"This year, so far, I have read Penguin Classics editions of Dracula, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Monk, The Turn of the Screw, Melmoth the Wanderer, What Maise Knew, and Moby Dick. I can actually imagine a world without Penguin Classics. But I don't want to."
"Novelists need the great classic novels to inspire them and show how it should be done. I have to go back to Dickens and Trollope and Tolstoy at regular intervals. Graham Greene said that a writer should read one of Henry James' novels at least once in every two months to make sure that novel writing is something worth doing. They are all there the great novels I need and the poetry and plays in Penguin Classics and each one at a price considerably less than you'd pay for lunch. This is an invaluable collection and I am very grateful to it."
"Throughout my adult life, one might find my bookmark in a book that bore the oval logo of a penguin which came to mean fine literature from which I would learn and grow and become so passionately enchanted by that I had to share it.
Penguin Classics accompanied me through thirty years of high school teaching. Everything great and good that I had the privilege of passing along to the younger generation was offered in a Penguin Classics edition with astute and thorough introductions helpful to students and to me. My favoritesHuckleberry Finn, Grapes of Wrath, The Scarlet Letter, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Canterbury Tales, Hamlet, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Jude the Obscurehave taught us what is beautiful and worthy in life, what to care about and reach for, how to live. Those lines I loved to meet again rolling off my tongue into the minds of high school seniors lay waiting for me each term behind the oval penguin.
Now, I find Penguin Classics shaping me as a writer and feeding my
intellectual hungers with A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, The
Dubliners, Madame Bovary, Letters of Abélard and Hèloïse, Vasari's Lives
of the Artists, Letters of Vincent van Gogh. One might even say that the
life of my mind has beat with Penguin Classics".
"I am a devoted, closet Penguin Classic reader. Having had to major in chemistry, math, physics in college in preparation for medical school, I've had to play catch-up in respect to literature. My bedside table always has a Penguin Classic, which at the moment is Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham. More often than not when I settle in for the night, it is the Penguin Classic I reach for rather than the current best seller!"
More than any of Wallace Stegner’s works, Angle of Repose is a narrative that “acts its own meaning,” and that is, as he believed all good fiction should be, a form of dramatized belief. In it, the truths and not the myths of the American West are everywhere at hand, as well as what he believed was possible between an established culture and the raw landscape it would civilize, between a man and woman, between a man and his principles. Highest among those principles is a faithfulness to bonds made. How fitting it is, then, that Penguin, faithful to its own deep bond with Stegner’s work, should mark this 75th anniversary by celebrating the great literature is has so long supported.
Sentence by sentence, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky readjust the focus of Anna Karenina, providing a view far sharper than any previous version. Guided by the idiosyncrasies of Tolstoy's syntax, they have removed his prose from the domain of Victorian or Edwardian fiction and resituated it in a fresh place, somewhere at the confluence of Russian and English. In their version, Anna Karenina becomes a surprising rediscovery: more unpredictable in its local ironies and dramatic voices, more varied in its lexical texture, and more syncopated in its narrative pace. After their Dostoevsky, their Gogol, their Bulgakovand now their TolstoyPevear and Volokhonsky may truly be said to be the reinventors of the classic Russian novel for our time.
When 19th century Swiss educator Rodolphe Topffer discovered he could interest his students in seemingly uninteresting things by illustrating them with little caricatures and picture stories, he realized he'd hit on something. And indeed he had: he'd inadvertently invented the first comic book, and it was only 1831. He then spent the rest of his life trying to live it down, branded as an uncultured troublemaker. 173 years later, when Helen Yentus asked me to do a new cover for the Penguin edition of Candide, I realized I was being offered a rare opportunity to speak directly to a new generation of students who found themselves in the same dreary position Topffer's had. Imagine how proud old Topffer would be now, his little teaching tool thoroughly polluting a line of respected literary classics!
For actors, Arthur Miller’s play “Death of a Salesman” is a classic because Willy is Everyman. Performing as Uncle Ben in the Broadway production was first a challenge and then eye-opening. During the rehearsal, the director suggested I play Ben as a Shakespearean actor. I did but it didn't feel right. Miller took me aside and said: "Ben isn't real, he's bigger than life, he's mythical." I followed his advice and after the show, Dustin Hoffman ran up four flights of stairs to my room and shouted "That's it, Louis, you did it. That's Ben!!" We all had our journeys to find these characters. At Penguin’s 75th, this play continues to be a gift for each generation of actors and readers. Thank you Arthur Miller.
If, as Harold Bloom has written, Shakespeare invented our humanness, Dickens taught us how to be modern. The story of the boy who passes from the bleak moor to a bleak house to the well-lighted urban landscape, from learning to bend iron with fire to the manipulation of money, from Pip to Mister Pip, Great Expectations is the first of the great novels of ambiguity. Dickens was a master craftsman who lived his serialization, changed his ending to suit the poll, invented the author tour, and totted up his earnings on spreadsheets. And fun to read, to boot.
"It is not too much to say that the greatest writer of his time was ruined by his need to preach. But having said the worst that can be said, what remains is some of the best, strongest, most vital writing in the English language. The man’s gifts were phenomenal, and there is no one in English literature to touch him, at his best. Lady Chatterley’s Lover was the most controversial of his novels, and he saw it as his testament."
"I rubbed my eyes a little," Emerson wrote in 1855 to the author of Leaves of Grass, "to see if this sunbeam were no illusion." New readers of Whitman have been repeating the experience ever since. The shock of Leavesthe blunt force of its innovation, its harnessing of declamatory exuberance to surpassing delicacy – has modulated, perhaps, but not vanished. Whitman’s volume remains now what it was then: a provocation, inviting us again and again to unlearn shame, test out the limits of language, and dream our way toward new, only barely imaginable forms of connectedness.
A few years back I realized that I had passed 40 and never read Moby Dick. I had read all of Patrick O'Brian's work, I had built ship models so that I'd be able to draw a properly rigged ship in my comics. So I sat down and read it. I was surprised to find how funny it was, "I'll swallow a live goat with all his hair and horns on!" I forced myself through long slushy descriptions of whales and whaling. But what struck me most was the prose, "The starred and stately nights seemed haughty dames in jewelled velvets, nursing at home in lonely pride, the memory of their absent conquering Earls, the golden helmeted suns."
For Jane Austen, who lived on limited funds when paper was expensive, the purchase of a book was momentous. She would have been delighted by the access afforded by Penguin Classics, and (modesty aside) delighted even more by the spread of her own fame and popularity through these paperbacks. Pride and Prejudice continues to inspire readers around the world with its romance, wit, and emphasis on the importance of having the freedom to decide for yourselfand to change your mind. Each generation relishes anew reading that the greatest happiness awaits those with the courage to become their truest selves.
On the cover design for the Penguin Classics Deluxe edition: I wanted to create a contemporary design that conveyed how Machiavelli's principles of power could still be applied in the corporate world. I was inspired by the simplicity and grandeur of the movie poster for Fritz Lang's Metropolis.
Romeo and Juliet was among the most popular of Shakespeare's plays when it was new, not only for theatergoers but for readers as well: it served as a model not only for romantic tragedy but for love poetry. Enthusiasm for the play has never waned; it is, with Hamlet, the most widely read and performed Shakespearean drama. Though it is a drama of extreme youtha thirteen year old girl elopes with a fifteen year old boythe principal roles have always been coveted by mature actors at the height of their powers, and it speaks to the passions of all ages. Peter Holland's beautifully edited edition in the Pelican Shakespeare is the ideal introduction to the play.
John Steinbeck’s epics, The Grapes of Wrath (1939) and East of Eden (1952), are often considered his signature novels, but he was just as skilled at shorter, more economical novella-length fiction, written in measured, poetic prose that could be read in one or two sittings, yet which resonated as powerfully and controversially as his longer works. The Short Novels of John Steinbeck (originally published in a cloth edition by The Viking Press in 1953) is available again for the first time in nearly six decades in this handy paperback Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition. It collects Steinbeck’s masterful short novels, which range emotionally from the tragic (Of Mice and Men) to the comic (Tortilla Flat), and which feature work-a-day human beingsSteinbeck’s favorite kind of characterscaught in difficult, gut-wrenching circumstances that dramaticallyand memorablytest the limits of their resolve.
For 50 of its 75 years, I have been relying on Penguin Classics, first as a suburban schoolgirl hungry for the literature of a wider world, then later as a teacher and a Brontë scholar. My Penguin copy of The Life of Charlotte Brontë is almost illegibly dense with notes, but the paper has held up and so has the quality of the edition. Now that a new generation has discovered the pleasures of electronic reading, Penguin has tuned in to its needs. I was thrilled when Elda Rotor invited me to edit an enriched e-book of Wuthering Heights and even more delighted to realize that this series would add a twenty-first century sparkle to the classics I love. So Happy Anniversary to You, dear Penguin, and may you continue to move with the times for at least another century.