I believe it was PG Wodehouse who remarked that Don Quixote was thought to be the world’s greatest novel, although all the literary critics he knew only took that on faith, since none of them could read Spanish, and the English translations were so poor as to make them unreadable. I mentioned this to Husband this week as he showed me the two translations of Don Quixote he bought on his recent trip to Denver.
“Who needs two translations of Don Quixote?” I asked. “Well, why do you have two translations of the Odyssey?” he countered. He had me there. (One is a verse translation and one is a prose translation, but still).
I have always wondered what we lose when great works are translated. Is Balzac more dramatic and fast-paced in the original French? What is War and Peace like in the original Russian? Is Don Quixote really the world’s greatest novel? It will probably take Husband more than a year to get through his new books, if he ever does, so I will have to wait for his thoughts on it.
What do you think is the world’s greatest novel? What books do you wish you could read in their original languages? Have you ever read Don Quixote from cover to cover?