Pride and Prejudice genre confusion

I was in Basement Books, at Central Station (Sydney), this weekend just gone and I came across a bizarre cover of Pride and Prejudice. In actuality, it was a 2-in-1 (with Emma) that presented the book as a thriller through the font emblazoned on the cover with ‘Jane Austen’. This A Wilco Book, ISBN: 9788182522367 ,  is so close to reads from Stephen King and the cover-formula for other thriller-style books that it took me by surprise. I only wish now that I’d bought the copy when I saw it!

Arguably, Pride and Prejudice means something different to everyone who reads it. I think it’s safe to say that while to some it is predominantly a romance, and to others biting social commentary, it sits in quite a defined classical, Jane Austen space. It’s hard to explain what it is, but it is rather easy to say what it is not. That this is the case results in something I frequently amuse myself with – the misrepresentation of Pride and Prejudice on book covers. This particular cover above, termed the ‘classic omnibus’, is just one such example.

Really, just look how close it is to the following thriller titles:

Even the concept of “2-in-1” is very paperback thriller to me – and the choice of Emma and P&P together is a curious one. Surely the natural choice is Sense and Sensibility?

As a result of finding that, I stalked Book Depository (one of my most favourite online places to book hunt) for some more covers that, to me, just don’t seem to fit the book. I won’t say I dislike them (in fact, some of them are quite lovely) only that they seem to deviate from P&P as I understand it to be.

This next cover is a very interesting choice, with flaming red hair and the line “Balancing family loyalty against true love leads to unspeakable actions.” It’s very dramatic, even down to that line. This copy is 2010 published from First Edition Limited ISBN: 9781877513992)

Straight away, this reminded me of Celia Rees’ cover for ‘Witch Child’ with the long hair and deep onward gaze, as well as some other supernatural style covers. Also, red hair to me has always been a supernatural thing, although whether that’s just my reading of it or not is debatable! I like that the woman seems to be quite a strong character, and not “conventionally” pretty.


This next cover, I find a little creepy. It’s very “chick flick” esque. From Shutter Publishing Group, it reminds me more of a quiet Georgiana than a Lizzy. ISBN: 9780981321110 it’s an early 2011 published version and the dress is obviously inaccurate for the time (spaghetti straps anyone?). I think it’s aimed at an age group younger than those reading the supernatural style books above. Maybe for 14 year old girls who are used to reading Meg Cabot and similar authors – the dress also does it here as it is most certainly something I would have died to wear to Highschool’s Year Ten formal/prom back in the day. The statues in the background are also quite lovely, and remind me of that Keira Knightley scene in Joe Wright’s 2005 Pride and Prejudice film when she comes across a bust of Mr Darcy.

It’s heavily similar to many ‘young adult’ (teenage) fiction books cropping up. The ones where the main character is meant to be an adult, but is basically a child in adult clothing and in this awkward “crossroads” part of their life. You can see why I fail to see this as the main P&P storyline, but it may line up with Lydia/Kitty quite nicely!

This next cover is so “travel” and almost Western that I think it’s gorgeous! Funnily enough, the publishing company is called Saddleback Educational Publishing Inc, ISBN: 9781616510893. It strikes because the focus is on them looking out together.

It’s difficult to find anything remotely like this one. The closest I could come to it is this vibrantly coloured version. The idea of overlooking is quite obvious.

Another style that seems to pop up on Pride and Prejudice frequently is the “old folk tale” style (as I’m going to call it!). It looks like maids and witches, and conjures up images of the Russian Baba Yaga in my mind, despite how kindly it is presented. This one, in particular, from Broadview Press Ltd, ISBN: 9781551110288, has all the hallmarks of a folk-style book – even down to the dimmed orange lighting and rough clothing. While I do associate folk with storytelling, and so it fits almost on any book cover, it does seem a bit out of place.

It combines a lot of elements of many different covers, but I think (despite the kilt-material) that it looks quite russian in tone. It’s a little bit of a disconcerting picture, and I may be looking at it weirdly, but I just can’t figure out what she’s holding. A strange choice. This ‘Russian Tales’ book below has some of the elements, particularly in terms of colour, that you can see in the one above.

We’ve previously also seen ‘Twilight’ inspired covers.

I have so many more of these stored up in links I’ve been saving. It’s quite a curiosity, and one thing I will be looking at more in the future is asking the people that design these covers ‘What is the thought process behind that?’. While many copies are, inevitably, printed with little thought as to their design, solely to churn out and make money, some have an incredible amount of consideration involved. Personally, whether they’re aesthetically to my own taste or not, I appreciate them all and get a good buzz every time I see a different cover!

I think because we get so suckered into a book, readers all love good covers on a book – and obviously readers on this blog, and of Pride and Prejudice, are no exception. What portraits, landscapes and art galleries provide for some, book covers provide for me. I recently went to Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum where a small side exhibition, ‘Cover story: 60 years of Australian book design,’ was being held. It’s interesting how different and varied these covers can be, with all different papers and materials, colours and styles. These choices are subjective and, often, reflect the time of creation. In fact, the most striking thing about the books was that even those about the same subject matter, for instance cookbooks, could be so completely varied.

Pride and Prejudice, when looked at through the ages and different publishing houses, obviously reflects these same changes in thinking. While there is a strong positive behind it – in that it encourages people to read the book who otherwise may (to use the old adage) judge a book by its cover and stop themselves from reading it due to a perceived idea of the book as “trashy women’s fiction” – it also colours the reader’s idea of the book from the outset.

What do you think? Should covers stay true to the book they represent? Are these covers in the style of Pride and Prejudice?

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