On January 16, 1605, the first part of Miguel de Cervantes's novel Don Quixote (in English: e-book, e-audio, print, audio; in Spanish: e-book, print, audio) was published in Madrid. The second volume was published ten years later. It is among the earliest novels written, and a classic of Spanish literature. Don Quixote regularly appears on lists of the greatest novels of all time. The novel has contributed at least two words to the English language – "quixotic," which describes someone who is impulsive and romantic in an impractical way; and "Lothario," the name of a minor character, which has come to refer to a man who seduces women with only the worst intentions.
Cervantes's central character is a minor Spanish nobleman who has read so many stories of knights and chivalry that he goes a bit mad and decides that he must restore chivalry to the world. Adopting the name Don Quixote de la Mancha, he recruits Sancho Panza, a local farmer, to be his squire. Don Quixote sets out into the world to do heroic deeds and bring about justice, leading to a series of comic misadventures. The story is rambling and episodic, occasionally reminding the reader that it is a story, and including several references to specific chivalric romances of the sort that Don Quixote so enjoys reading. Thomas Shippey explains the historical and literary significance of Don Quixote in his Great Courses lecture, "Don Quixote: The First of the Wannabes."
Many authors have written books influenced by Don Quixote. The heroine of Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary (e-book, e-audio, print, audio), like Quixote, attempts to escape from a boring life through romantic books. The Jorge Luis Borges story "Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote" (included in Borges' Ficciones: e-book, print) imagines a writer who absorbs Cervantes so thoroughly that he "re-writes" the story, duplicating the original word for word. The detective hero of Paul Auster's City of Glass (e-book, print) is modeled after Don Quixote; and even Walt Disney's characters have gotten in on the act, with a comics adaptation featuring Donald Duck and Goofy as Quixote and Sancho.
Musicians have been equally inspired by Cervantes. The best known musical descendants are the Richard Strauss tone poem Don Quixote, in which a solo cello represents Don Quixote; Jules Massenet's opera Don Quichotte; and the Broadway musical Man of La Mancha, by Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion (the film version, starring the somewhat unlikely musical trio of Peter O'Toole, Sophia Loren, and James Coco, is available on streaming video). Lesser-known musical Quixotes are an orchestral suite by Georg Philipp Telemann, a Ruperto Chapi scherzo depicting Don Quixote's battle against the sheep, a set of songs by Maurice Ravel, and a symphony for concert band by Robert W. Smith.
Also This Week
- January 22, 1898: Sergei Eisenstein was born. Eisenstein was a film director whose early work pioneered the use of editing as a storytelling technique. Eisenstein believed that editing could be used not only to condense time, but to add emotional and metaphorical layers to a scene through the juxtaposition of apparently unrelated images. Three of his early silent films – Strike (1925), Battleship Potemkin (1925), and October: Ten Days That Shook the World (1927) – are available for streaming at Kanopy.
- January 20, 1918: Esquivel was born. Esquivel was a band leader and composer who became popular in the 1950s and 1960s as a performer of instrumental pop music. His music was richly orchestrated, with a variety of percussion and other instruments from around the world. He often used a wordless chorus, and his own virtuoso piano playing was prominently featured. He lived long enough to see a revival of interest in his music in the 1990s, when it became known as "space-age bachelor pad music," and even recorded a few new albums. Several of Esquivel's albums are available for streaming or download at Freegal.
- January 20, 1948: Nancy Kress was born. Kress is a science fiction author whose stories are generally set in the near future and focus on possible scientific advances, often involving genetic modification. Her 1993 novel Beggars in Spain (e-book, e-audio, print) imagines a future in which modifications allow some people to go entirely without sleep, and explores the growing social divide between the Sleepless and the rest of humanity.
- Jan 22 1968: Guy Fieri was born. Fieri is a restaurateur and TV personality who has hosted several popular programs on the Food Network for the last decade. In his signature show, Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, Fieri visits chefs in their restaurants to learn about their signature dishes. The show has generated several tie-in books (e-books, print).