Penguin Classics Newsletter | April / May 2009

"A Fool and his Money Are Soon Parted."
—Thomas Tusser

And who better to part the fool from his money than the quick-witted thieves of the Gaslight era? In Michael Sims's engaging anthology The Penguin Book of Gaslight Crime, readers meet such cunning characters as Get Rich Quick Wallingford, Colonel Clay, Simon Carne, and A. J. Raffles. Whether it is tales of art forgers or diamond thieves or merely the outwitting of the aristocratic victims that readers are after, this collection, which Publishers Weekly, in a starred review, described as "suspenseful, humorous and charming," will not disappoint.


A Christian Hero in Islamic Spain

Not since 1961, when Charlton Heston portrayed the legendary Spanish warrior Rodrigo Diaz in the film El Cid, has Spain's national epic been brought to life the way it has in Burton Raffel's thrilling new translation. Raffel captures the galloping rhythms of a medieval epic that is steeped in the oral tradition, and whose 800th anniversary was trumpeted throughout Spain in 2007, when even Vichy Catalan, a manufacturer of sparkling mineral water, issued commemorative bottles emblazoned with the image of the Cid on horseback.

The introduction to The Song of the Cid is by the esteemed Yale historian María Rosa Menocal, author of the bestselling book The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain. Professor Menocal calls the translation "brisk and instantly captivating" and notes that it "serves to remind readers of the straightaway power of oral narratives . . . and captures much of the genius of the poem." And a number of other well-known scholars and translators have come forward to praise this new edition:

"With a wonderfully informative introduction by María Rosa Menocal, this welcome translation by Burton Raffel gives us a Song of the Cid—the foundational medieval epic poem of the Iberian peninsula—that retains the excitement and fast pace of the original." —Edith Grossman

"An accurate, energetic, and much needed translation of The Song of the Cid . The rhyming and flow are elegant and measured. They beautifully reflect the dashing lines and excitement of the poem. A remarkable achievement."
—Francisco LaRubia-Prado, Georgetown University

"In the spirit of Robert Fagles's renditions of Homer, Burton Raffel makes a rich oral tradition immediate to us again. His Song of the Cid is a lesson in translation: in a way that seems effortless, it transports the reader to a past that at first sight appears closed. Along with his warhorse, Babieca, Mio Cid once more tests his knightly limits while showcasing the religious tensions of medieval Spain. The original text made available alongside the English turns this edition into a feast." —Ilan Stavans, author of Spanglish: The Making of a New American Language


The Sexiest Epic in Heroic Couplets

Celebrate National Poetry Month with Vis and Ramin by Fakhraddin Gorgani, a narrative poem about war and forbidden love from eleventh-century Persia and the inspiration for Tristan and Isolde. Called by The Hudson Review the "sexiest" epic ever written, Vis and Ramin, translated into heroic couplets by Dick Davis, the premier translator of Persian poetry, is described by The Times Literary Supplement as "one of the most extraordinary and fascinating love narratives produced anywhere in the medieval world."


The Art of Everything

Sun-Tzu can help you win wars, trade stocks, play tennis, nurture relationships, cook dinner, or drive defensively. His "book of life," as John Minford calls The Art of War in his introduction to the Penguin Classics edition, is immensely relevant today: Master Sun's wisdom is far-reaching, his insights immortal. John Minford's lively translation infuses Master Sun's maxims with fresh accessibility, and his introduction unearths what little is known about Sun-Tzu and contextualizes his philosophy of energy, cunning, deceit, power, and expediency. The result is an edition that offers invaluable advice on the art of reading The Art of War.


This Mother's Day, Give a Classic Gift of Gratitude

No one can deny the completely selfless things moms do everyday—from helping you make a model of the Eiffel Tower out of Popsicle sticks, to standing on the (freezing cold) sideline of your soccer game, to (finally) packing you up for college and sending you on your way. For all this and more, show your gratitude with a Penguin Classic, not only for the beautiful packages and ingenious writing, but also because what mom doesn't love a reminder of how wonderfully intelligent her kid has turned out to be?

For the feminist: Kate Chopin's The Awakening

For the domestic goddess: Carol Shields' The Stone Diaries

For the romantic escapist: Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights

For the Broadway buff: Damon Runyon's Guys and Dolls


Alan Walker Crosses the Classics Marathon Finish Line!

Since January 2008 Alan Walker, our Senior Director of Academic Marketing, has been steadily reading one Penguin Classic per letter of the alphabet, going above and beyond the initial request to select a classic to read within the year as part of a new year's resolution. Alan has created a following of supporters, from Penguin colleagues to librarians, who have followed his blog on our website. Here we include his last installment of this particular run of reading classically, and as Alan closes the book on "Z," we toast our Classics champ.


Another Classics Winner!

While we're raising toasts, here's to Avi Sharon, whose translation of C. P. Cavafy's Selected Poems has won the 2009 Harold Morton Landon Translation Award, given by the Academy of American Poets to the best book of poetry translated from any language into English last year. In his citation, the judge of the award, poet and translator John Balaban, wrote: "Avi Sharon's considerable gifts as a classicist are one asset; his ear for poetry still another. Both talents merge in his new translation to offer us a Cavafy that is accessible in an almost conversational way, without losing its rhythmic current or its exquisite historical associations."

  Little Red Riding Hood  

Campus Classic: Olive Schreiner, The Story of an African Farm

For each Penguin Classics Newsletter we invite a professor to share an experience of teaching with a Penguin Classic. Tanya Agathocleous chose the Penguin Classics edition of The Story of an African Farm by Olive Schreiner for her class.

This fascinating bildungsroman about life on a remote South African farm in the nineteenth century is not widely known in the U.S. outside of the academy, but, once introduced to it, students love it for its excesses and idiosyncrasies. I teach it in a course that examines it in the context of late-Victorian imperialism and the emergence of the New Woman, but it always ends up defying categorization. The novel explores many fin de siècle cultural and philosophical preoccupations with rigor yet remains wildly original, combining elements of Christian allegory, socialism, Emersonian transcendentalism, and Nietzschean philosophy and featuring a bizarre cast of characters that brings farmers and servants together with a con-man, a dandy, and a cross-dresser, among others. Many students are drawn in particular to the adolescent turmoil of Waldo—the farmboy and autodidact who serves as the vehicle for Schreiner's often painfully realistic exploration of the transition from absolute faith to radical doubt—while others are captivated by the mysterious Stranger who teaches him the power of interpretation. A number end up choosing to write about the novel for their final paper: like the statue Waldo hands the Stranger, it seems to demand interpretation, and students are eager to take it on.

Tanya Agathocleous
Assistant Professor
Yale University
Course: The Victorian Fin de Siècle
Course: Literature: Forms and Techniques

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Reading the Classics from A to Z

Alan Walker, our Senior Director of Academic Marketing and Sales, gains momentum and more fans for his Penguin Classics reading marathon of one book by an author per letter of the alphabet. Check out the Penguin Classics website for Alan's latest blog entries (X-Z).



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