Penguin Classics Newsletter | August/September 2009

Heathcliff & Cathy, Hester & Pearl, and Darcy & Lizzy in Ruben Toledo's Couture Classics

The blog buzz, tweets, and Facebook praise build for the much-coveted new Ruben Toledo-designed Penguin Classics Deluxe Editions of Wuthering Heights, The Scarlet Letter, and Pride and Prejudice. Toledo is an award-winning fashion illustrator, sculptor, painter, and filmmaker. He and his fashion designer wife, Isabel Toledo, whose dress and coat were selected by First Lady Michelle Obama for the 2009 presidential inauguration, are currently featured in an exhibit at The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Toledo's couture-inspired interpretations of these beloved novels contribute a uniquely creative vision to the long history of excellence in book design at Penguin.


Move Over, Madame C. J. Walker!

One hundred fifty years ago this September, former indentured servant Harriet E. Wilson published Our Nig, the pioneering autobiographical narrative recognized today as one of the most important accounts of the life of a black woman in the pre-Civil War North.

P. Gabrielle Foreman, a professor of English and American studies at Occidental College and the editor, with Reginald H. Pitts, of Penguin Classics' 150th-anniversary edition of Our Nig, owns a number of glass bottles from the nineteenth century that are part of the touring exhibition "Black Entrepreneurs of the 18th and 19th Centuries." The bottles feature raised lettering that reads "Mrs. H. E. Wilson's Hair Regeneration" and represent just some of the evidence that not only was Harriet E. Wilson a leading literary figure, but she also ran a national business selling black women's hair care products—fifty years before Madame C. J. Walker's similar business made her America's first woman millionaire.

Foreman and Pitts's groundbreaking discoveries about the life of Harriet E. Wilson are detailed in the new Penguin Classics edition of Our Nig, and Wilson's bottles are on view through September at the Museum of African American History in Boston.


If a Tiger Could Talk...

Three years ago, Penguin Classics celebrated the 100th anniversary of the birth of R. K. Narayan, the father of modern Indian fiction, with new editions of Malgudi Days, The Painter of Signs, The Guide, and The Ramayana, featuring introductions by Jhumpa Lahiri, Monica Ali, Michael Gorra, and Pankaj Mishra, respectively. Now we're publishing the first-ever two-in-one volume of Narayan's tiger novels, A Tiger for Malgudi and The Man-eater of Malgudi,  with an exhilaratingly introduction by the acclaimed travel writer, essayist, novelist—and distant Narayan relative!—Pico Iyer that readers of The Times Literary Supplement may've seen in a recent issue.

In many ways these books represent the fullest expression of Narayan's signature comic charm, not to mention his range and sheer genius as a storyteller: In A Tiger for Malgudi, Narayan pulls off the literary high-wire act of telling the life story of a tiger—from his cubhood, to his early days roaming the Indian jungle, to his time in the circus, to his career in films—all in the words of the tiger himself!

  Little Red Riding Hood  

Darwin's Last Major Work

Crying babies, nagging cats, dogs barking at spirits, and photographs of faces being shocked with electricity: This peculiar book may sound like a disturbing, sensationalist side project, but it is an essential component of Darwin's oeuvre. In The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, Darwin dives deep into his theory on human origins. Packed with case studies, drawings, and photographs, it offers a fascinating account of the origin of distinctly human traits—morality and intellect. Published in the bicentennial year of Darwin's birth, this Penguin Classics edition gives readers more reason to admire Darwin's fearless commitment to science.


Epic Battles, Family Rivalry, and the Meaning of Life in The Mahabharata

Though this eight-hundred-page Sanskrit epic does not, at first glance, seem like the obvious late-summer beach read, the war narrative of the Bharata dynasty truly has it all. With its death toll of over 1.6 billion, The Mahabharata is a match for other classic war epics, including The Iliad and The Odyssey. Plus its warring families are demons in human form and actual sons of the gods! Not impressed by its epic and otherworldly battle scenes? This religious and philosophical text delves into the deeper meanings of not only Hinduism but, more broadly, the meaning of human existence, with revelatory discussions on dharma that explore what it means to live one's life according to one's specific station, and to accept, not rebel against, that order. Teeming with interesting characters, family rivalries, and religious examination, The Mahabharata makes for a satisfying and inspiring read.


Lola, Lincoln, and a Mexican American Classic Debut

In time for Hispanic Heritage Month we have the Penguin Classics debut of the first novel in English by a Mexican American woman. The mysterious Mexican orphan Lola Medina is rescued from Indian captors by Dr. Norval, who takes her to his home in distant New England. Though the townspeople initially shun her, they become captivated by Lola once word gets out about the gold she's brought with her. Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton's Who Would Have Thought It? is a riveting historical romance about self-discovery and a sly and funny social satire that offers a stunning portrayal of the clash of cultures and communities, and a fresh perspective on Civil War America. Edited by Amelia Maria de la Luz Montes, the Penguin Classics edition includes newly translated letters revealing Ruiz de Burton's interests in art, business, and politics—and particularly in President Lincoln's inauguration and receptions.


Back to School Recommendation from Penguin Classics' Summer Intern, Alyssa Baylor

I have read Jane Austen's beloved novel Pride and Prejudice too many times to count, but as the beach days dwindle and the back-to-school commercials multiply, why not take one last indulgence. Austen's heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, is witty, headstrong, and disdainful of the proud and often-stoic Mr. Darcy, but the two are a match made in literary heaven. With its themes of class, propriety, and romance, Pride and Prejudice is a must-read for any student, but it is all the more enjoyable under the summer sun, for those rising college freshmen who want to get a head start on their first college English course while soaking up the last weeks of summer.


Personalize your Penguin Classic

We've partnered with SharedBook to create Penguin Personalized. You can make a Penguin Classic a true original by adding a personal dedication into selected titles from the Penguin Classics library and receiving a custom print-on-demand edition. Some of the titles available for personalization include The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Peter Pan, and The Wonderful World of Oz. See all the titles here.


Campus Classic: Reconsidering John Steinbeck's Sweet Thursday

For each Penguin Classics Newsletter we invite a professor to share an experience of teaching with a Penguin Classic. Susan Shillinglaw and Susan Adler share their experience of teaching John Steinbeck's Sweet Thursday at the July 2009 National Endowment for Humanities Institute.

Sweet Thursday has never been John Steinbeck's most popular work. But C. Hugh Holman, reviewing it in June 1954, praised the novel's "Dickensian extravagance" and that is as apt a comment as any on the novel's coy confusion. It's a book that abandons the layered seriousness of Cannery Row—an experimental novel about ecology, living in place, the role of the artist, and spiritual agonies. Sweet Thursday is Steinbeck unleashed, a comic parable, a masquerade. After all, how many twentieth-century novels were written for the musical theater?

As part of a July 2009 National Endowment for Humanities Institute, "John Steinbeck, Voice of a Region, Voice for America," twenty five high school teachers were sent copies of Sweet Thursday, a surprise addition to the reading list. The participants came to Monterey, California, to spend two weeks considering Steinbeck and place. Sweet Thursday came in the second week, which focused on the sea, and Anthony Newfield, actor, presented a workshop tracing the novel's theatrical roots. As he told the group, the novel started out as a stage treatment not about Ed Ricketts, but about a Professor Oregon who took over Ed's lab after World War II—a thinly disguised Ricketts, in fact. Gradually, the libretto grew into a book about Ricketts and an antic Cannery Row, and music was written for Pipe Dream, one of Rodgers and Hammerstein's only flops. The story of an author and a musical team hitting sour notes is a fascinating tale that the teachers found engrossing. This book invites and rewards this kind of contextualization. The novel itself draws together a skein of brightly colored cultural and literary threads: musical theater, ethnicity and gender, Steinbeck's love of comic books, his deep friendship with marine biologist Ed Ricketts, who died in 1948 (Sweet Thursday is, in one sense, a whipped cream eulogy), and Steinbeck's fascination with the notion of gallantry, an antique pose he found missing in mid-century America. After NEH participants considered this background, the group interpreted scenes through performance, looking closely at language and why "extravagance" makes this book one of Steinbeck's frothiest and most teachable. Music from Pipe Dream inspired theatricality.

As one participant confessed, "I wasn't paying close attention to the Grapes of Wrath workshop because I was reading Sweet Thursday. I couldn't put it down." Several teachers predicted that their students would have the same reaction.

Susan Shillinglaw, Professor of English, San Jose State University
Mary Adler, Associate Professor of English, California State University, Channel Islands
Course: "John Steinbeck: Voice of a Region, Voice for America"
July 2009, National Endowment for Humanities Institute

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Reading the Classics from A to Z
Marathon 2

With one complete cycle under his belt, Alan Walker, our Senior Director of Academic Marketing and Sales, embarks on yet another Penguin Classics reading marathon of one book by an author per letter of the alphabet. Check out the Penguin Classics website for Alan's latest blog entries (anonymous to A), as well as his entire first marathon.



Check out Penguin Classics On Air, a new online audio program from The Publisher's Office at The Penguin Classics staff presents shows on Jane Austen, Jose Rizal, Mikhail Lermontov, Sholem Aleichem, and Washington Irving; interviews with specialists and scholars; excerpts from Alan Walker's Reading the Classics from A to Z blog; and First Pages with Editor in Chief Stephen Morrison. Episode 4, "Sholem Aleichem: Yiddish Classics by the Creator of Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof," features Penguin Classics editor John Siciliano's interview with translator Aliza Shevrin.


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