For reasons familiar to many faculty (and which therefore need no elucidation here), I was poking about the SparkNotes site. And there, I discovered that some soul has decided that it's necessary to "translate" English classics into something more...accessible. "Read great texts in all their brilliance — and actually understand what they mean," the site announces. "No Fear Literature gives you the original text on the left-hand page, side by side with an easy-to-understand translation on the right." For example, here's Dickens:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
And here's what SparkNotes does to Dickens:
It was one of the best and worst times in history. It was a time of great intelligence and ignorance, belief and disbelief, good and evil, hope and hopelessness. We had everything to live for, and we had nothing to live for. Everyone was going straight to Heaven and straight to hell. Basically, it was just like the present, with experts of the time insisting on seeing its events only in terms of contrasting extremes.
Yes, you can read the entire novel this way. But...why would you want to? The translation eliminates everything characteristic of Dickens' style--e.g., slowly unfurling sentences composed of rampaging parallel clauses and relying heavily on asyndeton--and flattens out the rhythms, as if the form were utterly irrelevant to the matter. Some of the added conjunctions alter the meaning, as in the new first sentence, where the "and" eliminates the pointed irony of the swing from "best" to "worst" in the original. Indeed, there's no sense of tone here at all. Translating "noisiest authorities" into "experts of the time" is not only inaccurate (Dickens doesn't mean "expert" in our sense, but rather the voices of public morality and order), but also peculiarly clinical. Where did all the noise-making go? Putting to one side Dickens' lack of fearsomeness--the last time I checked, he was neither wearing a hockey mask nor vomiting pea soup over unsuspecting clergymen--this translation doesn't help anyone "understand" A Tale of Two Cities. It does, however, succeed in making Dickens seem rather dull.