Monday, February 20, 2012

Special Section: HarperTeen Classics Re-envisioned

  • Austen, Jane. Pride & Prejudice. NY: HarperTeen, 2009. ISBN: 978-0-06196-436-7. $8.99. 18 & up.
  • ---. Sense & Sensibility. NY: HarperTeen, 2011. ISBN: 978-0-06201-563-1. $8.99. 18 & up.
  • Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. NY: HarperTeen, 2011. ISBN: 978-0-06201-562-4. $8.99. 18 & up.
  • Brontë, Emily. Wuthering Heights.NY: HarperTeen, 2009. ISBN: 978-0-06196-225-7. $8.99. 18 & up.
  • Meyer, Stephenie. New Moon. NY: Little, Brown & Co, 2008. ISBN: 978-0-31602-496-9. $10.99. 14 & up.
  • Shakespeare, William. Romeo & Juliet. NY: HarperTeen, 2009. ISBN: 978-0-06196-549-4. $8.99. 14 & up.

Confession: I judge a book by its cover.

As a graduate student in English, I know that I shouldn’t; I’m aware “it’s what’s on the inside that counts.” But publishers understand how, when it comes to books at least, we throw those good moral platitudes out the window and transform ourselves into easily distracted, visually stimulated, semi-superficial consumers. Thus, it really is not all that surprising that it is a book’s cover art that essentially makes or breaks its sales.

Speaking of which, do you hear that sound? It is Jane Austen, William Shakespeare, and the Brontë sisters rolling in their graves, because the covers of their timeless, canonical, works of literary brilliance have been altered (read: butchered) to mimic those in the Twilight Series.

In an effort to make these classics more appealing to this vampire-crazed generation of Twi-hards, HarperTeen has given the covers of Romeo & Juliet, Pride & Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility, Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights a face-lift.

As you can see on HarperTeen’s website, these new covers feature white and blood-red flowers set against jet-black backdrops. Look familiar? You can see that exact same, slightly emo, combination on the cover of New Moon, the second book of the famous vampire series.

If the art is not enough to fool Stephanie Meyer’s drove of drones, the books boast the same curly, yet dagger-sharp, font. Each cover also has its own darkly emotional blurb, which all gently allude to the Twilight series as well, such as “The Original Forbidden Love,” or “Love Never Dies.” Top it all off with a sticker on the cover of Wuthering Heights that reads, “Edward & Bella’s Favorite Book,” and HarperTeen has officially tapped into the money-making Twilight market.

I suppose I would not be as upset if the publisher’s intentions were purely to introduce these classics to a new generation, but clearly their goal is to make money by fooling young readers into thinking these book are something they are not. Sure, Heathcliff is dark and brooding, and Darcy is rich and brooding, and Romeo is young and brooding, but teenage girls are going to open one of these books expecting to read about Edward, and I fear they will throw it right down again when they find something perhaps entirely foreign to them instead: quality literature.

HarperTeen has even added material to the back of each book to make it more teen friendly. Readers can take a quiz called “Which Pride and Prejudice Girl are You?,” or a test that asks “What Would You Do For Love,” to see how you measure up with Shakespeare’s young lovers. The editors even brought Facebook into the mix with sample profile pages for both Romeo and Juliet. While HarperTeen claims on its website that each of these revamped originals are, “Beautifully presented for a modern teen audience” and “a must-have edition of a timeless classic,” I think it is safe to say that these new covers are merely a depressing attempt by the publisher to make some cash off the platinum Twilight bandwagon.

Caitlin Kennedy

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