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LECTURES ON DON QUIXOTE by Vladimir Nabokov

LECTURES ON DON QUIXOTE

By Vladimir Nabokov

Pub Date: Feb. 25th, 1982
ISBN: 0156495406
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

Quite the least interesting, most dutiful of Nabokov's collegiate lectures on literature, these talks on Don Quixote were given at Harvard, 1951-52. Again, Nabokov applies principles of categorization to the text at hand: dimensions, numbering, topographies, maps. And he offers some (but not much) general discussion of the book's enduring genius. "What we shall witness now is the evolution of the epic form, the shedding of its metrical skin, the hoofing of its feet, a sudden fertile cross between the winged monster of the epic and the specialized prose form of entertaining narration, more or less a domesticated mammal, if I may pursue the metaphor to its lame end;" Nabokov sees Don Quixote as a logical continuation of earlier chivalric romances, "with the elements of madness and shame and mystification increased." The book, he finds, is one of those "perhaps more important in eccentric diffusion than in their intrinsic value." Clearly not one of Nabokov's favorite books, he sees it as neither humane nor humorous: a whole section of the lectures is given over to literally scoring (as in tennis) the Don's cruel humiliations. And Cervantes' comedy receives little praise: "Dulcinea shall be restored to Don Quixote if--now comes the rib-splitting joke--if Sancho consents to take 3000 lashes on his bare behind. Otherwise, says the Duke when he hears of the requirement, you do not get your island. The whole thing is very medieval, coarse, and stupid fun, as all fun that comes from the devil. Authentic humor comes from the angels." True, Nabokov is sometimes entertaining when he kibbitzes, one novelist to another, taking Cervantes to task for not having done a scene better; he does admire the hapless Don himself. ("He stands for everything that is gentle, forlorn, pure, unselfish, and gallant. The parody has become a paragon.") But the bon mots here are scarce, and the book is little more than an acerbic, uninvolved study-guide--for Nabokov fanatics only.