Art Book of the Month, September 2016

The History of Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

The History of Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
Illustrated by Gustave Doré
Edited: J. W. Clark
London: Cassel, Petter & Galpin 1870(?)

Arguably one of the most important works of literature ever written – it has been called ‘The First Novel’ – Don Quixote, Cervantes’ Siglo de oro novel, is a must for all lovers of literary fiction. Its two eccentric characters travel around Spain on an unplanned journey, towards an unplanned future. They embark on a series of adventures, constantly debating on a variety of issues and finding out about the world, each other and themselves in the process.

Illustration by Gustave Doré, in The History of Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

While it may easily be enjoyed solely for its gentle humour (Sancho’s priceless proverbs alone are a constant source of delight), the novel addresses many weightier themes: it is a book about books; about the power of narrative richness and inventiveness on human imagination and about how reading can enrich life. It is a novel of poetry, philosophy and ideas, of the absurd and the fantastic, skilfully interwoven with politics and the stark reality of everyday life. It is arguably a work of satire that questions everything, from politics to morality, gender and class and helps us look at both sides of every coin. Its author dazzles moves and entertains us with his ingenuity, generosity and humour. Its two main characters are completely unforgettable and shall remain iconic for eternity.  In short, I am about to run out of superlatives thus urge whoever has not yet read this masterpiece, to stop whatever it is they’re doing and go read it now.

Illustration by Gustave Doré, in The History of Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

As a timely coincidence, ‘Monsignor Quixote’, Graham Greene’s novel written in the early 1980s about an ageing priest and his travel companion, has recently been serialised and broadcast as Radio 4’s ‘Book of the Week’ and is currently available on BBC iPlayer. It is a joy to listen to and fun to draw up the many similarities, both serious and humorous, between the two stories: Monsignor Quixote comes from El Toboso, his car, an old Seat 600, is called Rocinante and naturally, his communist ex-Mayor companion is nicknamed Sancho. The two break out of their comfort zone, getting into scrapes with the police, while discussing Franco, the Civil War, Faith and consuming vast quantities of local wine and cheese.

The art collection’s beautiful volume of ‘Don Quixote’, probably an 1870 edition, is illustrated by that master of classics’ illustration, one M Gustave Dore, who in his lifetime was commissioned to sketch anything and everything, from the Bible to Dante, Lord Byron to Milton, Edgar Allan Poe to the Illustrated London News!

Illustration by Gustave Doré, in The History of Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

Dore’s depictions of the Knight of the Doleful Countenance and his inimitable faithful servant and companion Sancho Panza, became so famous that they influenced subsequent readers, artists, stage and film directors’ ideas of the physical “look” of the two characters. This edition of Don Quixote, with a ‘biographical notice of Cervantes’ by Thomas Teignmouth Shore (1841-1911), has approximately two hundred main illustrations and at least as many beautiful, smaller sketches.

“Never look for birds of this year in the nests of the last”

You can view this book in the Art & Design Collection at Westminster Reference Library.



Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.