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Thread: Books in Wuthering Heights

  1. #1
    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    Apr 2012
    Reading, England

    Books in Wuthering Heights

    Books play an important role in Wuthering Heights. Edgar Linton spends much of his time in his library. Mrs Dean has educated herself and thus made herself comprehensible to us by reading all the books in the Thrushcross Grange library, except the foreign language ones. Young Cathy Linton enjoys reading, although her mother not so much so. One of the young grooms risks his job in return for books. Joseph only reads the bible but it is very important to him. Lastly, Hareton attempts to educate himself by reading books, but throws them on the fire when he is scorned by Cathy.

    I have wondered about the value of books back then. Books were comparatively expensive while most people were comparatively poor. On the other hand, there were not as many sources of information or amusement. When reading introductions of classic literature, you often read something like: the first edition of 3000 copies sold out within a month, and a second publishing run of 5000 copies was... Those sorts of sales figures do not seem very high for a population of 20 million. I suppose that would be explained by their high cost. I read in the introduction to A Christmas Carol that the first edition sold for five shillings. The first edition sold out but still made a loss due to the high cost of production, due to it containing colour pictures I think. Five shillings seems to have been about a quarter of an average weekly wage, so quite a lot of money for a small book. I get the impression many books were sold in three volume formats, so that must have been expensive. I suspect Great Expectation's Pip and Edgar Linton's collections of books represented a large part of their expenditure. Luckily for Pip, I suspect their resale value was high. When Hareton threw his books on the fire, he was burning a fortune.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

  2. #2
    All are at the crossroads qimissung's Avatar
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    May 2008
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    Also at that time, not everyone was literate, so the joys of reading were largely confined to the upperclasses, I would think.
    "The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its' own reason for existing." ~ Albert Einstein
    "Remember, no matter where you go, there you are." Buckaroo Bonzai
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  3. #3
    Registered User kiki1982's Avatar
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    Jun 2007
    Saarburg, Germany
    Not only the fact people may have been illiterate (for the younger generation, the Victorians did their best to root that out), but mainly the cost was apparently a problem. Not for nothing does Miss Bingley in P&P comment that Mr Darcy is 'always buying books'. To her, it was a mark of wealth, not necessarily of interest (which it probably was in his case as he comments that a woman must improve her mind by extensive reading).
    That left aside, reading on a wider scale than the rich who could pay for the printed and bound books, only became popular with the serialised novel, which Dickens was a great champion of. Dickens was popular with the poor, therefore a wide public, because he published his novels in the newspaper. The poor could buy newspapers, but could not buy books. After the novel had concluded as a series, most of them were published in book form.

    Now you have come to mention it, books were an important source of knowledge to the Brontës, together with magazines as Blackwood. In Jane Eyre the library and the books in it seem to tell something about how knowledge in itself is used by the people concerned. Similarly, you could argue that Joseph has a pretty narrow conception of the situation as he only reads one book. Nellie is a shining example of wisdom. I'm not sure what Edgar Linton does with the time he spends in his library. He maybe only spends time in the library, not reading.
    One has to laugh before being happy, because otherwise one risks to die before having laughed.

    "Je crains [...] que l'âme ne se vide à ces passe-temps vains, et que le fin du fin ne soit la fin des fins." (Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, Acte III, Scène VII)

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