For years, I’ve noticed these special classics published and sold by Barnes & Noble. I’ve never bought one, probably because the bindings seemed to be poor. But yesterday, over at Treehorn Books, I found a used copy of their Don Quixote for $5—only half its already low cover price of $9.95. I can rarely pass up a used copy of anything by Cervantes, so I snatched it up. The book is in pretty good shape. It looks like it has been read only once. But despite this the spine is badly bowed. This is always a problem with long books, but here it seems somewhat extreme.
This edition is based upon Tobias Smollett’s 1755 translation, but it is so much more. I already have The Modern Library Classics edition of Don Quixote that is also based upon the Smollett translation. Other than an introduction by Carlos Fuentes and rather meager notes by Stephanie Kirk, this edition does not offer a great deal. The Barnes & Noble edition, however, is a real gem. According to the back cover:
As grand as this sounds, it actually understates how good this book is. To begin with, the editor, Carole Slade, did not simply modernize the spelling of Smollett’s translation. She re-translated parts of it that she found unclear or too archaic—a common problem with all the Don Quixote translations, at least up to Putnam’s 1949 translation.
As impressed as I am that Slade retranslated parts of Smollett’s Don Quixote, the truth is that I don’t know this translation well enough to say what she did. I picked over The Modern Library version and was unable to locate any differences. What does stand out is the collection of abundant notes that Slade added to the text. What’s more, these are provided as footnotes rather than endnotes, which makes them far more useful. One of these notes I found particularly interesting:
Putnam mentioned that the traditional name for Sancho’s donkey is rucio, which means “gray.” He is discussing why he chose not to use the name “Dapple”—he found it too quaint. But I didn’t know (though I should have) that rucio was just the traditional name and not one that Cervantes applied. Also, I didn’t know that we have Smollett to thank (or blame) for “Dapple.” This is but one of many interesting notes that Slade provides in this edition.
The Barnes & Noble Classics edition also includes almost a hundred illustrations by Gustave Doré—I believe originally created for a later edition of Louis Viardot’s French translation of Don Quixote (but I’m not sure, so don’t quote me). They are not just beautiful, but historically, they are important; as much as the text itself, Doré’s illustrations define our modern conception of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.
The only thing that is really bad about this edition of Don Quixote is that it is based on the Tobias Smollett translation. It simply isn’t nearly as good as Putnam (or even Charles Jervas). More than anything, Putnam provides a very modern read. For example, the first two paragraphs of Chapter 6 are not only turned into one paragraph by Smollett, they are turned into one sentence:
Wow! Although Cervantes too provides a whopper of a sentence for most of his first paragraph (before the dialog), he isn’t nearly as verbose. I will spare you a quote. However, I think I would be doing a disservice to you if I did not provide the same text as translated by Putnam:
“Here, Senor Licentiate,” she said, “take this and sprinkle well, that no enchanter of the many these books contain may remain here to cast a spell on us for wishing to banish them from the world.”
I doubt much need be said here. If you prefer the Smollett, then by all means, read him. I don’t understand you, but I’m happy for you. For most people, the Putnam translation is clearly superior. But then, Putnam had many advantages: 200 years and our modern voice. Nonetheless, the Bares & Noble Classics edition should be owned by any Don Quixote lover for Carole Slade’s notes: very informative and lots of fun.
 Smollett first published his translation in 1755, but he greatly revised it six years later. This edition is based upon the 1755 version.
 As much as I like the Putnam translation, I get annoyed having to flip to the back of the book for every note—especially given that his notes are so often really interesting.