Paperbacks as an Area
of Bibliographical Study:
The Case of Virginia Woolf's Orlando

by Kelly Tetterton

A paper presented to the Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia, April 22, 1994.


The American Paperback Covers of Virginia Woolf's Orlando


The second half of the twentieth century has been witness to one of the most pervasive revolutions we have known in the book world: the Paperback Revolution. Yet bibliographers haven't devoted much of their attention to the artifacts produced by that Revolution. I want to spend the next few minutes suggesting why this oversight may have existed, why we should correct it, and how a few special bibliographic problems manifest themselves in paperbacks -- and yet remain familiar objects of bibliographical study -- by examining three paperback versions of Virginia Woolf's Orlando.

Bibliographers are constantly defending the purpose of their work from people who suggest that all books are the same, and even if they aren't, the details are really too minor to be bothered with. This is especially true of paperback books, by which I mean (for my purposes here, at least) mass-market and trade paperback books of this century. As the skeptics would say, paperbacks are not really textually important -- they introduce no changes at all, because thanks to the wonders of photography and offset printing, they are straight reprints of the original edition. Bibliographers know better.

For one thing, not all paperbacks are reprints. Kurt Vonnegut, for instance, launched himself into popularity with the paperback, and his Sirens of Titan became the first original paperback book later reprinted in hardcover (Bonn, 125). Indeed, for most authors writing after World War II, the paperback has become one of the major forms of their works produced within their lifetimes -- and these books are also what most people actually buy and read.

There are certainly plenty of reasons for bibliographers to stay away from paperback books. In the first place, there is usually no discernible format, and that immediately eliminates the most basic tool a bibliographer usually has to work with (although features like offset slur can sometimes be used to compensate for this loss).

Second, the sheer number of paperback books would seem to be overwhelming. How can one be thorough if there are hundreds of thousands of copies to collate? Suddenly it would seem that one needs an entire staff of bibliographers just to deal with a few entries of a descriptive bibliography.

Or perhaps not -- because another daunting feature of paperback bibliography is the scarcity of copies. Paperbacks were and are designed to be temporary, disposable items, and readers usually treat them as such. So if you're a dedicated bibliographer looking for an earlier paperback, you may be completely out of luck. If you are lucky enough to find what you need, that book is likely to be damaged or marked up, which doesn't make for a very useful specimen either.

But this is familiar ground, and normally when a bibliographer faces such a situation, he or she can rely on a library to provide the source material needed. But twentieth-century paperbacks don't qualify as rare books, and they are rebound as a matter of policy; often that involves pasting the paperback covers to the new binding. So if libraries are becoming the repositories for paperbacks, they're not usually preserving them in a form of greatest use to bibliographers. Sometimes they're not preserving them at all, since librarians tend to treat them just as other readers do: the one-time bestsellers are tossed out when they begin to take up too much space. So much for the dependable archive.

But it's certainly worth the trouble, especially if you're interested in how authors and their texts are packaged for mass consumption as I am in Virginia Woolf's Orlando; a good descriptive bibliography would give me most of the information I need. There are some potentially rich areas of investigation with this work: in addition to the main text of the novel, there's a completely whimsical index that must be completely re-done with each edition (in the 1960 Signet edition, this index is placed after Elizabeth Bowen's "Afterward" -- just as if it were a serious index to the whole book); there are photographs that may be manipulated from one edition to another (in the 1946 Penguin, the photographs are eliminated entirely, whereas in the 1993 Quality Paperback Book Club, a photograph of Virginia Woolf has been added); and there are covers that double as advertising for a work that may be tricky to market because of its gender-bending plot (both the Penguin and the Signet suppress that aspect of the work entirely in their cover art, whereas the Quality Paperback Book Club plays it up). I want to look more closely at the material history of the artifacts of this work by looking at the paperback versions of the first American edition of Orlando. As a literary scholar, I want to be able to look at these books for what they reveal about how Orlando has been packaged over the years, but first I need to look at them as a bibliographer in order to provide a framework for that literary investigation. And it's in that latter capacity that I want to examine these paperbacks for the particular -- and typical -- bibliographic problems they present. In particular, I'll be focusing on two of the most prominent descriptive problems: their classification and their covers.

Classification is a persistent problem with paperbacks: they are often completely ignored as "real" books and not described at all; this is surprisingly the case even for writers like Dashiell Hammett and Dorothy Sayers -- their bibliographies don't begin to adequately describe the paperbacks that helped establish their popularity and reputation. Paperbacks are also often treated as entirely special cases, such as in the bibliography for Kurt Vonnegut. I hope I have at least begun to make the case for why we should describe paperbacks in full, so I'll concentrate on an example where the paperback is treated as a special case. The authors of the 1987 Kurt Vonnegut: A Comprehensive Bibliography take their paperback entries as seriously as they do their hardcover entries, but their classification scheme leaves some room for improvement because they introduce slippery new terms; they explain this choice by saying that these new terms "were used because traditional terminology invites confusion, now that so many books are being produced and reproduced by photo offset" (viii). The authors clearly felt that "edition" by itself was too confusing a term: after all, how could a paperback reprint of a hardcover really still be a first edition? So they chose to use the terms "reedition" and "reprint" to supplement the term "edition." These terms are defined as follows:

First, a reprint is a "second or later printing of a work which is unchanged in content and layout, apart from corrections of typographical errors in the previous edition, even if several years elapse between printings. A reprint by any publisher other than the original publisher is regarded as a reedition, although the term 'reprint' is frequently used in current publishing practice for such a reedition" (xxiv).

Second, a reedition is a "publication distinguished from previous editions by changes made in the contents (revised edition) or typographic layout (new edition) or issued by a publisher other than the original publisher" (xxiii).

The sloppiness is evident here: these terms overlap rather casually with each other, and they consistently blur the edition history of the book in question. Thus the reader gets entries in the Vonnegut bibliography like "Houghton Mifflin Reedition of First Edition" (17) -- which sounds as if it's neither fish nor fowl -- and "Second Reprint Edition of First Edition" (18) -- which is not a second edition, despite the misleading advertising.

It's not necessary to change terminology with paperbacks -- if anything, we should try to preserve standard bibliographic terminology as much as we can in order to make it as clear as possible what the textual history is for any given book. The sticky problems brought up by the term "reedition" have already been addressed by G. Thomas Tanselle, when he clarified the Bowers term "subedition," calling it a "useful term which encompasses the impressions, within one edition, published by any one publisher other than the originating publisher" (57). This neatly covers the case in which the plates change publishing hands -- one of the reasons given for introducing the term "reedition" -- and it maintains a specific textual genealogy.

As for the term "reprint," there's simply no need to introduce an extra term for a text that is "unchanged in content and layout." Such a term merely valorizes the change in binding or covers over all other concerns; as Fredson Bowers says in his Principles, "A change in binding may accompany a different impression and, in some circumstances, may be the most readily recognizable (although not completely trustworthy) collateral evidence for identifying different impressions, but it has no part in any definition of impression or of edition" (385).

Orlando has been well served by B. J. Kirkpatrick's standard bibliography of Virginia Woolf. It tells us most of the bibliographic story -- and it does an exceptional job at describing paperbacks. There have been three American editions of Orlando, two of which have been published exclusively in paperback, and Kirkpatrick describes them in as much detail as the other entries. The first regular American trade edition of Orlando was published by Harcourt, Brace and Company in hardcover in 1928. It's this parent edition that my paperback examples derive from. The first paperback in this particular branch of the family tree appeared in 1973, when Harcourt Brace Jovanovich published a photo-offset reproduction of the first edition, though it's unclear as yet which impression of the first edition it derives from. My examples are copies from two different impressions within this photo- offset publication, as well as a copy from the subedition published in 1993 for the Quality Paperback Book Club. This last entry is an expansion of Kirkpatrick's bibliography, and it reveals a potentially thorny classification problem that Kirkpatrick wasn't faced with. I'm using these three books specifically because even though they are separated by only a few impressions, they reveal quite a spectrum of differences.

My first two examples fit within the parameters of Kirkpatrick's bibliography: they are simply from different impressions (the 14th and the 17th) under Kirkpatrick's entry entitled "First American edition -- photo-offset reprint" (39).

My third example is a little different, however. In the first place, it's a copy from the subedition of the American first edition, because it's been published by the Quality Paperback Book Club rather than Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. Additionally, QPB magnified the type on the page by 10%, so we now have a situation in which this particular first edition cannot be easily collated with any other first edition by either a Hinman Collator or a Lindstrand Comparator. It feels like a different edition, even though it isn't. Thus under the HBJ parent edition, we would now have an entry that reads "subedition (photo- offset -- enlarged type)." "Enlarged type" may not be an elegant term, but it will certainly be necessary for bibliographers to use in the future; given that photo- offset is now such a pervasive printing practice and that (according to Bowers) "an edition is most truly conceived as the type itself and its history" (380), bibliographers need to preserve that history as precisely as they can.

But once the family tree is laid out in a clear format, there is still another big problem to deal with: the covers. The covers of a paperback are what we most readily recognize, after all, and for those who want to study the reception history of any given twentieth-century author, this information is crucial -- and it properly belongs within a descriptive bibliography.

A similar need for such description has been recognized for the jackets of hardcover books. Tanselle has noted that book-jackets provide bibliographic leads, they contain blurbs and excerpts of letters, and at the most basic level, "[they constitute] part of the raw material of publishing history" (109). And all of that is equally true for the paperback book, where the covers contain all of that information.

But clearly not all bibliographers feel this way, and even when they do, the results can be muddled. The Vonnegut bibliography, for instance, does try to provide descriptions of the paperback covers, but it's maddeningly inconsistent in doing so. In the first place, the authors declare that "for items in wraps, the colors used are named except where there are more than five, and then only the number of colors is given" (x). But that leads to rather backward descriptions like the following: the 1970 Dell covers of Vonnegut's Sirens of Titan are described as having "the design of the man and the sirens which appears on the top cover of the 1966 Dell edition . . . reduced in size and [appearing] in a white bordered box on the front cover" (19). But the 1966 Dell covers referred to are described within its entry only as being "printed in seven colors" (18). In other words, we get the most details about the 1966 covers from the 1970 entry.

There are certainly good reasons for defining the parameters of description; if there are more than five colors, it does get tedious (and self-defeating) to attempt to describe them all. On the other hand, describing none of the colors does no one any good -- but describing the five most prominent of those seven colors would provide at least some information.

Designs on bindings or covers are notoriously difficult to describe -- and nearly impossible to describe sufficiently for a reader to really imagine what the design looks like. But again, completely abdicating this responsibility altogether is not the answer -- especially when the designs can tell us so much about how publishers expected (or wanted) a given book to be read. Kirkpatrick describes the covers of the 1973 HBJ Orlando as having "stiff white pictorial paper wrappers printed in orange, black and red; edges trimmed" (40). This is absolutely true, of course, but it falls far short of the gender- bending cover we get. And since none of the other paperback covers are described in detail either, there's no sense of a change in perception: the 1946 Penguin book (second American edition) which features a youth lounging beneath a tree vs. the 1960 Signet Classics book (third American edition) which features three Renaissance ice- skaters vs. the first cover of the 1973 HBJ book with a man and woman separated by a clock and differentiated only by their clothes vs. the later cover of that text featuring a still from Orlando the movie vs. the 1993 QPB book with an abstract portrait on the cover and a pink triangle on the spine and back.

What's obviously needed is not only a description of the covers -- within whatever parameters the bibliographer has laid out before-hand -- but a facsimile reproduction as well. This should not be considered a luxurious supplement to the description, but a necessary complement to it. Ideally this facsimile reproduction would be in color, but even a black-and-white photo of the cover is better than nothing -- precisely because it conveys the design pattern more precisely than verbal description can. Facsimiles -- even of paperback covers -- cannot stand alone, of course. Any scholar relying on pictures alone would miss some of the most crucial information of the descriptive bibliography, such as a paragraph in the typography section explaining that although the type of the QPB Orlando is enlarged by 10%, the length and width of the book has been increased only by 3%.

The description will have to be appropriately formatted as well. As I rather casually mentioned just a moment ago, the 1973 HBJ photo-offset has been published in two separate covers, and neither is simply a variant of the other. Ideally, these should be classified by impression. For instance, it appears that the 1st through 16th impressions of the 1973 HBJ were printed in the covers Kirkpatrick describes, but beginning with the 17th, the book's wrappers are made up primarily of movie stills.

This only scratches the surface, of course. There are other facets of paperback bibliography beyond that of classification and cover problems, such as tracking offset smudging and coding illustrations as they move from edition to edition. But as classification and covers are the most prominent differences, I chose to focus on them in order to demonstrate that paperbacks do have a rightful home in descriptive bibliographies.

And after all is said and done, a literary scholar could learn a great deal about the marketing of Orlando from such a descriptive bibliography. The first two paperbacks are pocket-sized mass-market books whose covers ignore the subject of sex altogether; the HBJ paperbacks are larger, trade-paperbacks more clearly designed for college study, and their covers subtly invoke the gender change which occurs in the work; the QPB book is also a trade paperback-sized book, but with the postmodern pastiche artwork, the pink triangles, and the blurb which says, "Triangle Classics: Illuminating the Gay and Lesbian Experience," it's aiming at very different audience from any of the others. Additionally, the print runs that Kirkpatrick provides give an indication of how the book's perceived popularity has waxed and waned. All of this and more could be gleaned from a descriptive bibliography without scrabbling after the books themselves. Descriptive bibliographies should be key resources for all literary scholars; bibliographers should provide that resource for twentieth-century scholars by describing the paperback book in full.


Bibliography of Sources

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Copyright © Kelly Tetterton, 1994.
Format revision, May 2000.