Currently Reading: Moby Dick by Herman Melville
When I originally sat down to write my post on Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo, I had every intention of simply discussing my thoughts about and impressions of the book. I wanted to discuss the impressive intricacies of Edmond Dantes’ revenge plans; the disappointment in watching him deteriorate from a wonderfully charming, likeable young man to a vengeful, almost creepy, bitter man; the somewhat weird relationship he had with Haydee that seemed to walk the line between father-daughter and lovers a little too closely; and the dissatisfaction of the ending, which I expected to be completely different since I was basely my expectations off the movie adaptation. Essentially, I had every intention of writing a normal reaction post.
Because I’ve been fairly miserable about keeping my blog up to date with my reading, it’s been about two months since I finished The Count of Monte Cristo. So I decided to review the plot (shamefully) on its Wikipedia page. As I read the summary, I became more and more confused. I have no memory of that, I thought as I read. When did that happen? Since when did those characters have an affair?
I grew concerned. Is my memory really going at the tender age of 23?
I turned to a co-worker who I knew had read the novel. (Another bonus of working at a library: everyone is really well read!) After discussing the various gaps I encountered in the summary, it turns out Wikipedia wasn’t at fault for them. Those missing parts were really in the book.
At least, they were in the original version of the book.
That’s right. I came home to discover that my copy of The Count of Monte Cristo had deceptively snuck in this title page:
Mind you, nowhere on the cover is there a mention of abridgement! And who really reads the title page?
I felt robbed. Someone had stolen part of the story from me.
And in my frustration (and if we're being honest, my devastation), I realized that this incident raised some very interesting questions for me.
I don’t really have answers to most of these, but I would be SO GRATEFUL if anyone had some to offer me!
First of all, why do abridgements exist? Why do people feel the need to make abridged versions of novels? I understand that some novels are insanely hefty, but why has it become OK to say that you only want to read part of the novel, not the whole thing? If you only want to have a general idea of what it’s about, why wouldn’t you just read the SparkNotes or find a summary some other way? If you don’t want to bother with the original version, why do you want to bother with it at all?
Also, how did this movement towards abridgements get started? Is this something that’s been going on for hundreds of years or is this something that’s become part of what my mother affectionately refers to as “the dumbing down of America”? Or are abridgements necessary in some cases, like when teaching a novel in a classroom?
Who makes the decision to cut down novels? How do they decide which parts to cut out or shorten? How do they decide which books to cut? And if there seems to be a book that people universally agree should be shorter (like Les Miserables), shouldn’t there be an effort to just make one abridged edition so people reading the abridged version are at least having one universal experience? Plus, wouldn’t that eliminate the chances that you would read a bad abridgement, one that jumps around and skips major plot points?
Finally, do abridged versions count? Can I now say that I’ve read The Count of Monte Cristo? Or can I only proclaim that when I’ve read it the way it was written by the author, i.e. in its entirety? I think, on the whole, I got the majority of the key plot points. I’m pretty sure I got all the characters, if not all the parts of their stories. In other words, I believe I read a pretty good abridgement, but does that mean I’ve read the novel?
When will the book slashing end?!
And what do you think?
Like I said, I really don’t have answers for these questions, but I would love to know. I’d also love to know if abridgements bother everyone the way they bother me or if some people appreciate or even prefer them?
In the meantime, I’ll continue to be paranoid that every book I’m reading is a secret abridgement. I sincerely hope that this already 586 page version of Moby Dick isn’t…