interview with Silvia Cachia
As you know by now if you follow my blog, I have recently finished reading Don Quixote.
It was quite an adventure, reading the TWO parts, and also starting with Nick’s read-along, then with Silvia, and finally with Lory at The Emerald City.
I was really impressed by Silvia’s resources and input on Don Quixote, she calls is “MY classic”.
Now that I am done reading the book and am still pondering on its deep meaning, I decided to interview her, so that she could share her great insights with you, my readers.
Incidentally, we were both born and raised in Europe (in Spain for Silvia), but are now living in the US and blogging in English. We are both Christians.
1. Hola Silvia, thanks for accepting this interview. How would you describe yourself and your blog in a few words for my readers who don’t know you yet?
What an honor to be asked some questions on my blog and my favorite classic, Don Quixote.
I decided to start blogging over 9 years ago. At the time, I was writing about my experience as a homeschooling mom to two daughters. I found a community that had online presence and who homeschooled following Charlotte Mason, a XIX century educator and remarkable figure whose philosophy of education and practical methods have inspired many families all over the world.
To homeschool the girls, I got to read to them many children classics and wonderful books I never even know they existed. For the older grades, there were lists of books in many subjects that I had never read, so I started choosing from there. I enjoyed reviewing them, and talking about it with my reading friends, both in real life, and through the Internet.
As years passed, I got involved in translating some books on Charlotte Mason and some of her original writings, I also went back to reading classics in my mother tongue, specially authors from Spain, where I was born and raised until I left home for good at the age of 27, in 1998.
The long introduction is to say that, had I not met Charlotte Mason’s writings and others who were bringing them alive in their homes, I would not have thought about bringing an education to my daughters, for which I first had to learn myself. After that, I have kept that spirit of constant pursue of the beauty and truth we have been given by our Lord. I cannot conceive a life without books, art, music, service, nature, and leisure and play too.
2. As we can see on your blog, you are a great lover of classics, and I think that’s how we met in the first place. Among your favorites, or maybe your TOP favorite is Don Quixote. You said you read it how many times? Can you explain us your fascination for this work?
In Spain, since little, we are (or used to in my generation) constantly exposed to Don Quixote. There’s comics, cartoons, different adaptations, and it was required reading in high school for me.
We, Spaniards, pretend we’ve read it, and dab on the original many times. By the high school attempt, I thought to, at least, read here and there so the paper on it would have more credibility. I found that going through the first chapters, the book was funny, and maybe by force of familiarity, I found it even enjoyable.
This is truly a marathon of a book. I do admire and respect all those who are not Spaniards, or who have not had the exposure to the book I have had, who read it from beginning to end. If I didn’t have the familiarity with it I’ve had since little, the book would be a different challenge. Much like other lengthy and iconic classics from other heritage are to me.
In my late thirties, I found a free audio done by one of those who have a radio voice, from Spain, that was perfect. And this time, I listened to the whole book. In my forties, I read it again, and wrote a bit about it at that Charlotte Mason homeschooling forum I mentioned earlier. At that point, I was also seeing more in the book thanks to other readings I was doing, and many things I could relate it to.
This past January some bloggers chose it for a read along. I wanted to also lead the discussion at my blog, but ended up doing so only for part 1.
I should say that we could consider Don Quixote two separate books. After the popularity of the first book, from which Cervantes profited little, another author came up with a continuation. As a reaction, Cervantes wrote a part 2, in which Don Quixote and Sancho, now known to people, talk about themselves as if they were real people who have been portrayed in a book. Most of part 2, the mock they do of Sancho, is based on that idea that now people want to have a deliberate laugh on their expense. And the sad thing is that we do what our mean and low desires demand, -mock and laugh at these two men-, and once they stop trying to see life in that high and noble way, we realize we’ve killed our own dreams, our own hopes. When Don Quixote dies, something in us dies too, and the world is a harder and darker place.
3. We recently interacted a bit with a read along on Cervantes’s book. As you know, I totally dragged my feet to finish volume 2, which I found so very different than volume 1. Do you like both books equally?
I guess the answer to the previous question overlaps a bit with this one. The books are different. Don Quixote is not the same in book 2, neither is Sancho. Volume 2 is more Sancho and his hilarious sayings. It’s like he’s the maverick Webster of the Spanish idioms. The way he concocts and invents new ones by chopping and pasting, it’s as inventive as the new language that Shakespeare brought about. Since we already use many of those expressions, we miss the fact they were crafted by Cervantes.
Also, Don Quijote in volume 2 is more reflective and less adventurous. The tone got more serious all of the sudden. In volume or book 1, they had the excitement of trying something ‘new’, which was to bring people the ‘old knightly ways’.
Don Quijote is a revolutionary. He doesn’t like the way things are, he prefers the way they are told in books, where fantasy, the imagination, but not only, a world where morals and a higher call, were the motivator of a few good men who carried the weight of a good life for the people on their shoulders, and who were respected and admired for that same reason. By volume 2, people know them, know who they are and what they aspire to do, and still nobody follows along.
Don Quixote is a prophet of sorts, a visionary, and a mad man for sure. Sancho is practical and very idealistic at the same time, he has selfish interests, but he’s also gullible and good hearted. The world is not ready for either of them.
4. And now that I am done reading the whole work, I still feel puzzled about the deep meaning of it. Can you help us understand what’s really at stake in this book?
5. In that context, how are we to understand the many passages where the two heroes are being mocked and played fun with?
6. We read sometimes that this book is really the first modern novel. Could you comment on that?
To understand the importance of Don Quixote, I’d start by saying it’s the first novel that dared to mock cavalier books. Those stories of knights relied heavily on plot, and not so much on the characters. Cervantes’s book dares to choose two common men, not only, they evolve along the pages, and there’s a new way of narrating that offers multiple ways of looking at reality. For example, the innkeeper looks at it from his greed and his limited interests in life. Everyone who meets Don Quixote, faces him with a different outlook of life. From that tension results humor, and not only, crass violence too. Like in Vonnegut’s books, Cervantes’s world is also one of war, long imprisonment for unpaid debts or different reasons-, hostility and uncertainty. And the absurd that Don Quixote represents, seems to make more sense at times than what we call reality.
There is also a lot of meta literature. Cervantes talking about his book as being a translation from an Arabic writer, and also the same characters speak about themselves in volume 2 as having been portrayed in an illicit second part, and now being famous for being in books.
The two heroes are mocked because they are like children in many ways. They have these ideals and ideas of life, (and Don Quixote’s come from a possible desire to avoid dying as a nobody). At the beginning of the book, we see he really has nothing. He is lonely and practically alone. A very small family who are his home keepers, and not an intellectual or sentimental companion. He’s among his friends, the knightly books, day and night. In a surely crazy moment, he decides to live life as he knows it from those books. Sancho never hesitates following him. Sancho has selective vision 😉. He knows Don Quixote is an educated man from a noble family. For different reasons, he too wants to leave a life of poverty and drudgery; -even though we see that he has affection towards his wife and daughter-. Men left their lives to go in pursuit of gold, riches, land, and so did Sancho.
Cervantes shows us all how we bully and mock the different, the idealistic, the vulnerable, the weak. It’s a group phenomenon. If we ever were inclined to follow Don Quixote in his madness and his dream of a better world, once a person throws the first stone at him, we join. Sometimes also, people don’t get a chance to hear Don Quixote’s logic, because his madness precedes him.
It is truly modern. Sancho develops his own logic where he can still aspire to his monetary dreams, and thus he questions or doesn’t his master’s sanity. Don Quixote follows the knightly code of honor, but he also finds ways of justifying his disinterest in intervening whenever others are attacking Sancho. His view of life is malleable, whatever he needs to fit, he stretches his logic to circumvent the events and still come on top with his explanation.
At the inn, when they meet Dorotea, the woman who had been wronged by the gigolo in that story of four, -two guys and two gals-, that ends up well, she agrees to pretend she’s Princess Micomicona. If you pay attention, the story she tells of a giant, and her dad the king, resembles in fantasy her own real story. In short, aren’t we all fighting our own giants? Fantasy is the other side of reality.
Also, there’s that instance at the inn too, when there’s those factions debating if Mambrino’s helmet is a real helmet or the barber’s basin, in which they all end up fighting, and it has to be Don Quixote who calls them to peace and who puts an end to the riot.
The chapters in which books are discussed, -which to keep, which to burn-, are modern. They are Cervantes’s recourse to criticize those he admires and those he doesn’t. It’s also a great way to air his thoughts about what literature should be read, -and written-, the value of fantasy as real, and he also can present to us the views from the sectors that composed and regulated society, such as law and clergy, and oppose or agree with their views on what should be promoted and what should be banned.
Ortega y Gasset, in his Meditations on Don Quixote, which I’ve been reading once a year for three consecutive years, (it’s a short title), remarks how in Don Quixote, we found for the first time daily common life elevated to art. It’s not what’s told anymore what constitutes the book, but how it’s told.
Allow me to explain. If I tell you the story of any Greek tragedy, it’s such a story. Even if I narrate it very poorly, there is so much fascination in those unusual happenings. Don Quixote and Sancho are common people. The people at the inn are just common for Cervantes’s times. What’s narrated inside the novel may be more fantastic, but that’s the same as Chaucer’s people, common people who meet at an inn and share stories, poems, music. Some of Don Quixote’s stories are historical fiction, others are more like Shakespearean plays, There’s even poems in it. The people are ordinary. If you tell me the main idea of Don Quixote, it’s underwhelming, even boring. Retold jokes, as when we tell a friend about a Seinfeld episode, are not funny, only if we heard the original comedian, or in this case, if we listen to or read Cervantes’s words, can the book and what it contains show its value.
The entrapment and circularity of part 1 can bore a visitor who does not know what is coming. By part 2, we are all tired, and maybe not up to the sadder tone of the book and the premonition of what’s to come. After we’ve read the book once, we know that we’ll escape the maze soon. Knowing a bit of what to expect, can help us not to hurry the experience, and to notice the ideas lifting up from what seems stupid happenings. Spain and her beliefs, the Inquisition scars, the still medieval structure of society, backwards thoughts and of course, derogatory parts, are sad and difficult to read in the book. The only redeeming factor is that they are never preached, but exposed with a candid spirit. We know better in many regards, no doubt. However, listen closely to these people in Don Quixote, for they too have something to tell us about the pain and the joy of life.
As a mother, I can’t help but being moved when Don Quixote gives that father who didn’t want his son to become a poet, an inspired talk on why he should want the best for his children, and the first thing to do it’s to treat them as persons. That’s what most impacted me from Charlotte Mason’s teachings, that children are born persons. It may sound simple, but I’m still working at treating my daughters, students, and all people around me, as such.
7. In his latest novel, Quichotte, Salman Rushdie writes,
“The death of Don Quixote felt like the extinction in all of us of a special kind of beautiful foolishness, an innocent grandeur, a thing for which the world had no place, but which one might call humanity. The marginal man, the man laughably out of touch and doggedly out of step and also unarguably out of mind, revealed in his last moment as the one to care most about and mourn most deeply for. Remember this. Have this above all in mind.”
This seems to be Don Quixote’s ultimate message for Rushdie. What do you personally think Cervantes’s ultimate message is through his book?
I’m crying as I read this, as I cried when I read the part in which Don Quixote dies. I had not read your quote until now. Before, in these pages, I just wrote this in a clumsier way. I don’t know if that was Cervante’s message, but I’m in shock reading that an author like Rushdie, wrote exactly what I too believe it’s the ultimate message through this book.
Thanks so much, Silvia. Your answers help me see the work inits broader picture, and why it can truly be considered modern for the time, both in its form and content.
Let the adventure go on!
ADDED on 9/28: Be sure to go read the comments on Silvia’s post, following our interview. Lot of great insight there as well!!
HAVE YOU READ DON QUIXOTE?
DID ANYTHING PARTICULAR STRIKE YOU
IN SILVIA’S WORDS?