We joke about this titular phrase quite often, but I think that it definitely rings true in this last section of Wuthering Heights. In the beginning of this portion, we learn that Hareton wants to read in order to impress his cousin Cathy and that he practices by using her old books. However, Cathy does not see his hunger for learning as a compliment; rather, she believes that by mispronouncing her favorite literature, he means to insult her tastes and intelligence and to pester her. For example, in Chapter XVII, Cathy says:
“Once, Hareton, I came upon a secret stock in your room…some Latin and Greek, and some tales and poetry; all old friends […] and you gathered them, as a magpie gathers silver spoons, for the mere love of stealing! They are of no use to you — or else you concealed them in the bad spirit, that as you cannot enjoy them, nobody else shall. Perhaps your envy counselled Mr. Heathcliff to rob me of my treasures? But I’ve most of them written on my brain and printed in my heart, and you cannot deprive me of those!” (266-267).
Having had the advantage of an education and extensive library at the Grange, Cathy believes that she is the only person at the Heights entitled to perusal of scholarly articles. Her use of monetary terms especially highlights this point. She claims that Hareton has stolen a “stock” of her books, implying that the pleasure and information taken from them were not for sale and that he has detracted from her business of learning (266). Equating her books with “silver spoons,” Cathy implies that reading is a privilege — one that Hareton does not deserve because he does not know how to read and because he must steal literary items in order to educate himself (267).
Since Hareton cannot read, she postulates that he enlists the help of Heathcliff to “rob [her] of [her] treasures” because Heathcliff can relate to his upbringing and current situation (267). Again stating that Hareton and Heathcliff have to take from others in order to feel accomplished, Cathy calls her books her “treasures” (267): They are coveted items of her possession that give her power, intelligence, and importance. She stores all that she has learnt from these works in her mind — accumulating what is literally a “wealth of knowledge.”
Nelly, however, shows Cathy that Hareton does not mean to detract from her status or intelligence by taking her books but rather to emulate her. He yearns to be able to read and communicate through writing — both in a physical and interpretative sense — so that he can impress his cousin and (less importantly) better himself. Finding his goal endearing, Cathy changes her mind and vows to help Hareton in his quest for knowledge. According to Nelly, it is this endeavor that unites them and gives both of them the strength to endure Heathcliff’s tyranny and later gain independence from him:
“I perceived two such radiant countenances bent over the page of the accepted book, that I did not doubt the treaty had been ratified on both sides, and the enemies were, thenceforth, sworn allies” (280).
On yet the same page of the novel, Nelly reveals that Cathy has started to dissolve her monopoly on reading. Cathy alone cannot be the seller and the consumer of knowledge — or else no profits will ever be made. When Joseph claims that he will take any books forgotten by the cousins, Nelly states:
“Cathy threatened that his library should pay for hers” (280).
For Cathy, reading and learning through books becomes a type of transaction — one that must be measured in mathematical and/or economical value.
Indeed, the characters’ application of monetary words to literary objects reflects the effect that education has on wealth, wellbeing, and status in the novel. Knowledge and intelligence is what entitles them to land, to money, and to happiness.