Slimmed-down literature

In an essay in the Philadelphia Inquirer magazine, Frank Wilson reviews the the first six Phoenix Compact Editions of the classics- Melville’s Moby-Dick, Dickens’ David Copperfield, Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, Tolstoy’s Anna, George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss, and Mrs. Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters. Does the reduction of Anna Karenina‘s 800 pages to 384 sound appealing? Frank writes:

"There is nothing inherently wrong with what Somerset Maugham called "the useful art of skipping." Maugham himself in fact helped produce a series of abridged classics in 1948 called "Great Novelists and Their Novels."
But it’s one thing for me to skip. I know what I’ve passed over and can go back and read it if and when I choose. It’s another thing altogether for someone else – even a Somerset Maugham – to do my skipping for me. The only abridged book I can remember reading was the edition of War and Peace that I read as a teenager. It left out the historico-philosophical essays that Tolstoy interrupts the action with. (To tell the truth, when I finally got around to reading the whole thing last year, I found myself feeling retroactively grateful.)
No, the real problem with the Phoenix series is its premise – that you can take away just about everything from a great novel as long as you leave the "narrative line" intact."

Or, to reduce it to a compact form, as does Frank: "you’ll never know what you missed".

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