A local historical society will be hosting a book sale this weekend to raise funds. I am finally ready to part with a substantial number of some of my most beloved books (art, art history, English literature, nature books, etc).
The first three Jane Austen novels I purchased sat forgotten on the top shelf – all in paperback form. I had always thought that I first read Pride and Prejudice at 14, but the book’s publication date tells me that I was 13!
I reread the tale of my beloved Mr. Darcy and his Lizzie Bennet so many times that my parents gave me this Modern Library edition of Jane Austen’s six great novels at Christmas, just before I turned 14. I have cherished it and still cherish it for all the good times I spent reading at night before turning off the light. (This book did not sit forgotten.)
I will keep this edition through all my future moves and until my last breath, since I only need a Jane Austen novel to keep me happy.
Interestingly, I was 15 when I read my second JA book, Emma, which I purchased to read on vacation. At that tender age, I found the book too talky and not nearly as romantic as P&P. Mr. Knightley seemed so OLD and staid compared to the dangerously handsome Mr. D, and bossy Emma was not the sort of girl I wanted to befriend, whereas Lizzie seemed she could fit right into my group. So, it took decades before my mature self tackled Emma again.
I read Persuasion at 17, too young to appreciate the fact that Anne Elliot’s bloom had faded from sadness or to truly understand the reason why she listened to Lady Russell’s advice. As a rebellious teen of the 60’s, how could I relate to her decision? I am now somewhat longer in the tooth (ahem) and am able to appreciate this gem of a novel fully, as Jane intended.
Now, let’s discuss the 60’s covers of these paperback editions. Mind you, this was an era when high-waisted empire dresses were popular (see Mia Farrow at right) but the cover artists generally ignored this fact. They preferred to see Lizzie in a dark and heavy Gothic gown, more suited to a Bronte novel than a Regency tale. Note that Emma has a decided Victorian look, as does Anne Elliot. At least the P&P cover included this fairly accurate regency scene of Mr. Darcy listening to Lizzie at the piano.
One of the reasons I like the Complete Novels is the cover art by Paul Galdone, a popular children’s author of the day. The scene reminds me just a bit of the classic covers painted by Arthur Barbosa of Georgette Heyer novels in the 40’s and 50’s.
My old Jane Austen paperback covers represent a major characteristic of cover illustrations -they reflect the concept of female beauty of the era. Hence the 60’s birdwing eyebrows, eyeshadow, eye liner, and lipstick on Lizzie, Emma, and Anne. You’ll observe similar treatments of “historic” costumes and makeup in past times in cinema and other forms of popular entertainment throughout the decades. Recall the costumes and makeup of 1940’s Pride and Prejudice or the BBC’s versions of Jane Austen novels in the 1970’s. Ouch!
Regardless of the inaccuracies of their covers, I plan to keep these three books. For sentiment’s sake.