Donkey Hoatie?
April 14, 2008 5:35 PM   Subscribe

Is there a Definitive English translation of Don Quixote?

I was at the book store a while back, and they had three different translations on the shelf. I don't recall now by whom, but I pulled them all down, and read throught the first two paragraphs of each, and there was such a vast difference between the three that I took all three copies to the help desk, and they were no help, so I left without any of them, as I was afraid of buying an inferior translation.

I presume it's been translated many times, by many people. Is there one that stands out amongst scholars as the real deal, or should I just nab one and be done with it?
posted by Devils Rancher to Writing & Language (13 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I remember reading this article in The Atlantic a few years back, which I think compared some of the translations. It's been a while, so I don't remember details, but perhaps it will be helpful:
posted by ecab at 5:40 PM on April 14, 2008

Best answer: or, in link form, here
posted by ecab at 5:40 PM on April 14, 2008

Best answer: The Atlantic article recommends the Edith Grossman translation, which I have been reading in parallel with the original Spanish, and I have to say it's excellent. Highly readable, faithful but accessible, and most things that need explaining or defy easy translation are footnoted appropriately. It shouldn't be hard to find, either, as it's relatively new (2002, I think).
posted by Kosh at 6:00 PM on April 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Short answer: no, there's no universally agreed best version. All the English translations do some things well and others poorly. I haven't read the Grossman translation that Terry Castle fawns over in that Atlantic article, but have heard and read reviews about it; while it might be a good place for a contemporary English reader to start just by virtue of its recency, it definitely still has its own problems with fidelity to the original (as all of them do). I personally am still a bit attached to Walter Starkie's translation, which, while it now reads as somewhat dated and hokey, is rendered in English a bit too fussily British, and is at least as inaccurate as any other 20th-century version, hits some of the comic and mock-heroic notes better than any other version I've seen. Starkie also has the advantage of being very cheap in Signet Classic paperback.

Unless your interest is primarily antiquarian, definitely stay away from any of the pre-20th-century translations (sometimes still found in cheap editions without their age being prominently advertised). Some of the 19th-century versions are really strange in their garbled attempts at Shakespearian English.
posted by RogerB at 6:02 PM on April 14, 2008

Response by poster: Some of the 19th-century versions are really strange in their garbled attempts at Shakespearian English.

This is exactly what I am trying to avoid -- I have a very difficult time with English (as opposed to American) 19th century literature as it is, due to the excessive floridness that seemed in vogue in Victorian Britain. I'll probably try the Grossman edition, since I'm pretty well stuck in modern American English.

Best answers, all!
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:11 PM on April 14, 2008

I read the Signet Classic paperback by Walter Starkie about four years ago and very much enjoyed it. It was much more accessible than I expected it to be (I was expecting something more stodgy to be voted greatest book of all time). The translation had excellent footnotes, was more accessible than Shakespeare while still being just as witty, with a fantastically superfluous style. I loved it. This from a guy who tends to read non-fiction.
posted by furtive at 6:44 PM on April 14, 2008

The Grossman translation is excellent.
posted by OmieWise at 6:44 PM on April 14, 2008

Burton Raffel has my favorite translation. His approach is to be less "word perfect" and more "intent perfect" with the tone of the book. So if you do a side-by-side comparison with other versions, his tends to feel more natural and entertaining, at least to me.
posted by lubujackson at 8:20 PM on April 14, 2008

Best answer: I would second the Burton Raffel translation. I'd suggest reading some of the Amazon reviews of each to get a feel for how Raffel's "modern" translation stacks up against Grossman's "beautiful" one.
posted by mattbucher at 7:55 AM on April 15, 2008

Grossman was wonderful but I haven't read the Raffel.
posted by Wilder at 12:09 PM on April 15, 2008

Love the Donkey title by the way ;)
in that vein....

Juaguar jew?
I am berry well!
posted by Wilder at 12:11 PM on April 15, 2008

You might like to flick to the back of the Grossman edition when you're in the store/library - it compares the opening paragraph of a few translations so you get a feel about the style.

(I've not read any other version, but am finding the Grossman version very accessible)
posted by djgh at 1:50 PM on April 15, 2008

Response by poster: Thought I'd follow up in case anyone on Earth cared -- I picked uo the Edith Grossman traslation a couple weeks back, and after being thoroughly intimidated by the Harold Bloom introduction, I find myself to be enjoying it very much. I'm releived by the copious footnoting because I know next-to-nothing about 16th & 17th century literature, and less than that about Spanish history.

I'm about 75 pages in, and am somewhat puzzled to find that what everyone has claimed as THE GREATEST NOVEL OF ALL TIME!!!11 AUUGGHH!!! is basically a light-hearted satire of what Cervantes thought to be tedious and wordy "Chivalric" stories. It's nice when learning is such a pleasant experience.

My 16-year-old daughter's remark was "Ohmygod, you're reading that? That book is sooooo funny!" Okay, so I'm a little behind the times, kids.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:37 PM on December 18, 2008

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