From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America
16.1 (1996): 98-106.
Copyright © 1996, The Cervantes Society of America
Professor B. F. Ife of Kings College, London, presents a new translation in four volumes of Miguel de Cervantess 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 Cervantess 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 Cervantess prose. Consequently, the variety of literary modes associated with the Exemplary Novels has not been lost.
Ifes general introduction to the collection and a bibliography selected for the reader unfamiliar with Cervantess life and work appear at the beginning of each one of the four volumes. The introduction makes clear Cervantess 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 Cervantess stories present examples of personal moral strength in adverse circumstances, through
narratives which entice the reader to accept as possible progressively more
implausible incidents, initially for entertainment but ultimately for
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 Cervantess marriage was an unhappy one. All Cervantess 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 Cervantess plots illustrate as opposed to the abstract sententiousness of moral formulae suggests that personal experience and observation were Cervantess source. Also, while it is true that Cervantes wrote in order to earn money, the editors 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 wifes 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 Cervantess 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 Cervantess stories by his contemporaries and would make the translation more valuable to researchers. Finally, the editor in the general introduction questions Cervantess statement that his stories are harmless entertainment because they include descriptions of sex and violence. Cervantess 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 editors 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
Cervantes owes such good fortune to luck rather than judgement
(4). The translator simplifies Cervantess allusion to his face and
body-type to mere appearance and misses the authors 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 Cervantess experience in Algiers with written
testimonials to ones personal character, the joke may have serious
implications for understanding the authors biography. Finally, the
translator of the prologue leaves behind Cervantess 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 Cervantess 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 Bonillas (1922-1925), Siebers (1980) and Avalle-Arces (1987) texts with the 1613 edition invites a detailed comparison.
R. M. Prices 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 Cervantess stories, the nature of a happy marriage, then to Cervantess 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 heroines 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.
Prices 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 Preciosas 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 Preciosas 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
meaning of the narrative (48, 49). He misses Preciosas guardians
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 Preciosas 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 Cervantess 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 authors use of anaphora in his description of the
confusion created at the inn when Preciosas fiancé is falsely
accused of theft (87).
Except for minuscule differences, Prices 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 translators 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 Cervantess observation that the young boys of the town were the madmans 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 narrators 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 Cervantess 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 translators modifications of the authors text. Cervantess 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 ones 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
that specific day (103). Rodolfos gang of friends whom Cervantes
characterizes merely as irresponsible youth, compañías
libres, are for the translator simply evil companions (103).
Cervantess 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).
Cervantess 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 Cervantess
narrators 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, Rodolfos 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. Cervantess concept
of la opinión de las gentes (104) is greater than their
mere remarks and criticism (105).
Another fine distinction between Cervantess 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 Cervantess 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 Rodolfos face porque ya que se me acuerde de mi ofensa, no quiero acordarme de mi ofensor (107). Leocadia does not want to see her abductors 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 Cervantess rather bad joke at the expense of dueñas. The narrators 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 ones hair, with no
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 Williamss introduction to the story The Generous Lover leaves the significance of Cervantess title, El amante liberal, beyond doubt. The hero is generous with his love. The translation is an outstanding re-creation of Cervantess prose in that it respects the level of diction, cadence and rhetorical devices of the original narrative. When the translator presents Cervantess 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 Leonisas reply, siempre fui mía (168). With the exception of this one misleading error, Williamss translation surpasses the rest of the translations in this collection in elegance of expression.
Given the excellence of Richard Hitchcocks translation of Cervantess 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 Monopodios 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 readers 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 gangs ridiculous pretense to honor, brotherhood, and piety. Like Lope de Ruedas 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 characters 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
Monopodios 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 Monopodios gang
sings while the young women dance. Like all the translators in the collection,
Hitchcock recoils from Cervantess 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 Cervantess 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 Carrizaless 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 Leonoras refusal of Carrizaless final generous offer.
The Thackers translation of La ilustre fregona does not confirm their introduction. Their discussion of Cervantess 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 Cervantess narrative point of view. For example, in spite of the dangers and discomforts, Cervantess narrator recognizes the pleasures unlimited personal freedom offers youth unfettered by responsibility. The translation turns the narrators 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 Cervantess 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 narrators 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 kings service (68). Secondly, Cervantess 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
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
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 Cervantess success in exploring the intricacies of his characters emotional reactions to difficult and unusual conflicts.
John Jones and John Macklins 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 editors 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 Macklins translation of El casamiento engañoso and El coloquio de los perros clarifies the complex issue present in all Cervantess work regarding the relationship of fiction to reality. Their introduction explores Cervantess 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. Cervantess 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, Campuzanos 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 Estefanías face to its length (69), the omission of the fencing terminology hendí and rajé from the narrators description of Campuzanos attempt to win Estefanías 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 Peraltas involuntary remark, Vuesa Merced quede
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
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 Cervantess varied narrative modalities. Their introductions clearly explain the importance of Cervantess short fiction in European literature and shed light on challenging critical issues such as the authors 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 Cervantess short fiction.
|Virginia Commonwealth University|
||Prepared with the help of Sue Dirrim||
|Fred Jehle email@example.com||Publications of the CSA||HCervantes|