Bennet's Reviews > Don Quixote

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review
Aug 22, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: novels-stories, brilliant-voices-and-language
Read from July 16 to August 22, 2011

My beloved 1964 Signet paperback and Walter Starkie translation, of which I was reminded by a friend's recently posted Quixote review ( am now shelving among other brilliant voices. From Starkie's introduction:

"Out of a spirit of fin de siecle melancholy sprang Don Quixote, the first modern novel in the world created out of a life of disillusion, privation, and poverty by a maimed ex-soldier, survivor of a glorious Spanish victory, whose noble nature and gentle sense of humorous tolerance taught him that life is an unending dialogue between a knight of the spirit who is forever striving to soar aloft, and a squire who clings to his master and strives with might and main to keep his feet firmly planted on the ground."

First read years ago when I was a college freshman, and the only translation that has ever suited. From any page I can offer an example of why. The Asturian wench from page 153, for example:

"There was also serving at the inn an Asturian wench, broad cheeked, flat pated, snub nosed, asquint of one eye and not very sound of the other. It is true that the comeliness of her body made amends for other defects. She was not seven hands high from her feet to her head, and her shoulders, which burdened her somewhat, made her look down at the ground more than she would have wished. This bonny maid assisted the daughter of the house to prepare for Don Quixote a makeshift bed in a loft that had in days gone by served for straw."

I am aware of those (most notably Nabokov) who belittle the romanticism in which Starkie delights. Fine. It's a big book. There is room for, among other things, a divergence of opinions and interpretations. As Quixote followers go, however, I have and shall remain in Starkie's camp.

P.S. -- Found the following fun article about Starkie, whose politics I like less than his translation, but a delightful character nonetheless.

[image error]

The following is from the article:
“Walter Starkie and the Greatest Novel of All” by David Gordon, Ph.D.

"Like his godfather—the legendary provost of Trinity College, John Pentland Mahaffy—Walter Starkie (1894–1976) was one of the great Irish conversationalists. When I met him in 1969, he bowled me over. I was then a senior at UCLA, writing a paper on British foreign policy in the Spanish Civil War. I interviewed Starkie, then in his early seventies and teaching in six different departments. He had been head of the British Council in Spain during World War II and was intimately familiar with all the major Spanish and British political figures of the 1930s and ’40s.

"For Starkie, the clear-sighted pursuit of foreign policy goals should never be occluded by ideology. Instead of bemoaning that General Franco was a fascist, Starkie worked during World War II to elicit sympathy for Britain through the exhibitions and lectures he arranged as head of the British Council in Spain. His work played an important role in maintaining Spanish neutrality, though he unfortunately aroused the enmity of the British Ambassador Sir Samuel Hoare. (Starkie enjoyed telling the story of how the Lord Mayor of Birmingham once presented Hoare and his wife: 'Sir Samuel and Lady W.') When Starkie complained to Lord Lloyd, who had chosen him for the council, about Hoare’s treatment of him, Lloyd became so angry that he tore his telephone from the wall and threw it across the office.

"Starkie had little use for the icons of the Left. When Bertrand Russell died, he said to me, 'Father D’Arcy [Martin Cyril D’Arcy, S.J., Master of Campion Hall, Oxford] told me that Russell didn’t do any good work after 1914. I’d write a letter to him, but it would burn up in transit.' Asked about Conor Cruise O’Brien, he said, 'I found him a rather self-opinionated young man when he was a student of mine.' Even Martin Luther King did not escape his scorn. 'Perhaps he wasn’t as bad as some of the others, but he was still pretty bad.'

"Politics, though, was for Starkie but a sideline; he was principally a literary scholar and musician. At Trinity College, Dublin, he taught Spanish and Italian literature. Samuel Beckett was a student in his class on Dante. (By the way, he did not agree with the fashionable view that Beckett was one of the greatest twentieth-century writers; he rated his friend George Bernard Shaw far higher as a playwright.) In his teaching, he drew on his remarkable abilities as a linguist. He knew at least ten languages and was a foreign member of the Royal Spanish Academy, the governing body of the language. 'Sanskrit is not so bad,” he once assured me; 'Hungarian is much more difficult.' I was happy to take his word for it. When I told him that I had to take language exams in French and Latin, he said that I might as well learn all the Romance languages.

"His most popular course at UCLA, though, was 'Cervantes in Translation.' I fear the reason for the course’s popularity do not reflect altogether favorably on the students; Starkie was reputed the easiest teacher in the school. When I took the course, the enrollment was 941, and two extra rooms with televisions were needed as well as the main lecture hall. But those who thought Starkie an easy 'A' got their well-deserved comeuppance, in Booth Tarkington’s phrase. A janitor stole a copy of the final exam and sold copies to a number of students. Starkie discovered the plot and changed the exam. When the final was distributed to the class, several students, including a very famous basketball player, walked out: they hadn’t gotten what they purchased.

"Starkie was certainly well qualified to teach the course. He translated the complete Don Quixote: after he had issued an abridged translation, his friend Luis Astrana Marín, one of the foremost Spanish authorities on Cervantes, insisted that he do the whole thing. (He also translated a volume of Cervantes’ short stories.) When he read from the novel, he would often look up at the class, sometimes going on for pages. I asked him about this, and he said, 'When you have been reading a book for sixty years, you get to know it fairly well.'

"As one would expect, he was not very impressed with postmodernist literary critical discussions of the novel or with postmodernism in general. On one occasion, I showed him a copy of Jacques Derrida’s De la grammatologie. He read a page, dozed off, woke up and read another page, and fell asleep again. He handed the book back to me, saying, 'not very interesting.'

"For him, Don Quixote was the greatest of all novels, and he stressed its influence on later writers. Laurence Sterne is an obvious case in point, and writers as different as Dickens and Dostoevsky drew heavily from Cervantes. In part 2 of the novel, Cervantes has Don Quixote comment on false continuations of part 1; the device in which a novel refers to itself is a key theme in subsequent literature.

"Fundamentally, Starkie maintained, Cervantes was a comic novelist. He was not an enemy of chivalry and the Middle Ages: rather, he poked gentle fun at them. Neither was it correct, as Américo Castro claimed, to view Cervantes as an apostle of the Enlightenment and an enemy of the Church. Castro appealed in support of his view to the famous episode in which Cervantes satirizes book burning; but Starkie noted that the Arabs also engaged in this practice, and the satire might be with equal justice directed against them.

"More generally, Starkie preferred to Castro as a historian the more conservative Ramón Menendéz Pidal. He and Menendéz Pidal were friends, and Starkie prepared an English translation of his book debunking Bishop Las Casas. In this book, Menendéz argued that Las Casas’s claims of vast Indian massacres by the Spaniards were the product of mental pathology. Such a politically incorrect view could not be published in English, and Starkie blamed in particular the influential historian Lewis Hanke for blocking the book’s publication. Menendéz Pidal, who had written the book in his nineties, was quite upset by this.

"The dominant theme of Don Quixote, in Starkie’s opinion, is that the initially idealistic Quixote becomes more realistic as the novel unfolds, while the realistic Sancho Panza moves in the direction of idealism. Eventually, the two figures converge and indeed can be considered as aspects of a single character. In this interpretation, he was influenced by his friend Miguel de Unamuno, whose book on the novel appeared in English translation as Our Lord Don Quixote. Starkie wrote an introduction to this edition. He also recommended to us the work of Joaquín Casalduero on symbolism in Cervantes, though this, he said, was suitable only for danced work. It is available only in Spanish.

"Whether Starkie was right that Don Quixote was the greatest of all novels is a question that each reader must determine for himself. There is no better way for English speakers to do so that to read Starkie’s excellent translation."

[The author of this article, David Gordon, is a senior fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute. He was educated at UCLA, where he earned his Ph.D. in intellectual history. He is the author of several books, including The Philosophical Origins of Austrian Economics and Critics of Marx. He is the editor of the Mises Review and a contributor to such journals as Analysis, the International Philosophic Quarterly, the Journal of Libertarian Studies, and the Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics.]

The article may be read in full at:

16 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Don Quixote.
Sign In »

Quotes Bennet Liked

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
“Finally, from so little sleeping and so much reading, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind.”
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote

Reading Progress

07/16/2011 "Another re-read. Seems I'm always re-reading something. I may never get ahead this way, but evidently I think it's worth it."
07/19/2011 "Braggarts, nincompoops and knaves galore, not to mention the monstrous spawn. I love this book."
08/06/2011 "Reality check: "Is it possible that in the time you have been with me you have not yet found out that all the adventures of a knight-errant appear to be illusion, follies and dreams, and turn out to be the reverse? Not because things are really so but because in our midst is a host of enchanters forever changing, disguising and transforming our affairs as they please."" 3 comments

Comments (showing 1-17 of 17) (17 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Mike (new) - added it

Mike Puma I'm gonna have to read this one--it's absence from my Read list speaks to personal failing.

Bennet Mike wrote: "I'm gonna have to read this one--it's absence from my Read list speaks to personal failing."

So many books and too little time. I do hope you'll read Starkie's translation.

message 3: by Mike (new) - added it

Mike Puma Alas, my free version (for the Kindle) is by Ornsby. I'll look around, maybe pick up a used one on the cheap.

message 4: by Natalie (last edited Jul 07, 2011 03:41PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Natalie See if you can get this one:
Don Quixote: Unabridged Edition
New York : Signet Classics, c1979.

Adventures of Don Quixote (Abridged) by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
or this abridged Adventures of Don Quixote version if you want to compare the two Starkies.

It is sometimes cataloged as: "Don Quixote of La Mancha. An abridged version designed to relate without digressions the principal adventures of the knight and his squire."

Bennet Mine is unabridged. I'm leery of abridged versions.

Natalie Bennet wrote: "Mine is unabridged. I'm leery of abridged versions."

Yeah, the thing about Starkie's work is that the abridged one was his "first" and the complete translation came ten years later after he'd left Madrid and was at UCLA, which is kind of interesting.

Here's an observation from S. W. Paul Wyszkowski that I found on the web describing the difference between the John Rutherford (2000) and the Walter Starkie (1954/1964) translations:

. . . where Rutherford explicates in plain, everyday English, Starkie paraphrases in literary English. This makes Rutherford easier to read and comprehend for those who are not English majors, but it makes Starkie a richer and more satisfactory (and swifter) reading experience, at least for those whose English vocabulary roughly matches his in extent. It also makes Starkie less contemporary and more timeless.

Bennet Natalie wrote: "Bennet wrote: "Mine is unabridged. I'm leery of abridged versions."

Yeah, the thing about Starkie's work is that the abridged one was his "first" and the complete translation came ten years later ..."

Interesting, Natalie. The translation of literature is an art and a craft, or should be; it's about translating a narrative voice. Not knowing the original language makes it impossible to truly judge the outcome, but Starkie's version strikes me as "richer, more satisfactory, and timeless."

message 8: by Vheissu (new) - added it

Vheissu For years I have wondered which is the best of so many translations. Now I know. Thanks, Bennet!

message 9: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian "Marvin" Graye Somewhere between the sky and the ground are us. (Or should that be "we"?)
I haven't even thought of reading DQ for many years until I read your review and the description of the Asturian wench.

Bennet Ian wrote: "Somewhere between the sky and the ground are us. (Or should that be "we"?)
I haven't even thought of reading DQ for many years until I read your review and the description of the Asturian wench."

I like the sound of "we are."
As if you need to be reminded of something else to read. : )

Bennet Vheissu wrote: "For years I have wondered which is the best of so many translations. Now I know. Thanks, Bennet!"

V -- Just added a bit about Starkie to the review that you might enjoy.

message 12: by [deleted user] (new)

"gentle sense of humorous tolerance" I love this book, I think for the reason that you summarized so well in the phrase I have quoted from your review. I chuckled when you recounted your devotion to the Starkie translation, which is the first I owned. I then, over the decades, read the Putnam, Grossman, Cohen, and Rutherford translations. I like each new translation better, not necessarily because of the translator but because I love Don Quixote and Sancho more with each reading. However, when I decided to read DQ out loud to my girls--a 4 month affair-- I went looking, unsuccessfully, for my Starkie, which I remembered to be an abridgement. I had to settle for reading Rutherford but I abridged on the fly as I left out all the hundreds of pages of shepherd's tales. Great review.

Bennet Steve, I love the pic of you reading to your girls, and am way impressed that you read DQ to them -- successfully, no doubt, because of the pages left out as well as the pages read. :) And I'll now consider you the authority on translations. I haven't made it through any but Starkie's, but I never tire of his.

message 14: by [deleted user] (new)

Bennet wrote: "Steve, I love the pic of you reading to your girls, and am way impressed that you read DQ to them... People thought I was as mad a DQ when I recount tales of reading 1,000 page tomes to my children, like Les Mis and Copperfield, etc. But I am a firm believer in the power of a well-delivered story to shape us. The happiest moments of my life were spent with my friends (the authors and characters) and with my girls. I have a goodreads shelf called "read aloud to my girls, wherein I try to partially reconstruct what I have read to them. (Due to failure of memory and records, I have left some titles out for now.)I now have a two year old boy, who may be more of a challenge when he is older, but perhaps I will find the courage to once more tilt at a few windmills with him. Thanks for the reply.

Bennet I think it's wonderful. Tilt on!

Caroline Just came across Starkie’s name by chance a week ago when I found his Spanish Raggle-Taggle, a memoir of a summer journey across Spain as a wandering minstrel. Thank you for the article; I will look for the Don Quixote translation.

Caroline Just saw the cover and realized Starkie’s translation was the first one I read many many years ago

back to top