After a brief hiatus, we’re back to Jane Austen with the third part of a series looking at different illustrated editions of her six novels. (Click here for Part One, and here for Part Two.) Today’s volumes under consideration are not as striking as some of the others, but they have a quiet charm of their own.
The Folio Society edition of Mansfield Park is part of a complete set illustrated with wood engravings by Joan Hassall. This set remained Folio’s standard edition for quite a while, as it was first published in 1960, reset in 1975, and reprinted numerous times since then (mine is the tenth printing, from 1991).
I resisted buying this edition for a long time because I was not so impressed by Hassall’s Austen illustrations. While finely crafted, they seemed to me to lack the wit and verve of Austen’s prose. However, I find that they go quite will with the quieter, more inward drama of Mansfield Park. I am most impressed with the illustrations that play with light and shadow, such as the ones shown below. The lighting of a nighttime interior is very finely rendered in a challenging medium, and the stark black-and-white images point to the moral underpinnings of the story.
The font, Monotype Fournier, is a 1924 version of a typeface originally cut in 1742. It’s a squarish, compact font that gives an old-fashioned feel while being perfectly readable. The page layout is very simple, with no headers, centered page numbers, and continuous running text interrupted by the chapter headings, which lend a touch of visual interest through the different ornaments used to set off the chapter numbers. Together with the similarly ornamented spine and the pretty wallpaper-like pattern covering the boards, this gives it a feminine, domestic quality, more appropriate perhaps for Fanny Price’s unambitious nature than for some other Austen heroines. I find it a very pleasant volume to hold and to read, although a whole set would be a bit monotonous.
The Heritage Press took a completely different approach with Persuasion, Jane Austen’s final novel. With its bright green cloth binding decorated with an Art Nouveau floral design, it seems to be trying to break out of its era into some alternate reality.
The illustrations by Tony Buonpastore (about whom I could find no information) are a bit cartoonish, which sometimes works to their advantage, and sometimes not. Sometimes the sketchy pen-and-ink vignettes appear refreshingly naive; sometimes they just look amateurish. The full-page “color” illustrations, including one double-page spread for Louisa Musgrave’s critical fall, are in fact monochromatic, with one wash of color for each image (various sober tones of ocher and gray-green) drawn on with black ink and highlighted in what looks like white chalk. Here again, the drawing style takes some getting used to. There is more freedom and less fixity than with the carefully composed Hassall engravings; this edition seems to be trying to bring Austen into the modern age by loosening up some of the conventions that have accrued to her works. It’s an admirable attempt, though it doesn’t always work for me.
Care has been taken over the typography, with some nice details. The display font, Elizabeth, is the only one we’ve met so far in this series that was designed by a woman — Elizabeth Friedlander, in 1938. As a modern interpretation of calligraphic tradition, it has a pleasant blend of the traditional and the innovative. The text is set in Bembo, yet another classic book font. It has a particularly elegant, delicate look that harmonizes well with the decorative initial caps, which are daringly indented to the center of the page, directly under the chapter numbers which are rendered simply as Roman numerals. Balancing this are the page numbers and running footers, which are justified to the left and right margins. This gives a more dynamic feel than a purely centered layout, while retaining a classical balance. Although the illustrations are perhaps the weakest among my six editions, the beauty of the presentation redeems this volume.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this series; I certainly have, and taking a closer look at my Austen acquisitions made me appreciate them even more. Each different treatment brings out some important aspect of the novels, so as a whole my collection helps to represent the range and depth of this great author. I would love to hear your thoughts about these or any other editions; please let me know if you have a review and I’ll gladly link to it.
Summary of book details:
Published by the Folio Society, London, 1960, reset 1975 (1991 printing)
Introduction by Richard Church
Illustrations by Joan Hassall
Set in Monotype Fournier
9 x 6 inches, 378 pages
Printed on Bulstrode Wove paper and bound in buckram with printed paper sides designed by the artist
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Published by The Heritage Press, Norwalk, CT, 1977
Introduction by Louis Auchincloss
Illustrations by Tony Buonpastore
Set in Monotype Bembo with Elizabeth display
10.25 x 6.75 inches, 241 pages
Printed on cream-toned antique stock and bound in cloth with a stamped design