Book Reviews,  Bookish

The Lost Books Of Jane Austen: a review

About The Lost Books of Jane Austen

• Hardcover: 304 pages
• Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press (October 8, 2019)

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.

Review

Cheap books make authors canonical. In the latter half of the nineteenth century, cheap and shoddy versions of Jane Austen’s novels performed the heavy lifting of bringing her work and reputation before the general public.

From the sanitized, Victorian-era Jane Austen to a modern day cover of Pride and Prejudice that had schoolgirls convinced that Mr. Darcy was a vampire, this has by far been one of the most fascinating books I’ve read this year.

If book covers captivate you like they do me, this book will grab your attention as you take a historic walk through the book covers of Jane Austen’s works – many considered “lost” today.

The reader is also given a look into the publishing industry, trends, and perhaps the biggest reason we are obsessed with book covers – marketing.

And it’s not a new strategy. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this well-researched book, full of Austen covers I never thought I would see. My favorites were the cheap paperbacks rather than the first and collectible editions – which illustrates a large part of the author’s argument that it’s the inexpensive books that make an author live on forever.

If you love Jane Austen, if you collect her books, and if you adore books in general, you will find this book to be an absolute gem.

About Janine Barchas

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).

Purchase Links

Johns Hopkins University Press | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Thanks to TLC Book Tours, Johns Hopkins University Press, and Janine Barchas for providing me a copy of this beautiful book to read, review, and promote.

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