When Translators Go To Far – Caravana de Requerdos on The Swindler

Over at Caravana de Requerdos (it is in English despite the title) there was an interesting discussion on how much the translator should try to help the reader understand a book, even to the extent they are adding elements that were not originally in the book. I can see why the translator added an element to his book, but it doesn’t do a service to the book. You can be overly faithful, but adding things is going to far. I still would like to read the book as I am not very familiar with that period of Spanish Literature.

At the beginning of Chapter Twelve in Alpert’s translation of The Swindler, we find the rascally narrator Pablos on the road to Madrid in the Castilla-La Mancha region in Spain.  “But to get back to my journey,” he writes, “I was riding on a grey donkey like Sancho Panza and the last thing I wanted was to meet anybody when, in the distance, I saw a gentleman walking along with his cloak on and his sword by his side, wearing light breeches and high boots” (147).  This gentleman, whose appearance, manners, and hard luck may superficially remind some of Don Quixote, will then fall in with Pablos for a spell in what looks like it could be a send-up of an adventure from Cervantes’ recent runaway best-seller.  So what’s the problem with such a tantalizing metafictional scene? It doesn’t appear this way at all in my Spanish version!  At least, there’s no mention of Sancho Panza in my Quevedo–just the detail that Pablos was riding on a “rucio de la Mancha” [gray horse from La Mancha] (II, 5, 95 in the Spanish text).  Is Alpert trying to embellish the Don Quixote-like “cameo” for English readers, using a variant text, or just making shit up?  It’s hard to say.  While there are at least threeBuscón manuscripts known to scholars in addition to various printed versions of the novel, Alpert never once mentions which version of Quevedo’s text he’s used as the source for his translation.  Kind of a big problem there, no?

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