Book Reviews

Review — Jane Austen Cover to Cover: 200 Years of Classic Covers by Margaret C. Sullivan

Jane Austen Cover to Cover: 200 Years of Classic Covers by Margaret C. Sullivan. Source: Quirk Books via Goodreads First Reads. Format: Hardcover, 223 pages, Quirk Books, November 11, 2014.

I consider myself a fan of Jane Austen, though I have only read two of her six novels (which probably doesn’t qualify me to be a “Janeite”): Pride and Prejudice (its working title was First Impressions) and Sense and Sensibility (its working title was Elinor and Marianne). I’ve seen the most recent movie adaptations of both of them (P&P with Keira Knightly and S&S with Emma Thompson), movies which I absolutely adore and watch frequently. (Not to mention I’ve binge-watched The Lizzie Bennett Diaries on YouTube, as well as seen the Gwyneth Paltrow movie of Emma, and the YouTube series Emma Approved.)

Over the years I’ve seen countless book covers, with different designers showing their interpretations while trying to grab a new audience. I own, if not all, most of Austen’s novels, but in boring, tiny editions. Reading through Jane Austen Cover to Cover made me want to go out purchase some of the gorgeous editions. Pure cover buys, yup. Margaret C. Sullivan’s book is a gem–an encyclopedia of covers that have graced Austen’s novels in the past two centuries.

Jane Austen Cover to Cover is a gorgeous showcase, brimming with intriguing historical facts about Austen’s life and writing career, the fashions of the era, how book publishing started and transformed, and the evolution of cover art styles. Quotes from Austen’s novels are sprinkled throughout the full-color images, and Sullivan’s commentary on each cover are lively and informative. She knows what is a good book design and what makes a good book design. She laughs occasionally at the absurd covers some publishers released, and picks apart every piece of artwork, relaying details that I might not have noticed without her fine eye.

The covers themselves range from leather-bound originals, travel-friendly sizes, Young Adult Twilight-copycats, scholarly editions, movie and television tie-ins, foreign translations, and laughably cliche romance genre styles. The historical context behind every cover was so interesting, and it was fascinating to see how the covers changed depending on the trends of the time.

There are two remarkable covers that stood out to me the most, that I wanted to snatch right off the page for my own personal library: The “Peacock Edition” of Pride and Prejudice from 1894 and the “Penguin Threads” edition of Emma from 2011. (See the end of this review for my Instagram pictures of these beauties.) There were a few horrid covers too, and plenty that got the job done without being anything particularly eye-catching. It was great fun to also recognize some of the covers. “Oh! I’ve seen that one! Oh! I know someone who has that edition! Oh! I own that bland-looking book!”

At the front of the book is a timeline that gives important points of Jane Austen’s life, from her birth to death, with her writing career in between. The chronology continues through the years with notable reprints and big and small-screen adaptations. At the back of the book are summaries of Austen’s works so you can brush up on their stories or, like me, finally find out what Persuasion is all about.

Jane Austen Cover to Cover is truly a unique, special book that I can’t believe anyone disliking. And I must mention this: When I opened the pages for the first time, I got the most heavenly whiff of ink and paper. This book is not only visually pleasing, but it’s got the greatest book-scent ever. I buried my nose in it quite literally from time to time. Not ashamed to admit this because you do it too, I know you do. ♦

*I received this book from the publisher through Goodreads First Reads in exchange for review consideration. This in no way affects my review; all opinions are my own. Thank you, Quirk Books!

About Margaret C. Sullivan:

Margaret C. Sullivan is the author of The Jane Austen Handbook, editrix of Austenblog.com, and an active member of the Jane Austen Society of North America.

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