A Retelling of Rossetti’s “Goblin Market” & Cover Art of Classics

I am reading Rena Rossner’s  brilliant fantasy novel, The Sisters of the Winter Wood, a retelling of Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market.   It also has elements of fairy tales, myths, and Jewish stories and folktales.

Naturally I must reread Goblin Market.  Finally I found my copy: a tiny used Everyman’s Library Pocket edition which does fit in your pocket.

And so, on this lovely Indian summer day, I sat on a bench and read Rossetti.  The book is so tiny that I was confident no one would see what I was reading.  (I only see people reading phones; I wonder if books are outlawed.) Fascinating to note Rossner’s mimicry of Rossetti’s style and content:  she alternates chapters from the two sisters’ perspectives,  Liba’s in prose, Layla’s in poetry. (They are Lizzie and Laura in the poem.)  And Rossetti’s and Rossner’s fruit-sellers are equally seductive.   Rossner is not primarily a poet, but it is a very clever undertaking.

I never seek out the pocket classics editions of classics, but they are quite nice.  Though they don’t have intros or footnotes, they are handy and sturdy.

I recommend the Everyman’s Library pocket copy of John Updike’s The Maples Stories, a slim collection of interwoven stories–some of Updike’s best.  They delineate a young couple’s relationship through the early married years,  adultery, divorce, and post-divorce. Fascinating and moving!

WHAT OTHER EDITIONS OF CLASSICS SHOULD WE CONSIDER?  Madeline Raynor reveals in her article,”These Book Covers Are So Terrible You Won’t Believe They’re Real” at Electric Literature, that she is not a fan of Wordsworth Classics. She writes,

They’re known for their cheap price: one of these paperbacks costs a mere £2.50 (they’re available in the U.S. for a comparable sum). They’re a great option if you love the classics but live on a tight budget, but there are sacrifices. The paper quality isn’t great. The introductions and supplemental essays don’t exactly pass muster. But worst of all are the covers, which are so offensively terrible that it makes you question whether the cheap price is worth it.

I thought, What’s so bad about the covers?  I’d never seen anything untoward.  But there has been a redesign.  Fortunately, these redesigns are not available in the U.S.

Here are three different Wordsworth editions of Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters, starting with the new redesign.

Ye gods!  Who are these women?

Here’s the edition I now see at Half Price Books.

Not great, but not terrible.

I actually prefer an earlier Wordsworth edition with a blue background.

Sometimes a publisher goes to hell with redesigns.  For instance, I prefer older  incarnations of Penguins and Oxford paperbacks.When did they change? In the early 2000s?  All that black on Penguins  can be gloomy, and the white on the Oxfords too pretty-pretty.   That said, I especially love Penguins.   But the print size is absolutely perfect in the Oxfords.

Look at the cover art.  Here are  new and old Penguins of Daniel Deronda.  Which do you prefer?

Here are the new and old Oxford editions.  Which do you like?

And, let me add, I see nothing wrong with snapping up cheap Wordsworth copies.  The cover is not the main factor, and the text is all there.  I have a used 2012 Wordsworth edition of Selected  Works of Virginia Woolf I bought for a trip. Yes, it was long enough to last for a week (or more).   F— art!  (Except for the portraits of Woolf and friends at the National Portrait Gallery. )  Well, I don’t mean that, but this cover is fine with me!

How important is cover art to you?  And are there covers that put you off ?  And, most important, does price matter?

19 thoughts on “A Retelling of Rossetti’s “Goblin Market” & Cover Art of Classics”

  1. I do not think that I knew much about Goblin Market before reading your post. I Googled it and it sounds fascinating. I think that I will read the original soon.

    Though I really like looking at cover art, I think that I would buy a book with cover art that I was not crazy about if I wanted to read the book.

    1. I love Rossetti and hope you enjoy it! Yes, I’ve bought some genre books with embarrassing art and what can we do about it?

  2. Lord but those redesigns are awful. I haven’t come across them here in the U.K. yet, but that may just be because I haven’t been looking for new copies of the classics. I am thinking of running next year’s Summer School around retelling of older myths, legends and fairy tales so I must try the Rossner; it would make a change from the Greek retellings.

    1. It is very entertaining , but also a serious book, and the arrival of the fruit-sellers coincides with the rise of anti-Semitism in a town where previously everyone got along. You’re right, it would be a change from Greek myths. Your Summer School always sounds SO good!

  3. You can always use one of those add-on covers which fit many paperbacks. I have a paisley one in cloth. Or you could try plain brown wrappers — why should they be limited to porn!

    1. Oh, my goodness, I’ve never seen add-on covers! What a good idea! Most of my books have medium-to-good covers, but there are some very embarrassing SF covers.

  4. Are Wordsworth editions deliberately challenging people to judge their books by their covers?
    On the other hand, anyone that sells Chapman’s Homer as cheaply as they do is a Good Thing, no matter what they put on the covers of their books.

    1. The marketing department went awry here! But, yes, Wordsworth actually has a huge library of good titles, and I’ll have to look for Chaptman’s Homer.

  5. Covers are so important to me. If I don’t like the cover, I really have to be keen to read the book. Also a cover can entice me to buy the book even though I don’t know if it is any good e.g. The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell, UK hardback. It has a keyhole in the cover with an eye looking through it. Seriously creepy!

    1. I looked up The Silent Companions and I do like that cover! Yes, a good cover can sell and a bad cover can repulse. Dorothy Richardson’s books were (maybe still are) out of print in the U.S, The covers of the used mass market paperbacks I found depict women who look like ’60s fashion models!

  6. I do judge a book by its cover. And I judge the reader (if I happen to spot one I always try to catch a glimpse of the cover of the book) by the cover of the book they’re reading. If there are different editions of the same book, I’d choose the one with the most suitable cover. For me a good cover is like the vintage American 50-s pocket book covers, I’d buy those just for the cover. One of my favorite covers is a vintage Chekhov, I put a photo of it in this blog post: https://arussianaffair.wordpress.com/2017/04/21/typically-chekhov/

    1. I like the covers, too. I grew up with Signets, Penguins, Nortons, and occasionally Riverside (which I’m sure is defunct now), because the bookstores stocked them. Lots of Signets: they were cheap! And the profs assigned them because they often tried to be conscious of our budgets. I am snobbish about covers with scenes from the movies: but I do have a Cousin Bette with Jessica Lnage on the cover, because it was all I could find when I read it! Really anything goes these days, but I prefer a cover that doesn’t embarrass me.

  7. I would rather have an old hard cover without a dust jacket than an unsuitable one like the one you’ve shared which has us all sneering in synch. Having said that, I do love a good pulpy cover from the ’60s or ’70s (sometimes ’80s – with cut-outs, gilt bits *grins*) and have occasionally replaced a “nicer” looking trade paperback with one of those (not having the option of double copies in general). I’m very curious about your Dorothy Richardson copies!

    1. Oh, you would hate the Dorothy Richardson copies! Still, they’re what I have. The Viragos just never arrived at American bookstores.
      Yes, those pulpy covers can be fun. I do have a few mysteries like that. And I’ve seen some Mickey Spillanes reissued with pulp covers. But I draw the line at Mickey Spillane!

  8. I hadn’t heard of The Sisters of the Winter Wood, thank you for mentioning it – it sounds just like my cup of tea. As for the covers: I do prefer the old Penguins and Oxfords, and I do enjoy nice covers, but price is the most important factor for me these days.

    1. Yes, nice covers are fun but what we need is the book itself! The Sisters of the Winter Wood is very intriguing–a lucky discovery for me!

  9. I won’t buy a book with a cover from the movie. I do like the Vintage Classics covers as they’re very simple and tasteful.

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