Thursday, September 05, 2013

Georgette Heyer’s The Grand Sophy: a Tale of Two Covers

Recently, I was offered a choice of Georgette Heyers to review for the Historical Novel Society (Arrow Books are re-publishing all her novels) and I chose one of my favourites, The Grand Sophy. My own copy, a 1962 Pan paperback which belonged to my mother, is falling apart and the pages have gone brown and brittle. It was a win-win situation; I enjoyed doing the review – and I acquired a new copy.

The contrast between the two covers, sixty years apart, struck me forcibly. I don’t know about you, but I like the cover illustration to match with the story. If the heroine is a brunette, say, I get really cross if there is a picture of a voluptuous blonde on the front. I have been known to write to my cover designer, quoting my descriptions of hero and heroine, and sending them pictures of contemporary costumes to make sure they get it right.

Both the Pan and Arrow cover designers were obviously instructed to include a monkey and a parrot in a cage. The Pan designer, correctly, gives Sophy chestnut curls but her pink dress is scarcely Regency. The monkey, Jacko wears a little green hat and a green cummerbund – and my teeth are grinding slightly because, in fact, he wore a scarlet jacket; and the bird in the cage looks more like a canary to me.

However, my main wrath is reserved for the gentleman in the picture, presumably the hero,  Charles Rivenhall. Heyer describes him as ‘a powerfully-built man… who nearly always wore riding-dress in preference to the more fashionable pantaloons and Hessians; tied his cravat in the plainest of styles… and wholly disdained such fopperies as seals, fobs or quizzing-glasses.’ And what do we have? Exactly what Charles is not. However, the strap line calls the book ‘A rollicking Regency comedy’ and I have to confess that the cover does make it look like a fun read.

The new Arrow cover style is chick lit in pink, metallic green and black. The background is pink and the monkey swinging from a branch, the birdcage, Sophy, her horse, and her greyhound, are all black silhouettes. The leaves, Sophy’s dress and the book’s title are  metallic green.

It has a simplicity which I like but I have a few niggles. The horse, judging by its stance, is obviously old. It’s a far cry from Sophy’s thorough-bred Spanish horse, Salamanca. And what’s happened to Sophy’s knees? She would have ridden side-saddle, so they should be crooked over the pommel.

However, the book is stylishly produced with an elegant italic capital letter at the opening of each chapter to give it a classy touch. I hope that the 21st century-style Arrow Georgette Heyer paperbacks attract a whole new generation of readers to the delights of this witty, romantic and stylish writer.

Elizabeth Hawksley


Christina Courtenay said...

I'm afraid I don't like either cover, Elizabeth, especially not the new one which is not at all a Regency cover to my mind! I have an old first edition hardback of this book and much prefer the original covers - that one has the greyhound and the parrot as far as I can see and definitely shows a humorous scene. I've also got an old paperback version somewhere (different cover to yours) but can't find it right now. I remember liking that cover too though! Covers are so important, aren't they?

Melinda Hammond/Sarah Mallory said...

I do prefer the older cover, Elizabeth, but that's perhaps because it's the version I have! I make allowances for JAcko, I am sure Sophy gave him more than one jacket! Also, clothes apart, the 1962 cover does have a certain energy and humour that is lacking in the new cover. However, its the text that counts - I hope the young Arrow editor hasn't misread and corrected any of Heyer's Regency language!

Arianne said...

I dislike both! The dresses are anachronistic and the artists definitely didn't read the book. I prefer the Arrow reprints and the beautiful painted ones from the 1950s. The chick-lit-style cover is just so bland.

Elizabeth Hawksley said...

I agree with Christina and Arianne. I love Barbosa's stylish original covers. Why can't publishers use his covers, instead? They were perfect: 100% Regency, witty and elegant - just like the author.

You're right, Melinda/Sarah. Of course Sophy would have seen to it that Jacko had more than one jacket, especially for chilly London.

You will be reassured to know that the text is entirely Georgette Heyer's own.

Julie B. said...

I also don't like either cover. The first cover is just woeful. The hero's head seems to be too big for his body and the heroine looks like she's escaped from the set of a 1960s sitcom.

The second cover is equally bad. Why do publishers think that they can just slap a chick lit cover onto any book and it will sell? This happened with Jane Austen a few years back and it's sad that Arrow haven't left the gorgeous paintings which they had on GH covers for the last few years, which I think perfectly captured what a classy and historically accurate writer Heyer truly was.

Elizabeth Hawksley said...

Thank you for your pertinent comments, Julie B. (I loved your comment about the 60's sit-com!)It's good to know that others feel strongly about inappropriate book covers, too.

You get three cheers from me!

Melinda Hammond/Sarah Mallory said...

The big problem for readers is they have to see past the covers to enjoy the writing.

Thankfully most readers have something called intelligence.

Elizabeth Hawksley said...

True Melinda/Sarah. But I confess that I have more than one book on my shelves where I've given the book a plain cover (you used to be able to buy red plastic paperback covers) because I so disliked the original cover.