Two leading publishers have hit on the idea of boiling down classic novels for modern audiences who are too busy/stupid to read the real thing. Orion was first off the blocks with its Compact Classics, which will appear in May - Anna Karenina, Vanity Fair, Moby-Dick, The Mill on the Floss, David Copperfield and Wives and Daughters, all reduced to not more than 400 pages for "less confident readers". Soon after come Bleak House, North and South, Middlemarch, Jane Eyre, The Count of Monte Cristo and The Portrait of a Lady, similarly straitjacketed.Find the article here.
Without falling into the trap of condemning all abridgement - it happens on radio without a squeak of protest - at least half these titles should not be on the list. The fact that Moby-Dick is a digressive, unboildownable whale of a book is the whole point; The Portrait of a Lady, Vanity Fair and Middlemarch are straightforward reads - page turners, even for less confident readers, though in the case of Middlemarch there are admittedly a lot of pages to turn. The rambling David Copperfield is ripe for cutting, but Bleak House, in which Dickens was consciously widening his scope as an artist, is not. A great novel is more than its plot; it is an ecosystem, a world. Tamper at your peril.
Meanwhile, HarperCollins is reducing War and Peace from almost 1,500 pages to 900. It says it will give us less war. Perhaps it has hit on the answer. Why not The Only Child Karamazov, Le Misérable, A Tale of Two Medium-Sized Towns, Limited Expectations and A Couple of Days in the Country? That should do the trick.
Professor John Sutherland of UCL has suggested that it is far better to do the abridging yourself. My recollection of reading what we must now call The Odd, Isolated Skirmish and Peace is that Prince Andrei is fascinating and Pierre a bore, so when the latter appeared my reading/skipping speeded up, though I always tell myself I will one day go back and read it properly (ditto Proust, Shakespeare's Sonnets, Chaucer, Milton, Don Quixote, Romola, Ulysses, and everything by Thomas Pynchon).
From the Guardian: