The literary legacy of 'Don Quixote' writer Cervantes

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Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes is often considered the father of the modern novel, with his world-renown 'Don Quixote' still popular 400 years later.

Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes, who died in 1616 and whose apparent remains were identified in March 2015, is considered the father of the modern novel, with his Don Quixote often listed as one of the world's greatest works of fiction.

Cervantes biographer Jean Canavaggio, a literature professor, explains why the author remains an enduring literary figure and what makes The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha popular 400 years after it was written.

Q: Is Cervantes a literary giant?

A: We say that Cervantes created the modern novel. There is some truth to this. He let his characters speak for themselves instead of a narrator recounting their tale. They somehow internalise their adventures...Don Quixote and Sancho Panza (his squire) belong to completely different worlds and they each have a point of view on the world which gives depth to the adventures of Don Quixote.

In the 17th century, his novel was greatly appreciated but he wasn't considered a major writer. It was translated and enjoyed great success but was seen as typifying Spain at the time.

We say that Don Quixote is an incarnation of Spain, a character that embodies its decadence and Spain's missed encounter with modernity.

Then in the 18th century things begin to change. People realised that there is something new in the characters and in the telling of their adventures ... This revolutionised the novel since it was no longer what was being told but the way in which the character told it. They set it out through their own actions.

The German romantics will see in Don Quixote the bible of humanity ... Various writers in different countries follow in his footsteps -- Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary is a sort of feminine Don Quixote. There are the Russians with Fyodor Dostoyevsky and The Idiot.. Franz Kafka. There is a whole host of other writers leading up to the 20th century.

Q: Why is Don Quixote famous world-wide?

A: This book is well-known for two reasons. Firstly, it has many readers, although certainly not as many as Harry Potter or Millenium. And then there are those who have heard of the character mainly through his adventures with the windmill.

On the one hand, he makes you laugh because he is anachronistic and a misfit. But on the other hand, he sticks to his ideals despite failure. This has captured the imagination of the art world, cinema, the media, and cartoons.

No other myth in the history of modern literature is as universally recognisable. Not even Faust or Don Juan. But Don Quixote we recognise immediately and is everywhere... even on t-shirts.

Q: Is he still modern?

Today he is someone we identify with but never fully. We admire what he does, but we realise that his utopian ideas are impossible.

AFP / Expatica


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