The abridged version contains all the most important parts of the narrative but removes some extraneous details from subplots. It should be true to the original in as many ways as possible. There are some abridgments that are parodies of the original work, cutting out sections and altering others to create a new narrative. Someone taking advantage of the creative work might choose to use it for their own ends, transforming, for example, what was a serious book about family conflict into one that makes light of the same drama.
Definition of Abridgment
Abridgment refers to the process of shortening a literary work so that it is more accessible to readers. If a book is abridged, then the reader is not going to have access to everything published in the original. For some, abridged versions are an easier way to access classic, especially long, novels. For others, abridged versions do not represent the entirety of the text and should not be read.
When a book is abridged, sections of text are removed that are unnecessary for the reader’s understanding of the central plot line and surrounding important subplots. Nothing is removed from the novel that compromises the meaning or major themes of the book. After reading an abridged version of a novel, the reader should have as good an understanding of what the writer was trying to accomplish as someone who read the unabridged version.
Why Are Some Books Abridged?
Usually, books are abridged in order to make them more accessible to readers. Some novels, such as War and Peace, Les Misérables, Great Expectations, and the Bible, are often subject to abridgment. In the abridged versions, readers can find all the main characters and the significant plot lines, but there will be some information missing.
Examples of Abridged Books
Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
Les Misérables is one of the most commonly abridged novels. This is mainly due to the fact that it is so long, 2,783 pages. Hugo was also a fan of subplots and taking the time to explore facts and moral subjects. This means that there are sections of the novel, a total of 955 pages out of the 2,783, that do not advance the plot line or the subplot lines. These pages focus on moralizing and addressing topics like religious orders, the Paris sewer systems, and economic plans. These are known as digressions. In fact, 19 chapters of the novel contain an account of the Battle of Waterloo. Consider these lines from the book:
Waterloo, by cutting short the demolition of European thrones by the sword, had no other effect than to cause the revolutionary work to be continued in another direction. The slashers have finished; it was the turn of the thinkers. The century that Waterloo was intended to arrest has pursued its march. That sinister victory was vanquished by liberty.
Hugo’s original is a masterpiece, but for readers who want to focus on the story of Jean Val Jean, taking nineteen chapters to read about Waterloo may be overwhelming. Today, abridged versions of the novel exist so that readers can focus on the main plotline of the book without missing out on anything truly significant to the book’s purpose.
The Odyssey by Homer
The Odyssey is another example of a literary work that readers often find abridged versions of. The poem, in its original form, is 12,109 lines long. It is written in dactylic hexameter and can be incredibly overwhelming for those who are unfamiliar with Greek place names, characters, and allusions. The poem provides readers with an incredible insight into Homer’s world, but there are sections of the poem that do not help to further the central plot. Some abridged versions are as little as 1/3rd the length of the original.
Often, abridged versions of books also include notes that help keep the reader up to date with what they might be missing. If there is any extra information that’s needed, it can be added to the bottom of the page.
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Tolstoy’s War and Peace is a classic example of an incredibly long novel that is often abridged. The book reaches 1,225 pages in its original form and has since been republished several times. The editions vary in length, with a more recent translation around 400 pages shorter than others. The book contains a great deal of history, providing information about the French invasion of Russia, the Tsarist society, and the Napoleonic Era. The later chapters of the novel are philosophical discussions of the subject and have no real bearing on the narrative itself. This makes the book ripe for abridgment.
Abridged or Unabridged?
Whether a reader chooses to tackle an abridged or unabridged version of a novel is entirely up to them. For someone who is looking for the purest experience of a novel, the unabridged version is the way to go. For another person who wants to read the narrative without any secondary subplots or digressions, an abridged version of the text may be the way to go. Usually, within academic environments, unless a course focuses entirely on a specific book, readers are going to be asked to read excerpts from longer novels, like Les Misérables or Anna Karenina, rather than the entire book. This usually means that an abridged version will suffice.
The act of shortening something, usually a literary work.
Shortened, condensed, abbreviated, concise, reduced, curtailed
Extend, lengthen, enlarge, expand
The publication will stipulate, usually on the over, whether it is the abridged or unabridged version.
It means the book contains everything the author intended it to.
Related Literary Terms
- Epigraph: a phrase, quote, or any short piece of text that comes before a longer document (a poem, story, book, etc.).
- Epilogue: an extra chapter at the end of a literary work.
- Transition: the parts of literature that connect phrases, sentences, ideas, and paragraphs. They can even connect one book to the next.
- Vernacular: a type of speech. It is used to refer to local dialects and common language used among everyday people.
- Vignette: a short scene within a larger narrative. They are found in novels, short stories, poems, and films.
- Style: the way a writer writes. An individual writer’s style is original and unlike any other.
- Rhetoric: the use of language effectively in writing or speech to persuade the audience.
- Listen: What is abridgment?
- Listen: Les Misérables by Victor Huge Audiobook
- Read: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy Abridged