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The last words

December 07, 2003

I was reading Lewis Beale's article on Edith Grossman and her new translation of "Don Quixote" ("In Other Words, That's What She Does," Nov. 30), ready to agree and acknowledge her eminence in her field, but then you provided rival translations of chapter one excerpts of Cervantes' novel -- one by John Rutherford, the other by Grossman.

Even in one paragraph it is evident the woman has no ear.

Translation, in literature, is crucial. Stephen Mitchell's translations of Rilke changed our appreciation of that poet. Francis Steegmuller's translation of Flaubert's "Madame Bovary" drew a new and appreciative audience for that masterpiece.

Grossman may be accurate, but if this excerpt is typical she's diminished Cervantes. He provided a strong and vital book. What she gives back, compared to the Rutherford translation, is thin, pallid and tuneless.

Lou Mathews

Los Angeles


While I was pleased to read about Edith Grossman's fine translation of "Don Quixote," Lewis Beale should be admonished for characterizing Miguel de Cervantes' masterpiece as a "classic picaresque novel."

The picaresque novel has its origins in 16th century Spain and is characterized by a first-person narration from the point of view of a poor individual -- the "picaro" -- who relates his misadventures. Picaresque works have an episodic structure that is organized in such a way as to justify the protagonist's dishonorable actions, telling about the past to justify the present. Often these novels function as a satire of the dominant social system. While the "Quixote" does indeed possess some of these elements, Beale's oversimplification does a great disservice to what is generally regarded as the first modern novel.

It is Cervantes' critical satire of the commonplaces of the literary tradition (including the novel of chivalry and, to a lesser degree, the picaresque novel) and his self-conscious reflections on the authorial enterprise that make the "Quixote" a classic of world literature.

Samuel Amago

Notre Dame, Ind.

Samuel Amago is an assistant professor of Spanish at the University of Notre Dame

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