The Novel pp 20-45 | Cite as

The Wrong Side of the Tapestry

Miguel de Cervantes: Don Quixote de la Mancha


In the opening chapter of the Don Quixote, as one of the most enduring adventures of literature is about to begin, the hidalgo of the story, ‘verging on fifty, of tough constitution, lean-bodied, thin-faced, a great early riser and a lover of hunting’ (p. 31),1 is depicted within the double space of his world: the drab reality of his house (‘His habitual diet consisted of a stew, more beef than mutton, of hash most nights, boiled bones on Saturdays, lentils on Fridays, and a young pigeon as a Sunday treat’: p. 31), and his library, which consists for the most part of books on knight-errantry. This library has almost literally replaced the hidalgo’s real world: he has sold most of his property in order to buy the books. So irrelevant is the reality of the place he lives in that the narrator does not even deign to divulge the name of his Manchegan village; and of the man himself we are informed only that ‘they say that his surname was Quixada or Quesada’ (p. 31). The only names in this chapter – with the sole exception of the village barber’s – that are assigned with any certainty to individuals are those of the knights, heroes and giants of the hidalgo’s books. And the main action of the opening situation is constituted by processes of naming, of his horse, his lady, and himself.


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© André Brink 1998

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