Sorta. It’s actually about Cervantes. But stay with me.
Cervantes led a rather unorthodox life before composing one of the greatest works in the Western canon, Don Quixote. When he was 22, scholars believe he got himself involved in a duel. The lawful punishment for this was the loss of his right hand and ten years exile. To avoid this punishment, Cervantes fled the country. He ended up being away twelve years and losing the use of his left hand.
Cervantes proudly worked as a soldier for a few years and participated in the Battle of Lepanto, a decisive battle between a coalition of European forces and the Ottoman Empire. Cervantes was shot three times in the course of the fighting: twice in the chest and once in the arm, which rendered his left hand permanently useless.
Four years later, still a soldier, Cervantes was on board the Sol when it was attacked and overtaken by Algerian pirates. They took him captive and he worked as a slave in Algiers for five years. Cervantes made four failed escape attempts before being ransomed by his parents. (His father, incidentally, was what we call today a “barber-surgeon.” He must have been exceptionally good with a knife.) Before leaving, however, Cervantes had to compile a number of written affidavits concerning unknown charges that he had behaved in “an ugly and vicious manner” while in captivity.
When Cervantes returned home, he finally fell into the rhythm of most important writers: moving from job to job desperately trying to make a living. He worked as a purchasing agent for the Spanish Armada, and even as a tax collector. However it seems that he wasn’t suited to accounting. In 1597 and 1602 he was imprisoned for “irregularities in his accounts.”
It is thought that Cervantes first started writing Don Quixote, the “Bible of Humanity” (Sainte-Beuve), while in prison.
To review: Cervantes evades the law because he illegally becomes involved in a dual; he is shot three times in battle, losing the use of his left hand; he is captured by pirates, attempts to escape, and is accused of acting “viciously” while captive; finally, he is thrown in prison for “irregularities” in accounting for his tax collection. I think I like him.
Readers, I have a vague premonition that this may be the start of a mini-series: authors with bizarre life stories. I’ve already told you about Melville and Dostoevsky, and now we have Cervantes. What other authors would you like to add?