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Lectures on "Don Quixote" Paperback – 31 Dec 1984

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Product details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Thomson Learning; 1st Harvest/HBJ Ed edition (31 Dec. 1984)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156495406
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156495400
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.4 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 774,499 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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First Sentence
Even if allowance be made for the fading away of the Spanish in the twilight of translation, even so Sancho's cracks and proverbs are not very mirth provoking either in themselves or in their repetitious accumulation. Read the first page
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Edward Beach on 20 Oct. 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"I remember with delight," said Nabokov, "tearing apart Don Quixote, a crude and cruel old book, before six hundred students, much to the horror of some of my more conservative colleagues." In Nabokov's opinion criticism of the Quixote had been far too sentimental, far too comfortable, leaving the word `quixotic' to mean anything but it's original sense of "hallucinated, self-hypnotised or play-in-collision-with-reality." In the same way that the noble Don's world was populated with brave knights, bountiful princesses and terrible foes, whilst the real Spain about him was all petty criminals and traffic, so Nabokov urged his students to see the real cruelty of 16th/17th century Spain with its dark, violent humour. Cervantes was writing with an eye for an audience which laughed at beatings, burnings, scrapes and general nastiness; unable to find similar amusement ourselves we read in a moral tale, we recreate the chivalry Cervantes himself was sending up, we romanticise our Don into a hero. Don't fall into the trap.
Fittingly then, the lectures are painfully text-based; no room for waffle or airy theorising here. In fact, the second half, Text & Commentary, is almost entirely a summary of the book chapter by chapter, with little real commentary at all. The first half divides into chapters on character portraits, structure, types of torture and cruelty, the chronicler Cid Hamete Benengeli, and then, finally, a tally of victories and defeats (which Nabokov counts at 20-20). There are some gems here; sardonic quips on comparisons to Shakespeare, the genuine disbelief that a masterpiece could ever have a scene involving reciprocal vomiting, and Nabokov's own alternative ending, excusing Cervantes' tiredness in old age.
Generally though I didn't find a great deal of depth here.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 9 reviews
33 of 38 people found the following review helpful
An Excellent Analysis and a Comprehensive Introduction 29 April 2006
By J. Robinson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I bought and read Nabokov's "Lectures on Literature" which is based on his European literature course that he taught at Cornell in the 1950s. That is an excellent guide to seven well known novels: "Mansfield Park, Bleak House, Madame Bovary, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Walk by Swann's Place, The Metamorphosis, and Ulysses." In that set of course notes he dissects each book and spends about 40 pages or so on each novel discussing style, structure, etc. He spends more time on Ulysses and less on Kafka's "The Metamorphosis."

The present book is a bit different. He prepared only six lectures that he gave in the spring of 1952 at Harvard for the course Humanities 2. The aim is to describe and give an overall context for the work "Don Quixote." The notes still exist in six manilla folders and they are the basis of the present book edited by Fredson Bowers.

The course starts with a very brief introduction in the same style as the Cornell lectures with sketches of maps, etc. Next, he describes in detail the character of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Those are the first two chapters, or about 24 pages. Then he describes the structure of the book for another 25 pages, again with copies of Nabokov's actual class notes.

Cruelty and mystification are covered in a similar but lengthy analysis, followed by The Chronicler's Theme, and Victory and Defeats. The second half of the book is a chapter by chapter summary of both volumes I and II. In total, it is just over 200 pages of notes.

As Guy Davenport states in his introduction, the book puts most other teachers to shame who attempt to teach Don Quixote in a week. It is refreshing and detailed, and as Nabokov points out, this is an analysis of a book that evokes cruel laughter. It is not a "gentrified" story of an old book; and, according to Nabakov, such a past but popular interpretation was a misreading of the story. He compares this "crude old book" to the more sophisticated plays of Shakespeare, a contemporary of Cervantes. He spend almost no time on the life of Cervantes, and he thinks that the important focus should be the book itself not Cervantes biography - interesting as his life might have been. He recommends the Samuel Putnam translation or the 1950 Penguin version by J.M. Cohen. He recommends avoiding the Viking Press 1949 version.

This is a comprehensive and easy to read analysis of the first great European novel.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Cruel and unusual 13 Jun. 2007
By Gene Zafrin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"... one of the most bitter and barbarous books ever penned" said Nabokov about "Don Quixote". Exposing the flood of physical and emotional abuse inflicted on the half insane knight and his largely average squire is at the heart of these lectures. In the early 50's, when Nabokov delivered his lectures on "Don Quixote" at Harvard, this was a radically new take on the classic novel which most critics considered good-natured and almost pastoral. For Nabokov, however, this position was quite in line with his signature irreverent views. He has always been sensitive to human suffering and considered pity for human condition one of the main attributes of art (in his "Lectures on Literature", for example, he especially noted compassion for the lame girl in "Ulysses" and Gregor's quiet suffering as a beetle in "Metamorphosis").

Building up on the themes of cruelty and insanity, Nabokov points out that in 1600's both were enjoyed as entertainment. The raw cruelty of 3,000 lashes that Sancho is to receive, or Don Quixote's suspension by the hand for two hours during which he "bellows like a bull", or the sick pleasure that many of the book's characters derive from Don Quixote's insanity and from playing into it - all that was run of the mill fun in Cervantes's Europe. Nabokov believes that this crude entertainment was the main source of the book's appeal for the readers when the book came out.

The novel's structure (which in Nabokov's world is second only to style) is really nonexistent: "The book belongs essentially to a primitive form, to the loosely strung, higgledy-pickled, variegated picaresque type". Nabokov notes that the many inconsistencies in the book Cervantes seems to either ignore or simply attribute to magic.

The novel's cruelty, its appeal to the "primitive reader" as a source of crude entertainment and its messy structure are described in convincing detail. By comparison, Nabokov's occasional appeal to Cervantes's genius is not developed into a stronger argument. Nabokov does note the dramatic dialogue which is "marvelous [...] even in translation", artistic and original depiction of Don Quixote and the equal number of the knight's losses and victories in each of the two parts of the book (Nabokov associates symmetry and balance with artistic genius). On balance, these lectures are much more about the novel's flaws.

If these lectures prompt one to pick up "Don Quixote", it would not be for the novel's artistic beauty that Nabokov highlighted: the first half of the book is mostly devoted to analyzing the novel's shortcomings and the second part to going over the synopsis of every chapter, with little commentary from Nabokov. These lectures are remarkable, however, for presenting a high standard of reading: for the attention to detail and for their inspiration to develop a literary opinion that you could truly claim your own.
32 of 44 people found the following review helpful
Backhanded homage, Bloom's agon 4 May 2002
By David Lupton - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Nabokov claims to dislike Don Quixote and considers the novel 'crewl' yet spent a significant portion of time analyzing the novel and teaching it. I am reminded of Tolstoy's dismissal of Shakespeare and his dissection of King Lear. Orwell correctly pointed out that, among these giants, bothering to grapple with another's legend so completely is a nod to greatness, one doesn't bother to kill a knat w/ a sledgehammer.
52 of 83 people found the following review helpful
A Breath of Fresh Air, by fermed 28 Aug. 2000
By Fernando Melendez - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
What Nabokov does to that venerable Don Q. is to rip it apart, disembowel it, resect the viscera, muscle and bones, and demonstrate how it has all been fitted together, how its various part work and (more importantly) how and why some parts don't work at all.
I admit to having had a life-long aversion to Don Q., an aversion that is rooted in early efforts to make me read "children's versions" of the book by guise of educating me. I suspect that such dislike is widely shared by those who have dared attempt the original text, or even its modern translations. Those who love the story are likely to have limited their sampling to the musical version of the book: "Man of La Mancha."
And so it was truly a pleasure to follow Nabokov in his extraordinary feat of dissection. Nobody in nearly 400 years of Spanish critical appraisals of this awful book has ever come close to exposing the work as thoroughly and meticulously as Nabokov does in the six lectures that he gave at Harvard in 1952. Spanish critics of Cervantes are mainly hagiographers, incapable of noting the Emperor's nakedness. They are apt to compare Cervantes to Shakespeare (don't they wish!), a comparion which Nabokov insightfully reduces to this:
"The only matter in which Cervantes and Shakespeare are equals is the matter of influence, of spiritual irrigation -- I have in view the long shadow cast upon receptive posterity of a created image which may continue to live independently from the book itself. Shakespeare's plays, however, will continue to live apart from the shadow they project." By implication, Don Q. would not.
Nabokov even exposes the canard, much repeated in Spain, that Cervantes and Shakespeare died on the same day in 1616. They did not. It is true that each died on April 23 of that year, but they lived in different calendars, with a ten day gap between their true dates of defunction.
Before embarking on his lectures, Nabokov abstracted each of the 126 chapters of the two volumes, citing their essential elements. These abstracts are included in the book. In addition, he surveyed the work noting Don Q's "victories" and "defeats," a monumental task which lays bare each of his encounters and battles (40 all told), each scored as a "victory" or a "defeat." He comments, in amazement, about one critic who had said "Never, by any chance, does Don Quixote win."
Not so. When all the battles are added up the score is precisely 20/20. Don Q. won as many as he lost.
When Nabokov called this "one of the most bitter and barbarous books even penned" it did not gain him friends among the professional academics of the ivory towers; but the observation is true and constitutes one of the many explanatory notes about the book that allows the readers to understand their dislike (if they have a dislike) for this work.
Only six lectures. One of the great anatomical feats by that wizard Nabokov. It is not necessary to know the Qixote in order to enjoy this tour de force; in addition, anyone who writes fiction will love (and benefit from) the type of deep structural analysis to which Nobokov subjects this novel. Nabokov's handywork is a beautiful excercise in education "as it should be," and therefore it is worth the time and effort to read it.
Reading Nabokov! 8 April 2015
By Javel Saudades - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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