About The Novel
In our youth, we’re frequently told that we cannot judge a book by its cover. However, in marketing and publishing, the opposite is true: just a simple binding can make the difference between a purchase and a pass. Of course, when dealing with a renowned author like Jane Austen, publishers have greater flexibility in what they can choose to show. The DigiReads edition of Pride and Prejudice is an excellent example of this. Through creative liberties, this version of the timeless classic depicts the ultimate lesson Austen seeks to communicate: our first impressions are often incorrect – or, at the very least, misguided.
DigiReads Edition: Accuracies, Inaccuracies, and Downright Flaws.
This cover, like Austen’s novel, teaches us that first impressions are often incorrect. For context, we observe here a lovely watercolor illustration, depicting a woman in a blush gown with her back turned to a man who gazes at her. We can deem this dress to be somewhat historically accurate for the 19th century; more specifically, it is similar to evening attire in the year 1800. Fashion historians suggest that during this year, a "v neck... puffed shoulder sleeves... hair full dressed, diamond necklace, fan, etc..." as well as "long, york tan [or] white silk" gloves were in style (Cunnington, 38). She appears to be snobbish, even haughty, towards his very presence; her fan is folded and seems as if it could be drawn through her hands – an expression which, at the time, meant “I hate you” (Starp). At the same time, his fist is clenched, and although his expression isn’t necessarily disdainful, his body language suggests an annoyance with her presence as well.
We cannot tell the setting of this confrontation; the simplistic background suggests that this could be anywhere from the corner of a party to their own private residence. Some may find this misleading, as the girl, who we can assume to be Elizabeth, wears luxurious colors and jewels – and the man, a drab-colored frock coat. Combined with her expression, this cover suggests the story of a wealthy girl who may be too much of an elitist to pay any mind to the man in the back.
The back cover of this book, I believe, is intended to upset any literary academic; the painting they use for the author depicts her with a marriage band – despite the fact that she never married. Additionally, the novel description is riddled with mechanical errors (i.e., the missed comma after "Netherfield Park," the missing listing commas in Darcy's description, and a couple other commas in the second-to-last sentence). To say the least, past readers of the book may criticize the inaccuracies the cover seems to convey – however, there may be a purpose in these so-called ‘flaws.’
Is It Accurate To The Text?
In its own way, the front cover is actually quite accurate. Although the wealth difference that the illustration could suggest is misleading, the attitude is not.
For a first time reader of Pride and Prejudice, the exposition may lead them to believe that Mr. Darcy is the snob between the two (and to some degree, he certainly is). In fact, for about three quarters of the book, we are led to believe that he is self-important, arrogant, and elitist. In Elizabeth’s eyes, he ruins her sibling’s chances at happiness –
“Do you think that any consideration would tempt me to accept the man who has been the means of ruining, perhaps for ever, the happiness of a most beloved sister?” (Austen, 132)
– and cannot be bothered with consorting with anybody he deems to be below him. However, once we arrive at Elizabeth reading Darcy’s heartfelt letter (Austen, 136) – something most deem as a turning point in the novel –we realize that perhaps Darcy is not the overly-prideful one between the two of them after all.
Elizabeth herself admits to have been prejudiced towards him, and a bit pretentious where she should not have been:
“‘How despicably have I acted!’ she cried [...] ‘I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either were concerned.’” (Austen,144)
In understanding this, one might make note of how this cover is intended to make sense to readers who have finished the book. Darcy's clenched fist of frustration is, of course, accurate; he does express disinterest in her initially (Austen, 24) and finds her family to be rather uncouth. Elizabeth's own disdain for Darcy and premature decision to look down on him, however, is bad behavior many readers do not recognize until she realizes it herself.
Austen's Timeless Lesson
The cover itself follows the lesson Austen intends to teach in her writing, illuminating the timeless quality of her work: first impressions are often incorrect – and when they are not, they still are never what we expect. This cover masterfully subverts our expectations for the novel before, in the last stretch, affirming them.
A reader who has purchased this edition of Pride and Prejudice may read halfway and wonder aloud, “Why is she the snobby one on the front?” They’ll scratch their head and perplexedly puzzle on throughout the novel, before at last realizing that the illustration is far from mistaken. This is a quality that few other covers of Pride and Prejudice seem to offer: a chance to see the twists of the novel in front of oneself without fully understanding them yet. A variety of covers used for Austen's classic over the course of the last century communicate different focuses for the novel: romance, elitism, womanhood, and more. This edition, however, focuses on Austen’s original intent: first impressions.
The back cover of the DigiReads version hints that readers may be in for a confirmation of our assumptions by suggesting that Elizabeth will be the one to eventually “overcome the prejudice of her first impression.”
The Digiread's Edition of Pride and Prejudice is, at a glance, intentionally misleading.
The back cover is ripe with grammatical errors and even holds a historically inaccurate painting of the author; a first time reader looking at this is essentially promised that opening the book will bring them nothing short of faults, historical errors, and imprecisions. Within the pages, however, one will find one of the most refined pieces of writing from its time.
The front cover works in tandem with the back, offering a story – "wealthy woman looks down on poor man" – somewhat contradictory to the true text (less-wealthy woman looks down on more-wealthy man). The illustration here is designed to take us on a journey, and ultimately, teach us a lesson. Whether it was intentional or not, this edition’s cover conveys Austen’s intended meaning that our first impressions are not always correct – and when they are, it comes unexpectedly.
Austen tells us the age-old expression, “you can’t judge a book by its cover” – and DigiReads confirms this.
Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. New York: Digireads, 2015.
Cunnington, C Willett. English Women's Clothing in the Nineteenth Century: A Comprehensive Guide With 1,117 Illustrations. New York: Dover Publications, 1990. p. 37.
Starp, Alexandra. "The Secret Language of Fans." Sotheby's, April 24, 2018.