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Monsignor Quixote is a comedy novel. It came out in 1982. It is a pastishe of Cervantes’ Don Quixote. It is set in the post-Franco Spain, in the late 1970’s. The Guardia Civil is still a threat to the communists in the country, followin whoever has the power. Catholicism is the religion and priests are very much respected, although the church is partly corrupted by new-rich latin-Americans. Isolated in a village, but still inn the middle of it all, an innocent priest lives, without knowing that his life is about to change fundamentally...
Monsignor Quixote is a pious priest living in the village El Toboso in the La Mancha-region in Spain. In the beginning of the book, he is just an ordinary parish priest, but one day he incidentally meets and helps an Italian bishop, which leads to him being promoted to the rank of Monsignor by the Pope. His local bishop is very upset, partly because he has always regarded Monsignor Quixote as a foolish old man (although harmless). Monsignor Quixote soon understands that the bishop intends to get rid of him, and he decides to take a vacation. The village’s former mayor decides to join the monsignor. He is a Communist and he has no wish to see his beloved village in the hands of the newly elected republicans. The two men drive around Spain. In the evenings they drink a lot of wine and they have deep dialogues. They discuss like two Greek philosophers, they question each other’s views, but accept that they are not alike. On their route they experience various adventures, and they are chased about a bit by the guardia and the Bishop who wants to put Monsignore Quixote in an asylum.
The book is separated into two parts, each part is separated into chapters and each chapter separated into parts again. The story is very stable and slow, Graham Greene takes his time. This underlines the casualty of the journey, the lazy, sunny days. The first climax is at the end of part one, when Monsignor Quixote suddenly is apprehended by the Guardia Civil. They have left the Mayor lying alone, and this leads to a serious dilemma for him; His conscience tells him to follow the Monsignor and save him, but the easiest thing for him to do would be to travel to safety in Poland, where he has some communist friends. Luckily, he decides to do the right thing, and this shows clearly the strong friendship between the Mayor and the Father.
The second climax is in the end of the book, and the author builds up the tension gradually. The Mayor and Monsignor Quixote are on their way to a monastery where they are going to seek protection from the Guardia. They stop in a nearby village to buy some wine. In the village there is a religious parade, and in front the richest man in the village carries a statue of Virgin Mary. This statue is covered with bills of money. Monsignor Quixote sees this as the worst kind of blasphemy, and the scene ends in him trying to ruin the whole parade. The Guardia Civil arrives at the village, and the Mayor and the Monsignor is thrown into an exihilarating car chase. When they have nearly reached the safety of the monastery, the guardias shoot holes in the tires of Rocinante, and the car crashes in a statue. Poof, the exiting scene is suddenly over, and the reader is left breathless without quite understanding what happened. In this part, there are short sentences, which makes thing happen faster.
Paralells to Cervantes’ Don Quixote
At first sight, Monsignor Quixote is closely knitted to the novel “Don Quixote” by Cervantes:
- The main character, Monsignor Quixote, believes himself to be a descendant from the original Don Quixote. This is of course impossible, even Monsignor Quixote acknowledges that Don Quixote is just a fictional character, but the villagers have teased him with this name so many times that he has begun to believe it. Besides, he thinks the image of Don Quixote is a very romantic one, and he likes to identify himself with the Don.
- Monsignor Quixote’s car is an old wreck, which he has named Rocinante, the same as Don Quixote’s old horse.
- The ex-Mayor’s name is really Zancas, but Monsignor Quixote calls him Sancho. Don Quixote’s travelling companion, best friend and loyal page was called Sancho Panza.
- Don Quixote has a collection of books about chivalry; these books mean a lot to him and he takes his principles and life rules from them. Monsignore Quixote has a collection of theological books. They are often referred to as “his books of chivalry”, and he seeks comfort in them. Although some of them are as silly as the Don’s dusty old books of chivalry, they are very dear to him and he is offended when Sancho on one occasion mocks them.
- Throughout the book, Msg. Quixote “fights” the Guardia Civil, and the mayor compares this to the windmills Don Quixote fights.
- Although Monsignor Quixote never finds any Dulcinea de Toboso to save, the ex-mayor tells him about his youth’s Dulcinea. Furthermore, in the end of the story, Monsignor Quixote tries to “rescue” a statue of Virgin Mary from the profanism of some Mexican capitalists.
- The ex-mayor compares the monsignor’s bib and purple socks to the old helmet Don Quixote wears as his knight’s uniform.
Although it may seem so, Monsignore Quixote is not written as a parody of Don Quixote. These similarities are just trivialities, and though Graham Greene uses the Don Quixote-link to evolve the plot, the main themes of these to novels are quite different.
Graham Greene and Father Durán
During the last 15 years of his life, Graham Greene made many trips around Spain with his good friend, Father Durán. Father Durán was Graham Greene’s mentor in religious matters, and also a good friend. The couple had a lot of theological conversations, and these dialogues are the foundation for Monsignor Quixote. Many of them are written directly into the book, with Greene as Sancho and Father Durán as Monsignor Quixote. The book is also dedicated to father Durán (amongst others). Graham Greene’s actual death in 1991 is very similar to the death of Monsignor Quixote at the end of the book, although the roles seem to have switched. The death of Monsignor is very touching. He has just held an imaginary mass in his sleep, and he is about to give the imaginary host to the ex-mayor:
“’Compañero,’ he said, ‘you must kneel, compañero.’ He came forward three steps with two fingers extended, and the Mayor knelt. Anything which will give him peace, he thought, anything at all. The fingers came closer. The Mayor opened his mouth and felt the fingers, like a Host, on his tongue. ‘By this hopping,’ Father Quixote said, ‘by this hopping,’ and then his legs gave way. The Mayor had only just time to catch him and ease him to the ground. ‘Compañero,’ the Mayor repeated the word in his turn, ‘this is Sancho,’ and he felt over and over again without success for the beat of Father Quixote’s heart.”
A peaceful, accepting death in the arms of a friend. Graham Greene died in the same way, peaceful and accepting on his deathbed, with his good friend Father Durán by his side. The father held Greene’s hand the last minutes of his life. This time it was the Monsignor who carefully observed as the loyal Sancho died.
In this book, the author writes at a very slow pace, and this nicely underlines the slowness of the story. The point of view is third-person, and the author has insight to the thoughts of most of the characters. The characters are described directly by the author, but we also learn a lot about them (especially the Monsignor) through their thoughts. The language is very easy, the book is well written. One can clearly see that this book was written when Graham Greene already was successful; he plays around without thinking about the critics.
Monsignor Quixote brings up and reflects over many important themes, and one can therefore say that the big questions of life and how to live it is the book’s main theme. The two main characters talk a lot about Jesus, Stalin, Franco, faith, belief, doubt, love, hope and despair. Greene obviously has many views on how a good catholic should live his life, and Monsignor Quixote is frequently read and interpreted by theologians. The other main theme of Monsignor Quixote is the strong friendship that grows between the ex-Mayor and the Monsignor. In the beginning they hardly know each other, but as they find each other to be pleasant company, they decide to journey together despite of their differences. When the Mayor is presented with the choice to risk his life for his friend, or flee to safety, he chooses intrepidly to help the Monsignor.
Graham Greene has written a funny little story about the friendship between men, well worth reading, but not a masterpiece. Some describe the book as “a hilarious comedy”, but I don’t agree. Perhaps I am just too young to laugh at a priest who finds the movie “A Maiden´s Prayer” appealing because of its holy title. (And no, it was not exactly a holy movie, as you can imagine.) All in all I think Graham Greene reflects on a lot of interesting matters, but the book isn’t very thrilling, and definitely not a “page turner”.