David Quint. Cervantes's Novel of Modern Times. A New Reading of Don Quijote

By Johnson, Carroll B. | Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview

David Quint. Cervantes's Novel of Modern Times. A New Reading of Don Quijote


Johnson, Carroll B., Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America


David Quint. Cervantes's Novel of Modern Times. A New Reading of Don Quijote. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003. 192 pp. ISBN: 0-691-11433-1.

Although it relies for textual authority on Starkie's English and Riquer's Juventud versions, the latter specifically proscribed by the editor of this journal, this important new book by David Quint, George M. Bodman Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Yale, offers multitudes of insights. The section on literary genre and socioeconomic evolution ("Social Mobility, Generic Mix," 76-85), focused on the discussion between the Cura and the Canonigo in I, 47, brilliantly illuminates the relationship between social hierarchies and literary genres. In Chapter 5 "Aristocrats," Quint offers the most straightforward, unflinchingly accurate analysis of the Duques since Ludovic Osterc. This chapter is right on target and brilliantly argued. I could not agree more with Quint's conclusion that "Cervantes's antiaristocratic bias cannot be clearer, and despite its comedy Don Quijote in this section becomes an angry book" (154). There is a nice insight on the meaning of the difference in narrative technique between Cardenio's fragmented narrative and the closed "Curioso impertinente": "Through these contrasted modes of narration, one straightforward, the other fragmentary and scrambled, Cervantes appears to dramatize the difference between the neatness of stories told by 'literature' and the confused and incomplete stories that human beings actually experience.... Our own stories, Cervantes suggests, do not make sense to us, or we positively misunderstand them as we live them. This is why we turn to literature to grasp what is happening to us and to recognize why we act in the ways that we do" (27).

Quint argues two principal theses. First, he insists on "artistic integrity," as opposed to what he calls a "picaresque," more-or-less random succession of episodes, which is, he avers, how the novel has traditionally been read. This typical English Department reduction of "picaresque" to "episodic" and its consequent application to Don Quijote is annoying to the Hispanist, but not life-threatening once you realize that's all it means. "Cervantes's book evinces a carefully studied plan carried out in great, if not to the last, semantic detail. Its episodes connect with and comment upon other episodes, and they do so through a repetition of motifs, parallel actions, and direct verbal echoes. The meaning of the novel is thus created relationally, and a reading of any part of Don Quijote will be incomplete if it is not placed within this corresponding whole" (ix). Much of Quint's book is devoted to analysis of interlacing of episodes, with many quite ingenious examples. Quint is particularly at pains to demonstrate the necessary interaction of the interpolated stories and the main plot, as Ruth El Saffar on La Galatea (Beyond Fiction, 1984) and Edward Dudley ("Don Quixote as Magus: the Rhetoric of Interpolation," Bulletin of Hispanic Studies, 1972) among others have also done. Quint goes further than either, however, because he finds the book's "greatest stretches of writing lie in the interpolated stories of the 'Curioso impertinente' and the Captive's Tale" (xii).

Quint's second thesis, the source of his book's title, is that there is a direct relation of the text to economic history, and a similar relation of economic to literary history. "Don Quijote throughout tells and retells a master narrative of early-modern Europe: the movement from feudalism to the new order of capitalism that will become the realistic domain of the modern novel, the genre this book does so much to invent" (x). With respect to the more purely economic aspects of this thesis, there is considerable overlap with my Cervantes and the Material World (2000), so he'll get no argument from me on that. The second part of this thesis, namely that the progressive embourgoisement observable in Don Quijote leads to the creation of both the characters and the readers of the modern novel, is a nice corrective to the gospel according to Ian Watt.

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