The second half of Don Quixote of La Mancha (written in 1615, a full decade after the first half) is much better than the first half (thoughts here). As the novel progresses, Cervantes’ writing improves, the plots improve, and the character’s personalities become far more distinct. I was drawn into the story in a way I was not drawn in on reading the first half.
In short, I loved the second half. It is still not my favorite book because it is not my favorite genre (I prefer more realistic Victorian-era fiction). But it is clear why Cervantes is considered a revolutionary writer and why this novel was a precursor to other novels. It is landmark for a reason.Edith Grossman’s notes were essential for understanding the context of part two. About a year before Cervantes published his part two, a false Don Quixote novel circulated throughout Spain, and Cervantes frequently criticizes this “false part two” in his part two. Cervantes’ part two takes place about a month after the first part and it strikes me as a commentary on fiction versus truth, as well as many other issues that I cannot delve into after just one read.
The most significant difference between part one and part two, then, is the knowledge had of Don Quixote and Sancho’s travels, because of the widely read published account (that is, part one). Because the original novel is known among many of the fictionalized people, Don Quixote then becomes the butt of everyone’s jokes, even at one point being branded with the equivalent of a “kick me” sign; the Don is quite pleased to be recognized while parading through town on a horse, not realizing that all are humoring his madness because there is a sign plastered to his back labeling him as “the real Don Quixote” (page 868). In a sense, that is also how he travels through the novel. From beginning to end, he is teased and tricked, even by Sancho, because everyone knows he is the “real” Don Quixote.
In part one, as I mentioned, Cervantes questioned and mocked those who believed in the chivalric novels. In part two, Cervantes continues to parody the fiction versus truth. There are a few cameos from characters found in the false part two, as well as the appearance of some people reading the false part two who comment on it. Obviously, Cervantes has contempt for the “fan fiction” that misrepresented his beloved Don Quixote and Sancho; these parts are some that I relied on the notes to fully understand the irony.
Don Quixote, as a reader of chivalric “histories” (what we’d call novels), shows that he sees the irony of a “history” of a person being wrought with commentary, as is always the case in a novel that has an omnipotent narrator.
The author of my history was no wise man but an ignorant gossip-monger who, without rhyme or reasons, began to write, not caring how it turned out, just like Orbaneja, the painter of Ubeda, who when asked what he was painting, replied: “Whatever comes out.” Perhaps he painted a rooster in such a fashion and so unrealistically that he had to write beside it, in capital letters: “This is a rooster.” And that must be how my history is: a commentary will be necessary in order to understand it.” page 478
In part one, the narrators commented on Don Quixote’s madness. In part two, Don Quixote and Sancho, through their intriguing conversations, seem to do a lot of the commentary themselves. They, of course, consider themselves real characters, and they think the “enchantments” they experience are real, even though the new friends they’ve met are tricking them into thinking they are real. What then, is “real”? Are Don Quixote and Sancho “real”? Should we label truth so we will recognize it? I loved how in the novel so many details crossed and re-crossed the lines defining real and imagined.
A few notes on characters, since Cervantes was influential in writing one of the first novels with characters that have personalities. I love Sancho Panza. In part one, nothing clicked, but in part two, I loved him. He was quite funny, and I thought quite witty (such as when he tricks Don Quixote), despite the “low intelligence” he is constantly criticized for. Here’s just one great line that I marked because I laughed out loud.
“In three days’ time we buried her,” said the Dolorous One.
“No doubt she must have died,” said Sancho. (page 710)
My favorite scene was the lions. I honestly felt I didn’t know what would happen: Cervantes is that unpredictable. Through the novel we don’t know what will happen next. It is ridiculous, but it is also fun.
At one point, Sancho says of his trick on Don Quixote, “I’ve made him think she’s enchanted, and that’s as true as a fairy tale” (page 678). I’d suggest that in part two, Don Quixote is as true as a fairy tale. A man looks for adventure, and a world provides it. It’s marvelous, it’s fun, and yet it is full of things to ponder.
To ponder next time: Monica said this in a comment on my other post. She says it so well, I repeat it here.
“What with ideas of truth in literature, and the general malleability of truth, books, idealism, attacks on class. A parody traced with sweet tragedy. Our misunderstood hero is complex and purposefully incites in us mixed feelings.”
Exactly how I felt on closing the book. When I reread the book, I am especially going to consider the attacks on class. There is a lot there I did not even consider in these two posts I have written on the tome.
What novels can you think of that cross the line, where the characters know they are in a novel?
If you’ve read the book, what scene did you like the most?