Abridgment: A Sign of the Apocalypse or Just Annoying?

The Twirl and Swirl of Letters

Rather than include my usual post about Books that Matter, I thought I’d post my thoughts on abridging books. Please enjoy the rant. Next week, pending the apocalypse, will be back to our regular scheduled program.

This week, I ventured to my local library in hopes of making good on a deal/agreement/suggestion put forth by Holmes: Put aside Hugo and read Dumas. Now, I’m all willing to read Dumas (and have been anxiously looking forward to it), but my library seems to be spiting me.
Abridged books.
Holmes specifically requested that I read The Count of Monte Cristo (so we can go all former English major on it and DISCUSS). I picked up a copy at my school’s library. Nice, unabridged translation. Had to put it aside as I realized I had a hell of a lot more work to do on the thesis. So, now that I am finished with undergrad, I mosey-ed on down to my local library to get The Count.
Two copies. Both abridged.
Why? I don’t see the point in abridging works, mostly because I feel that if I’m going to put in the effort to read a book, I want to read the whole damn thing. I felt that way about Les Miserables. I feel that way about all books that I read.

Reading abridged books feels like being cheated. I remember my dismay when I realized that those “Great Illustrated Classic” books were abridged (I was a bit slow, despite my reading comprehension, when I was in elementary school). I read their version of Little Women in a day. Imagine my shock when I went to read Little Men (one of the sequels by Louisa May Alcott) a couple of weeks later. It took me nearly a month to read it (bear in mind I was in the third or fourth grade), and I was shocked. Why did this book take me so much longer? Well, it was Alcott’s actual words.


Now, I would like to know who decides what to abridge. Do you take out the “boring parts?” What, exactly, are the boring parts? I wouldn’t consider Hugo’s many many many digressions to be boring–quite the opposite. I find them utterly fascinating (and I paid more attention to the Waterloo stuff the second time through). So what if we have to read 50 pages of stuff to get to a chapter that ultimately dictates how the last, um, 4/5s of the book play out? Considering the Brick is over 1,200 pages, I think that’s perfectly fair.

Of course, abridging can work to one’s favor. For example: The Complete Works of Wm. Shakespeare, Abridged is one of the funniest plays I have ever seen.

And I can’t think of any more good examples of abridgment.

Excuse me while I bury myself in my unabridged copy of Les Miserables. Now if I read French, it would be even better…

9 thoughts on “Abridgment: A Sign of the Apocalypse or Just Annoying?

  1. I agree wholewheartedly.

    A few months ago, I was browsing a small English-language section of a bookstore. I’ve been wanting to read Les Miserable, and there it was. My first thought was, “gee, that looks really thin.” Probably the first time anyone has ever thought that of Les M.

    Of course, it was abridged.

    I did buy it, but only because it was marked down. I liked it, but couldn’t stop wondering about all the things I must be missing.

    As soon as I find the full version of Les M here, I’m buying it!


    1. ๐Ÿ™‚
      I should photograph my two copies of it, side by side. One is a paperback edition, the other is a five volume 1887 printing…makes the paperback look like a children’s book.

      Best of luck with finding a copy! It’s really worth the read. I have the Signet Classics version (the one with the musical poster on the front).


  2. I’m not sure when I can put myself through Hugo again, having failed several times to get past those first 50 pages–but I sure know that when I AM ready, I’ll want Hugo himself and not someone else’s decision of how to cut and serve him. Same with Anatole France, whose Penguin Island I truly labored through–some parts I absolutely loved, the rest I didn’t and I suspect mostly as I didn’t get his allusions–but I’d rather have the real deal than not. –Granted, it’s also about availability. If the store doesn’t carry it, what’re you going to do… In the US we should be able to point out the need, though.

    And yep, it really hurts when you realize you’ve read an abridged version by accident! I’ve had that happen too ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

    Btw, have you read Hugo’s poetry? I’ve heard good things and want to give it a whirl…


    1. It took me a few tries to get through the first fifty pages, as it feels like one massive digression, but once the story starts going, it’s a difficult book to put down. First time I read Les Miserables I finished it in a week.

      I haven’t read any of his poetry–I’m reading some of his lesser known novels (such as Ninety-Three, which I’m perpetually 3/4s finished with), but I want to! I wish I could understand French…


      1. Yeah, I know I need to put in the effort. ๐Ÿ™‚ Anatole France’s Penguin Island was like that for me. I was very happy to have read it, but it was at times an arduous slog–although in France’s case I think it was because there were whole periods of French history that I didn’t know, and so I missed all of the relevant allusions. Let me know how Ninety-Three is going!!

        Oh, have you ever read Janet Flanner’s Paris Was Yesterday? Brilliant, witty book. Not a novel. But if you enjoy French culture and are interested in what the world was like in the 1920s as seen from Paris…will be magic. ๐Ÿ™‚


  3. Ooh, Flanner’s book sounds intriguing. I’ll see if I can find it at my library…

    There are immense breaks in my French history knowledge…my recollection from European History class is: “From 1789 til (some point in the late 19th century) there was a revolution every five to ten years.” I’m sure I’ll be missing a lot of the allusions.


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