MIGUEL DE CERVANTES was 57 years old when the First Part of Don Quixote appeared in January, 1605. A rather marginal figure in literary circles, he was known at the time as the author of a number of plays, some occasional poems, and La Galatea, a pastoral romance. This last had been published twenty years before, was incomplete, and had only two editions to its name. Don Quixote, his belated first major success, was the product of most of a lifetime of experience and wide reading. His career as a young man -- soldier, veteran of the Battle of Lepanto, captive for five years in North Africa -- had been adventurous and even heroic. The next twentyfive years, spent mostly as a minor government functionary and tax collector, were humdrum and unrewarding. His work took him travelling widely about Spain, however, and thus at least helped to lay some of the groundwork for Don Quixote.
It is not certain when he began to write the book, but he was busy with it by 1602. A remark in the first prologue suggests that he conceived the idea of it in prison (probably in Seville in 1597), although we cannot be altogether sure of this. In the summer of 1604 he negotiated the sale of the rights with the publisher and bookseller Francisco de Robles, and it went to the press of Juan de la Cuesta in Madrid. Success was immediate. There were five or six editions (two of them unauthorized) by the end of the year. As early as June 1605, the figure of Don Quixote was well-enough known to appear in a festival masquerade in Valladolid (where Cervantes was living at the time). In 1607 this happened again in Cuzco, Peru, in 1613 in Heidelberg, and at least ten times in all by 1621.
Cervantes's new-found fame prompted a surge of writing, revising, and publishing, which continued for more than a decade until his death in 1616. Part Two appeared late in 1615 -- too late to forestall a sequel written by someone who called himself the Licentiate Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda. It is a crude work by comparison. The author, despite paying Cervantes the supreme compliment of imitating him, was hostile and even insulted him in the prologue. Cervantes, who was obviously offended, replied with acid restraint