Don Quixote

  Don Quixote

In Brief

In addition to the more obvious literary models for the protagonists of Ulysses found in the Greek Odyssey, the English Hamlet, and the Italian Divine Comedy, it may make sense to ponder also the Spanish Don Quixote. In a stray remark in Scylla and Charybdis, someone suggests that "Our national epic" will be written by drawing inspiration from this hugely influential early novel. Stephen, who has been thinking about how Shakespeare exemplifies the creative process, may well take the hint if he becomes the artist he aspires to be.

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In the library the other four men chat about the Irish literary scene while Stephen, feeling excluded, listens in. Someone, probably John Eglinton, mentions "Miss Mitchell's joke about Moore and Martyn," that George Moore is Edward Martyn's "wild oats." This person goes on to remark that "they remind one of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Our national epic has yet to be written, Dr Sigerson says. Moore is the man for it. A knight of the rueful countenance here in Dublin. With a saffron kilt? O'Neill Russell? O, yes, he must speak the grand old tongue. And his Dulcinea? James Stephens is doing some clever sketches. We are becoming important, it seems." This meta-fictive envisioning of a source of great national pride predicts, of course, the coming of a masterpiece by someone not named George Moore. So might the references to Don Quixote not also apply to Ulysses?

Cervantes' mocking send-up of medieval knightly romances, published in two parts in 1605 and 1615, quickly became the "national epic" of Spanish culture, and its author quickly assumed the iconic status that Homer, Dante, and Shakespeare came to occupy in their cultures. The cultures themselves became "important" by virtue of having produced towering works of genius. Like Dante's poem, Cervantes' prose work offered a model of language to revere and imitate in a land riven by regional and dialectal differences. Like Shakespeare's plays it defined national identity just as nation-states were defining Europe.

Don Quixote has one additional claim to fame: it was, in the view of many people, the first modern novel. Adventurous novels like Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy and Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn proclaim their debt to it, and countless others could never have existed without its innovations. Mundane, democratic, comical, ironic, skeptical, subjective, perspectival, dialogic: this work saw where epic tales would go in an era when ordinary people were grabbing the spotlight from hereditary elites, prose was displacing verse, and individual perceptions were starting to seem more real than universal teachings. It also pioneered a particular narrative pattern that later novelists would return to again and again. Two male protagonists who are polar opposites in most obvious ways, but whose minds somehow mesh, undertake a series of episodic adventures that highlight both their differences and their similarities. (One example that rivals Cervantes' stories for length and readability are the twenty sea novels of Patrick O'Brian.)

Gifford suggests that Eglinton's reason for comparing Moore and Martyn to Quixote and Sancho may be primarily physical: "As Don Quixote is thin so Sancho Panza is fat; George Moore was slender, Martyn heavy-set. The parallel suggests that the earthy Martyn tagged around after the ethereal and imaginative Moore." He acknowledges, though, that Martyn "appears to have been more of a romantic idealist" than Moore. Neither he nor any other published annotator appears to have considered that Cervantes' mismatched duo may also serve as patterns for Joyce's male leads, who fulfill the archetypes more perfectly. Stephen is half-starved while Bloom carries around a few too many pounds. Stephen's head swims with theological abstractions, literary innovations, dreams of personal vindication, and fantastic transformations of reality. Bloom thinks of realistic desires, get-rich-quick schemes, the price of trousers, and his own shortcomings. But, as Eumaeus observes, "Though they didn't see eye to eye in everything, a certain analogy there somehow was, as if both their minds were travelling, so to speak, in the one train of thought."

Joyce never again mentions Don Quixote and Sancho Panza in Ulysses, but it is interesting to speculate about ways in which their adventures may inform some of Stephen's and Bloom's. For instance, tapping his forehead in Circe, Stephen declares that "in here it is I must kill the priest and the king." He is then soundly thrashed by a British soldier. His grandiose and fantastic dream of killing his country's oppressors, albeit in a completely peaceful way, contains more than a whiff of Quixote's futile assaults on imaginary knights and monsters, which often end with him lying smashed on the ground. And like Sancho, who is always left to pick up the pieces, Bloom removes Stephen from the scene of his wild fantasies, props him up, and escorts him home. The name that Quixote adopts in Part 1, chapter 19, "the Knight of the Rueful Countenance," may have an oblique relevance to Stephen. Sancho gives him the title because his teeth are so bad that many of them have fallen out, and Stephen is "Toothless Kinch, the superman."

Or consider Bloom's dream of a country estate in Ithaca. His dogged pragmatism may well owe something to Sancho's, but he has his own dreams, as does Sancho. Quixote convinces the pig farmer to become his squire and accompany him on his knightly quests by promising him that, at some point, he will have his own island to rule. In Chapters 42-46 of Part II a duke and duchess trick Sancho into believing that he has found his ínsula. He happily sets out learning how to rule his subjects, seeks advice from the ducal couple and the knight, and does surprisingly well. Might this episode lurk within Bloom's never-to-be-realized dream of acquiring a luxurious house and grounds and living the life of a country gentleman? Perhaps not, but his fantasy concludes with the thought that he will become a "resident magistrate or justice of the peace" and chart a course of government "between undue clemency and excessive rigour," dispensing "unbiassed homogeneous indisputable justice" and "actuated by an innate love of rectitude."

"And his Dulcinea?" May a reader hope to find her in Joyce's book? His more quixotic figure, Stephen, has no woman, but throughout the day he dreams of finding one. In Proteus he wonders which real woman his dreams might seize on: "She, she, she. What she? The virgin at Hodges Figgis’ window on Monday." Cervantes' Dulcinea, similarly, is not a real woman: Quixote dreams her up out of a village girl who has a different name, and she never appears in the novel. Sancho, on the other hand, is married to a quite actual woman named Teresa Cascajo, and they have a daughter, María Sancha, who has reached marriageable age just as Milly is doing in Ulysses. It is hard to say whether Joyce may have paid any attention at all to these likenesses.

The most abiding law of epics is that they recall and reshape other epics, reinterpreting the old tradition for new times and cultures. It seems quite possible that Joyce, like Twain with his tale of Jim and Huck floating down the Mississippi, may have conceived his pair of walkers as an updated version of Cervantes' mounted duo. In their very different ways, both men embody the mock-heroic spirit of the Spanish novel, doggedly seeking poetic meaning in a prosaic world.

JH 2021
Illustration of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza in Part 2, chapter 8. Source:
Sancho Panza and Don Quixote in an illustration by Gustave Doré. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Gustave Doré's illustration of the aftermath of Quixote's encounter with the windmills. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Bronze statues of Sancho Panza and Don Quixote in front of the Cervantes Birth Place Museum, Alcalá de Henares. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Bronze statue of Sancho Panza in the Plaza de España, Madrid, sculpted by by Lorenzo Coullaut Valerain 1930. Source: Wikimedia Commons.