Miguel de Cervantes Saaverda
1st ed. 1605
Don Quixote, written around four hundred years ago, has endured the test of time to become one of the world’s finest examples of literature; one of the first true novels ever written. It’s uncommonness lies in the fact that it encompasses many different aspects of writing that spans the spectrum. From light-hearted, comical exchanges between Don Quixote and Sancho Panza to descriptions so strong that produce tangible images, the book remains steadfast in any reader’s mind.
As apparent in the first chapter, the book’s main purpose was to combat the chivalric novels that had become so popular at the time of Cervantes. Like the man who once called himself Alonso Quixano, many other men of 16th century Spain were becoming so engrossed in the unrealistic tales of knights and their romances that daily chores fell prey to another romance novel. It was Cervantes purpose to bring the meaning back into literature at the time, while providing thoughtful entertainment for readers.
This proved to be fitting to the time in which Cervantes lived, for at the time he wrote Don Quixote, the golden age of Spain was declining, along with the arts that had long been celebrated in the country’s culture. The stories that this book combats are perfect examples of this decline, much like the dark ages of the 14th century.
Don Quixote is considered a profound portraiture of two conflicting attitudes toward the world: idealism and realism. The work has been appreciated as a satire on unrealistic ideals, an expose of the tragedy and harm of idealism in a corrupt world, and a plea for a return to reality. Whatever its intended emphasis, the work presented to the world an unforgettable description of the transforming power of illusion, and it has had an indelible effect on the development of the European novel.
The style in which Don Quixote is written not in standard novel format, but comes into a much more unique light. The book begins with a preface, which, for Cervantes, proved to be the most difficult part of the book. Where Cervantes ‘bestowed some time in writing the book, yet it cost me not half so much labor as this very preface.’; This problem becomes a story within itself, where Cervantes asks a friend for help in writing the preface, describing the story within what he is actually writing. His argument is so convincing, Cervantes changes the format of his novel and writes it as little stories within a larger one.
Although little is known about Cervantes’ youth, his fascination and study of literature began where in 1569 at age 22, he traveled to Italy and studies classic literature under the service of a cardinal. These studies proved to have influenced his works later in life. Other than this one year of study, Cervantes is not known to have any other direct study of writing. In 1570, Cervantes enlisted in the army where he suffered a wound to his left arm while in a naval battle. The remainder of his life was spent as a slave and a prisoner, eventually being ransomed at a price that left him and his family penniless. After serving as a government purchasing agent until 1597, he began writing novels and poems until his death in 1616.
Don Quixote is an intriguing book that provides a firsthand look at 16th Century Spain and its downfalls. The novel serves as ‘constructive criticism’; in the way that it condones some parts of life, but shames others. It read quickly, always presenting different conflicts and stories, which kept my attention on the story. It was written in a pedestrian manner, not to sound like a children’s book, but rather so all could read and enjoy the story.
Don Quixote will continue to be an archetype for modern novels, as well as an intriguing look at 16th Century Spain for many centuries to come.