Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

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The Avellaneda Affair

In 1614, when Cervantes was on his way to finishing his Part II of the Quixote something astonishing happened. It seems that in the unlikely city of Tarragona a second part of Don Quixote was published, written by a mysterious fellow named Alonso Fernán­dez de Avellaneda13 who claims he is from Tordesillas. Cervantes was angered because Avellaneda’s work had appeared before his own second part; because Avellaneda neither possessed his inventiveness nor remotely understood the psychological subtleties of his don Quixote and Sancho; and maybe especially because of several insults that Avellaneda hurled at him in the Prologue, dealing with his age and maimed hand.14

Avellaneda himself didn’t think that he was doing anything out of the ordinary. It was fairly common—and still is, for that matter—for a second author to continue a work by another. Avellaneda cites some examples of this practice in the Prologue to his Second Volume of the Ingenious Hidalgo ­Don Quixote de La Mancha, Which Contains His Third Expedition and Is the Fifth Part of His Adventures.15 He says: “How many have dealt with the life and loves of Angélica? Several have written about Arcadia; La Diana wasn’t written by the same hand” (Riquer, p. 10). It is true that the amorous adventures of Ariosto’s Angelica were continued by two Spanish authors, one of them being Lope de Vega.16 And that same Lope wrote his own Arcadia in imitation of Sanaz­zaro’s Arcadia (1504) of almost a century earlier. There are two continuations of Jorge de Montema­yor’s La Diana. Many modern critics hold Gil Polo’s continuation in higher esteem than Montemayor’s original.17

Avellaneda didn’t consider it improper to write his own sequel to Cervantes’ work so soon after the publication of the original. After all, both continuations of La Diana came out in 1564, just five years after Monte­mayor’s original, and Avellaneda had waited nine years. Aside from that, Cervantes had given every indication that he was never going to continue the Quixote. What were some of these indications? The title page of the 1605 edition read simply The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote de La Mancha, written by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, and said nowhere that this was just the first of two volumes.18 Even the division of the Quixote into four parts—reflecti­ng the organization of Amadís de Gaula, appeared to add evidence that Cervantes considered his work complete.

At the end of the book readers in 1605 learned, perhaps to their dismay, that there really could be no sequel to Don Quixote because “no authentic information about his third expedition could be found, although tradition held that he went to Zaragoza to compete in a tournament there.”19 The hopes of those who longed for a continuation of Cervantes’ work diminished with each passing year, especially since Cervantes had turned his attention to other projects. In 1613 he published his Exemplary Novels­; in 1614 he published his long poem, Voyage from Parnassus; and in 1615, about the same time that Part II of the Quixote came out, he published his Eight New Plays and Eight Skits, Never Performed­. But until he published his Novelas, eight years after the appearance of Don Quixote, there was no indication that he would publish anything ever again, much less a sequel to his Don Quixote.

Cervantes himself fueled the flames of doubt about a sequel in the very last line of the Quixote, which is a subtle dare, a challenge to another author to continue don Quixote’s adventures. It is a slightly modified verse from Canto 30 of Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, which reads: “Forsi altro canter con miglior plectro” ‘perhaps someone else will sing with a better plectrum’ (or pen, as Cervantes later interpreted this line).

Since Cervantes hadn’t published his own second part; since he dared someone else—anyone else—to take up his pen; and since so much time had gone by, Avellaneda accepted the challenge and wrote a continuation. In this book—and what could be more natural?—he sends don Quixote to Zaragoza to participate in the jousting tournament, taking the itinerary from the end of the 1605 Quixote (Chap. 52). At the end of the continuation, this second don Quixote winds up in the crazy house in Toledo. Then Avella­neda— following exactly what Cervantes had done at the end of his book— suggested an itinerary for a future author to take up. He said that when don Quixote got out of the asylum, he took on a new squire—a young lady, and pregnant as well, of all things—and went to have adventures in Ávila, Salamanca and Valladolid. He then invited yet another author to continue don Quixote’s adventures, echoing Cervantes’ original dare, saying that the knight’s adventures would not lack “a better pen to celebrate them” (Riquer, vol. III, p. 130). No one took up this challenge.

Since he had not yet quite finished his own second part, Cervantes, with pen in hand, had ready means with which to discredit and even conquer his foe. I would like to trace here what he did, step by step, so you can see how his method developed to destroy both Avellaneda and his characters.

Almost everybody says that Cervantes learned of the­ Avella­neda continuation while he was writing Chapter 59 of his own second part, because that is where the spurious version is first mentioned. Of course, there is no reason to believe that the instant Cervantes heard of Avellaneda’s book he lashed out against it. He could have found out many chapters earlier, and continued with his original game plan while he figured out what to do, then, finally, in Chapter 59, adopted the plan of how to combat­ Avellane­da.

So in this chapter, a certain don Jerónimo and don Juan come to the inn where don Quixote is stay­ing, and don Quixote happens to overhear don Juan suggest that they read another chapter from the Second Part of Don Quixote de La Mancha. Needless to say, this information startled don Quixote. But when he hears that the book in question claims that don Quixote is no longer in love with his lady Dulcinea (such was indeed the case in Avella­neda’s continuation), he flies into a rage and announces that he is don Quixote, and that he is still very much in love with Dulcinea. The two men seem to recognize instinctively that our don Quixote is indeed the real one, and that the one described in their book has to be a fic­tional entity who has merely been assigned the same name as the real person now in their presence.

The result of this astounding news is that don Quixote resolves never to go to Zaragoza, his original destination, but rather to Barcelona in­stead. At this point Cervantes’ stance is that his own characters are real and that Avellaneda’s are pure fiction. But no one, not even Cervantes, can combat fictional beings. He had to make Avellaneda’s characters real before he could attack them.

Two chapters go by before we hear of the false don Quixote again. When don Quixote enters Barcelona, he is welcomed as the real don Quixote, and “not the false, not the fictional, not the apocryphal one written about in false histories” (Part II, Chap. 61). Even here, Avellaneda­’s hero is still pure fiction, still nothing more than the hero of a novel, a figment of someone’s imagination.

Then something very strange happens. In the next chapter don Quixote is wandering around Barcelona and he comes across a book printer. One of the books that they are putting together is none other than the “Second Part of Don Quixote de La Mancha, written by a certain Avellaneda, a native of Tordesi­llas” (Part II, Chap. 62), which don Quixote says he recognizes and lets it go at that. It seems very odd that Cervantes would create a new edition of his rival’s book since two editions within two years in two different cities would seem to indicate that Avellaneda’s book was very popular indeed. This is far from the case since the second edition of Avella­neda came out in real life 118 years later (during which time 37 editions of Cervantes’ Quixote were published).

Let me digress for a moment to explain why don Quixote discovers Avellaneda’s book in Barcelona. Whereas don Quixote himself just looked at Avellaneda’s book for a few seconds in Part II, Chap. 59, Cervantes read it carefully.20 In doing so, he noticed similarities in typography, decorations, and typographic style, not with books printed by Felipe Roberto, the fellow from Tarragona who is listed as the printer of Avellaneda­’s book, but rather with books printed by Sebastián de Cormellas in Barcelona.21 Cervantes would have known books from the presses of Cormellas well since Cormellas had produced several books of interest to Cervantes.22 So the reason don Quixote found Avellaneda’s Quixote being printed in Barcelona is that Cervantes was, in a subtle way, telling us that he knew that the False Quixote wasn’t printed in Tarragona at all, but rather in Barcelona.

In Chapter 70, when one of the young ladies that don Quixote has met, named Altisidora, seemingly returns from the dead—and she made this all up, of course—, she says that she saw devils at the gates of hell playing a game resembling baseball, but instead of using balls, the devils were swinging at books. One of the volumes that they were playing with was brand new (that is, never read), and when it was hit, it flew to pieces. “One devil said to another: ‘Look and see what this book is.’ And the devil answered: ‘This is the Second Part of the History of Don Quixote de La Mancha; not the one written by Cide Hamete, but rather by an Aragonese who says he’s from Tordesillas.’ ‘Take it away,’ responded the other devil, ‘and throw it into the depths of hell so my eyes won’t ever see it.’ ‘Is it so bad?’ asked the other. ‘So bad,’ replied the first, ‘that if I tried on purpose to write one worse, I couldn’t do it.’ ” What a terrible indictment! It is no wonder that hardly anybody has ever read the false Quixote. This seems to have been Cervantes’ intention in lambasting the book in this way.

But it is in Chapter 72 where Cervantes creates the dénouement of the Avellaneda Affair, and the result is truly a brilliant coup. In that chapter, our don Quixote meets don Álvaro Tarfe—who is the most important supporting character in Avellaneda’s story—at an inn. When don Quixote asks him if he is the same one written about in a book, don Álvaro says:“ ‘I’m one and the same… and that don Quixote, the main subject of that history, was a very great friend of mine.’” Álvaro Tarfe later signs an affidavit, at don Quixote’s request, that he had never seen our don Quixote before and that he—our don Quixote—was not the one who appears in the second book.

So, now Cervantes’ thrust has changed. We had thought, or had been led to believe ever since we heard of the spurious volume in Chapter 59, that Avellaneda’s creation was purely a work of fiction, that his don Quixote and Sancho were nothing but characters in a book, while our don Quixote was a real person (all this, of course, within the framework of Cervantes’ own fic­tion). But now that Álvaro Tarfe enters Cervantes’ book in the flesh and says he knew the other don Quixote, we are forced to believe that there real­ly was a second don Quixote and a second Sancho wandering about Spain, exactly as Avellaneda had described, and that they really had gone to Zaragoza for the jousts, and that the other don Quixote was now locked up in the Toledo insane asylum. Avellane­da’s don Quixote and Sancho then have become as real as don Quixote and Sancho in Cervantes’ own book. He has brought them to life and given them eternal fame. At the same time he has cast them into eternal oblivion since so few read Avellaneda’s book because Cervantes was so convincing about how terrible the book is.23

Now that he has destroyed Avellaneda and his work, Cervantes is going to change Avellaneda’s characters back into entities of fiction. When don Quixote is dictating his will, he declares that if his executors should ever meet Avellane­da, they should “pardon him as earnestly as they can for my having caused him to write so much and so great foolishness as he has written in it” (Part II, Chap. 74), meaning that his own real exploits caused Avellaneda to compose this “foolishness”—that is, fiction.

There are other less obvious, but very important ways that Avellane­da’s book affected Cervantes’ second part. Up to the final chapter of Part II, Cer­vantes never revealed what don Quixote’s real name was. I am convinced that he never would have either—given the vagueness and contradictory information about his name—had the false Quixote not been published. We learn ear­ly on in Avellaneda’s book that his don Quixote’s real name is Martín Quixada, and that his niece is named Madalena. Knowing this, Cervantes names his hero Alonso Quixano the Good24 in his final chapter, and the niece is named Antonia Quixana. Don Quixote’s housekeeper, who appears frequently in Cervantes’ book, is never given a name in Avellaneda’s book, so she is not assigned a name in the final chapter of Cervantes’ Part II either. Thus, the pattern of vague or non-existent names—a real part of Cervantes book—is destroyed.

We were also more or less led to believe in Part I that don Quixote’s village was Argamasilla, since that was the town where all those academicians who wrote poems and epitaphs dedicated to don Quixote, Sancho Panza and Dulcinea were from (Part I, Chap. 52). That is, of course, why Avellaneda chose to make Argamasilla (which he always erroneously calls Argamesilla) don Quixote’s village. At the end of Cervantes’ Part II, we are told that Cide Hamete did not tell us the name of don Quixote’s village so that all of the towns of La Mancha could contend among themselves for the right to claim him as their own (Part II, Chap. 74). But there is one village in La Mancha which can never claim the real don Quixote, and that is precisely Argamasi­lla, because we know for a fact that the impostor don Quixote is from that village, and if the real don Quixote had also been from Argamasilla, he would have surely known that he had a neighbor, a certain Martín Quixada, who was masquerading as himself.

The last item I want to mention is don Quixote’s death. Because of Avellaneda and his dare to another author to keep don Quixote’s adventures going through yet another continuation, Cervantes realized that he had to have his hero die at the end of the book so that no one else could try to continue his own hero’s adventures. No one knows exactly how Cervantes’ Part II would have ended were it not for Avellaneda, but there is a good chance that Cervantes would have otherwise just had him return home and retire there. It is sad that Avellaneda’s book seems to have caused the death of don Quixote.

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