In the nineteenth century, inexpensive editions of Jane Austen’s novels targeted to Britain’s working classes were sold at railway stations, traded for soap wrappers, and awarded as school prizes. At just pennies a copy, these reprints were some of the earliest mass-market paperbacks, with Austen’s beloved stories squeezed into tight columns on thin, cheap paper. Few of these hard-lived bargain books survive, yet they made a substantial difference to Austen’s early readership. These were the books bought and read by ordinary people.
Packed with nearly 100 full-color photographs of dazzling, sometimes gaudy, sometimes tasteless covers, The Lost Books of Jane Austen is a unique history of these rare and forgotten Austen volumes. Such shoddy editions, Janine Barchas argues, were instrumental in bringing Austen’s work and reputation before the general public. Only by examining them can we grasp the chaotic range of Austen’s popular reach among working-class readers.
Informed by the author’s years of unconventional book hunting, The Lost Books of Jane Austen will surprise even the most ardent Janeite with glimpses of scruffy survivors that challenge the prevailing story of the author’s steady and genteel rise. Thoroughly innovative and occasionally irreverent, this book will appeal in equal measure to book historians, Austen fans, and scholars of literary celebrity.
The Lost Books of Jane Austen is a coffee table book about different editions of Austen books over the years. There is an emphasis on Jane Austen's work, but also on book history and the ways that different editions reflected popular reception of the novels.
I was interested in this book from first description because I love Jane Austen's books. (My favorite is Sense and Sensibility.) I have all the books in paperback and eBook edition (and they are downloaded onto my phone, so they are available at a moment's notice). I also have a hardcover gift edition of Sense and Sensibility.
Although I deal in vintage books and ephemera, I have never looked into vintage Jane Austen books, so that aspect of The Lost Books of Jane Austen was particularly fascinating.
I love the first thing the author writes: "Cheap books make authors canonical" (p. ix). She then describes how Victorian editions of her books were sold in cheap paperbacks at railway stations, given as prizes, and targeted to the British working class.
This is a beautiful, big book with lots of color photos. The photos show differences in edition, and the author describes points that differentiate editions over time (i.e. binding, inscriptions, etc.).
The book is also rich with Austen related anecdotes, including Mark Twain's contempt for Austen's work -- accompanied by a photograph of his copy of Northanger Abbey - Persuasion.
I found the descriptions (and photos) of penny editions of the books particularly interesting. I had heard of Penny Dreadfuls, but wasn't familiar with the Penny Library of Famous Books.
I also found details about the World War II vintage editions, which sometimes included advertisements in the backs of the books, to be very interesting.
Equally fascinating was the story of Hotel Taft's giveaway editions of Pride and Prejudice, including a photo of a 1930 Art Deco design book.
I think my favorite section of the book, though, was Pinking Jane Austen, about the evolution of Jane Austen's paperback publications -- with lots of photo examples. I loved seeing the changes in cover design, especially during the Mid-Century years.
The author is a literature professor, and the writing has a strong scholarly bent that will appeal to serious Janeites, as well as more casual fans like me. The book includes end notes, works cited, and a detailed index.
The Lost Books of Jane Austen is a beautifully designed book, and it is sure to fascinate anyone who has an interest in Jane Austen's novels or book collecting.
Janine Barchas is the Louann and Larry Temple Centennial Professor of English Literature at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of Matters of Fact in Jane Austen: History, Location, and Celebrity and Graphic Design, Print Culture, and the Eighteenth-Century Novel. She is also the creator behind What Jane Saw (www.whatjanesaw.org).