The Life of Don Quixote and Sancho is in some sense a work of literary criticism, a comment on the Cervantes novel. It moves through the novel chapter by chapter and includes substantial quotations. From each chapter, each adventure, Miguel de Unamuno extracts the principles of Quixotism, and to a lesser degree Sanchopanzism (“a good Quixotist has to be a Sanchopanzist as well,” 462) and by default the system that is his enemy, with which modern Spain is infected, Cervantism. “We are as short of Quixotism as we are long on Cervantism.”
Unamuno freely skips anything that does not, let’s say, fire up his imagination. I was so looking forward to Chapter 6, when the curate and the barber go through Alonso Quijano’s books. Here it is, all of it:
Cervantes here inserts that Chapter Six in which he describes the grand and clever scrutiny which the curate and the barber made of the library of our ingenious hidalgo. All of which is literary criticism, and of small concern to us. It is a matter of books and not of life. Let us pass over it in silence. (52)
A lesson for me – my interest in the topic is a sad example of my corrupt Cervantism. I am like the “curious documentalists devoted to factology” (354) who search for errors in Unamuno’s Quixotist writing, never finding them. In the prologue to the third edition of his book, Unamuno addresses a mistake in which he moves a speech from Sancho Panza to another character. But that is the attribution, argues Unamuno, in the original Arabic text. “[I]t was Cervantes who misread the text, so that my interpretation, and not his, is the faithful one” (7).
It is all too possible that Jorge Luis Borges has permanently damaged Our Lord Don Quixote, making it unreadable as anything but a Pierre Menard-like act of imagination. I would only counter that Borges, Unamuno, and more or less every permutation of fiction is already inherent in Don Quixote.
I was delighted – this is an aside – to see Unamuno recognize Henry Fielding, in “Gloss to a Passage by Fielding, the Cervantine,” as “the greatest, if not the first, of English Cervantines,” and Joseph Andrews (1742) as the great descendent of Don Quixote – the novel that retroactively turned Don Quixote into the “first novel.” But Unamuno thinks “it [DQ] gains in translation” and “has been better understood outside of Spain.”
Like a novel, but not exactly like the specific novel Don Quixote, Unamuno’s books climaxes in the long episode with the Duke and Duchess.
Your Passion has begun, and the bitterest type of passion at that: passion by mockery… You are dequixotized to a certain extent, but in exchange all those that mock you are quixotized… “Behold the man!” they cried in mockery of Our Lord Christ. “Behold the madman!” they will say to you, my Lord Don Quixote, and you will be the madman, unique, The Madman. (122)
I need to read someone with more specialized knowledge to know exactly how heretical this heresy was at the time. Unamuno does a heck of a job ushering in modern (Modern) literature, adapting Quixote for a new century.