Introduction to the Importance of Book Covers
The book covers in this exhibition are from the splendid Ronald I. Cohen
Lucy Maud Montgomery Collection of the National Library. Thanks to the
generosity of Ronald I. Cohen, we may look at a whole series of first,
rare, and colorful editions of L.M. Montgomery's works and some related
materials. The covers of these editions may vary considerably from decade
to decade or from country to country. Montgomery's world-wide and perennial
popularity makes examining the book covers an adventure in understanding
something about literature, popular culture, the female hero, and marketing.
The cover art prompts many questions: how did Montgomery inspire others
to picture the images she described? How closely or inappropriately do
artists read the texts they illustrate or try to capture their spirits?
How does a culture at a given time picture its girls and women? How do
publishers conceive of the market for whom they design the books? How
do the publishers' estimations of markets seem to change over time?
Consider a few of the numerous changes in the cover art and illustrations
for Anne of Green Gables alone. When it was
first published in Boston in 1908, the sophisticated, fashionable woman
on the cover, painted by M.A. Claus and W.A.J. Claus, suggests that the
story was aimed at a general audience, possibly adults. (See Changing
Perception of Montgomery's Writing) The covers, whether of greyish
boards or turquoise green, were sturdy and handsome, with a distinctive
frame and gold lettering. In the 1920 Page edition of the novel, the text
and cover remained the same, but inside, readers found black-and-white
stills from the 1919 silent film. The frontispiece showed a sweet but
sophisticated Mary Miles Minter photographed as Anne. For the Silver Anniversary
edition of the novel, in 1933, Page chose a new look entirely, making
Marilla, Anne, and Mrs. Lynde look as though they belonged to an English
village. See collector Ronald I. Cohen's discussion
of this book jacket. The 1934 film, with a freshly re-named actress
Anne Shirley playing the part of Montgomery's Anne Shirley, was featured
on a 1937 book cover. This wholesome girl in pigtails is a long way from
the Claus painting and the English village image of the 1933 edition.
A more startling change shows in a 1935 jacket image, where Anne has blue
eyes instead of the grey-green ones of the story, wears a Twentieth-Century
head band, and is posed in front of a seaside village that looks more
Japanese than North American.
The Nineteenth-Century clothing in the Claus frontispiece of 1908 gave
way to fashionable flapper attire in Elizabeth Withington's illustrations
for the 1934 Page volume. Anne evidently kept up with the times--the readers'
times or the readers' supposed imaginings of Anne's time. The Philip Simmonds
illustrations for several of the Harrap volumes of Anne novels are worth
considering together since Simmonds used the same flapper model for each
of his covers. Perhaps Anne was meant to seem to change as she grew older
in the novels.