Eichenberg Eyre and Wuthering Engravings

by drpoppy

One of the first purchases I ever made of collectable-type books was this pair of Bronte sister novels with illustrative wood engravings by Fritz Eichenberg.

front cover of Jane Eyre

Titles: Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights

Authors: Charlotte Bronte and Emily Bronte, respectively

Publisher: Random House, NY

Publication Date: 1943

Acquired: $5 each, purchased at the Bookcellar Cafe in Cambridge, Mass (since I purchased these books, the Bookcellar Cafe closed and the space where it lived — that is, a basement spot on Mass Ave next to Bob Slate in Porter Square — was home of Unicorn Books, followed by the current resident, MacIntyre & Moore).

Comments: When I saw these books in that underground bookstore, I could not believe my eyes. Although there are no titles on the covers, Eichenberg’s engravings are unmistakeable as representing these two novels. When I found out they were $5 each, I couldn’t believe my luck.

If these books were in perfect shape, they would actually be worth a little bit of money, though not (for some reason) a lot. I’ve seen them listed for up to

front cover of Jane Eyr

front cover of Jane Eyre

$200 as a set, which is not great, but more than anything else I own (to my knowledge). However, the pair I own is missing the slipcase that came with the original set, and the cover of Jane Eyre in particular is a little worn: the binding is somewhat loose, the edges a little frayed, and the cover slightly faded, with several scratches on the surface. However, I still think it’s a gorgeous set.

I don’t know a lot about Fritz Eichenberg (though I do have another book with engravings by him, which I’ll profile at a later date), but he was a perfect choice to illustrate these novels. His style is mysterious and brooding, with the same odd combination of wildness and control that the novels have. He brings out both the gothic creepiness and the strange beauty of the stories, and places his own unique stamp on some iconic scenes.

Take the scene of little Jane being humiliated by Brocklehurst, for instance. Look at how ridiculously tiny Jane is, and how Brocklehurst’s high-waisted coat and distorted facial expression make him look monstrous. This is not how I personally pictured Brocklehurst, but I enjoy the interpretation.

Brocklehurst and Jane

Brocklehurst and Jane

An engraving of the girls praying over their supper mimics the cover of the book; in both, the girls’ identical faces emphasize the sameness of their regulation uniforms and hairstyles. (My favorite part of this novel is the Lowood section, and these engravings perfectly capture the haunting bleakness of the institution.)

mealtime

mealtime

The engraving of the iconic scene of Jane startling Rochester’s horse on their first meeting is beautifully rendered. Eichenberg resists the temptation to make Rochester attractive, and his initial appearance is somewhat frightening, as I feel it should be.

Jane startles Rochester

Jane startles Rochester

In both the cover illustration for Wuthering Heights and the illustration of the iconic scene of Heathcliff digging up Cathy’s grave, Heathcliff is drawn with arms too long for his body, to emphasize his strength and his violent nature. In true Romantic form, the swirls in the earth and sky seem to reflect his inner turmoil.

heathcliffHeathcliff and Cathy

These books are incredibly beautiful, and don’t understand why they are not valued more greatly. (Remember: I really don’t know much at all about book collecting, or what sets the value for old books!) If you like these novels and come across these editions at a reasonable price, I urge you to pick them up.

Bonus: screen romance

a page ripped out of the magazine Screen Romances was stuck between the pages of Jane Eyre. The page features an almost-completed movie-themed crossword puzzle (punctuated by little doodles) and an ad for hair color on one side. I love the combination of Jane Eyre and a magazine called Screen Romances; I can just picture the daydreaming 1940s or 50s girl who would read both.

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