How Times Have Changed

Since I hate the WordPress block(head) editor so much, I’m going to try composing this text in WORD and see if I can cut and paste it into WordPress.  (&#%#$#@!!)  

I was watching a video by the curator of Chawton House about the Jane Austen novel Emma which discussed the various visual interpretations of the titular character Emma Woodhouse in book illustrations and film*. Shown (below) in the video is the first page of the first edition of Emma.  Like its predecessors Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, it was published in three volumes.  (It was common at that time period to publish a work in multiple volumes that today would be published as a single volume – and there’s a good reason they did that. Keep reading.) 

Research reveals that this first edition of Emma was printed in “duodecimo” size  (as were P&P and S&S before it), a page size of approximately 5″ to 5.5″ x 7.125″ to 7.5″, which is the same size as my 6-volume set of the Oxford Illustrated Editions (OIE )* of the complete works of Jane Austen (5” x 7.5”).  However, that first edition volume looks to be about a third of the thickness of my OIE.  My single volume contains all 484 pages of the novel plus illustrations and annotations. 

When I was looking at that first edition, however, one of the things that leapt off the page at me, so to speak, was the way it was typeset.  There’s a whole lot more white space in the first edition text than would be found in modern books – indeed, there is so much white space that the first edition has less than half the text on the page as the first page of my OIE Emma does (at left). 

In the first edition, the lines of text are not single spaced, but are at least 1.5 if not 1.7 spacing. That puts a lot more white space between lines of text.  The second thing I noticed is that the text is typeset with more white space between words than we are used to.  Part of this extra spacing between words is due to the fact that the text is justified. But it’s still noticeably more wide-spaced than the spacing in my OIE.  This white space is the reason the book had to be published in three volumes. 

Because of all this extra white space, the book probably had 600+ pages (not to mention the thickness of the paper in use at the time), which would make it impractical to publish it as a single volume (unless you wanted to reuse it as a doorstop).All that white space seems wasteful to the modern eye, but I think there’s a very good reason for it, and it has to do with lighting. Up until the 1860’s when gas lighting became more widespread, if you wanted to read after dark, candles and oil lamps were your only options.

And here’s the thing: All that white space between lines of printed text and between words made that text easier to read in dim light. I’d be interested to see a side-by-side comparison of the amount of intratextual white space in pages from books printed during the candlelight era, versus the gas light era, versus the electric light era. I’d be willing to bet that each improvement in lighting saw a corresponding decrease in typographical white space.

There’s a take-away from the above.  If you have an e-reader but find using it is an unsatisfactory experience, or that it causes eyestrain, there are things you can do about it.  Most e-readers allow you to do some customizing of the display.  Kindle does.  Some of the variables you can control are the font size – the size of the letters on the page; line spacing – the amount of space between lines of text; text alignment – whether text is aligned in a straight line down the right margin (justified) or has a “ragged” right margin; and background color. 

If you are having problems due to eye conditions that affect the sharpness of your vision (cataracts, for one) or if your arms have gotten shorter over the years, try using a larger font size and/or increasing the amount of space between lines of text (line spacing).  If you have problems with eye strain, try changing the background color to green (why do you think we have green “blackboards” now?) or beige, and/or switching from justified text alignment (straight margins on the right as well as the left) to left aligned (“ragged right”) text alignment.  Left aligned text is easier to read because the amount of white space between words is consistent from word to word and line to line throughout the text.  The amount never changes.  Justified text may “look pretty” but it aligns the right margin by spreading the words on the line further and further apart until the last letter on the line is even with the right margin, so the amount of space between words is variable and inconsistent; it changes between one line and the next. You can even display text in multiple columns. One of the reasons I went from my smaller Kindle to a Fire 10-inch tablet was so I could turn it sideways (landscape view) and get text in two columns.  Gets more text on a page so you don’t have to “turn the page” so often.

*Why, yes, I am an English major. . .

Author: WOL

My burrow, "La Maison du Hibou Sous Terre" is located on the flatlands of West Texas where I live with my computer, my books, and a lot of yarn waiting to become something.

3 thoughts on “How Times Have Changed”

  1. If you contact me as suggested in my last comment, I will send you an URL that will allow access to the old “All posts” page and a suggested metod of procedure. You will be able to easily access the Classic editor.

    An alternative way of doing it, if you want to use an external editor is to 1. write your post in your external editor, 2. click on “Add new”, 3. click on the vertical three dots top right of the screen and then on the entry “Code editor” that appears. You can then type your title and copy/paste the text from your external editor. You can use HTML code with this method too, if you wish.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: