‘The Glass Lawyer’, by Miguel de Cervantes, translated by Edith Grossman

My book Don Quixote’s Delusions: Travels in Castilian Spain (Phoenix), was partly dedicated to exploring the revolutionary effect of Don Quixote (1605), especially on writers and thinkers, including Nabokov, Woolf and Freud. Often described as the world’s first modern novel, Don Quixote is the first to feature a fully rounded psychological character who can doubt his own motives. If you haven’t got the time or the inclination to peruse its one thousand pages, though, you can find quicker evidence of the author’s genius in the Exemplary Novels, a collection of twelve short stories that appeared in 1613, midway between the publications of Volumes One and Two of Don Quixote.

In ‘The Glass Lawyer’ a prodigiously clever graduate of Salamanca University is given a love potion by his spurned admirer and becomes convinced that he is made of glass. So terrified is Tomás of his own fragility that he begs curious onlookers not to approach him and insists on being transported in a box lined with straw. While in the grip of this delusion, he starts spouting aphorisms about society, Forrest Gump-style, and becomes a cause célèbre. As soon as he recovers his sanity – and now mortified by his previous indiscretion – he is no longer of interest to anyone. Here, in microcosm, Cervantes explores some of the ideas about mental instability, character and truth-telling that shaped el Quijote. The story has spawned numerous literary and psychological studies and inspired Deborah Levy to write her own take on it, ‘The Glass Woman’, published in Lunatics, Lovers and Poets: Twelve Stories after Cervantes and Shakespeare (And Other Stories, 2016)

First published as ‘El licenciado Vidriera’ in Novelas Ejemplares, Juan de la Cuesta 1613, translation in The Exemplary Novels, Yale University Press 2016