Thursday, October 23, 2014

The spurious Quixote

Cervantes did the only thing he could: write back.

The cover to this Quixote looks like most novels of chivalry.

Four hundred years ago, Don Quixote was published – but not the one you’re thinking about. This one was the Continuation of the History and Adventures of the Renowned Don Quixote de La Mancha by Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda.

Never heard of it? It’s best known among scholars, and even they’re not entirely enthused about it. Here’s what happened:

The first part of Don Quixote was written by Miguel de Cervantes in 1605, and at the time he didn’t seem to be planning to write any more about the Knight of the Woeful Countenance, even though it was a big success. Unluckily for Cervantes, maybe too big of a success: it was immediately pirated. He probably didn’t make that much money from it anyway, and he always needed money.

Copyright laws weren’t as good then as they are now, so he couldn’t do much about the piracy. He also couldn’t stop someone named Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda from writing his own sequel to Cervantes’ book nine years later. It sold fairly well, even though it fell far short of a masterpiece.

Avellaneda’s version, which insults Cervantes in the prologue, tells how Don Quixote meets two knights on their way to a joust in Zaragoza. Don Quixote has recovered his sanity, but he is persuaded to undertake a life of adventure again. He arrives too late for the joust and is made fun of. He heads back to Madrid to fight a giant, and on his way, he falls in love with Barbara, a prostitute, believing she is a queen. After being the butt of more jokes in Madrid, Don Quixote is committed to an insane asylum in Toledo, Barbara enters a home for “repentant women,” and Sancho Panza goes to work for a nobleman in Madrid.

The book is marked by ridiculous humor and stereotyped characters, as well as weak writing. You can read it here if you want.

Who was this Avellaneda? A pseudonym, and the real author remains to be discovered, although there are plenty of theories.

By that time, Cervantes might have already been working on Part II of Don Quixote. If not, the spurious Quixote inspired him to reclaim his masterpiece and make some of the cash due to him for his creation. Part II takes pains to ridicule Avellaneda’s work while maintaining the profound humanity, irony, and fine humor that marks Cervantes’ genius.

The real Part II of Don Quixote de la Mancha came out in 1615, and the world is a better place because of it.


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