In a series of posts, I will analyse some books, together with their main characters and authors, and I will share some lessons and views about Spain that we can extract through all them. Our starting point is “El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha” (Don Quixote), the master piece of literature. Consisting of two volumes published in 1605 and 1615, many Spanish schools make the big mistake of obliging children and teenagers to read it. I was lucky to take it on in my adult life by listening to it, which made my experience very enjoyable since it was a book created to be read aloud, being at the time a good part of the audience analphabetic.
You can still find many (positive and negative) characteristics in today’s Spaniards shared with Don Quixote and the Novel’s diverse cast of characters, some presenting similar experiences to the ones the author had. Don Miguel de Cervantes himself was a very complex individual surpassing the adventures of almost any fictional character. There were interesting exhibitions and tributes in the 4th centenary of his death in 1616, included one I attended in the Instituto Cervantes of Madrid named “Miguel EN Cervantes”.
Cervantes and his ‘one fifth-alter ego’, Don Quixote, were a good picture of Spain at that time (and even now). Both possess many positive attributes: courage, adaptability, creativity, honor, fairness, sense of humour… On Don Miguel’s dark side, he experienced tremendous success in his early days (more on that in the next paragraph) followed by huge failures after it, including several troubles with the Spanish justice, going on some occasions to jail accused of corruption as he was working as a tax collector, and not being properly recognised for the magnitude of his work during his life, struggling also in financial terms till the end of his days.
Other ‘occupations’ that Cervantes undertook that also reflect his depth and grandiosity include barber, baker, captive (of Arab corsairs), duellist, fugitive because of it (in the early days of his adult life), soldier… And hero in the Battle of Lepanto, one of the most important battles the Spanish Navy, together with those of the Republic of Venice and Rome’s Papacy, won in 1571 against the Ottoman Empire. Our author was injured in it, becoming his left hand useless and also receiving the nickname of “El Manco de Lepanto” (the one-handed man from Lepanto).
There are sculptures and tributes to Don Quixote and Don Miguel everywhere in Spain and the Hispanophone countries. Three places come into my mind when highlighting them: Alcalá de Henares with Cervantes Birthplace House, Madrid with the sculptures of both (together with Sancho Panza, Quixote’s squire) in Plaza España, and Guanajuato (México) as Latin America’s capital of Cervantes with sculptures all over the city, an annual festivity in the author’s honour (“Festival Internacional Cervantino”), and a museum displying artistic works around the main character of these volumes.
Some negative similarities that I find in Don Quixote and Cervantes in today’s Spanish society are the chivalry mentality of many people, the feeling that many times we have about fighting in solitude and without proper tools against things we cannot change/beat (corruption, bad work conditions) as our ‘knight’ did when he fought against windmills, and a potential far from being fully exploited, as Don Miguel also experienced beyond his lack of money and public acceptance: he was not allowed to relocate to America to size bigger opportunities existing there.
And from soldier to soldier, in the next post of this series I will write about “Captain Alatriste” and his author, Arturo Perez-Reverte.
What is your view on Cervantes? Have you read Don Quixote? Did you like it? Any additional paralelisms between both and today’s Spain?
Links of Interest
4th Centenary of Cervantes’ Death, Works
Alcala de Henares’ Official Tourism Website, Cervantes Birthplace Museum
Anna Belfrage, El Manco de Lepanto – or how to be a successful writer with only one hand
Biografías y Vidas, Miguel de Cervantes
Gobierno de Guanajuato, Festival Internacional Cervantino
Instituto Cervantes, Miguel EN Cervantes
Madrid’s Official Tourism Website, Plaza de España
YouTube, Don Quixote Volumes 1 and 2 Audio Book
Wikipedia, Battle of Lepanto
Photos: Windmills in the region of Castilla la Mancha. Sculptures of Don Quixote, Sancho Panza and Cervantes (overseeing both of them) in Plaza de España, Madrid. Scuplture of Do Quixote in front of Cervantes Birthplace House in Alcalá de Henarés.