Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Virago Modern Classics: your thoughts, please!

It's the 30th anniversary of Virago Modern Classics in May, and as a fan of the imprint from the start, I'm writing a piece for Stella (the Sunday Telegraph magazine) about its legacy and influence. So I'd love to include your views, too -- as I'm sure there are readers out there who have a shelf with those trademark olive green spines.
I have an early copy of the first VMC -- Antonia White's "Frost In May" -- and I was introduced to the rest of her writing through Virago. Similarly, Rosamond Lehmann, who became one of my favourite writers, thanks to VMC. As a teenager, I was given a secondhand copy of "Dusty Answer" by my then-boyfriend's mother. I loved it, but couldn't find any other of Lehmann's novels, which were then out of print, until they were rescued from oblivion by Virago. More recently, Daphne du Maurier has been brought back into widespread circulation by VMC (obviously, 'Rebecca' hadn't gone out of print, but many of the less well known -- though equally interesting -- of her books had vanished from circulation, including her fascinating memoir about her father, "Gerald", which I found intriguing when I was writing "Daphne", as it gives an insight into their complicated relationship, and his dark streak of melancholy). In fact, "Daphne" was partly prompted into being when Virago asked me to write an introduction to its new VMC edition of Du Maurier's biography of Branwell Bronte, "The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte". I hadn't read it since I was a teenager, and had forgotten how powerful it is -- closer in feel to a gothic novel, really, than non-fiction -- and I was intrigued by its mysterious and tantalising dedication to a reclusive Bronte scholar and collector, J.A Symington (a dedication which set me off on several years of research, which finally culminated in the beginnings of "Daphne".)
My other all-time favourite VMC is Dodie Smith's "I Capture The Castle" -- the perfect coming of age novel, but also a book about reading and writing, and how these activities shape, and make sense of, our messy lives.
Anyway, here I am, eagerly waiting to hear from you...

57 comments:

Maylin said...

Oh, VMCs - Love them and I'm one of those who has an entire bookshelf devoted to them. I collect, in particular, the out of print ones. But they've introduced me to SO many fabulous writers. In particular, two of my favourites (since I'm Bronte obsessed) are May Sinclair's The Three Sisters - a novel "updating" the Bronte story to Edwardian times, but also having some fun with the "perceived" romanticism of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. Then there's The Brontes Went to Woolworths by Rachel Ferguson - a wonderfully touching and funny novel about three sisters who construct fantasy lives about themselves and come into contact with the "ghosts" of Charlotte and Emily. I was also introduced to Rosamond Lehmann via VMC (Jonathan Coe, one of my favourite contemporary writers had a great piece recently in the Guardian about reading VMCs in his university days - his latest novel The Rain Before it Falls, is full of nods to Rosamond Lehmann, but also the flavour of women writers published by Virago). Virago also introduced me to the fiction of authors I only knew by their journalism or non-fiction such as Vera Brittain, Winnifred Holtby, Rebecca West and also Storm Jameson (the collection Women Against Men contains the novella "A Day Off" which I think stands up very well, even to a masterpiece such as Mrs. Dalloway). Then they've also brought into print lesser known works by authors like Edith Wharton that I would never have been able to read without them. I could go on and on; I just hope someday I'll have the time to read them all. But next to my Virago Bookshelf is my Persephone Bookshelf also calling me daily. I thank them both for keeping such wonderful and important writers alive.

Kirsty said...

I adore the VMCs. The first one I read was The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West - an excellent introduction to both VMC and Rebecca West's other writing. It remains one of my very favourite books, and I have bought copies as presents for every from my mum to my 19 year old niece.

I have come to so many authors by way of the VMCs: Rosamond Lehmann, Angela Carter, Edith Wharton. I trust them implicitly.

And Justine, funnily enough I just bought their edition of Du Maurier's biog of Bramwell Bronte this very afternoon. Looking forward to it!

Justine Picardie said...

Thank you so much for these comments. Maylin, I'd never heard about "The Three Sisters" until now, and I'm going to order it immediately. That, and "The Brontes Went To Woolworths", which is the best title I've seen in years!
Kirsty -- let me know what you think of "The Infernal World". And I've also added "The Return of the Soldier" to my shopping list.
By the way -- and this isn't a VMC -- have either of you read Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons? It contains a wonderfully funny episode about a Branwell obsessive... When I was writing "Daphne" -- and well into the grip of my own obsession -- I used to re-read Cold Comfort Farm on a regular basis, and it never failed to make me laugh.

Kirsty said...

Shamefully I haven't read 'Cold Comfort Farm', though I have had a copy on my shelf for ages. This is incredibly superficial of me, but I originally bought it because of an amazing close up of a cow's nose on the front cover.

Really must get around to reading it...

Justine Picardie said...

Mine doesn't have a cow's nose -- I wish it did. Instead, it's got a rather archly off-putting graphic -- very Eighties-looking -- and a quote from Julie Burchill. It is a testament to the book that I love it, despite the cover.

BrontëBlog Adm. said...

My edition of Cold Comfort Farm is also the one with the cow's nose (which I love), and there was also a recent one with a lovely cover with a sort of illustrated family tree - very funny as well.

That book is so great. It will be one of those books you will wish you had read sooner, Kirsty.

My to-read book in this case is The Three Sisters, which I have but have never read yet. And of course I've been meaning to get The Brontës Went to Woolworth's for ages. As Justine said, only the title is priceless.

The logo, too, is simply delicious (in all senses).

Maylin said...

Alas, I think both The Three Sisters and The Brontes Went to Woolworths are out of print, but I think you could easily get used copies online. Also check out May Sinclair's biography of the Brontes called The Three Brontes - (not published by Virago) she was quite obsessed by the sisters, both their writing and their lives; her own siblings all died before her, and some quite young, I believe. There is a very funny scene in The Three Sisters where the hero is trying to propose on the moors in the moonlight but quickly realizes, that far from being romantic, it's quite treacherous, not being able to see where you are going etc. His name? Rowcliffe!
And yes, Cold Comfort Farm is a wonderful read. It comes out of a time of Bronte craze in the late 1920s when the museum was openned in Haworth - lots of writers (many published by Virago at one point) paid hommage to the Brontes, wrote plays about their lives etc. I once did some research into the suffagettes and the Brontes - when not fighting for the vote, these women were constantly writing about the Brontes and were (in my opinion) crucial in changing Gaskell's view of their lives as essentially tragic, into a more uplifting story. Yes, they all died far too young, but look at what they accomplished in that short time! And this then, allows for some of the gentle parodies that you find in Cold Comfort Farm or The Three Sisters - done out of love and admiration.

BrontëBlog Adm. said...

Oh, and Justine, your mentions in My Mother's Wedding Dress of I Capture the Castle were the final puch for me to go and get the book. I don't think I ever thanked you for that, but oh, I loved it.

Cristina.

BrontëBlog Adm. said...

Oh my, my May Sinclair book turns out to be The Three Brontës, not The Three Sisters. I guess one more joins the list now...

Cristina.

Justine Picardie said...

I love the idea of the suffragettes fighting for the Brontes as well as the vote. And how fitting, that they should be the ones to readdress the view that the Brontes spent their time moping about on sofas, mourning and weeping and so forth.
What a shame that Virago should have let May Sinclair and Rachel Ferguson go out of print. Perhaps we should start a campaign to get them back into print again. Think like suffragettes, as it were...

Justine Picardie said...

PS. Virginia Woolf wrote a very good essay about visiting the Bronte Parsonage. Cristine, is it available online at the BronteBlog?

Maylin said...

Just a clarification - May Sinclair wrote BOTH The Three Brontes (a biography) AND The Three Sisters (a novel that somewhat updates and fictionalizes the Bronte story). Both are interesting reads. She also wrote the introductions for all the Bronte novels for a series published by J.M. Dent around 1904-1908ish, I think. Well worth reading for her insights not only into the Brontes, but her own writing. In her intro to Jane Eyre, for example, she praises Charlotte's talent for comedy - again not something always associated with the Brontes.

BrontëBlog Adm. said...

Oh yes, it's on our sidebar, linking from another site. Here's the direct link: http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/woolf/VW-Bronte.html

She was too hard on the idea of the Brontë Museum (as it was then), though.

Cristina.

BrontëBlog Adm. said...

Thank you, Maylin. For a moment there I got those Three Brontës confused with those Three sisters. All's clear now.

I love that she defended Charlotte's humour, which is awfully overlooked, I think.

Cristina.

dovegreyreader said...

It was the Stanley Spencer paintings on the early Elizabeth Taylor Virago editions that first drew my eye to the books and an author I had missed completely. Then the other paintings on Mrs Palfry and At Mrs Lippincote's sold the books to me long before I read them. Likewise the Elizabeth von Arnim's though not so striking.Now I'm looking at an uread copy of Anderby Wold by Winifred Holtby, with that beatiful painting Springtime in Eskdale by McIntosh Patrick on the cover and thinking it's so perfect the book is bound to be a treasure too.

dovegreyreader said...

PS Is it olive green or bottle green? Have your copies been in the sun Justine whilst mine have been in the shade :-)

Justine Picardie said...

Hmm -- not sure if I can tell the difference between olive green and bottle green. My eye is not as attuned as yours. Also, the exact shade of Virago green seems to change over the years. So my VMC edition of "I Capture The Castle" is veering towards the blue-y green.
And now none of them are green: they come in all shades of a (muted) rainbow. What do people think about that?

dovegreyreader said...

We need Ruth over at Crafty People, I'll go and fetch her:-)

Justine Picardie said...

I'll be here, waiting for the expert verdict...

CraftyPerson said...

I was lucky enough to spend most all my childhood holidays, Easter, Whitsun, Summer and sometimes even October half-term in a caravan in a field in between Menabilly and the beach with the lake and "Boatshed/cottage" that was the inspiration for scenes in Rebecca. The minute you mentioned the wood around Menabilly I could see the lichen clinging to the spooky branches.

As for olive/bottle green covers I'm in the bottle camp!
And just in case you all need a dose of virago take a look at a whole long page of them on my (dormant) blog.

http://craftypeople.wordpress.com/174/

Justine Picardie said...

Bottle-green it is then!
What a wonderful place to go on holiday. I think I know exactly where the caravan must have been. Was the lake in front of you, or was it just around the corner, in the field that is alongside the Menabilly woods? Presumably the path to Menabilly itself was still private then, as it is now?

Elaine said...

I adore the old Green Virago covers, I think they are real collector's items though it is odd that some of the recent reprints still use the same covers. Elizabeth von Arnim's long out of print In the Mountains is being issued by Virago this autumn and I wrote to them to ask about the cover. Answer have I none. I am putting two links below to a couple of posts on my blog re Virago in case they are of interest.


http://randomjottings.typepad.com/random_jottings_of_an_ope/2006/09/the_enchanted_a.html



http://randomjottings.typepad.com/random_jottings_of_an_ope/2006/11/virago_green.html

callmemadam said...

Since Virago started publishing I’ve been pretty sure that the green spined books would be worth reading. I bought many of them new, including all the Elizabeth Taylors, also Angela Thirkell’s Trooper to The Southern Cross, which is very hard to find in any other edition. Now I look out for them second hand. A recent terrific discovery was Sisters by a River by Barbara Comyns. I do prefer the older covers because they are so distinctive. The new ones look like everything else in the book shop and have a slightly chick-litty feel.

Kirsty said...

Re the new covers vs the old, in my heart of hearts I prefer the old ones. I like the way they look together on the shelf. Not that it'll stop me buying the new ones you understand!

I have never read either The Three Sisters or The Three Brontes, but now I'm off in search of both of them.

Karen said...

I'd vote for the old Virago livery without a doubt (and I do recommend The Brontes went to Woolworths !)

aluvalibri said...

I was introduced to the wonderful world of Viragos in 1985, when I picked up a copy of 'No signposts by the sea' by Vita Sackville-West in the bargain section of an old Barnes & Noble bookstore.
I must admit that the first thing that drew me to the book was the cover. After that, and when I realized the book was part of a large series, I started collecting them, and buying them wherever and whenever I found any.
One of my favourite titles is 'Cindie' by Jean Devanny, the story of a woman in rural Australia in the 19th century, but there are so many others that the choice is difficult indeed.
I just love Rebecca West, and Edith Wharton, the aforementioned Vita Sackville-West, and other less known writers such as Capel Boake or Gamel Woolsey.
I once wrote to Virago Press asking whether they were considering bringing back the old beloved green covers. Their reply was negative, because they thought they would need to 'modernize' the series and make the covers more appealing to perspective buyers. More appealing?? I cannot think of anything more pleasing to the eye than the old bottle-green covers!
To date my collection counts 278 Viragos, but I keep looking.....
And by the way, Justine, I really look forward to reading your book!

fabrile heart said...

What aluvalibri hasn't mentioned, because she is too modest, is that she started the VMC group on Library Thing. This group is a fabulous place to exchange ideas and meet others who are adore the diversity of authors Virago published under VMC imprint.

If you do visit you will find that The Brontes Went to Woolworths has captured the imagination of many who belong to the group. However, Ferguson talked ambivalently about the novel after its publication. For me, its wonderful humour and vitality have been diminished somewhat by her unequivocal prejudices, baldly stated in her memoirs We Were Amused.

However, overall I would say that I still hold the novel in high regard, and am grateful to have been introduced to it by the VMC group's sole (to my knowledge) male contributor, Rob.

Tara said...

This link contains a photo of the bookcase I've devoted to VMCs. The black ones were published in the US by Dial Press and the cover of each reads "A Virago Modern Classic".

http://booksandcooks.blogspot.com/2007/09/rest-of-my-collection-well-almost.html

The bookcase is now full and according to LibraryThing I now have 112.

My favorite find has been E.H. Young, and in particular her novel Miss Mole. Another favorite is Laura Talbot's The Gentlewomen.

I am also a fan of the older editions - I would choose an old copy over a new anytime. I just love the cover images and sometimes just sit and look at them.

Rob Hardy said...

I am (as fabrile heart mentioned in an earlier comment) a male reader of of Virago Modern Classics. A married American male. Surely there are others like me, but I have yet to meet one! A year ago, I wrote a blog post about the author Elizabeth Taylor, in which I talked about how the experience of being a "stay-at-home father" for several years gave me an appreciation of the domestic lives of women portrayed in many of the novels. Of course, a woman's experience can never really be my own, but reading allows me to enlarge my experience and live another life. In Elizabeth Taylor's At Mrs. Lippincote's, there's a little boy named Oliver who imagines that he's little Jane Eyre. Why not? Our imaginations, and our reading, allow us to enlarge our experience, widen our sympathies, and find ourselves in the lives of others.

Justine Picardie said...

Thank you so much to everyone for responding with such passionate and intelligent views and ideas. I'm going to incorporate all of them into my piece for Stella, and also, I'm going to make sure that the current editor of VMC reads all of your responses. My editor at Bloomsbury -- Alexandra Pringle -- was formerly at Virago, and very involved in VMC in its earlier incarnation, at the time of the bottle green covers. (She was absolutely key to the cover of "Daphne", which many of you have been kind enough to comment on, and she herself attributes her training at Virago -- on covers, as well as contents -- to the way she publishes now at Bloomsbury.)
Anyway, I'm off to check all your blogs for more inspiration, and will then post again. I'm thrilled to discover that there is so much interest in the early editions of Virago -- and is it time to revive them, perhaps?

aluvalibri said...

Please DO speak about the old covers too, Justine! I am sure they will listen to you (certainly more than they listened to me).

Justine Picardie said...

PS. Rob, you are not alone! There was an interesting piece by Jonathan Coe in the Guardian about how he was introduced to Rosamond Lehmann by VMC, and how her novels have inspired his own writing, in particular his most recent book. So although we tend to see VMC as a female domain, I think that the experiences described in Lehmann's novels -- amongst others -- are universal: love, loss, grief, joy... These are the threads that bind us together.

Justine Picardie said...

Ok, I'm going to see if I can fetch someone from Virago over here right now! Watch this space!

Maylin said...

All these posts have me thinking I really need to start cataloguing which Viragos I have. I know I have enough to fill a bookcase but since they are double shelved, one in front of the other - it's hard at a glance to see which ones I own.
Tara - I also have those black Dial editions and a bunch of Canadian editions (which look like the Dial ones, but were published by Lester Orphen Dennys). Still doesn't take away from the gorgeous cover paintings.
Virago was also instrumental in starting another literary obsession of mine after reading their edition of Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth. I became fascinated by the literature of WWI written by women, particularly those who participated in the war, such as Brittain (her novel Dark Tide while very dated in some of its ideas, is still a very powerful look at trying to re-intergrate into normal life after the war - for women. H.D.'s Bid Me to Live is also an incredible read (and isn't it still out of print?) Virago published Enid Bagnold's war books as well and I'd love it if they brought back into print Rose Macauley's novel The Non-Combatants. And if I can give a little pitch for a Canadian author they published - Aleta Day by Francis Beynon is a wonderful novel about a suffragist and pacifist who falls in love with a cynical, older man who then goes off to fight. However, Beynon cleverly plays with gender stereotypes in her narrative and the ending is quite shocking.

Kirsty said...

Count me in for The Battle of The Green Covers! I'll make flags. And badges. And maybe a hat.

Justine Picardie said...

It will be like the suffragettes all over again. What were their fighting colours? Was it green and purple?

Elaine said...

I am back with more recommendations on the VMC imprint. I found a copy of a book by Ada Leverson called the Little Otleys which I picked up at a book sale. Never heard of the author but hte cover was just so wonderful I had to have it. Simply gorgeous witty and amusing book, please do keep an eye out for it. EM Delafield of course, apart from Provincial Lady, had Thank Heaven Fasting and the Way things Are in Virgo and the original art work for One Fine day by Mollie panter-downes is streets ahead of the current imprint.

If a campaign is started count me in!

Alexandra Pringle said...

I am Justine's editor and I worked for about ten years on the Virago Modern Classics series with Carmen Callil, who created it. The covers began as olive and transmuted into that more bottle shade. I can't for the life of me remember why. Perhaps we just got a bit sick of olive.
We ransacked the reserve collections of provincial art galleries and museums for covers and scoured the Sotheby's catalogues. I also used to spend hours in the Witt Library at the Courtault Institute of Art.
It is wonderful reading all your comments on the series. It was so exciting working on those books and lovely to think they are still cherished. A particular hidden favourite of mine is The Tortoise and the Hare by Elizabeth Jenkins, and The Constant Nymph by Margaret Kennedy. There was also another great book with Woolworths in the title: Our Spoons Came From Woolworths by Barbara Comyns. My mother said the novel reminded her of her post-war art-school days.
One of the joys of working on Justine's book was that it took me back to those years of the VMCs.

Cate said...

Passionate about Viragos! Absolutely. In 1991, working as an assistant bookbuyer in a used bookstore in San Francisco, I was 'bit' as a result of watching the two muses in charge scoop ANY Virago, green spine or black, into their arms with such love! My reading already leaned towards obscure women writers and so discovering Viragos was manna from heaven.

Since then, it's been a great passion collecting VMCs as it is a pleasure reading them. Mary Webb's Gone to Earth is my perennial favourite.

I join aluvalibri, fabrile-heart and Rob in the VMC Group on Librarything. My collection has increased over 100 titles because of it!

Thank you, Justine, for starting this blog! I read a about your book, "Daphne", on dovegreyreader's blog last weekend, and here you are! I can't wait to read it!

Juxtabook said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Juxtabook said...

I like the older covers perhaps becasue it was what I am most used to. My first Virago was Gone to Earth by Mary Webb which has a rather pedestrian choice of a painting for the cover; it is like the sort of thing that Penguin use. But my favourite cover is one they did for Radclyffe Hall's Adam's Breed. It was great to come across something by Hall that wasn't the Well of Loneliness for a start. Adam's Breed has a painter by Glays Hyne son the cover called 'The Fowler'. It is bright, edgy and thought provoking rather than being picked as a 'literal' version of a moment in the novel. If you haven't read the novel it is worth getting hold of as much of it is about food and families and the handling of the subject is an intersting read now in our size 0, celebrity chef, obesity obsessed culture.

christiguc said...

I love the VMCs as well! The books are wonderful, and joining the VMC group on LibraryThing has reawakened the passion of the hunt for those green covers. Over on LibraryThing, we have a numbered list of the VMCs (as best as I can reconstruct it) if you want to check it out for reference.

Christina

lyn said...

I love Viragos and much prefer the old covers to the new. Viragos introduced me to so many authors, Rosamond Lehmann, Elizabeth Taylor, Elizabeth Von Arnim, Margaret Oliphant. The old covers were just so lovely, often paintings, still lifes, so much more elegant than many of the new covers. I'm also sorry they've stopped using the original green as well.

clara said...

At the risk of being a tail end Charlie, can I join in the general chorus of praise and devotion for VMCs? I have olive green covers-Christina Stead- and bottle green covers-Elizabeth Taylor, Elizabeth von Arnim et all. My best is The Wind Changes with a portrait on the cover of Ursula by Algernon Talmage. I loved the book and then one day my husband came home with the painting, which now hangs in pride of place in the sitting room.

Donna Coonan said...

I am the current commissioning editor of the VMCs - sorry I wasn't able to make a post yesterday when Justine emailed me, but I'm here now - better late than never! And it's just wonderful to see there is such an active dialogue taking place about the list.
The decision was taken to move away from the green covers before I arrived. Personally I too am fond of the green jackets, but I can understand why a new approach was needed. Reports from bookshops was that they were looking tired - and if a bookshop doesn't stock our books, if people aren't buying them, we can't keep the authors you love in print. I'm not sure if completely losing the green was the best idea - perhaps we could have redesigned so that the green was kept but that the overall look was brought up to date - I don't know. But the decision was taken to move away from a generic look and give each author an individual style that suits her writing and this has given us far more freedom than if we had to adhere to a generic format.

I am guessing that a lot of you would have discovered the VMCs in your twenties. If you show a range of people aged 20-30 the old covers (and I have) the response you will get is that they look academic, that they look like books one would be forced to read at school rather than those they'd choose to read for enjoyment.
Sales figures show that we are appealing to today's readers and that updating the look of the books has definitely paid off. I also think we are introducing these wonderful writers to a broader readership, which will ensure that they stay in print.

Our books aren't kept in 'classics' sections of bookshops so they must hold their own alongside contemporary books, and with more books published per month than ever before, competition has never been more fierce. Most of the books on the list were written in the twentieth century - they are relevant, enjoyable and accessible, and should look so. People do judge a book by its cover, so if a book looks outdated and neglected, as if the publisher hasn't given it a thought for years, then why would anyone think it deserves their time and money? We'd be doing the list a terrible disservice if we didn't move with the times.

And as to other things - Alexandra might like to know that we'll be reissuing The Tortoise and the Hare this spring (with a wonderful new cover!) and it has a brilliant new introduction by Hilary Mantel.
I've got my hands on a copy of The Brontes went to Woolworths. I've never read it so I'm glad of the recommendation - it's how lots of our books get back into print.

charlotte said...

I'm another Virago obsessive. My collection now has it's own bookshelf, in fact, it's own room and I'm always on the lookout for those trademark green spines.

My favourites are the overlooked late Victorian novels like Crossriggs by Jane and Mary Findlater, Belinda by Rhoda Broughton and Red Pottage by Mary Cholmondeley.

Collecting VMC's has introduced me to loads of authors I would otherwise have missed out on; Mary Webb, Ellen Glasgow, E.M Delafield, May Sinclair, and Edith Wharton.

I think I'll always be on the lookout for VMC's, the trouble is finding time to read them all!

charlotte said...

I forgot to add that as well as the fiction I love Virago Travellers which mostly seem to be out of print as well.

betsytacy said...

My collection of VMCs began in 1978 (so I guess I've been there from the start) with Emily Eden's The Semi-attached Couple and the Semi-detached House, which remain among my favorites. I too have discovered many wonderful writers through Virago: Elizabeth Taylor, Rosamond Lehmann, Elizabeth von Arnim, and Barbara Comyns, to name a few. I've also discovered "new" books by favorite authors such as E.M. Delafield.
I was in college and graduate school when attention was first being paid to forgotten women writers and have always appreciated Virago's role in that renaissance. I even remember attending a professor's lecture at UVA about Mary Olivier: A Life, by the forgotten writer May Sinclair, which was just out in a new Virago edition.
My own collection includes black Dial Press, olive green (both UK and US versions), bottle green, and current editions. At the risk of being verbally stoned here, I have to say that I think the current editions are beautifully designed--they look modern but many of the covers have a wonderful retro feel (e.g., Provincial Daughter and Our Spoons Came from Woolworth's). Although I will say that in a few cases they fall into the strange current trend of covers with headless women. I suspect that for readers who do not have a frame of reference to the old green covers they are quite appealing--and still identifiable on a bookstore shelf by the apple on the spine. I do have many, many favorite covers among the green Viragos of course and think they did a wonderful job of highlighting lesser-known artists, but I don't think the green Viragos are universally better. There are definitely some unattractive duds among them! I think we just tend to focus on the covers with beautiful portraits of women and forget some of the nondescript still lives. For instance, the bottle green and new editions of Molly Keane's books have a great art deco look that I prefer to the original versions in some cases (see the three covers for Rising Tide, for example). I find that I tend to look at all the available editions and pick the cover that I like the best.
I'd love it if the current Virago editors would take a look at some of the out-of-print editions that seem to be scarce but in demand. The Virago editions of The Brontes Went to Woolworth's and Dead Calm, for instance, are outrageously expensive in used bookstores.
I'm thrilled that Virago is still around after 30 years, and I always look forward to the discovering what Virago is publishing--both in the Virago Modern Classics editions and Virago Originals.

Justine Picardie said...

Betsy, Charlotte and Clara -- thanks for your thoughtful comments. And to everyone who has contributed to this thread, many thanks, too. I love the idea of all those books being lovingly collected around the world, and the writers still being read, even when their books are out of print. It's like a hand coming out of the darkness, or the voice of a forgotten friend.

Donna Coonan said...

I'm glad you like some of the new covers. I take the point about headless women - for a while there were a few too many shots of legs. And also pretty, slightly out of focus photos of women - nice pictures in themselves but not striking enough for a book jacket. In case you're interested, the new Molly Keane covers are by the art deco artist and theatre designer Erte.

Following our reissues of five of Elizabeth Taylor's novels in 2006, which were really successful, I am looking into reissuing the rest of her books. And The Brontes Went to Woolworths is on my 'to read' pile because so many people on this blog have recommended it - personal recommendations from readers are great, and often lead to publication on the VMC list.So, thank you.

fabrile heart said...

Of course I am bound to suggest using the 30th Anniversary as a reason to republish just one of the VMCs in its original binding as a celebration of the series ;)

Juliet said...

I started buying Viragos when they first came out - thus using up my university grant when I should have been buying course-books, but that's not something I regret too wildly! Antonia White, Rosamund Lehmann and the Provincial Lady were some of the first I acquired and are even now the most re-read. When I briefly helped to set up and then worked in a small general bookshop in the early 80s, we had an entire section devoted exclusively to VMCs - floor-to-ceiling shelves with lots of space for displaying the gorgeous covers face-out. Delicious and seductive. Inevitably I bought dozens and dozens of them with my staff discount - a collection I now supplement with charity-shop buys. It's easy to forget just how revolutionary they were at the time - in concept, in design and even in size. Even in the first few years, there were fairly wide variations in the colour of the green, but that would be because different printers printed the covers - it's surprisingly difficult to match a solid colour, even now. Printing was all far less computerised then, so you will find that even subsequent editions of an individual title vary in colour. Mine have now faded to an even greater range of shades. The spines of a couple are almost yellow.

Delighted to have discovered your blog, Justine, and will certainly be back.

Justine Picardie said...

Fabrile Heart -- what a brilliant idea! Have you seen Carmen Calill's comment on the more recent post? She founded Virago, and I'm sure would appreciate your comments...

Maggie said...

I came over from DoveGreyReader.

I wonder if you can help me with a query? You mention "I Capture the Castle", which I first read many years ago in hardback (a jumble sale buy - was usually too skint to buy new books). A few years later I came across a second book about the Castle - "Return to the Castle". Sadly I passed it on and now I can find no trace of it anywhere. Not in second hand book sites, not even listed as being by Dodie Smith.

I don't recall a great deal of the story, but it followed on the same people. I do remember finding it something of a disappointment, which is probably why I passed it on.

Anyway, I wondered if you had ever heard of it, and if so might it be possible to reprint it?

Best wishes from sunny Liverpool

Rob Hardy said...

I'm glad to hear that Virago may bring out the rest of Elizabeth Taylor's novels. Palladian should certainly be reissued, in my opinion. My feelings about the covers are not too strong (although I love the old cover of Mollie Panter-Downes' One Fine Day; I want to live in that house with that view). But one of my pet peeves is when publishers use a poster or a still from a film adaptation on a cover. Virago has done this with Taylor's Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont. I loved Joan Plowright in the role, but I prefer the painting on my old black cover Dial/VMC edition. But, of course, it's what's between the covers that matters, and there are so many treasures to be found there with Virago Modern Classics.

Exuberant Lady said...

Wonderful work on this important topic. I'm hooked on Virago Classics, but don't have nearly as many as I'd like. My favorites are May Sinclair's Three Sisters, George Egerton's Keynotes and Discords and Mary Cholmondeley's Red Pottage (coming in at #1)--I would have never come across any of these fabulous books without Virago editions. Deborah@Exuberant Reader

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nice work Stella. you deserve to be appreciated.

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