From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America
19.1 (1999): 145-49.
Copyright © 1999, The Cervantes Society of America
Paulson, Ronald. Don Quixote in England: The Aesthetics of
Laughter. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998.
Don Quixote in England represents the culmination of more than three decades of Ronald Paulson's research on eighteenth-century English culture and literature. Paulson's familiarity with mythology, iconography, English painting, illustration, politics, aesthetics, satire, and the comic, as demonstrated
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in his publications on a wide variety of poets, novelists, essayists, and
painters of the period, endows him with the critical tools necessary for
this comparative study. A basic thesis of Paulson's work is that Cervantes's
masterpiece, Don Quixote, a highly popular work in eighteenth-century
England, exerts a pervasive cultural influence that cuts across and intersects
the various media and disciplines. There is both density and breadth underlying
this work, the first resulting from a reflective revision of works and concepts
that the author has analyzed over time, and the second from the encyclopedic
nature of the enterprise itself. Paulson admits that he is working outside
the tradition of Hispanic studies. In doing so, he creates certain critical
constraints that justify his approach to Cervantes's text, which serves as
an intertextual framework for the debates waged on the aesthetics of laughter
in eighteenth-century English texts. Hispanists should not expect to encounter
in this work an intention to enhance the reader's understanding of Cervantes's
Paulson makes the claim that Cervantes's work enjoyed a popularity in England that it did not enjoy elsewhere because of the rise of empiricism in England in the eighteenth century. Skepticism and secularization take the place of the belief in enchantment. Laughter changes in tonality due to a new understanding of aesthetics or the philosophy of the perception of beauty. Addison's satire is most exemplary in revealing and defining the changing definitions of aesthetics, now applied to and integrated with satire and comedy. Indeed, this book is a companion piece and complement to Paulson's work on Addison, The Beautiful, Novel, and Strange: Aesthetics and Heterodoxy (1996). It is as much about how eighteenth-century readers interpreted Addison's aesthetics of satire as it is about how Don Quixote was read by writers and artists in England.
According to Paulson, aesthetics is linked to the humorous in the eighteenth century. As opposed to the practice of the type of morality that demands judging without understanding, humor, in its various forms, including wit, satire, burlesque, travesty, and irony, discovers the new, the novel, and the uncommon, attributes also related to aesthetics. Humor is pleasurable, but it is also insightful. It is an epistemology. In addition, the aesthetics of laughter is connected to the politics of the time. The major satirical writers and illustrators of the time belonged to the Whig or Tory factions, and their satire reflected anti- and pro-clerical, papist and absolutist perspectives. Paulson draws on Kundera and Bergson's studies of the comic to define humor as it was practiced by the English satirists. This reader could not help but wonder why a broader number of contemporary theorists of the comic and satire was not also examined. In the following chapters, however, one becomes aware that the defining framework for understanding laughter emerges from the texts analyzed. Definition becomes self-definition.
Paulson breaks down the concept of aestheticizing laughter into four major thematic blocks: the madness of the imagination, the cruelty of the laughter of ridicule, the problematizing of the beautiful, and the extension of the idea of madness into religious doctrine. In chapter 1, he traces the metaphor of madness and its evocation of laughter to Ariosto. Don Quixote's chivalric imagination and madness lead him to ape the heroic quest. The English imitators found
various targets for their satires on madness: the religious enthusiasts (the
Aeolists), the fops of Restoration Comedy, and the imitation of fashionable
role models. Paulson's technique here, as in successive chapters, is to begin
with the analysis of a scene from Don Quixote and then to compare
it to analogous scenes in English works. In this chapter, he analyzes Don
Quixote's invocation of the aesthetic response of the reader, when reading
about the heroic exploits of the Knight of the Lake. In tracing the ideas
of the imagination from Cervantes, to Hobbes, Locke, Swift, and Addison,
Paulson convincingly concludes that Cervantes's imprint can be felt in England
in the general acceptance of the deceptions of the imagination. At the same
time however, English writers emphasize the necessity of recovering the pleasures
of the imagination. This is what Paulson refers to as an aestheticizing of
the imagination. His discussion of a variety of writers reveals that imitative
satire played itself out politically in a variety of ways. While Swift
interpreted Don Quixote as a mere parrot of the Moderns, Addison presented
him in the guise of a favorite satirical figure, Sir Roger, a Tory living
an antiquated existence in the Cavalier past, but in a modern Whig world.
Addison redefined satire by making Sir Roger not just a flawed clown but
also a lovable one. This complex image had powerful implications for a revised
understanding of the comic: laughter should not be confined to the merely
ridiculous, but merged with beautiful, natural objects, as well as with the
emotions pertaining to human love.
Chapter 2 deals with the various interlocking notions of the burlesque, comedy, and travesty, and their applications both to Don Quixote and English comic heroes. Focusing on the burlesque, Paulson distinguishes between the false burlesque, where the butt of the burlesque satire is pulled down and degraded, and the true burlesque, or what he calls grave irony, by which the victim of satire is pulled down but is also revealed capable of maintaining the face of gravity. This compound representation of the true burlesque figure prevailed among English writers, as well as among English illustrators of Don Quixote. Hogarth's illustrations of Don Quixote freeing the galley slaves dignify the hero's action. By representing him in a breastplate as opposed to a full suit of armor, Hogarth is able to project Don Quixote in terms of a lower social order, with egalitarian political and spiritual values that were anti-papist and anti-clerical. In this manner, burlesque satire is transformed into an aesthetically pleasing concept. Hogarth's two plates for Butler's Hudibras also reflect a graphic depiction of Don Quixote's madness. Paulson studies the presence of grave irony as well in Fielding's Joseph Andrews and Shamela. This chapter represents Paulson's tendency to be as inclusive as possible in his treatment of a theme. Such an endeavor seems critically justifiable, as a manner of proving widespread influence, but often results in rushed analyses of the works selected.
Chapter 3 deals with definitions and applications of wit and humor. Addison's reading of Cervantes's wit evokes a good-natured humor that delights and surprises. Wit is related to comedy since it is a medium for discovering and knowing, rather than of condemning. Humor and the ridiculous are thus interwoven. Corbyn Morris's Essay towards Fixing the True Standards of Wit,
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Humor, Reality, Satire and the Ridiculous, Fielding's Joseph
Andrews, and Collins's Odes invite this type of discovery and
its attendant pleasures.
Chapter 4 deals with the aesthetics of laughter from the perspective of the comic motif of the blemish. Both the aesthetics of wine-tasting, as illustrated by the actions of Sancho and the Knight of the Mirrors, and the aesthetics of Dulcinea, as she appears to Sancho and Don Quixote in Toboso in the guise of a peasant wench, generate ideas about beauty and its relative responses or effects. Dulcinea's mole displays the plebeian aesthetic later reproduced in the works of Hume, Hogarth, Addison, and Swift. Maritornes serves as an analogous example of beauty redefined in her interaction with Don Quixote in their first encounter at the inn. As Maritornes provides water to the fatigued and wounded knight, she provokes an aestheticizing laughter that results from the reader's contemplation of a compound figure who depicts both charitable sweetness and physical ugliness. According to Paulson, the figure of the sweet prostitute served as a model for Hogarth in his depiction of the Harlot's servant in A Harlot's Progress, in his portrayal of the faithful Sarah Young in A Rake's Progress, and in his representation of Eve's lock in The Analysis of Beauty. The motif of the blemish henceforth became a convention for the description of beauty in the emergent novel.
The composite, double-faced nature that Paulson perceives in Maritornes which serves as a model for a revitalized conception of beauty, does not, to my mind, adequately describe Cervantes's female character. Such an attribution foregrounds the unavoidable risks of misinterpretation when arguing the influence of one text on another. This occurs in particular when the texts that are influenced can fluctuate from exact replications of source material to extreme deviations from the source; when characters, descriptive scenes, or episodes from the source of influence are removed from their original contexts, in this case, contexts created by novelistic progression and authorial voice; and when critical engagement with the source of influence is not on a par with the texts influenced.
In chapter 5, Paulson analyzes the comic exposé of religious issues. The episodes in Don Quixote which most influence English writers on these themes are the Parliament of Death and Maese Pedro's Puppet Show. Accordingly, Addison, Swift, Hogarth, and Fielding separate the motifs of life as a stage or life as a pilgrimage from their religious associations. Like Cervantes, they focus instead on the analysis and reception of aesthetic pleasures that are evoked by these motifs.
The last chapter deals with the female subject. Paulson relates laughter to romance, with particular emphasis on the Marcela-Grisóstomo story. Vanderbank and Hayman's illustrations of the episode follow more closely the narrative description. The young woman rises above the shepherds on a high rock, drawing attention to her moral and spiritual superiority. Hogarth's version, on the other hand, puts Marcela on the same level as the men. He is attempting to represent not the classical but the humane version of beauty. Paulson additionally reviews in this chapter the themes of female madness and beauty in a variety of eighteenth-century English texts, with a special focus on Charlotte Lennox's The
Female Quixote, Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, Mary
Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Men. The comparison
of the articulation of the female subject in the Marcela-Grisóstomo
story with that found in the other works analyzed is not entirely clear.
This is perhaps due to the lack of a theoretical framework for analyzing
gender differences in the portrayal of madness, or the notion of female
Paulson's study represents a herculean effort to reveal the broad spectrum of influence of Don Quixote on English culture and to tackle the complexities involved in comparing works that have a clear indebtedness to Cervantes's masterpiece, but that manifest the debt from a widely divergent set of cultural perspectives. Even if not convinced by all of his arguments, one must certainly admire the manner in which Paulson endeavors to chart the various transformations of Cervantes's humor as they filter into the major philosophical schools of thought emerging in the modern era in England. Also undisputable are the erudition and reflection of this study, which makes it one that will be read for decades to come.
|Laura J. Gorfkle|
|Virginia Polytechnical Institute and State University|
|Fred Jehle email@example.com||Publications of the CSA||HCervantes|