LITERATURE - AUSTRALIAN - PATRICK WHITE - WHITE COVERS
before the 1890s, books had been judged by their dust jackets, most
would have been considered uniformly dull, or indecently attired.
jackets appeared first in 1833 to protect the recently introduced cloth
casings as they made their progress from printer to publisher’s
warehouse, on to booksellers and then to library shelves, at which stage
the wrapping were usually thrown away. Those earliest dust jackets could
be blank, or printed with the title as well as the names of the author
and publishers on the front, or notices about other volumes on the back
jackets continued to be black scraps, or transparent glassine, until the
start of this century when the wrappers became another part of the
expanded sales effort transforming the marketing of all commodities.
Blurbs appeared shortly before the Great European War.
to Charles Rosner’s 1949 catalogue for the Victoria and Albert Museum
exhibition on ‘The Art of the Book’, the next step came during the
1920s with the elevation of the dust jacket into a work of art for which
illustration and typography had to be matched.
illustrators’ attention moved from the text to the covers. Just as
reputable engravers such as Dore had illustrated books, so, in the
1920s, an artist as established as Sir William Orpen designed the jacket
of H.G. Wells’s latest novel for a fee of two hundred guineas. When
the publishers lost the original, Orpen got a second fee for the
replacement, thereby earning more than many novelists can still expect
from their labours.
White began to publish during what has been called the golden age of
dust-jacket design and the changes apparent on his covers, as well as
the differences between British and US American presentations, offer one
path through the publishing world since the 1930s. They also allow us to
compare the ways in which Australia’s two great and powerful friends
have visualised a writer whose locations have been mostly as foreign to
them as his style and concerns were to his fellow Australians.
1935, when White privately published a limited edition of his book of
verse, The Ploughman, the jacket’s rear panel and spine were
left blank. Above conventional lettering for the title and author, the
cover carried an enlarged version of one of the images in which L. Roy
Davies had depicted the settings if not the mood of White’s poems. Any
cover illustration was still a daring touch.
years later, Harrap published Happy Valley using sensible black
and white lettering on a blue jacket, with notices for other writers on
the back. Reprinting in the same month brought forth brown letters on
fawn paper. Front and back panels now carried quotations extolling
White’s achievement from a distinguished list of writers - Graham
Greene, Elizabeth Bowen, Stephen Spender, Howard Spring, Herbert Read
and V.S. Prichett. The first printing had summarised the plot on the
front flap above a brief biographical note in minute type. The reprint
expanded the author’s career onto the back flap, stressing that he had
attended a good school, Cheltenham, before going up to Cambridge.
US American first edition of Happy Valley came from Viking in
1940 with white and black letters on a brick-colour panel set into a
green landscape for the front and spine. The rear panel paraphrased the
plot and quoted critical enthusiasms, as did the front flap. Viking’s
potted biography omitted the name of White’s school and university but
explained that he had worked on a sheep ranch’ and had twice visited
the US of A.
Living and the Dead appeared first in the US of A in a jacket
executed by E. McKnight Kauffer, one of the most esteemed designers of
our century. The colour range was limited to purple, grey and sky blue
with white relief. At first glance, the front looks as if it has no
illustration, only typography. But the lettering is arranged to form a
crucifix, with the words ‘AND THE DEAD’ standing out from the
slightly angled crossbar. Four stars suggest a southern cross.
sharp contrast between the British and US American responses came from The
Aunt’s Story in 1948. Doubtless at White’s suggestion, Routledge
& Kegan Paul used a black-and-white illustration of ‘the
Garden’, a neo-Vorticist painting by Roy de Maistre to whom Happy
Valley had been dedicated. The front flap carried the first
publisher’s photograph of White as well as his hand-crafted
biographical note where we learn that after reading Modern Languages at
Cambridge he ‘decided for writing and against sheep’. This potted
self-portrait foreshadows White’s notoriously 1957 Essay ‘The
front panel for The Aunt’s Story appears trivial. The title and
author’s name are set in boxes linked by black lines to three
child-like drawings, against a yellow-green background, like a New
Yorker cover during a printer’s strike. The panel again related the
complexities of White’s fictions to Virginia Woolf. Previous
promotions had mentioned Lawrence, Eliot, Joyce and Proust. Now, the
name of Dostoyevsky appeared on a White blurb. Appreciation of White’s
reception remains incomplete without paying attention to these
he remained with Viking in New York to the end of this life, White again
changed his British publishers to Eyre and Spottiswoode for The Tree
of Man in 1956, and for the last time to Jonathan Cape for The
Vivisector in 1970. If you are anxious to know if disputes over
cover designs played any part in these shifts, you too will be deep in
David Marr’s biography.
British jacket on The Tree of Man was an illustration by Don
Finley, showing a man overshadowed by what are more or less gum trees.
The Viking cover, on the other hand, was overladen with symbols. Neither
came close to White’s capacity for conveying the metaphysical through
(1957) saw the first of the Sidney Nolan covers. The title, in a dirtied
yellow, stood out against the gathering storm of blue sky while the
pen-and-ink figure of the protagonist stared at nothing, and everything.
The rear panel repeated this combination of colours but with only the
author’s name emblazoned. Variations of Nolan’s evocative sketch of
Voss appeared on all Penguin editions between 1960 and early 1980s, when
a larger format was disgraced by a bearded profile in a silly hat, one
of the consequences of the Nolan-White brawl.
their good sales in Australia, all the Penguin editions had been
imported from Great Britain. Nonetheless, the first version of Voss
appeared with two different prices printed on the front cover, five
shillings for Britain and seven shillings and sixpence for Australia,
instead of having the antipodean price stuck over the British one, A
Penguin Modern Classics edition in 1963 carried the company logo between
successful than the Nolan simplicity was George Salter’s design for
the Viking edition of Voss which took up two elements from the
narrative – the letters and the Aborigines – through in a way which
intimated the shattering uncertainty between the characters. Salter’s
attempt should not have given prospective buyers and wrong ideas about
the world White was inviting them to enter.
abstracted Nolan landscape in browns and bleached blues wrapped around
the British Riders in the Chariot (1961). This time, Salter had
more success with the front panel of the Viking, showing a section of a
sun-moon high above a green and red patch of hell in the lower left
corner. The words were set against a sky saturated with blue. Salter’s
attempt to reduce the storyline to a cartoon spoilt the rear panel.
Digby’s cover for The Solid Mandala (1966) conveyed the
mysteries of the Brown twins while the US edition again seemed ill at
ease with anything other a literal depiction of one tiny element, in
this case, Arthur’s glorious marbles.
other minor change arrived with the British edition of The Solid
Mandala when the list of White’s novels no longer included Happy
Valley. His first published novel continued to be mentioned in the
US editions until The Eye of the Storm, eight years later.
The Vivisector (1970) – dedicated to Cynthia and Sydney Nolan
– White’s newest British publisher, Jonathan Cape, risked allowed a
painting by Tom Adams to compete with those of Hurtle Duffield.
Penguin Vivisector has retained a John Brack image, ‘Still Life
with Self Portrait’, though on the more recent and king-sized editions
this work has been shown with only its sides trimmed instead of with the
top and bottom sliced off as well.
took the safer course with a novel about a visionary painter by
reverting to the kind of jacket prevalent in the nineteenth century,
using only the essential information, as they were to do for The
Eye of the Storm (1973) from Cape had a ideal work from one of
White’s favourite artists, Desmond Digby, to whom White dedicated A
Fringe of Leaves. Digby’s work on the jacket of the Viking’s
Four Plays (1946) is equally apposite. The Viking edition of The Eye
of the Storm came out only with words, as would its Flaws in the
Glass (1982). In the meantime, The Twyborn Affair had
appeared with author and title separated from the frequent US American
identification of the work as ‘A Novel’ by no more than a butterfly.
A Fringe of Leaves (1979) was the last new work by White to carry
a Nolan painting, this time from his Mrs Fraser series. Viking did their
worst ever with a jacket painted by Cornelia Gray who, like Andre Brink
in his novel An Instant in the Wind, transposed the events to the
coast of Africa.
Reversion to jackets carrying only typography – albeit of almost regal textures – overtook the British editions of White’s last three books, The Twyborn Affair (1979), Flaws in the Glass (1981) and Memoirs of Many in One (1986). The Cape designer added a small androgynous-looking bust to The Twyborn Affair, but no decoration or image of any kind to White’s self-portrait or to Memoirs.
this final long work, the US used an entirely inappropriately female
face heavily made-up with symbolism. One continuing weakness in the US
designers, apart from McKnight Kauffer, has been this compulsion to be
obvious about what the texts were at pains to reveal tangentially.
If lovers of literature, not to mention scholars, are to glean from dust jackets ever more insights about the changing self-image of authors and shifts in how their audiences have been encouraged to perceive them, librarians will have to abandon their bad habit of throwing the wrappers out with the rubbish.