A few more classic covers – Virago Modern Classics

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.

12 thoughts on “A few more classic covers – Virago Modern Classics

  1. You've got some nice copies, I wish I had A Very Great Profession, One Fine Day and South Riding! I'm just beginning to discover Virago books and authors myself, but it's so exciting to discover that Virginia Woolf was far from the only woman writing in that time. And Rachel from Book Snob and I will be hosting a Virago reading week sometime in January, so it will give us all a chance to discover some more of their list!


  2. Ooh, thanks for the lovely, lovely mention. Even before I got that far down your post I wanted to mention this post on my blog. I love the covers you show as I haven't seen all of them – I agree about some of the modern covers, but at least they mean Elizabeth Taylor is back in print.

    “Rosamond Lehmann, Elizabeth Taylor, Elizabeth von Arnim, Kate O'Brien,Vita Sackville-West” – you mention almost all of my favourite VMC writers there!


  3. I've found you thanks to Verity. What a lovely post! I love collecting the original green covers. Here in the US they have also been published with black covers, but often with the same cover art. Not quite as nice as green, but still worth snapping up when I find them in a used bookshop.

    Are you on LibraryThing? We have a nice group of Virago readers there who enjoy chatting about VMCs and sometimes giving away duplicate copies. Let me know if you'd like more information about it!

    I'm adding your blog to my Google Reader …


  4. I have also found you via Verity. I have mentioned my love of bottle-green Vuragoes often on my blog & have posted about the modern cover-art. Like Laura & Verity I love collecting the old green editions & it's always thrilling to come across them in secondhand bookshops (I have trained myself to spot the green from a mile away!) As I am only in my twenties (just! The big 3-0 in a few months) I came to Virago (and Persephone) late but consider the authors on the lists amongst my favourites. Some of my favourite covers from the older Viragoes are those whose artwork is by Gustav Klimt.


  5. Thanks for the reciprocal mention on your blog, Verity! Welcome Laura & Paperback Reader, thanks for commenting. I know about Library Thing but there are only so many hours in the day. If I started cataloguing my books I wouldn't have time to sleep. Carolyn, I'm looking forward to the Virago Week. It will be a chance to read a couple of the Viragos on the tbr shelves.


  6. I *love* the cover of the Elizabeth Taylor “At Mrs Lippincote's”. I'd not seen it before.
    I'm afraid I really don't like the modern Virago covers but I suspect that production costs are an issue.
    I agree that it would have been nice for the anniversary to reproduce a selection of original favourites.


  7. Oh delicious Viragos! I spent a morning at Virago HQ in London last year and had a good drool over the entire Virago list ever, all those green books on the shelves. It was interesting to hear them explain that it had been essential to shift the covers into something that fitted the contemporary cover scene though I agree the originals are unbeatable. And also good that they are still spear-heading good contemporary fiction by women too. The Spring catalogue is chock full of books I can't wait to read.


  8. Lyn, you don't have to catalogue your books on LT – you can just come and chat about books. It can be tempting to spend time there, though.


  9. I know this might sound crazy, but I had never heard of the VMC before my blogging days. Not living in a country that has English as its first language has its draw backs. But I admit that ever since finding Verity's blog I have been eager to start reading these editions. If only I had the money to start today..


  10. I'm sure Virago never imagined how iconic their books would become. Elkiedee, I may drop into LT one day. I did have a look at the site as part of a Web 2.0 project at work but I didn't want to get addicted! Iris, the original covers are lovely but not always easy to find secondhand.


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