May 1, 2008

Updated Classics

At the TLS, Margaret Reynolds calls our attention to the relaunch of the Oxford World's Classics editions. The article includes a survey of some available editions of Jane Eyre. A sample:

Oxford World's Classics
Jacket Clean and striking but she's too sulky.
Introduction By Oxford prof Sally Shuttleworth. Covers all bases and is excellent on the ending.
Text Based on first edition of 1847. Actual print a bit small.
Extra material Plenty on the text and publication of the novel.
Price £5.99. Good value.

Penguin Classics (Black)
Jacket A painting by Millais. Jane would never have worn this dress.
Introduction By novelist and critic Stevie Davies. Very good on the political context.
Text Revised edition of 1848, with some emendations. Clear print.
Extra material Chronology, notes and “Opinions of the Press”.
Price £5.99.

Vintage Classics
Jacket Clever, intriguing and spot on for the story.
Introduction No.
Text Based on the revised edition of 1848. Nice print.
Extra material Little life of Charlotte. Quote from Sarah Waters: "One of the most perfectly structured novels of all time". Meaning?
Price £5.99. Hmm.

I'm not entirely sure that this is quite the information I need to make my selection. Let's see: put me down for one copy of the sulky version with the introduction that "covers all bases" (I'm sure I usually miss one or two in my lectures) and one copy with the "clear print" for my aging eyes... Also, a testimonial about novel structure from the author of Fingersmith is good enough for me! The slide-show of the various covers is nice. I'd like to point out a good option that gets no mention at the TLS:
Broadview Edition
Jacket excellent-- see illustration at right
Introduction by Richard Nemesvari (my near neighbour, at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish): thorough and interesting.
Extra material is Broadview's specialty; in addition to the introduction and a chronology of Charlotte Bronte's life and publications, this edition includes selected correspondence as well as contemporary pieces on governesses, girls' education, race, and empire
Price Wow--only £4.99! ($12.95 US or Canadian)
Further information on the OUP relaunch is to be found at the OUP blog, where "Senior Commissioning Editor" (now that's a title) Judith Luna explains,
We wanted a new look that would be fresh and contemporary and appeal to general readers and browsers who might previously have thought Oxford World’s Classics were a bit too academic for them. So we have a clean white title panel, and white back and spine, and we have chosen dramatic crops of appropriate illustrations to intrigue and entice the reader. We also wanted a sense of continuity with the old look, so we have retained a red strip at the top of the spine and back cover, and added a tantalizing detail from the cover image in a small thumbnail on the spine (older readers may remember that we used to have a similar feature on a previous incarnation of the series, but at the bottom of the spine, not the top). We also chose a new typeface for the cover, Capitolium, a modern take on classic lettering, based on classical Roman inscriptions and Renaissance calligraphy and designed by Gerard Unger. The insides of the books are unchanged, and we will continue to publish high-quality editions and translations with outstanding introductions and notes at truly affordable prices, editions that are designed to satisfy the needs not just of students, but of the lively general reader as well.
Since I've already ordered my fall term books, including many World's Classics titles, I'm relieved to hear that the "insides are unchanged," though it strikes me, given this, that they are rather encouraging (or expecting) people to judge a book by its cover. Still, I'll be jealous if my students all have spiffy new covers on their books while I'm still wielding my battered old versions. (Hint to OUP reps: send Maitzen new desk copies...) (On the other hand, replacing all the post-its in my teaching copies would be a lot of work. There are a lot of them, because I consider it one of my primary obligations when teaching, say, Bleak House, to be able to find key passages quickly. Browsing through 900 pages muttering "I know it's here somewhere" wastes a lot of class time.)


philq said...

Though this doesn't apply to Jane Eyre, the comparison leaves out the most important difference between classics publishers: whether they modernize the text or not! It's really hard to find nice editions of any pre-19th-century texts that leave in all that sweet sweet olde timeyness (though I don't mind removing all those elongated S's....)

Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

Do they not have Norton Critical Editions in England? I'm reading that "Jane Eyre" right now.

Some of their editions - like the Robert Adams-edited Machiavelli - are classics in their own right.

Rohan Maitzen said...

I don't know if the Norton editions are available in the UK. You're right that they are excellent--but if the concern was that the OUP editions seemed 'too academic,' imagine how the Nortons appear!

Unknown said...

Never mind the covers--did they change the pagination? That's the real annoyance when OUP and Penguin redo their editions.

*prepares to order yet another round of desk copies*

Rohan Maitzen said...

That's an excellent question, Miriam! I was taking "insides are unchanged" to mean pagination as well, but it may just mean they kept all the material the same but reorganized it. I'll have to see if my OUP rep knows the answer.

lucy tartan said...

Rohan, when you teach a novel like Jane Eyre, do your students all buy and use the edition you prescribe?

Rohan Maitzen said...


Not necessarily. I use the same editions most of the time so that used copies are pretty readily available around town, which helps. But students often don't see the value in having the assigned edition until the class is underway. If my plan is to use a lot of extra materials, such as the appendices in a Broadview or Norton edition, I make a big deal about it, but most of the time I get probably 60-75% on the same page.