Meeting Cervantes — the Man Who Invented the Novel

Deal W. Hudson
February 1, 2018

Some books engross you immediately, that’s certainly true of William Egginton’s The Man Who Invented Fiction: How Cervantes Ushered in the Modern World (Bloomsbury, 2016).

I was, like many, familiar with Cervantes’s place at the beginning of a literary tradition called the “novel,” but I started the book somewhat suspicious of the subtitle’s claim, “How Cervantes Ushered in the Modern World.” After a few chapters, Eddington won me over with his combination of perfect prose, good humor, vast research, and, most of all, vivid insight.

No doubt Cervantes was not alone in the creation of the self-consciousness and concern for “subjective truth” we associate with modernity, but Eddington convinced me that Cervantes is as major a figure in the regard as was Francis Bacon, Descartes, Hobbes, Pascal, and Spinoza, all of whom were born a generation later.

Don’t get overwrought by the mention of “subjective truth.” By that, Eddington does not mean the truth is subjective and relativistic. He is talking about the way Cervantes, as a writer, is primarily interested in depicting what’s going inside his characters, particularly how his characters regard themselves, others, and the world around them.

In other words, for Eddington, subjective truth is merely the truth about a subject, a person or character, spoken of from that character’s perspective. Don Quixote may think he is being attacked by giants when they are actually windmills, but the subjective truth is that this “knight errant” sees giants and acts accordingly.

Depicting a delusional character, however, is not what makes Cervantes so unique. Eddington argues it was the addition of the character Sancho Panza that made The Ingenious Nobleman Sir Quixote of La Mancha the first of its kind in world literature. Eddington explains why Sancho Panza “changes everything”:

“Until Don Quixote seeks out Sancho Panza, he is but a foil, a rube–a brilliantly crafted one, for sure, but nonetheless an object of derision…. In the space of a few pages, what started as an exercise in comic ridicule and, as the narrator insists on several occasions, a satirical send-up of the tales of chivalry, has taken on an entirely different dimension: it has begun to transform into the story of a relationship between two characters whose incompatible takes on the world are bridged by friendship, loyalty, and eventually love.”

This relationship, for Eddington, puts the reader into a different space, one where ridicule and satire are replaced suddenly by a “new language. Today we call that language fiction.” We are drawn into a story that is no longer one dimensional, about the humorous misadventures of an old man driven by dreams of an older, chivalric age. As we watch Sancho Panza, who is fully aware of all his master’s folly, treat the Don with respect, defend him, support him, and love him, we are given the “ability to experience different and at times even contradictory realities without rejecting one or the other….”

Eddington argues we are “drawn to fiction,” precisely for this reason, and I fully agree. As we read a novel, we can explore our human life from points of view vastly different from our own and enjoy watching the characters deal with the same clash of perspectives we are experiencing as we read.

Reading Eddington’s short book on Cervantes not only prepares you for a deeper understanding of Don Quixote but also of all the other fiction awaiting you in the future.

By Deal Hudson

Deal W. Hudson was born November 20, 1949 in Denver, CO, to Emmie and Jack Hudson, both native Texans. Dr. Hudson had an older sister Ruth, and eventually, a younger sister, Elizabeth. Emmie Hudson, Ruth Hudson and Elizabeth Hudson now live in Houston, TX; Jack Hudson passed away some years ago. The late Jack Hudson was a captain for Braniff Airlines in Denver at the time of Dr. Hudson’s birth. Later the family moved to Kansas City when his father joined the Federal Aviation Agency. From Kansas City, the Hudson family moved to Minneapolis, then to Massapequa, NY, and finally to Alexandria, VA, where they first occupied a home overlooking the Potomac River adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate. After a year, the family moved to a home on Tarpon Lane a few houses up the street from the Yacht Haven boat docks. Dr. Hudson attended Mt. Vernon Elementary School from grades 4 to 6 and has a special gratitude for the teaching of Mr. Hoppe who first told him was a ‘smart lad.’ Having moved with his family to Fort Worth, TX in 1960, Dr. Hudson attended William Monnig Junior High and Arlington Heights HS. In high school, Dr. Hudson was captain of the golf team, editor of the literary magazine (Guerdon), and performed the role of Peter in the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ during his senior year. Dr. Hudson graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin in 1971 where his undergraduate advisor was Prof. John Silber. His teachers at the University of Texas included Prof. Louis Mackey and Prof. Larry Caroline. Dr. Hudson minored in both classics and English literature. Dr. Hudson lived in Atlanta from 1974-1989, where he attended Emory University, receiving a Phd from the Graduate Institute for the LIberal Arts. He also taught philosophy at Mercer University in Atlanta from 1980-89. In 1989 Dr. Hudson and his family left Atlanta when he was hired to teach philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dr. Hudson taught at Fordham, and also part-time at New York University, from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Hudson first came to Atlanta in after graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) with an M.Div. While at PTS, Dr. Hudson managed the Baptist Student Union at Princeton University and became its first director. Dr. Hudson also was licensed at a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, NJ. Dr. Hudson’s primary area of study at PTS was the history of Christian doctrine which he pursued with Dr. Karlfried Froelich. In 1984 Dr. Hudson was received in the Catholic Church by Msgr. Richard Lopez, with the special permission of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. Dr. Hudson has been married twenty-five years to Theresa Carver Hudson and they have two children, Hannah Clare, 23, and Cyprian Joseph (Chip), 15, adopted from Romania when he was three years old. The Hudson family has lived in Fairfax, VA for more than fifteen years, after having lived five years in Bronxville, NY and a year in Atlanta, GA, where Theresa and Deal were married.

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