DON QUIXOTE DE LA MANCHA by Miguel de Cervantes


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Few dispute the critical consensus that Cervantes' magnificent tale (first published in 1605) is one of the half dozen greatest works in Western literature, and it's not surprising that this Spanish masterpiece has engendered numerous translations, even though the hapless knight-errant himself warns against it: ""a translation. . .is like the wrong side of Flemish tapestry, in which, tho' we distinguish the figures, they are confused and obscured by ends and threads."" Still, this didn't deter the author of Roderick Random (1748) and Humphrey Clinker (1771) from translating these very lines. And though the English novelist's version has never been published in the US, it went through over 30 no doubt ""profitable"" editions before the 20th century, when it fell into obscurity. Thanks now to the polyglot Mexican novelist, Carlos Fuentes, and his American publisher, Smollett's late-Augustan translation is again available to both scholars and general readers, who will also benefit from Fuentes' excellent introductory essay on Cervantes' distinctly modern accomplishment. Smollett's admittedly loose translation achieves a certain idiomatic fluency, but even so it's a decidedly 18th-century idiom, and contemporary readers might still prefer the literalness and modern diction of Samuel Putnam's popular 1949 version. Certainly not the first English translation, as the publisher avers, Smollett's Quixote nevertheless merits republication as ""the homage of a novelist to a novelist"" (Fuentes' words), and none of the many available translations from any century can make a similar claim. Like most masterworks, Don Quixote is the sum of its interpreters, and as much as translation is above all an act of interpretation, Smollett stands foremost among them, making his considerable contributions.

Pub Date: Feb. 17th, 1985
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux