Book Cover Roundup, by Emily Winslow

Look! Look! I have a cover!

There were several things I suggested as good possible cover subjects, and a bicycle was one of them, so yay.

Not all authors are so lucky. Two Bloomsbury covers have been in the news lately for misrepresenting race on two of their covers this past year:

Liar

and

Magic Under Glass

(Both have been since fixed (Liar here and Magic Under Glass here), but really? Did Bloomsbury really need public controversy to notice the problem??)

Of more lighthearted cover gaffes, my two favorites are:

The invisible name

The third hand

My cover pet peeve? Ones that use famous works of art that have nothing to do with the content of the book.


In and on this book, two of my favorite things have come together. Do you think this should make me happy? It does not!

Sharan Newman’s Catherine LeVendeur medieval novels are terrific. They feature Eloise and Abelard, later in life, as recurring characters, and star a young nun-turned-wife who has adventures and solves mysteries. I think Newman, an academic historian, has done a really lovely job with the historic worldview.

And Arthur Rackham’s woodcut illustrations of Undine by la Motte Fouque are among the most beautiful illustrations ever created, ever ever. Undine is, hands down, my favorite fairy tale.

This cover is gorgeous, but it should be the cover of Undine, or of a book based on Undine, or referencing Undine, or involving water sprites or set in the time and culture and milieu in which this woodcut was created. This image isn’t of a generic woman-in-angst; it’s a specific character in a literal scene–a scene that happens in Undine, not in Heresy.


Some people may recognize this cover image from a previous blog post of mine. All I can say about this is: Louise d’Haussonville and Constanze Mozart are not the same person! Louise is a person in her own right, not a generic representation of “old time woman”! Ack! (And, um, Louise was French, while Constanze was German. And Louise was painted in the mid-nineteenth-century, while Constanze was born in the mid-18th-century. There’s, well, not a lot of correspondence here…)

Wuthering Heights is about a woman named Catherine. This cover image, however, is famously of Emma Hamilton, the mistress of Lord Nelson, posing as Circe, a Greek sorceress. Again, here’s a famous woman in her own right, posing as a legendary mythical character, being used as a “generic old-timey pretty woman.” I can’t look at her and see Heathcliff’s Catherine. I can only see Emma/Circe. I know that’s who that is.

It’s that genericizing that disappoints me. Would you use the Empire State Building as a general “skyscraper” for a book about Chicago? Would you use a movie still of Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara for the cover of a Mark Twain book because she’s “old-time and southern”??

The covers are gorgeous (and the books inside them are terrific). I admit that. I’m supposing the designers assumed that “no one will know who the original women/characters are.” Emma Hamilton and Louise d’Haussonville deserve better. Undine and Circe deserve better. They’re not forgotten yet.

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Emily Winslow

10 thoughts on “Book Cover Roundup, by Emily Winslow

  1. Emily, you make a very compelling argument. I’d have to agree with you.

    And congrats on your cover! It’s amazing. I love the shadow-play, the lines and circles, and the trodden-looking font. Gorgeous.

  2. God, do I wish I had three hands (though not if I had to wear that dress)! Love your cover… it’s absolutely perfect.

  3. I love your eye and mind for details, Emily. And there’s something about your cover that subtlety promises mystery and England, even though it’s THE WHOLE WORLD.

  4. Oh, your cover is gorgeous! Very interesting discussion about book covers in general, too. I have to say, I didn’t know who those women were, but another compelling reason for not using them on book covers is that EVERYONE does it! I’m fairly certain I’ve seen Emma Hamilton on at LEAST two other book covers.

  5. Jen–Oh I know! At first I couldn’t think of specifically where I’d seen Emma Hamilton’s pic used because it’s been used so often! Hopefully, at least one of the books with her on it that you and I have seen about is her biography 😉 (Other paintings of her are used as well. Her pose as Ariadne is as lovely as her Circe.)

    Thanks to all for the nice comments about my cover. You can’t really see in the small pic (and my attempts to show a larger version skewed my text too much), but the title is like it’s been slashed at with a razor. Very eerie.

  6. Would it redeem the cover that drive you nuts to know that certain a nerd who shall remain nameless actually goes and looks up the originals when she is entranced by the cover, even if it is completely incorrect for the content of the book, thereby learning more not only about the story between the pages but also the artwork featured on the cover?

  7. Love the cover, it’s very evocative.

    And this post proves that knowing something about art is dangerous! Lol, just kidding. The people creating these book covers are assuming that the general masses don’t know Constance from Costas. Which is probably true. For those of us who take an interest in such things, the imagery is something of a turn off because of its association with completed unrelated history, but for most people the art used is both appealing and generic. Not saying that’s a good thing, just the sad truth.

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