Thursday, June 3, 2021

Book: The Lost Books of Jane Austen, by Janine Barchas

Barchas, Janine. 2019. The Lost Books of Jane Austen. Johns Hopkins University Press.

The title suggests the discovery of heretofore undiscovered Jane Austen manuscripts, but, alas, such is not the case. Instead, the author, an English professor at the University of Texas, concerns herself with lost editions of Jane Austen's familiar books. The missing editions are the cheap ones, which academic bibliographers often ignore in their lists. Barchas finds these cheap editions interesting because of what they tell, via their covers, their prices, and their marketing, about who was reading Jane Austen over time and across space, and about how they were thinking of her as an author. Along the way, the reader learns a great deal about how publishing worked in the 1800s and early 1900s. I had no idea, for example, that a given set of typeset plates might be used to create multiple editions of a book by different publishers over a period of decades. The reader also learns some fun bits of cultural history, including about book prizes, the Pleasant Sunday Afternoon Society, and obsessive Janeites. Finally, this is a physically beautiful book from the Johns Hopkins University Press, chock full of full-color illustrations of Jane Austen book covers.

Recommended for those of a bookish turn.

Book page at JHU Press.

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