The Story of Penguin Classics. Before 1946: 'Classics' are mainly the domain of academics and students, without readable editions for everyone else. This all changes when a little-known classicist, E. V. Rieu, presents Penguin founder Allen Lane with the translation of Homer's Odyssey that he has been working on and reading to his wife Nelly in his spare time.
1946:The Odyssey becomes the first Penguin Classic published, and promptly sells three million copies. Suddenly, classic books are no longer for the privileged few.
1950s: Rieu, now series editor, turns to professional writers for the best modern, readable translations, including Dorothy L. Sayers's Inferno and Robert Graves's The Twelve Caesars, which revives the salacious original.
1960s: The Classics are given the distinctive black jackets that have remained a constant throughout the series' various looks. Rieu retires in 1964, hailing the Penguin Classics list as 'the greatest educative force of the 20th century'.
1970s: A new generation of translators arrive to swell the Penguin Classics ranks, and the list grows to encompass more philosophy, religion, science, history and politics.
1980s: The Penguin American Library joins the Classics stable, with titles such as The Last of the Mohicans safeguarded. Penguin Classics now offer the most comprehensive library of world literature available.
1990s: The launch of Penguin Audiobooks brings the classics to a listening audience for the first time, and in 1999 the launch of the Penguin Classics website takes them online to a larger global readership than ever before.
The 21st Century: Penguin Classics are re-jacketed for the first time in nearly twenty years. This world famous series now consists of more than 1,300 titles, making the widest range of the best books ever written available to millions – and constantly redefining the meaning of what makes a 'classic'. The Odyssey continues...
Penguin English Library
The Penguin English Library series features the best novels in the English language. These are books to collect and share, admire and hold; books that celebrate the pure pleasure of reading. They are stories to escape in and get lost in - full of amazing worlds and extraordinary characters that will blow your mind, and stay with you forever.
This autumn is one of the strongest, most exciting publishing seasons for Penguin Classics. Following our success with Penguin's Poems for Life which remains in print two years after its first appearance in the original beautiful clothbound edition as well as thriving in paperback, we are delighted to be publishing Laura Barber's follow-up selection Penguin's Poems for Love. If anything this sequel is even more varied and attractive both in its selection of poems and its irresistible packaging. You can never have too much poetry we always feel, so in the same month we are also pleased to be publishing prize-winning poet and novelist Owen Sheers's A Poet's Guide to Britain. This is a tie-in anthology to the critically acclaimed BBC4 series of the same name conceived of and presented by Sheers and coming soon to BBC2. Sheers has made this diverse selection of poems himself and also provides an enlightening introduction.
In November, more than thirty years after the author's death, we are privileged to be publishing Vladimir Nabokov's The Original of Laura: A Novel in Fragments. Nabokov is unquestionably one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century and his works have long been a key part of our Penguin Modern Classics list. The Original of Laura will be presented in a beautiful hardback edition including facsimiles of all the index cards Nabokov wrote the novel on alongside their transcription. Our edition also includes an introduction by Nabokov's son Dmitri who took the difficult decision to allow publication, contrary to his father's dying wishes, after so many years. To coincide we are also re-setting the entire Nabokov backlist and publishing newly designed paperback editions of all the books starting with an initial six titles in November and the rest next spring alongside Nabokov's Collected Poems.
Under the Covers: Coralie Bickford-Smith on Designing the New Clothbound Editions
As a designer, I have an obsession with creating beautiful, timeless artefacts for people to enjoy and cherish. This project allowed me to do just that and produce sumptuous, tactile books that evoke a rich heritage of bookbinding while retaining fresh appeal to modern readers; that both stand out in bookshops and have a longevity appropriate to the contents.
This series was inspired by two previous books: a hardback edition of Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Anderson which has been in hardback since 2005, (a rare thing nowadays), and our Penguin's Poems for Life hardback which is currently in its fifth edition. The success of these indicated that people do love beautifully produced editions. All of these books are cloth bound with a matt foil stamped into the cover. The materials are limited in colour choice but the hard work of matching colours to the titles is worth it in the end – sometimes the limitations of materials lead to more inventive colour combinations and unexpected results.
Some illustrations are more obvious than others but I think that the deconstruction of the grid and the pattern in Crime and Punishment is about the fight between good and bad, and about how the main character was eventually driven to despair by something that he originally perceived to be so clear cut. The novel itself is set in imperialist Russia, but I have not taken this literally and instead moved towards a more deconstructionist feel, while A Picture of Dorian Grey was about an Audrey Beardsley feel, taking in the elegance of the peacock, the ego of Dorian Gray and the light and darkness of the character’s persona.
The illustration for Tess of the D’Urbervilles was simple and ordinary, summed up by the natural plainness of the wheat. The art included nothing elegant, but rather a rugged scene-setting which reflects the feel of Tess’s struggle to attain a higher life, that keeps on getting dragged down to a life of no frills – she endures a tough life that’s very much based around the land.
From the designer's point of view, I hope that these covers serve to enrich the experience the reader has with the text, and that they become editions that are loved and revisited time and time again.
Damien Hirst on On the Origin of Species: 'Darwin's idea, evolution through natural selection, actually explains the meaning of life; it is the biggest single idea ever, its breadth and scope enormous, its means so perfectly economic. Its capacity to shock and excite persist, to this day.
'Such emotion and passion over a search for essential truth are also the substance of art, such belief and relevance its goals. The myriad ways of understanding and expressing the beauty of life are a constant inspiration.
'There's an infinite number of ways to get to the same point.'
Gerard Depardieu: 'Fantastic. Wilde is someone who carried the pain, the hypocrisy of the whole world'
Andrea Corr: 'I feel like this novel is filled with great insights into life. Oscar Wilde had a knack for seeing and commenting on reality--he just got it so right. He is so witty. His truths live forever--it doesn't matter what time he lived in and commented on, his witticisms are absolutely relevant.'
Donna Tartt on We Have Always Lived in the Castle: 'Her greatest book... at once whimsical and harrowing, a miniaturist's charmingly detailed fantasy sketched inside a mausoleum... As Robinson Crusoe's universe is defined by the sea bounding his island, so the complicated, peculiar universe of the Blackwoods is defined by phobia which cuts them off from events beyond as surely as any ocean. The resulting novel is a paean to the triumph of the inner life. Through depths and depths and bloodwarm depths we fall, until the surface is only an eerie gleam high above, nearly forgotten; and the deeper we sink, the deeper we want to go.'