The familiar friend, or the classic?
I’ve been given a new edition of Wuthering Heights. Well, when I say ‘new edition’ I mean new to me, not actually new. It’s a leather-bound hardback from the 1930’s with an embossed cover, gold lettering and trim, heavy, thick pages and the good, dry smell of a well-made book that has been well looked after.
It’s lovely. But I already own a copy of Wuthering Heights. So what do I do? Get rid of my old one? Refuse to accept the new one? Or keep both? I hope that by the time I’ve written this post, I’ll have made up my mind, or given you enough information to help me do so.
My old copy is the one on the right, a Penguin Classics edition from when I studied this novel for my English literature degree. My version has a strip of sun damage on the left front, it has some loose pages, and it’s mottled with age. I know it’s not a patch on the hardback for style. But it’s mine.
I’ve read it four or five times, and inscribed my name and the price ($4.46) inside the front cover back when I used to print neatly. The price was written in all my textbooks so I’d remember what I paid if I came to resell them. (I resold several of my books, but precious few of the literature texts.)
I’ve carried it to classes, and I’ve taken it on holiday. I’ve read it in bed, and I’ve curled up in a chair with it. My hand can reach out to where it habitually sits on its shelf, almost without my needing to look.
As well as the sentimental advantages over the hardback, this one has a few material advantages too. It has an introduction to the novel’s origins and themes, a few notes translating some of the more obscure items of Yorkshire dialect, and a bibliography of further reading on the text. I’ve never used the bibliography, but the notes were helpful and the introduction an excellent succinct way into understanding of the book. It also included a family tree to keep track of all those Catherines and Lintons.
The illustration on the left is the hardback I was given. As I said at the start, it’s a beautiful edition. It has no bibliography or introduction, although it does contain Charlotte Brontë’s biographical notice of Ellis and Acton Bell (the noms de plume of her sisters Emily and Anne.) The Penguin edition also has this insightful and instructive account of the difficulties all three sisters had in achieving publication, so it’s not decisive in favour of either edition.
What about keeping both?
It’s pretty clear I like both editions, for different reasons, and I’m having trouble deciding between them.
A couple of years ago, something similar happened with an edition of David Copperfield I was given. In that case I replaced my old copy with the ‘new’ one, and I’ve regretted it since. Perhaps that regret is making this decision more difficult than it should be. The David Copperfield I’m now left with isn’t as nice as the Wuthering Heights hardback I’m trying to decide about now either.
Should I just keep both then? Live with them for some time, and see which edition I go for next time I want to read, or even refer to, Wuthering Heights?
At that point, will I choose the edition I’ve grown up with, or the new one that will look so good on my shelf? And, just to go meta on this, is that like trying to choose between the houses of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange, like Catherine Earnshaw choosing between Heathcliff and Edgar, between the wild moors and the tamed civilization?
As Catherine found, she couldn’t have both men, or live in both worlds. While you’d think there’s technically no problem with owning two copies of the same book, I can see that even if I separate the pair into different bookcases in different rooms, every time I see one of these editions I’ll think about the other one.
I also wonder if it’s morally wrong to keep both editions. Doesn’t that mean I’m depriving some other person of owning a copy by not giving one of mine away?
I’m throwing this over to you now. Help me out – which edition would you choose? Or do I keep both?