So far, my reading of Don Quixote has shown me that its humour is its strongest feature, quite apart from the compelling drama of the ridiculous “adventures” and the lyrical tales which are told along the way (by the way, the idea of reading Don Quixote over ten weeks came from Stu of Winstonsdad’s blog).
In a recent interview for Reading Matters Triple Choice Tuesday I selected A Diary of a Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith as my favorite book of all time and I am now struck by the similarities between Charles Pooter and Don Quixote.
- Both are pompous, believing themselves a cut above everyone else.
- Pooter takes over-weening pride in being a member of the new middle-class of Victorian London with housemaids and tradesmen to boss around. Don Quixote is so self-deluded that he gets an inn-keeper to make him a knight and then goes round proclaiming chivalric duties and privileges wherever he goes. Pooter makes himself into a ridiculous figure without realising it, just as Don Quixote makes a fool of himself wherever he goes.
- Pooter’s voice of reason his wife Carrie, whereas Don Quixote spends as much time ignoring the wise counsel of his “steward” Sancho Panza, with equally disastrous results.
My second week in the company of this ridiculous “knight”, Don Quixote, opens with a tragic story (aren’t they all?). Poor Rocinante – so meek a horse and “so little given to lustful thoughts that all the mares of the pastures of Cordoba could not tempt him to go astray”. However, a herd of Galician ponies did tempt him and off he went, only to find a rough reception of “hooves and teeth”, and also the staves of the drovers who badly injured him. Don Quixote, misreading the situation as always, seeks revenge (despite the counsel of Sancho Panza), wading in with his sword against twenty tough horse-drovers, with a predictable outcome – severe injuries to our valiant knight and his faithful Sancho.
The following night was little better. Resting up in an inn, they share a room with a mule-driver who has arranged a night of passion with the pot-girl, Maritormes (who seems to have plied an independent trade all of her own in order to supplement her income). When Maritormes arrives in the night, the room is so dark she enconters Don Quixote instead, inciting the wrath of the mule-driver who promptly punchs Don Quixote in the mouth and stamps up and down on his ribs. Maritormes flees to hide in Sancho Panza’s bed and when the inn-keeper bursts in, a titanic scuffle takes place which results in more injuries all round. In the morning Don Quixote gives Sancho a “healing balm” which nearly killed him.
The whole tale of Don Quixote is of wilful misunderstanding, the nadir being reached when he attacks a funeral party travelling through the night, believing they are transporting the remains of a dead knight who has been wickedly murderered. On finding that the mourners are all clerics who are legitimately carrying the remains of a gentleman back to his home city, Don Quixote promptly blames the funeral party for travelling at night and appearing to be evil beings from the next world.
We then reach the tale of the night spent in a dark wood with thunderous and terrifying noises all round which turn out in the morning to be fullers’ hammers (presumably operated mechanically by the flow of a river?). This episode is marked by the lengthy story of Sancho Panza’s disgusting defecation, far too close to Don Quixote (Panza is too scared to move away while doing what he has to do). The whole episode being another story of the ongoing humiliation of the errant knight who is repeatedly brought low by his own stupidity.
Finally we reach the hilarious story of Don Quixote encountering a band of prisoners, chained in fetters, being escorted to the coast to serve their sentence as galley slaves. With typical wrong-headededness Don Quixote demands of the guards that they set the prisoners free. When the commissioner refuses to comply, Don Quixote charges him with his lance and in the ensuting confustion the prisoners break free while the guards flee. Don Quixote requests the prisoners to travel to Toboso to tell his “lady” Dulcinea de Toboso (in fact a farm-girl) of the great deed he has done in her honour. The episode ends with the prisoners throwing stones at our valiant knight and his steward and leaving them on the ground nursing their wounds.
Sancho urges Don Quixote to flee before the guards chase after them, and when Quixote, with his usual stubborness resists, Sancho, utters words which could have saved many people down the centuries to avoid further punishment:
Withdrawing is not running away, and waiting is not sensible when danger outweighs hope, and wise men know to save something for tomorrow and not risk everything in a single day.
Well that’s week two done and 180 pages read. I look forward to reading about the next set of unnecessary and disastrous “adventures”.
Title: Don Quixote
Author: Miguel de Cervantes (trans. Edith Grossman)
Publication: Vintage (2005), paperback, 992 pages
The photograph of the statue was taken by Zaqarbal