Academic journal article Philological Quarterly

Cervantes in Seventeenth-Century England: The Tapestry Turned

Academic journal article Philological Quarterly

Cervantes in Seventeenth-Century England: The Tapestry Turned

Article excerpt

Cervantes in Seventeenth-Century England: The Tapestry Turned by Dale B.J. Randall and Jackson C. Boswell. Oxford U. Press, 2009. Pp. xlii + 719. $160.

Remapping the Rise of the European Novel edited by Jenny Mander. Studies in Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century 10. Voltaire Foundation, Oxford University, 2007. Pp. ix + 344. $132.

For decades, research into Don Quixote was predominantly concerned with the text itself--with its idiosyncratic nature and the literary traditions that inspired Cervantes. Recently, however, many scholars have set out to measure the reception of Cervantes' works in Western literature. This area of research has gained momentum in the past decade, with the study of Cervantes' influence on English and American literature. There has always been an awareness of the impact that Cervantes had on English authors, artists, and philosophers--for example, Fielding explicitly acknowledged Cervantes' influence on Joseph Andrews, Coleridge suggested that Cervantes' Persiles and Sigismunda was the "germ" of Robinson Crusoe, and others imitated Don Quixote, from Charlotte Lennox to Graham Greene, G. K. Chesterton, and Robin Chapman. In the past five years alone, there has been a sudden proliferation of books dealing with this issue--my own work on the eighteenth-century English novel, Scott Gordon on the female novel, Sarah Wood on American literature, in addition to the collective volumes edited by Fernandez-Morera and Hanke, Torron and Dietz, Barrio and Aulle, and myself.

Randall and Boswell's Cervantes in Seventeenth Century England is a unique endeavor. It lists 1,198 English texts, published between 1605 and 1700, which allude to or name Cervantes and his oeuvre. These texts include literary works, Cervantine adaptations and imitations, translations, critical commentaries, and bibliographies. Hitherto, the most accurate number to hand were the eighty allusions found by Edwin Knowles in the period from 1605 to 1680. Since Knowles, researchers have brought other references to light; however, Randall and Boswell's volume alters our perception significantly. "Having worked on this project for a significant while, we are also pleased to share the good news that we offer here more new entries than borrowed ones" (xvii), claims Randall in the introduction. Indeed it is hard to imagine any other foreign book, with the obvious exception of the Bible, that had so deep an impact on seventeenth-century English letters as Don Quixote. Cervantes in Seventeenth-Century England offers material for future research, and directs scholars to the authors and texts that deserve attention.

The twenty-seven-page critical introduction by Randall addresses a number of important critical issues, such as attitudes toward Don Quixote, the quality of Don Quixote translations, and the impact of Cervantes' novel on popular culture. Not in vain, Randall warns that the reception of Cervantes in Britain "turns out to be a far more complicated and therefore much more interesting subject than first meets the eye, either within or beyond the seventeenth century" (xv). Randall opens up his introduction by acknowledging the work of critics who noted the changes in the way the English construed Don Quixote. In the seventeenth century it was read as basically comic, in the eighteenth century regarded as satirical, and the Romantics hailed it as the "saddest" of all tales, as Byron called it. Such differing interpretations have intrigued scholars for the past thirty years, and divided them into two sides: those who advocate that Don Quixote is a comic novel, and those who proclaim its philosophical depth. Most critics have agreed that during the seventeenth century Cervantes' novel was perceived as one of great merriment. In the introduction, however, Randall draws our attention to different interpretations he observes in the seventeenth century. He presents some irrefutable evidence that Don Quixote was enjoyed by readers of different political views, who would use it to deride their opponents--a practice noted before by Roland Paulson. …

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