(1982), a religious novel by Graham Greene, tells the story of a humble priest who is elevated to Monsignor by the Pope himself because of a clerical error. Critics praise the novel for its moral complexity and for exploring deep theological themes in a light-hearted, accessible way. Greene was a popular novelist, travel writer, playwright, and critic who enjoyed exploring major political and ethical questions. He is best known for writing highbrow literature with mass appeal. Much of his work centers on Catholicism and Church teachings, although he did not identify as a Catholic novelist.
The protagonist, Father Quixote, lives in El Toboso, a small, rustic town in La Mancha, Spain. He serves as the parish priest, and he is very popular with his congregation. He loves the book Don Quixote
by Miguel de Cervantes because the main character shares his name. This fictional character lived in El Toboso more than four hundred years ago, and everyone jokingly says that the priest is related to Don Quixote.
Although the priest knows he can’t be related to an imaginary character, he is a good-humored man who indulges the rumors. He loves Don Quixote and thinks he is heroic. He wishes he could be more like his fictional hero. In tribute, he names his ancient, troublesome car Rocinante, after Don Quixote’s horse. Monsignor Quixote
doesn’t parody the source material—instead, it celebrates it.
There is one man in the village who doesn’t like Father Quixote. This man is the bishop who oversees the larger diocese. Always looking for ways to move Father Quixote elsewhere, he doesn’t like it when the villagers give Father Quixote so much attention because it makes him susceptible to pride and vanity. Although Father Quixote is humble and modest, and he runs his church well, the bishop, nevertheless, will do anything to get rid of him.
One day, Father Quixote receives a visit from an Italian bishop. The bishop needs help with his car, which broke down in the village. Father Quixote readily offers help, inviting the bishop into his home. They dine together before dealing with the car. Once the bishop is on the road again, Father Quixote drinks some wine and forgets the whole thing.
A few weeks go by. Father Quixote busies himself with his congregation; he doesn’t expect to hear from the bishop again. One morning, he receives a letter that changes his life forever. The Pope has chosen to elevate Father Quixote to Monsignor for helping the Italian bishop. Assuming it’s a clerical error, Father Quixote goes along with the new role because it is an honor and privilege.
Father Quixote tells his local bishop. The bishop is not happy. First, Father Quixote assumes it is because no one wants to see him go. He then realizes that the bishop is jealous about his unexpected promotion. Seizing his opportunity to remove Father Quixote from the diocese, the bishop recommends him for a new post.
In the meantime, Father Quixote decides to take a well-earned vacation. He needs time to reflect on his new position and the responsibility it brings. At the same time, he is upset because he loves serving his congregation. He wishes everything could go back to normal, but the villagers tell him he must seize this new opportunity.
Meanwhile, Enrique Zancas, the town’s communist mayor, loses his seat. Unemployed, he pitches up in the local bar. Father Quixote joins him because he doesn’t have anywhere else to go. They bond over their problems, learning they have lots in common. They decide that, since they are both temporarily unemployed, they will take a long holiday together.
The unlikely duo travels around the Spanish countryside in Father Quixote’s beat-up car. During their travels, they discuss everything, including philosophy, politics, and religion. Father Quixote cannot understand Enrique’s atheistic views, just as Enrique dislikes Catholicism. He interrogates Father Quixote about religious violence and persecution; in turn, Father Quixote quizzes him on Stalin.
Father Quixote learns that it is never too late to question beliefs and faith. Although the whole experience reaffirms his faith and life choices, he better understands why he follows Catholicism and what it means to him. Similarly, Enrique learns to see things from multiple perspectives and engage in healthy debate.
Finally, they return from their holiday. The Spanish bishop isn’t happy, claiming that Father Quixote abandoned his post. Before Father Quixote can argue with him, he catches vandals desecrating a Virgin Mary statue. He saves the statue, but the vandals knock him down. Everyone fears for his life.
Father Quixote survives the ordeal; he decides that he has had more than enough adventures for one lifetime. The incident weakens him, and he knows he won’t recover fully. He suffers from hallucinations and sleepwalking. Enrique comforts him, distressed because he suspects the priest is dying. He asks Father Quixote for Holy Communion, which the priest delivers. Father Quixote dies peacefully in Enrique’s arms after finishing the ceremony.