history, became a matter of opinion or conviction.

In his lectures, Nabokov’s hoped to rescue Don Quixote from centuries of Enlightened residue, and expose the true nature of the text: “He wanted the book to be itself alone, to be a fairy tale, to be an imaginative construct independent of the myth ‘real life.'” In fact, it is Davenport’s opinion that Nabokov set out to expose Don Quixote as a fraud, but in his final opinion realized that it was not the text itself that was a fraud, but the “the book’s reputation and epidemic among its critics.”

I’ll close with this final quotation from the Foreward:

Don Quixote remains a crude old book full of peculiarly Spanish cruelty, pitiless cruelty that baits an old man who plays like a child into his dotage. It was written in an age when dwarfs and the afflicted were laughed at, when pride and haughtiness were more arrogant than ever before or since, when dissenters from official thought were burnt alive in city squares to general applause, when mercy and kindness seem to have been banished. Indeed, the first readers of the book laughed heartily at its cruelty. Yet the world soon found other ways of reading it. It gave birth to the modern novel all over Europe. Fielding, Smollett, Gogol, Dostoevski, Daudet, Flaubert shaped this fable out of Spain to their own ends. A character who started out in his creator’s hands as a buffoon has turned out in the course of history to be a saint.

Enjoy the first few chapters!

Mood Music for Don Quixote Friday, Apr 27 2007 

Don Quixote enthusiast Nick Senger over at Literary Compass has made some suggestions of musical accompaniment for reading DQ. One of the pieces he mentions is the Concierto de Aranjuez by Joaquín Rodrigo (1902-1999). It just so happens that I have a copy of it, so, with apologies to Julian Bream and RCA, I’d like to post the famous adagio movement (click to listen). If this piece of music doesn’t transport you to another place I don’t know what will!

A Trip to the Library Tuesday, Apr 24 2007 

windmills.jpgI decided to start my DQ prep today with a quick trip to the University of York library on the hunt for introductory criticism. (I’m lucky that, as a staff member, I can have up to 60 books at a time!)  And I came away with four delicious looking tomes:

The Cambridge Companion to Cervantes (ed. Anthony J. Cascardi) – I very much enjoy the Cambridge Companions and I think they’re a good place to start with criticism. This one has a handy timeline of Cervantes life and an Appendix with a list of electronic resources for Quixote.

A Critical Introduction to Don Quixote by L.A. Murillo – This provides a short thematic essay for every chapter or couple of chapters, and so I thought it would be interesting as a companion. It should fit well with the 50 pages a week plan too.

Fighting Windmills: Encounters with Don Quixote – This one looks at DQ as a text through time with chapters like ‘Cervantes Sallies into Eighteenth Century France and England’ and ‘DQ and the New World: Two American Perspectives’.  I thought this might be an interesting counterpoint to textual criticism: thinking about how other cultures and eras have read the book and responded to it.

Finally, Cervantes by Jean Canavaggio (trans. J.R. Jones) – a biography of the man himself.

I can’t wait to dig into these!

My Don Quixote reading schedule Monday, Apr 23 2007 

My thought for the Tilting at Windmills blog was that people would choose their own reading schedules to finish the book whenever works best for them, but I also thought I’d share my own plans, and perhaps participants can post theirs in the comments or in a separate post.  Or not — we’re all about flexibility here.  But for me, setting a goal and making it public works pretty well.  It’s worked very well for my Proust reading — I’m still reading about 50 pages of Proust a week and I have been since last July.  I suppose I’m nothing if not methodical.

So I thought 50 pages a week of Don Quixote would work well too; with my edition (the Edith Grossman one) of about 950 pages of text and my plan to begin reading around May 1st, that would take me up into the first week in September.  For long novels that pace works well for me because it gives me plenty of time for other books so I don’t get to feeling bogged down, and it keeps me immersed enough in the book to stay interested and to feel I’m making steady progress.

So — feel free to post whenever you like and on whatever you like, as long as it’s at least loosely DQ-related, and let’s have fun!

Quixote Bling for your Blog Sunday, Apr 22 2007 

In the fine tradition of Carl V.‘s reading challenges, I have whipped up some blog buttons to promote Tilting at Windmills. The pictures are of the very windmills Don Quixote (fictionally) did battle with, which are located on a ridge above the plain of La Mancha near the village of Consuegra. More beautiful photos of these windmills can be seen at Trek Earth.

Badge – White – Full Size Badge – Black – Full Size
Badge White 240px Badge Black 240 px
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Badge White 150px Badge Black 150px
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Don Quixote links Sunday, Apr 15 2007 

Imani has kindly dug up a bunch of links on Don Quixote to help us along as we tackle the novel; check ’em out over there in the sidebar — there’s lots of cool stuff available.

Sometime before May 1st, I’ll email invitations to those who have let me know they’d like to join the group.  I’m looking forward to this group reading!