The fake Don Quixote

In 1605 Miguel de Cervantes published Part 1 of Don Quixote, the first “modern” novel. In 1614 an unidentified author wrote an unauthorized sequel: the first fanfic of the first modern novel.

Don Quixote
Honoré Daumier / Public domain

Don Quixote is often dubbed the first modern Western novel: it involves “real” people living real lives in the modern world, as opposed to extraordinary tales of heroes often set in a mythical past (which Walter Scott termed romances). Don Quixote is of course a spoof of romances: it’s all about a man who takes the romances too much to heart and believes himself in the middle of one, despite all evidence and experience to the contrary.

Cervantes published the first half of Don Quixote in 1605, but the second half didn’t arrive until a decade later. It may not have arrived at all, but for Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda.

Who was Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda? Well, we don’t know. (It appears I’m all about anonymous authors at the moment.) It may have been a friend of Lope de Vega, Cervante’s arch-rival. Lope de Vega was the Stephen King of his day, by the way: Cervantes called him the “Monster of Nature” because of his extremely prolific output. I cannot imagine Vega and his friends were thrilled at that title.

Avellaneda may also have been a pseudonym of Gerónimo de Passamonte. Cervantes based a character in Part 1 on him, and it was not exactly a flattering comparison – he’s a prisoner writing his autobiography while serving as a galley slave:

“And how is the book entitled?” asked Don Quixote.
“The ‘Life of Gines de Pasamonte,'” replied the subject of it.
“And is it finished?” asked Don Quixote.
“How can it be finished,” said the other, “when my life is not yet finished?”

Anyway, whoever it was, he or she wrote a rather bad Don Quixote fanfic and published it in 1614. This was before copyright, I suppose. Cervantes was incensed. The next year he published Part 2 of Don Quixote, and actually worked this unauthorized sequel into his own legitimate sequel in a beautiful piece of metafiction.

In the real Part 2, Don Quixote discovers copies of the fake sequel and is outraged by its inaccuracies:

He put a book which his companion carried into the hands of Don Quixote, who took it, and without replying began to run his eye over it; but he presently returned it saying, “In the little I have seen I have discovered three things in this author that deserve to be censured. The first is some words that I have read in the preface; the next that the language is Aragonese, for sometimes he writes without articles; and the third, which above all stamps him as ignorant, is that he goes wrong and departs from the truth in the most important part of the history, for here he says that my squire Sancho Panza’s wife is called Mari Gutierrez, when she is called nothing of the sort, but Teresa Panza; and when a man errs on such an important point as this there is good reason to fear that he is in error on every other point in the history.

Some scholars believe that Cervantes never intended to write a second part, and did so only because of this fake sequel. If that’s true, then we owe a lot to Avellaneda, because Part 2 is where Don Quixote really shines.


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