As promised, I’m going to do some bad book covers for William Makepeace Thackeray’s 1848 novel, Vanity Fair. And the best part is, I don’t even have to recap it here, because I already did so in my Victorian Snark Theatre 3000 post! Huzzah!
This may not be the longest, or best Bad Book Covers post I’ve done–largely because a lot of the Vanity Fair covers I found were lovely (or at least unremarkable). But I put out a Twitter poll a while ago and people voted for this one, so here it is.
Previous posts in this series include: Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, The Moonstone, Dracula, East Lynne, Lady Audley’s Secret, Wuthering Heights, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Scarlet Letter, Frankenstein, A Christmas Carol, Little Women, Jekyll and Hyde, Pamela, Ivanhoe, and Anne of Green Gables.
1.) These are all professional book covers instead of fan or amateur artwork (or at least I hope so). I’m more than happy to pick on marketing boards who thought these were good ideas, but I don’t want to pick on fans trying to express their love of books. If a fan cover made it in to this collection, then I’m very sorry and you are clearly a good enough artist to make me assume it was professionally done.
2.) I’m ridiculing the covers, not the book itself.
3.) I’m going to swear. A lot. If this isn’t your thing, then don’t read it.
On to the covers!
Let’s start with something nice, shall we?
I really like the jostling, opulent, overcrowded, and cartoonish nature of these covers. This book was originally a satire of a little-known genre called “silver fork” fiction, which was all about people attempting to shove their way into high society. Despite this book often being thought of as high-literature drama today, it was actually a farcical comedy (or at least dramedy) at the time.
Again, this nails Thackeray’s silliness, since many of the characters were caricatures of the silver fork genre.
I’m a sucker for a pretty cover (plus, the peacock feather design mirrors issues of people “peacocking” around town, and elements of empire which crop up a lot in the book).
There’s also a section of covers I call In Other News, DOORS.
Neither of these art particularly bad, especially since our protagonist, Becky, constantly finds herself with literal and metaphorical doors slammed in her face. It just doesn’t necessarily tell us much about the novel.
Then there’s everyone’s favorite category: Historically Inaccurate Costumes.
Becky’s either some kind of punk can-can dancer, or has just come back from a ROCKIN’ Halloween party, or exists somewhere in the 20th century and just has really fly taste in nylons.
On second thought, I guess I’m fine with any of these?
They are clearly attempting to do Deep Things with the not-at-all-overused imagery of a broken mirror, but if you want it to make sense, you need to make sure Becky (dressed in 1790s clothing, instead of 1810s clothing), doesn’t look too rich to be able to afford a new mirror whenever she likes.
“Oh, I love that the story is suddenly set in the 1840s, so we don’t have to worry at all about that horrible Napoleonic War! On the plus side, I suppose George Osborne can die from a lingering bout of cholera in the 1849 epidemic, instead of getting skewered by a French bayonet, which was almost assuredly too quick a death for him. Hurray!”
Well. I guess Gone with the Wind actually IS America’s answer to Vanity Fair, so . . . it’s nice to see Rhett and Scarlett on the cover.
“Do you like our hoop skirts? They’re decades ahead of fashion! Stupid little Becky Sharp probably hasn’t even heard of hoop skirts! Being rich is so wonderful!”
Y’all, if Becky Sharp is still putting up with this shit in the 1870s, she is going to be pissed.
Her outfit is from the 1890s. That can’t be Becky. Becky is long dead.
SHE’S DEAD, DO YOU HEAR?
Becky Sharp’s Save the Last Dance (which, incidentally, is a movie I would pay . . . well, maybe not a lot of money to see, but at least, like, matinee prices.)
I’m stunned into silence by this cover.
Playboy had a hand in this, or I will eat my hat.
(I’m not wearing a hat, but I will find one and I will eat it)
Then, of course, the old fall-back category for art departments everywhere: Slap A Portrait Of An Old-Timey Lady On It And We Can Clock Out Right After Lunch.
What do these covers tell us about the story, its themes, its characters? Not a damn thing.
Bonus points to the last one, which is dull AND with clothing from the wrong time period. You guys were really phoning it in that day, weren’t you?
This one also gets special attention for having two random women on it (I presume they are supposed to be Becky and Amelia?), and for also being one of the most hideous things I’ve seen in a long time.
Last–and in all ways least–we have a category I call General WTF-ery.
“By Jove! I spot tits!”
I . . . I have literally no idea what this is supposed to be. Roses? But there are smaller roses beneath them?
THE EXPERIMENT HAS GONE HIDEOUSLY AWRY
what do you mean, doctor? becky said her new looks would really bring home the bacon
THAT’S WHERE I WENT WRONG
Well. Okay then.
“Hey boss, I have an idea for a cover.”
“Let’s take a minor quotation from the text out of context, give it a weird font, overlaid with some swoopy madness, and then print the actual title of the book reaaaaally small so no one know what the hell they’re looking at.”
“Johnson, you’ve done it again! To press!”
“My shrewdly calculated constructs of sexual unavailability, coupled with the forbidden nature of our mixed socio-economic stations, brings all the boys to the yard.”
Right, that’s it for me today, but keep an eye out for more of these posts later! The results from the vote on Twitter mean that the next few posts will be on The Turn of the Screw, The Count of Monte Cristo, and The Jungle Book. Any other suggestions welcome!