ABC of Book Collecting, Anthony Rota, Binding, Book Collecting, Book history, Bookselling, Charles Brock, Charlotte Bronte, Chris Hammond, Cover Art, Deirdre Gilbert, Dust Jackets, Emma, George Saintsbury, Hugh Thomson, Illustration, Jane Austen, Jane Austen Cover to Cover, Janeite, John Carter, John Murray, mansfield park, Margaret C Sullivan, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice, Pulp the Classics, reading history, Richard Bentley, Sense and Sensibility, The Peacock, Thomas Egerton, W H Smith, Walter Scott, yellow back
Jane Austen is rare among writers: she has remained a perennial favourite with readers since her novels were first published in the early 19th century and has sustained scholarly and critical analysis. Her novels have been read, loved, studied, parodied, satirised, plagiarised, dramatised and filmed for the big and small screen. Her characters have entered the cultural psyche and her works are stalwarts of the literary canon. Every aspect of each novel has intensely examined, evaluated and re-evaluated from every perspective by generations of readers, students and academics. Walter Scott admired Austen. Charlotte Bronte did not. Edward Said saw her as complicit in the agency of Empire and oppression, an allegation others have defended her against with passion and vigour. But the packaging of her books – the bindings, covers and artwork of her novels – is the Cinderella area of Austen studies. With the notable exception of Deirdre Gilbert’s 2008 short essay for Jane Austen Society of North America, From Cover to Cover: Packaging Jane Austen from Egerton to Kindle, what little commentary there is tends to have been incidental.
Margaret C Sullivan’s Jane Austen Cover to Cover – 200 Years of Classic Cover is a superb and tantalising start to plugging that gap. It is itself elegantly designed and generously proportioned. It feels as good as it looks and overflows with high-quality reproductions of a sparkling range of bindings, cover art and dust jackets which have adorned and, in some cases, detracted from or obscured Austen’s texts. The generously, gorgeously presented illustrations take centre stage. Yet Sullivan’s own regard for Austen shines through on every page. Her commentary is not only lovingly crafted but also insightful, well-researched and tempered with personality and humour. At times it also delightfully pointed. So brew a cuppa, lean back and let Margaret Sullivan take you on a lively and educational 200 year tour of the fabulous, beautiful, misleading and sometimes, frankly, dull or bizarre ways in which Austen’s works have been presented to the book-buying public.