Academic journal article Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America

Edith Grossman's Translation of Don Quixote

Academic journal article Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America

Edith Grossman's Translation of Don Quixote

Article excerpt

THE SPECTACULAR SUCCESS OF Edith Grossman's translation is the best thing that has ever happened to Cervantes in this country. It was published on October 21, 2003, and two months later, on Christmas Eve, 2003, it rose to be the ninth-best-selling book at

What this means is that thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of people, have experienced reading this book in recent months, a great boon to cervantistas' (or at least my) desire to see a Quijote on everyone's bookshelf. Our collective hats should collectively be tipped in the direction of New York's Upper West Side to congratulate Edith Grossman on her achievement.

This is a trade book destined for the general reader, and in this role Grossman's text is ideal--you read it, you get the story, you get lots of footnotes--in an altogether readable format.

In the first two paragraphs of the novel itself, it matters little to the man in the street whether don Quijote's lance was stored on a shelf (as the translation says [19]) (1) or on a lance rack, or if Don Quijote's greyhound was used for racing (as in the translation) or if he was merely swift. (A parallel with "galgo corredor" is in II, 41, where "cohetes tronadotes" was translated as just "fireworks" [724].) It equally doesn't make any difference to that same fellow if don Quijote lived "Somewhere in La Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember" (as the translation says), or "In a village in La Mancha, whose name I do not care to remember" (italics are mine), because villages are places after all. But these little details should be a caveat about the translations's familiarity with the Golden Age idiom, where "lugar" in this context, does mean 'village.'

There has been a flood of "reviews" of this translation, all favorable, and none with much, if any, analysis: some of these are those of James Wood (The New Yorker), Tania Barrientos (The Philadelphia Inquirer), The San Francisco Chronicle, Carlos Fuentes (The New York Times, with a rebuttal by Roberto Carlos Echevarria in a letter to the editor), Craig McDonald (This Week, UK), Jay Tolson (U.S. News), Julian Evans (The Daily Telegraph, UK), Max Gross (Forward), Robert McCrum (The Observer, UK), Terry Castle (The Atlantic Monthly), and Richard Eder. (2) I hope to give quite a bit of analysis here.

Part of the problem Don Quixote translators face is that of which edition to use to translate from. (3) Grossman says that she used "Martin de Riquer's edition"--but Riquer has done two different editions, the one from 1955 and the one from 1980, the latter of which he (naturally) considers superior. Looking at the footnote on p. 67 of the translation, where "Benengeli" is associated with "berenjena" and the Moors' predilection for dishes made with eggplant, it seems to reflect the use of the 1955 edition instead of the 1980 edition, which no longer insists on the Moors' culinary tastes.

An example of how the edition leads the translator astray is in the Captive's Tale, where the renegade decides to take on a partner with whom he can buy a boat, a certain "Moro Tangerino" (folio 242v in the 1605 princeps) 'A Moor from Tangier.' Since the same fellow is called a "Tagarino" 'Moor from Aragon' later, almost everyone considers the Tangier reference to be an error and homogenize the text so that both are "Tagarinos." So, "Tagarino" it is in Riquer, with no note about the change, and "Tagarino" it is in the translation (351). Again, when don Quijote and others arrive at an inn, the famous "cousin," who was leading don Quijote to the Cave of Montesinos, is suddenly identified as the "sobrino" in the Spanish text. It looks like dopey old Cervantes has made another obvious gaffe! Virtually all editors "fix" it silently back to "cousin," doubtless thinking they are doing Cervantes a favor. Riquer changes it to "primo" without a note, which Grossman translates in all innocence. So, where Riquer has gone astray, so has Grossman unsuspectingly gone astray as well. …

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