Don’t judge a book by its covers

I have created separate blog posts looking at particular modern series of Woolf publications. Disregarding those newer versions, here I have compared the range of book jacket covers from the past for each of my five chosen texts in order to review what I found successful in each of the covers.


downloadAll the covers I came across were figurative, using prominently women as their central focus. Some of the characters appear to feature a transformation of a half male, half female physicality, and some even have an almost androgynous look to their face.

My favourite cover [left] caught my eye as its image is a Pre-dante_gabriel_rossetti_-_the_day_dream_-_google_art_projectRaphaelite painting by Rossetti – one of my favourite artists. Like many artists of the era, he uses models which possess distinctively masculine facial features, such as a pronounced jaw, large nose, long neck and a natural, pale complexion. This particular version of Rossetti’s ‘The Day Dream’ is in fact a chalk sketch in preparation for the final oil painting [right]. The model, Jane Morris, was is a familiar face of many of Rossetti’s famous works as they were thought to be lovers, and her distinctive appearance shows a clear resemblance with the supposed face of Woolf’s protagonist, Orlando. I like how the publisher chose the sketch version of the piece as apposed to the finished oil painting, as it is more appropriate for the book jacket format; additionally, the stronger drawing tones on the face and hands leads the eye around the page and draws the audience into the composition.

To The Lighthouse

pp.401Ð450.inddMy favourite cover happens to be the most abstract and painterly out of all the versions I found. The simple mark making and restricted colour scheme makes for a striking image, with clever use of the white silhouette to create the shape of the lighthouse structure. Though the overall look is out-dated, I think this simple composition and varied lines is a clever way of bringing focus to the book cover.

The cover was illustrated by Duncan Grant, a member of the Bloomsbury Group and a talented painter and textiles designer. As a close friend of Woolf’s, its interesting to see a more personal and first-hand interpretation of a novel from someone who was directly associated with the author at the time of writing.

The Waves


the_waves_virginia_woolf_cover-676x1024I’ve surprised myself by choosing this particular wood cut interpretation [left] as my favourite cover as I usually am not a fan of this type of thick lined prints. The composition of this image is really effective, and the artist cleverly creates a sense of movement with the mark making of the waves, which is hard to do well with such a static method of print making. The colour scheme exaggerates the vintage feel of the piece, though the typography could have been used in a more subtle way as the font is quite harsh.



A Room of One’s Own

a-room-of-ones-own-imageThis was a really interesting take on Woolf’s ‘A Room of One’s Own’ as unlike the majority of the other covers, this one avoided the predictable ‘woman sitting in a room’ imagery and used a bustling English street with striking characters, overlooked by a window above. The restricted colour tone of blue does make the composition feel a bit cold, but this may be intentional as to infer a warm, comfortable atmosphere within the flower bed lined window.

The cover was designed by American children’s book writer and illustrator Ellen Raskin, (1928 – 1984). Her drawing style throughout her books varies greatly, and this cover, commissioned by Harbinger publishing, is the most ‘realistic’ and stylish illustration I have seen of hers thus far.

Mrs. Dalloway

As one of the most well known of Woolf’s novels, ‘Mrs. Dalloway’ provided me with the largest variety of book jacket versions.

e9d3725946115-5602549bbc0b1My most preferred cover from this selection was a colourful cut out close portrait [left] which combines floral pattern with soft figure painting. I love the colour palette with its warm oranges and purples for shading which brings life to the supposed protagonist even before turning the first page.

My only criticism of this version is the font of the title ‘Mrs. Dalloway’ and the placement of it upon a white strip cutting across the middle of the page; had this been written in a similar way to the wording ‘Virginia Woolf’, I believe it would be an even more successful image.



Though there are certainly a few gems in the mix of book covers from throughout the years, it is clear to see that the Woolf series is in need of a regeneration into the 21st century. The soft, careful portraits of past eras are no longer striking enough to catch the attention of the new generation, as the novels are crying out for exciting and colourful visual representations of their complex plotlines. Looking back at these old versions has made me all the more enthusiastic to experiment with exciting new ways of portraying themes and metaphors in an expressive way.



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