Don Quixote tells Sancho that Homer and Virgil were describing characters ‘not as they were but rather as they must be, to stand as examples of virtue to future generations.’ Now, Don Quixote himself is far from an example to follow. Characters in novels do not need to be admired for their virtues. They need to be understood and that is a completely different matter. Epic heroes conquer or, if they are themselves, conquered, they retain their grandeur to the last breath. Don Quixote is conquered. And with no grandeur whatever. For it is clear immediately: human life as such is a defeat. All we can do in the face of that ineluctable defeat called life is to try to understand it. That—that is the raison d’être of the art of the novel.
—Milan Kundera, The Curtain

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