Classic Novels’ First Covers


Ever wonder what your favorite book looked like when it was first published? While many classics — The Great Gatsby, Catch-22 — have retained their iconic, original covers over the years, others have changed with the times. As a follow up to last week’s roundup of famous magazines’ first covers, we’ve compiled 20 beautiful, surprising, or otherwise notable first covers of classic novels that we’d never seen before. See a surprisingly minimalist The Age of Innocence, a painful-looking The Sound and the Fury, the design that preceded A Clockwork Orange‘s famous ’70s cover, and many more, in chronological order after the jump.

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1865

Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, 1878 (first Russian edition)

Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady, 1881 (first American edition)

Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, 1884

Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence, 1920

Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway, 1925

Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises, 1926

William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury, 1929

Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer, 1934. You’ll notice that the cover warns against distributing the book in the UK or United States; it was banned here until Grove Press published it in 1961, leading to a famous obscenity trial.

James Joyce, Ulysses, 1934. Meanwhile, the same year Tropic of Cancer was banned in the US, Ulysses was published in America by Random House, following a notorious obscenity trial of its own. The cover above is from the first stateside edition; the original, 1922 French cover isn’t that interesting.

Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God, 1937

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, 1937

Carson McCullers, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, 1940

James Baldwin, Go Tell It on the Mountain, 1953

William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch, 1959. Fun fact: The above edition, published by France’s Olympia Press, misprinted the title. Burroughs had always intended to call the book simply Naked Lunch, but his editors added the article. The error was corrected in the first, 1962 American edition, but some later printings still included “the” in the title.

Richard Yates, Revolutionary Road, 1961

Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange, 1962

Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye, 1970

Joan Didion, Play It as It Lays, 1970

Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow, 1973