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No more Classics from Bloomsbury?

November 29, 2009

Several years ago, my family discovered the Bloomsbury Classics series of delightful little hardback books. We bought one or two, and fell in love with them – not only as books to be read, but as beautiful items in their own right; and since then the collection has grown, either through birthday presents or by way of the occasional random acquisition.

A shelf of Bloomsbury Classics © Martyn Oliver 2009

Design of the series was the work of Australian illustrator Jeffrey Fisher, with each book having its own Fisher-artworked dustcover and a Fisher cartouche on the half-title page. Printed on high-quality stock between embossed dark blue cloth covers, they were tiny in size, even more pocketable than Penguins.

The same couldn’t be said of their content, which was far from tiny in stature. The series contained (and of course still does) the work of many authors of great renown including Jean Rhys, Janet Frame, F Scott Fitzgerald, D H Lawrence, Margaret Atwood and Virginia Woolf (in no implied order of greatness). There were several omissions – where are Harper Lee, James Joyce, Molly Keane and Evelyn Waugh, for instance – though I’m sure that most of the titles in the series are there because Bloomsbury or its parent already held the rights.

My favourites? I think Patricia Highsmith’s Carol has to be one of them. And Alice Monroe’s Lives of Girls and Women. I’d really like to say Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, but I’m ashamed to admit it beat me. But all of them are worth reading, and not only for the pleasure of handling them.

Sometime around the middle of the decade they vanished from Bloomsbury’s books-in-print catalogue. For a while they could still be ordered from the warehouse, but now I see that they’ve gone completely, and a search at the Bloomsbury website yields only two or three paperback volumes of a film series – and even those are listed as unavailable! I suppose pretty soon it will be the Harry Potter series, Bloomsbury’s big moneyspinner, that will assume the “classics” mantle. In the meantime, we will try to scoop up as many of the real things, second hand, from Amazon’s “partners” before even that source runs dry.

  1. J Oliver
    January 23, 2010 at 8:25 pm

    Looks like we have plenty of room for more so let’s hope we find ’em

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