- La Galatea
- Don Quixote of la Mancha (Parts I and II)
- Exemplary Tales
- Journey to Parnassus
- The Trials of Persiles and Sigismunda
- Other Works
Miguel de Cervantes’ first novel was published in 1585 in Alcalá de Henares with the title The First Part of La Galatea Divided Into Six Books. Undoubtedly he began writing it in 1580, upon his return from Algiers and with the aim of earning some money and paying some of the debts that his family had incurred when obtaining his ransom.
On 14 June 1584 Blas de Robles, a bookseller in Alcalá de Henares, sold the printing rights for the book for 1,336 pennies. In the legal document that is preserved in the Historical Archive of Protocols of the Community of Madrid, it states how the author conceded exclusivity for the printing of the book for ten years.
La Galatea is a pastoral novel, a narrative genre whose protagonists, in the guise of idealised shepherds, tell stories of real love. It is set on the shores of the Tagus River, and its protagonists include Elicio and the rich shepherd Erastro. Both characters fight for the love of the shepherdess, Galatea. Along with these central characters, secondary characters and actions are added and intertwined with parallel love stories, jealousies, lies and the misunderstandings that were so fashionable in this literary genre.
The love that the protagonists profess is only spiritual, responding to the Neoplatonic theories of the time. In addition, underlying the pastoral image of the characters, the learned words and stylised language of true love courtiers that combine in the text as both verse and prose are hidden.
The female character Galatea responds to the image that Cervantes usually gave his heroines: beautiful women who are usually intelligent and kind and who place their independence and freedom above social bonds.
Despite the success of other novels of the same genre, such as Los siete Libros de Diana (The Seven Books of Diana) by Jorge Montemayor, Cervantes’ book didn’t receive the expected recognition. This is surely why he didn’t give up on his resolve to publish a second part that he never actually managed to write. The work is mentioned anecdotally in Don Quixote in the book-burning scene. Among the pastoral novels that that are thrown into the fire, the priest and the barber save this particular novel and announce that soon a second part will be published.
The first part of the Miguel de Cervantes’ masterpiece, The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote, came to life as a manuscript one year before it was published in 1605 at the printing house owned by Juan de la Cuesta in Calle Antocha, Madrid. It is possible that he began writing it at the end of the 16th century during one of the periods he spent in prison.
Like his father, Blas de Robles, who published La Galatea, the bookseller Francisco Robles, believed in Miguel de Cervantes’ literary gift and wanted to take advantage of the popularity of picaresque novels of the time to sell Don Quixote, a book that was destined to be read by squires, lords, travellers and gentlemen.
The themes, events and characters of the book have acquired the fame that the author didn’t have during his lifetime. This book, full of adventures and a masterpiece of Spanish literature, reflects on the human condition and helps one to understand the reality of a Spanish society supressed by religious and political power.
The book’s protagonist, the ingenious Alonso Quixana, a man who has very little, is too old to be a knight-errant and who is incredibly noble, has read so many chivalrous novels that he has gone mad. This is the starting point of a text that, from a comic perspective, masterfully analyses the fears, strengths and weaknesses of its characters. Don Quixote proclaims himself to be the saviour of the unfortunate while he tries to win the heart of Dulcinea of Toboso, who is really the peasant girl, Aldonza Lorenzo.
Don Quixote soon enjoyed such great success both in Spain and abroad that other editions followed. That literary victory gave the writer more than one headache, and in 1614 he had to see the apparition of the apocryphal continuation of the book in Tarragona, written by someone under the pseudonym Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda.
After the first part of the Alonso Quixana stories, consisting of 52 chapters, in which his first two adventures are told, a second part followed. In 1615 the Second Part of Don Quixote of la Mancha came out, once again though the bookseller Francisco de Robles and the printing house belonging to Juan de la Cuesta. In its 74 chapters the third adventure and death of Don Quixote are told.
Don Quixote and Sancho acquire greater richness in their actions and personalities, especially in the case of the protagonist who gradually stops being a comic character in order to realise, lucidly, his suffering in the face of the deception that surrounds him. With this disillusionment, insanity returns and with it, death. The figure of Sancho also suffers profound transformations in the face of the changes his master goes through.
The criticism that the writer intersperses throughout the second book Quixote of Avellaneda results in this: that the book will not be republished in Spain until the 19th century. In contrast to this, Cervantes’ Quixote has become a universal literary classic throughout history.
The Exemplary Tales were written between 1590 and 1612 and were published in 1613 in a single volume. In Madrid, on September 9 of the same year, the publication rights for the work were signed to the bookseller Francisco de Robles. As such, Cervantes sold the rights and royalties for these historic twelve stories for 1,600 pennies. Also, just as with Don Quixote, it is Juan de la Cuesta’s printing house that was commissioned to publish them.
Judging by the number of editions that followed the first one, the book must have been very successful at the time. It is not only the success of the twelve stories that are told in the book, but, in Cervantes’ words, in the opportune examples for the reader that can be taken from them, which is where the title ‘exemplary’ comes from. What is more, Cervantes’ famous prologue is a rich source of information for understanding the author and Spanish literature. Miguel de Cervantes is undoubtedly the first author to write a series of short stories in Spanish, a genre that was gradually introduced to the peninsula through the mediaeval Italian novelle. However, the best-known part of the prologue is surely the autobiographical description made by the author. While it was common to see engravings of the portrait of the author in the 17th century, Cervantes substituted that image for a ‘portrait of words’.
“This person that you see here, of aquiline countenance, with dark brown hair, a smooth clear brow, merry eyes and hooked but well-proportioned nose; his silver beard […]”
The short stories in Exemplary Tales are:
- La gitanilla (“The Gypsy Girl”)
- El amante liberal (“The Generous Lover”)
- Rinconete y Cortadillo (“Rinconete and Cortadillo”)
- La española inglesa (“The Spanish-English Lady”)
- El licenciado Vidriera (“The Lawyer of Glass”)
- La fuerza de la sangre (“The Power of Blood”)
- El celoso extremeño (“The Jealous Extremaduran”)
- La ilustre fregona (“The Illustrious Kitchen Maid”)
- Las dos doncellas (“The Two Damsels”)
- La señora Cornelia (“Lady Cornelia”)
- El casamiento engañoso (“The Deceitful Marriage”)
- El coloquio de los perros (“The Dogs’ Colloquy”)
On October 18 1614 Cervantes was granted the privilege of printing and selling Journey to Parnassus (Viaje del Parnaso). The work, which was published in Madrid of that same year, is a narrative piece written in verse that tells the story of the writer’s journey to Mount Parnassus. In this mythological place where literary geniuses gather and immortality is granted, the best Spanish poets are brought together by Cervantes to fight in an allegorical battle against the bad poets.
The Journey begins in Madrid, where Cervantes begins to bring together, with the help of the god Mercury, a group of good poets. This small army takes to sea, travelling from Cartagena to Genoa, Rome and Naples (Cervantes knew Italy well since he had lived there for several years). After numerous adventures and misadventures they manage to arrive at the slopes of Mount Parnassus, where they are met by Apollo, the god of poetry. The battle between the good and bad poets is carried out using very original ammunition: both sides use books and poems as weapons in order to try and defeat their opponent. As is to be expected, good poetry wins.
The work is faithfully indebted to Viaggio di Parnaso, by the Italian writer Cesare Caporali, which was published in 1582. From the very first verse of Journey to Parnassus Cervantes pays tribute to him:
“This that you see here, […] is the face of the author of La Galatea and of Don Quixote of la Mancha, and he who wrote Journey to Parnassus, in imitation of Cesare Caporali Perugino…”
However, along with Caporali’s text, Cervantes intersperses many classical literary and autobiographical references, such as his participation in the battle of Lepanto and his trip to Italy, among others.
On April 19 1616, now ill with dropsy and only a few days from death, Miguel de Cervantes wrote the dedication for The Trials of Persiles and Sigismunda to Pedro Fernández de Castro, Count of Lemos:
“In the stirrup,
with the agony of death upon me,
great lord, I write to you…”
His last great work came out in January of 1617, when the author was already dead, thanks to the endorsement of the master Josef de Valdivielso. The book was published, almost simultaneously, in Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Pamplona, and also abroad (in Lisbon and Paris).
The book is in the vein of the genre known as ‘Byzantine novel’ with Hellenistic roots. It tells the story of the complicated romantic relationship between Periandro and Auristela (Persiles and Sigismunda), a story of adventures in the style of the Greek novel but with details tailored to the vision of Catholic Spain. As Cervantes says in his Exemplary Stories, mentioning Persiles, he was writing a “book that dared to compete with Heliodorus…”.
Cervantes choose a Nordic prince and princess as his protagonists: Persiles and Sigismunda. The pair of lovers decide to make a pilgrimage to Rome to get married. To achieve their goal they have to change their identities, as in any good novel of this genre, and pass themselves off as brother and sister, changing their names to Periandro and Auristela. During their escape to Italy they must overcome obstacles that serve to confirm and strengthen their love and reinforce the image of the universal literary hero: a character that must always fight for his fate in order to receive his reward.
Between 1580 and 1587 Miguel de Cervantes wrote more than twenty or thirty comedies, which had some success in their productions. On March 5 1585, the same year that La Galatea was published, Cervantes signed a contract with the comedy writer Gaspar de Porres: Cervantes committed to deliver the comedies Confused and The Constantinople Agreement and the Death of Selín in fifteen days. For both works he would be paid forty ducats, but the texts haven’t survived.
Only the titles are known of his first theatrical pieces, as is the case with The Great Turquesca, The Naval Battle, Jerusalem, The Amaranth, She of May, The Loving Forest, The Only One, and Bizarre Arsinda. Of all these texts only two manuscripts of his tragedies have been preserved: The Treatment of Algiers and The Numantia. One must remember that what happened in the theatre of the Spanish Golden Age was akin to what happened in publishing: writers lost their rights when they sold their work to the ‘comedy author’, that is, to the impresario who had invested his capital in its production in courtyard theatres like the Corral Príncipe or the Corral de la Cruz, which were the most well-known in the city of Madrid.
In 1615 he wrote Eight Comedies and Eight Entr’actes, Never Performed, comprised of the following titles:
El gallardo español (The Gallant Spaniard)
La gran Sultana doña Catalina de Oviedo (Ardenia’s House of Jelousies and Craziness)
Los baños de Argel (The Baths of Algiers)
La casa de los celos y selvas de Ardenia (The Happy Ruffian)
El laberinto de amor (The Great Sultana, Lady Catalina of Oviedo)
La entretenida (The Labyrinth of Love)
El rufián dichoso (The Entertaining One)
Pedro de Urdemalas (Pedro of Urdemalas)
La elección de los alcaldes de Daganzo (The Election of the Mayors of Daganzo)
Retablo de las maravillas (Tableau of Wonders)
El juez de los divorcios (The Divorce Judge)
El rufián viudo (The Widowed Ruffian)
El viejo celoso (The Old Jealous Man)
La cueva de Salamanca (The Cellar in Salamanca)
La guarda cuidadosa (The Careful Guard)
El vizcaíno fingido (The False Man from Biscay)