From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America 2.2 (1982): 181-84.
Copyright © 1982, The Cervantes Society of America


A More Modest Proposal for an Obras completas Edition


IN THE LAST issue of Cervantes (II, 69-87), Robert Flores outlined the options open to prospective editors of Cervantes, and thus to the Cervantes Society editorial committee as it ponders the relative merits of the different kinds of editions among which it must choose if it is to carry out the project proposed by Juan Bautista Avalle-Arce, our first president. It is Flores' own work that has made possible for the first time an old-spelling edition which recovers something of Cervantes' orthography, and that is also the basis for the proposal he has made for a modernized edition. I defer to no one in my admiration for Flores' work; my own Cátedra edition of Don Quijote depends more heavily upon it than does any other. The analysis of the variants of vuestra merced in his Cervantes proposal —most elegant and persuasive, in my opinion— is an example of what we may expect from him as his work with the first editions proceeds. And yet I find myself, awkwardly, in serious opposition to his proposal for a modernized edition.
     Above all, I suppose, I object to the disjunction produced by modernizing one of the many historically-bound systems of significance in the work (the linguistic), while leaving others intact (historical, cultural, etc.), particularly in the noteless edition Flores proposes. This is quite a different matter from the customary modernization of orthography, which does not affect meaning. I cannot conjure up a hypothetical reader who would be put off or confused by vuestra


182 JOHN J. ALLEN Cervantes

merced, and yet need no help with el Alcantá de Toledo or la Santa Hermandad, or with what might be signified by batanes, cortar la cólera, muñidor, or hidalgo de devengar quinientos sueldos. If we are not to modernize all of these “obsolete” historical and cultural referents, for what readers are we to change vuestra merced to usted?
     It is not clear to me just how far Flores means to go to “update . . . the lexicon . . .” (p. 79.) I assume that at least the following words and expressions from Chapter 1 of Part I will have to go: salpicón, duelos y quebrantos, velarte, velludo, vellorí, en allende, celada, cuartos (a pun in which both meanings are obsolete), ni le dio cata dello. All of these are to my mind neither easier to eliminate nor more difficult to annotate than la Santa Hermandad. Some words and expressions will apparently disappear only part of the time: puesto que (when concessive), tal vez (when it means “once in a while”), otro día (when it means “the next day”). And what are we to do with the works in verse, or the verse in the prose works, where any such changes affect rhyme and meter? Shall we leave archaic verse interspersed with modern prose?
     I can see no real connection between the impressive recovery of Cervantes' nuances with vuestra merced and its variants, and the leap to usted. As it happens, vuestra merced is a particularly unfortunate candidate for modernization. On the one hand, usted itself is now entering obsolescence. On the other, I have on my desk the script of an adaptation of Don Quijote written for Spanish National Television, the authors of which have no qualms about using vuesa merced throughout, although they, are conscious enough of their mass audience's limitations to include a number of scenes from chivalric novels in the early episodes, aware that the viewers will otherwise have no idea of what is being parodied by Cervantes. The producers of the BBC television adaptation in 1973, and those of the play and subsequent movie version of Man of La Mancha, thought nothing of subjecting their semi-literate mass audiences to “Your Worship” and “Your Grace” —as obsolete in English as is vuestra merced in Spanish.
     What then would constitute acceptable textual criteria for a modernized edition? Perhaps we can agree that what is needed above all is a uniform edition of the Obras completas. Anyone who has written on a topic ranging through several or all of Cervantes' works knows the existing alternatives for citation: four or five different editions of individual works with differing criteria, the almost inaccessible and, for most purposes, unnecessarily archaic Schevill-Bonilla, or the

2 (1982) A More Modest Proposal 183

unreliable Aguilar. Ideally, a new uniform edition should be such as to provide the text for a concordance to the complete works, one of the research tools we need most.
     The argument for an old-spelling edition which recovers Cervantes' orthography, such as Flores is presently engaged in producing, is an excellent one. A sort of Schevill-Bonilla for the twenty-first century, this will take a very long time, and will probably all have to be done by Flores or his close associates. It will in any case not be a reading text for significant numbers of people. The option of sponsorship of a re-edition in facsimile of the Obras seems to have been preempted by Ediciones El Árbol (Madrid).
     I agree with Flores that “for future editors to accept the texts of the first editions uncritically would mean giving undue authority to the various and differing orthographies and to the typographical vagaries of the compositors who set these works,” but I am less sure that “to regularize the texts without first having a clear knowledge of exactly what happened during the setting and printing of these works would be to compound compositorial inconsistencies and preferences with editorial complacency . . .” (p. 86). In the first place, I assume that the Flores modernization proposal includes such regularization.
     It seems to me that there is an uncomplacent middle ground which eliminates most of the inconsistencies produced by compositorial idiosyncracies and generates a text which is accessible to the average Spanish-speaking reader of today, without undue violation of the historical dimension of the language. It is, “si no lo has, ¡oh lector!, por pesadumbre y enojo,” a variant of the orthographic criteria for my edition of Don Quijote (Madrid: Cátedra, 2nd ed., 1980). Those criteria, the justification for which (pp. 27-30 of the edition) I will not repeat here, involve the following alterations in the text of the principes:

  1. Modernization of the variants c/z/ç, b/u/v, s/ss, x/j/g, c/q, and addition of h as required: auia > habia, etc.
  2. Modern use of written accents.
  3. Regularization of two types of orthographic variants:
    1. Consonantal groups: concepto/conceto, excepto/eceto, bautizar/baptizar, etc.
    2. Unaccented u/o, e,ie/i: civil/cevil, escribir/escrebir, juventud/joventud, resolucion/resulucion, etc.

     In my edition of Don Quijote I restricted these types of regularization

184 JOHN J. ALLEN Cervantes

to cases of individual words which appear in the more modern form in the novel itself, but I believe that a careful look at the list of words affected (pp. 53-57 of the edition) demonstrates that one could generalize these two regularization patterns —i.e., not restrict the changes to cases in which the more modern form of the particular word occurs— without significant distortion of the historical dimension of the language. The result would be a straightforward, consistent system relatively easy for the several editors to apply to each individual work as a uniform standard for the Obras completas.
     I should note that although Luis Murillo expresses reservations as to these orthographic criteria in his review of my edition (JHP, 3 (1979), 185-87), the single concrete example he adduces —continos > continuos— is an unconscious compositorial modernization (shades of Juan de la Cuesta!), as should have been obvious, since it falls into none of my categories of regularization and is not in the list of regularized words. The error has been corrected (along with a hundred others) in the second edition.
     The system here proposed would of course produce some modernization of Cervantes' own practice. Let us say that he wrote proprio, and not propio. I do not see a potential for great loss or distortion here, if one avoids a kind of fetichismo de la palabra, especially since, thanks to Flores, we now know that we do not know how Cervantes spelled most of these words. I think a very useful and respectable concordance could be based on the texts produced with these criteria —more useful, perhaps, than one based upon an old-spelling edition, where insignificant orthographic variations would produce separate entries.
     I have not dealt here with Flores' contention that production of a regularized edition must wait until “after Cervantes' . . . lexicon [has] been recovered” (p. 78), because I do not know what he means by this. Perhaps my proposal has serious inadequacies of which I am unaware. I am neither a linguist nor a philologist, nor do I know the first editions as Flores does. It has nevertheless seemed to me that this proposal should be published, rather than remain a matter of internal debate among the members of the editorial committee (J. B. Avalle-Arce, R. M. Flores, Isaias Lerner, Luis A. Murillo, and myself), because the issue is much larger than its relevance to our Society project. We are talking about appropriate criteria for editing any Golden Age text. Comment is invited.


Fred Jehle Publications of the CSA HCervantes