From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America 12.1 (1992): 140-44.
Copyright © 1992, The Cervantes Society of America

Ziolkowski, Eric J. The Sanctification of Don Quixote: From Hidalgo to Priest. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1991. xi and 275 pp.

     The thesis here is that to live a truly Christian life in the modern secular world is to appear quixotic, to take illusion for reality. The author attempts


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to depict this phenomenon in post-Cervantine literature where the religious hero is identified with Don Quixote who, from the eighteenth to the twentieth century, is effectively sanctified in a process that simultaneously connects the quixotic figure to Christ. A thirty-page introduction, with references to Burckhardt, Lukács, Ortega, Bakhtin, Goldmann, Girard, and Kundera, portrays the novel as the genre of modernity that deals with the present, accepts ambiguity, and serves as a locus for the quest for authentic values in a world of degradation. In addition, it contains a brief overview of the criticism of Don Quixote from the German Romantics through the writings of twentieth-century critics such as Américo Castro, Carlos Fuentes, Marthe Robert, Miguel de Unamuno, and Harry Levin, all of which suggests the absolute lack of a consensus on the meaning of the novel. It highlights too the “sanchification” of Don Quixote —and the epistemological shift it entails: from “believing is seeing” to “seeing is believing”— and the possible religious views of the novel's author. More concerned with Don Quixote than with Don Quixote, however, and more specifically with the religious dimension of his mythical legacy, the knight appears theologically significant insofar as he strives to uphold faith in his chivalric fantasy in the face of reality and reason. This mirrors the struggle of the modern religious individual to sustain faith in God despite the challenge of secularity and skepticism. The body of the book is neatly divided into three parts, each of which contains two sections: an historical account of the reception of Don Quixote in a particular century (eighteenth, nineteenth, twentieth) and a textual analysis of a novel from that period (Fielding's Joseph Andrews, Dostoevsky's The Idiot, Greene's Monsignor Quixote) which adapts the Don Quixote figure for sacred ends and crystallizes its century's religious image of the knight.
     Part One begins with a carefully documented presentation of the eighteenth-century view of Don Quixote which generally envisioned the knight as an “enthusiast” or fanatic, a term often leveled against religious groups during the Enlightenment in England, France, and Germany. Against this backdrop, Ziolkowski paints Fielding's radically different sympathetic view of Don Quixote (as it slowly emerges in his works from Love in Several Masks, Don Quixote in England, The Coffee House Politician, and Joseph Andrews) as a good-natured spokesman for virtue, a foil to hypocrisy, and a figure of positive religious significance, indeed a “Christian paragon” (54) full of universal benevolence, pity, natural goodness, and charity, who defends Fielding's latitudinarian ethic against the Methodist emphasis on faith alone. Ziolkowski's analysis of the novel describes both the influence of Cervantes's text on Joseph Andrews and the religious transformation of the Spanish hero within the narrative. He systematically notes how Joseph Andrews builds on episodes in Don Quixote, contains interpolated tales, and generally reproduces Cervantine narrative play, but he occasionally exaggerates to make his points: Is “worldly knowledge” (75) really an attribute of Joseph Andrews? Is Mr. Wilson to be seen mainly as an eighteenth century English Don Diego? If so, why the importance attributed to his past

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life? Often Ziolkowski does not push far enough. Why is there no discussion of Parson Adams's inability to live up to his own principles when he is told that his son has drowned? Why, finally, is it never pointed out that the question of ironic distance is radically different in the two novels? Ziolkowski's analysis of the religious transformation of Don Quixote in the character of Parson Adams is particularly well crafted. No longer mad but eccentric and absentminded, Adams is both an English Quixote and a Christian exemplar. Innocent, charitable, well intentioned, devoid of worldly experience, and dedicated to the relief of the poor and needy, he sallies forth as a quixotic misfit, noble and amusing, in a text that begins as a parody of Pamela and ends by satirizing the shallow piety, lack of charity, and religious hypocrisy of eighteenth-century Christianity.
     Chapter Three details the history of Romantic readings of Don Quixote which changed the knight from a comic figure into a “noble, idealistic, tragic and ultimately Christ-like hero” (95). Here Don Quixote is endowed with religious significance and represents the infinite within the finite: the ideal in its struggle with the real (Schiller and Schelling), the soul in opposition to the body (Heinrich Heine), poetry in dialogue with prose (Schlegel). Ziolkowski also shows how, during the Enlightenment and the nineteenth century, the image of Christ was demythologized and humanized while that of Don Quixote became mythologized and idealized, thus allowing Dostoevsky, influenced by, among others, Strauss, Renan, and Turgenev, to join them in his concept of the “beautiful person,” which incarnates innocence, faith, enthusiasm, passion (suffering), magnanimity, idealism, and poetic imagination. The fourth chapter studies Don Quixote's religious transformation in The Idiot where a Christian, living the ethic of selfless agape, appears as foolish as Cervantes's hero. Ziolkowski analyzes Dostoevsky's use of paired egos, allegory, and polyphony to establish the quixotic and Christic nature of his hero, Myshkin, who is a heavenly stranger, naïve, honest, virginal, humble, innocent, and compassionate. He sees only suffering (not evil), blames no one (but himself), befriends children, and attempts to redeem a fallen female figure whom he views as perfection. A holy fool who embodies charity and extraordinary forgiveness, his quixotism is tragic, for he fails, in a nihilistic, atheistic, and materialistic world, to bind humans together into a community of love. This chapter lacks a detailed discussion of the conflict between passion and compassion in the novel and, in my view, exaggerates both Myshkin's supposed transformation —he is always a stranger aware of his difference— and his religious doubt, seen, for example, by Ziolkowski, in Myshkin's assertion that “some people” might lose their faith in contemplating Hans Holbein's Christ in the Tomb. One might more readily perceive here Myshkin's great compassion for those, such as Ippolit and Rogozhin, who might have lost their faith in this manner. These are points, however, where there is plenty of room for disagreement. Ziolkowski's analysis of the novel is, finally, penetrating and convincing.

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     The only disappointing section of this book is Chapter Five, which deals with the religious trend in twentieth-century Quixote criticism. Instead of studying Unamuno's writings in depth, Ziolkowski spends over thirty pages citing a good number of mediocre poets, essayists, and dreadful novelists who have linked Quixote and Christ. The chapter, unfortunately, is much more of an enumeration than an elucidation. He does, however, in Chapter Six, a very fine job of reading Monsignor Quixote in the light of Don Quixote and Unamuno. Here we meet Monsignor Quixote, a descendant of Don Quixote, who drives a car he calls Rocinante, reads books of “chivalry” (the gospel of John, Saints Teresa, John of the Cross, and Francis de Sales), and travels with the Communist ex-mayor of El Toboso whom he calls Sancho and to whom the monsignor's belief in God seems as illusory as Mambrino's helmet. Like his ancestor who transforms two women “of the district” into “Ladyships,” the monsignor marvels at “the foot bath” and blows up “balloons” in a brothel where he spends the night, a place he thinks is just an extra friendly hotel with “real family atmosphere.” Many of his adventures and the people he meets recall those of Don Quixote, including the scene where he hides a criminal in the trunk of his car and quotes Don Quixote when he freed the galley slaves. In the course of the narrative, the monsignor and the mayor transcend their ideological differences and establish “a community of doubters” that makes tolerance and love a reality. The monsignor is wounded in his final adventure where he attempts to defend the statue of the Blessed Mother against the blasphemy, hypocrisy, superstition, and greed of a crowd of priests and peasants. He dies in the Trappist monastery in Osera with the mayor at his side. Ziolkowski demonstrates the omnipresence of Unamuno in Greene's narrative. Not only was Unamuno the ex-mayor's professor at Salamanca, but the monsignor's concept of faith is purely Unamunian. Here doubt is the natural state of the believer whose faith is an act of the will born of anguish, not of any rational compulsion. One can only conclude that, under the influence of Unamuno, Greene wrote a religious version of Don Quixote where the monsignor represents the vitalist “whose faith is founded on uncertainty” and the Communist ex-mayor “the relativist who doubts his own reason” (240).
     The book's conclusion makes explicit the parallels between Christ and Don Quixote, Parson Adams, Myshkin, and Monsignor Quixote. Once more, it reiterates, via Kierkegaard, that the sanctification of Don Quixote reflects the struggle of religious faith and ideals in a modern, secular world that postulates the anachronistic (i.e., quixotic) status of religion which, in turn, causes a specific “quixotic” suffering of the displaced individual who yearns to return to a paradisiacal past age. Like Unamuno who, in an early gigantic example of reader-response criticism, discarded Cervantes and granted autonomy to the immortal Don Quixote (not to the character who died in the novel), Ziolkowski's study follows the religious course taken by the same semi-extratextual legendary Don Quixote figure. His book

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contains a rich, learned, passionate, and original analysis of the myth of Don Quixote in our culture that will be of significant value to all those interested in the multiple possibilities of Cervantes's masterpiece.

Whitman College

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