From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America 16.1 (1996): 98-106.
Copyright © 1996, The Cervantes Society of America
REVIEW

Cervantes Saavedra, Miguel de. Exemplary Novels. Ed. B. F. Ife. 4 vols. Wiltshire, England: Aris & Phillips, 1992. 240, 137, 200, 167 pp.


     Professor B. F. Ife of Kings College, London, presents a new translation in four volumes of Miguel de Cervantes’s Exemplary Novels. Four of the seven scholars who collaborated with Dr. Ife worked in pairs. Michael Thacker of the University of Surrey and Jonathan Thacker at Cambridge undertook the preparation of Volume III. John A. Jones of the University of Hull and John Macklin of the University of Leeds translated the three stories, wrote the introductions and prepared the notes for Volume IV. R. M. Price of the University of Manchester translated one of the stories with introduction and notes for Volume I while Lynn Williams and Richard Hitchcock, both of the University of Exeter, prepared the remaining two tales. Price contributed the three translations comprising Volume II. Ife wrote the “General Introduction” to the collection and translated Cervantes’s 1613 prologue. This successful collaboration overcomes the difficulty of rendering in English the repertoire of narrative voices that Cervantes is known to command. Each of the eight translators demonstrates a particular sensitivity to the spirit, tone, and cadence of Cervantes’s prose. Consequently, the variety of literary modes associated with the Exemplary Novels has not been lost.
     Ife’s general introduction to the collection and a bibliography selected for the reader unfamiliar with Cervantes’s life and work appear at the beginning of each one of the four volumes. The introduction makes clear Cervantes’s accomplishment of bringing the aspirations of Renaissance humanism to the craft of fiction and attests to his conviction that life is made better through scholarship and the arts. Ife hits the mark with the observation that Cervantes’s stories present examples of personal moral strength in adverse circumstances, through

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narratives which entice the reader to accept as possible progressively more implausible incidents, initially for entertainment but ultimately for enlightenment.
     Four features of the general introduction may not be universally accepted by students and scholars, however. In the light of the stories themselves, it is surprising that the general editor accepts as unquestioned the assumption that Cervantes’s marriage was an unhappy one. All Cervantes’s short fiction, including the story “El curioso impertinente,” which links this collection to Don Quijote, exemplify, sometimes through overstatement or contradiction, the basic principles Cervantes believed would assure domestic tranquility. The simple practicality of the lessons Cervantes’s plots illustrate as opposed to the abstract sententiousness of moral formulae suggests that personal experience and observation were Cervantes’s source. Also, while it is true that Cervantes wrote in order to earn money, the editor’s statement that Cervantes is virtually the first Spanish writer to base his livelihood on the commercial success of his work is rather bold. Success came late in a life spent soldiering, collecting taxes for the provision of military expeditions, probably selling the wine and oil produced in his wife’s village of Esquivias, and in writing plays. There were undoubtedly many other writers of novels, stories, one-act plays and comedies before Cervantes whose only promise of financial security meant turning their pastime into a financial enterprise. Thirdly, while the general introduction does direct the reader to Cervantes’s literary accomplishments, the decision to repeat it at the beginning of each of the four volumes, at the expense of omitting the original preliminary materials from the 1613 edition, may not prove economical in the long run. The licenses, royal approbations, dedications, and introductory remarks provide valuable clues for understanding the reception of Cervantes’s stories by his contemporaries and would make the translation more valuable to researchers. Finally, the editor in the general introduction questions Cervantes’s statement that his stories are harmless entertainment because they include descriptions of sex and violence. Cervantes’s descriptions of warfare and personal conflicts and his acknowledgement of an ever-present undercurrent of desire among his characters are the perennial forces which drive the plots. Their value for his readers derives from witnessing how the characters conduct themselves when confronting those forces.
     One well-known difficulty with literary translation, aside from occasional simple errors, careless omissions, and unwarranted additions, consists of limiting the meaning of a particularly resonant passage by determining a singular meaning for the multiple possibilities present in the original language. This difficulty appears in the general editor’s translation of the most challenging pages in the collection, the prologue. Since Cervantes in his introductory remarks generally assumes the kind of personal familiarity with his readers that allows for the freedom of witty, untrammeled conversation, the translator faces the challenge of not losing the free associations afforded by artfully contrived informal language. For example, whereas Cervantes attributes his success in having won numerous friends over the years to his “condición” rather than to his “ingenio,” that is, to an easy-going personality developed most likely during his military career rather than to his wit and intelligence, the translation states that


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Cervantes owes such good fortune to “luck rather than judgement” (4). The translator simplifies Cervantes’s allusion to his face and body-type to mere appearance and misses the author’s joke about the testimonials he is going to compile for the introduction to his book, specifically that not only is he going to compile them but he is also going to write them. Considering Cervantes’s experience in Algiers with written testimonials to one’s personal character, the joke may have serious implications for understanding the author’s biography. Finally, the translator of the prologue leaves behind Cervantes’s obvious allusion to playing cards when discussing his age, “que al cincuenta y cinco de los años gano por nueve más y por la mano” (4), meaning, perhaps, “if I play my hand right.”
     These oversights illustrate the pitfalls in the transmittal of texts as complex as Cervantes’s rather than detracting from the quality of these particular translations. Such difficulties are more apparent, however, since this collection is the first one published with the English text facing the original. The fact that the Spanish has been determined through comparing Schevill and Bonilla’s (1922-1925), Sieber’s (1980) and Avalle-Arce’s (1987) texts with the 1613 edition invites a detailed comparison.
     R. M. Price’s introductions to “The Little Gypsy Girl” in Volume I of the series and to the three stories of Volume II, “The English Spanish Girl,” “The Glass Graduate” and “The Power of Blood” first orient the reader to one of the main themes of Cervantes’s stories, the nature of a happy marriage, then to Cervantes’s ideal of the perfect romantic adventure story and, finally, to the differences Cervantes would have his readers see between true humanistic learning and satire. Price echoes the opinions of recent critics of “The Power of Blood,” including Ruth El Saffar and Alban Forcione, in viewing the heroine’s triumph over rape through marriage to her abductor as simply too far-fetched to be believed, even when one elevates the significance of the narrative to a spiritual plane of Christian resignation and forgiveness.
     Price’s four translations are nearly flawless and correspond in quality to his critical evaluations of the stories. In “The Little Gypsy Girl,” however, he does turn a positive quality into a negative one, making the heroine Preciosa’s uninhibited chatter, her “desenvoltura,” mere cheekiness. He consequently misses one of her quips, that when people do not pay her for telling their fortune, they diminish hers (31). The translator lessens the gypsies’ fear of law officers by changing these “ministers of death” to mere “officials of punishment” (43). The translator also has the Genoese bankers, universally maligned by seventeenth-century authors for their practice of transferring Spanish capital to Italy, charging their Spanish business contacts for inviting them to dinner. Cervantes describes their regret for having to entertain the Spanish in the first place while at the same time they charge their expense accounts for their personal entertainments (48). The heroine Preciosa’s loquaciousness gives the translator some difficulty a second time when he changes her statement that she speaks abundantly and indiscriminately, “a bulto,” to her speaking obscurely, “oscuro” (49). Price is reluctant to introduce place names unfamiliar to English readers even though the unfamiliar elements would not obscure but perhaps enrich the


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meaning of the narrative (48, 49). He misses Preciosa’s guardian’s hyperbolic allusion to “infantes,” to princes of the royal family, preferring instead to describe the hero simply as “a boy and a fine one” (51) when the two women cryptically discuss Preciosa’s new admirer in the presence of his family. Similarly, the translation limits the possibilities the corregidor of Murcia sees for his daughter, Preciosa, to marriage. The “estado” he refers to also includes the possibility of professing in a religious order (95). Finally, the translator presents Cervantes’s poetry, which admittedly is usually rather unremarkable when compared to that of his contemporaries, as prose broken into lines which neither scan nor rhyme. Moreover, the rhetorical figures that Cervantes uses to animate particularly humorous passages are missing from the translation, specifically the author’s use of anaphora in his description of the confusion created at the inn when Preciosa’s fiancé is falsely accused of theft (87).
     Except for minuscule differences, Price’s translation of “The English Spanish Girl” is flawless. In the translation of “The Glass Graduate,” his sense of decorum is occasionally finer than that of Cervantes, who has his madman retrieve his food in a glass urinal tied at the end of a stick (72) rather than in the basket Price describes. A similar reluctance to present details unfamiliar to English readers explains the translator’s choice of the cliché “he shook like a leaf” rather than like an “azogado,” a man suffering from mercury poisoning (72, 73). Likewise, the translator does not convey to his English readers Cervantes’s observation that the young boys of the town were the madman’s greatest perceived threat (84, 85). A similar disregard for unpleasantness leads the translator to change the detail of the deceased woman to a bride as the motive for entering a church (93). Finally, the antitheses Cervantes uses to close his narrative, extending hope as opposed to cutting it short, and the allusion to the topic of arms and letters are diminished because the translator does not bring into English the narrator’s deliberate use of rhetorical tropes.
     Similar minor oversights in an otherwise flawless translation are more apparent and more important in the story the translator recognizes as Cervantes’s most tightly written and incisive narrative, “The Power of Blood.” A greater sense of moral outrage with this story of a rape not punished but rewarded with marriage explains many of the translator’s modifications of the author’s text. Cervantes’s sensibilities are definitely less refined than those of the modern reader but his tolerance for human error may be greater. “The Power of Blood” is one of the most effective stories in the collection because it presents a hopeful though admittedly implausible solution to an irreparable situation, the violation of the integrity of one’s person as defined by the physical body. Cervantes places this story in Toledo, a city his readers would identify as the spiritual capital of Spain and he marks it with the recurring motif of a crucifix.
     The minor changes Price makes through his translation are significant. First, Cervantes opens the narrative with a generalization about the pleasure one enjoys on the river banks of the Tagus and in the farm lands surrounding the city during the hot summer months. This mundane observation brings his readers to identify with the heroine and her family. The translator, however, particularizes the statement so that it refers only to the experience the characters enjoy on


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that specific day (103). Rodolfo’s gang of friends whom Cervantes characterizes merely as irresponsible youth, “compañías libres,” are for the translator simply “evil companions” (103). Cervantes’s acknowledgement of the respect due the illustrious families of Toledo to whom these young men belong, a concern which dictates anonymity, becomes in the translation merely the conventional means of enhancing the fiction with the well-known narrative device of giving the illusion of historical fact. “Respeto” becomes only “certain reasons” (103). Cervantes’s readers know that the tragedy which has occurred affects not only the heroine Leocadia, but would also mean the dishonor of her entire family in her neighbors’ eyes should the incident become general knowledge. Cervantes writes that her family were fearful that by publicizing the crime “no fuesen ellos el principal instrumento de su deshonra.” In the English translation, “su deshonra,” in spite of the plural antecedent is “her dishonor” rather than “their dishonor” (105). The translator likewise omits an important qualifier from Cervantes’s narrator’s statement that “los pecados de la sensualidad por la mayor parte no tiran más allá de la barra de su cumplimento.” “For the most part” does not soften the translation that “the sins of sensuality do not last longer than their satisfaction.” If the translation were accurate, Rodolfo’s character, as revealed to his own mother before accepting marriage to Leocadia, would never have allowed him to marry her. Moreover, Cervantes generally attributes sound moral judgment to public conscience and opinion in this writing, even though his narrator states that popular opinion is determined more by what people want to believe than by the facts of history. A writer who seeks the approval of his readers cannot disregard the value system they espouse. Cervantes’s concept of “la opinión de las gentes” (104) is greater than their mere “remarks and criticism” (105).
     Another fine distinction between Cervantes’s text and the translation of this story concerns the delicate emotional balance Leocadia must acquire in order not to be driven to despair by her misfortune. Her immediate reaction to the criminal assault on her person has led Forcione and El Saffar, as well as the translator, to conclude that this is the most unrealistic of Cervantes’s stories. Rather than the confusion and disorientation one expects from a victim of an assault, Leocadia becomes hyperesthetic and perceives every detail of her surroundings. Her thinking becomes very clear. Consequently, she states that she does not want to see Rodolfo’s face “porque ya que se me acuerde de mi ofensa, no quiero acordarme de mi ofensor” (107). Leocadia does not want to see her abductor’s face because she does not want to suffer from the desire for revenge as well as from the sorrow for her loss whenever she happens to remember what happened to her. The translation simply states “since [I] remember the offense, I do not want to remember the offender” (108), omitting the idea that Leocadia has already begun to repress the incident.
     There are two other departures from the original text of this story in the translation. First, the translator omits Cervantes’s rather bad joke at the expense of “dueñas.” The narrator’s remark about the “cabellos y las barbas de la madre y padre de Leocadia arrancados” (124) is a rather ungentlemanly, tongue-in-cheek attack on facial hair which depends upon an infrequent syntactical juxtaposition. The translation simply conveys the idea of tearing one’s hair, with no


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mention of beards and women. Second, Cervantes probably did not consider the “ventas y mesones” to be “fleapit inns” as the translation states. The disparities between the original text of “La fuerza de la sangre” and the translation do not change the meaning of the story but do indicate greater indignation, a greater sense of decorum, and less hope for an impossible situation than Cervantes probably intended.
     Lynn Williams’s introduction to the story “The Generous Lover” leaves the significance of Cervantes’s title, “El amante liberal,” beyond doubt. The hero is generous with his love. The translation is an outstanding re-creation of Cervantes’s prose in that it respects the level of diction, cadence and rhetorical devices of the original narrative. When the translator presents Cervantes’s poetry in English, the rhyme, rhyme scheme, figures, and scansion of the original verse are recreated. The only significant disparity occurs when Rodolfo states that Leonisa belongs to herself, alone. The translation conveys the idea that Leonisa belongs to his rival, Cornelio (166). Admittedly, in the previous paragraph, Rodolfo had stated that very idea. But in the manner of a rhetorically structured dramatic speech, he corrects himself, explaining that “con el deseo que tengo de hacer bien, no he mirado lo que he dicho” (166) and proceeds to contradict himself. That Leonisa alone can determine her destiny, as Rodolfo states, “Leonisa es suya,” is confirmed by Leonisa’s reply, “siempre fui mía” (168). With the exception of this one misleading error, Williams’s translation surpasses the rest of the translations in this collection in elegance of expression.
     Given the excellence of Richard Hitchcock’s translation of Cervantes’s “Rinconete y Cortadillo,” it is surprising that he dismisses one of the most popular narratives in the collection as an “anti-novela ejemplar” in his introduction (173). For the translator, the mere intention of the two protagonists to leave Monopodio’s criminal company, once the thugs’ amusing misuse of language has revealed their moral turpitude, does not suffice to bring this story in line with the other eleven tales exemplifying moral strength in the face of adversity. For the most part, Hitchcock succeeds admirably in transposing the thieves’ slang from one cultural context to another, although his one incursion into vaudevillian black-face English (195) does stretch the English reader’s credulity. The ungrammaticalities of the dialogues, which the translator successfully brings into English, are extremely important for the plot because they allow the two boys to see through the gang’s ridiculous pretense to honor, brotherhood, and piety. Like Lope de Rueda’s entremeses, to which this story bears remarkable resemblance, the hoodlums’ pretentiousness allows the reader or audience, together with the characters, to see that not only do ends not justify means but that acceptable means cannot add up to justify unacceptable ends. When presenting the opening scene with the attempt of Rinconete and Cortadillo to impress one another with their pretentious use of language, the translator evaluates instead of repeating one of the character’s reactions to the scene. Although the woman who keeps the inn may be in error from an English cultural perspective, she remarks on the boys’ “buena crianza,” good upbringing as revealed in their speech. The boys are dressed in rags. Her observation is an important one, however, because it is confirmed by the boys’ ultimate decision to leave


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Monopodio’s company. In the translation, the woman considers the boys’ deference to one another mere “curious behavior” (180, 181). For the most part, the translation captures the lively spirit of the original, including the ribald humor of the sevillanas Monopodio’s gang sings while the young women dance. Like all the translators in the collection, Hitchcock recoils from Cervantes’s occasional low humor and changes the dung Monopodio proudly smears on the door jams of his victims’ houses to juniper oil (223).
     The translations of Michael and Jonathan Thacker of Cervantes’s “El celoso extremeño,” “La ilustre fregona,” and “Las dos doncellas” clearly demonstrate that a team of translators can produce a text very close to the original language. In “The Jealous Old Man from Extremadura,” there are only two noticeable oversights. When one of old Carrizales’s maids offers to decant the wine smuggled in by the youth Loaysa, the translator interprets her offer to mean “God grant you all you desire” (29). And when Leonora offers to drug her aged husband, the translator omits the detail that Carrizales does not sleep but keeps watch over his house during the night (34, 35). Disregarding the careless statement in the introduction that writers of dramatic one-act sketches have no didactic purpose, the translators’ introduction to the novel directs the readers’ attention to the difficult question this story poses most successfully, i.e., the reasons for Leonora’s refusal of Carrizales’s final generous offer.
     The Thackers’ translation of “La ilustre fregona” does not confirm their introduction. Their discussion of Cervantes’s opinion of the picaresque novel is noteworthy. It is surprising, therefore, that they overlook some important details from the picaresque in their translation, perhaps because their own critical opinion of the story occasionally overshadows Cervantes’s narrative point of view. For example, in spite of the dangers and discomforts, Cervantes’s narrator recognizes the pleasures unlimited personal freedom offers youth unfettered by responsibility. The translation turns the narrator’s statement that at the tuna fishery, “está la suciedad limpia,” that its dirt is clean, to “unmitigated squalor” (62, 63). Similarly, the parents to whom Cervantes’s narrator refers may also have escaped to find the freedom of the pícaro during their youth. The boys’ fathers actually regret bitterly their duty of having to pull their sons away from the carefree life of the fishing villages. “Tanto sienten sacarlos de aquella vida como si los llevara a dar la muerte” (64) is the narrator’s statement. The translators write that the young men, not their fathers, feel “as if they were being taken to their deaths” (65).
     Several other details which suggest that Cervantes was writing from experience are not conveyed in the translation. In the first place, the translators overlook how easy it is for the boys in the Plaza Mayor of Madrid to sell their papers, their “cabales,” which attest to their Christian lineage and make them suitable for entering the king’s service (68). Secondly, Cervantes’s observation that the second-hand clothes merchant makes an exception in buying the boys’ swords (68), since his usual clientele were prohibited by law from bearing arms, is omitted. Thirdly, the translators overlook the prostitutes’ explanation to the two young men who have just accepted employment at the inn that the women sell their favors only to transients but since the money they earn is often used to buy


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gifts for their boyfriends who live there, the boys should not make trouble by being jealous (82). Fourthly, the translators interpret the “embozados” who come to the inn to see Constanza as men in disguise when the implication is that they merely covered their faces with their hats and capes (90). Finally, an “estrado” is a dais rather than a couch and a “cojín” is not a saddlebag, or “alforja,” but a cushion with pockets or a small bag used for transporting delicate objects.
     These minuscule inaccuracies are balanced in the translation by the great care with which the songs sung to Constanza at the inn are recreated in verse. And by contrast, the Thackers’ translation of “Las dos doncellas” is flawless. The accompanying notes identify obscure allusions and the introduction directs the readers’ attention to Cervantes’s success in exploring the intricacies of his characters’ emotional reactions to difficult and unusual conflicts.
     John Jones and John Macklin’s translations of “La señora Cornelia,” “El casamiento engañoso,” and “El coloquio de los perros” are impeccable, as well. The very few departures from the original text derive from questions of taste, from a concern that the modern reader not be misled by figurative language whose connotative value has shifted over time. Their introduction to “The Lady Cornelia” reiterates the general editor’s comments on the collection as a creation of an original literature for the enjoyment and edification of the readers. The only inaccuracy in their translation is to state that the two Spaniards cannot accept their Italian hosts’ offer to marry into their family because the two Basques’ parents felt they should be married already (53). The reason Cervantes gives is that the two men believe that their parents have probably already chosen brides for them in Spain.
     Jones and Macklin’s translation of “El casamiento engañoso” and “El coloquio de los perros” clarifies the complex issue present in all Cervantes’s work regarding the relationship of fiction to reality. Their introduction explores Cervantes’s understanding of the role of literature in developing the readers’ perception, memory and judgment for the purpose of understanding the epistemological questions presented by illusion and for dealing with the axiological questions issuing from conflict. Through their minor departures from the original text, the translations reveal a greater intolerance of human weakness than Cervantes may have intended. Cervantes’s narrator certainly does not approve of the mutual deception of Campuzano and Estefanía Caicedo, but in the Spanish text, their transgressions do not appear quite so raw. In the translation, Campuzano’s “burden of sores” becomes simply clap and the humors of his liaisons with Estefanía become simply fluids (162). Explaining the allusion to the four medieval humors in a note (162 n.3) does not mitigate the harshness of the image. Other less significant disparities in the translation consist of changing the sheerness of the veil which allowed Campuzano to glimpse Estefanía’s face to its length (69), the omission of the fencing terminology “hendí” and “rajé” from the narrator’s description of Campuzano’s attempt to win Estefanía’s favor with his words (68) and the detail that Estefanía did at least leave Campuzano a riding suit when she stole his few possessions (77). The translation also misses the full impact Peralta’s involuntary remark, “Vuesa Merced quede


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mucho en buena hora” (80) as he leaps to his feet when Campuzano tells him that he heard two dogs talking. The phrase does not mean “you may say what you like” (81) but rather “stay right here where you are while I leave.” Finally, in “The Dialogue of the Dogs,” a “golosina” is a “snack,” not “greed” and “poner en tela de juicio” is “to bring to trial or place under scrutiny” rather than “cast aspersions.” None of these departures from the original text detract or distort the meaning of the story. Some do indicate the occasional difficulty translators have in conveying the narrators’ evaluation of the events they are relating rather than their own.
     With the accompanying notes and introductions, the four volumes fulfill the goal of bringing these important stories to the attention of readers unsure of their knowledge of Spanish. Most importantly, Ife and the scholars who collaborated in this project succeed in recreating Cervantes’s varied narrative modalities. Their introductions clearly explain the importance of Cervantes’s short fiction in European literature and shed light on challenging critical issues such as the author’s opinion of the picaresque novel. The one misleading cross-reference in the notes (n.3, p. 162, should refer the reader to n. 7 on p. 160), and the few typographical errors (Vol. I, p. 36, “se” should be “si”; p. 60, “di” should be “de”; p. 188, “qiuero” should be “quiero”; Vol. II, p. 94, “tento” should be “tengo”; p. 104, “Leocaida” should be “Leocadia”; p. 120, “nos” should be “los”) and one linguistic error (Vol. II, p. 135, n. 46, ter and not *tenher is the Portuguese infinitive for tenho) do not detract from this carefullly and handsomely prepared series which deserves a place in every collection of works in European literature. These translations can direct the critical attention of scholars, teachers, and students more familiar with the Quijote to the challenges of Cervantes’s short fiction.


Kenneth Stackhouse
Virginia Commonwealth University


Prepared with the help of Sue Dirrim
Fred Jehle jehle@ipfw.edu Publications of the CSA HCervantes
URL: http://users.ipfw.edu/jehle/cervante/csa/artics96/stackhouse.htm