I want to say something along the lines of:

The ideas proposed within Emily Brontë’s novel ‘Wuthering Heights’ would have shocked its original audience.

Where “original audience” means the audience for which the novel was first written.

Is there a better phrase that would fit here?

Note: I don't mean target audience (as some people seem to have though), I just mean the first readers of the novel.

  • Better how, exactly?
    – user867
    Mar 6, 2016 at 22:40
  • @user867 I don't feel that "original audience" properly conveys what I mean; I would like a word/phrase that fits the definition "the audience for which the novel was first written" better than does the word "original". Mar 6, 2016 at 22:44
  • 1
    "target audience" (or intended audience). "public" may fit for a single-word.
    – Graffito
    Mar 6, 2016 at 22:58
  • 2
    I'd simply say (the ideas proposed within) Emily Brontë's novel Wuthering Heights would have shocked her contemporaries. Not sure that's what you have in mind, or whether you think she was targetting a particular group of her contemporaries.
    – Jacinto
    Mar 6, 2016 at 23:22
  • 1
    Either The ideas Emily Brontë proposed in her novel 'Wuthering Heights' shocked readers at the time or they didn't. Perhaps they must have shocked or would have been shocking to readers at the time
    – Jim
    Mar 6, 2016 at 23:30

2 Answers 2


The word audience is not normally used with books, which have a readership, and target readership.

I am also unclear as to why the conditional tense is used. Since it is something that happened in the past, either it did shock or it didn't shock.

I would have said: Emily Brontë’s novel ‘Wuthering Heights’ shocked people of the time.


It has been suggested that I should Google books audience, which I have done and have seen what appears. However I would still feel awkward using the word audience with regard to a book.

The OED entry for audience is vast. But all senses relate in some way to hearing. That which follows is sense 8, which might be considered relevant, but see my further edit 2 below, which draws attention to sense 7b, which has greater relevance to books.:

In extended use: those people who admire, support, or take a consistent interest in a particular person, area of artistic activity, idea, etc.; (also) those people who are regarded as likely to be interested in such a person or thing.

1839 Musical World 17 Jan. 33 The choral music of oratorios..will never want a large and increasing audience.

1914 Ann. Rep. Chicago Hist. Soc. 30 A loan exhibition of archaeological objects..from the Chicago area..elicited great attention. Indian Archaeology always attracts an audience.

1947 Kingsport (Tennessee) News 27 Dec. 2/5 Billy Wilder..says there is a growing audience in the United States with a ‘good taste for European pictures’.

1974 S. Marcus Minding Store xv. 303 While the Dior business was directed towards the Establishment customers..Saint Laurent appealed to a much more avant-garde audience.

1992 N.Y. Times 12 July iii. 9/4 Apple wants people to call the Newton a..PDA, rather than a computer, since the Newton is supposed to appeal to a much wider audience than traditional computing tools.

2012 Daily Tel. (Nexis) 29 Mar. Madonna..still has the attention of a devoted audience.

Whichever way we look at this, I believe using audience with books amounts to an extended or metaphorical use, which refers to the book's or author's adherents.

And it does seem to me inappropriate to describe Emily Brontë as having "shocked her audience", since I am not clear that it was her audience which was shocked, so much as the wider public.

Further Edit

I am now persuaded, following extensive discussion in the commentary below, that the word audience has relevance to literary works. However what we have not been able to agree upon is the nature of a book's audience. The OED seems to restrict it to "people who admire, support or take a consistent interest", but according to @Edwin Ashworth other dictionaries refer to the people reached, whatever that means.

Further Edit (2)

My attention has been drawn by @Roaring Fish, to the fact that the relevant OED sense of audience is not 8, as I wrongly stated, but 7b, which deals directly with books.

b. Those people who have read or regularly read a particular text, publication, or writer, considered collectively; a readership.

1760 B. Franklin Let. D. Hume 27 Sept. in Wks. (1887) III. 128 It often gives me pleasure to reflect how greatly the audience (if I may so term it) of a good English writer will, in another century or two, be increased.

a1854 H. Reed Lect. Eng. Lit. (1878) vii. 225 ‘Pilgrim's Progress’..has gained an audience as large as Christendom.

1867 Brit. Q. Rev. July 108 Many of Keble's poems impress us with the idea of..an audience of whom the writer was conscious.

1870 G. Meredith Let. 13 Oct. (1970) I. 428, I have an audience of about a dozen, but if they're satisfied I am too.

1883 G. Hamilton in E. C. Rollins New Eng. Bygones Pref. 1 This book is published with no thought of an audience.

1949 Los Angeles Times 13 Feb. (Comics Section) 1, There may be neurotics in our audience!

1991 Utne Reader July 109/3 (advt.) The smallest village 20 miles outside of New York City may be tiny, but it has a hot newspaper with a sophisticated audience.

1993 Locus Oct. 4/1 I'm a writer who has an ongoing dialog with an audience, and what that audience tells me feeds back into my work.

2008 Vanity Fair June 91/2 Like any blog site but grossly magnified due to the mass scale of its audience and influence, Daily Kos is a schizophrenic enterprise.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Mar 9, 2016 at 14:33

Intended audience is the best i can think of, and that's two words.

Let's do a little investigation into context and meaning of the sentence.

"Ideas proposed, would have shocked original audience" means that the novel actually got around to others, or to more than intended. Intended audience can still exist, it's a pretty widely cast net of anyone who comes across the novel. Primary audience would imply there's more than one readerbase, and again, it's reached others as well.

Since it's phrased with would have, means that it didn't reach the original audience, so initial audience could work, but again two words, and there can be secondary focus groups.

Maybe market, though that voids the intention.

Hmm, niche?

  • "people of her time and original audience are a bit different" which is why I was asking this question, to try and find the phrase that actually meant what I intended. Mar 8, 2016 at 8:00

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