Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes’ epic, published 400 years ago, signaled the birth of the modern novel—and it has been beating as the heart in every piece of literature written since, according to Edith Grossman, Ph.D., acclaimed translator of the Spanish literary masterpiece.
“Cervantes is as contemporary as any writer can be. In that sense, he is our most modern author,” Grossman said before a crowd of scholars and students at the 49th annual Fordham Cervantes Lecture on Thursday, April 28, in the 12th-floor lounge of the Lowenstein Building on the Lincoln Center campus. “He invented every device and technique that every novelist has used since then.”
This year’s lecture celebrated “El Año Quijote” (The Quixote Year), the quadricentennial year of the publication of Part I of Cervantes’ masterpiece.
Grossman, who has translated some of Latin America’s finest contemporary writers, including bestselling novelists Gabriel García Márquez, Carlos Fuentes and Mario Vargas Llosa, began working full time on her translation of Don Quixote in 1990. Before embarking on the task of bringing 17th-century Spain to life for a 21st-century English-speaking audience, however, she said she experienced “intense trepidation.” Bolstered by the support of a novelist-friend, who reminded her that Cervantes should be regarded as the most modern of writers, she ultimately decided to proceed without consulting any of the many existing English translations or academic papers on the classic novel.
“This was not a scholarly work or academic book. A lifetime would not be enough to do [Don Quixote] scholarly justice,” she said, noting that her goal was to “create a translation that hopefully could be read with pleasure by many.”
Like the original, Grossman’s Don Quixote (Ecco, 2003) received critical acclaim—The New York Times praised its “plain but plentiful contemporary English,” calling it a “major literary achievement”—and ultimately became a bestseller.
“Fidelity is the noble purpose of the translator,” said Grossman. “Translation is the living bridge between two rungs of discourse, two rungs of experience and two sets of readers.”
Started in the 1950s by two former Fordham students (both of whom attended the April 28 event), the Fordham Cervantes Lecture has been recognized internationally as the only continuous event of its kind devoted to the late Spanish playwright, novelist and poet.