Friday, April 20, 2012

Classics Challenge: April Prompt

This month the April prompt for the Classics Challenge is to discuss book covers of classic novels.  Cover art is always fun, especially since there are so many editions of classic novels available.  I'm actually sort of in between classics at the moment -- I've just started reading Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens, just about 20 pages in, so I can't say for sure yet whether the book accurately reflects the story or the characters.

Anyhow, there's quite a few choices available.  First, here's the edition I'm currently reading:

It doesn't tell us much about the story, but the pile of coins is intriguing -- it's about greed and inheritance, so it does tie in nicely with the book's themes.  I know a lot of people swear by Penguins but I'm very fond of Modern Library.  The print isn't too tiny and the pages are really nice and smooth, plus they're not enormously fat. The endnotes are usually good too.  I bought my copy at Borders a couple of years ago, before they went belly-up.

And here's the always-reliable Penguin classic edition:

The book starts out with a Thames boatman finding a body.  The moonlight and the eerie purple light make me think there's something creepy going on here, but doesn't give away too much.  Nice.

Lately I've been reading more Oxford World's Classics.  Their Zola editions are especially good, but I haven't read any of their Dickens editions.  Here's their edition of OMF:

It doesn't really tell me a lot -- I assume she's the standard Dickens ingenue, angelic, one-dimensional, and boring, though she does look a little worried.  She's pretty well dressed, so maybe she's in love with the financially struggling hero (I'm just assuming since I haven't discovered who the hero is yet, but the ingenue is nearly always in love with a guy who's having money problems.)

But this one by Wordsworth Classics is worse:

Who is this girl?  Is she the mutual friend of the title?  And what is she wearing?  Pretty sexy for a Victorian heroine with the bare shoulders -- doesn't strike me as the least bit accurate.  And the grey background is weird.  I've read a few Wordsworth Classics, they're not my favorite.

But finally, here's something much nicer by Vintage:

Vintage has come out with some really nice book covers for classics the last few years.  I especially like their editions of books by Elizabeth Gaskell.  This doesn't really give us much about the story but it's a really nice photo.  If I saw this in the store I would definitely pick it up and read the back cover, but sadly, that's unlikely since there's only one major bookstore in my town these days, and Our Mutual Friend is too obscure for them to carry on the shelves without a special order.  If I wanted this edition I'd have to order it online.  Of course, if I was shopping online, I might buy this copy just because the cover is so nice.  I don't think Vintage has endnotes or any introductions, however.  But if I was purchasing solely because of the cover image, this might be the winner.

Any other great covers I've missed?  What's your favorite classic book cover?  Not just Dickens, but any classic?


  1. What an interesting thread! I've never really stopped to think about what book covers portray, though I have certainly had strong opinions about poor choices of covers. For example, the cover of my copy of Persuasion is awful. I bought it when I was collecting her her novels cheaply at airport book stores. I hope to replace it with a great hardcover edition. The bright color, dotted border and the boat make it look like it's beachy chick lit!

    On the other hand, it's funny you should mention Elizabeth Gaskell - I'm reading her for the first time, and I love the Everyman cover ( This illustration's Austen-esque clothing has kept me constantly aware of parallels to Jane's themes, and the girl on the cover looks troubled but stoic, pretty without flaunting it, poor yet content with her lot. It was a nice image to have of Molly as I began the book, and I'm interested to know if this perception holds true as I get farther into it.

    What's the worst book cover you own? The most cheesy?

    Samantha of

    1. I think the book I own with the cheesiest cover is a mass-market paperback of Gone with the Wind, which is the movie tie-in version. It's old and yellowed and I haven't read it in years, but somehow I can't bear to replace it. I bought it when I was in the sixth grade and I read it over and over when I was a teenager.

      The other worst covers of books I own are probably the Vintage International edition of A Room With a View, an older one with a funky purple cover from 1989; and a Penguin edition of Cold Comfort Farm, with the pale green spine. The cover is a detail from a painting called Village Gossips, Gloucestershire by Stanley Spencer. I'm not crazy about it but I don't hate it enough to replace it.

  2. When it comes to classics I like to read either the Modern Library edition or the Penguin, though in this case I have to say I really like the Vintage edition the most!

    1. I have a couple of the new Vintage editions, but I'm not crazy about them, other than the cover art. No end notes, which is irritating, and they're not very bendy for such thick books. I think the paper's not as nice as the Modern Library or the Penguin.

  3. I love the Oxford Classics covers, especially the Trollope covers. And it seems like Penguin makes a real effort to find cover images that match the area as well as the story. I don't care for Wordsworth editions - the covers or the typesetting.

    One of my favorites is the old orange Penguin Pride and Prejudice, the cover image is just perfectly Elizabeth Bennet:

  4. That is a nice cover! I also have a couple of OWC Trollopes on the TBR, Orly Farm and Phineas Finn. I think my favorites are the Zolas which are mostly details from works by French Impressionists, which is so appropriate because Zola really was friendly with them. I love that.

    I think I've only read one Wordsworth edition, which was Dr. Thorne, a copy loaned to me by my mother. It was just okay, but that's not a popular Trollope so I was happy to read it. I only own one myself, a copy of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which I actually bought at Notre Dame! The gift shop is halfway up and I was desperate for a break from the 468 steps. It was a beautiful shop but I always feel sorry for the employees who have to walk up and down those steps all day long, even for a bathroom break.

  5. I love how diverse the covers are. I'd go for the first two ... they aren't as much as a turn-off as the last couple.

  6. Those are my favorites too. It's always fun to see how different companies interpret covers. At least they're not packaged with cartoon characters on the covers!

  7. The covers I hate the most are film or TV tie-in covers, they date so quickly. I also hate anything embossed with Oprah's Book Club choice or something - not so bad if it's a removable sticker! I have the Everyman's Library editions of all of Jane Austen's novels which were a bit of an investment. Beautiful classic covers, though. Like you, my favourite Mutual Friend cover is the last one.

  8. I agree, I rarely by a TV tie in. I think my two exceptions were the BBC Bleak House adaptation tie-in by Penguin (with Gillian Anderson on the cover); and the Wives and Daughters Penguin tie-in which is actually a painting by Millais. It's much nicer than the current Penguin cover. I was lucky enough to see the original Millais painting at the National Gallery last year so it's like a souvenir every time I read it.

    I hate the Oprah stickers too.

  9. I agree with your analysis of the covers, though I haven't yet read Our Mutual Friend--the last one is definitely the most intriguing.

    I like Oxford Classics myself, though the Penguin Classics are exceptionally well produced (from covers to paper stock to font).

    These days so many of my books come from that I can't be too choosy, but when I can pick I usually pick an Oxford or a Penguin.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.