Ironically enough the phrase “don't judge a book by its cover” rarely applies to readers looking for their next book. One often gets drawn in by great cover illustrations or by something that shocks them while ignoring those with less eye-catching artwork. The Complete Novel, with Nineteen Letters from the Characters’ Correspondence Written and Folded by hand edition of Pride and Prejudice most certainly catches the eye but at the same time conveys the general ideas and themes of the novel. In this edition the cover and other forms of paratext focus primarily on the letter writing aspects of the book as well as the decadence associated with this time period. Overall this invokes a very classic feeling to this edition.
The front cover of the book is colored white with a dark blue border on the left side giving the book a pop of color while the white gives the cover a paperlike appearance. Both of these fit nicely with the gold used for the detailing adding to the feeling of high class decadence. Something else to note is that the cursive handwritten font used for the title of the book adds to the idea of handwriting and handwritten letters being an important part of the novel. The style of the handwriting also gives an idea of the general time period the book takes place in. One of the more striking parts about the cover is the handwritten text in gold all across the background of the cover, yet again adding to the importance of letter writing and the feeling of wealth. Upon closer inspection one finds that the text is actually Mr Darcy’s letter to Elizabeth from chapter 12, demonstrating this letter's significance in the overall story, but typically only someone who has already read the book would notice this on first picking it up. Another interesting image is the golden peacock feathers pictured along the blue border and the inside cover, as peacock feathers are generally shown as a sign of wealth this is further imparts on the reader the impression of this being a novel about people in high society around the 18 hundreds, this could also be an illusion to the famous “Peacock edition” of the book which similarly features a golden peacock set against a dark blue backdrop, this further adds a classic feeling to the novel. Interestingly this edition does not have a book description on the back cover or on the inside of the book, instead the back cover contains a quote from the book about the receiving of mail. Yet again this emphasizes the importance of letters in this story.
Inside the Book
The pages themselves are thin but the addition of the letters makes the book appear puffy like one would see with old books, both of these aspects lend an old feeling to the book as though it was from 100 years ago not three. Though the most interesting part of this edition has to be the letters. There are 19 of them in the book and are each unique with different handwriting for each character and the color of the paper meant to mimic different aging of the paper. There are also splotch marks and marks that indicate where wax would have been. Lydia’s letter is even written on what looks like the back side of a dress catalog. Each letter also comes with its own postage marks and all are hand folded in the style of the time.
The publisher of this edition is Chronicle Books, a company that prides itself on printing books that feel special and unique, they seem to be interested in distinctive artwork considering most of their books have unique and decorative covers. The curator of the book is Barbra Heller, she stated in the introduction that throughout reading the book she wished she would be able to have physical copies of the letters throughout the book to hold in her hands. She also details the heavy research she did into old letter writing, postage and Austen herself to be able to make the look and contents of the letters as accurate as possible.
The Impact of the Paratext
This cover generally illustrates that this novel is about an exchange of letters between upper class people in the 18th century. It does so because letters are a large part of the story in Pride and Prejudice and they also contain key plot points. The audience for this edition would be people who have already read the book before, as I mentioned the letter on the front cover would only be understood by those who had read the book before and the lack of a book description on the back cover could make it fairly inaccessible to new readers. The inclusion of the letters also makes the book fairly unwieldy and the pages themselves fairly difficult to read especially for one's first time through. The cover places emphasis on the decadence and letter writing aspects of the book, this modifies Austen’s meanings due to the Bennet family not being that wealthy and thus decadence not being a major aspect of the story and while letter writing is a major aspect it is not the only method of plot progression. The cover rather than illuminating the book's timelessness rather draws on its status as a classic to draw a reader in and uses imagery evoking images of decadent balls or people scribbling at writing desks to do so.
Austen, Jane, and Barbara Heller. Pride and Prejudice: The Complete Novel, with Nineteen Letters from the Characters' Correspondence, Written and Folded by Hand. Chronicle Books, 2020.
“Bestsellers, New Releases, Unique Books + Gifts.” Chronicle Books, https://www.chroniclebooks.com/.