This new translation of the beloved classic attempts to return to the roots of its earliest English translation.
With numerous English translations of Don Quixote already in existence, any new translator will have much to prove. Davis’ (Jungle of Glass, 2011) translation results from his attempt to preserve “the voice of the [Thomas] Shelton translation,” the earliest Quixote in English, in order to give a contemporary audience the sense of how the 17th-century masterpiece originally read. Even though Shelton translated the second part of the novel, Davis neglects it, which may disappoint some readers, as Cervantes provides some of his most piercing psychological and philosophical insights in the sequel. In Davis’ rendering, the register ascends above most current translations, preferring “a seventeenth century sensibility” over readability for a contemporary audience. This stylistic choice leads to stilted prose, especially in dialogue, where Davis provides the characters with lofty affectations informed by antiquated etiquette. That’s not to say, though, that this edition reaches the syrupy decadence of Peter Motteux’s early translation. Thus, Davis’ Quixote hovers between eras, neither transforming Cervantes’ novel into plain, current English nor infusing it with full-on Spanish Golden Age textures. The compromise attempts to harness the best of both eras, although the result can sometimes feel disjointed and ignorant of Cervantes’ dry sarcasm. The most readable passages occur during action scenes (even when the action takes place in Quixote’s imagination), where Davis deftly navigates the text, often with great gusto. His translation bypasses literalism, freely rearranging syntax and diction, and his arrangements create a colorful atmosphere and flavor, though some scholars may disagree with the mild poetic liberties he has taken. With so many translations available, Davis’ Quixote provides a unique path through the work, which, though it remains incomplete, should find a readership in those interested in the gaps between the language of Cervantes’ time and ours.
Split between old and new, this translation seeks a niche audience.