Tuesday, 21 January 2014

To Abridge or Not to Abridge

When I was in school, we had an English Supplementary reader in addition to the Main Reader. One year, it was an abridged version of Jane Eyre. It was a thin book with a pink cover and a picture; I don’t remember what it was exactly. The insides had large print, and a few colorless illustrations scattered throughout the book.

Title Page of the First Jane Eyre Edition from Wikipedia
The study of that book was split across the months of an entire school year. Every sentence was analyzed; every event was discussed in class till we were ready to puke simply on hearing the ‘J’ of Jane. Studying a novel or a poem always takes the fun out of it, but this one in particular was tortuous.

This was how it felt then - Source

For starters, we were told that it was this great, classic book and we found it terribly underwhelming for that. But the main problem was in the abridging of it. The story was the same, speaking broadly, but Jane Eyre is not just about a plot. It is an intense tale with so much love and hate, a documentary of morality and religion and with such complex characters that it’s unreasonable to expect a schoolgirl to grasp even half of its essence. This probably explains the reason for the abridging, but I still think its nearly criminal.


The part that stood out most for me in that version of Jane Eyre was how she was ill treated as a child. Her budding romance with Rochester was very sketchily described and I couldn’t for the world of me understand why she accepted him, being twenty years older and apparently quite rude.


I sort of understood why she left him, but then came the part with St. John and his sisters. His sisters appeared to be very flimsy characters, always laughing for no reason. Again, St. John was very badly described, and again, I couldn’t imagine why she would reject him. He was closer to her in age and wanted to marry her quite badly, it seemed. Plus he was handsome (to my pre-adolescent mind, this was the most important fact :-)). His cold nature and inner turmoil were skimmed over, probably to spare us the trouble of understanding him, but it resulted in the subsequent events not making any sense. All in all, Jane seemed to be a very whiny character, always crying and pining for something that didn’t even seem worth crying over.


Now that I’ve read the entire novel with the eyes of a grown woman, I am amazed at the depth of the book. Most of all, I admire Jane completely – what a woman!! Ever since that supplementary reader, I had the nagging feeling that there was more to this book; like I said, a lot of it didn’t make sense. Now everything is crystal clear and I am so glad I gave the novel another try. That abridged nonsense nearly ruined Jane Eyre for me!!


It’s really a question with no easy answers – how do you introduce classics to children? The original versions of several classics, like Jane Eyre, are not suitable for kids, so do we wait till they’re adults and then hope they’ll read them? Or do we give them scaled down versions in childhood and expect them to want to read the originals later? I’m on the fence, though I’m more inclined towards letting them in on the originals directly when they’re ready for it. You might have to use tactics like these though:

Source
There are other ways classics get umm… ‘mutated’:

1. As Movies

Source
There have been many movies made of Jane Eyre itself, though the frequency seems to be slowing down through the decades. Movie adaptations of classics are usually good, with a lot of research going into the costumes and sets. However the time constraint leads to parts of the book being clipped.

2. As TV Series

Source
TV Series based on classics aren’t as many as the number of movies, but they are actually truer to the original, especially considering they have the luxury of several episodes to tell the story. However, airing an episode weekly does disrupt the feel and intensity of the original.

3. As Erotic Novels

Source
A relatively newer concept, writers of this genre use their writing to go behind the closed bedroom doors of our favorite characters. Either they show in detail what was implied in the novel, or they imagine that such events took place. I haven’t read anything from this group and don’t intend to – sacrilege!

4. As (horror of horrors) comic books

Source
These, in my opinion, are the worst. Please, Jane Eyre is not an Avenger!!! Nothing kills a classic like this!


Now that I know I’ve been fed bad stuff as a kid, I’m on a quest to re-read all the classics in their original form and see what I’ve been missing out on. I’d love to know if any of you have had a similar experience with a book. What do you guys think about classic novels, either abridged or in other forms?

Quote from Jane Eyre - Source



12 comments:

  1. Whoever chose that as a book for children is incredibly stupid, Fab! There are so many other classics that would make more interesting reading for children. I'm glad you're re-reading the classics. Austen and the Bronte sisters are among my favourites!

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    1. I know!! Yup, Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights is next on my list, just got the book last week :-). I've read the short version of this too, but I want to read the original, passionate account!!

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  2. This is EXACTLY what happened to me. I had a friend gift me the abridged Jane Eyre when I was in school and it was so different when I read it much later in the full form. Same with my Shakespeare and Lamb's Tales...That comic is hilarious, excellent way to get children tricked into reading classics :P Also, I noticed one of those erotica twists at a Crossword, wonder how it must be :P

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    1. Oh my God, I had forgotten Shakespeare!! Now there's something else to re-read!! Apparently, the erotic versions are really bad - terrible writing and other than the names, the characters are nowhere close to the originals. Click on 'Source' under the picture of the erotic novel above, and you'll get a little review :)

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  3. While there's nothing like reading a classic in its original way, I am not against abridges completely. I think it depends on what the students are made to read. In the case that you just told, how can the school make the children read and understand about Jane Eyre! Its such an obviously grown-up novel! hahhaha!

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    1. Yes, that is a very good point!! Perhaps abridging something appropriate enough for kids wouldn't require so much editing or censoring :).

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  4. Seriously... hilarious :) You know how to make me laugh... seriously.. that comic made me ROFL :D And yes she is not an Avenger .. :D I am not a classics person... I haven't been able to pull myself through ANY classic yet! BUT I think there are classics suitable for kids - like Heidi? That's a beautiful novel... perfect for the kids! And Tom Sawyer and stuff like that? I think you are right, introduce them when they are ready to the full version. By the way I read Thorn Birds by Collen McCollough and that's the only classic book (if it is a classic ) I have ever read and I LOVE that book :)

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    1. Yes, I loved Heidi, The Little Women, Secret Garden, Tom Sawyer - all wonderful for kids!! I just added Thorn Birds to my 'Want to Read' shelf on Good Reads; a story set in Australia is relatively new to me! Thanks for recommending!

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  5. Tough question to answer, Fab! I think I will wait for them to grow up and then reach out for the classics. We had Shakespeare originals "As You Like It" and "Julius Caesar" in school. Boy, I hated them with all my might :).

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    1. Now that you mention it, I remember that we had Shakespeare as supplementary reader one year. I remember it feeling too intense for my taste :). Should attack it again!

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  6. I agree I think after a certain age these classics could be better understood... We had to study animal farm, I didn't understand the point of it until much later!

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    1. True!! And Animal Farm is on my GoodReads wishlist, waiting to get to it!

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