Don Quixote: The Nature of the Novel, The Nature of the Self

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Toronto Pursuits and COVID-19: We expect to formally open registration and collect deposits early in 2022, once we get more information from the University of Toronto. See the main Toronto Pursuits page for more details.

We do have a variety of online seminars running now, with new groups starting regularly. Thank you for your patience!




Dr. Wendy O’Brien is a philosopher with over 35 years’ experience teaching in academic and non-academic environments, including at Humber Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning, Wilfrid Laurier University, Harvard, Oxford and the Art Gallery of Ontario. She’s conducted many seminars and webinars for Classical Pursuits and Worldworld Quest, both online and in-person. Interested in the place where philosophy and art intersect, she’s led discussions on the works of Hannah Arendt, Montaigne, Beauvoir, Fitzgerald, Ishiguro, Wharton and Proust as well as thematic series on women essayists, feminists, landscapes, interiors and portraiture. This seminar on Cervantes’ Don Quixote draws together and extends areas of interest arising from these studies, including questions concerning the nature of time, the rise of the liminal, the power of writing, and the nature of the self.


Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes, translated by Edith Grossman
(Harper Collins/Ecco Reprint Edition, 2005)
ISBN-13: 978-0060934347

Participants are required to obtain this edition/translation to facilitate the group’s ability to find and cite portions of the text during discussion. It is essential that everyone be working from the Grossman translation.

What are the purposes and functions of the novel? What makes for a “great” novel? It’s easy to put off these questions to critics and scholars—perhaps at our peril …

For with the rise of this literary form, we witness the rise of a new understanding of the self that reverberates through to our own lives.

In this seminar we’ll take up the challenge of reading the first modern novel, which for many is still the world’s greatest: Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote. The rise of this artistic form set the stage for the rise of a new writer and a new reader. With these developments came a new understanding of the self. In other words, Cervantes’ masterpiece, at once an engaging story and a meditation on reading and writing, is a also quest—a quest to write something new and to be someone new. As we explore how the novel’s content and structure urge us to reconsider distinctions between fact and fiction, poetry and philosophy, idealism and realism, free will and fate, and comedy and tragedy, we will approach this work in search of clues for what makes for a modern novel and what makes for a modern self. We’ll join Don Quixote and Cervantes himself to ask how, “Although this is poetic fiction, it contains hidden moral truths worthy of being heeded and understood and imitated…”

“For me alone Don Quixote was born and I for him. His was the power of action, mine of writing.”
Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote



The cost of Toronto Pursuits registration will be announced shortly. Registration includes one seminar Monday to Friday, morning coffee and newspapers, five buffet lunches, afternoon speakers, a five-day opera lecture series, film screenings, guided walks, two cocktail receptions, and a range of other cultural and social activities. All costs are subject to the 13% Harmonized Sales Tax (HST).

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ONE per registrant

  • Participants who have attended Toronto Pursuits at least five times receive a C$215 discount.
  • Register with a friend, and if one or both are first-time participants, each receives a C$215 discount.


You are responsible for booking your own accommodation. Click here for more information.

Stratford Shakespeare Festival Weekend

We expect to have more information about the Stratford Festival Weekend in early 2022.


Additional information


Concert ticket, Not eligible for discount, Five times, With friend, Gift registration