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Thread: Best translation of Don Quixote?

  1. #1
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    Best translation of Don Quixote?

    I don't know why but I'd love to read the book I just have no clue how to read it

    Any recommendations for favorites?

  2. #2
    Artist and Bibliophile stlukesguild's Avatar
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    There are several quality translations. Samuel Putnam's is a standard, but Tobias Smollett's may offer an even greater period translation... Smollett being a novelist of great merit and a near contemporary of Quixote. Of newer translations Burton Raffel offers a version that does much to capture the vernacular language of the original. Edith Grossman's new translation, however, is highly acclaimed and perhaps the first option.
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  3. #3
    I most definitely recommend Smollett's translation.
    He translates the poetry quite well and his notes are amusing (in a mid-eighteenth century way.)

  4. #4
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    I tried three or four times before, but never got too far beyond the windmills (and they are at the beginning of this long book!). Finally, now living in Spain, I had to try once again. I bought Edith Grossman's translation, already much praised, and indeed I found it readable and entertaining. The footnotes are helpful without being overwhelming, and there is a careful balance between the Don's high-falutin' spouting and Sancho's down-to-earth comments. The book has its longueurs, but these are not Grossman's fault: just skip a couple of pages and move on.

  5. #5
    King of Dreams MorpheusSandman's Avatar
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    I was actually going to start this thread myself. As I've said many times, the trick to reading classic foreign literature isn't in the reading but in the choosing of translations. It seems that the four "major" ones are Smollett, Grossman, Putnam, and Raffel. The Raffel might be worth getting if only because it's the Norton Critical Edition and they tend to have excellent notes, intros, and essays. The Grossman translation is new and is therefor the "hot" choice. I might just buy all four, read a chapter or two and decide which to read all the way through.
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  6. #6
    De La Collier heethar73's Avatar
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    Thumbs up Walter Starkie

    I'm on chapter 16 (so much more to go!) of Walter Starkie's unabridged translation. It is fantastic. I believe there is even a Book on CD version of his translation if you are interested in listening instead of reading. Just thought I'd add my 2 cents, because no one has mentioned his version.

  7. #7
    Modernist Nemo Neem's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by heethar73 View Post
    I'm on chapter 16 (so much more to go!) of Walter Starkie's unabridged translation. It is fantastic. I believe there is even a Book on CD version of his translation if you are interested in listening instead of reading. Just thought I'd add my 2 cents, because no one has mentioned his version.
    Agreed. Walter Starkie.
    Favorite authors: Poe, Kafka, Hawthorne, Melville, Whitman, Kosinski, Faulkner, Crane, Fitzgerald, Cervantes, Joyce, Dickens

  8. #8
    I have no basis of comparison, but the Tobias Smollett version was pretty satisfying.

  9. #9
    To anyone looking for a recommendation on an English translation, I would say that that depends on your purpose, but I boil it down to two recommendations:

    If you just want to be able to say you've read this classic, be able to discuss it's larger and broader themes and are looking for a quicker, easier read then go with Edith Grossman's translation. It is as plain and transparent as possible to the modern English reading audience.

    Now there's nothing wrong with that if that is your only purpose with this book, but in making it as easy to read for a modern audience Grossman did have to sacrifice a good deal in the character of the original, which is very humorous in its pithy yet profound. Therefore, if you are OK with working at it a little more, then I highly recommend John Ormsby's translation as by far the most superior English translation. By "working at it" I mean that this translation was written in the late 1800s, so isn't completely modern in its English. Also, Ormby doesn't offer footnotes to help the understanding cultural references, so when you come across something that obviously would only make sense to a 17th century Spaniard, you have to be willing to do a quick Google and get the context for what is being said. This might be distracting to someone preferring Grossman's translation, but ultimately leads to a much better understanding of the context and more subtle meanings behind the literary devices rather than changing them into a more blatant phrasing.

    Raffel's, Putnam's, Starkie's and to a large degree all other modern English translations are derivatives of Ormsby's work rather than of the original Spanish or each other, a fact that is due to Ormsby's being the most faithful and honest a translation of the original. The translations of the poetry maintain the lyrical prose and manage to replicate the rhyme scheme of the original while still containing the same meaning. The translations of Sancho's famous proverbs are the same original proverbs but translated into English clearly enough that one can comprehend its meaning rather than the translator simply substituting a familiar English proverb in its place or writing its literal meaning and destroying Sancho's character entirely. For someone who truly wants to understand the classic, rather than just have read the classic, Ormsby is by far the best version (though I will admit that Smollett's isn't bad in this respect either).

    Finally, along with the quality of Ormsby's version, it is definitely the most available:
    Here are links to Gutenberg free ebooks of Volume 1 and Volume 2 as well as LibriVox free audio-books of Volume 1 and Volume 2. Please make use of these and pass them on, Quixote is the kind of story I think everyone ought to share in.

  10. #10
    I concur with Kotetsu1442 that John Ormsby's translation is excellent. I would add that it is available as part of the Easton Press "100 Greatest Books" series, with extensive footnoting that explains the many geographic, topical, and personality references, as well as explanations of translation choices and what the context of the original Spanish wording was.

  11. #11

    Best translation of Don Quixote

    I'm about half way through Ozell's revision of the Peter Motteaux translation. It's my dad's book and it's been sitting in the shelf since I was a boy. I used to pull it out and look at the fascinating pictures from Gustave Dore. It looked like such an intimidating and severe book. After my dad passed away, I made the determination to read it all the way through, and that was about 3 years ago.

    I don't know what constitutes a definitive translation, but I do know this one is old and from the original, and has footnotes explaining ancient references. I get a big kick out of wading through the verbiage and looking stuff up in Google. I believe the reason most people think of the windmill scene when they think of Don Quixote is that it's so close to the beginning of the novel, and that's as far as most people get.

    In reality, there are so many characters and side stories that I forget this is Don Quixote. It's more like SNL or Monty Python.

  12. #12
    Like Nick I tried, and failed, to read it a few times before finding Edith Grossman's wonderful translation. The footnotes are a model of how to be helpful without being overwhelming. I didn't feel any need to plough through Google. The original does have its longueurs, which no translation can avoid, but I didn't feel the need to skip. The "expert reviewers" I encountered did not say that Grossman sacrificed the character of the original, as Kotetsu alleges, and it certainly came across as humorous, pithy and profound as any other novel I've read. Try reading the first few pages of each translation mentioned using "Amazon Look Inside" or "Google Books", and see which one you get on with the best.

  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by stevebadavis View Post
    I concur with Kotetsu1442 that John Ormsby's translation is excellent. I would add that it is available as part of the Easton Press "100 Greatest Books" series, with extensive footnoting that explains the many geographic, topical, and personality references, as well as explanations of translation choices and what the context of the original Spanish wording was.
    The Easton Press version uses the same content as the earlier Heritage Press edition, but the latter is available for much, much cheaper. It's a big book, though, 11 1/2" x 8 1/2".

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