If you’re a Jane Austen geek, you have to have these.
I wouldn’t say I’m the biggest Jane Austen fan in the world (shocking to say these days, I know) but my love of literature, history, feminist icons, and books in general means I have an interest in and deep respect for her work. I read Pride and Prejudice during my classics phase as a teenager (around the time I decided I also had to read lots of Twain, Dickens, Poe, Rossetti, and make a decent attempt at Les Mis–though I never got around to that last one). I’ve seen the Jane Austen movies and the BBC productions; I donated to the RPG and I even own the scarf.
Maybe I am a bigger fan than I admit? Except I haven’t read her other books. Yikes! In my defense, my interests tend to fall either earlier or later than the Regency period, so these haven’t been top priority. I do own a few paperback editions, but like many of the other books I collect, they’re pushed ever further down the to-read list by other that demand my attention. That might change now, though, since I found these fabulous editions, which are known as the Winchester Austen, in honor of her home and final resting place in Winchester.
In 2008 I bought this copy of Pride and Prejudice at a Chapters store in Toronto:
I’d never seen this one before. I was drawn to to the cover, which is similar to a faux leather, mostly because I liked the simplicity and boldness of it. I knew I was going to buy it when I looked inside:
Even the title page is beautiful:
This is definitely the kind of book you keep in your personal library for years, unlike the movie tie-in edition of Mansfield Park I’ll probably donate to a free paperback exchange. Plus, aside from the text itself, there is additional commentary about the book. Loads of it. There is a modern interpretation by John Wiltshire, modern perspectives by Josephine Ross, an article about Regency life by Maggie Lane, and thorough information about the story’s geographical settings by Caroline Sanderson. There is also a Jane Austen timeline and a chart of principal characters. SOLD! I bought the book, vowing to sit down and read it again as an adult. Well, that still hasn’t happened. But I did pick it up and admire it quite often over the years. Does that count? Probably not.
Recently I decided (again) that 2014 is the year I finally read the entire Jane Austen canon. Any book lover will tell you that you can’t judge a book by its cover, but any book fanatic will tell you that’s not entirely true. If I am going to read Austen, I’m going to read the most gorgeous Austen possible, and barring a windfall of cash that will allow me to buy the first editions (or even the highly-coveted peacock edition), the contemporary Winchester Austens will have to do.
So I went in search of the rest of the novels to complete the collection. Unfortunately it was not that easy. It seems these were published only in the U.K., and they didn’t even come up in a cursory Amazon search, even though Amazon has everything. Local bookstores did not have them–used or new. Barnes and Noble did not have them in store or online. I tried the Chapters website. Nope.
Jane Austen Gift Shop has a red Winchester set that I wouldn’t mind having, but I wanted the black covers (and I didn’t want to spend £65) . Then I found some at Abebooks.com, but wasn’t quite ready to give up and dish out $30 for a copy of Persuasion.
Finally, by Googling the title I wanted + “Winchester Austen”, I managed to find most of them through third party sellers on Amazon, even though they didn’t show up when I searched them on Amazon’s page. The first one I ordered came but it was the wrong edition, so I returned it. I was afraid the same thing would happen with the others but it didn’t–just be aware of this possibility if you order your own. The only one I couldn’t find was Northanger Abbey, but Amazon.co.uk had a used one. I paid a little more since I was charged for international shipping, but considering the others were such a bargain, it wasn’t a big deal.
They are all in remarkably good shape. I’m not sure if they were even read (I must not be the only one doing more collecting than reading):
Persuasion and Sense and Sensibility even came complete with the dust jackets. My brand new Toronto copy hadn’t even had that.
And Emma had a book club card left inside from a previous owner (Ruth, we’re on to you…there’s not a single dog-eared page in this book!):
Lovely art on inside cover of Ruth’s unread Emma:
Character pages in Emma that Ruth did not read:
Sorry, Ruth. I had to. Not that I have any room to talk. Anyway, here is my complete collection. I just have to follow through and read them.