A whole new chapter for the Penguin English Library

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The Penguin English Library's books became design icons in the Sixties, but, asks Arifa Akbar, can the relaunched series be as big a success story?

When Penguin first launched a paperback series aimed at the growing army of Eng Lit students of the 1960s, the publishing house opened a magic door to thousands of readers.

The 150 titles in the Penguin English Library (PEL) series were ultra-cheap with vivid picture covers in a time when dust jackets were colourless and dull – and they sold in their millions. Now, more than a quarter of a century after the series came to an end, Penguin will relaunch its PEL series, with a set of 100 exquisitely designed – and, in contrast to the originals, markedly abstract – covers.

Simon Winder, publishing director at Penguin, decided to revive the series as he walked around Tate Britain one day last year, and saw people in their late teens sketching the works. "It made me think how wonderful it would be not to have read books such as Wuthering Heights yet, and how I thought I had a duty to make this prospect as attractive as possible."

The old covers, with their signature orange spines and old Letraset lettering, will resonate with most readers of a certain age. Such was the impact of these covers that they became synonymous with the canonical book they were illustrating. "For many thousands of readers, the girl on the stile in the red cloak is the open-sesame for Middlemarch, and for George Eliot", says Winder. Cover designs, he adds, can have a Pavlovian effect: "The spines alone are enough to reawaken our younger, better selves. And once the book is off the shelf, it is like holding a shallow cuboid of memories."

The new series designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith, focuses on the beauty and elegance of the book. The contents are divested of all the added extras that usually distract from the text, such as lengthy introductions and footnotes. These books will simply feature a quirky author photograph – E M Forster looking romantic rather than characteristically prudish; Henry James staring pugnaciously ahead – and they will also contain the original title page with the full names of novels, some of which have since been shortened, such as Charles Dickens's Hard Times for These Times. An essay will appear at the end –D H Lawrence writing on Edgar Allan Poe; Harold Bloom on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; Elizabeth Bowen on Persuasion.

Jim Stoddart, art designer at Penguin, who worked with Bickford-Smith, says book covers have acquired an added importance in our digital age. "In the last few years, there's been a growing competition. You can't put any old cover on a book anymore and expect it to work. In the 10 years that I've worked on covers, they've become really important. A good parallel is the record companies who work so hard on their art covers [to draw listeners away from downloads, and back to the physical object]," he says.

An Eng Lit classic should seem like an object of beauty to a reader, adds Winder. "You can download Middlemarch for nothing but why would you not want to own it, and keep it on your bookshelf, to go back to in years to come? What kind of a pact do you make with an author like Eliot or Defoe when you download a book?"

In fact, the endeavour to bring back Penguin English Library is in part, part of Penguin's fightback against the growing culture of literary downloads. There are, however, some rich ironies to this endeavour. In the 1960s, Penguin English Library fast became a popular series because it was so cheap and easily portable. It was criticised for its new technology – it exploited cheap colour printing for its dust jackets. The parallels between these criticism and those angled at e-books are marked.

The new titles, meanwhile begin with Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe – regarded as the literary canon's first novel – and end with novels published in 1914. Every book is £5.99, regardless of length.

Arts and Entertainment
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, in a scene from Avengers: Age Of Ultron
filmReview: A great cast with truly spectacular special effects - but is Ultron a worthy adversaries for our superheroes? spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Ince performing in 2006
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Beth (played by Jo Joyner) in BBC1's Ordinary Lies
tvReview: There’s bound to be a second series, but it needs to be braver spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, the presenters of The Great Comic Relief Bake Off 2015

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Harold Ramis' original Groundhog Day film, released in 1993

Theatre
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ed Miliband interview: 'There is only one party standing up for the integrity of the UK'

    'There is only one party standing up for the integrity of the UK'

    Ed Miliband talks zero hours contracts, non-doms and the NHS
    Libya's criminals undermine attempts to prop up a collapsing state

    Libya's criminals undermine attempts to prop up a collapsing state

    It's not just people-smuggling rackets, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Global warming: Experts say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100, with cataclysmic results

    Scorched Earth?

    Scientists fear 6C rise in temperature by 2100 - with cataclysmic results
    Miriam Gonzalez Durantez: Lawyer, wife of Nick Clegg and a secret food blogger

    Miriam Gonzalez Durantez

    Lawyer, wife of Nick Clegg and a secret food blogger
    Charlie Hebdo editor's final book: 'Letter to the Islamophobia Frauds Who Play into the Hands of Racists'

    Terror couldn't silence him, and nor will death...

    Murdered Charlie Hebdo editor's defiant, impassioned final work
    General Election 2015: On the campaign trail in Rochdale – the town globalisation left behind

    On the campaign trail in Rochdale

    The town globalisation left behind
    Bugsy Malone is back: Plenty of splurge guns but no twerking teens

    Bugsy Malone is back

    There's plenty of splurge guns but no twerking teens in the Lyric Theatre's reopening production
    Should we be drinking milk? Arguments for and against dairy

    Should we be drinking milk?

    Arguments for and against dairy
    Ivor Novello awards 2015: Meet James Napier, the backroom hitmaker for Sam Smith and Clean Bandit

    Meet James Napier

    The backroom hitmaker for Sam Smith and Clean Bandit is the hottest name in pop you've never heard of
    14 best girls' summer dresses

    14 best girls' summer dresses

    Whether they're on the beach in the south of France or in the garden at nan's house, there's a dress to keep them cool, comfortable and looking fabulous
    David Haye interview: Thought of Las Vegas lures Haye back to the ring

    Thought of Las Vegas lures Haye back to the ring

    Having overcome an injury that seemed to have ended his career, the heavyweight realised there were things left undone – a fight at the spiritual home of boxing
    Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

    Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

    His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
    'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

    Open letter to David Cameron

    Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
    Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

    You don't say!

    Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
    Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

    So what is Mubi?

    Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time