Two very special editions
Hello booklovers. Today I’d like to share with you two very different, but equally gorgeous, approaches to presenting Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride and Prejudice with letters and other ephemera that you can actually pull out and read to help immerse yourself in the setting and story. I have to confess that these types of books are a particular collecting focus of mine because I’m fascinated by the ways that tactile elements are incorporated into print media – it’s something that still can’t be replicated by electronic books. The video review above goes through the books in detail, or if you prefer you can read about them below.
Marjolein Bastin Classics
This edition of Pride and Prejudice is part of a larger series of classics by Marjolein Bastin, all of which are presented in the same style.
Marjolein is a highly regarded Dutch nature artist also known as the creator of ‘Vera the Mouse’ and Hallmark’s Nature Sketchbook line. The books in this series were originally published in Germany in 2018, and they have only just been released in English in 2021. It’s one of the books I included in my most anticipated list for 2021.
Bastin’s rendition of Pride and Prejudice is bound in linen-textured paper, the flowers on the cover are embossed, and there are points of gold foiling scatter across the design – it’s a beautifully tactile publication. The pages are securely bound and smyth-sewn, and a convenient scarlet ribbon bookmark has been bound into the spine as well.
The books in this series are beautifully brought to life with Marjolein’s delightful nature illustrations and decorative chapter capitals throughout. These simple watercolor illustrations really lovingly capture the beauty of nature, with flowers and butterflies and leaves and bees frolicking through on almost every page. It absolutely brings to mind the idea of an old book your grandmother might have lovingly filled with pressed flowers. The pages are medium weight, and it’s a very readable layout and size.
But of course, the really special feature of this edition is all the fun removable ephemera that comes with the book. I try not to show absolutely every part of a book in my reviews, because I think if you buy it yourself it’s nice to have a few surprises to look forward to, but just so you know there are ten removable pieces included with the book, and the video shows some of my favorites.
These pieces of ephemera are loose and have been slipped in between pages by hand, so it’s nice to know that when they appear they have been quite thoughtfully placed in the book – the dance card, for example, is inserted during a dance scene, you’ll find the letter where it occurs in the story as well. You can tell that each piece has been carefully chosen to make sure it will help transport you to Regency England where the story is set.
Barbara Heller's Correspondence Edition
The other edition I’d like to review today is the “letters” edition of Pride and Prejudice curated by Barbara Heller – this is one of the books I included in my best of 2020 review. This is another incredibly special edition, that includes 19 removable pieces of correspondence between the characters of the novel. And all of these pieces are reproductions of actual hand-written letters.
First of all, this one has quite an interesting binding. The cover is paper, with lovely gilded writing and peacock feathers featuring prominently in the design. Internally, each page section is divided with a thin piece of board, and this is so the whole book can sit neatly in a shelf without warping due to the weight of the many letters that are slipped inside special sleeves bound throughout the text block.
The endpapers feature a pretty peacock pattern which harks back to a very famous peacock binding of Pride and Prejudice from 1894 designed by Hugh Thomson, who was one of the most popular Victorian illustrators of his time. The pages are quite thin – almost like bible paper weight – and the text is relatively small. But really the key feature of this edition is the letters it contains, and the letters themselves are actually printed on quite sturdy heavy-weight paper that has even been artificially aged.
Letters are such an important part of the Pride and Prejudice novel, and interestingly most scholars agree that the manuscript actually originated as an epistolary novel called First Impressions, that was composed entirely of letters between the characters. So this edition really is a perfect fit for the novel.
The letters themselves have been rendered by professional calligraphers at the New York Society of Scribes. Each letter has been prepared with different handwriting according to its author, which as far as possible lines up with the descriptions in the novel itself. For example, Miss Bingley lauds Darcy for his even handwriting, while Caroline Bingley’s writing is described as very flowing. But Heller has gone much further than this in her search for authenticity.
Honestly, everything in the letters is incredibly carefully considered. The texts include occasional flaws so that they resemble letters written by real people, and they are even accurately folded for the time period. Since letters at the time weren’t usually sent in envelopes, they were specially folded in a way that protected the contents and were traditionally sealed with wax. If you look closely, you can see lots of little period details – you have the stamps from the sender’s postmaster and the arrival stamp, and the price which was based on how far the letter had to travel and was originally paid by the recipient not the sender, and also many of the letters feature what is know as the “medial s” (or “long s”), which looks rather like an f.
The medial S (ſ)
Okay, I’m going off on a tangent here, so do jump ahead if you’re not so interested in writing history. If you’ve ever looked at a very old written document, you may have seen a letter that looks like an ‘f’ where you would expect to have seen an ‘s’. This is because until about the 1100s, the ‘ſ’ shape was used to represent the lower case s and the ‘S’ shape was used for the upper case. Over time, people started using the “round” or “short S” shape as a lower case letter as well, and by about the 1400s, a new set of rules came into being. The medial S (ſ) was used at the beginning of a lower case word, or in the middle of a word, while the round ‘s’ was used only at the end of a word or after a medial S had already been used in a word with a double s.
Heller spent several months at the Morgan Library in New York City going through its archive of English correspondence from this time period to select handwriting examples that best captured the essence of different characters.
For example, Mr. Darcy’s handwriting is based on a series of letters from the Duke of Kent (Queen Victoria’s father) to General Frederick Weatherall. And the writing of Mr Gardiner, the Bennet sisters’ uncle, is based on the hand of Robert Southey, poet laureate of England for 20 years. And our heroine, Elizabeth Bennet’s handwriting, well, that’s quite fittingly drawn from Jane Austen’s own handwritten letters.
Because only some of the letters in the novel appear completely, Heller has also written original material to flesh out those that are only provided in extract, or whose contents were paraphrased in the text. I think her painstaking work here really shines, as the letters really do reflect the personality of the characters, and the writing is believably part of an Austen novel.
All in all, it’s a fascinating addition to an Austen collection, and offers new and interesting elements to entice you into re-reading a classic. And if you love this edition, you’ll as be thrilled as I am to hear that Barbara is apparently working on a similar letters edition of Little Women.
Aw, you made it all the way to the end! Thanks for reading ツ I know a lot of people collect multiple copies of Pride and Prejudice, so you’re definitely invited to share your favourite editions in the comments. And also please do let me know if you’d be interested in me making a list of all the books I have in my collection with these sorts of removable ephemera as I’m happy to do that if there’s some interest. (Or am I the only one with this particular obsession???)