Thursday, March 8, 2012

Revise The Dickens

During the last week, I've been reading Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens.  Truly a classic of literature, and something I haven't had the pleasure of picking up before, even though it has been sitting on my shelf for over a decade.  In previous years, I haven't taken the time to read a lot of Dickens, and what little I have was read in the distant past, so it's quite a new experience.

Title Page of The 109-Year Old Edition I'm reading

There are many things one might appreciate about such classics, though one thing that is more a curiosity than an admirable quality is the grammar.  It's amazing to see how the language has changed over the years, and how utterly stilted Dickens' writing seems today, even though in his time it was the pinnacle of "common man's literature."  Dickens was one of the first writers to draft stories for everyday people and wrote the way people actually spoke.  Though, Victorian English is almost a foreign language compared to the modern vernacular used in any English-speaking country today.

Nicholas Nickleby is a great story, but it takes a sharp mind to wade through the archaic grammar and terminology used in the text.  It's amazing to think that this has been at different times considered to be a useful primer for high school students.  As a full-grown man with a love for books, I can appreciate the tale, but I know that such a long and plodding narrative would have never drawn my interest during my teens.  I wonder how many students have turned away from reading after being subjected to such difficult and "boring" literature in modern times.  At this stage of societal evolution, this original work should not be recommended for schoolboys who need to be encouraged to read; rather, it should be reserved for those who have already gleaned an appreciation for books and reading, and have an interest in the historical aspects of the subject matter.

I know, to many it might be sacrilege to suggest this, but I believe that Nicholas Nickleby, and some other Dickens classics, would be much complimented by a modern translation.  There are quite a few "ancient texts" that could use such a revision, not to alter the story, but to polish the narration and dialog, so your average reader of today could understand it without reaching for a thesaurus or dictionary every few paragraphs.  The original story was written for the common man, so why not keep it that way?

Of course, there will always be appreciation for the original, and drafting a modern version would not diminish that original if done as I would consider proper.  It would simply allow new generations of readers to properly picture the story in their heads, and perhaps prepare them to tackle the original draft afterwards.  It's just a thought, at least.

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