Thursday, December 10, 2015

Signet Classics Covers From The 1960's

I've harshly criticized nostalgia in this blog, but naturally, I myself am not completely immune to it. To my emotions, certain novels are no longer printed in the correct way because they're not made with the covers they had in the Signet Classics series in the 1960's. For example, Moby Dick:

Naturally, since the Signet Classics paperbacks were so popular back then, I'm not the only one who has these sorts of feelings. For example, consider this tribute posted on Goodreads, and I quote:

"Aren't those covers awesome? And doesn't the paper hold up well, after all these decades, especially in the earlier copies? Aren't some of those afterwards interesting?"

Yes, yes and yes!

Many readers of Signet Classics of that era may recall what a terrible translator of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky Constance Garnett was -- really, really awful -- you don't have to understand a single word of Russian to know how badly she translated it -- and yet know exactly what I mean when I say that I mourn the Signet Classics covers which passed away as better translators took over, and that no other edition of The Brothers Karamazov looks like the real one except this:

I was into the Signet Classics well before I was full grown. I moved from the children's section of our excellent small-town library and into the stacks with the books for adults just as soon as I realized that there was no rule against it -- I'm terrible with dates, but this was probably around 1971, when I turned 10. The head librarian was wonderful. She took note of my grown-up tastes in reading material with definite approval.

The people who made the picture for the cover of the Signet Classics in the 1960's were several, and unfortunately they are not named anywhere in the volumes themselves, and least not in the ones I've inspected. I'm not sure, but I think that whoever made the title illustration for that edition of Moby Dick also made this picture:

And this one, too, my very favorite book-cover illustration:

Why my favorite book-cover ever? Probably just because it was my favorite when I was a child, and nostalgia has kept those childish sensations alive in me.

Not that I'm actually a great fan of James Fenimore Cooper. As far as historical accuracy goes: The Mohicans, or Mahicans, didn't die out centuries ago, as Cooper would have you believe. They are still among us today. Cooper didn't write well. There was not a witty bone in his body nor a supple phrase in his soul.

I am a very great fan of Melville, though. I have a copy of Moby Dick which looks like the one pictured above. It was printed in 1962, acquired by me in the 1980's, I think, and the paper, just as the person quoted above from Goodreads says, is very nice indeed, very high-quality, and much sturdier than the binding. Repeatedly, avidly read, certain pages pored over with especially great attention, the volume is coming more and more to resemble a collection of loose leaves in a folder rather than an actual bound book. Likewise, the paper in my Signet Classics copy of Tom Jones, printed in 1964, is very good paper, might as well be new rather than 51 years old, although the book's front cover is gone, worn off many years ago.

It wasn't much of a cover to me. No offense to anyone who treasures it.

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