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This article is taken from PN Review 250, Volume 46 Number 2, November - December 2019.

A Deed of Quixote Horatio Morpurgo
‘Can you give me any idea when my Don Quixote will be published?
You have had the typescript two years now and I feel that the time must be coming near...’
    — J. M. (John Michael) Cohen to Alan Glover, November 1949

The tenth Penguin Classic finally appeared in 1950, over-budget and late. A rise in the price of paper had held up publication. Sales of the 950-page seventeenth-century Spanish novel were, to begin with, slow. A nervous letter to the overall editor of the series reported, a year later, that the book had hardly begun to break even. Should we be surprised then that neither this Quixote nor its translator figures much in the way we remember post-war British culture?

I think we should be surprised. J.M. Cohen would refer to himself, a few years later, as a ‘translation factory’, which was no exaggeration. By 1955 he was simultaneously at work on The Life of Saint Teresa by Herself, a selection from Montaigne’s Essays and The Penguin Anthology of Spanish Verse. His editor, Alan Glover, joked with him that before long he would be ‘the only Classics translator’. He was ‘special editorial consultant’ to the series as a whole. He originated and ran the ‘European Poets’ list within it, offering bilingual selections of Rilke, Hölderlin, Lorca, Pushkin and others.

As for his Don Quixote, Thornton Wilder soon wrote in to say ‘I shall leave Harvard with the emphatic injunction that henceforth your text is used’ and there were other ...


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