Tilting at Windmills: A Novel of Cervantes and the Errant Knight

Paperback | March 28, 2006

byJulian Branston

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In seventeenth-century Valladolid, Spain’s new capital, Miguel Cervantes is busy writing episodes of his comic masterpiece, Don Quixote. His comedy is quickly making him the most popular author in the country, when three potential disasters strike: Cervantes discovers that there is a real Don Quixote, exactly like the character he thought he’d invented; a jealous poet’s plots involving one of the novel’s other characters make Cervantes a laughingstock; and Cervantes falls in love with a beautiful, widowed, but unavailable duchess. Many duels, misunderstandings, and betrayals later, Don Quixote himself comes to Cervantes’ rescue.

This sparkling tale of crazed knights, thwarted love, and literary rivalry is imbued with all of the spirit, verve, and humor of the classic novel to which it pays playful tribute. Tilting at Windmills is a dazzling evocation of Cervantes’ life and times, and a brilliant weave of fact, fiction, and farce.

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In seventeenth-century Valladolid, Spain’s new capital, Miguel Cervantes is busy writing episodes of his comic masterpiece, Don Quixote. His comedy is quickly making him the most popular author in the country, when three potential disasters strike: Cervantes discovers that there is a real Don Quixote, exactly like the character he thou...

Julian Branston divides his time between London and California. This is his first novel.
Format:PaperbackDimensions:336 pages, 8.03 × 5.28 × 0.73 inPublished:March 28, 2006Publisher:Crown/ArchetypeLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0307336026

ISBN - 13:9780307336026

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Before You Go Any Further . . . Some remarks from the author of Don Quixote, one Miguel Cervantes, deceased, and an explanation of the present volumeAs it has pleased God to reveal early in my life His profound mastery over the fate of all human beings, I renounced any aspiration for fame from my writings to fulfill one single aim, that is, to reveal a little of God’s intelligence to his obstinate, graceless, and ungrateful creations. It was allowed, a little, in my long life to reveal some of this in my two novels of Don Quixote. But my character, circumstances, and a divine requirement that an equal if not surmounting purity of spirit should accompany any such aspirations meant that this accomplishment could occur only late in life. After the publication of the Don Quixote books, my life shortly thereafter ended, and I had not so much influence on the outcome and development of my novels. Yet new knowledge will produce fruit, even in the desert, and these novels of mine have since been published in many other languages than my purest Castillian, languages I had never heard of. This is a paradox, for many do not understand my books, as they were a hurried creation, and a dying man can only blunder at his final duties. However, as there exists no facility whereby history might burnish its better moments, it falls on a few who receive the inspiration such a work affords to renew the source. These recipients know that it is a task, inherited by every human being, whether they know it or not, that they strive to honor the divine in all things, for it is the promise of God to raise everything after him.And so, humanity has a debt in my favor. For no sooner had the first part of Don Quixote been published, than a dozen paltry and malicious counterfeits tried to take its place. More conflict took place between rival booksellers of these and my works—a war between my purest concept and the influence of unsound and criminal editions—than ever existed between Turk and Christian. In the time that it takes to write this sentence, these shadows of their better—the hidalgo Don Quixote—spurned their pages and, like rebellious children, inclined to dictate their own destinies. Before my creation could be fully rounded, and to protect the content already published, I was forced to write a sequel to the first book that was but an end to one of the choicest of all characters.However, though it suited divine ends that a hurried conception should be followed by a faster end, it was allowed that there must be some resolution to my novel’s inspiration. Therefore an individual has been elected to deliver another addition to my life’s work, intended as a companion to the originals, both in spirit and humor. And as my main character has already found an end, then this freshest episode must make an addition without intruding into the exploits of the noblest buffoon in history. The deliberation of this newest episode is the work of this author to engender.This new author is an individual aloof from my history and origin. His mind has never found a true purchase in a worthy ideal, while his character has the same wildness, uncertainty, and manifest despairs that once afflicted my soul. Yet this flawed pupil is as suitable to the purpose of God as is the sunrise, or the ebb and flow of the sea. Therefore the birth, progress, and resolution of the adventures contained in the following pages have my blessing but not my hand. His heart then must find partner with God, his mind turn the mill of phrases, and his pen enact the spirit of lucid and genial comedy.Redoubtable Pedro Pedro, redoubtable trader, visits a print shop and inquires after the first episodes of a new comic romance.Given Pedro’s ambition to be the world’s finest merchant in traded goods, it gratified him, on his morning walk through the lower quarter of Valladolid—the new hub of the Spanish Empire—to see his neighbors and acquaintances carrying full to overflowing shopping baskets. And further that many of them would frequently and cheerfully greet him by his first name and make a reference to their latest business dealings. Someone might say, “Your eggs made an emperor’s breakfast, friend Pedro, and did you find a worthy pair of legs for those stockings?” or, “Tell your wife and daughters to come for their fittings, friend Pedro, for that lace would be a fortune for any milliner.”Occasionally there would be complaints, but to these Pedro would willingly listen, for he believed that his reputation depended not only on his successes, but also on the speed with which he allowed and redressed his mistakes. And to this he added a firm patience, for he would always have to remind his partners in trading that nothing was for free, and that he required something for himself. If there was any labor involved, for example, harvesting oranges or pulling carrots, this meant “something extra” for him. People liked him, therefore, because he facilitated their needs, he knew everything about everyone without harm to anyone, and he never failed to deliver a little more than what was requested. With a pleasant rough-cast manner and the immediate poetry of argot in his speech, people thought of him as being friendly, fair, and, above all, a genius of surprises.Pedro was not a family man. His wife was a worthy Catholic matron, the mother of six healthy daughters, yet their names Pedro found hard to recall, and their birthdays he never remembered. His body was a mere visitor to his family and home because his spirit was dedicated to his ambition. This was difficult to discern, since he liked to pass the time eating, drinking, and conversing with his friends and acquaintances. When asked about his family, he would say, “The emperor can raise an army, a general can raise a siege, a wit can raise a snicker, but I can hardly raise six daughters, and not one of them thanks me for being their father. All the money I have goes to combs and petticoats. Now, about that row of cabbages I know you have in your garden strip. It would please the parson’s soul, God save him, to have those for an excellent soup that is the speciality of his housekeeper, and is so good a medicine, so it is said, that it can cure winter and bring on the spring. Now if you would give me those to give to him, then he will give your boy Bible lessons and say special prayers for you at Mass. But if you have the mind that your own prayers are good enough, and that the parson, heaven bless his kindness and excuse his feeble wits, can say no more prayers on your behalf than God himself, then he will also teach your daughter a lesson or two on the church organ. Let me come tomorrow morning, and relieve you of the burden of those cabbages!”So in a time of uncertain economy, when the ship could sink or the harvest could fail, Pedro knew how do without the money that nobody had.But there was a Pedro that no one could guess at. In part because he had never fully expressed another of his ambitions even to himself, and because his family, friends, and acquaintances would rather consider him as the cipher of a likeable trader and unwilling husband than as someone with aspirations that were abstract and out of the ordinary. For Pedro wanted to be mayor. It troubled him little that this ambition was inappropriate—a peasant-farmer, recently moved to the city, could never be considered for so high an office—or that the status he sought was so specific; it was not to be rich, to be famous, to be powerful, but to be mayor. How had this ambition arisen? A delighted recipient of several jars of the best olive oil had said, “Friend Pedro, if you wanted to become mayor, I would cast my vote for you.” And as is the case with some casual remarks, it had special meaning, and the idea took root in Pedro with surprisingly little doubt attached to it. It was the natural end, in his mind, to his assiduous work on a thriving assortment of trades and connections. In this aspect of his life there were few disappointments, and this helped him forget the neglect of his family, to ignore the many Masses that were said on his behalf by his wife, and to remain deaf to the caustic remarks of his six—or was it seven?—daughters.On this particular morning, there was much to look forward to, both in satisfaction and challenge, because Pedro was about to visit Robles the printer, the one person who adamantly refused to trade with him, and after that meet with another person, an author, with whom he was enjoying a so far admirably and mutually proffitable business venture, only this time, one that produced actual hard cash.Pedro entered the cool of the print shop from the dusty hustle of the street. The printer’s boy scrambled from a stool, and Robles appeared, trimmed and alert, already in inking sleeves and holding a gathering of papers.“Let me know the figures,” said Pedro, “for I am on my way to my friend Cervantes, and as he lives more by night than by day, I can provide the fire for his inspiration this evening.”“Well, you have your own space in the window, and not an hour goes by when someone does not buy the latest episode,” said Robles. “Look, here in my hand, another dozen gatherings for printing.”“Then let me take money to him as well,” said Pedro, “for he has more debt than a cemetery has stones, and despite his cheerful character, he does have the melancholy.”“I do believe,” said Robles, giving Pedro a small bag of coins, “that success breeds melancholy. You must tell your friend that writing comedies is the saddest activity for any man, and working through nights, with no one to talk to but the moths around your candle, is a sure route to desolation. Tell him to come and have dinner with me.”“I know his reply,” said Pedro. “He will smile and say that you cannot cheat a man of the work he must do, not even for friendship’s sake. But I will tell him of your concern, and of your invitation.”Robles shrugged his shoulders; he also knew Cervantes.“Now, on another matter,” said Pedro, “there is someone I know who would like a few of your best sheets of parchment—”“Before you go any further,” Robles interrupted, shaking his finger, “remember what I have previously told you. I am not in the business of trading, but the business of cash. I am committed to coins and paper money, and no other currency, and there is nothing that you can say or do to make me change my mind.” Robles shook his finger again and said, “Most people in this neighborhood are engaged in some kind of trade with you, but money is bankable and cabbages and carrots are not.”“How can you be so hard,” said Pedro, “when every month you buy a bigger and better hat! Would your business fail from one or two small trades?” he continued. “Why, even the baker trades with the butcher, and it is well known that these two have never spoken since the baker married the butcher’s sweetheart, and the butcher married the baker’s sister in revenge.”“Forgive me,” said Robles, “if I think this is even less reason for trading. May I remind you, friend Pedro, that I will not do a thing simply because a dozen other fools have done so. I do not choose to trade because I do not need to and that is an end.”“And what if your wife,” said Pedro, “whose beauty and cultivated tastes are unquestioned, should stop me and say, ‘Dear Pedro, my blessings on your wife and daughters, and what have you heard on the latest fashion of leather boots in Madrid—’ ”“I would say that you are an artful and clever liar,” interrupted Robles, “and that it is questionable courtesy on your part to comment so freely on my wife’s beauty and love for fashion.” Robles paused. “But it is inevitable that she will stop you and say that same thing. That does not mean it is a good idea. I must be more vigilant, both with my young and beautiful wife, and with you. But how is it,” he continued, “that having recently engaged in such a profitable cash venture with our friend the author, you still obstinately engage in trading? Give it up,” he said, flashing the only smile he would give that day, “and become like me, a real business man.”“To tell you the truth,” said Pedro, “I am terrible in business. As a farmer, I was the worst. Even the pigs left home. My current profession I only discovered through talking with friends. And without a good conversation, most of my trades would fail.” He paused. “Also, I must remind myself that this new cash venture is only as good as the next sale. And that depends very much on my friend Cervantes, who, it must be said, sees more the tenants inside his head than the rent collector outside his door.”“Now in this, I do not envy you,” said Robles. “Cervantes hardly keeps the hours of an ordinary man, and his attraction to taverns and theaters has not recommended him to his neighbors.”“My policy,” said Pedro, “is to keep him busy with new work. And having said that, I shall now take leave of you and visit my friend, who is probably, at this late hour of the morning, asleep at his desk.”Pedro turned to go, and then because charm was in his blood, turned briefly and said, “Your wife’s beauty would be incomparable in the latest fashion of boots from Madrid. I can find a pair, as scarce as they are. It would bind her heart to yours for an age.” With this, he left.For Robles, it was not a comfortable moment. His wife’s beauty was one reason why business was good. Numberless love-struck poets had requested his wife to cast an eye over their verses and approve the typeface. This was an irony, for his wife had no expertise in the setting of type, much less poetry. But their flattery and their unctuous requests only proved to Robles how much older he was than his young, beautiful, and essentially empty-hearted wife.It was something of a mystery, Robles knew, that such a woman should love him. She was made for the bedroom, he thought, and then began a sequence of thoughts that had often kept him sleepless, shaming his waking moments. Had she lovers? Could she, so artlessly devoted to inconsequential pleasures, love an old man in inky sleeves with the squint (he knew) of approaching blindness? And was the solution to his anxieties, he thought bitterly, a pair of new boots from Madrid?From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

“A rollicking, earthy, compulsively readable take-off on the seventeenth-century classic.” —Publishers Weekly

“Wholly original and delightful.” —Christian Science Monitor