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Archive for the ‘Renaissance Literature’ Category

Hello Readers!

Pictured here are just a few of the wonderful literature selections we will be exploring during my Literature Soirée on the Medieval and Renaissance era. There are a still a few places left, so you can find all the info and grab a spot at this link. I’m excited to share this time with you and all the lovely mamas that are already signed up! The Renaissance era offers such richness to explore, and the seminal texts we will cover will give you the confidence to approach this era with passion and joy!  Remember we will also be discussing Susan Schaeffer Macaulay’s For the Children’s Sake, so get out your copy and do a review of this important and (for me at least!) life-changing book!  And finally, we have the lovely Bernadette Speakes scheduled to share with us some of her artistry in drama!  So come expecting to be enriched, inspired, challenged and equipped for an amazing adventure of learning!  Looking forward to seeing you soon!  Rea

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I1413374964-8-origmagine each day wrapping your hair up in a lovely bun and then slipping a very tiny bible into your chignon?  Odd?  Well, there was a day when many young Christian women hid their bibles this way! In September 1685, in France, all Bible reading was forbidden and Christian homes were subject to search. French Protestants known as Huguenots were forced to keep their scriptures hidden and to worship in secret. I was privileged to get a little glimpse into the lives of this courageous minority on a recent visit to Provence, France while visiting with ICCP of Aix-en-Provence. While staying there with a gracious 93 year-old Huguenot gentleman, a Monsieur D’Cazenove, we were able to visit the Musée du Désert, where this fascinating and inspiring history is kept alive. And indeed it’s true that Huguenot women hid their very tiny bibles in their chignons!

This tiny bible measures just one inch high yet is very legible. Huguenot women hid them in their chignons.                                                                                   From Le Musée du Désert, Cevennes, France

The Huguenots were the fruit of the tide of the Reformation coming to France in the mid 16th century, and were devoted to reforming the church and the political institutions of their times.  Many noble and highly intellectual families joined this movement, but in a majority Catholic country where the Church was all powerful, persecution was inevitable. The most notorious incident occurred on St. Bartholomew’s Day, 1572, when thousands of Huguenots were in Paris to celebrate the wedding of Henry of Navarre (a Huguenot) to Marguerite de Valois (a Catholic). The young King Charles IX, under the sway of his powerful mother, Catherine d’ Medici, ordered the massacre of all Huguenots.  Thousands died in Paris that day and tens of thousands all across France.

When Henry IV, a Huguenot known as Le Bon Roi–the Good King, came to the throne, he passed the Edict of Nantes (1598) granting religious freedom to Huguenots–one of Europe’s first IMG_2727documents to protect this fundamental right. However, 80 years later, King Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes, and Huguenots were harassed out of all educated professions, arrested, tortured and imprisoned, their lands and properties confiscated.  Louis XIV  issued countless warrants for the arrest of Huguenots who refused to convert to Catholicism.  At left are just a few of King Louis’s numerous warrants persecuting Huguenots.  In these samples, agents of the King are instructed to destroy all the Huguenot churches, extinguish and suppress  their colleges, arrest their midwives, and to obtain their declarations as to whether they will convert  or die as Protestants.

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This barrel converted into a pop-up pulpit, but looked like an ordinary barrel when not in use.

It was particularly during this period that Huguenots became very creative in finding ways to worship in secret.  As a large majority lived in the Provence region, where there are thick forested areas and many caves and grottoes, the Huguenots often met secretly in caves to worship.  A home church or a church meeting in a factory might have a convertible pulpit, that when not in use looked like an ordinary wooden barrel, but converted quite ingeniously into a pulpit by a clever system of levers.  Goblets for communion wine could be converted to appear as ordinary looking candlesticks, and picture frames were designed so that bibles could be hidden between the mirror and the back of the frame.

Despite these subterfuges, countless Huguenots were arrested, tortured and put to death.  Over 5000 men were forced to slave on the galleys of the King, choosing that grim fate over giving up their faith. Marie Durand was arrested at age 19 and spent 38 years imprisoned because she refused to violate her conscience.

Remarkably, despite these tremendous hardships, the Huguenot people were known as the “people who sing.”  Their secret IMG_2802worship services were marked by their joyful singing of the scriptures set to music, particularly the psalms.  When I question our host, Monsieur d’Casenove, about this fact, he slips quietly into his centuries-old chateau and reemerges quickly holding an ancient book in his hand.  It is a psalmer, a very old book of the psalms set to music.  When I ask him how old it is, he turns to the copyright page, and the book had been printed in the 1550s.

The history of the Huguenot people is a rich, varied, and inspiring history of a people who fought, suffered, and died for freedom of conscience.  It is a history that has some bearing on American history too.  In my next post I will explore what Huguenot history has to do with Paul Revere, George Washington, and the Marquis de Lafayette!

 

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The chateau of Monsieur d’Casanove in the Cevennes region of France, an area rich in Huguenot history.

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images-1Taken at face value, the story of the Pilgrim Fathers has something of the mythic quality about it.  The Pilgrims were a harassed people fleeing their homes under cover of darkness, betrayed by a ship’s captain, arrested, left to languish in prison, and separated from their families. Their eventual escape to Holland and their lives as immigrants presented economic, cultural, and social challenges.  On their trans-Atlantic crossing to the New World they suffered  the wiles of unscrupulous investors, the near sinking of the Speedwell, the miseries of life “tween decks” for nine long weeks, and treacherous gales upon the sea that split their mast and nearly forced them back to England.  Their troubles weren’t over once they reached the New World.  There they suffered  disease and death.  Despite all of this, or perhaps because of all of this, the Pilgrim story echoes across the generations with hope in the midst of heartache, and with promise in the midst of pain.

The story of the Pilgrims is a story of persecution.

Convinced by their understanding of the scriptures that the state-mandated Church of England could not lead them into religious truth, the Pilgrims began meeting in secret. This infuriated King James and he swore to make these Separatists  “conform or he would harry them out of the land!” Many were arrested and imprisoned. Even the young orphan William Bradford, who joined the Separatists at age 15, was harassed by his own family who threatened to disown him if he continued his association with Separatists. To them he calmly replied:

To keep a good conscience and walk in such a way as God has prescribed in his Word, is a thing which I must prefer before you all and above life itself.  Wherefore since it is for a good Cause that I am likely to suffer the disasters which you lay before me, you have no cause to be either ec641bb454454e98a76916c9cdeb45cfangry with me, or sorry for me.  Yea, I am not only willing to part with everything that is dear to me in this world for this Cause, but I am thankful that God hath given me heart so to do, and will accept me so to suffer for him.”

It is remarkable that a teen-aged boy could make such a proclamation, and yet, it was also predictive of his future. William Bradford did eventually lose nearly everything that was dear to him, excepting his faith.  Bradford’s youthful bravado was the type of devotion that enabled the Pilgrims to endure persecution.  Ultimately, King James did drive the Separatists out of England.

The story of the Pilgrims is a story of prison and pain.

The Separatists were Englishmen bound over generations by history, culture, and language to their land. Their attachment to the very soil of England and their English identity was deep and profound.  Making the choice to leave was wrenching and traumatic. It was a painful choice that could only be rationalized by a new identity.  They realized they were no longer just Englishmen, but Pilgrims and sojourners.

Added to the pain of leaving England, was the trauma of heartbreaking separation of families.  In 1608, when the Pilgrims secretly hired a ship to help them escape to Holland, unforeseen events conspired to separate the men from their wives and children.  When the ship’s captain saw king’s soldiers approaching the families awaiting the ship on the beach, he panicked and sailed off with only the men aboard.  The men were devastated as they watched their beloved wives and children hauled off by the king’s soldiers, completely helpless to do anything.  Their pleas to the captain to let them off the ship went unheeded.  On the shore, William Brewster, was arrested once again and thrown back into prison.  The homeless women and children had to find shelter with hospitable neighbors until arrangements could be made once again for passage to Holland.

The distraught men who sailed to Holland were set upon by a gale that blew their ship mercilessly for a solid week.  Given up for lost, the ship finally reached the shores of Norway and eventually Amsterdam.  On landing, nineteen year-old William Bradford was promptly arrested by Dutch authorities.  They’d been “informed” by King James’s agent that Bradford was an escaped criminal. The falsehood was eventually cleared up and Bradford was released as the religious refugee that he was.

The story of the Pilgrims is also a story of providence.

The Pilgrims delight in the freedom of religion they are able to enjoy in Holland.  Life in the beautiful city of Leyden is peaceful and in some cases prosperous.  Though the former landed gentry of England will never completely adjust to being tradesmen, carpenters, and craftsmen, they are grateful for provision. But for these Pilgrims, being sojourners and citizens of a heavenly kingdom, prosperity and provision are not enough.  Fathers and mothers watch their children growing up in this prosperous city with little sense of the destiny they felt when they left all they loved to follow a higher calling.  The Twelve-year truce between Holland and Spain is coming to an end, and English sons will soon be drafted  into the Dutch army to fight against Spain. Circumstances, especially difficult ones, viewed through the eye of providence can bring perspective.

The Pilgrims choose to follow providence–a strong leading and sense that they are called to something higher. They call it a New Jerusalem in the New World and they begin to discuss, research and plan.  The timid ones, those who rightly fear the very real dangers of the wilderness, or the great length and hazards of the ocean voyage, are encouraged by none other than that former orphan boy, the man William Bradford.  He replies:

All great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties; and must be both enterprised and overcome with answerable courages.  It was granted the dangers were great, but not desperate; the difficulties many, but not invincible.  For though there were many of them likely, yet they were not certain.  It might be that sundry of the things feared might never befall; others, by provident care and the use of good means, might in a great measure be prevented; and all of them, through the help of God, by fortitude and patience, might be either borne or overcome.”

Again, Bradford’s words prove prophetic. Through careful planning, many obstacles are overcome.  But some cannot be foreseen, and must be suffered through.  That includes unscrupulous agents who at the last minute change the terms of their agreement, virtually assigning the Pilgrims to seven years of slavery in exchange for their passage to the New World.  This they will not do. So, they must sell much needed provisions in order to pay the port tax and leave England.  Finally at sea, the Speedwell begins to leak so badly both ships must return to port. Long delays and expenses ensue while the Speedwell is overhauled from stem to stern.

Finally the ships depart, once and for all, they believe.  But 300 miles out, the Speedwell begins to leak again Pilgrims2so badly that the captain can barely keep her afloat. The disheartened Pilgrims return again to shore where the captain concludes the Speedwell is over-masted and unseaworthy. This was suspected to be treachery on the part of the captain and his crew, as they did not really want to sail to America. Now the Pilgrims must abandon one ship, consolidate as best they can on the Mayflower and leave passengers and provisions behind. Valuable time and money has been used up.

Finally at sea, a North Atlantic gale blows up. The Pilgrims pray while the sailors delight in cursing the pious seafarers and their God. But when the main beam buckles under the violence of the storm, it is the Pilgrims who haul out a great iron jack-screw they had brought from Leyden, and fix the buckled beam.

Nine weeks later, on November 20, 1620, the Pilgrims sight land in Cape Cod.  But before the Pilgrims can fully give thanks, the captain announces that the treacherous currents around Cape Cod may run the ship into deadly shoals.  The Pilgrims pray once again and disaster is averted.  As the men explore the land for a suitable habitation, the women and children remain aboard the Mayflower.  Sadly, one day, Bradford returns to find his beloved wife Dorothy has fallen overboard and drown.   Later, when the Pilgrims are finally able to come ashore and begin to build their shelters, the exposure and lack of provisions have devastating effects. Of the hundred Pilgrims who made the journey, only six or seven remain well enough to care for the sick. By the end of the year, half of the Pilgrims have died.

The saga of the Pilgrims is a saga of persecution, prison, and pain.  But it is also a profound saga of perseverance, promise and providence. By November of 1621, the colony has recovered such that William Bradford proclaims three days of “praise and thanksgiving to God for his mercies to the children of men.”  Despite profound pain, Bradford has the perspective to see God’s providence and provision.

If ever any people in these later Ages, were upheld by the Providence of God, after a more special manner than others, then we: and therefore are the more bound to celebrate the memory of His goodness, with everlasting thankfulness . . . So that when I seriously consider of things, I cannot but think that God hath a purpose to give that land, as an inheritance, to our nation.”    –Edward Winslow, Good News from New England, 1623

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Happy Valentines Day and an early Happy Birthday to Galileo!  It is a historical fact that the Valentine we celebrate today was martyred by the Roman Emperor Claudius II (known as Claudius the Cruel), on February 14, circa the year 278.  Though much of Saint Valentine’s history is clouded by legend, the story that seems most likely, is that Claudius was intent on keeping his Roman soldiers celibate in order to enforce strict discipline and keep the troops from pining for their families while stationed far from home. He therefore banned all engagements and marriages for the troops.  As a priest, Valentine, could not abide this order and continued to perform weddings for the secret lovers. When this was discovered by Claudius, Valentine was arrested and sentenced to death.  While in jail, he is said to have healed the daughter of the jailer, who was blind, and before his execution sent her a note inscribed, “From your Valentine.” A sweet and simple children’s book about Saint Valentine that you may enjoy is Robert Subuda’s Saint Valentine.

Tomorrow, February 15th is the birthday of Galileo, and it was on February 13, 1633 that Galileo was brought to Rome to answer charges of heresy for believing that the solar system was not geocentric (revolving around the earth), but rather, was heliocentric (revolving around the sun).  The Roman ecclesiastics could not abide such an outrageous idea, which somehow seemed to upset their notions of man’s importance at the center of the universe.  The Catholic authorities forced Galileo to renounce his beliefs and sentenced him to live the rest of his life under house arrest.

But this, of course was toward the end of his life, and by that time, Galileo had not only substantiated through careful astronomical observations that the earth did indeed revolve around the sun, but he had also  invented a thermometer, a geometric compass, a compound microscope,  and a pendulum clock; he perfected the astronomical telescope, measured the rotation of the sun, and designed a way to test precious metals.  He wrote laws about falling bodies and floating bodies.  He was also a lover of art and an accomplished artist himself.  He played the lute and enjoyed working in his garden.  Galileo was truly a Renaissance man.

I had the distinct privilege of working with Jeanne Bendick on her delightful biography of Galileo, featured here.  Jeanne Bendick, who is best known for her hugely popular book, Archimedes and the Door of Science, applies her fun and whimsical way with words and illustrations to the remarkable life of Galileo.  In honor of Galileo’s birthday, pick up a copy of this book and discover the life of one of history’s most curious, inventive and courageous men.

When the church authorities forced the kneeling Galileo to renounce that the earth revolved around the sun, it is said after his forced confession, that the aged man struggled up from the floor and whispered, “Eppur si muove,”–which means, “and yet, it does move.”

“I do not believe that the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason, and intellect, has intended us to forego their use.” –Galileo Galilei

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Dear Readers,

Don Quixote and Sancho Panza by Honoré Daumier, 1855, bringing out the comic aspect of Cervantes's work

In Part II of my intro to Don Quixote, I will cover some of the themes and “illusions” that make the novel so unique.  The historical context within which the work takes place is significant in understanding that appearances cannot be trusted.  Even the novel itself suffers from an unreliable authorship as I will explain.  So, since things are not as they appear, the key is attempting to look beyond the surface to what is really happening.  For instance, the Edict of Exile of 1492 banished from Spain all Jews unwilling to convert to Catholicism and the Edict of 1499 effectually did the same to Muslims.  Thus, both Jews and Muslims who chose to remain in Spain, did so only as conversos or Morenos.  In reality, most of them kept faith with the religion of their fathers, but in public appeared as Catholics.  This made for confusing cultural dynamics which Cervantes alludes to in humorous ways.

In regards to the authorship of Don Quixote, (Part I, Chapters 8-9) Cervantes sets up a complex literary conceit by claiming that the story of DQ ends abruptly and that he is at a loss as to where to find the “rest of the story.”  But as he was walking one day “on the exchange of Toledo” he runs across a boy selling old papers with Arabic writing on them.  Now this is significant, since during the Inquisition of Ferdinand and Isabella, both Hebrew and Arabic were outlawed.  Books in these languages were burned (thus the scene of the book burning which opens the novel), and though Arabic had been the lingua franca during the Golden Age of Spain, it had now been outlawed for nearly a century and no one spoke it openly any longer.  So while Cervantes knows the Arabic script, he is unable to read it.  He therefore finds a “Moorish rabbi to read them” and low and behold, this is the very story of Don Quixote of La Mancha!

There are so many things going on in this scene that it is difficult to cover them all.  First of all, Toledo was the center of the intellectual renaissance in Spain.  It was there, that Brother Raymund de Sauvetot began his school of translation in the 12th century that brought together Arabic, Jewish, and Christian scholars to translate the classic works of Greek antiquity into Latin, Hebrew and Arabic from the original Greek.  The Arab scholars brought the works of Persian authors in mathematics, science and medicine to be translated from Arabic into Latin.  These three Abrahamic faiths worked side by side in tolerance and mutual respect. Now in the scene depicted by Cervantes,  Toledo is nearly bereft of anyone who even speaks Arabic and the Golden Era of Spain is at an end.  Not only that, but many of the texts painstakingly translated during this Golden Era were systematically burned on Inquisitional fires.

In the novel when the “Moorish rabbi” begins to read the text, he bursts out laughing because of notes written upon the margin.  Cervantes questions him and he says, “This Dulcinea del Toboso [DQ’s lady love], so often mentioned in this history, had, they say, the best hand at salting pork of any woman in La Mancha” (68).   The reason the Arab is laughing is because Dulcinea must have been a secret Jew, as Jews were forever trying to prove their authenticity as conversos by their willingness to handle pork, and become quite skilled at it.

Also, Cervantes ascribes authorship of Don Quixote of La Manchato an Arab historiographer–Cid Hamet Ben Engeli.  But

Don Quixote and Sancho Panza Having a Rest under a Tree by Honoré Daumier

as Cervantes notes, “if any objection lies against the truth of this history, it can only be, that the author was an Arab, those of that nation being not a little addicted to lying” (69).  So even while he lays out the complex way in which the story of DQ comes to light, (by way of proving its veracity) at the same time he calls into question the reliability of the text by virtue of the fact that Arabs are somewhat known for their lack of honesty.

By using these complex conceits of reality vs. illusion, truth vs. honesty, and fact vs. fiction, Cervantes sets up a world where nothing is just as it seems. In this world, what DQ wants is the restoration of a better, more virtuous, kinder, and just world. Ironically, though, what Don Quixote imagines to be true he often inadvertently brings about.  As Harold Bloom notes in his Modern Critical Interpretations: Cervantes’s Don Quixote,

Miguel de Unamuno says of Don Quixote’s loss of his wits: “He lost them for our sake, for our benefit, so as to leave us an eternal example of spiritual generosity”.  That is to say, Don Quixote goes mad as a vicarious atonement for our drabness, our ungenerous dearth of imagination” (Bloom 150).

Enjoy this novel for the ways in which it can deliver us from our lack of imagination, our spiritual drabness and selfishness, and be inspired, like Don Quixote (as crazy as it may seem) to live life with joy, inspiration, imagination, and even a bit of foolishness.

Don’t forget to check out The Man of La Mancha with Peter O’Toole and Sophia Loren.  Please preview before watching as a family. A number of artists have depicted Cervantes’s work with beautiful imagination.  Don’t miss the woodcut etchings of Gustave Doré (featured in my last post) and also the oil paintings of Honoré Daumier.  Also check online for images of the memorial sculpture in Madrid that honors Cervantes and his immortal characters from Don Quixote.

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Dear Readers,

I have been thoroughly enjoying reading Cervantes’ Don Quixote for the first time.  I am fairly dismayed and shocked that while I was earning my degree in English I was never introduced to this amazing work since it is considered the very first modern novel.  Consider what a few of the brightest literary critics say about this remarkable work:

Don Quixote is to the Spanish language what Shakespeare is to English, Dante to Italian, and Goethe to German:  the glory of that particular vernacular.  Perhaps Cervantes’s masterwork is the central book of the last half-millennium, since all the greater novelists are as much Don Quixote’s children as they are Shakespeare’s. –Harold Bloom

Don Quixote in his library reading works of chivalry.–Gustave Doré

We state his achievement somewhat more concretely when we say that he created a new form by criticizing the old forms” (Harry Levin, Cervantes’s Don Quixote).

As much as we may mediate on Don Quixote, as the Greeks meditated on the Homeric poems, or the English on the dramas of Shakespeare, we cannot consume all the marrow of the wisdom that it contains.  –Miguel de Unamuno

In losing myself in this remarkable work, I have to agree wholeheartedly with the above sentiments.  Don Quixote is a treasure trove of wisdom on every aspect of life–so much so that while I am a habitual marker of texts (I highlight, post-it note, and underline continually), I have had to stop. The reason is that the text is so rich, so ironic, so satirical, so funny, so full of double-meanings and real-life wisdom that I would literally have the entire work underlined.  Now, in studying this with your student, here is the caveat.  Most translations for children are mainly plot driven.  They follow the humorous and hilarious antics of this crazy knight-errant and his loveable squire Sancho Panza, but with little of the philosophy included.  This diminishes the text considerably and can make the text somewhat frustrating as students will begin to wonder what the point of DQ’s and Sancho Panza’s continual beatings is anyway.  So here are a few suggestions to help make the text more meaningful when using an abridged and edited version:

Gustave Doré’s Don Quixote and Sancho Panza

1.  Don Quixote turns the notion of the archetypal hero on its head.  In other words, the heroic figure we are used to is strong, handsome, young, brave, (think Achilles, Hector, or Odysseus) and has a beautiful maiden for whom he performs his deeds of honor, courage and valor. DQ is the antithesis is many ways because he is (like his horse Rosinante) rather broken-down, old, not much to look at, and crazy.  Despite all of this, he is determined to perform valorous deeds and all he does is basically wreak havoc wherever he goes.

2.  Due to DQ’s distorted perceptions of reality, he causes trouble in countless situations.  This results in continual beatings, deprivations, and humiliating calamities to himself and Sancho Panza. Ironically, the very fact that they are being continually beaten further verifies in DQ’s mind the intrinsic veracity of his knight-errantry. So, one way to make this clearer to your students is to read passages from the original that will particularly strike your funny bone and make sense of the text.  Free texts can be found online at a number of sites.

3.  Since the novel itself turns the notion of knighthood and chivalry on its head, it subtly exposes the fallacies of so much of what we take for granted regarding chivalry, knighthood, and medieval notions of virtue and honor. Don Quixote exposes the ways in which chivalrous works (think Beowulf, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, Robin Hood, El Cid etc.) neglects essential aspects of life in view of painting a picture of chivalry so ethereal and inspiring that it is virtually unattainable by mortals.  Here are a number of aspects inherent in the works of Medieval chivalry that Cervantes (through the character of DQ) exposes using satire and irony:

Don Quixote brought home in a cage.–Gustave Doré

Don Quixote brought home in a cage.–Gustave Doré

1.  Knights never carry money: “Don Quixote replied, he had not a farthing, having never read in the histories of knights-errant, that they carried any.
2.  Knights never complain of pain: “If I do not complain of pain, it is because knights-errant are not allowed to complain of any wound whatever, though their entrails come out of it.”
3. Knights are never accused of a crime or brought to justice, no matter how many people they kill: “Peace,’ quoth Don Quixote, ‘for where have you ever seen or read of a knight-errant’s being brought before a court of justice, let him have committed ever so many homicides?”
4.  Knights never eat: “If you had read as many histories as I have, you would have known this; for though I have perused a great many, I never yet found any account given in them, that ever knights-errant did eat, unless it were by chance, and at certain sumptuous banquets made on purpose for them.”

Cervantes applies this same kind of irony and satire to not only chivalry, but also to the many foibles of life and human nature as well.  As you begin to recognize these, your appreciation for this marvelous work will only increase.  In the meantime, for those wishing to study this work with their youngest readers, Margaret Hodges work is probably the best.  For middle and upper readers the latest edition by Martin Jenkins, and illustrated by Chris Riddell will provide not only a well-written abridgement, but also a visual feast. Also, don’t miss the marvelous etchings of  Gustave Doré, a few of which I’ve included here and can also be found online.  Jennie Ruzicka also provides a book of them in her Gustave Doré Illustrations to Don Quixote.    



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