Friday, January 14, 2005

Signing on

I'd almost given up on finding the Grossman translation. I wasn't going to order one, either, cuz I wanted Don Quixote TODAY.

So this morning I pored over a few of the translations available at a local bookstore, comparing first paragraphs of a sampling of chapters. Finally, I was pretty comfortable going with the Rutherford (2000). The rhythm was easier than the Jarvis (1742). The Smollett (1755) by comparison was just weird (definitely the odd man out — makes me wonder if in some ways it's truest, maybe to the linguistic idiosyncracies of the time period).

I even convinced myself that it might complement this discussion to be able to reference more than one translation. Rutherford in hand, I still stopped by the information desk, just in case, where they were indeed able to set me up with the Grossman. And it truly does read easier.

The differences were not big ones, between any of the translations, in any objective pin-pointable sense, but the flavours are distinct.

I was curious how the academics view them:
As one of the foundation stones of modern literature — "It has been said that all philosophy is a footnote to Plato. It can be said that all prose fiction is a variation on the theme of Don Quixote," wrote Lionel Trilling — it is natural that we should continue to treasure and reprint this classic. But we've done more than reprint it: we've re-translated it, again and again. Smollett's was not the first English translation of Don Quixote, but the sixth. Thomas Shelton wrote the first between 1612 and 1620; he was followed by John Phillips (a nephew of John Milton) in 1687, John Stevens in 1700, Peter Motteaux in 1700-3, and Charles Jarvis in 1742. After Smollett came 19th-century translators like John Ormsby (1885) — who called John Phillips' version "a travesty that for coarseness, vulgarity, and buffoonery is almost unexampled even in the literature of that day" — and 20th-century translators like Samuel Putnam (1949), Walter Starkie (1964), and John Rutherford, author of the latest Penguin Classics edition in 2000.

Amazing that translation of DQ has been tackled so many times! It seems no one thinks anyone else has gotten it right. That in itself serves as evidence to DQ's richness for interpretation.

OK. I start reading the Grossman NOW.


Blogger Zee said...

Excellent! Thanks for sharing this info, Isabella.

I own both the Putnam and Penguin translations, and I found both of them hard to seek my teeth into. Nowhere nearly as satisfying as reading the real thing (in Spanish).

Grossman's translation, however, I can savour. It just seems to roll off the tounge so naturally, and goes so well with tea. ;o)

4:20 PM  
Blogger Diana said...

I have both the Rutherford and the Grossman, and when I tried to read the Rutherford edition many months ago, I never really did get into it and ended up giving up.

Sometimes I think the fact that my Grossman is a large hardcover with crisp white pages and large black print has as much to do with my better success this time around as the translation.

Is it time for reading glasses?

4:58 PM  
Blogger Diana said...

Correction! I don't have Rutherford. I have Smollet. No wonder it was hard to get into...

5:44 PM  
Blogger Isabella said...

This is all so much more reassuring than doing it alone.

6:06 PM  
Blogger Isabella said...

I'm curious, Zee — Why do you choose to read it again then, and in English?

6:14 PM  
Blogger christina said...

Oh oh. I have the Smollett translation. Does this mean I'm in trouble? I'll see how I get along. So far it's been ok.

1:16 PM  
Blogger Diana said...

Oh, gosh no! I'm sorry if I sounded discouraging.

I am realizing that I haven't been stretching myself in the reading department for quite some time. I've been reading modern literary fiction that is as familiar to me as the thoughts in my own head, resulting in my ability to speed-read with half my attention.

This is an exercise in mind control for me, this reading Don Quixote. You may be much less vulnerable to inner and outer distractions than I am.

So don't mind me. Carry on!

1:23 PM  

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