This week my class and I are beginning the last book we’ll read together this semester, Don Quixote. The professor who designed the syllabus selected Edith Grossman’s translation, and since I hadn’t read it before (or any translation of the Quixote, if you can believe it) I was thrilled. I had the chance a few months ago to record a conversation for Reading the World with Edith Grossman, which will be going live in the next few weeks, and though we didn’t really talk about Quixote in any great detail, it whetted my appetite to read it.
But now I’m wracked with guilt. I’m totally bored by the book! I went into it expecting to love it, because of what I knew about it. I knew it to be a parody, a comedy, an action-adventure, full of witticisms, puns, and jokes. I’d watched, just a few weeks ago, Man of La Mancha and loved it! I’d expected the book to be an equally passionate defense of the imagination in world without hope.
And I’m extremely hesitant to criticize the translation, because Edith Grossman is an incredible translator. I’ll buy and read books just because she translated them. I’ve always deeply admired her work. But I find myself wondering about some of her choices in this text.
It struck me at points that the translation was aiming to produce a scholarly edition, replete with historical notes, rather than something one might read for pure pleasure. Rather than translating jokes, in many cases, or even (shock!) creating in English jokes that would carry the rhythm of the dialoge, she footnotes them. Same for the puns. Same for the names of the imaginary knights Don Quixote describes to Pancho as they gaze over the two flocks of sheep. That was the moment I was most saddened by this overarching strategy. Because Sir Esparragrass of the Forest is hilarious. And Espartafilardo del Bosque footnoted is not.
I think the story is engaging. I think it is funny. I’m just so disappointed that reading it in English feels like plodding through knee-deep mud – you get there but it takes much longer than if you were on solid ground. Has anyone else read this translation (or others)? Does it feel like this?