LA ZONA FANTASMA
A NEW MONTHLY COLUMN
by Javier Marías
THE CHEERFUL CADAVER
Some time ago I found myself writing about the legendary outlaw Dick Turpin and his ill-fated, semi-abandoned grave off in the city of York. As such, I don’t think it redundant to write about another grave, near Turpin’s, that marks the resting place of one of his contemporaries, a person for whom I have always felt a special affection. After all, I did spend two (now very distant) years of my life, from 1975 to 1977, translating into Spanish the approximately 800 diabolically complex pages of his magnum opus, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. Better known simply by its narrator’s name, the book was originally published in serial form from 1760 to 1767, and its author, the Englishman Laurence Sterne (who, as fate would have it, was born in Ireland), was doubtless one of the sharpest, wittiest, and truly comical men ever known to the world of letters. For that same reason, I think I can safely say there is no other novel in existence that can be considered anywhere near as Cervantine as Sterne’s. Despite the fact that Spain’s political, academic, and literary authorities would strenuously disagree, and despite the fact that Cervantes is still miraculously considered to be the Spanish writer par excellence, the majority of Spain’s novelistic output since Cervantes has been scrupulously anti-Cervantine. In other words, it has been realistic (those who call the Quixote a “realistic” work should forever close their interpretative mouths), local in flavor, sordid, occasionally repulsive and crude, almost always obnoxious, solemn, and even monumental. His successors, however, are not to be found in Spain (today less than ever, God knows) but in England: Fielding and Sterne first and foremost, but also Dickens, Conan Doyle, and even Chesterton.
Translated from the Spanish by Kristina Cordero
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