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  • Hannah Fielding - Romance Novelist

Recently, I was browsing in a bookstore when I came across a hardback, clothbound edition of my favourite work of English literature: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. The book was beautiful to the eye and to the touch, with stunning colours and exquisite workmanship and – best of all for me – it was a good, weighty tome. Here it is:

JaneCloth

A look inside the book revealed it was a Penguin Clothbound Classic, which was intriguing, I thought, because I was sure my edition of Jane Eyre at home was a Penguin Classic. Sure enough, when I returned home I took Jane down from the shelf and found it is indeed a Penguin that looks like this:

JaneHome

Quite a difference in cover, don’t you think? It got me thinking about how I would read my Jane Eyre with this old, traditional cover, and how I may read the clothbound edition. Would it change how I felt about the reading?

Before delving into that question, I felt I must arm myself with knowledge – were there other Penguin Classic Jane Eyres to consider? A few minutes on the Internet later, I had my answer in the form of a fascinating mix of covers:

Jane-Collage

I confess, by this point I was somewhat excited, and had to sternly tell myself not to rush out on a bookstore mission to collect other editions of my favourite novel!

The more I looked at the covers, the more it struck me that they were designed to create very different feels and appeals. First, the vintage, classic cover look, in keeping with my own edition:

Jane1

To me, these say serious, high-brow, classic literature – the paintings on the cover give a wonderful historic feel to ground the writing in its time and place. I find the bottom-left cover most engaging; there’s something beautiful in the colours and in Jane’s expression, I think.

Then comes a batch of covers in which the heroine is very much the focus. She is less ‘plain Jane’ here, and more beautiful heroine, in an effort to place her not in her historical context but in line with modern heroines:

Jane2

The top-left book would never find its way onto my book shelf: it goes too far, I think, into the modern. But I find the bottom-left one intriguing; it is so darkly romantic. The bottom-right one is a little too illustrated for me, but I like the idea that it may attract a younger reader.

Moving on, we come to the most basic covers of all:

Jane3

What do you think? They don’t excite me, I’m afraid. But the designs of the final selection are interesting:

Jane4

There’s a synergy of vintage and modern here, calling to mind a designer like Cath Kidston. I can imagine readers buying books like these for how they look on a shelf even if not so much for what is between the covers.

Taking a look at the covers overall, it’s clear that this is an example of clever and creative marketing by Penguin, targeting the same book at various people through various presentations. No doubt the different covers affect sales of the book. But do they affect the reading?

Back to the core question: Does a book cover colour your reading of a book? Yes, I think it does. There’s a psychology at play when you read a physical book (its absence when reading ebooks accounts for some of the enjoyment dilution that can occur then). The joy of reading is to create one’s own pictures in the mind based on the words, but a cover is always going to sway just a little the pictures that form. And if you love a cover, are you not more likely to love a book? Whereas, conversely, if a cover doesn’t sit well with you, won’t you find flaws in the story?

Based on these covers, I can easily imagine myself relaxing into Jane’s story with one of the classic covers or a couple of those depicting romantic women. But there are some covers in the mix that I feel would temper my enjoyment. Take this cover, for example:

Jane-B

It is one of the Penguin Drop Caps series: 26 works of literature for each letter of the alphabet. The ‘B’ here is for Brontë. But I find it a little dominating. The book, for me, is all about Jane, not Charlotte, and the B detracts from that. Thus, I worry that this cover would colour my reading – would affect my connection with Jane.

Do you agree? Do you think cover art influences your reading of a book? Do you collect multiple editions of a book you love? Would you select one of the Jane Eyre editions here over another? I would love to hear your thoughts.

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