The other day I posted about the Penguin & OUP Classics lists & how much I love the covers, fonts & paper of some incarnations better than others. I meant to mention Virago Modern Classics, maybe the iconic imprint of the last 30 years, but the post was long enough already so I left it for another day. I’ve posted about the beauty of Persephone & Hesperus books in the past & I do think the physical look & feel of a book is important. Although, after reading some of the comments on my earlier post, I’m feeling a little more tempted by an e-reader. The thought of all the out of print classics out there – especially from the 18th & 19th centuries – is very tempting. Dovegreyreader mentioned Girlebooks, a wonderful site with lots of books by my favourite authors.
Like many other readers, I have a great fondness for the original green covers of the VMC list. It’s difficult to find VMCs here in Australia in secondhand shops but whenever I do, I grab them. During the celebrations for Virago’s 30th anniversary last year, I read many articles & blogposts about the passion readers have for the original covers. Some of it may be nostalgia, remembering the overwhelming feeling of relief that suddenly we could read all these wonderful women authors that had been overlooked by publishers for so long. But, the original editions were also beautiful objects. The illustrations were chosen so carefully & the apple green spines & covers were instantly recognisable.
I wish that, instead of the hardbacks Virago chose to publish last year to celebrate the anniversary, they’d reprinted some of those original hard-to-find titles from the early years. We all have our list of Viragos that we scour secondhand bookshops for. I also like many of the later incarnations & even some of the modern ones. The Barbara Pyms are fine but the new Elizabeth Taylors leave me cold. How can they compare with the gorgeous paintings used originally or even the floral paintings used slightly later? Still, ultimately it’s the contents that matter, & Virago broadened my reading as no other publisher had up to that point. Rosamond Lehmann, Elizabeth Taylor, Elizabeth von Arnim, Kate O’Brien,Vita Sackville-West – if I’d heard of them, I’d never read any of their books. Virago changed all that. Not until I discovered Persephone Books in 1999 have I found so many new favourite authors.
Anyone interested in Virago should have a look at Verity’s Virago Venture, a terrific blog. Verity is attempting to read all the VMCs, more than 500 of them. A challenge indeed! The archives are a great read.