200 Years of 'Pride and Prejudice' Book Design

On the occasion of the Jane Austen classic's anniversary, here's a selection of covers from years past up through the present — the good, the bad, the jaw-droppingly gorgeous, and a few that pale in comparison to the book's contents.

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Monday marks the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice — fun fact: the book's original title was the questionably Skinemax-sounding First Impressions — and the publishing world is awash in versions of the Jane Austen classic with which you might celebrate the monumental event. After all, Austen's work has been in the public domain for nearly a century. How do you prefer your Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet star-crossed romance? Here's a selection of covers from years past up through the present; the good, the bad, the jaw-droppingly gorgeous, and a few that pale in comparison to the book's contents. First impressions are important! Jane Austen memory lane, let's take a walk down you ...

Pride and Prejudice was first published in 1813 by Thomas Egerton. This is a title page from the first edition. 

A first edition of the novel was auctioned by Christie's in December, 2012. It looked like this.

A few notable details about the work, which was estimated at between $30,000 and $50,000 and sold for $68,500, from the Christie's lot description: "Originally titled First Impressions, Pride and Prejudice was written between October 1796 and August 1797 when Jane Austen was not yet twenty-one, the same age, in fact, as her fictional heroine Elizabeth Bennet. After an early rejection by the publisher Cadell who had not even read it, Austen's novel was finally bought by Egerton in 1812 for £110. It was published in late January 1813 in a small edition of approximately 1500 copies and sold for 18 shillings in boards. In a letter to her sister Cassandra on 29 January 1813, Austen writes of receiving her copy of the newly publishing novel (her "own darling child"), and while acknowledging its few errors, she expresses her feelings toward its heroine as such: "I must confess that I think her as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print, & how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least, I do not know."

Early on, designs were fairly simple, Victorian-era for the Regency book. I like this one, a "circa 1900" edition being sold by Abe Books for nearly $500, because of what look like floating balloons made of olives on the cover. (What are those things? Anyone?)

Here's another, circa 1883, which is going for nearly $1000 and apparently includes the inscription "To My Husband from his wifre 1885."

Peacocks have been featured on many a cover, some of them gilded, some of them not. Pride, peacock, get it? (There's an iPhone case, too, for any modernists). Abe Books has a first peacock edition, which they say dates to 1894: "A stunning Sangorski and Sutcliffe full dark green leather binding with 5 raised bands and six compartments to the spine. Triple gilt lined upper and lower boards with a gilt, black, brown and red stamped image of a peacock and butterflies to the upper board." It's only $8,303.

Another amazing peacock cover is this one, from 1895, illustrated by Hugh Thomson for Macmillan's edition of Illustrated Standard Novels. Various other editions with the peacock have come out in the years following.

And here's another version:

Fast-forwarding to 2013, incorporating the peacocks again, is Celebrating Pride and Prejudice, a book about the novel by Jane Austen Society of Australia president Susannah Fullerton, published by Voyageur Press. The two covers below were designed by Connie Gabbert; the one on the left features the peacocks.

Here's a 1938 edition from Penguin Illustrated Classics, posted on Etsy. It features wood engravings by Helen Binyon.

A 1946 school book from Laidlaw Brothers is also posted on Etsy. "Throughout this book are pictures from the 1940 movie of Pride and Prejudice starring Laurence Olivier as Mr. Darcy and Greer Garson as Elizabeth Bennet," per the listing. Neato.

A 1944 cover (being sold on Abe Books) that more prominently features the film:

Here's an awesome 1950s cover, as posted by Nikki at Penelope Cat Vintage, who owns the Thames Publishing Company Regent Classics volume. She writes on her post, "I love how you can tell it's from the 1950s just from the style of the illustrations. Seriously, look at Elizabeth - if you took away the ringlets in her hair and lowered the waistline on her dress a little she'd be straight out of a 1950s fashion illustration. Darcy looks quite like Rock Hudson and almost has a quiff!" (A quiff is a hybrid '50s hairstyle for men.)

Like the 1950s cover above, the 1970s one below is perfectly representative of its era. Laurel Ann of AustenProse, who included it in her list of top 10 covers in 2010, writes that it's "Purnell Maidenhead 1976 ... It is vintage fare from the 1970s and reminds me of the Georgette Heyer covers from the same era. The artist did actually capture the 'one turned white and one turned red scene' when Elizabeth is introduced to Mr. Wickham in Meyerton and Darcy arrives on horseback. Lizzy does not quite have the correct expression she should at that moment though. Still fun."

More recently, this Vintage Austen version, noted by The Bennet Sisters blogger who pulled her own list of covers together in 2010 (other great ones there, too), is lovely and modern while remaining evocative of the period. It's the hair, I think. (There's a series of these.)

Here's another great example of an homage to the period that's fresh again, a Vintage Classic designed in late 2000 by Megan Wilson for Vintage Books.

The Marvel Comic version of Pride and Prejudice, published in 2010 and adapted by Nancy Butler and  Hugo Petrus, cover inked and colored by Sonny Liew, is fabulous.

I'll pause to mention another spin-off, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Imitation, flattery, and zombies ... the cover of the 2008 Quirk Classics book, designed by by Doogie Horner, riffs on the more classic image you'd expect for a book from the period.

Some of the less gruesome redesigns include the White's Fine Edition, which produces gorgeous, soothing designs of other Austen books as well. This one, published in 2010, has a binding illustration by Kazuko Nomoto (series design by David Pearson). Here's the book jacket, which is cloth and features a wrap-around cover design:

And inside:

Scrolling through the options of P&P covers, many — likely similar to the ones we all read in middle and high school — feature ladies in empire-waisted dresses, swooning, sitting, being wooed, and/or smiling demurely, like this Puffin Classics version published in 1995 with a cover illustration by Jean-Paul Tibbles.

Or this, from a 2002 Penguin Classics edition. Cover detail from Double Portrait of the Fullerton Sisters by Sir Thomas Lawrence.

Some, like this white-dress version from Tribeca Books, design by SoHo Books, try to offer up an update and end up veering toward the '80s Lifetime Movie/Afterschool Special side, even though it came out in 2010. (Cover photo from dreamstime.) I'd still probably read it, though. It looks kind of Y.A.!

Even more like Y.A. is this Twilight-esque version from Harper Teen, published in 2009 (cover photo by Magda Indigo/Indigo2 Photography).

Here's another sexed-up update, for a sexed-up version of the book (maybe this is the Lifetime one): Pride/Prejudice: A Novel of Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth Bennet, and Their Forbidden Lovers, by Ann Herendeen, from Harper in 2010. Cover design by Gregg Kulick, photo by Richard Jenkins.

This Heritage Classics version located by Laurel Ann at Austen Prose (who's picked out other favorites, too, including one featuring Colin Firth) is so steamy Nancy Drew. Surprise, it's from 2009.

I am a fan of this annotated version, not just because it's annotated, but because the cover is adorable. It's from Anchor Books, designed by Megan Wilson (revised edition from 2012). The painting is by Jane Austen's sister, Cassandra.

Also adorable (it's for kids!) is this Cozy Classics version, also from 2012, designed by the talented Sarah Gillingham. That is not how I remember Elizabeth Bennet looking, but the classic is told in 12 words, which is pretty amazing. And did I say cute?

The Norton Critical Edition, published in 2000, is nice if one enjoys perusing sleepy watercolors of the British countryside. Is that Darcy's house?

For those more comfortable in the Twitterverse, here's a word cloud classic, from Canterbury Classics in 2012. (The word cloud part of the book is — thankfully, we think — confined to the book jacket.)

Type expert Jessica Hische designed this pretty 2011 cover as part of the Barnes & Noble Leatherbound Classics Series.

Another from Jessica Hische, part of Penguin's Drop Caps series in 2012. (Again, peacock feathers). A is for Austen. I covet this one.

Coralie Bickford-Smith's designs for the 2009 Penguin Classics series exclusive to Waterstone's are subtle and elegant, too.

This one, from Harvard University Press in 2010, designed by Graciela Galup, is a stunning work of art.

It's simple, but the color of this 200th anniversary edition Signet Classic really pops, and is subtle enough to tote around on the subway fearlessly. Bonus points: pink and green were my chosen bedroom colors in middle school, when I first read the novel. And the bird motif continues...

The 200th anniversary Kindle edition from HarperPerennial, more pink than green, is cute, too. I like it's sort of detective-fiction/comic book quality.

And fashion illustrator Sara Singh's cover for Splinter's Classic Lines edition of the book, released last year, is both fashionable and classic.

Funny that a book originally titled First Impressions would end up having a design for nearly every reader. Or is it? Here's another I love, and there are still more here. If you've got favorites of your own that we missed, please send them our way.

Note: In some cases we could not locate the names of book cover designers. If you are a publisher or designer and wish to fill in those blanks, please email us.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.