“Oh! I am delighted with the book! I should like to spend my whole life reading it.” ~ Northanger Abbey
There are so many of you out there just like me who love Jane Austen. Recently, I even heard the term “Austeniana” to describe the massive amounts of people that flood to Austen’s work and memorabilia. So when I saw the recently published Jane Austen Cover to Cover on display in so many peoples offices at work, I brought it home to check out over the holidays. On a Thursday evening, with nothing on the go, I ended up spending hours looking at the past 200 years of Jane Austen covers and learning the origins of how her work was originally published.
As the book notes in the introduction,
The covers gathered in this volume represent two hundred years of publication, interpretation, marketing, and misapprehensions of Jane Austen’s works., but underneath the variety of images one thing remains the same: the text that left the pen of a woman in Hampshire, England, two centuries ago.
200 years ago, publishing was much different than it is today. In 1795, authors had a variety of options when it came to getting published. You could choose to publish on commission, meaning that the publisher made all arrangements, design, production, etc. This could be beneficial to the author if their book was a success in terms of compensation, but if the book didn’t perform as expected, many times authors would have to pay their publisher for costs. The other option was selling the copyright of your book to the publisher, which was common for most authors as it guaranteed payment, but it was only that one payment that they author would receive for their work. Nothing more, nothing less.
The only book for which Austen sold the copyright was Pride and Prejudice. Thomas Egerton paid 110 pounds for the copyright. She never received another payment for what would become one of the most popular novels in history.
After having learned her lesson, Austen got much smarter about publishing her work and began self-publishing (in a sense) her work by finding smarter and more cost effective ways to share her writing.
no reciprocal copyright law bound the United Sates and the United Kingdom, copyright was not violated with these publications.
Expired and inapplicable copyright laws have allowed for all of Austen’s work to now become public domain, allowing for a variety of publishers, covers and interpretations which we get to see in this book. What I found most fascinating is how the covers have changed to fit with the cultural trends and targeted readership throughout the years. For instance, the 1960 – 70’s were a hip time. The boring covers with only a portrait of a woman’t face weren’t going to cut it anymore. Publishers began revamping the covers to become more with the time and resulted in covers like this one from Campus Classics.
There were also many covers that were aimed at reaching a scholarly audience. Pictures of grand houses, and scenes that didn’t focus on the Elizabeth Bennett and Mark Darcy romance, but rather a scene depicting a moment of departure. As the years passed and we started to see new a variety of films and YouTube channels, publishers had to get creative. For instance, check out how they rebranded Austen’s work to specifically target the Twilight fans . These were published by HarperTeen in 2009. I think my favourite thing about these versions were their tag lines. For instance, the Pride and Prejudice tagline reads “The Love that Started it All”‘. Sure.
Whatever your pleasure, you’ll see the growth and power of Jane Austen’s work in Jane Austen Cover to Cover. Covering the classic to the modern editions, the movie-tie-in editions and a look at the variety of covers in other languages. This book has it all! I learned so many new and fun facts that I didn’t know before about Jane Austen by opening this collectors item. I also really enjoyed reading about the publishing facts spread throughout the book. Fun, smart and a book that will be on display at my house for a long time, this is one book that will be loved by all Janeites!