Thursday, February 12, 2009

Worth Press Brontë editions - a review

Worth Press kindly provided us with a copy of each of their editions of Brontë novels: Jane Eyre, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Wuthering Heights.

Let us begin with a general overview of these editions, since they have a few traits in common. First of all, they are all bound in a sober green cloth cover with gilded lettering - a classical look which is very pleasant to the eye. This impression doesn't end there as each has different endpapers which are also very nice and fitting for each given novel. A ribbon to mark the pages is included as well and, we don't know about you, but this is always a winning feature with us.

Still, though, this is not what makes these Worth Press edition different from the dozens of editions available out there. All three include a biographical introduction by a well-known Brontë expert - more on this later when we discuss each novel separately - and a section of 'Geographical settings' (again, different for each particular novel) written for all three by Ann Dinsdale. Both these features - as the gorgeous binding - bode well.

These, in all cases, are followed by an overview of the principal characters of each novel with comic-like illustrations of selected characters by Vanessa Lubach. (The rest of the illustrations - those on the endpapers, for instance - are either public domain or public commons). The downside of this section is that, for new readers, the character descriptions rather spoil the novel, as they are too tale-telling. This is followed in all three by an identical illustrated Brontë Timeline which includes the historical, cultural and social context in which the Brontës lived. A section on Brontë Country which pays particular attention to the places pointed out by Ann Dinsdale and finally a shared by all three Brontë family tree and a list of published works, chosen rather randomly (and one of which is called 'Five Nevelettes'). Then the main text begins.

These extras, however, are missing a few important things in our opinion: a note on the text, notes at the end to help the reader and a 'further reading/bibliography' section for enthusiastic readers. Both the Brontë expert's and Ann Dinsdale's sections are definitely inviting the reader to follow that path, but unfortunately someone forgot to put up the signs along the road.

After this general overview and before moving onto each separate work, we can't help but state our main problem with these editions, which is the lack of cohesion and, as a result of that, the difficulty of finding a given target readership. The lack of notes, the biographical introduction and Ann Dinsdale's Geographical Settings as well as the 'luxury' binding all seem to be aiming at adult readers with an already incipient interest in the Brontë sisters and a basic Brontë background. But the characters section with its illustrations as well as the sections that follow seem to point at a young readership working on a school assignment. And while we appreciate the broad scope this gives to each novel, it seems to us that it is also giving rather mixed, undefined signals.

JANE EYRE
By: Charlotte Brontë
Format: Imitation Leather / fine binding
ISBN 10: 1903025559
ISBN 13: 9781903025550
Series: Worth Literary Classics (February 2008)

Jane Eyre's Brontë expert is Jane Sellars, well-known among Brontëïtes, whose biographical introduction is extremely informative, well-compartmentalised and, quite honestly, very smoothly read. She is not at all Gaskell-like about Charlotte, who is realistically presented with her faults and virtues, letting her speak for herself, largely quoting from her own letters and painting quite a complete picture for such a limited space (9 pages, to be precise). And she even manages to reivindicate Patrick Brontë's real, non-ogre personality.

Ann Dinsdale's 'Jane Eyre's Geographical Settings' are highly interesting to read, particularly for those wishing to embark on a Jane Eyre pilgrimage, either in real life or just by reading, as she provides us with possible inspirations for all five stages of Jane's evolution. As Ms Dinsdale aptly remarks,
'The idea that the literary tourist can physically travel through the landscapes of the Brontës' imaginations has proved persistent. Fact and fiction have merged, drawing thousands of visitors every year to explore both the real and the imaginary landscape that has become known as 'Brontë Country'.'
The illustrations of a few selected characters of Jane Eyre by Vanessa Lubach are quite psychologically-depicted, including a very preternatural-looking Bertha and a rather scary, Frankenstein-like Rochester.

As we have said before, the Brontë Country section of Jane Eyre relies heavily on Ann Dinsdale's section; however, a 'High Withens' seems to have slipped into this map which bears no relation with Jane Eyre.
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
By: Anne Brontë
Format: Imitation Leather / fine binding
ISBN 10:
1903025575
ISBN 13:
9781903025574
Series: Worth Literary Classics (February 2009)
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall's Brontë expert is self-declared 'Anne person' Edward Chitham, who wrote a biography on Anne. This text is highly reminiscent of said biography and indeed the reader - had there been a bibliography section - will want to lay their hands on it. Edward Chitham is never afraid to speculate or to prowl different aspects of the Brontë story to try and reach new perspectives. That is also the case here but, what with the limited space, the warnings about when he's speculating seem to have been lost. This is not to say that he doesn't offer a highly perceptive - though arguably quite hagiographic as well - portrait of the lesser-known Brontë.

Because Anne Brontë's work has been largely overlooked for so many decades, readers will find Ann Dinsdale's text extremely enlightening and surprising. She looks into the possible actual locations that Anne may have drawn from and which are clearly less relevant in Anne's works than they are in her sisters'. But not just that: she also explores the plausible theory that one other location that Anne Brontë may have been inspired by is none other than Wuthering Heights.

Our big problem with this edition, however, comes with the text of the novel itself, which has relied on the corrupt copytext which omits the first four opening pages, thus damaging the real epistolar structure of the novel. It is truly a shame to see a modern edition continue with this mutilating tradition.
Wuthering Heights
By: Emily Brontë
Format: Imitation Leather / fine binding
ISBN 10:
1903025567
ISBN 13:
9781903025567
Series: Worth Literary Classics (February 2009)
Edward Chitham also writes the biographical introduction to Wuthering Heights, which is also reminiscent of his previous biography of Emily Brontë. It is never easy to write about Emily Brontë or her creation of Wuthering Heights, but Edward Chitham manages to cover all possible bases related to it: Emily's life, her personality, her previous literary creations, both juvenilia and poetry and possible inspiration. We did appreciate his efforts in putting to rest for once and for all the rumours about Branwell Brontë and Wuthering Heights, namely that he either inspired Heathcliff or that he had a hand in its creation.

Emily is famously known as a recluse and yet Ann Dinsdale introduces a wealth of possible locations for the houses in Wuthering Heights. Particularly interesting for fans of the latest screen adaptation of the novel will be the fact that East Riddlesden Hall - Wuthering Heights in that adaptation - has a previous Wuthering Heights connection.

So, if you either have a penchant for nice covers, are looking to replace that tattered cheap edition (unless that is a complete text of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall) or are sufficiently interested in the Brontës as to being capable of piling edition on edition just for the sake of its accompanying features (and the introductions to these are among the best), you might do well to grab a copy of these Brontës novels just published by Worth Press from your bookshop of choice.

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