Which Edition of the Novel Should I Use to Teach My Homeschooler?
Books are a major expense of homeschooling, and classic novels are no exception. One issue with classic novels is the sheer number of different editions on the market for each book. Amazon lists six different editions of Lord of the Flies, and pages of editions of The Odyssey. In this article I want to explore the process of choosing an edition by looking at my decision making in selecting which Jane Eyre to purchase for my class of homeschoolers.
I love books. I love reading, but I also just love physical books, from tattered paperbacks to the red leather and gold leaf Franklin Mint Pride and Prejudice I received for my birthday. (It is gorgeous. Sometimes I just take it off the shelf and look at it.)
The book is a very old technology which has had tremendous staying power over the centuries. The first books (as opposed to scrolls) appeared in the Middle Ages, and had to be painstakingly hand lettered and hand bound, but compare one of these to the mass market paperbacks of today, and you will see how little has changed in terms of how this technology allows us to absorb information. The book has had remarkable staying power.
The Professional Homeschool Teacher Builds a Library
In my teaching business I decided last year to purchase a class library, and have students check out their books and then return them. Previously, all students were responsible for locating their own books, and inevitably the class had several different editions, making finding a passage together an exercise in frustration. My new class library means everyone has the same edition, and the books can be used year after year, reducing expense and errands. (My online students do have to purchase their own books, and I can’t think of a way around that.)
This summer I needed to purchase a set of eight copies of Jane Eyre. Since I am purchasing books to last many school years, I avoid the thrift editions, with their tiny text and smeary ink. I look when I can at editions that have something special about them, and Jane Eyre offered several interesting options: Jane Eyre is one of the most frequently illustrated classic novels for adults. Once I realized that, I wanted to see if I could find an illustrated version that would still be reasonably priced enough to purchase for a class of seven students. The choices are all the same text, but they offered quite different sizes, and a variety of types of artwork.
Random House 1946, with Woodblock Illustrations
The first to catch my eye was a Random House 1943 edition with woodblock illustrations, which I purchased on ebay for $21 including shipping. The woodblock illustrations suit the mood of Jane Eyre perfectly, presenting equally well the misery of Jane’s life at boarding school and her soaring emotions when she experiences being loved for the first time. The disadvantage was that even if I could hunt up enough copies, an old book like this is simply too delicate for the wear and tear of a high school class. I plan to pass my copy around when we read the novel so that all the students can take a look at the amazing illustrations.
The next up is a 2015 edition by Book Candy Classics, an indie publisher. Because classic novels are no longer on copyright, and self-publishing has become quite easy, the door is open for individuals to publish and sell classic novels. The text of the novel remains the same, but the publisher makes decisions like type font and size, quality of paper, and designs an original book cover. Book Candy’s covers all follow a similar pattern, with collages of classic paintings inside silhouetted profiles. I think it is a distinctive and original design idea. Also, this edition includes H.F Townsend’s pen and ink illustrations from the second edition of Jane Eyre. The Book Candy Jane Eyre is a reasonable $13.50 per copy. The downsides: everything about the book is an attempt to use as little paper as possible: the text is uncomfortably small, the scale of the illustrations is shrunken, and each chapters begins directly below the end of the last with barely an extra space to mark the division. Even worse, either the ink or the paper is low quality: even my brand new copy had some fading on the pages. Again, I at least have the H.F Townsend illustrations to show my class, and I got some interesting experience in the indie publishing market.
Penguin Classics Delux
After my Book Candy disappointment, I looked into the Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition of Jane Eyre. I had a copy from 2010, when this edition was introduced, and it is still being printed. Penguin publishes a few other 19th century classics in the same style. They all feature what Penguin calls “couture inspired” cover art, high quality paper and binding, and a nice readable font. The book is a very reasonable $11.01 per copy. The only thing lacking is the internal illustrations that at this point in the search I had my heart set on.
The Perfect Edition for Class!
Then I found the perfect solution: The Illustrated Jane Eyre, published by Viking Studio, a division of Penguin. This edition features top quality paper, binding, and text, and over 200 illustrations. Yes, over 200, in a 550 page book. And rather than being vintage art, these drawings are new, done specifically for this edition, and copyrighted in 2006. There are a few full page color pictures, some full page black and white, and many smaller pictures, which the text wraps around. The style is gothic, and in my opinion captures both the 19th century sensibility of the story and a modern person’s perspective on that story. At $17.50 a copy it is not cheap, but this amazing novel deserves to be presented to a new generation in the best edition I could find.
“I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself.” - Jane Eyre
The timeless quality of Jane Eyre continually surprises me. Our protagonist Jane doesn’t have a fiery or dominating personality; instead she is quiet and shy, and her status as a dependent orphan only exacerbates these qualities. But inside, she has a fierce and independent spirit, unrecognized by nearly everyone. How many of us can identify with a person who feels undervalued by the world, yet is determined to live on her own terms?