The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes, His Fortunes and Adversities.
The choices editors face when contemplating a new English edition of Lazarillo de Tormes should be more vexing than they often appear. In 1554, four Spanish editions of Lazarillo were published in four different cities, which has led some to speculate that all were based on a now-lost original (princeps). Whatever the case, this slim, anonymously authored first-person tale of a young Spanish urchin's struggle to survive grinding poverty and hunger while serving a series of callous masters made little impact in its country of origin until the publication of Mateo Aleman's Guzman de Alfarache (1599; 1604), which drew attention to what, in hindsight, now appeared to be the popular Guzman's progenitor. As Ilan Stavans notes in the introduction to his new translation, Cervantes too in the First Part of Don Quixote (1605) acknowledges the status of Lazarillo as the first of the picaresque tales that would shortly proliferate in western Europe through the seventeenth century and beyond. But while Lazarillo had languished in relative obscurity in Spain for the half-century between its initial publication and the appearance of Don Quixote, in France and England during the same period it contributed vitally to emergent bodies of prose fiction via oft-reprinted translations and sequels. To date no modern English version of the work makes more than passing reference to this phenomenon.
Stavans's new version is likewise virtually silent about the many lives of the English Lazarillo from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries, but it does make the Spanish Lazarillo more of its time than has any previous English edition. Besides the maps of mid-sixteenth-century Salamanca and Toledo that help concretize the steps of Lazaro's journey, Stavans includes a few pieces of Inquisition-era writing that illuminate the confessional dimensions of the tale (an emphasis of this edition that's reinforced by David Gitlitz's essay, "Inquisitorial Confessions," one of eight useful and wide-ranging works of criticism appended to the text). Stavans's translation is based mostly on Francisco Rico's controversial 2011 Spanish edition of the hypothetical princeps. This means that this new English version of Lazarillo gives us a work that Rico imagines must have been the original, from which the four 1554 Spanish editions derived. One problem with using Rico's version as the source text is that it includes passages that are only found in one of the extant 1554 editions (published at Alcala de Henares). Stavans notes in his introduction that the Alcala edition "includes some additional episodes that are probably written by another hand" (vii), but it would have been good either to have set off these passages in the text, or to have relegated them to an appendix. This would have furthered Stavans's aim of giving us a more deeply contextualized Lazarillo, since many more readers in Golden Age Spain, and every French. English, and German reader since the first translations appeared in those languages, knew only versions of Lazarillo without the Alcala interpolations. It would also have given English readers an accessible alternative to Michael Alpert's widely read translation (Penguin. 2003), which relies as well upon Rico's edition.
On the other hand, a brief excerpt from Juan de Luna's 1620 sequel is a welcome inclusion; more from de Luna would've provided a real service to Lazarillo's English readers. Despite Stavans's dismissing it as not "nearly as engaging as the original" (viii), de Luna's sequel is a classic of early modern misanthropic literature, and it was always published with the original in England from the 1630s through the 1820s as the conclusion to Lazaro's story. Since then, however, it's been cast on the dust heap of literary history owing to the widespread bibliographical fetishizing of an ostensibly "original" Lazarillo (which--as Rico's edition of the princeps shows--remains a product of conjecture). Stavans's acknowledgement of de Luna's work makes a move toward correcting this bias, and one could argue that adding more from this sequel to an English edition, along with the brief alternative ending that was appended to the first French translation of 1561--and thereafter published in every English edition until 1908--would serve to historicize the tale even more rigorously. For it was through these 'illegitimate' versions that Lazarillo affected the development of the modem novel in England.
Stavans's translation is brisk and readable, if occasionally marked by curious infelicities. In the prologue, for instance. Stavans renders el caso as "a story," which blunts the force of the expression. This matters because the legal sense of the term ("the case") hints that Lazaro's written account of his life is akin to a deposition meant to defend himself against rumors that he's currently engaged in a shockingly illicit relationship. Even "my story," while it doesn't signal enough the legal implications of "the case," would at least draw more attention to the tale as an exercise in self-justification. And when Lazaro's third master, the starving squire, ostentatiously picks his teeth with a straw outside his quarters even though it's been days since his last meal, Stavans oddly translates escarbando los dientes as "grinding his teeth." In moments like these (and there are others). Stavans's evident desire to set his translation off from previous ones ends up creating some minor confusion. But on the whole, his Lazarillo, with its generous supplement of primary texts and scholarly essays, will prove useful to those wanting to introduce English-language students to this engaging and foundational work of European literature.
RICHARD SQUIBBS, DePaul University
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|Publication:||Studies in the Novel|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2017|
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