Stuffed from too much turkey and pumpkin pie, I spent most of my Thanksgiving weekend on my couch reading Jane Austen’s Persuasion. Although I had loved the 1995 film adaptation with Amanda Root and Ciarán Hinds, I had never read Austen’s final novel. What “persuaded” me to pick up the book was a November 17 program at New York’s Center for Fiction celebrating the new Penguin Classic editions of Persuasion and Sense and Sensibility. Discussing Austen’s work and influence were novelists Sheila Kohler (Cracks) and Audrey Niffenegger
(The Time Traveler’s Wife), who also designed the covers for the new editions.
While better known for her prose fiction, Niffenegger trained as a visual artist at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (check out her art work here) and has published a graphic novel (The Night Bookmobile). When she was asked to be part of the new Penguin series of classic novels with covers contributed by contemporary comics artists, Niffenegger was thrilled. What was her thinking process in designing these covers? Niffenegger began by rereading the books. “The book you remember is never the book you reread,” she noted. What struck her this time about Persuasion was how trapped Anne Elliot, Austen’s heroine, was by her family, by society’s conventions, and by a mistake she made eight years earlier. “It was an easy jump to the idea that the title is strangling Anne.”
The cover for Sense and Sensibility was trickier, said Niffenegger. She went through three different designs. “My first two were Jane Austen meets Max Ernst. The third was too sweet.” Every cover Niffenegger had seen for previous editions featured two sisters. She decided to go into different direction, using objects. She finally came up with an image that she felt captured the Dashwood sisters’ contrasting approaches to life and the stormy upheavals in their quiet lives.
Since Austen wasn’t around to sign her books, I figured getting a signature from her illustrator would be the next best thing. So yes, dear reader, I bought this book for its cover.