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Don Quixote (Penguin Classics) Paperback – February 25, 2003
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"The highest creation of genius has been achieved by Shakespeare and Cervantes, almost alone." —Samuel Taylor Coleridge
"A more profound and powerful work than this is not to be met with...The final and greatest utterance of the human mind." —Fyodor Dostoyevsky
"What a monument is this book! How its creative genius, critical, free, and human, soars above its age!" —Thomas Mann
"Don Quixote looms so wonderfully above the skyline of literature, a gaunt giant on a lean nag, that the book lives and will live through his sheer vitality....The parody has become a paragon." —Vladimir Nabokov
About the Author
Miguel De Cervantes Saavedra was born in Spain in 1547 to a family once proud and influential but now fallen on hard times. His father, a poor barber-surgeon, wandered up and down Spain in search of work. Educated as a child by the Jesuits in Seville, the creator of Don Quixote grew up to follow the career of a professional soldier. He was wounded at Lepanto in 1571, captured by the Turks in 1575, imprisoned for five years, and was finally rescued by the Trinitarian friars in 1580. On his return to Spain he found his family more impoverished than ever before. Supporting his mother, two sisters, and an illegitimate daughter, he settled down to a literary career and had hopes of becoming a successful playwright, but just then the youthful Lope de Vega entered triumphantly to transform the Spanish theatre by his genius. Galatea, a pastoral romance, was published in 1585, the year of Cervantes’ marriage to Catalina de Palacios y Salazar Vozmediano. But it did not bring him an escape from poverty, and he was forced to become a roving commissary for the Spanish armada. This venture, which led to bankruptcy and jail, lasted for fifteen years. Although he never knew prosperity, Cervantes did gain a measure of fame during his lifetime, and Don Quixote and Sancho Panza were known all over the world. Part I of Don Quixote was published in 1605; in 1613, his Exemplary Novels appeared, and these picaresque tales of romantic adventure gained immediate popularity. Journey to Parnassas, a satirical review of his fellow Spanish poets, appeared in 1614, and Part II of Don Quixote in 1615 as well as Eight Plays and Eight Interludes. Miguel de Cervantes died on April 23, 1616, the same day as the death of Shakespeare--his English contemporary, his only peer.
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Top Customer Reviews
The four "major" translations that are referenced over and over again are by Smollett, Grossman, Putnam, and Raffel. (There are roughly a dozen "minor" but well known and vigorously defended or reviled others.) But, the first translation, which was published in 1612, within just seven years of the release of "Quixote" itself, was by Thomas Shelton. The most popular translation after that, until the "modern" era, was Ormsby's 1885 version.
Happily, Kindle offers a free copy of Ormsby's version. It also offers a kindleunlimited, (and sometimes free as a promotion), copy of Gerald Davis' reworking of the Shelton version.
Some people favor Raffel, (although faulted for being too oversimplified), or Putnam, (faulted for being too colloquial). Grossman is the most modern, but is frequently criticized for taking great liberties and being almost purposefully prolix and obscure. Of course, each translator brought his or her own sense of style, and own sense of the work, to the project, and all of them felt fairly free to put their own authorial stamp on the book. Ormsby is highly regarded because of his scholarly effort to achieve "accuracy". The Davis book is highly regarded, although sometimes relegated to a niche position, because of the translator's attempt to find a middle ground between the Shelton original and a modern reader's sensibilities.
This Kindle Ormsby is the 1885 version, not the Norton update of 1981. But that's fine, since the update modernized some language but didn't change the text dramatically. As a bare public domain version you don't get notes, footnotes, modern annotations and the like. You do, however, get the full text, include Ormsby's analysis of prior translations. The book is formatted well enough and has a basic table of contents. It is readable, if unadorned.
The Kindleunlimited Davis is also barebones, although there is a nice preface by Davis. Again, the formatting and type editing is fine and unfussy. It is also perfectly readable.
I prefer the Davis version, but that really is a matter of personal taste. It is nice to be able to suggest that not only are these two freebies adequate, they do indeed have an honorable place amongst all of the best translations. As a consequence you do not have to lower your standards, or accept an inferior translation, when selecting one of these freebies as your text of choice.
Surprisingly, each Kindle version can be augmented, for a few dollars, with Audible Narration. The Ormsby narration is a bit more energetic, the Davis narration is more solemn. I only sampled them, but both seemed fairly engaging.
Please note, because there are so many editions of each and all of these books, and because Amazon is not at its best when mixing and matching books, editions, and reviews, it's important to mention which books this review refers to. The kindleunlimited Davis displays a white cover and a pencil or engraved image of Don Quixote framed in yellow. It clearly states that it is "The New Translation By Gerald J. Davis". The free Ormsby sports the generic Amazon public domain cover, in brown and buff. Don't mistakenly buy some expensive "collectible" mass market copy, unless that's what you want.
If you read this novel in high school and feel like you didn’t read the same book as me, YOU DIDN’T. You need to read the Edith Grossman translation. It’s amazing. It flows well. It’s modern enough to understand yet she worked hard to keep as much of the context of the time period and language as possible. The style feels similar to reading Jane Austen. It’s not totally modern but not old enough that it’s hard to understand. Edith’s footnotes in this novel were great. They gave context when needed. They pointed out plot holes that I didn’t even notice like someone in the room talking even though the author never mentioned them coming in. She also did her best to explain the word play humor that sadly didn’t translate to English. If you’re still not convinced to read it because it’s long, I can tell you that the reason it’s so long is because there are chivalric novellas inserted into the narrative. They’re good stories but if you are intimidated by how long it is, you could skip these novellas.
what appealed to me is that Don Quixote is an early example of one of my favorite types of character, the not-quite-genius-but-not-exactly-complete-buffoon-either hero. you know, the likes of Lou Costello, Charlie Brown, Gilligan, Maxwell Smart, Herman Munster, Inspector Clouseau. who knows, maybe Don Quixote was the very archetype of this brand of hero.
simply put, the man who becomes Don Quixote is a middle-aged aristocrat (or "hidalgo") in 17th century Spain. his passion is for tales of chivalry and heroic quests, so he's what we would today call a "fanboy." he regrets that the age of knight-errantry ended so long ago, several centuries in fact. finally his enthusiasm overcomes his reason and he sets out to revive the custom, losing himself almost completely into the fantasy themes of his favorite literature.
the good news is that there's no shortage of the obvious farce element. the most famous example is of course his confusion of windmills with giants. the one i remember best, though, is his insistence on fasting unless he's invited to a lavish royal feast. he can't recall any of the knights in his books ever eating except at such a feast, so he figures it must be part of the code.
but there turns out to be more than that to the book. WAY more. like so many older long books, there are times when it makes one wonder if it was once considered a sacrilege for an author to get to the point.
most obvious in such cases are the times when something is successfully established, then paraphrased for several pages thereafter. here, for instance, there's a point where a shepherdess named Marcela is ostracized for ostensibly driving an unrequited crush to suicide. when she gets a chance to plead her case she makes several points which could be made quite straightforwardly: she never meant him any harm, she wanted a different sort of life than he did, it's not her fault she's so beautiful she drives men to distraction. the gist of that last sentence, Cervantes spreads out for several pages, serving no more substantial purpose than ballast, at least as far as the modern sensibility can decipher.
and then there's the tendency to delve deeper into matters that don't actually require any elaboration. when Quixote is brought home from his first expedition, his niece, housekeeper, and the local curate blame his books and set out to burn them. someone writing the same story today would simply state as much, devoting maybe a page or two to what sort of books they are and what effect they've ostensibly had. whereas Cervantes devotes an entire chapter to inventorying the Don's library, on the off-chance that not everything therein deserves burning. it's quite sluggish, chiefly because the books mentioned are long forgotten now. even the prime mover, the curate, finally gets bored and decides, aw screw it, let's just junk 'em all.
(i daresay i've reminded you how burning books has since come to be considered a singular atrocity, the act of censorship at it's most shameless. the fact that it doesn't work here, though, is due to a much more basic miscalculation: this is a textbook example of the barn door locked after the escape of the horse.)
a third contributor in this case is a tendency to go off on lengthy, random tangents. the most memorable example here is where someone stumbles upon a novel called The Ill-Advised Curiosity. a man named Anselmo just can't convince himself that his wife is happy and content with him, so he enlists a friend to tempt her. the friend's name is Lothario, thus initiating the name's sexually predatory connotations. (somewhat ironically, as Lothario initially makes an impassioned attempt to dissuade Anselmo of his misguided scheme.) the test doesn't simply fail, it effectively creates the very schism Anselmo so feared.
so, in and of itself, The Curiosity is a pretty compelling morality tale. but it has little to do with the journey of Don Quixote, who is in fact (not for the first time) recuperating from the consequences of his overzealousness at the time. what's more, the sheer scale of the thing (several lengthy chapters) can't help but beg the question, why wasn't it given a book of it's own rather than doomed to so awkwardly clutter this one up?
sufficed to say, there's a bit to wade through. but make no mistake: there's gold to be found in this excavation if you'll just not be daunted.
when it focuses on what it's supposed to, it's a profound seriocomedy, with resounding elements both enchanting and tragic. Quixote's madness has in it's way all the magic of a legit heroic quest, but leaves no delusions about it's occupational hazards. it comes up more than once how battered and bruised he gets. he also loses a lobe of his ear and most of his teeth.
Sancho Panza, his no less iconic squire, is an equally bittersweet character. on the one hand, he's not so fargone as as his master in that, for instance, he knows the difference between giants and windmills. but alas, his loyalty to Don Quixote, often against his own better judgement, repeatedly gets him in trouble. also, Sancho is delusional in his own way, as his major motivation seems to be an island Quixote has promised him to rule. he clings steadfastly to this dream despite the fact that the deeper we get into the book, the less and less likely it seems that this (never terribly realistic) promise will ever be fulfilled.
the most disturbing element is the aforementioned practice of book burning, because people are so casual about it. the aforementioned curate is the leading advocate, making him the closest thing to a villain. he finally develops the rationalization that it is fiction - or, as he puts it, books that lie - which are the dangerous ones which have no business existing. there's even an occasional debate as to whether knights and chivalry ever really existed in the first place.
that's what strikes me as the major theme here, the question of the validity and/or legitimacy of such escapism. it's bluntly obvious to us readers that the root of Quixote's problems is his shaky grasp on reality, and that no one who's elevator manages to go all the way up is in any similar peril. never once, however, does any such thing occur to said villainous curate. he's the sort who, in more recent years, would've gotten on Superman's case for suggesting that people can fly, wilfully ignoring that fact that Superman is the only character who flies therein.
i guess part of it could be that the novel was still a fairly, well, novel concept. it was maybe a couple hundred years old at the time. (if i remember correctly, the one said to of effectively invented the novel is Daniel "Robinson Crusoe" Defoe. although that could well be apocryphal). to say nothing of the fact that literacy wasn't quite the norm at time. the book reflects an age when literature was still in the process of becoming orthodox.
and then there's what is now called "Part 2," though it was initially a sequel published a decade later. a book has been published of Don Quixote's adventures and he now find that the fame he once yearned for has it's ups and downs. (mostly downs.) as it happens they're referred to the very book that precedes it, ostensibly the work of a Moorish historian named Cide Hamete Benegeli. an early chapter even goes so far as to critique the book, calling it out for several unanswered questions and even acknowledging that The Ill-Advised Curiosity novel is little more than an incongruous speedbump.
the most memorable story-arc here concerns a duke and duchess who take our heroes in. ostensibly they admire and revere the heroic and distinguished Don Quixote, but in fact they've read the book in question and are, in collusion with their household staff, manufacturing a number of outlandish "quests" to ridicule him. not only that, but another of their practical jokes involves granting Sancho governorship of a village they own!
long-winded as this review ended up, i've managed to convey only a bit of it's raw scope. it's principle selling-point may be it's comedy angle, but that's but on ingredient of this stew. to say the least, it certainly ends on a much more somber note than one would expect in a book who's comic aspect is it's major selling point.