The MancQuixotians blog: A Don Quixote Virtual Reading Group

MancQuixotians 2: One takes a chainsaw to the book, and then…

And what a week this has been, my dear MancQuixotians, since my previous post! I cannot wait to tell you…

The round of celebrations started early, on Friday the 15, watching the Don Quijote play at HOMEmcr: an unexpected, unusual, and in a number of ways refreshing performative commentary on the novel:

‘Change for the better…’

With my Cervantes course final year students, we had to sit on cushions, on the floor –very XVII century, really. The company gave us a sort of elegant, orientalising silent prelude to the story in the shape of a shadow theatre; then came a female Don Quixote, and a supposed interloper from Barcelona (of course!). At some point, they TOOK A CHAINSAW TO THE BOOK in front of our very eyes, shaved the book’s spine, shredded the pages, and made them fly in front of various electric fans (your average modern windmills, I guess), like flower petals floating around, as if sowing the seeds of beauty, literature and idealism… It was all quite haphazard, and surprisingly emotional.

Never, never let it be said that we have a dull time.

Over the week we discussed the ripples caused by this performance: the initial shock at the transformation of the book gave way, for some, to an awareness of the various elements of the novel that had been filtered through and cleverly re-enacted; some others were appalled at the level of intervention on the text, and of interpretive bias. Don Quixote’s character and predicament are complex; in way, that is what makes him a classic. The simplifications required by any sort of performative effort are bound to lead to further questions.

Soon we will be heading towards Stratford, in order to see the RSC’s Don Quijote; it will be another great opportunity to discuss the issue of intervention:

David Threlfall and Rufus Hound in all their Quixotian and Sanchian splendour (respectively)

But, readers, I am getting quite ahead of myself here, since we have not yet officially started to read the book!

(Tell me: have you been tempted? Have you been dipping your toes? Have you been taking a step? If so, how far did you get? Post it on @UoMQuixotians!).

Friday the 22 of April was probably our busiest day at Manchester. First, we attended a Catalan celebration of Sant Jordi under the glorious sun, with an exchange of books and conversation (PS: yes, I got my rose –thanks, Nicola and Gemma!):

Bad day to be a dragon…

Afterwards, we enjoyed a special session at the John Rylands Library — Deansgate with John Hodgson, our expert librarian. There we had the chance and the thrill to see, face-to-face, various old editions of Don Quixote:

1620, in English, with a peculiar windmill in the background (clue: not Castilian at all…)
Illustrated by Gustave Doré, 1863: DQ lost in his dreamworld
More Doré: a Romantic, almost gothic vision of our hidalgo
1901, the Parry/Crane edition for young readers: everything is clear…
…and colourful (Poor Sancho!)

After such an involving trip to the past through our archival riches, I headed to the Cervantes-Shakespeare MMU event.

The commemorative round did not end there: celebrations were on full swing at the Cervantes Institute on Saturday the 23 of April (remember: Sant Jordi, World Book Day and World Copyright Day, and the commemoration of the — inaccurately — joint deaths of Cervantes and Shakespeare), with sangría, more roses (¡fenomenal!*), and a brilliant choir performance, which made for a great party. I found myself enthusiastically belting a late 70’s classic with the choir:

(Warning: you will not be able to get this tune out of your head)

There were also multilingual readings from the beginning of the book, in Castilian, Catalan, Galician, and Basque.

And this has lead us to our business, to the text, where our reading group really starts:

“In a village of La Mancha, the name of which I have no desire to call to mind, there lived not long since one of those gentlemen that keep a lance in the lance-rack, an old buckler, a lean hack, and a greyhound for coursing. An olla of rather more beef than mutton, a salad on most nights, scraps on Saturdays, lentils on Fridays, and a pigeon or so extra on Sundays, made away with three-quarters of his income. The rest of it went in a doublet of fine cloth and velvet breeches and shoes to match for holidays, while on week-days he made a brave figure in his best homespun. He had in his house a housekeeper past forty, a niece under twenty, and a lad for the field and market-place, who used to saddle the hack as well as handle the bill-hook. The age of this gentleman of ours was bordering on fifty; he was of a hardy habit, spare, gaunt-featured, a very early riser and a great sportsman. They will have it his surname was Quixada or Quesada (for here there is some difference of opinion among the authors who write on the subject), although from reasonable conjectures it seems plain that he was called Quexana. This, however, is of but little importance to our tale; it will be enough not to stray a hair’s breadth from the truth in the telling of it.”

Here are some points to think about, if so you wish:

  1. What is Don Quixote’s life like?
  2. In your opinion, is he rich or poor?
  3. Think of him at this point, and at this point only: what sort of future lies ahead of him if he carries on with the way of life described in this paragraph?

Tell us at @UOMQuixotians!

Over the next fortnight, it would be good to read until chapter 7 of the first part. You might want to consider all or some of these points:

  1. Before the story starts, there are some documents and poems, including a sonnet which is a dialogue between two animals: what do you make of that?
  2. What about the priest? What does he do in relation to Don Quixote’s books? Why? (and… is it something we would expect from a priest?).
  3. What is the explanation given to the disappearance of Don Quixote’s library? Do you think this explanation is going to work?
  4. The ‘ladies’ at the inn… are they ladies?
  5. What is it with Don Quixote way of speaking?

I will see you soon virtually, here in the blog. And, before that, I will be looking forward to your answers to these questions and to talking to you via @UoMQuixotians in twitter. I hope you enjoy reading these chapters!

*My overused word. You will end up learning it.