Since the advent of mass-produced books in the late 1800’s, there have been hundreds, if not thousands, of different editions created of Jane Austen’s novels and minor works. While I will not publicly admit how many I own, *cough* I will share that there is more than one copy of her six major works in my bookcase. I have known a few Janeites who admit that they are hell-bent on collecting every old and new edition of Pride and Prejudice ever published. That is an obsession that will soon require a library as large as Pemberley’s expansive shelves.
After reading the description of Janine Barchas’ new book, The Lost Books of Jane Austen, I have a feeling that the author may be in that obsessed category of book collectors too. We are a rare breed and she has my total sympathy and approval.
Hardcore bibliography meets Antiques Roadshow in an illustrated exploration of the role that cheap reprints played in Jane Austen’s literary celebrity―and in changing the larger book world itself.
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.
A LOOK INSIDE:
Take a peek inside the book with this clever slideshow that her publisher created. Of course, I was totally mesmerized by the depth of editions displayed and cannot wait to dive into it.
“A major new work by Janine Barchas, an outstanding critic both of Jane Austen and of book history. The Lost Books of Jane Austen is cogent and persuasive.” — Peter Sabor, McGill University, editor of The Cambridge Companion to Emma
“In this groundbreaking, exquisitely researched, and stunningly illustrated book, Janine Barchas uncovers the unsung and ordinary editions―the ‘lost’ books―that profoundly shaped Austen’s afterlife and evolving literary reputation.” — Devoney Looser, Arizona State University, author of The Making of Jane Austen
“Before Jane Austen was great, she was popular, Janine Barchas contends in this original, often audacious study. Thanks to Barchas’s tremendous talents as book historian and book sleuth, we have new tools with which to assess that popularity and a new model of how to write reception history.” — Deidre Shauna Lynch, Harvard University, author of Loving Literature: A Cultural History
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).
Barchas is indeed the ultimate Austen book hunter, and we are the grateful recipients of her obsession.
Jane Austen fans who enjoyed Margaret Sullivan’s Jane Austen Cover to Cover: 200 Years of Classic Book Covers (2014), and graphic artists who are fascinated by how book covers have evolved over the decades, will be very pleased to add this to their coffee table pile of entertaining illustrated editions.
The Lost Books of Jane Austen, by Janine Barchas
Johns Hopkins University Press (October 8, 2019)
Hardcover & eBook (304) pages
Cover image courtesy of John Hopkins University Press © 2019; Images Janine Barchas © 2019; Text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2019, Austenprose.com