Miguel de Cervantes’ first novel was published in 1585 in Alcalá de Henares with the title The First Part of La Galatea Divided Into Six Books. Undoubtedly he began writingit in 1580, upon his return from Algiers and with the aim of earning some money and paying some of the debts that his family had incurred when obtaining his ransom.
On 14 June 1584 Blas de Robles, a bookseller in Alcalá de Henares, sold the printing rights for the book for 1,336 pennies. In the legal document that is preserved in the Historical Archive of Protocols of the Community of Madrid, it states how the author conceded exclusivity for the printing of the book for ten years.
La Galatea is a pastoral novel, a narrative genre whose protagonists, in the guise of idealised shepherds, tell stories of real love. It is set on the shores of the Tagus River, and its protagonists include Elicio and the rich shepherd Erastro. Both characters fight for the love of the shepherdess, Galatea. Along with these central characters, secondary characters and actions are added and intertwined with parallel love stories, jealousies, lies and the misunderstandings that were so fashionable in this literary genre.
The love that the protagonists profess is only spiritual, responding to the Neoplatonic theories of the time. In addition, underlying the pastoral image of the characters, the learned words and stylised language of true love courtiers that combine in the text as both verse and prose are hidden.
The female character Galatea responds to the image that Cervantes usually gave his heroines: beautiful women who are usually intelligent and kind and who place their independence and freedom above social bonds.
Despite the success of other novels of the same genre, such as Los siete Libros de Diana (The Seven Books of Diana) by Jorge Montemayor, Cervantes’ book didn’t receive the expected recognition. This is surely why he didn’t give up on his resolve to publish a second part that he never actually managed to write. The work is mentioned anecdotally in Don Quixote in the book-burning scene. Among the pastoral novels that that are thrown into the fire, the priest and the barber save this particular novel and announce that soon a second part will be published.