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El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha.
Part I published in 1605; Part II in 1615.
Translated to English in 1885 by John Ormsby (1829-1895)
Illustrated by Gustave Dore.
It would be interesting to know how much of the story of Don Quixote was inspired by the author's own life. Author's often do translate their experiences and observations into their writing.
When you read a biography about Miguel Cervantes, you can find similarities and understand the philosophies that are often expressed in his most famous work. Don Quixote puts on his armor in hopes of making his name and fortune by becoming a knight. As he often states, he doesn't have letters, so he makes his fame by arms.
Miguel Cervantes struggled all of his life for the same achievements. He achieved fame with the publication of Don Quixote in 1605 (the first part)--which was considered the first best seller (translated into 60 different languages) and credited as the first modern novel. Yet, it did not make him rich--as authors did not receive royalties.
The autho was a son of a deaf surgeon, born in 1547, and also tried to make his fortune by taking up arms in 1570. He fought as a soldier against the Ottoman empire, and no doubt his experiences were told through the character Ruy Perez. Cervantes was known for his bravery, and he suffered crippling injuries, maiming his left hand along with two chest wounds. In 1575, he and his brother were captured by the Turks on a return voyage to Spain. Cervantes would spend five years as a slave, despite numerous attempts to escape--finally being liberated when his ransom was paid.
He tried to make it as a playwright, which was considered more lucrative (and no doubt inspired some dialogue in Don Quixote about the perversity of plays), and failed. He worked as a commissary for the Spanish Armada. He was not apparently very good at convincing rural communities to hand over their grain, and he was imprisoned twice for mismanagement. However, it was in prison that he started writing his greatest work.
Don Quixote has inspired many artists in different fields. It is considered mainly to be a comedy. However, woven into the tale is a lot of Spain's history. Don Quixote's name even penned a type of psychosis.
In fact, anyone who has had experience with the mentally ill may find it difficult to regard Don Quixote as a comedy. After all, he was not totally harmless.
"A man attacked a driver because he believed he was abducting a woman, who was traveling in another car on the same road. After injuring the driver, the suspect's accomplice then forced the driver to remove his clothes and give them to him"--if this was reported on the news, we would probably be horrified. Here was an innocent person, just going about his business, who had no connection to the other people who were on the same road--and he gets attacked by a madman whose delusions cause him to believe a different reality.
Yet, this is exactly what happens in Don Quixote in the first book. Most people probably laugh at the incident because they don't consider the harm a delusional person can do in reality. Don Quixote also is a victim of his delusions. He suffers physical harm, and many people play practical jokes on him for entertainment. Don Quixote's friends and family find very little support from other people when they want him to come home and rest, hoping to cure him of his delusions. As the character Don Moreno states, to cure Don Quixote of his insanity is to deprive the world, for he is more amusing as a madman than a sane one. This paints a picture of some of the old attitudes of the mentally ill, which often made them ripe for exploitation.
However, Don Quixote--though hardly a good book for the impatient due to its length--is a good book to read and a worthy classic. It isn't just a story about a lunatic who thinks a windmill is a giant. Social problems, history, mores, and politics are interwoven into the story. It is a perfect time capsule of a period of time in Spain's history.
The alpha and the omega of the novel form, the first true novel, the best-selling novel and in the eyes of most of the world, the greatest novel of all time. Cervantes uses the theme of the idealistic, insane knight and the devoted, down to earth squire to portray many complex themes through a plethora of unforgettable incidents, tragic and comic, in a blend of great variety and colour. The book is unsurpassed as a masterpiece of droll humour, a scintillating portrait of 16th century Spanish society made all the more beautiful by the fantastic prose style. Cervantes started the novel in order to parody the many romances of chivalry which were circulating in those times and which the Church was unsuccessfully trying to check, but the hero got the better of him. The result is Don Quixote, and as the author says the Don is "so conspicous and void of difficulty that children may handle him, youths may read him, men may understand him, and old men may celebrate him"--Submitted by Anonymous
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