In 2002, a survey of 100 famous authors conducted by the Norwegian Nobel Institute named Don Quixote the greatest book of all time .
“If there is one novel you should read before you die, it is Don Quixote,” the Nigerian author Ben Okri said at the Norwegian Nobel Institute as he announced the results of history's most expansive authors' poll. “Don Quixote has the most wonderful and elaborated story, yet it is simple.”
Don Quixote, fully titled El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha ("The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote of La Mancha ") is a novel written by Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes. Cervantes created a fictional origin for the story based upon a manuscript by the invented Moorish historian, Cide Hamete Benengeli.
Published in two volumes a decade apart, Don Quixote is the most influential work of literature to emerge from the Spanish Golden Age and the entire Spanish literary canon. As a founding work of modern Western literature, it regularly appears high on lists of the greatest works of fiction ever published.
Don Quixote is often nominated as one of the world's greatest works of fiction. Don Quixote's importance in literature has produced a large and varied cultural and artistic legacy. Many artists have drawn inspiration either directly or indirectly from Cervantes' work, including the painter Honore Daumier, the composers Richard Strauss and Gara Garayev, the writer Henry Fielding, the novelist Milan Kundera and the filmmaker Terry Gilliam.
The cultural legacy of Don Quixote is one of the richest and most varied of any work of fiction ever produced. It stands in a unique position between medieval chivalric romance and the modern novel. The former consist of disconnected stories with little exploration of the inner life of even the main character. The latter are usually focused on the psychological evolution of their characters. In Part I, Quixote imposes himself on his environment. By Part II, people know about him through "having read his adventures," and so, he needs to do less to maintain his image. By his deathbed, he has regained his sanity, and is once more "Alonso Quixano the Good".
The novel contains many minor literary "firsts" for European literature—a woman complaining of her menopause, someone with an eating disorder, and the psychological revealing of their troubles as something inner to themselves.
Subtle touches regarding perspective are everywhere: characters talk about a woman who is the cause of the death of a suitor, portraying her as evil, but when she comes on stage, she gives a different perspective entirely that makes Quixote (and thus the reader) defend her. When Quixote descends into a cave, Cervantes admits that he does not know what went on there.
Quixote's adventures tend to involve situations in which he attempts to apply a knight's sure, simple morality to situations in which much more complex issues are at hand. For example, upon seeing a band of galley slaves being mistreated by their guards, he believes their cries of innocence and attacks the guards. After they are freed, he demands that they honor his lady Dulcinea, but instead they pelt him with stones and leave.
Different ages have tended to read different things into the novel. When it was first published, it was usually interpreted as a comic novel. After the French Revolution it was popular in part due to its central ethic that individuals can be right while society is quite wrong and seen as disenchanting—not comic at all. In the 19th century it was seen as a social commentary, but no one could easily tell "whose side Cervantes was on." By the 20th century it had come to occupy a canonical space as one of the foundations of modern literature.
The novel was recently voted The Greatest Book of All Time by the Nobel Institute.
The novel is also responsible for the adjective quixotic, which is to desire to perform acts of chivalry in a radically impractical manner.
The novel's structure is in episodic form. It is written in the picaresco style of the late sixteenth century. The full title is indicative of the tale's object, as ingenioso (Spain.) means "to be quick with inventiveness". Although the novel is farcical on the surface, the second half is more serious and philosophical about the theme of deception. Quixote has served as an important thematic source not only in literature but in much of art and music, inspiring works by Pablo Picasso and Richard Strauss . The contrasts between the tall, thin, fancy-struck, and idealistic Quixote and the fat, squat, world-weary Panza is a motif echoed ever since the book's publication, and Don Quixote's imaginings are the butt of outrageous and cruel practical jokes in the novel. Even faithful and simple Sancho is unintentionally forced to deceive him at certain points. The novel is considered a satire of orthodoxy, truth, veracity, and even nationalism. In going beyond mere storytelling to exploring the individualism of his characters, Cervantes helped move beyond the narrow literary conventions of the chivalric romance literature that he spoofed , which consists of straightforward retelling of a series of acts that redound to the knightly virtues of the hero .
Farce makes use of punning and similar verbal playfulness. Character-naming in Don Quixote makes ample figural use of contradiction, inversion, and irony, such as the names Rocinante (a reversal) and Dulcinea (an allusion to illusion), and the word quixote itself, possibly a pun on quijada (jaw) but certainly cuixot (Catalan: thighs), a reference to a horse's rump . As a military term, the word quijote refers to cuisses , part of a full suit of plate armour protecting the thighs.
The world of ordinary people, from shepherds to tavern-owners and inn-keepers, which figures in Don Quixote , was groundbreaking. The character of Don Quixote became so well-known in its time that the word quixotic was quickly calqued into many languages. Characters such as Sancho Panza and Don Quixote's steed, Rocinante, are emblems of Western literary culture. The phrase " tilting at windmills " to describe an act of attacking imaginary enemies derives from an iconic scene in the book.
Because of its widespread influence, Don Quixote also helped cement the modern Spanish language. The opening sentence of the book created a classic Spanish cliche with the phrase de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme, "whose name I do not want to remember."
"In a place at La Mancha, which name I do not want to remember, not very long ago lived a country hidalgo, one of those gentlemen or hidalgos who keep a lance in the lance-rack, an ancient shield, a skinny old horse, and a fast greyhound."
Alonso Quixano, a retired country gentleman in his fifties, lives in an unnamed section of La Mancha with his niece and a housekeeper. He has become obsessed with books of chivalry, and believes their every word to be true, despite the fact that many of the events in them are clearly impossible. Quixano eventually appears to other people to have lost his mind from little sleep and food and because of so much reading.
He decides to go out as a knight-errant in search of adventure. He dons an old suit of armor, renames himself "Don Quixote de la Mancha," and names his skinny horse " Rocinante ." He designates a neighboring farm girl, Aldonza Lorenzo, as his lady love, renaming her Dulcinea del Toboso, while she knows nothing about this. Eventually, he "acquires" his iconic "helmet."
He sets out in the early morning and ends up at an inn, which he believes to be a castle. He asks the innkeeper, who he thinks to be the lord of the castle, to dub him a knight. He spends the night holding vigil over his armor, where he becomes involved in a fight with muleteers who try to remove his armor from the horse trough so that they can water their mules. The innkeeper then "dubs" him a knight, and sends him on his way. Don Quixote battles with traders from Toledo, who "insult" the imaginary Dulcinea, and he also frees a young boy who is tied to a tree by his master because the boy had the audacity to ask his master for the wages the boy had earned but had not yet been paid. Don Quixote is returned to his home by a neighboring peasant, Pedro Crespo.
Don Quixote plots an escape. Meanwhile, his niece, the housekeeper, the parish curate , and the local barber secretly burn most of the books of chivalry, and seal up his library pretending that a magician has carried it off. Don Quixote approaches another neighbour, Sancho Panza , and asks him to be his squire, promising him governorship of an island. The dull-witted Sancho agrees, and the pair sneak off in the early dawn. It is here that their series of famous adventures begin, starting with Don Quixote's attack on windmills that he believes to be ferocious giants.
In the course of their travels, the protagonists meet innkeepers, prostitutes, goatherds, soldiers, priests, escaped convicts, and scorned lovers. These encounters are magnified by Don Quixote's imagination into chivalrous quests. The Don's tendency to intervene violently in matters which don't concern him, and his habit of not paying his debts, result in many privations, injuries, and humiliations (with Sancho often getting the worst of it). Finally, Don Quixote is persuaded to return to his home village and to retire from chivalrous adventures, at least temporarily.
Although the two parts are now normally published as a single work, Don Quixote, Part Two was actually a sequel to the original novel. The Don and Sancho are now assumed to be famous throughout the land because of the adventures recounted in the original novel. While the original novel was almost completely farcical, the second half is serious and philosophical about the theme of deception. Don Quixote's imaginings are made the butt of outrageously cruel practical jokes carried out by wealthy patrons. Even Sancho is unintentionally forced to deceive him at one point. Trapped into finding Dulcinea, Sancho brings back three peasant girls and tells Quixote that they are Dulcinea and her ladies-in-waiting. When Don Quixote only sees three peasant girls, Sancho pretends that Quixote suffers from a cruel spell which does not permit him to see the truth. Sancho eventually gets his imaginary island governorship and unexpectedly proves to be wise and practical; though this, too, ends in disaster.
In July of 1604 Cervantes sold the rights of El ingenioso hidalgo don Quixote de la Mancha (known as Don Quixote, Part I ) to the publisher-bookseller Francisco de Robles for an unknown sum. License to publish was granted in September, the printing was finished in December, and the book came out in January 1605. The novel was an immediate success. Most of the 400 copies of the first edition were sent to the New World , with the publisher hoping to make a better price in the Americas. Although most of them disappeared in a shipwreck near La Havana, approximately 70 copies reached Lima, from where they were sent to Cuzco in the heart of the defunct Inca Empire.
There is some evidence of its contents having been known before publication to, among others, Lope de Vega . There is also a tradition that Cervantes reread some portions of his work to a select audience at the court of the Duke of Bejar, which may have helped in making the book known. Don Quixote, Part One remained in Cervantes' hands for some time before he could find a willing publisher. The compositors at Juan de la Cuesta's press in Madrid are now known to have been responsible for errors in the text, many of which were attributed to the author.
No sooner was it in the hands of the public than preparations were made to issue derivative ("pirated") editions. "Don Quixote" had been growing in favour, and its author's name was now known beyond the Pyrenees. By August 1605 there were two Madrid editions, two published in Lisbon, and one in Valencia . A second edition with additional copyrights for Aragon and Portugal, which publisher Francisco de Robles secured. Sale of these publishing rights deprived Cervantes of further financial profit on Part One. In 1607, an edition was printed in Brussels. Robles, the Madrid publisher, found it necessary to meet demand with a third edition, a seventh publication in all, in 1608. Popularity of the book in Italy was such that a Milan bookseller issued an Italian edition in 1610. Yet another Brussels edition was called for in 1611.
In 1613, Cervantes published Novelas Ejemplares , dedicated to the Maecenas of the day, the Conde de Lemos . Eight and a half years after Part One had appeared, we get the first hint of a forthcoming Segunda Parte (Part Two). "You shall see shortly," Cervantes says, "the further exploits of Don Quixote and humours of Sancho Panza." Don Quixote, Part Two , published by the same press as its predecessor, appeared late in 1615, and quickly reprinted in Brussels and Valencia (1616) and Lisbon (1617). Part two capitalizes on the potential of the first while developing and diversifying the material without sacrificing familiarity. Many people agree that it is richer and more profound. Parts One and Two were published as one edition in Barcelona in 1617.