This is Part Two of my series covering different illustrated editions of the six novels of Jane Austen. For Part One, click here.
My earliest Austen acquisition was the 2007 Folio Society edition of Emma, illustrated by Niroot Puttapipat, which I purchased as part of my membership renewal. This is one of three matching Austen novels issued in that year, Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion being the others. I’ve always wondered why there were no more — was the series never intended to be completed? Did the first volumes not sell well enough to continue? Was the artist too dissatisfied with his own work, or have a disagreement with the publisher? I am not in a position to know, but I’m curious.
To return to the book at hand, Emma is a pleasantly compact volume, with a medallion motif encircling the title on the spine, echoed in the publisher’s logo below and a gold-framed oval portrait of the title character on the front cover. This is set off by the wallpaper-like striped paper that covers the boards. The typeface is Bell, a more rounded and open font than Baskerville (which readers of Part One will remember as a popular choice for other Austen editions). It’s a friendly, appealing book, one that promises us a mannered domestic drama with pretty costumes. This suits the popular conception of Austen’s work, and is true to one layer of it, but misses some of the deeper levels.
Seven full-color illustrations were meticulously done in pen-and-ink and watercolor by the Thailand-born, London-based artist. In this gallery he has posted some of his sketches with notes, which are fascinating; among other tidbits of information he lets us know that he was only really happy with one of the drawings from the book, and dissatisfied with his Austen illustrations overall. I actually find his sketches much livelier and more engaging than the finished illustrations. Of these, the parts that I find most interesting are not the highly detailed figures, but the portions that he allows to be more empty and ambiguous: for example the background of the frontispiece, in which Knightley chastises Emma for her behavior on Box Hill. I admire the illustrations’ technical prowess and find pleasure in exploring all the meticulously drawn details of costume and deportment, yet they seem to lack some inner spark of life.
Puttapipat’s illustrations of animals (many of which can be found in other sections of his gallery) are absolutely stunning, but his carefully posed compositions do not quite succeed in capturing the complex human drama of Emma. I find myself wondering whether if he could allow himself to use a freer, more sketchy style it would help the characters to breathe more. He has said that he wishes he could have another go at Austen’s work, and I would love to see him make the attempt.
Another strikingly striped volume on my shelf is Northanger Abbey, issued by the Limited Editions Club in 1971. This is the largest Austen I own, ironically as it’s her shortest and in some ways slightest novel. I think a smaller size would be much more suitable, not just for this reason, or to make the book easier to handle and read, but because it would be more appropriate to the story. Northanger Abbey is a light comedy that one wants to keep close for easy enjoyment, not a weighty tome to keep on one’s coffee table for show. The binding of unusual multicolored striped satin, which the publisher chose as worthy to be “draped over the windows of the finest hall of Northanger Abbey,” I would also find more amusing if only there were less of it.
I do greatly appreciate the beautiful custom-made heavy paper and luxurious letterpress printing within. The typeface again is Bell, and its friendly, open feel is better suited to the comedy of Northanger Abbey than to Emma, which is a more serious and mature book. I find the curved ligatures used for “st” and “ct” to be a bit much, however. Especially when they occur in clusters, as with the example above, they give me the impression of a visual hiccup. I’m also not fond of the display type, Fontanesi, used for the title and for initial caps for each chapter. As far as I can discover, it was designed in the 1950s as a “retro” style, unlike the genuine 18th century Bell and Baskerville. I suppose this was meant as a nod to the mock-Gothic pastiche of the novel, but it ventures too far into circus territory for me. As for the swash capitals used for the page headers — who thought this was a good idea? Well, I suppose for 1971 it all seemed quite restrained.
The highlight here is the abundant illustrations, with twelve color plates in addition to the black-and-white drawings scattered throughout each chapter. The artist, Clarke Hutton, has a fluid and lively drawing style that lends a light comic touch, while in the paintings his strong yet subtle use of color and lighting brings the Gothic elements of the story to the fore. Hutton spent the first ten years of his career in stage design, an experience that shows in his dramatic compositions. I’m glad he put his hand to Northanger Abbey, a book that (though I may wish it were two-thirds of the size) I will certainly enjoy for many years.
I hope you’ll join me for the last post in this series, in which I’ll look at Mansfield Park (Folio Society, 1960; reset 1975; 1991 printing), and Persuasion (Heritage Press, 1977).
Summary of book details:
Published by The Folio Society, London, 2007
Introduction by Deirdre Le Faye
Illustrations by Niroot Puttapipat
Set in Bell
9 x 6.25 inches, 432 pages
Printed on Abbey Wove paper and bound in cloth with Modigliani paper sizes blocked and printed with a design by the artist
More about Puttapipat’s Austen illustrations on Austenprose
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Published by the Limited Editions Club, New York, 1971
Introduction by Sylvia Townsend Warner
Illustrations by Clarke Hutton
Set in Monotype Bell with Fontanesi display
11 x 7.5 inches, 210 pages
Printed on eggshell-finish paper custom-made by the Mohawk Paper Company and bound in
satin-finish fabric with a leather shelfback label printed in gold
Review on Books and Vines (with much better pictures than mine)