Les Misérables Les Misérables discussion

Abridged vs Unabridged

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Will IV This is inspired by the same topic in The Count of Monte Cristo discussions.

I've only ever read the Abridged, but I've been thinking of tackling the Unabridged. Has anyone here read both, and what are your opinions on this?

Audrey Lee I've only read the unabridged. But its definitely worth it.

Will IV Thanks for the reply. I've been told the unabridged has lots of tedious tangents, but I guess I'll check it out.

Erin Definitely read the unabridged. There are many tangents, but I also think it's worth it.

Tina Pegar I have read botht eabridged and unabridged and the abridged in French as well. Both have pros and cons. I would recommend reading the abridged to see if the story and writing really appeal to you. Once you ahve tackled it, if you are like me you will want to pcik up the unabridged and make your way through the tangents and the gold in the story knowing what you are getting into and where the story is going.

Will IV Well, I said in the first post I've read the abridged, but I thank you for the advice. I'll take it.

Audrey Lee The unabridged as a lot of tangents (sometimes annoyingly so) but you need them to understand the world that the characters live in for the overall story.

Valerie Books should always be written the way they were meant to be, even if there are quotes in latin, french etc. without translations. If you want a simpler text just watch the movie.

dbbks3 Why would anyone read an abridged version of any book? This is one of the best books ever written. Enjoy it as written. Abridged books are an insult to the authors and to the readers.

message 10: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will IV Okay, how about which translation is best? Any thoughts or opinions?

message 11: by Abby (new) - rated it 5 stars

Abby I read the unabridged version simply because I cannot accept the idea that anyone would edit out content that the author Intended to be in the book. In addition, I don't trust the "abridgers" not to take out information I would view as important. So, I tackled the monster and very much enjoyed it. There were Definitely tedious parts. Unfortunately, I have no idea of the translation and I'm told that matters to the story. Good luck in finding a good one. It's a book that you want to read right the first time! Because reading fifty pages about nuns with odd behavior is only worth it so many times...

message 12: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will IV I might have to make another thread to ask the question of which translation I should since it probably won't get answered here.

message 13: by Abby (last edited Nov 08, 2011 08:32PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Abby You're right.. the title of this discussion won't attract the right "question answerers."

message 14: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will IV I'm glad I've been convinced to read the unabridged, though.

message 15: by Audrey (last edited Nov 09, 2011 01:26PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Audrey Lee Good luck. Tell us what you think!

Also, let us know what the differences are and which you prefer.

Christian I have only read the unabridged version. I don't recall which translation it was, though. I found it to be a good read overall and the digressions were not so tedious or distracting as I would have thought. And of course there is the bragging rights. Over a thousand pages? No problem! LOL

message 17: by Abby (new) - rated it 5 stars

Abby Agreed. The bragging rights are Important.

You: "I read Les Miserables.."
Others: "Wow."
You: "The unabridged version."
Others: O_O

Audrey Lee Haha. I agree. The bragging rights are definitely worth it.

message 19: by Mike (last edited Dec 08, 2011 06:48PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mike Will,

Hi. I've read 3 different versions of Les Miserables, two of which are unabridged. And I agree with Lorenzo--you've got to ask yourself, "How much time do I have to spare?" And "Is it worth it to me to spend hours and hours (and hours) to get more detail?" For some folks, it will be worth it; for others, it won't be. I'm glad to have read the unabridged just so that I wasn't left wondering, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend it to everyone.

If you do get the unabridged, here's a cool Web page that tells you stuff you can skip if you are so inclined:


Time is extremely valuable. So, I don't agree with the argument, "I would NEVER get the abridged. That's heresy!!!!" The truth is, many authors are long-winded, extravagant, and lacking in self-criticism. (Hugo is one of them.) They need editors, who can often do a better job of deciding what's important and what isn't because they are far more objective. The author isn't necessarily the best person to decide what to include from the novel, because he or she completely lacks objectivity. As much as I love "Les Miserables," it's just loaded down with filler, which may not be everyone's cup of tea. Will an editor do a perfect job? No. But a good editor *will* do a "good enough" job, which can save ordinary folks lots of precious time and effort. Even if these readers end up missing out on some of the more extraneous parts or finer details of the novel, will their lives end? Probably not. :)

OK, Will, I'll answer your next question about the best translation in the other thread. :)

message 20: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will IV Excellent!

message 21: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will IV Length I don't mind :]

message 22: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will IV Okay, that might have come out wrong.

message 23: by Pandora (last edited Feb 04, 2012 06:22AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Pandora Will my brother is a Hugo fantic. He has read many translations and will even watch French version of Les Mes with no subtitles and he doesn't speak French. His favorite translator is Isabel Hapgood if you can find her. Though kindle might have a copy available they did for The Hunchback. He also said the Signet Classic version is a pretty good version. It is the one I read.

On abridgement I wouldn't do them myself. The trouble is that the abridger might cut something important. An example is that there is a version of Les Mes that cut the whole Waterloo chapter. Which was a bad cut because the very last part is a key scence between Marius' father and Thenardiers. So, I always feel it is better to go with the unabridge version and then skip what you don't want to read.

message 24: by [deleted user] (last edited Feb 15, 2012 04:46PM) (new)

Will wrote: "This is inspired by the same topic in The Count of Monte Cristo discussions.

I've only ever read the Abridged, but I've been thinking of tackling the Unabridged. Has anyone here read both, and ..."

I have only read the unabridged version, and I loved it so much. While I was standing in my Middle School library one day, I was bored, so I picked up the library's copy. However, I quickly became disgusted with how much the abridgers had dumbed it down and cut out the beautiful, descriptive chapters that I loved. Some of the things they cut were a bit dull, but others were wonderful and important. I love the translation by Charles Wilbur, which was translated the year the French book was published and is the first translation in English by a American writer. My grandmother bought it for me at antique book store, and it is one of my favorite books.Read the unabridged book; you will love it.

Nancy Bishop You must read the unabridged. There is so much more to the story - Jean's years in Paris as Cosette grows up. Awesome! I read the pelican (or is in penguin?) version and loved it.

message 26: by Josh (last edited Feb 20, 2012 04:18AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Josh Always unabridged! There are some obvious cuts which aren't connected to the storyline: Napoleon's battle at Waterloo, a long history on the Paris sewers and Hugo's opinion on using human excrement for fertilizer... Still an abridgement cuts up the work of a genius and you are trusting to a word surgeon, not the original author for what you read. Is saving time worth altering a classic? If you can just look at the Mona Lisa online and save some time why should you travel to the Louvre? Because it's not the same thing, that's why! Always read unabridged; extra hours poured into reading a work of famous literature will never be hours wasted.

Shanna_redwind I read the book as a high school student, probably about grade 10. I was going to see the musical and decided I wanted to know the story first. The unabridged version was the only one in the school library and I wasn't going to go seeking another version out so that's the one I read.

Even though I was an avid reader, I doubt I would have tackled the unabridged version. This was the first classic that I'd read voluntarily. I figure that reading the abridged was better than skipping it altogether.

message 28: by John (new) - rated it 5 stars

John I'm going cheat and quote my review
The unabridged version took so long to get to the parts I knew. Hugo's long explanations and histories left me lost. I wussed out and read the abridged edition.

When I had finished the abridged edition, I immediately turned around and read the unabridged edition. What a difference! What I had previously spurned as tedious and long winded added an entirely new dimension to the book. The descriptions and histories did more than detail the locations of events. They gave them a weight of history and events that loom over the lives of the characters. It drove home that while the characters are compelling in their own right, they don't exist in a vacuum.

Everything had more meaning and emotion for being part of the larger world, rather than distanced from it.

Someone once said that the abridged version is like foreplay and the unabridged version like sex.

Elizabeth The unabridged version is very beautiful. If you find yourself confused or overwhelmed by the descriptions, just pause and think why the author put it there and what the objective is. I must admit that I have never read or watched les mis because I wanted my first exposure of it to be in the original French unabridged version. I am reading it right now in French and I think that that is the best version.

message 30: by Amna (new) - rated it 5 stars

Amna The abridged version was dense, resulting in me having to go over a chaper several times to get the events straight. Will start reading the unabridged one as soon as I can :]

Ultimotomasino It is better to read the unabridged versions of anything from poetry to fiction because that is where you can find the rawness the abridged version might have simmered or dumbed down.
If you are studying literature or you have to write a paper about it, abridged should be the first on your mind.
Yes the abridged version is tedious and yes it does seem draggy but do remember how old this piece of work is. Think of it like good wine, you should let it linger more in your mouth to appreciate the years it took to age; approach it slowly so as not to get inebriated with the complex histories in it.

message 32: by Alicia (last edited Aug 28, 2012 12:11AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alicia Franklin Unabridged is most definitely better to read. I have read both versions and the hardest part to swallow was the omission of the adventures of the Bishop of D--. For me, the first 100 pages of the book are extremely moving and thought-provoking but are completely cut out. Granted, I feel that some of Hugo's descriptions are too lengthy, such as spending 60 pages of describing a building/covenant, but that adds to his charm. Les Mis unabridged is to be taken slowly. There is no rush to finish such a masterpiece!

Meran "tedious tangents" = flavor buds for the brain

Unabridged, every time! Yes, it's longer. But to me, reading a book is not a race...

Ever eaten a homemade pie, dessert, dinner? Then got a pie (etc) from a fast food place? Not the same, is it? Both are apple, but one is thicker, juicier, bursting with flavor, topped with ice cream, melting all over that nice hot apple pie... Finish off with an espresso, hot and steamy... Or would you rather an instant coffee barely warm from the microwave with artificial "creamer"... See? NOT the same. :) Treat yourself properly; read the book as the author intended. Even if that scene does nothing other than let you know the heroine loves apple pie (which isn't necessary to know for the plot), it deepens your knowledge of her character.

Now I want some pie :)

Carina I got this book free on the Kindle from Amazon (just looked and it is still free) but I have no idea and don't know where Amazon would put who translated it.

Looking at the previous reviewers I would presume it is the unabridged version as I do recall wondering why I was learning about a battle with Napoleon when the previous part had nothing to do with this! I do not recall having any major issues with it (i.e. spelling or formatting) so this may be a good option :)

In terms of abridged or un-abridged in general though I would say it depends on the book and age group. When I was young (under 10) I had an unabridged version of Little Women and never realised that it was unabridged. When I decided to buy another copy due to my old one being so worn out I was so surprised that there was more to the story! I also think that as a younger reader the stopping point (Megs wedding without the fallout of Laurie and Jo) was a good ending to the book. I guess it all depends really though!

Meran Translations are always troublesome. I used to not pay attention to such things. Then, I read the Japanese "Genji" (thought to be the VERY FIRST novel ever, btw) and loved the partial edition I had (didn't know it was partial. :-/) I did like the translator, though.

Then, when I bought the full version, it was by a different translator, and I just. Could. Not. Finish. It. I'm going to buy the translated version I like eventually, and finish it. It was a great read!

So, I guess the lesson is this: if you don't like the book you're trying to read, change translations! It does matter.

Patrick I think you always need to go unabridged. The author rarely has any power over what's cut for the abridged version, and often it's some of the best moments. I read unabridged here; I can't speak for this particular abridged version.

message 37: by [deleted user] (new)

I read it unabridged, both in English and in French (and found some errors that the transltors (into English) made. (For example, during the rioting, Hugo comments that even when fighting is hot and heavy, a police officer will take time to 'spin' a thief. The word they translated as 'spin' is 'filer', which does have that meaning (as a homonym), but which also means 'to shadow' or 'to follow' (Collins-Robert French-English dictionary). There were others.

At any rate, I read the book, then bought a paperback in English and abridged it for myself. I took out dissertations young nuns wearing hair shirts and other such things that did not move the story along.

It is a magnificent tale, and I have loved it in all its many forms, from book to movie to musical.

message 38: by Kirk (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kirk McElhearn In many ways, Les Misérables is like Moby-Dick. There are digressions - notably some 100 pages about Napoleon at Waterloo - but these are an essential part of the story.

I read it in French a couple of years ago, and it took quite some time, but it was as rewarding as Moby-Dick or other Very Long Novels. (To be fair, it's about 3 times the size of Moby-Dick..)

Reading an abridged book is, to me, heresy, and I'd rather not read it at all than read something that has been chopped into palatable bits.

Victoria Grefer This is my favorite book ever. I have read it abridged and unabridged and took French classes just so I could read it in French.

I definitely think the unabridged version is great. The digressions really hammer home one of the major themes of the novel, providence versus chance. However, I think if someone's not up to the task of the unabridged, better the abridged volume than nothing!

This is a book EVERYONE should read in their lives at some point. Everyone.

Charbel Unabridged, definitely.

Lauren I have read the French unabridged version. If you speak French, you should read it. There are some things in it that are awkward to discuss in English but perfectly normal in French, so it made me wonder what else I miss when I read translations.

Lauren F. K. wrote: "I read it unabridged, both in English and in French (and found some errors that the transltors (into English) made. (For example, during the rioting, Hugo comments that even when fighting is hot ..."

Also, the novel makes a pretty big deal about tutoiment, which people who don't speak French often do not understand.

message 43: by Megan (last edited Jan 05, 2013 01:53PM) (new) - added it

Megan Those of you who read it in French, where did you get it? I'm having a hard time finding it here in the US and kicking myself for not buying it when I lived in France.

EDIT: I'm looking for French unabridged.

message 44: by Bryn (last edited Jan 05, 2013 02:14PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bryn Hammond Pandora wrote: "Will my brother is a Hugo fantic. He has read many translations and will even watch French version of Les Mes with no subtitles and he doesn't speak French. His favorite translator is Isabel Hapg..."

Oops, this was back in February, but -- have to say how happy I am to hear that your Hugo fanatic brother has Isabel Hapgood his favourite. I don't know as much as him. Don't know any French for a start. I've read three, maybe four translations in my life and it's my third favourite novel ever ever. When I read the Hapgood in 2012 I was wowed by her -- by her language, her richness. I think it's a wonderful and glorious translation. Just glad to have that firsted (I'm seconding him) by a person who knows. :)

My Isabel Hapgood was an Amazon ebook: the 'mobi' one, that says 'from Mobile Reference'. I can't find that now. But this free one says on the title-page it's her:

This one tells you up-front in the title it's the 'Hapgood translation' but costs a little. It has illustrations, and promises such a 'careful' ebook that I just bought it, even though I have her translation. http://www.amazon.com/Mis%C3%A9rables...

message 45: by Mike (last edited Jan 06, 2013 10:27PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mike You can also find the Hapgood translation for free here:


Hapgood's version has its positives, but the language is just too old-fashioned for my tastes. I prefer modern, but not the Julie Rose kind of modern. ;)

Lauren Lauren wrote: "F. K. wrote: "I read it unabridged, both in English and in French (and found some errors that the transltors (into English) made. (For example, during the rioting, Hugo comments that even when fi..."

I got it for free on my iPad.

message 47: by Liquidwitch (new) - added it

Liquidwitch I work in a charity shop and read half of a really old edition over various lunchbreaks (before someone unhelpfully bought it). Because it did look so old and i didnt know much about it then I assumed it was an unabridged version and then spotted an 8 times the size, actual full length one in the school library and had a minor panic attack.. I'm thinking about reading whats left from a full version copy for forms sake but I found that abridged still beautifully descriptive and I felt the characters were developed enough and it just didnt feel stifled or rushed at all. So that was fine. (just a shame I'll never know what version it was now) In a way i do sypmpathise with the people who want to read it in full, but it's already been edited at the time and then translated, so they're not reading exactly what the author had in mind anyway. And the abridged is just a step on from that.

Beverly Diehl Mike wrote: "Will,

Hi. I've read 3 different versions of Les Miserables, two of which are unabridged. And I agree with Lorenzo--you've got to ask yourself, "How much time do I have to spare?" And "Is it wor..."

I slogged through the unabridged, and I do mean, SLOGGED. Parts were so tedious I was praying somebody would kill Jean Valjean just to Make It Stop. I was determined to finish, since I'd begin and it was a classic and all, so I took the "how do you eat an elephant?" paradigm (just one bite at a time).

My jaws are still aching.

Read the abridged. If you're that curious and have the time, borrow an unabridged from the library or do a free download, and try the first 50 pages, before committing to all 1500+ pages.

message 49: by Francis (new)

Francis Absolutely the unabridged version. I have read Les Miserables four times and each time it is an experience. Has to be one of the greatest stories ever written.

message 50: by Lexi (new)

Lexi I went to the store today and bought Les Miserables, only to find out once I got home that it is the abridged version. I normally would never read an abridged version, but now I dont know if I should take the book back sometime next week and try to find an unabridged version, or if I should just read the one I have now.

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