In the latest issue:

Consider the Hermit Crab

Katherine Rundell

Emigrés on the Make

Sheila Fitzpatrick

Autopsy of an Election

James Butler

Short Cuts: Harry Goes Rogue

Jonathan Parry

‘Cosmo’ for Capitalists

Stefan Collini

Kara Walker’s ‘Fons Americanus’

Cora Gilroy-Ware

So many ships and fleets and armies

N.A.M. Rodger

British Sea Power

Paul Rogers

Richard Holbrooke

Samuel Moyn

Four poems after Callimachus

Stephanie Burt

‘Your Duck Is My Duck’

Christian Lorentzen

On Paul Muldoon

Clair Wills

Leanne Shapton

Namara Smith

Antigone on Your Knee

Terry Eagleton


Michael Wood

Walter Pater

Elizabeth Prettejohn

Two Poems

Rae Armantrout

Diary: In Monrovia

Adewale Maja-Pearce

Crazy DonMichael Wood

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website ( — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.

  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.
The History of that Ingenious Gentleman Don Quijote de la Mancha 
by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, translated by Burton Raffel.
Norton, 802 pp., $14.95, September 1995, 0 393 03719 3
Show More
Show More

Not only one of the (many) unread classics, Don Quixote is a book almost no one seems to have any intention of reading. People don’t feel bad about ignoring it, don’t need to pretend they’ve read it, don’t say they’ve always been meaning to take it to the beach. I hope I’m wrong about the novel’s actual readership, for the sake of several publishers and many readers who would immensely enjoy the book if they got to it, but I don’t think I’m wrong about the way things look.

Fielding and Sterne loved Don Quixote, and so did Flaubert and Dostoevsky. It’s hard to imagine what their work would have been like without this affection in the background. But there don’t seem to be many modern writers who care about the book, or have been marked by it. Thomas Mann wrote a wonderful essay about it, but its moral world seems very far from his own. Faulkner said he used to read Don Quixote once a year, but you wouldn’t guess this from his writing. The influence of Don Quixote on Latin American fiction has been enormous, but more as a cultural legacy, an idea of Cervantes and his work, than as any great devotion to the novel itself.

I think part of what’s happened is that we imagine we know Don Quixote, and don’t need to know it better. We recall the famous images of Doré and Picasso and Dalí. We hum the tunes from The Man of La Mancha, even if we didn’t see the musical. We remember Kosintsev’s movie, and Welles’s movie fragments. Above all, perhaps, we think of our kitschy souvenirs from Spain, those proliferating tea-towels, plates, jugs, statues, prints, and other Quixo-Sanchic junk that we brought back from Malaga, along with the bullfight mementos and the castanets. Why would we need to read the book? It’s about a tall thin sad fellow, and a short round sensible one. About ideals and their fate in the humdrum world; on my right illusion, on my left reality. In the older Spanish and most English readings, reality wins, although illusion has some nice moves. In the reading of the German Romantics, of most Spaniards since the early 19th century, and of almost everyone in the 20th century except the English, illusion takes the high ground, wins the long war of dreams, even as it loses the shorter battle of the everyday world.

It’s reasonable to think that a new translation might help us out here, that the stuffiness of the old translations is the problem. Burton Raffel says he took on the task because he ‘did not feel comfortable recommending any of the existing translations of Don Quixote’. I wish he’d said what made him uncomfortable, particularly with Putnam’s 1949 version for Viking, which has always seemed to me admirable, although I suppose Raffel must think of his work itself as an implicit judgment on the competition. There is plenty of that, since almost every well-known English version of Don Quixote has been reprinted in recent years. In order of original publication, there are: Motteux 1700-1712 (Everyman, 1991), Jarvis 1742 (Oxford, 1992), Smollett 1755 (Farrar, Straus, 1986), Ormsby 1885 (Norton, 1981). There is also J.M. Cohen’s 1950 Penguin translation, and Walter Starkie’s 1964 version for Signet. The only thing lacking is a good modern edition of Shelton’s wonderful Jacobean translation: the first part appeared in 1612, before the second part of the Spanish Quixote was published; the second in 1620.

This is not the place (and I’m not the person) to offer a comparative judgment on these labours; but I have looked at all of these versions, and I have to confess I don’t actually feel uncomfortable with any of them. The Motteux text is by far the best-known and most widely circulated, although scholars are full of scorn for it because of its cavalier approach to the original, and its habit of sticking in new sentences when it feels like it. But it still reads remarkably well, it doesn’t feel as if it’s nearly three hundred years old, and if you don’t want to fork out for the Everyman, you’ll find that Motteux’s version appeared, without any indication of who the translator is, as a Wordsworth Classic in 1993. This is in its way appropriate, since this translation was first offered to the world as the work of ‘several hands and published by Peter Motteux’, and it’s J. Ozell’s revision of this work that does the rounds under the name of Motteux. Smollett stays very close to Motteux. Jarvis and Ormsby are sounder by all accounts, but also more plodding, as is Cohen. Putnam is both accurate and elegant, although it’s possible that the English of 1949 now seems as far away as the English of 1700. Raffel’s version has plenty of pace, is genuinely funny, if a little rough around the edges, and not much interested in nuance – in the difference, for example, between ‘Why shouldn’t I?’ and ‘How could I not?’, or between a squire and a commoner, or between ‘I follow that’ and ‘That’s what I’m getting at.’ It’s odd that Raffel should say, in his brief note, that he has tried to respect Cervantes’s ‘syntactical organisation’, since it’s his inventive recasting of the rhythms of Cervantes’s syntax into a contemporary American idiom that makes his work so interesting. We have only to look at the Prologue, where Cervantes tells the reader that of course he longed for his book to be the most beautiful, most lively and most distinguished that could be imagined, but (I translate as literally as possible) ‘I have not been able to go against the order of nature; by which each thing engenders its like.’ Putnam has: ‘but I have not been able to contravene the law of nature which would have it that like begets like.’ Raffel has: ‘But could I contradict the natural order of things? Like creates like.’ I think this is good, but the syntax is all Raffel’s.

The great challenge in translating Cervantes is his stealth, and all the translators hit and miss this all the time. The famous opening of the first chapter is a splendid instance. ‘En un lugar de la Mancha, de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme.’ Literally: ‘In a place in Mancha whose name I do not want to recall.’ Does ‘I do not want’ mean ‘I can’t be bothered’ or ‘I can’t bear the thought of it’? Or just ‘I’d rather not’? Cervantes is certainly hinting at some sort of story here, something just offstage, but once you get the hang of reading him, you realise he may be bluffing, and that you have no way of telling. There may be a secret here, and it may matter. There may be a secret, but one of no importance. Or there is no secret at all, just the hint of a secret, the voice of the writer teasing us, playing to our suspicions. Motteux catches this best, I think: ‘At a certain village in La Mancha, which I shall not name.’ Other translators make too much fuss, and simply prefer one of the possible meanings to the others. Their differences are instructive. Shelton: ‘In a certaine village of the Mancha, the name whereof I purposely omit’; Ormsby: ‘In a village of La Mancha, which I prefer to leave un-named’; Putnam: ‘In a village of La Mancha the name of which I have no desire to recall’; Raffel: ‘In a village of La Mancha (I don’t want to bother you with its name).’

The question of translation, in relation to Don Quixote, is fascinating, but it’s not our problem. Well, it might be a sort of parody of our problem, but then all translations would be caught up in it. What’s boring about Don Quixote is not the book but our idea of it, our addiction to the notions of illusion and reality, or our aversion to all talk of them. Of course illusion and reality do have their spats, and the spats are important. But the opposing figments are not fixed entities. They are more like the names of shifting pieces in a game, and they are more often accomplices than enemies. They need each other; there is no war for either of them to win. For every simple encounter between illusion and reality in Don Quixote – say, a man rushing into windmills which he believes are giants – there eight or nine elaborate negotiations between the extravagant self and the only slightly less extravagant world. Is this inn a castle? No, but everyone, and not just Don Quixote, is prepared to talk as if it is. Is this shining object a barber’s basin or Mambrino’s helmet? It’s a barber’s basin, but the barber is wearing it on his head, and a whole innful of people later conspire, as a joke, to certify that it’s a helmet. It is strange, isn’t it, to see a funeral cortège on the road in the middle of the night, ‘an adventure’, as Cervantes puts it, ‘that really, without artifice of any kind, did seem to be one’. When Dulcinea is enchanted before Quixote’s very eyes, it is because Sancho needs to get himself out of trouble – he has pretended to deliver a message to Dulcinea, whom he has never seen in his life – and Quixote sees and smells just what is in front of him: three peasant-girls on three donkeys, and a strong whiff of garlic. Sancho claims to see three ladies on three tine horses, the ladies covered in jewels and shining like the sun at noon. If Quixote can’t see this, it’s because an evil enchanter has converted – let’s see if I can get this right – the real beauty of the imaginary Dulcinea into the real ugliness of the girl who’s not Dulcinea at all. Cervantes, with Sancho’s help, is turning the screw here, since previous mentions of Dulcinea, aka Aldonza Lorenzo, have said that she was good-looking, ‘de muy buen parecer’, just not the grand lady of Quixote’s fantasies. The false Dulcinea not only brings the knight back to earth, she rubs his nose in it – or rather her nose, since she is said to be snub-nosed and round-faced, and not at all fair of feature, ‘no de muy buen rostro’.

Games with truth (and translation) run throughout the book. After eight chapters, in the middle of a violent fight Quixote is having with the escort of a Basque lady on her way to Seville, Cervantes says his (fictitious) historical sources don’t tell us any more. Fortunately he finds some further manuscripts in Toledo, which pick up the story exactly where it was interrupted, swords raised in the middle of the fight. This is an Arabic text, though, by one ‘Cide Hamete Benengeli, Arab historian’, and Cervantes, who calls himself the ‘second author’, says he doesn’t know any Arabic. He finds a translator, who promises to do the job ‘well and faithfully and very quickly’ (Raffel takes the last phrase, ‘con mucha brevedad’, to mean ‘using no more words than absolutely necessary’). It sounds as if there might be a snag here, but Cervantes tells us blandly, as if the truth were never a matter of dispute or deception, that ‘no story is bad as long as it’s true.’

Well, there might be a difficulty with the truth of this particular story, because the author is an Arab, and it is ‘characteristic of those of that nation to be liars’; although – the fall of Granada in 1492 hovers here – since the Arabs are such enemies of the Spanish, Cervantes thinks the historian is more likely ‘to have fallen short than to have gone too far’. The implication, which disappears almost as soon as it arises, is that Cide Hamete, who might treacherously have underplayed the noble deeds of a true Spanish knight, will probably have done Don Quixote a favour by keeping quiet about some of his disasters. Cervantes promptly buries this subversive thought in a spoof praise of historical veracity, which is one of the passages of the Quixote that Borges’s Pierre Menard is known to have attempted with some success. Menard’s version, you will remember, is verbally identical to Cervantes’s; it’s just that the meanings are all different. ‘Historians are to be and must be accurate, truthful and not passionate, and neither interest nor fear, neither rancour nor affection should turn them from the path of truth, whose mother is history.’ There is in any case no reason whatsoever for us to suspect Cide Hamete’s veracity, quite apart from the fact that he is Cervantes’s invention anyway. Cervantes has made him an Arab solely to raise the question of truth, with the same sort of effect as the avoidance of the place name in La Mancha. Truth is not a problem here, as it happens; but that’s strange, because it’s a problem everywhere else.

Cervantes returns to this deck of questions in the second volume of his novel, where Quixote learns that a book (the first volume) has been written about him by an Arab historian. It’s enormously popular, although some readers apparently feel that some of the innumerable beatings Quixote receives could have been left out. Sancho says, ‘That’s where the truth of the story comes in,’ but Quixote explains that good writers (like lying Arabs) know how to be economical with the truth. The beatings could have been omitted, Quixote says, ‘because one doesn’t have to write the actions which do not change or dilute the truth of the story.’ But then who’s to be the judge of that?

You can’t really summarise this head-spinning stuff, and we must be meant to experience the vertigo rather than to worry about the epistemology. But it’s clear that Cervantes is interested, however light and fast-changing his methods are, in something like a continuous working metaphor for indirection, for the unavailability of the unadorned truth. It’s not that such truth doesn’t exist – Cervantes is emphatic that it does – it’s that the roads to it are full of politics and prejudice and mischief, and these uncertain roads are the world of the novel. History, Cervantes implies, is what there is, the truth of this world; and it is also a dangerous selection, at best a loaded part of a longer story. Fiction as he practises it is a miming of this double situation, not the ideal moral construction proposed by Renaissance literary theory, but a portrait of the worldly entanglement of truth and lies: no truth that can’t be lied about; no lie that can’t look like, and even be, a truth.

Cervantes loves to unsettle meaning, even his own meaning, out of what I take to be a loyalty to the very possibility of opposition or difference. He does this casually, even recklessly, sometimes seemingly without any point. But he does it all the time, and it provides all the book’s most brilliant jokes. Here is Don Quixote, making a devastating case against himself, simply through the use of the word ‘homicides’, a sort of Freudian slip: ‘And where have you ever seen or read that a knight errant has been brought to justice, however many homicides he committed?’ Here is Don Quixote again, offering an impeccable argument which destroys from within any sense the argument itself might have had. He is planning to go mad in imitation of various lovelorn knights he’s read about, notably Ariosto’s Orlando. Sancho wonders whether there isn’t a crucial difference between them and Quixote, since they had a reason for going mad (again I translate as literally as I can).

‘What lady has disdained you, or what signs have you found that would give you to understand that the lady Dulcinea del Toboso has performed any childishness with Moor or Christian?’

‘That is the point,’ replied Don Quixote, ‘and that is the subtlety of my affair [‘la fineza de minegocio’]; that a knight errant should go mad for a reason has no special merit [‘ni grado ni gracias’]: the thing is to rave without any occasion for it, and to suggest to my lady that if the dry run is like this, what would the real thing be like?’

Or we can watch the swerves in this sentence, where an apparently obvious drift is diverted twice. Only Fielding and Thackeray, in English, have managed to do anything like this. The argument begins by associating the life of Quixote with the life of a saint (‘vida y milagros’), moves to a traditional list of knightly activities, pretends to get distracted by the number of damsels there are around, and how their virtue manages to survive in such rough conditions, and finally, in a dizzying last twist, suggests their virtue doesn’t survive anyway.

This thought [that the story of Don Quixote, recently interrupted, is not continued anywhere in writing] troubled me, and made me desirous of knowing really and truly the whole life and miracles of our famous Spanish Don Quixote de la Mancha, light and mirror of Manchegan chivalry, and the first who in our age and in these calamitous times dedicated himself to the task and exercise of arms errant, and to that of undoing ills, succouring widows, helping damsels, of the kind who travelled with their whips and palfreys, and with their complete virginity aboard, from hill to hill and from valley to valley; so that if they were not raped by some scoundrel, or some villain with cloak and axe, or some fantastic giant, there were damsels in past times who, at the end of eighty years of not once sleeping under a roof, went to the grave as intact as the mothers that bore them.

You can’t really go back or rebuild the sentence when you’ve finished it, it’s a self-consuming artefact, or more precisely, a self-criticising meaning machine. What it shows is that meaning is always precarious, and could come unstuck at any time. And showing this, I am suggesting, was more important for Cervantes than any meaning he might be attached to; and I wonder if most comic authors don’t subscribe, intentionally or not, to the same deconstructive creed.

Illusion and reality don’t just face off in Cervantes; they feed on each other. An illusion which seeks to become a practice alters the practices of the world, and the sensible story of the world’s resistance to fantasy becomes the melancholy if still very funny story of the world’s weary inability to do justice to fantasy’s invitations. The finest, most hauntingly sketched moment in Don Quixote concerns the knight’s encounter with a pair of lions. They are large and fierce and hungry, and they are on their way from Oran as a present to the King of Spain. It’s true that they are not really an adventure in Quixote’s sense, and that he has no business having them released so that he can fight them. But equally there can be no doubt of his extraordinary courage in facing them and it’s hard, as this set-up unfolds, to imagine how Cervantes is going to get himself and his hero out of this. Cervantes loves this kind of situation and always delays his solution, so that the suspense is in the intricate transaction between the person’s bid and the world’s response. It’s a form of gambling. This is not Quixotic illusion against worldly reality but the craziness and violence of Quixotic romance against the courtesy and good sense of the animal kingdom. The cage is opened, the huge male lion spreads his claws, yawns, washes his face and looks around with eyes burnting like coals (‘hechos brasas’). At this stage Cervantes disappoints Quixote even more completely than we imagined he could, and brilliantly anthropomorphises the lion as he does it. It’s the lion who looks like the gentleman here; the gentleman just wants a fight.‘But the generous lion, more obliging than arrogant, paying no attention to childishness’ – niñeria, one of Cervantes’s favourite words, the one he also uses for what Dulcinea hasn’t done with Moor or Christian – ‘or bravado, after looking all around him, turned his back and showed his hind parts to Don Quixote, and with great poise and calm, returned to lie down in the cage.’

A critique of the books of chivalry is still going on here, but we are also looking at something like the birth of modern disenchantment. The time is 1615, and what European hero, from now on, will ever find an adventure worthy of his ambition and his valiant heart? ‘A nous deux maintenant’, Rastignac says from the top of Père Lachaise cemetery, but only the squalid diffusion of the world awaits him, and Paris is about as sleepy as Cervantes’s lion. Its resistance to the individual will lies in its very indifference. The lion’s behaviour suggests not only that hungry beasts can be more polite than moderately well-fed humans, but that even real adventures, especially real adventures, are about to become exercises in disappointment.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.


Vol. 17 No. 17 · 7 September 1995

Michael Wood’s essay on translations of Cervantes’s Don Quixote (LRB, 3 August) brought back memories of some seventy years ago when as a teenager I read this masterpiece translated into Hungarian, my mother tongue. Professor Wood writes about ‘the great challenge’ in translating Cervantes and mentions, as an example, the opening of the first chapter. Translated literally, as he says, the sentence should be in English: ‘In a place in Mancha whose name I do not want to recall’. Though I’m aware that very few, if any, of your readers understand the difficult language of Magyars, I venture to quote this beginning in Hungarian: ‘La Mancha egyik falujában amelynek nevét nem akarom emliteni’. Well, the Hungarian translation should please Professor Wood. In English it reads: ‘In a village of La Mancha whose name I do not want to mention’. Striking similarity, isn’t it? The two-volume Don Quixote was among the few books I could bring out from Hungary after the 1956 Revolution. Now, having read Professor Wood’s excellent piece, I am especially happy I did.

Endre Marton
Chevy Chase, Maryland

send letters to

The Editor
London Review of Books
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

Please include name, address and a telephone number

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.