In the middle of a global pandemic, a roller-coaster economy, and the brouhaha of an election year in the U.S., I decided to move house.
By the time you read this I will have moved from my three-bedroom house of twenty-five years into a two-bedroom condominium. In other words, I’m down-sizing, and one of the hardest things about the entire process is trying to decide which possessions I’ll take with me and which I’ll get rid of.
One of those hard take-or-discard decisions concerned my books. I started buying and collecting books in grade school, and although I’ve certainly culled some titles from my collection over the years, I’ve always maintained a healthy stock of fiction and non-fiction titles.
Books are a part of my everyday life; in my house, every room had books on shelves or table tops, but I always dreamed I’d someday live in a house with a dedicated library filled floor to ceiling with book of all shapes, sizes, and subjects.
As Caroline Bingley said in Pride and Prejudice:
When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.
In Pride and Prejudice Charles Bingley had a library at Netherfield, and though he probably had many more books than I’ll ever own, he felt the need to apologize to Elizabeth Bennet about the size of his library:
“I wish my collection were larger for your benefit and my own credit; but I am an idle fellow, and though I have not many, I have more than I ever looked into.”
Elizabeth assured him that she could suit herself perfectly with those in the room.
“I am astonished,” said Miss Bingley, “that my father should have left so small a collection of books. What a delightful library you have at Pemberley, Mr. Darcy!”
“It ought to be good,” he replied, “it has been the work of many generations.”
“And then you have added so much to it yourself, you are always buying books.”
“I cannot comprehend the neglect of a family library in such days as these.”
It’s interesting to me that each of the four people involved in the conversation have completely different perspectives on reading and libraries:
Elizabeth Bennet didn’t try to impress anyone with her reading choices; she was simply content to read whatever was available to her.
Charles Bingley knows he’s responsible for maintaining and enhancing the family library, but he’s an indifferent reader; and when he does buy books, he doesn’t always read them.
Caroline Bingley understands the importance of reading and owning books. We know that because she acknowledges her family’s library is small and then blames her father for the circumstance (and since her father is deceased and can’t defend himself, I suspect Caroline blames him for a lot of shortcomings in her life).
Fitzwilliam Darcy is proud of his library, but then, he more than anyone else, has the financial means to buy quality books. He makes a gentle dig at Charles Bingley, reminding him that the Darcys are “old money” and that the library at Pemberley has been built over generations (and probably contains some valuable titles). More important, Darcy thinks a family library is a serious business; he doesn’t just buy books—he reads them.
When it comes to books and libraries, I’m a little like Elizabeth because I read a variety of genres and subjects; but I’m also like Darcy, because I love to buy new books (even though I know I may never get through the to-be-read pile I’ve already accumulated).
What about you?
When it comes to books and libraries, are you an Elizabeth or a Darcy? A Charles or a Caroline?
p.s. I’m happy to share with you that I found good homes for the majority of my books, and I’ve settled into my new place nicely. While I still look longingly at images of luxurious home libraries, I am very content with the comfy chair and reading corner I set up in my new place. Happy reading, everyone!