Don Quixote, Monsignor Quixote, Graham Greene, and madness vs. Existentialism

A good book and a good cigar

There are books that I re-read with certain regularity: The Old Man and the Sea, Voltaire’s Candide, the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (you can read about that one here), Don Quixote only three times.

But I recently came across a book I had read as a teenager in the 80s and decided to revisit: Graham Greene’s Monsignor Quixote.

As you can see from the title -I will try not to spoil anything- in a fictional meta-reality, Monsignor Quixote deals with the adventures of a descendant of Don Quixote. There is a Rocinante and a Sancho. Greene converted to Catholicism at 22 in 1926 (you can read his bio here) and this novel deals precisely with -no spoilers- with religion, theology, and the Church in early ‘80s, post Franco Spanish society (It was published in 1982). The book is an easy, quick read, and, since I am always on the lookout for the far reaching effects of Don Quixote, I re-borrowed Monsignor Quixote (thanks Sue) and thoroughly enjoyed it.

My more faithful readers know that one of my research interests is the influence of Don Quixote on Existentialist philosophy. So my antennae are always poised to pick up on this theme. Monsignor Quixote does not disappoint! The references to the links between Don Quixote and Existentialism might have been written unknowingly by Greene, which I doubt, but they are there either way:

There is a heartfelt reference to Miguel de Unamuno who was a big fan of Don Quixote and a proto-Existentialist (read San Manuel Bueno, Mártir). This is an indication that Greene understands Cervantes.

There are explicit mentions of Monsignor Quixote acknowledging his existence, which is a big step in understanding who one is.

The novel deals with our doubts and beliefs, the Existential anguish that drove Kierkegaard (but not in those words), the father of Existentialism -which would make Cervantes the great-grandfather of Existentialism (read about that here).

Finally, as any alert reader would expect of a novel with the name Quixote in it, it talks of madness. Of course, folks -specially those who have not read the novel- often confuse Don Quixote’s drive and purpose with madness (which drives me mad). I will not elaborate but Don Quixote knows who he is, it is just that nobody understands what he is doing, so they call him mad. This leads me to my first and hopefully last political statement ever on this blog: Former President Trump was often called Quixotic, for whatever reason, and the people who labeled Trump like that have obviously never read, and/or never understood Cervantes’ novel!! A similar point is seen in the film Easy Rider when Jack Nicholson as George Hanson says:

Oh, yeah, they’re gonna talk to you, and talk to you, and talk to you about individual freedom. But they see a free individual, it’s gonna scare ’em.

I guess I could have written a more academic article about this book, and maybe I will, but for the time being, enjoy.

A good book and a good coffee

One thought on “Don Quixote, Monsignor Quixote, Graham Greene, and madness vs. Existentialism

  1. “This is an indication that Greene understands Cervantes.” but… Cervantes was just a bad writer.. he never achieved a asterpiece as Don Quixote..
    The original “Don Quixote” is an English book. The Spanish translations appeared in 1605 and 1615, much earlier than the original English publications in 1612 and 1620. Between these two periods, in 1614, a “false” Don Quixote was published under the name Avellaneda. The original English text was never released.

    Francis Bacon was the brain behind the three books of Don Quixote; he wrote the part of the hero.
    Ben Jonson took on the role of Sancho Panza, John Donne wrote the poems, “the two friends” Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher were assigned the task of writing loose stories. These authors made use of the library owned by Robert Cotton.
    The printer, William Stansby, inserted concealed clues into the text, in order for the reader to be able to draw conclusions…

    The Spanish translations were carried out by Thomas Shelton (DQI + DQII) and James Mabbe (the “bogus” DQ).
    Miguel de Cervantes was just a poor Spanish writer who had sold his name to survive. He had told his life-story to the English, so that it could be processed into the DQ.
    Ten people, sworn to secrecy about their collaboration in the writing of Don Quixote. Now in this book, after four hundred years, clarity is given as to the “who”, “what” and “why” of all this secrecy.

    Like

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