The Enamoured Knight
by Willard Manus
Miguel de Cervantes published DON QUIXOTE 400 years ago, but there is no end to the books and articles about the novel, not to speak of the many stage and film adaptations it has spawned, the best known of which is the musical THE MAN OF LA MANCHA.
The latest study of DON QUIXOTE is Douglas Glover's THE ENAMOURED KNIGHT (Dalkey Archive Press). Glover, a novelist and essayist, takes particular exception to the way LA MANCHA sentimentalizes Don Quixote with its "dream the impossible dream" message.
Glover sees the book differently. Its theme "only appears to be about the human spirit perservering in the face of reality," he insists. "Quixote himself renounces knight-errantry at the end of the novel," he points out. "It's a deeply puzzling contradiction. What was the author thinking? (One realizes, of course, that the popular mind has never been strong on thinking things through)."
Glover thinks a lot of things through in THE ENAMOURED KNIGHT. His analysis of the novel is thorough to the point of monomania. Not only has he read it six times, in both the original Spanish and in various English translations--he prefers Tobias Smollet's 1755 version, by the way--but he has voyaged far to discover what other writers and scholars have said about Cervantes' masterpiece.
All this reading made Glover conclude that DON QUIXOTE can never be adequately explained. "Reading it becomes a recipe for vertigo," he writes. "Every sentence spins on a comic axis creating multiple ironies and subversions, blurring meaning. The novel's own bookishness, its awareness of itself as a book, punctures any illusion of verisimilitude...The text becomes polyserious, becomes the proverbial elephant with critics grasping at this or that element on which to base an interpretation."
Cervantes' humor is "violent, slapstick and cruel," Glover believes. "His comic dialogue is out of Beckett...he tries to make pain funny, like the Three Stooges....tries to mock everything, including himself."
The main question of the novel, Glover concludes, "is not when will the Don find Dulcinea...but how long can his imaginary world maintain itself against actual events."