Critical Assessment

“In this seriocomic offshoot of Cervantes’s gigantic fable, we encounter once more that unstable compound of Catholic faith and Communist sympathy that has contributed its peculiar tension to so much of Greene’s fiction. But what was once corrosive has become mellow, and the explosive potential of the mixture has been reduced to the benign effects of a robust nonvintage wine. Set is Spain at some point in the late 1960’s (after the Second Vatican Council and the abolition of the Latin mass), this quasi novel recounts the adventures of a humble priest — one of God’s holy innocents — who, in a characteristic confusion of fact and fiction, believes himself descended from the famous Knight of the Sorrowful Countenance, Don Quixote. . . .

“More than any work of Greene’s that I have read, it is suffused with nostalgia for the pre-industrial, pre-bourgeois world, a world of face-to-face encounters between man and God, man and man, man and beast (Rocinante is, after all, more beast than car). Greene celebrates a world of simple appetites that can be directly satisfied when two contentious friends sit down to cheese, sausage, wine and talk. ‘Monsignor Quixote’ mildly invites — rather than compels — the reader to share this humble feast.”

Robert Towers, “An Amiable Graham Greene,” The New York Times, September 19, 1982.

First Excerpt

“Father Quixote went to find his housekeeper in the kitchen which served also as her bedroom, and it must be admitted the kitchen sink was her only washbasin. She was a square woman with protruding teeth and an embryo moustache; she trusted no one living, but had a certain regard for the saints, the female ones. Her name was Teresa, and nobody in El Toboso had thought to nickname her Dulcinea, since no one but the Mayor, who was reputed to be Communist, and the owner of the restaurant had read Cervantes’ work, and it was doubtful if the latter had got much further than the battle with the windmills.

“‘Teresa,’ Father Quixote said, ‘we have a guest for lunch which must be prepared quickly.’

“‘There is only your steak and a salad, and what remains of the manchego cheese.’

“‘My steak is always big enough for two, and the bishop is an amiable man.’

“‘The bishop? I won’t serve him.’

“‘Not our bishop. An Italian. A very courteous man.’

“He explained the situation in which he had found the bishop.

“‘But the steak…’ Teresa said.

“‘What about the steak?’

“‘You can’t give the bishop horsemeat.’

“‘My steak is horsemeat?’

“‘It always has been. How can I give you beef with the money you allow me?’

“‘You have nothing else?’

“‘Nothing.’

“‘Oh dear, oh dear. We can only pray that he doesn’t notice.'”

Second Excerpt

“The hotel in which they lodged in Salamanca was in a little grey side street. It seemed quiet and friendly to Father Quixote. His knowledge of hotels was necessarily limited, but there were several things about this hotel which particularly pleased him and he expressed his pleasure to Sancho when they were alone and he was sitting on Sancho’s bed on the first floor. Father Quixote had been lodged on the third, ‘where it will be quieter’ the manageress had told him.

“‘The patrona was truly welcoming,’ Father Quixote said, ‘unlike that poor old woman in Madrid, and what a large staff of charming young women for so small a hotel.’

“‘In a university city,’ Sancho said, ‘there are always a lot of customers.’

“‘And the establishment is so clean. Did you notice how outside every room on the way up to the third floor there was a pile of linen? They must change the linen every evening after the time of siesta. I liked to see too when we arrived the real family atmosphere — all the staff sitting down to an early supper with the patrona at the head of the table ladling out the soup. Really, she was just like a mother with her daughters.’

“‘She was very impressed at meeting a monsignor.’

“‘And did you notice how she quite forgot to give us a ficha to fill in? All she was concerned with was our comfort. I found it very moving.'”