Thursday, January 19, 2012

Neo-Victorian Dust Jackets

I think I know what the story would sound like that could use this solemn photograph for its dust jacket.

Something like French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969) by John Fowles comes to mind. Or something like Possession (1990) by A.S. Byatt.

It’s a Victorian – or Neo-Victorian – image for me. If the book suited to this image had a distinct Victorian forebear, it would by something written by Thomas Hardy rather than anything by Charles Dickens or George Eliot.

If the novel were good enough, it might be hard for it to escape an eventual screen version. And that would be the disappointment – to have an easy way for the story to go away, reduced in memory to movie stills, an IMDb listing, a line in filmographies. The story would become so much data, fodder for Wikipedia articles, a target for comparisons, something you found in Google searches.

The image is about winter and an earth that absorbs the universal return to something indistinguishable. The image is about a point where no amount of care can preserve or make compelling. The image is about being forgotten.

A latter-day Matthew Arnold might agree to have his literary portrait snapped as he holds the book with this cover, his finger apparently keeping his place in a read he is determined to resume as soon as the photographer's session is over.

Who would not be aware of another mood when a book with this sunny wall on its cover happened to hand? Which of us latter-day Matthew Arnolds would not pause before just such a winter wall and salute the design below the window sill? What photographer of latter-day Matthew Arnolds would not drag his equipment outside to capture it?

If a book could be written worthy of that moment, its winter readers would be on their way to being cheered, heartened, infected with a chance for mirth.

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