‘Don Quixote’ then and now

Http---com.ft.imagepublish.prod.s3.amazonawsWilliam Egginton at the Financial Times:

In January 1605, an ageing veteran of Spain’s wars against the Ottoman Empire published the strangest of books. Unlike the bestsellers of the day, it was not a chivalric romance, a pastoral drama or the fictional confession of an outlaw. Instead, it told the story of a gentleman so besotted with reading those kinds of books, especially the ones about knights errant and their magical adventures, that he loses his mind and begins to believe they are real.

The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha was an immediate and roaring success. Demand for copies was so high that within a few months its author, Miguel de Cervantes, was having the book distributed throughout the Iberian peninsula while his publishers began work on a second edition. Two pirated versions appeared in London, along with two others in Valencia and Zaragoza; stacks of copies were loaded on to the galleons embarking for the New World. By June the book’s two central characters had become iconic figures, their effigies carried in parades and imitators popping up in celebrations both royal and plebeian.

Don Quixote would become perhaps the most published work of literature in history. Its influence on writers has been unparalleled. When the Nor­wegian Nobel Institute polled 100 leading authors in 2002 to name the single most important literary work,Don Quixote was a handsome winner; no other book came close.

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