Thomas Hardy and the paperback cover

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Macmillan published a whole series of Hardy paperbacks around 1975. Stylised illustration had given way to making use of full-colour photography (no-one bothers to say full-colour now of course, because it’s cheap and easy, but it wasn’t back then – it was still a bit special). Bleed-off edges keep everything uncluttered and simple, with one of those fonts that managed to look both ancient and modern at the same time. Key characters were posed in various outdoor settings, with lots of natural light. (Click to enlarge.)

I think ‘being outdoors’ was a feature of this sort of image – I keep thinking of Jarvis Cocker’s lyric about ‘lemonade light’, probably because he draws heavily on the 70s, but also because it suggests lens flare, and those washed out, coloured circles of light. Of which there aren’t any here, but it’s the kind of thing that characterises the era for me.

Again these are treading a fine line – a little too much in one direction and it could be Hardy as pulp romance. There are a few fine images here though – I think Return of the Native is great with its perfect perspective capture of Egdon Heath, as is The Trumpet-Major with the Osmington Horse in the background. Both The Mayor of Casterbridge, with its grim respectability, and Far from the Madding Crowd, with clever use of a fan to suggest Bathsheba’s flighty aspirations, are just as good.

Then things start to fall apart. Tess is just a bit dull; Under the Greenwood Tree has a bright summer haze, but it’s the start of taking the titles all a bit literally instead of imaginatively… and then there’s a raid on the BBC props department. Two on a Tower? Just that. The Hand of Ethelberta? (Monty-Python-esque as a title at the best of times, but go on, give me your hand woman!)… and then it’s just random thespians adrift in the park.

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7 thoughts on “Thomas Hardy and the paperback cover

  1. Another interesting topic – I love the Return of the Native too. Far From the Madding Crowd will never compete with the film for me! I guess that is the problem with these literal/naturalistic photos – they do have to compete with any film image.

    • Absolutely – it doesn’t compete with the film! There was a Pan paperback to tie-in with the film which I nearly added, with Julie Christie on the front. And no photographics can compare with Roman Polanski’s Tess either…

  2. Great post – really interesting covers and comments. Loved that Jarvis Cocker lyric ‘lemonade light.’ Very apt! My favourites amongst these covers are the ones for The Return of the Native and Far from the Madding Crowd. I liked the vertical bars of light and shadow on the building on The Mayor of Casterbridge one – a symbolical edge there… along with the buttoning up. At first, I couldn’t quite get past the bloke on the cover not having retained those Michael Henchard rough edges – the kind of look Alan Bates achieved in the old TV series – but the more I looked at it, it began to grow on me…

    I have a 1982 paperback of The Mayor of Casterbridge with a photo of Michael Henchard, in smoking jacket and cravat, looking suitably despairing over a glass of sherry and a lamp! All my others are paintings too.

    Your last paragraph made me chuckle. Loved your description ‘random thespians adrift in the park.’ Spot on!

    • I like Alan Bates’ version – first watched that nearly 20 years ago, and came across the first episode again very recently. There’s such a lot of space given to everything in productions from the seventies – I know it annoys a lot of people, but I don’t think they can be simply dismissed as ‘dated’. Another post coming on there!

      • I like the Alan Bates version too. I’ve got a special fondness for it, because it’s all bound up with my first experience of Hardy when I read The Mayor of Casterbridge in 1982 for my A Level. We watched the series in college, and Alan Bates’ portrayal of Michael Henchard lives in my memory – he captured so well all those bursting at the seams qualities of Henchard’s character. And with a script by the great Dennis Potter, the series has got some very special ingredients in its mix! I do miss that space and time given to the unfolding of scenes, dialogue and character we used to get in TV adaptations back in the seventies…

        Looking forward to that post!

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