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Cervantes Saavedra, Miguel de

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionBooks & Authors: Award-Winning Fiction (Bo-Co)

(Spanish, 1547–1616)

Cervantes wrote plays, short stories, and novels; it is for Don Quixote de la Mancha (Part I, 1605, Part II, 1615) that he is known today. Commonly praised as the first modern novel, and a comic masterpiece, Don Quixote is a lampoon on the chivalric romances of the sixteenth century; medieval soap operas ripe for Cervantes's ironic and philosophical eye. Born near Madrid to a middle-class family, Cervantes's ambitions were military, and in 1571 he served at the battle of Lepanto against Turkey. Badly wounded—he lost the use of his left hand—he was imprisoned for five years, and it was during this time that he first conceived of his tragical knight errant. Cervantes creates an opportunistic tale in which ridiculous and fantastical adventures arise with little regard to time or place. Minor characters abound as the vainglorious Quixote pursues his deluded wanderings on his nag Rosinante with the peasant Sancho Panza as his squire, in search of his true love, Dulcinea. Sancho's pragmatic presence provides a useful contrast to Quixote's madly romantic imagination. Where he famously sees proverbial giants, Sancho recognizes the reality of windmills gently turning. Underlying all is Quixote's belief in the world of the romance. The character's fantasy and the author's own commentary mix in a complex, uproarious entertainment.

Laurence Sterne, James Joyce, Jorge Luis Borges. See CLASSICS  AM

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