Sunday, May 25, 2014
Cervantes' "Don Quixote": Kindle review
John Ormsby's 1880s translation--also used in the Great Books series, I note--does not seem that antiquated. I sampled Edith Grossman, John Rutherford, and Burton Raffel's recent translations, and there's subtle differences rather than dramatic ones with Ormsby. He may opt for a more polite diction, but he tries to convey the tone of what's mimicking old-fashioned storytelling, after all.
I had read in college the Signet abridgement by Walter Starkie. Tom Lathrop's new reconsideration of this fittingly erratic text that replaces that publisher's edition seems to capture the old spirit of this complicated satire. It appeared to--or Cervantes pretends to let it--get out of control as its success spawned imitation by, and confusion for, all. (Lathrop documents this well--his translated text without the necessary Signet editorial material can be seen online at the Cervantes Project at Texas A+M.)
It took a while to re-read this. The first book unfolds with embedded novellas, chivalric tales of love that play against the sillier ones the Don believes and which Sancho Panza mocks. It's much slower after the initial episodes that bear the most acclaim. (I noticed a sudden and total fall-off in the Kindle annotations others had left!) But, the second book, written years later, amps up the energy and the intertextuality, as the Cide's tale told via the narrator clashes eventually with the sub-par competition of an imposter! The Don, Sancho, and their chroniclers enter "real" 17c Spain.
Cervantes takes on the critiques of Book One well, and it's fun to see how the novel even as invented here argues against its own suppositions. The tale, of course, is full of such clashes of fiction and reality. A surprising amount of abuse is heaped on our protagonists, and this "humor" appears to have worn more thin in centuries since, again a shift to a more modern sensibility that can "feel" the blows and insults suffered more deeply. It ends in a moving deathbed scene, to boot.
The balance between the tone used by Cervantes five centuries ago in parodying medieval romance needs to be acknowledged, and the need for an older register, as well as the post-modern before the modern existed upheavals within the unraveling narrative may test our patience. The joke may wear more thin than we recall. It's a cruel age, as the superhuman feats and bouts of chivalry leave "real" bruises in this telling. But this novel, which Faulkner re-read every year, remains an amazing feat that its author--as with much good art--might never have intended when he began it and worked on it and left it aside and returned to it...memory can be faulty! A fitting reminder for anyone contemplating the protagonist's fate and its author's lessons. (Painting: "Don Quixote Reading" by Adolf Schrödter.) (Amazon US 7-24-12)