When I think of Spain and literature, I think of Cervantes’ Don Quixote. The would-be knight from La Mancha and his sidekick, Sancho Panza, might be the most famous book by a Spanish author. Sadly for me and my trip to Spain, I am not a fan of Don Quixote.
If I were going to England, I’d try to add a literary excursion or two related to Shakespeare or follow in the steps of Jane Austen. In Greece or Rome, I’d go in search of Homer and Virgil. When I went to France, I lounged at the great Shakespeare and Company bookstore where so many great authors used to frequent (Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway). Part of the fun of travel, for me, is uncovering the literary soul of a city.
I don’t really have a great desire to uncover the literary soul of Don Quixote. I know I am probably in the minority. Don Quixote was once voted the world’s best book by the world’s most famous authors. I’m not sure what’s wrong with me. Can I blame my English teacher?
My Introduction to Windmills
Don Quixote was thrust upon me in my high school English class and, unlike Shakespeare, I did not take to the prose or the story. I did not find the humor in the farcical character and his put-upon sidekick.
While I do enjoy reading the classics, I don’t like all of them. (For example, I am not a fan of Melville at all. The man needed to learn how to use a period.) Don Quixote also made the list of classic books that never really spoke to me.
However, to be fair to the Man from La Mancha, I’m not sure 16-year-old American girls are his best audience. Shakespeare at least had love and drama and fight scenes and so much angst! Don Quixote had a cute-ish horse? And humor my teen mind didn’t quite understand.
Searching for Alternative Windmills
While I really don’t have a desire to test whether I would like Don Quixote now that I’m an adult, I did wonder if there were adaptations of the novel that might peak my interest and sate my desire to explore some aspect of Spain’s literary prowess prior to my visit.
Therefore, I went in search of potential book adaptations that might make Don Quixote more relatable to me. (In my head I was thinking something like Don Quixote Zombies or a graphic novel. Actually, there is a graphic novel version, but I don’t think it’s quite what I’m looking for.)
I did, however, find the following….
- 1752 The Female Quixote (1752), a novel by Charlotte Lennox. A major influence on Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey.
- 1856 Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert was heavily influenced by Don Quixote. In Madame Bovary, the heroine, like Don Quixote, tries to escape from the tedium of provincial life through books, in Bovary’s case women’s romances and historical novels.
- 1917-1919 (published posthumously in 1948) “The Truth About Sancho Panza” by Franz Kafka imagines Sancho as Author
- 1869 The Idiot by Dostoyevsky. Prince Myshkin, the title character of the novel, was explicitly modeled on Don Quixote.
- 1985 City of Glass in The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster. In this postmodern detective story, the protagonist, Daniel Quinn, is modeled after Don Quixote. The novella includes an explicit discussion of Don Quixote’s authorship.
- The Moor’s Last Sigh by Salman Rushdie, with its central themes of the world being remade and reinterpreted, draws inspiration (as well as names and characters) from Cervantes’s work.
(SIDE NOTE: Thanks to Wikipedia for being the source of this list. I love that I can write “Don Quixote adaptations” into google and what I need instantly comes up. The internet is such a wonderful place sometimes!)
Since I’ve already read Auster’s trilogy, I’ve opted to add The Female Quixote (Don Quixote meets Jane Austen, sounds promising) and Madame Bovary to my reading list and will try frantically to get at least one read between now and when I leave for Spain!
I’m actually interested in all of these books that are adapted from or heavily allude to Quixote – Dostoyevsky, Kafka, Rushdie are all authors whose other works I enjoy (and I have not read the ones on this list.) So perhaps I’ll add these as well at some point…
That said, my Spain literature knowledge is limited, what am I missing? Anyone from Spain out there or a Hispanophile [which I have looked up and means a person who is fond of Spain (or Spanish-speaking countries), its people, or its cultures] who can give me some recommendations of Spanish literature I should be reading?