Thursday, September 29, 2011

q is for quixote

Every autobiography is concerned with two characters, a Don Quixote, the Ego, and a Sancho Panza, the Self.
W. H. Auden (1907-1973) poet

today's wall may appear a bit queer compared to the usual - but q is a quirky letter and one doesn't find many quality q-inspired images or words incorporated in street art!

today's wall is a detail of a high quality mural by reed thomason at my local library. along with quixote and rocinante, quixote's equestrian companion, todays snap includes images from other books or poems.

a quiz - who can name the other works represented?

below is a clip which includes the song i, don quixote from the man of la mancha a 1972 film adaptation of miguel de cervantes literary masterpiece don quixote -the full title is: the ingenious gentleman don quixote of la mancha or (in spanish - el ingenioso hidalgo don quijote de la mancha). the book was published in two volumes - volume one came out in 1605 and volume two a decade later - 1615.

so, i have a question - has any friend of the mouse read the book? the book is still on my bucket list (ah, so many books, so little time) - i hear it is quite an undertaking and can be quite challenging. is this true? as for now, all my knowledge of quixote and his quest comes from the large quantity of film and stage adaptations that have been made.

i really ought to read the book, especially since i have been accused of acquiring a quixotic worldview.

another quiz: who can name the actor/tress who plays dulcinea del toboso, in the 1972 film. i understand the character dulcinea never appears in the book, but is only referred to, in stage and film adaptations however, she is a key figure and is portrayed as someone who is first skeptical than an ardent believer of quixote's quest!

photo: lakewood public library, september 2011

addendum, from the writer's almanac for thursday september 29th:

Because today is the feast of Saint Michael, it is the day deemed to have been the birthday of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (books by this author), author of Don Quixote and Spain's greatest literary figure. Cervantes's exact date of birth is unknown, although it was the custom in Spain to name a baby for the feast day on which he was born, and given that Cervantes was baptized just 10 days later, on October 9th, it is probable that today was his birthday.

Cervantes was born in a small university town near Madrid, the fourth of seven children. Miguel's father was an itinerant surgeon — a profession with no exact analogue in modern medicine — who struggled to maintain his practice and family as they traveled the length and breadth of Spain. The boy received some formal education, and he made his first literary efforts in the form of four poems written in 1568 on the death of the Queen of Spain, but little more than this is known of his early life.

A soldier by his early 20s, Cervantes sustained three gunshot wounds during a major naval battle and his left hand was rendered useless — an injury he would bear with pride. After six months in a hospital in Messina, Cervantes returned to active duty until, in 1575, the galley on which he was sailing was captured by corsairs and he was carried off to Algiers as their prisoner. Despite numerous escape attempts fueled by his belief that "one should risk one's life for honor and liberty," Cervantes was held prisoner for five years until his ransom was paid and he was finally liberated in September 1580.

Back in Spain, with little or no prospects and deeply in debt for the ransom that was paid for him, Cervantes was obliged to earn a living as a tax collector. It was an indigent and wandering lifestyle, a vocation for which he had little aptitude and a situation that led to various misadventures, including excommunication for excessive zeal in collecting wheat, and at least three imprisonments for charges as varied as accounting irregularities and suspicion of murder.

Although all of Cervantes's important works belong to his later years, he began his literary career almost upon returning to Spain, beginning as a dramatist with 20 to 30 relatively successful plays in a six-year span, and his first novel, La Galatea, in 1585. It seems that Cervantes's greatest unrealized dream was to be a poet, although one of his contemporaries once stated that among the new poets there was none so bad as Cervantes, and even Cervantes himself recognized that he did not seem to possess the gift.

But Cervantes's gift for prose was another matter. When in 1605 he published his magnum opus, Don Quixote — the tale of an elderly but absurd knight-errant and his squire, it was an immediate success and went through six editions that year alone. Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky explained something of the workings of the book in an 1868 letter to his niece, saying: "All writers, not just ours, but European writers, too, have always failed whenever they attempted a portrait of the positively beautiful ... There is only one positively beautiful person in the world, Christ, and the phenomenon of this limitlessly, infinitely beautiful person in an infinite miracle in itself ... But I am going too far. I'd only mention that of all the beautiful individuals in Christian literature, one stands out as the most perfect, Don Quixote ... Whenever compassion toward ridiculed and ingenious beauty is presented, the reader's sympathy is aroused. The mystery of humor lies in this excitation of compassion." William Shakespeare most certainly read the most perfect Don Quixote (and wrote the now-lost play Cardenio based on a scene from the book), but it is doubtful that Cervantes ever heard of Shakespeare.

Don Quixote has come to be considered the first modern novel, and is considered to be among the best works of fiction ever written. It is a lush and satirical invective against its contemporary chivalrous novels, but it is the book's immense panorama of individuals and adventure, and the humor, understanding of and compassion for the human condition that have made Don Quixote so profoundly influential over to so many over so great a span. If, in Cervantes's words from Don Quixote, "the proof of the pudding is in the eating," then the proof of his book is in the countless readers that have devoured it with pleasure for more than 400 years.

Of Cervantes's burial place, nothing is known except that he requested in his will to be laid to rest at a neighboring convent. A few years after Cervantes died, the convent moved and, in their tradition, carried their dead along. Whether or not the remains of the author were among these is unknown, and any clue to their final resting place has been lost.


Watson said...

Now I can't get the music out of my head! Dreaming the impossible dream .... :-)
Sorry I can't answer any of your questions mouse.

The Blue Elephant said...

Yes, I have ready D.Q., but decades ago, and I would like to re-read it, and I attended a session where Edith Grossman spoke about hers, the latest translation. Auden's quote is one way to describe it, but one might also say that no book, story, movie, etc, is without the Don Quixote/Sancho Panza (amusing to see it in Tucci's wonderful film about two men starting an Italian restaurant, one the uncompromising idealist, the other the realist who would just like to survive. The second part is more fascinating and revealing, but one must truck through it all, don't you think. But I even gotten through Proust! And I long for more Tolstoi.

Kate Hanley said...

Well Midsummer Night's Dream is front and center in that work of art but I confess that's the only one that jumps out at me. I've never read Don Quixote or seen Man of La Mancha, a serious lack in my theater knowledge, guess I know what I'll be watching next. What a fun post.

karen said...

I love the quirky artwork...and the segment on Cervantes. I've never read Quixote...and probably won't but would love to see Man of LaMancha.

Betsy Brock said...

I haven't read the book, and I must confess I really didn't know much of this at all! The mural is lovely, though. And you did a great job with a difficult letter!

Jain said...

I read the book decades ago. I remember enjoying it, but I was a book sponge then; don't know if I'd get through it today.

I was/am a huge Gordon Lightfoot fan and his song piqued my curiosity at the time:

The Picasso poster was all the rage at the time, too, and I had a copy on my wall:

Steve Reed said...

I've never read Don Quixote. My perception, which is based solely on things I've heard, is that it might be too challenging for me -- which is saying something, 'cause I've read and enjoyed plenty of challenging books.

I thought that might be Narcissus on the right in the mural, but then I read Kate's comment about Midsummer Night's Dream, which I'm sure is correct!