Sunday, March 26, 2006

Tolstoy and the Semi-Headless Gowned Women

Sarah C has already blogged about Faber & Faber's promotion of Jane Harris's upcoming historical novel The Observations. The British cover is posted at her site. Generally, I like the semi-headless woman-style covers, since they're eye catching and have "historical novel" written all over them. It makes historical fiction easy to identify, for a nice change. (In the US at least, this style cover is less associated with historical romance, although this trend has been catching on in US romance publishing within the last year.)

On the other hand, when I saw the UK cover for the new translation of Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace, I couldn't help feeling a bit torn about this trend. Yes, it's a beautiful cover, and it might even convince me to buy the book (no, I haven't read it before - blasphemy!). I know that's Penguin's strategy, to get people to purchase it, for aren't all publishers in the business of making money? I suppose this very modern cover also indicates that Anthony Briggs's translation has updated the story for the present-day reader. That's what Viking (US)'s publicity blurb stated, when I received the review copy. On the other hand, unlike The Observations, re-releases of Jean Plaidy novels, The Other Boleyn Girl (which is the first usage of this cover style that I can recall), and other novels with these covers, War and Peace doesn't focus exclusively on a woman's life. Sure, there are strong women in it, but that's different. Which makes the cover just a tad deceptive, IMHO.

This also points out to me that the semi-headless woman trend is in danger of being overused. And when book cover styles are overused, they can easily become stereotypes. Check out the cover of HarperPerennial's version (also UK), which is being released this April - only this is a different translation and version than the Penguin one. Again, another gorgeous image. Then compare to the very plain jacket chosen by Viking (US), which is the one I received; it'll be reviewed in May's Historical Novels Review. Which one would you choose?

All in all, I suppose as long as these covers are getting people to read historical fiction, especially classic works of historical fiction, I really shouldn't complain. Maybe I should shut up and purchase it already. Were postage not prohibitive, I admit I'd be tempted to buy one of the British editions, just because of the pretty cover. Sigh. Marketing strategies do work.


  1. Hmm, I'd go for the one with the woman with all of her head showing *g*. The half-headless ones make me fell ughy - don't like seeing people like that, male or female.

  2. Those don't look natural, do they? I hear that they're designed that way to let people imagine what the women looked like, but I'd rather see people's entire faces, too.