Friday, February 17, 2023

Emma Illustrated

Frontispiece and title page from the 1833 Bentley edition of Emma
When Emma was first published in 1816, it was a simple production. The unadorned title page matter-of-factly stated that the book was "by the author of Pride and Prejudice." The publisher didn't offer anything else to persuade the bookstore browser to buy the book. Like the other early editions of Jane Austen's novels, Emma had modest sales, but nothing to indicate how popular it would become. That all changed in 1833, when the successful publisher, Richard Bentley decided to reissue all of Austen's novels in a matching set. He lured in potential buyers with a frontispiece image and a small vignette on the title page. The Bentley editions were a huge success and made Austen a household name.

Original art and reproduction in book of one of Hugh Thompson's images for Emma
By the end of the 19th century, publishers were churning out editions of Emma and Austen's other novels. They used different illustrators and fancy bindings to attract new readers and book collectors. We have many of these, as well as some original art by Hugh Thompson from the 1896 Macmillan Emma. Looking through them, you can see Austen's popularity soar.

Title page of 1816 first edition of Emma

Frontispiece and title page for C. E. Brock's illustrated edition of Emma

To see the first edition, ask for Rare PR4034 .E5 1816; the Bentley edition is Ticknor LE Au7e; The C. E. Brock edition is Sine B762nov; the Hugh Thompson edition is Sine T56emm; and the original art is MS-1447, box 59.