Gustav Regler’s Reception of Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote in the Novels The Owl of Minerva and Juanita
The German writer Gustav Regler (1898-1963) fought as a volunteer in the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War and was severely wounded. From this dramatic experience, he acquired a strong personal relationship with the landscapes, customs, and everyday reality of the regions where Don Quixote’s adventures took place. His war novel The Great Example is sprinkled with references to places where Cervantes had stayed, or to Don Quixote’s personality. After the Spanish Republic’s defeat, Regler was imprisoned in the infamous concentration camp Le Vernet in southwest France. He was released in 1940 and caught a ship to New York. After a few months in the United States, he went into exile in Mexico. In the novels that Regler wrote there, he often referred to Cervantes’s novel Don Quixote, especially to the main protagonist’s characteristic difficulty to differentiate between fiction and reality – a difficulty that Regler, as a “Glaubenssüchtiger” / (“one who is addicted to believe in something”) (Schmidt-Henkel 133), had to struggle with himself. This study will examine the reception of Cervantes’s Don Quixote by Regler in his autobiography The Owl of Minerva (1956) and in a novel about the Spanish Civil War titled Juanita (written 1938-1942, published 1986). As will be seen, in both novels, the way in which Regler reinterprets Cervantes’s text is strongly influenced by his political commitment, first as a communist and later as a man who has broken with communism and who now defines his identity mainly by referring to this breach.
Regler’s autobiography, Ohr des Machus / (The Owl of Minerva), tells the story of a devout Catholic from a middle class family. Because of his “keen social awareness and military experiences” in World War I, his perspective changed “from religious to social commitment” (Acker 311). As a result, he became an active communist. However, after the Stalinist purges in the Soviet Union and those that he witnessed in Spain in the Republican army, the Soviet-Nazi pact of 1939, and especially the assassination of Leo Trotsky, he went through various stages of disillusionment. This dramatic process resulted in the author’s breach with communism in 1941 during his Mexican exile, a break that did not prevent him from remaining a passionate anti-Fascist. However, it is worthwhile to point out that as a consequence of this breach with communism, Regler was labeled a renegade and was “nearly ostracized from the German literary circle of émigrés in Mexico who remained faithful communists” (Acker 315). Only since the end of the Cold War, Regler has been acknowledged as an important German writer without bias.
Speaking of both, becoming a communist and ceasing to be one, the author  refers to the figure of Don Quixote in order to articulate what he liked about communists and what he abhorred. In addition, Regler’s autobiography not only contains many references to Cervantes’s major protagonist, but also the structure of the story told follows that of Cervantes. The author, as a young communist, follows blindly a utopia (Golden Age in Cervantes’s text / classless society in Regler’s), ignoring the sobering reality that he encounters during a trip to the Soviet Union with the excuse that it has been altered by the machinations of evil magicians (jealous sorcerers in Cervantes’ text / saboteurs and other counter-revolutionaries in Regler’s), and wakes up slowly through major clashes with this reality. These almost unbearable clashes (corresponding, for instance, to the beatings of Don Quixote by Sansón Carrasco) for Regler are the shocking news about the purges in the Soviet Union from 1936 to 1938 and the Soviet-Nazi pact in 1939. Very useful for the analysis of Regler’s and other ex-communists’ (for instance, Arthur Koestler’s) references to Don Quixote in their autobiographies is Donald W. Bleznick’s archetypal approach to Don Quixote. It focuses on the myth of the hero and the archetype of the Golden Age that Don Quixote wants to restore, “a universal longing for paradise” (101). For Regler, Stalin, undoubtedly, plays the part of the vicious Duke and Duchess in part II of Cervantes’s novel, who involuntarily accelerated Don Quixote’s awakening from his illusion.
In the following, we will see an example of Regler’s use of the figure of Don Quixote to express a positive vision of communism before the beginning of his gradual disillusionment. In 1934, the author of The Owl of Minerva was invited to the Soviet Union Writers’ Congress in Moscow. Reflecting on his memories of Maxim Gorky’s three-hours-long speech, he notes:
What it all amounted to was the tilting of a proletarian Quixote against the windmills of bourgeois idealism. His Rosinante, although skinny, felt sure of herself; harnessed with the conventional trappings of the Communist State, she merrily kicked up her heels at everything that came her way. It was as unusual as it was radical. She got her first laugh, from the packed rows, when Gorky made her kick Immanuel Kant out of his grave and force the philosopher to admit that he would never have worried his head about “the thing in itself” if he had been a primitive man clad in skins. Primitive man, said Gorky, was a materialist. He smiled at the thunder of applause and went on to demolish the myths in which, up to the present day, poets and historians have sought to veil the materialist thinking of our earliest ancestors. (204)
Having Don Quixote, in Cervantes’s text an idealist par excellence, fighting against the windmills of (bourgeois) idealism seems to be a paradox. However, for the young Regler who recently had broken with Catholicism and now identified with communism, it made sense. In fact, Don Quixote, here, seems to be Miguel de Cervantes himself in his struggle against the idealism of the chivalric novels. According to Marxist theory of materialism, Don Quixote, in Gorky’s speech, is breaking down myths; he is a materialist and has not only the Soviet audience’s, but also Regler’s, applause. In a way, the author’s reaction to Gorky’s speech reminds us of Miguel de Unamuno’s approval of Don Quixote’s destruction of Master Peter’s puppets, “precisely because they are pasteboard figures, and because we are all in on [this] secret…. They must be beheaded and demolished, for there is nothing more pernicious than a lie accepted by all” (see Hess 221).
In a later reference to Cervantes’s hero, the narrator uses the figure of Don Quixote to characterize communists, but this time, negatively. In Le Vernet, the concentration camp at the foot of the Pyrenees, where he has been imprisoned since the German annexation of France, the author watches closely the officials of the German and Italian communist parties. He has not yet broken with communism officially. However, having witnessed the communist purges behind the lines of the Republic during the Spanish Civil War, and being still in shock about the Soviet-Nazi pact, Regler keeps his distance from them. In the following passage, Don Quixote’s awareness that “Chivalry is a religion” (Bleznick 102) corresponds to Regler’s realization that communism should be viewed as a religion.
Every Thursday, with the punctiliousness of devout churchgoers, they would take the evening off and stroll about the camp instead of holding their usual cell-meeting. It was impossible not to admire the fantasy which sustained them in the depths of defeat. Basically, they were only five, a political leader, an administrative leader, a treasurer, a controller of propaganda and agitation, and – the fifth man, representing all the rank and file, the masses: truly the fifth wheel of the wagon! They were Quixotes enacting a daily chapter of their romance of chivalry, and their Sancho Panza was the battered proletariat of the twentieth century. They flattered the masses and did not allow them their own inclinations; as the possessors of the Book of Wisdom they knew what was good for them. They tilted indefatigably against windmills. (334-5)
However, the author continues, “What they lacked, to be true Quixotes, was the charm and gallantry and gentleness of heart of that Castilian knight” (335). Instead of these positive characteristics, the communists in camp Le Vernet whom he observed with growing bewilderment had an almost inhuman-like iron discipline, not only trying to be in absolute control of each other’s behavior, but also of their own emotions:
We watched them for any spontaneous show of feeling, ready to forgive them the crudest outburst of rage and despair. We should not have blamed them if they had talked the utmost nonsense about the Ribbentrop pact, the Communist Party and the ruthlessness of their Russian friends. On the day when the news came through of the Russian attack on Finland, a Finnish inmate of the camp, who was also a communist, went and beat his fists against the barbed wire until he had torn his hands to shreds. He never said why he did it, but from that day we felt nearer to him. He had shown that at least he was human. But the Party-leaders on their Rosinante, that hobby-horse of theory, allowed themselves no human weakness (335).
These leaders, blindly following their utopia of a classless society and perceiving reality only insofar as it proved their theory correct, are, without doubt, Don Quixotes; however, as Regler notes, in contrast to Cervantes’s hero, they do not evoke respect. Too sure about their role in the world, they are just ridiculous, and they are also scary; the reader can sense the narrator’s fear of them. As a 21st century reader, one wishes to see in Regler’s description of those orthodox communists a touch of Cervantes’ wit and humor in describing the famous knight. However, humor needs a certain degree of detachment, and we should keep in mind that when Cervantes wrote Don Quixote, knight-errantry had already become a thing of the past, while at the time that Regler wrote The Owl of Minerva, the communist movement was at its prime; signs that it would collapse one day were not yet on the horizon. Also, Manuel Durán and Fay R. Rogg showed that Cervantes had probably projected a part of himself into Don Quixote: “There are subtle ways in which Cervantes may have laughed and criticized himself while creating the main character in his novel” (20). Gustav Regler, who after all had been an orthodox communist himself until a few years before he wrote this book, obviously was not able or willing to recognize his former self in those ridiculous and scary figures and make fun of himself by describing them.
Besides employing Don Quixote for his discussion of positive and negative aspects in the behavior of communists, Regler’s narrator in The Owl of Minerva also refers to Cervantes’ hero for his discussion of the Spanish national character in the context of the Spanish Civil War where, according to the narrator, “something [occurred] that I was to meet with over and over again in that war – the Spanish marvel, the outbreak of pure unreason” (274). The author had told the men and women with whom he had been digging trenches in Madrid about an English journalist who was captured by the Franco troops. They snatched their picks and rifles, ran to their truck, and drove northward into enemy territory. Then they realized that
they had embarked upon a wild-goose chase, and that the desire to rescue the Englishman had led them […] into dangerous hunting-grounds. […] A wild but noble impulse had sent them plunging into the night, and it was touching to see them awaken from their dream. A whole division might have scoured the vast region without finding the prison-cell where one particular man was held captive. (275)
Knowing that “a special Soviet mission had arrived in Madrid” (275), the narrator started worrying about the safety of those Spaniards who were looking for the English journalist, not caring how their “wild-goose chase” would be interpreted by the Spanish secret police who were more and more controlled by Soviet agents:
They had come in search of a foreigner who was no foreigner but a man in danger. They had come willingly, untroubled by any thought that they might be helping a suspicious character, with no picture of demigods [people like Stalin] in their open, candid eyes, but only the vision of the horizon to which their concept of brotherly love would lead them. (275)
In contrast to the group of communists that Regler’s narrator observed in the camp at Le Vernet, these Don Quixotes, as useless as their actions are, evoke respect. The narrator strongly identifies with their passion and anguish. In a later paragraph, the narrator remembers the famous general Lukacz seizing his guitar and asking, “Where are we?” Regler had answered, “In Castile, the land of Quixote” (300).
Regler wrote his novel Juanita “als eine Huldigung des spanischen Volkes” / (“as an homage to the Spanish people”) (Regler, Tagebuch 48). As will be seen, the narrator uses the figure of Don Quixote in this text for different reasons; one of them will be once more Regler’s attempt to define “the essence” of the Spanish people.
The novel’s main protagonist, Juanita, is an orphan from Asturias who was raised by nuns and later taken to Madrid by a countess who also paid for her education. After the Spanish Civil War breaks out, the countess leaves the city without her, because Juanita, who doesn’t want to abandon the beautiful house, is hiding at the time of her departure. However, soon a militia of the Republic confiscates the mansion with all its valuables. Juanita goes to hide in the Finnish consulate as the countess has told her to do in a message. There, a German Fascist, a cleric, and members of the Spanish upper class are hiding – figures whom the narrator describes with utmost criticism. Juanita’s tragedy begins when she falls in love with one of them, Francisco – young, handsome and fanatical. He is a member of the Falange, a right-wing political group that stresses order, patriotism, and religion. The group had joined Franco’s conspiracy to overthrow the Republic. To please Francisco, Juanita starts to carry out orders of sabotage against the Republic. However, when she is sent to the famous Hotel Florida where foreign journalists are staying, she becomes the close friend of a prostitute who is spying on her customers for the “Reds.” Trying to please Francisco and his accomplices as well as her new friend, the prostitute, Juanita gets between the fronts, “sie lief zwischen den Linien herum” / (“she moved between the front lines”) (281). Finally, she marries Francisco, gets pregnant and dies in childbirth on March 18, 1937 – a date that, as Georg Pichler showed, is symbolic. On that day the Republic defeated Franco’s troops in the battle at Guadalajara – the last successful battle, which Regler portrayed in detail in his famous novel The Great Example (1978). The child, although it is born too early and very fragile, symbolizes that there is still hope for Spain’s future. Since Regler portrays the fascists and the communists as equally negative (the communists interrogate Juanita after it is revealed that she was somehow connected to the people who were hiding in the Finnish consulate), the novel has been read “als eine Revision seiner früheren Parteinahme [for the communists] [and as a] Korrektur des ‘großen Beispiels’” / (“as a revision of his former partisanship [for the communists] [and as a] correction of the Great Example) (Pichler 364). In that novel, members of the International Brigades, who found out about the Stalinist terror against anarchists and members of other parties on the side of the Republic, had escaped into the trenches of the war against Franco as a kind of escape from their shocking discovery, an act of Freudian repression. In contrast, in Juanita, the narrator confronts this issue openly by portraying a ruthless Russian NKVD officer and equating his actions with that of a German Nazi.
Parallel to describing the rapid process of Juanita’s loss of naiveté and innocence from the moment that she leaves the mansion, Regler’s omniscient narrator uses references to Cervantes’s novel Don Quixote which Juanita found in the countess’s library, “eine von Gustave Doré illustrierte Ausgabe” / (“an edition illustrated by Gustave Doré”) (28), and read with great interest. Afterwards, she reflects about her experiences by referring to her reading. When the countess flees from her house, for instance, Juanita thinks: “Sancho Panza ist nicht so feig geflohen” / (“Sancho Panza didn’t escape that cowardly”) (22). Other reflections on Cervantes’s famous two characters are triggered by seeing the author’s statue in Madrid when she ventures out of the mansion to watch the surge of people that come to a halt at the Plaza de España:
Ernst hielt der bronzene Don Quijote die Zügel seines armseligen Pferdes und träumte über die Tausende von schwarzen Köpfen hinweg seine göttlichen und lächerlichen Träume. Hinter ihm, versteckt durch die magere Kuppe von Rosinante, verhielt Sancho, der Genießer und ehrliche Feigling, und es war, als wenn er schon eingesehen hätte, wie gefährlich so viele Menschen auf einem Haufen sein könnten. Oder begriff er, daß viele auf dem Platz jetzt aus Angst angehalten hatten und ihm brüderlich nah waren? / (With a serious look in his face, the bronze Don Quixote held the reins of his pathetic horse and dreamed above thousands of black heads his divine and ridiculous dreams. Behind him, hidden by the scrawny head of Rosinante, was Sancho, the glutton and honest coward, and it seemed as if he had realized already how dangerous so many people in one crowd could be. Or did he comprehend that many in the square had stopped in this moment from fear and felt brotherly closeness to him?) (45)
Juanita chooses the adjective “gefährlich” / (“dangerous”) to describe the surge of people moving through Madrid because she notices the crowd’s complete indifference towards two soldiers lying dead on the ground. She bends down, wondering how she could help them. This strong humanity in Juanita’s personality will remain intact throughout the novel; her gradual loss of naiveté and innocence cannot harm it.
Hans Dieter Petto, referring to Regler’s use of Don Quixote as a leitmotiv of Juanita, states:
Beide Dimensionen der Figur, das Törichte und Lächerliche, das im Verkennen der Zeichen der Zeit und im Anachronistischen von Quijotes rückwärtsgewandter Utopie liegt und ihn zu einem illusionären Idealisten macht, wie auch das Großartige der Kraft seine Phantasie, die sich eine idealere Welt erschafft, haben in Juanita ihre Parallele. / (Both dimensions of the figure – the stupid and ridiculous that consists in the misinterpretation of the signs of the period and in the anachronism of Don Quixote’s reverse utopia that makes him into an illusionary idealist and the great strength of his fantasy, which creates a more ideal world – have their parallel in Juanita). (230)
Petto is right in comparing Don Quixote’s and Juanita’s blindness to the times in which they live and to the people around them, on the one hand, and their vision of a more humane society, on the other. Also, Petto’s observation is correct that Don Quixote’s journeys and Juanita’s movements through Madrid to carry out tasks for the people hiding in the embassy, structure the space of both novels. However, it must be added that Regler uses references to Don Quixote not only to explain Juanita’s personality and development, but also to describe other characters’ viewpoints. One example is the peasant Giménez who is stopped by a militiaman on his way to deliver fresh fruit to the wounded soldiers in a hospital. Giménez thinks: “Wie er auf meinen Wagen schielt! Er sucht sich Feinde wie Don Quijote. Wirst an Windmühlen stoßen wie jener!” / (“How he is looking at my car! He is looking for enemies as Don Quixote does. You will clash with windmills”) (254). In addition, the author even refers to Cervantes’s hero by describing the members of the Falange hiding in the Finnish consulate. As negatively as he portrays them, there is a huge difference between them and the German Nazi von Ertzheim who also is hiding there and tries to use them for his goals:
Ein Lügner war für diese adligen Spanier immer noch ein Lügner; sie waren alle, wie sie dastanden […], nicht bei dem Florentiner Opportunisten Macchiavelli in die Schule gegangen, sondern vielmehr bei Don Quijote, dem Ritter, der sein Wort selbst einem unwürdigen Sancho gegenüber einlöst und gerade deshalb eben sich als Ritter fühlt. / (A liar was still a liar for these Spanish noblemen; all of them as they were standing there […] had not studied in the school of the Florence opportunist Macchiavelli, but at Don Quixote’s, the knight, who kept his word even to an unworthy Sancho and therefore correctly sees himself as a knight). (337)
The author here refers to Cervantes’s protagonist in order to express his admiration for the trait of honesty, which he sees as essential in the Spanish national character. As arrogant and brutal as these members of the Falange are, the cynicism and unscrupulousness of the German Nazi von Ertzheim is not part of their character. When Francisco, for instance, picks up the picture of Hitler from von Ertzheim’s desk to look at him, von Ertzheim says, “Der Mann ist nichts für Sie. Er liebt als erstes mal sein Land und seine Sache” / (“Such a man is not for you. He loves, foremost, his country and his cause.”) Defiantly, Francisco answers: “Wir brauchen keinen Führer, um unser Land zu lieben” / (“We don’t need a leader to love our country”) (444). Later, as mentioned already, the narrator ascribes the same negative attributes to Gregorewitsch, a Russian secret police officer who interrogates Juanita (her life is only saved by Francisco’s daring rescue).
It can be argued that Regler’s narrator in Juanita refers to Cervantes’s novel Don Quixote on the one hand, to illustrate the main protagonist’s development and on the other, to define what is quintessentially “Spanish” for him, in contrast to what is “German” or “Russian.” In this respect, Pichler is correct in stating: “Reglers Roman ist eine Apotheose des spanischen Volkes, das unverschuldet in die Mühlen der faschistischen und kommunistischen ‘Weltverschwörung’ gerät und dabei unter die Räder kommt.” / (“Regler’s novel apotheosizes the Spanish people who get caught through no fault of their own in the mills of the fascist and communist ‘worldwide conspiracy’ and are destroyed in this process”) (361). The criticism that Gustav Regler mystifies the Spanish people and therefore still remains caught in “Versatzstücke[n]” / (“movable scenery”) (Brandt) of communist ideology that he tried to get away from by writing this text, seems to be justified. This mysticism also damages the verisimilitude of the plot. For instance, after a Republican militia stormed the consulate after von Ertzheim, provocatively, had hung the corpse of one of the hostages out of his window, the leader of the group says to the panicking noblewomen: “niemand wird Frauen angreifen” / (“nobody will attack women”) (571). One of them, a Condesa, responds, “Ich sehe, daß Sie die Waffe nicht aus der Hand lassen, während Sie mit mir reden.” / (“I see that you don’t put down your weapon while you are talking to me”). The militiaman gives her the pistol smiling, “Nehmen Sie sie!” / (“Take it!”) The narrator comments, “Es war eine echt spanische Geste, und so sehr war sie ehrlich, daß keiner der anderen protestierte und dagegen einschritt” / (“It was a truly Spanish gesture and so honest that none of the others protested or opposed him”) (571). Afterwards, the Condesa commits suicide, before the eyes of the shocked militiaman, who in vain tries to rescue her.
That Regler uses Cervantes’s text for his apotheosis of the Spanish people doesn’t mean that all Spaniards represent Don Quixotes for him. On the contrary, when Spanish policemen arrive at the consulate to check what is happening there, they behave cowardly, to the dismay of the farmers and militiamen who had gathered to free the two hostages held inside. Therefore, Pichler’s statement: “Überall, wo dieses ‘Volk’ auftritt, handelt es gut und heroisch” / (“everywhere this ‘people’ appears, it acts bravely and heroically”) (361) is exaggerated. Regler’s omniscient narrator states:
Vielleicht hat kein Volk soviel Sinn für Feigheit wie das spanische; der Grund mag in seinem tief eingesessenen Mut liegen. Sie verstehen in diesem Land des Traurigen Ritters sofort, wenn der Sancho Panza aus einem Menschen bricht. Sie verachten ihn nicht deshalb, aber ihr Lächeln ist in seinem Mitleid grausamer als Verachtung, und in diesem Bürgerkrieg von 1936, voll der heroischen Episoden, war wohl das Lächeln immer ein Verdikt; wer ihm begegnete, wußte, daß er abzutreten hatte oder durch eine besonders tollkühne Tat das Verdikt in neues Vertrauen umwandeln mußte. / (Perhaps no people have a better understanding of cowardice than the Spanish; the reason may lie in its deep courage. In this land of the Sorrowful Knight they understand immediately when the Sancho Panza emerges from a man. They don’t despise a person because of that, but their smile is in its compassion more cruel than contemptuous; and in this civil war of 1936, full of heroic episodes, the smile was probably always a verdict; whoever was confronted with it knew that he had to leave or change the verdict into new trust by a foolhardy action) (513).
Defining Don Quixote as courageous and Sancho as cowardly, the narrator states that Spaniards have both elements in their national character. If you compare them to other nations, there is merely less tolerance of the latter.
To mitigate the charge that Regler uses Don Quixote in his effort to mystify the Spanish people, resorting to stereotypes, one should take into account the long history of such an approach. Already Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744-1803) had felt that Cervantes’ famous text is the description of “der spanischen Seele” / (“the Spanish soul”) that would lead us “in die Herzmitte der spanischen Denkart” / (“in the middle of the heart of the Spanish way of thinking”) (see Brüggemann 261). As Werner Brüggemann stated, “Was Herder dann als Charakter des spanischen Volkes entdeckte, das war gerade der Gegensatz dessen, was sich in dem Spanienbild der Aufklärung spiegelte und als das Wesen des spanischen Volkes ausgegeben wurde” / (“What Herder then discovered as the character of the Spanish people was exactly the opposite of what had been mirrored in the enlightenment-image of Spain and pretended to be the essence of the Spanish people”) (261). For enlightenment thinkers, as is well known, Spain was ill famed as the dark land of the inquisition. In Herder’s mind, however, “entstand die [positive] Vision eines ritterlich-romantischen, phantasievollen und stolzen, tief in seiner Eigentümlichkeit wurzelnden Volkes […]” / (“the [positive] vision of a knightly-romantic, imaginative people that was deeply rooted in its singularity, arose […]”) (261).
Later, in the generation of 98 in Spain, Herder’s thought that Cervantes was the ideal spokesman of the Spanish people reappeared. Miguel de Unamuno, for instance, whose Vida de Don Quijote and Sancho (1895) Regler very likely had read, saw Don Quixote’s dedication to the ideals of chivalry as the essence of Spanish temperament. In addition, in Germany during the Weimar Republic – the time when Regler received his formal education and became a writer – there, again, flourished a myth about Spain. As Thomas Bräutigam stated, “Dieser Mythos bediente die vorherrschende Sehnsucht nach Ganzheit, nach völkischer Einheit und einer geschlossenen Nation” / (“This myth served the predominant longing for wholeness, for unity as a people and a closed nation”) (124). Since the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, on both sides, the right and the left, ideologists convulsively attempted to uphold “das alte konstruierte Spanien-Bild” / (“the old constructed Spain-image”) (124) by isolating and excluding those who seemed to endanger the “Klischee von der ganzheitlich gesinnten Nation” / (“the stereotype of the equally-minded nation”) (Bräutigam 124). While the Nazis accused the communists, who mainly came from outside of Spain, for endangering it, the communists accused the fascists of the same. After his break with communism, Regler obviously struggled to come to terms with his shattered mythical image of Spain. As we saw in Juanita, he tries to reconstruct it with the help of Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote de la Mancha – a text that functions as a transcendental anchorage in this time of turmoil.
To summarize, Regler’s reinterpretation of Don Quixote in both novels is shaped by his political commitment, first as a communist and later as a man who has broken with communism and who now defines his identity mainly by referring to this breach. As we have seen, in Regler’s autobiography The Owl of Minerva, references to Don Quixote mainly have the purpose of interpreting positive and negative aspects in the behavior of communists. In Juanita Cervantes’ heroes are referred to on the one hand to explain the main protagonist’s development and on the other, to articulate Gustav Regler’s vision of “Spanishness” as an expression of a collective way of thinking that he supposed to be preexistent in the Spanish people.
1 It is hard to decide whether it is better to say “the author” or the “first person-narrator.” Regler calls The Owl of Minerva an autobiography; however, as Günter Scholdt showed in his biography, “viele Episoden des Buchs erwiesen sich als falsch erinnert, vereinzelt auch als lediglich fiktiv” / (“many episodes of the book turned out to be remembered incorrectly, sometimes also only fictitious”) (1998,19).
2 This is certainly true for the early years in French exile when Regler – “ein kommunistischer Musterschüler” / (“a model student”) as Oskar Maria Graf called him (Graf 31) – worked with Walter Ulbricht, then leader of the illegal German Communist Party and later first party secretary of the German Democratic Republic; they created propaganda material. Still in 1936 – the first year of the Stalinist purges – when other former communist “model students” suffered from serious doubts in their cause, Regler did not. Klaus Mann commented: “Mein begabter Freund Gustav Regler […] ist noch derartig kommunistisch, daß einem vor so viel millitantem Glaubenseifer etwas ängstlich zumute wird” / (“My talented friend Gustav Regler […] is still so extremely communist that you get a little afraid of so much militant religious zeal”) (see Scholdt, 1998, 166).
3 See for instance, Albert’s thoughts during the interrogation of Barna, a Polish volunteer who was accused of being a traitor: “Wie oft war er [Albert] aus dem Stab in die Gräben geflüchtet, wo er sich sicher glaubte vor dem Mißtrauen, das in der Stube lag wie eine stinkende schielende Hyäne!” / (“How often had he [Albert] escaped from the staff into the trenches where he felt safe from the distrust that was lying there in the room like a stinking cross-eyed hyena!”) (361)
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