The Immaculate Tirant
August 26, 2009 3:18 PM   Subscribe

"God save me!" quoth the priest, with a loud voice, "is Tirante the White there? Give me him here, neighbour; for I make account I have found in him a treasure of delight, and a mine of entertainment. Here we have Don Kyrieleison of Montalvan, a valorous knight, and his brother Thomas of Montalvan, and the knight Fonseca, and the combat in which the valiant Tirante fought with the mastiff, and the smart conceits of the damsel Plazerdemivida, with the amours and artifices of the widow Reposada; and madam the empress in love with her squire Hypolito. Verily, gossip, in its way, it is the best book in the world..."
-Don Quixote de la Mancha, Part I, Chapter 6

Tirant Lo Blanc, written in the late fifteenth century by the Valencians Martorell and Joan de Galba, combines a fictionalized history of the two-fisted mercenary general Roger de Flor with elements of The Decameron, The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, and Ramon Llull's Book of the Order of Chivalry.

A sense of life lifts the work above both its influences and the third-hand tropes of its contemporaries; as Cervantes writes, "here the knights eat and sleep, and die in their beds, and make their wills before their deaths; with several things which are wanting in other books of this kind." This realism was a revelation to Cervantes, whose own exploration of the border between high duty and base necessity inaugurated the Western novel. As such, Tirant the White is perhaps the most quietly influential book in all of literature.

Bonus Cervantes Inspiration:
Amadis of Gaul - in blog form!
posted by Iridic (11 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Nice post!

My favorite peripheral Cervantes fact has to do with Las Sergas de Esplandián, a sequel of sorts to Amadis, which gave us the name of the state of California...
posted by mr_roboto at 3:26 PM on August 26, 2009

Just a year or so ago, I read Don Quixote for the first time and was frankly blown away by it. Parts of it were absolutely hilarious, others seemed positively modern. I need to get it out again, and soon. Probably this fall, as the nights get a bit longer. Thanks for posting this!
posted by jquinby at 3:29 PM on August 26, 2009

If you like Quixote, you should try Pierre Menard. So much better!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 3:33 PM on August 26, 2009 [7 favorites]

Hey, great post!

I'm interested in the classification of Don Q. as the first novel, or first modern novel. I haven't yet read it and wonder: what about it gives it these qualities we define as characteristically "modern" or "novelistic"? Does it have any competition for this title? What are the qualities that make it different, or more recognizably modern, or more recognizably novel-ish, than Tirant Lo Blanc?
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 3:42 PM on August 26, 2009

I have read of people arguing that Don Quixote is the first post-modern novel as well, given it's multiple levels of narrative and the intermingling of the fictional character from Part I with his audience in Part II.
posted by djfiander at 3:58 PM on August 26, 2009

(Disclaimer: I'm not an English major. Read Don Quixote but not the other works in this thread, so take my pontifications with the usual grain of salt, etc...)

"What are the qualities that make it different, or more recognizably modern, or more recognizably novel-ish, than Tirant Lo Blanc?"

That's a good question. I'd say one of Don Quixote's distinguishing features is that it's a story about character, that uses genre to explore characterization, but is not primarily a work of genre itself. Tirante the White was the first of the chivalry novels (according to the first link) - so it began the genre of knights going on quests and rescuing damsels in distress - it, and the works that followed it, where about the adventures of the knights. The genre changed after Tirante The White, going all crazy with the magic and monsters and stuff, but it was still all about plot. People read chivalry stories to find out if the knights suceeded in their quests.

Don Quixote is different because you don't read it that way. Quixote and Sancho go on adventures of a sort, but their outcomes don't matter as much. We don't really care if Quixote manages to beat up a windmill. The important thing in the book is finding out who the characters are, and how the adventures change them. That's the modern approach that lifts the book above others of its time.
posted by Kevin Street at 4:08 PM on August 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

I loved "Don Quixote" when I read it in high school. Then I read Eric Auerbach's "Mimesis", which is rather hard on Cervantes. Auerbach thought the rest of us gave Cervantes too much credit for the character of the Don, noble dreamer, tilter at windmills. Auerbach felt Cervantes really meant Don Quixote to be a madman addled by trashy books about knight-errantry. In other words, "Don Quixote" was about what it seemed to be about, and we were adding the "post modern" part ourselves.

I don't now. Authors are changed by their characters. It's hard for me to believe that Cervantes didn't sense the great soul in the Knight of the Doleful Countenance.
posted by acrasis at 4:41 PM on August 26, 2009

Great post; my first wife was assigned the novel in college, but frankly its girth put me off. Maybe I'll have a crack at this slimmed-down version.

> If you like Quixote, you should try Pierre Menard. So much better!

But it's so twentieth-century!
posted by languagehat at 5:11 PM on August 26, 2009

posted by JHarris at 5:51 PM on August 26, 2009

I like the case that Milan Kundera makes for Don Q. being the first modern European novel. (not that I like anything else that Kundera has written, but that is for another time.) Cervantes's writing is ironic -- it is genre fiction, but at the same time is not, and it's that other thing at play in the book that makes it modern. in brief, that Cervantes uses a literary form to get at something beyond literature. it's an argument that the modern novel is essentially a realistic form.

he first makes the argument in The Art of the Novel and (if I remember right) returns to it in The Curtain.
posted by spindle at 6:34 PM on August 26, 2009

Thanks, Spindle and Kevin!
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 3:59 AM on August 27, 2009

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