Another Look at Penguin Hardbacks

A 2011 article from The London Magazine by Paul Williamson recently became available on the internet. This is his review of the first 8 volumes of Evelyn Waugh’s books as published by Penguin Books in that year. Penguin at that time published the complete list of Waugh’s books in a uniform hardback edition. Williamson explains this at the conclusion of the TLM article:

…Penguin and Waugh have an association stretching back to the 1930s when Penguin published cheap reprints of several of Waugh’s early novels. These fell out of print during the Second World War, but in 1950 Penguin proposed to reprint all of Waugh’s fiction, in paperback, with a view to reaching a mass audience. To celebrate George Bernard Shaw’s ninetieth birthday Allen Lane had commissioned a reprint of ten of Shaw’s works in a print run of a hundred thousand. Works by H. G. Wells and Agatha Christie were issued in comparable numbers, and a year after the Penguin sets appeared none of these authors had sold less than a million books. Waugh was advised by his agent, A. D. Peters, to accept the deal and in 1951 Penguin published ten of Waugh’s novels in the mass-market format…

At the time the 10 Penguin volumes of Waugh’s fiction were issued simultaneously in 1951, 6 volumes had already been issued in Penguin paperbacks previously, starting with Decline and Fall in 1937 (Penguin No. 75). The 1951 batch included first paperback Penguin editions of The Loved One, Brideshead Revisited, When the Going Was Good, and, in a single volume, Work Suspended and Other Stories/Scott-King’s Modern Europe. Williamson’s article continues:

…By contrast, Penguin’s latest [i.e. 2011] edition, in the Penguin Classics imprint, is hardback and rather expensive – a set of books-as-objects of relatively austere design, intended to provide an aesthetically pleasing alternative to e-books. The set will look handsome on a bookcase, but there are details that could have been improved upon. For a luxury edition, the paper could perhaps have been a fraction heavier and greater care could occasionally have been taken with the inter-word spacing, which is sometimes extremely tight. (The map in my copy of Ninety-Two Days is extremely blurred, but that could be a one-off problem.) A greater drawback is that the texts are presented without introductions, textual notes or any other scholarly apparatus. For the moment one can mostly still read the novels without such aids, but Rossetti would certainly benefit from an introduction placing Waugh’s study in the context of ideas about art that were current in the 1920s. Similarly, although the travel books are undoubtedly an enjoyable read, that enjoyment could only be enhanced by the addition of explanatory notes.

Waugh seems to have been quite pleased during his lifetime with Penguin’s production and sale of his UK paperback editions. There was some suggestion at the time of the 2011 hardback reprint that Penguin were a bit put out by the choice of OUP rather than Penguin as the publishers of Waugh’s complete works and that this set of Penguin hardbacks was their response. I believe that, at about the same time, Penguin published a similar  hardback edition of the works of Vladimir Nabokov, so their decision to print this edition of Waugh’s books may have been a bit more complicated than was suggested. In any event, there seems to have been no later reprint of the original 2011 format. The hardback Penguin volumes were not sold widely in the US market, although several of the 2011 volumes appear to have been remaindered here. Penguin recently, however, reissued six of the novels in a uniform hardback edition with colorful uniform dust-jackets. See previous post. These appear to have used the printed texts of the 2011 editions, although they differ from those earlier printings in that they each have introductions by Waugh scholars (as Williamson had suggested in his 2011 review). As was the previous hardback run, these hardbacks are available for sale in the UK but not the US market.

The complete text of Williamson’s article (‘Evelyn Waugh’s First Eight Books’), including his discussions of the content of the books, is available at this link from The London Magazine website.


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