The English Language is a pretty fluid thing. The language I use is probably quite different to the language you use, your mother uses, your children use… So comparing the English language in a book written in 1898 to the language I use now, there is bound to be some discrepancy. In some ways, it can almost be like reading a foreign language.
I grew up overseas, and speak French fairly fluently. However, when I haven’t read French for a little while, it’s like a part of my brain has been asleep for a few months and needs a minute or two to wake back up, and truly absorb the meaning of the text. In many ways, reading a book written in dated language can be very similar.
The first time I picked up Moonfleet by J. Meade Faulkner, I was just about to go to bed and was very tired – and I read the first chapter and literally couldn’t even remember what it was about when I woke up the next morning. I pushed the book aside, thinking it ‘too difficult’ to read at that time, when I had a delicious stack of books waiting to be read. But about a month later, I picked it back up, knowing I would have to read it eventually as part of my challenge to read the 1001Children Books I must read before I grow up. And while it took me a little while to ‘get’ all the language, after a couple of chapters it was like my brain was suddenly ‘remembering’ how to read this mysterious, old-fashioned language and I now have no trouble at all whipping through the pages.
It’s strange – about eighteen months ago I went through a ‘classics’ phase, reading a whole lot of books by Daphne du Maurier and Wilkie Collins and F. Scott Fitzgerald and Emile Zola and so on. Each time, it took me a chapter or two to ‘adapt’ my way of reading language until I could read it ‘fluently’. So maybe with some of these old-fashioned, older books, it’s not really about struggling at first to read ‘old’ language. It’s that some of these authors have created their own way to use language. Perhaps that’s why those books have stood the test of time – because they aren’t quite like reading anything else, old or new.