Hello again, friends of Austen! (We’re all her friends, right?) I am pleased to welcome Lory of The Emerald City Book Review for a splendid guest post on illustrated editions of Jane Austen. Lory Widmer Hess blogs about classic fiction, children’s books, beautiful illustrated editions, and whatever else catches her fancy. She lives in New Hampshire with her family. Welcome, Lory!
Though Jane Austen’s novels remain entrancing when read as e-books or ragged paperbacks, lovers of her works may want to have them in a more permanent and more aesthetically pleasing form. Fortunately there are beautiful illustrated editions available, often for very reasonable prices on the secondary market. This year, rather than trying to find a uniform edition of the novels, I assembled a collection of versions by six different illustrators, most for $20 or less. These diverse perspectives on Austen’s world help to create a more complete picture than any single style or approach, I feel. Here’s a brief glimpse at what I found, with hopes that it might inspire others to collect these wonderful books.
Folio Society Editions
The UK-based fine publisher The Folio Society has produced several Austen editions, both complete and incomplete. Here’s a look at them, with the newest (and my personal favorite) first.
Pride and Prejudice
This 2013 edition is illustrated by Italian twins Anna and Elena Balbusso, whose streamlined, dynamic style is both stylish and psychologically astute – their very diverse portfolio includes award-winning work for The Handmaid’s Tale and Eugene Onegin. There are rumors that the Society will produce more new Austen editions in the near future. If they are as gorgeous as this one, I’m going to have a hard time resisting them. Though new Folio Society books are expensive, members do have access to frequent sales and special offers during the year, which can make them more affordable.
Thailand-born, London-based illustrator Niroot Puttapipat worked on three novels (Emma, Pride and Prejudice, and Persuasion) that were produced in 2007; for unknown reasons, the series was never completed. The three we do have are illustrated with Puttapipat’s characteristic exquisite attention to detail, with every aspect of clothing and attitude carefully researched and composed. These out-of-print editions are not easy to find but used copies do come up occasionally, if you’re patient.
In 1960, the Society first commissioned a complete Jane Austen set (including a volume of shorter works as well as the six finished novels) illustrated by the acclaimed British wood engraver Joan Hassall. This remained their standard edition for many years and was reprinted numerous times, so it’s widely available. Hassall’s miniature, somewhat dark images can become monotonous and even claustrophobic over several volumes, but I find her style perfect for Mansfield Park. Here, her masterly work with light and shadow reflects the moral drama of the story.
Limited Editions Club/Heritage Press
In the U.S., the Limited Editions Club and its mass-market arm, the Heritage Press, never produced a uniform illustrated edition of Austen’s novels and never published Mansfield Park at all. However, their editions of the other five novels are quite often available, especially the three that I have acquired.
Sense and Sensibility
This Heritage Press edition, published in 1957, is another favorite of mine. Though they may not be to everyone’s taste, the stark, modernist images by Helen Sewell (best known for being the first illustrator of the Little House books) are unusual and intriguing. They bring out some of the darker, more difficult aspects of Austen’s fiction seldom seen in illustrations that focus more on exterior details, as well as a quirky sense of humor. I find the typography of this volume especially outstanding as well.
This 1977 edition is another beautifully typeset and produced book from the Heritage Press, but for me it has the weakest illustrations among my Austen collection. Artist Tony Buonpastore seems to be trying to loosen up some of the conventions that have come to weigh down representations of the period, but to my taste his style edges a bit too close to the cartoonish. I’m still hunting for my ideal version of this most mature of Austen’s works; the largely inward drama is difficult to picture, but I hope that one day an artist will be equal to the task.
The only Limited Editions Club volume that I own was regrettably produced in an unwieldy large size, and with some questionable font choices, which perhaps seemed quite restrained when it was published back in 1971. However, I do greatly enjoy Clarke Hutton’s numerous black-and-white sketches and twelve color plates that respectively bring out the comic and the gothic sides of the story, and I rejoice in the thick paper and letterpress printing. If you are not picky about condition, this can also be found for a bargain price; though the cover of my copy is faded, the interior is impeccable.
I had a great time seeking out these editions of six of my favorite books, and I love having them on my shelves. If you’ve never explored the wonderful world of fine press editions, I hope this has inspired you to look into what is available, without fearing that it might break your budget. I’d also love to hear about any treasures that others have found. Please let me know in the comments!