Reading classics without the benefit of scholarship

The question of — taken all in all, is it any more difficult for a contemporary English reader to read Finnnegans Wake without assistance than it is for a contemporary English reader to read Dante (or Chaucer, or The Bible) without scholarly assistance? That is, thinking of all the critical apparatus needed to read Dante if you don’t already know medieval Italian or know Italy of the period — the translation and the notes on translation and the historical notes — and thinking of what if one just had a simplified version of FW like one could have one of these simplified versions of Chaucer or The Bible or the like they put out. 

I don’t know what a negative answer to that would tell us exactly. Maybe that FW was written within its own historical epoch, if that can be imagined, that it is possible for an author to discover such blackholish historical “singularities”; maybe that a true classic is something essentially rare and inaccessible, deceptively rendered not so by The Modern Library… Of course this assumes one considers FW a classic, but in any case, and for obscure reasons, The Divine Comedy strikes me as an interesting book to bring alongside it. Maybe a comparison can be teased out later.

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