Cervantes doesn’t fit into my plan of writing about lesser known classic authors, but he certainly led an interesting life. He was born into a family of minor gentry that was going steadily downward in the world. He may have been largely self-taught, although the head of a municipal school in Madrid referred to him as his “beloved pupil.” His story gets interesting when, at 21, he left Spain for Italy, an action common for young Spaniards at the time to further their careers. There, he joined the Spanish infantry in Naples fighting off the Turks.
He took part in the battle of Lepanto, and his conduct was courageous. He ended up being wounded and with a left hand that was useless for the rest of his life. He left the army to return to Spain in 1575 with letters of commendation to the king, but en route he and his brother were captured by Barbary pirates and held for ransom. He was ransomed three years later, just in time to save him from being taken as a slave to Constantinople.
For the rest of his life, Cervantes struggled to make a living, applying for government positions and writing drama and poetry. He was imprisoned for discrepancies in accounts for three years, during which he may have conceived the idea for El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha. This work is regarded as the first modern novel, the first part of which he published in 1605. He is regarded as the most important figure in Spanish literature.
Most popular works: El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha (Don Quixote), La Galatea, Novelas exemplares, Viaje del Parnaso
Other works: numerous plays and poetry