Friday, November 13, 2009

To Abridge or Not?



I recently read a review of the Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett at savidgereads. I also reviewed the book during Persephone Week (link here). Reading the comments for both our reviews reminded me that so many of you have mentioned that Persephone's edition is actually abridged. I was appalled as it's almost 500 pages long and I also didn't know that Persephone published condensed novels. Truly shocking! That said however, I didn't feel like the book was lacking in any way and I thought it was perfect as it was. But of course, that was before I knew it was abridged.

The whole discussion started me thinking about abridged novels in general. If you had asked me before I knew about the Shuttle, I would have said I dislike condensed novels. I think it started when I was really young and discovered that the Nancy Drew books I was reading, which were published in the 70s, were heavily abridged. For those who don't know, Nancy Drew is a titian-haired American teenage detective who solves mysteries together with her cousins Bess and George. The mysteries usually involved haunted houses, spooky intruders, secret passages and mysterious letters. Nancy would bravely whip out her magnifying glass and fearlessly investigate, solving all the puzzles in the end.



I was enthralled to discover the originals from the 40s and 50s in my local library and I devoured them. The characters were much more developed, the mysteries more intricate and the writing much more sophisticated. Also, they were five chapters longer than the newer versions. My young mind couldn't fathom why they would condense something that was so enjoyable in its original format. The characters of Bess and George for example were so much more interesting. They actually had real personalities as opposed to the caricatures that were portrayed in the newer versions. The mysteries weren't also that easy to solve. It took much more than pluck and luck for Nancy to solve everything. However, I guess if I had never known that the Nancy Drew books were condensed I would have probably still loved them. I wouldn't have known what I was missing.

To learn that the Shuttle is actually abridged is very disappointing. Rachel from Book Snob mentioned that an entire storyline and character have been eliminated. Now that's intriguing! Why did Persephone deem it necessary to do this? I do have to say though that the Shuttle had some tedious parts especially in the beginning when Burnett described the ships that took the British aristocracy and American heiresses across the ocean. If it had been any other book, I may have given up after just a few pages but being a Persephone, I perservered and was soon rewarded. Maybe the book actually needed to be trimmed down. And I must admit, now that I know the truth, The Shuttle doesn't read like a condensed book. So whatever their reasons, Persephone did a good job!

It would be interesting to hear from someone who actually read the original book. What do you think? Have you read this book and was it the original or the Persephone edition? And what do you think about abridged novels?

24 comments:

  1. Well I have read the original version and as I haven't read the Persephone I can't comment on how much has been cut. Perhaps when I have some time on my hands I may make a study of the issue!

    I am sure that Persephone would have cut it sensitively but even so I don't see why they should have felt the need to - Dorothy Whipple's books are quite long and they have never cut hers.

    I only recently discovered that my love of Little Women had been based upon an abridged version I had as a child, and I was very upset to find out I hadn't read the whole story. When I did read the whole story, I found it an even richer experience.

    I don't think I necessarily agree with abridging books - the editing process should be done before and not after publication. Who has a right to trim an author's words from their story? Who decides what is essential and what isn't? It's a whole can of worms.

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  2. I too was intrigued by finding out that Persephone had abridged it - it was quite a long novel, but still! A whole character and plotline - how easy is that to remove?!

    I didn't realise that Nancy Drew had been abridged - what a shame - I used to rattle through them and wish that they were longer.

    Another bugbear of mine is the way that Armada abridged the Chalet School books when they brought them out in paperback.

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  3. I haven't read either the full or the abridged versions of The Shuttle though I want to now I've read the blogs about it, so I'm afraid I can't add anything very useful to this discussion. However, I hate knowing books have been abridged because I always feel I'm missing something. I prefer to do my own skimming (if necessary). But if you think about it, many books that are published may already have been 'abridged' before publication by a hatchet-wielding editor, except that we only find out about it if the original MS ends up in an archive somewhere.

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  4. I have only read the abridged version of The Shuttle so I couldnt compare the two really it has to be said. But I am now wondering what else I have read that is abridged and if I mind or not.

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  5. I hate reading a book and then finding it's abridged. Odds are I would never have read it if I'd known, so I feel the publishers are cheating me blind. On the other hand, it's gorgeous to pick up a different edition of a book you already love, and find out that your copy was abridged and there's even more of the wonderful book than you previously thought!

    But as a rule, DOWN with abridging.

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  6. @Rachel - I think the editing process is necessary but I agree that it should be done before publishing the book and not after.

    @verity - you will love the old Nancy Drew books!

    @bookheaper - You should read the Shuttle, you will enjoy it!

    @savidgereads - thanks for stopping by.
    @jennysbooks - I agree... down with abridging!

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  7. I don't agree with abridging and was unaware of The Shuttle being abridged when I read it; like you though I didn't find it lacking in any way and think that it read as a condensed book. Other than Persephone themselves, I think there are probably few people who have read both to compare so perhaps we should make it homework for someone!

    A point about Rachel's comment: Little Women is published as two volumes here in the UK, Little Women and Good Wives, so it's not so much that it is abridged but cut in half!

    I notice I have used same shabbyblogs background as you - sorry :s

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  8. Regarding your comment at Ratskellar Reads--something dishy was in my feed because I think you commented on my food blog (990 Square) we also seem to have a common blog friend at Amuse Bouche for Two. I'm very much enjoying both of your blogs, so I added you to my reader!

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  9. I was a bit sad upon hearing that the Persephone The Shuttle has been abridged (from Simon's blog). I wish they hadn't. Am not a fan of abridgement as well.

    Am so surprised to hear about the condensed Nancy Drew! Most of my editions were from the 70s. However, there were a number from the 40s and 50s from my aunts' collection (which were what got me hooked in the first place), though I never noticed the difference!

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  10. The Shuttle was part of my first round of Persephone purchases. It worries me that it is abridged. It offends my anal retentive nature. Have Persephone abridged other titles?

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  11. @Paperback Reader- Yes, it would be interesting if someone reads both editions and gives a comparison. And don't worry, I don't mind if we have the same background.

    @Thomas - That's a good question but I don't know the answer to that. We'll have to do some research.

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  12. Re: Rachel's and Paperback Reader's comments about Little Women, my copy as a child also only had the first half. I didn't know about the second half until a few months ago when I bought the Vintage Classics to add to my collection and was surprised that it contained both LW and Good Wives.

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  13. @claire - I really should read Little Women one day. I can't believe I haven't yet. I loved the film and I suppose the book is even better!

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  14. I am less likely to read a title if I know it is abridged, and I never realised the Nancy Drew stories had been abridged.

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  15. Hi, Mrs. B! I never knew that the Nancy Drew novels were abridged! I must admit though that I haven't read a single one. I did, however, read the Hardy Boys and the Bobbsey Twins (my favorite!) series.

    Also, you were asking about my thoughts on The Crimson Petal and the White? Well, it's very, very satisfying. The heroine, Sugar, is one amazing character. Faber is actually one of my favorite authors.

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  16. @Peter - the Hardy Boys and Bobbsey Twins were also abridged!

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  17. What a cool Nancy Drew cover! I love the style.

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  18. I'd have been disappointed too! The idea of reading an abridged book horrifies me, but I also agree with Jenny - how lovely to pick up something you loved as a child and find out there's more of it!

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  19. I had no idea that Nancy Drew was abridged! I do know that in the kids section at Barnes and Noble they have a whole section of classics that have been abridged for kids. It makes me kind of sad to see it. Part of me thinks it is a good way to get introduced to the classics but I feel like it is missing the point to chop away at such amazing stories.

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  20. In answer to various queries, I don't think that Persephone has abridged any other novels. The Whipple books are just as long as The Shuttle and are not abridged at all so cannot understand the reason behind this cutting. I have not read the Persephone though it is on my shelf, only the full one and I am making a guess that the character and story line that was deleted was the young American typewriter salesman. But I don't know, I am guessing.

    When marking of a Marchioness was published I remember Nicola being rather worried about the fact that the Indian Ayah was spoken about in derogatory terms by the servants in the house, terms that we now know are unacceptable, and she wanted to cut them. I made the point that the reader will acccept these attitudes as prevelant at the time and it is impossible to edit retrospectively, we would be entering into the world of Bowlder then!

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  21. @elaine - The character of the American typewriter salesman is present in the Persephone edition so it's not that. I'm going to write to Persephone and find out exactly what was cut out since many people are interested to know.

    I agree with you..I don't think it's necessary to cut out racial slurs or derogatory comments as those attitudes were prevalent during the time certain books were written. It might be unpleasant to read some of those things but it's what the writer wrote and it's true to the original novel.

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  22. I can't believe Nancy Drew was abridged! I've now got to hunt down some older versions to see what I've been missing.

    I generally prefer unabridged versions of books as I like to read 'as the author intended' unless the book really needs extensive editing. I'm not sure about audiobooks though.

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  23. I can't believe Nancy Drew was abridged! I want to read Consequences :)
    Bambi

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  24. @Bambi - Hi! Thanks for dropping by. I can lend you the book anytime.

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