Spain: Cervantes and Don Quijote

In countries where censorship was the rule, and that is still true in some countries, authors circumvented it by telling a story in another place or time, knowing that the readers or spectators would catch the allusion,  For literary and indeed for all historians, this is an important subject.  Cervantes¡ Don Qyujote is an excellent case.  The journal Hispania, founded at Stanford 88 years ago, has devoted its Ma rch 2005,  to Cervantes' novel on its fourth centennial.  It is a must for all interested in Cervantes. However, the problem raised above seems to have fallen through the cracks.  Several such interpretations have been made of Cervantes' novel.  One is that it was referred to the conquest of Colombia- See Diana de Armas Wilson, "Cervantes in the New World!, in The Cambridge Companion to Cervantes.

However, the most contentious one is that the novel contained disguised anti-clericalism.  American Castro, a leading literary historian of the Spanish republic with whom I worked when I lived in Spain (1931-6), propounded this thesis in El Pensamiento de Cervantes  Don Quijote goes in pursuit of Dulcinea, whom he idealizes as a princess;  she turns out to be a peasant girl who smells of garlic. In the mist he sees an impressive building and imagines that it is her splendid palace.  When he and Sancho Panza get close, he realizes that it is a church, and disappointedly he says; "Con la iglesia hemos topado"--wwe have run into the Church.  Castro interpreted this as meaning thsat Spain is not governed by ideals but by the cold, hard reality of the Church. Don Quijote is thus an anticlerical novel. Exiled as a result of the Spanish Civil war, Castro went to the University of Wisconsin, where I met him again.   In 1940 he moved to Princeton. Embittered and disillusioned by politics, he said his interpretation of Don Quijote was simply wrong.

Two excellent articles in the issue of Hispania touch on various interpretations of Don Quijote. They are Jane W. Albrecht, "Theater and Politics in Four Film Versions of tbe Quijote, and Howard Mansing, "Dulcinea del Toboso". The only contributor who makes any reference to Castro's book on the thought of Cervantes is Jesús G. Maestro, who writes about the theater in Cervantes' novel, which is a quite different subject.  To complete the survey given in Hispania, its anticlerical interpretation during the Spanish republic deserves study. It accompanied a parallel idealization of the tolerance of Islamic Spain, a theme promoted by Fernando de los Ríos, Américo Castro and others. All this would fit into a history of anti-clericalism in Spain. Is there such a book?

Ronald Hilton 2005


last updated: June 11, 2005