Capturing a sense of place in a new Brontë series

Vintage Classics is republishing three of the Brontë sisters’ novels today, ahead of next year’s 200th anniversary of Charlotte Brontë’s birth. New editions of Wuthering Heights, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Jane Eyre feature charcoal landscapes by artist Sarah Gillespie.

The covers of the new editions of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre feature charcoal illustrations by Gillespie, whose work was spotted at the Beaux Arts London gallery by Vintage picture researcher, Lily Richards.

Vintage creative director Suzanne Dean designed the new editions which coincide with next year’s bicentenary of Charlotte Brontë’s birth. Dean says at the outset of the project she was aware of the sheer number of editions of the Brontë’s work and that the challenge was therefore to try and take a different approach to the new covers.

The images by artist Sarah Gillespie wrap around the front, spine and back cover of each book
The images by artist Sarah Gillespie wrap around the front, spine and back cover of each book. The three covers are shown at top of post

“I always take into account how a certain classic has been packaged through various eras,” she says. “When looking back I found that most of the past Bronte covers featured figures, so I decided to work in a different direction.”

Dean says that she wanted to find something “quintessentially English” and which also had a strong sense of place – in keeping with the landscape of the Brontës’ work. “[They] deeply identified with the moors, with their austere beauty and destructive power, so for this series I wanted the landscape to create the mood,” Dean says.

Inside cover of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
Inside cover of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

“I also wanted to find something that was distinctive and felt unexpected. I would have to consider image, colour, format and what paper stock the covers were printed on. I had to contemplate how sets of imagery could work across the three titles and also create a coherent set.”

Detail from inside cover of Wuthering Heights
Detail from inside cover of Wuthering Heights

Richards says that on seeing Gillespie’s work at Beaux Arts she was immediately taken with it and thought of how Vintage might be able to commission the artist. “I knew that if we could work with her, we could make the most beautiful book covers,” says Richards.

“In one of the happiest cases of serendipity the Brontë special edition set was briefed just a few days later. It was impossible to think of anything else for the covers – the marriage of her pictures with the spirit and prose of each novel is perfect.”

Collected editions of the new Brontë series
Collected editions of the new Brontë series

Gillespie’s images wrap around the front, spine and back covers of the editions, with her artwork also used inside the covers.

“I really recommend, if you get the chance, you have a look at Gillespie’s work,” adds Dean. “There is nothing like seeing the originals, huge landscapes, smaller studies of insects and birds, all in delicate tones of greys creams and black.”

Quote on back cover of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
Quote on back cover of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

With cover typography by Lily Jones, the final visuals prove, Dean says, “that subtle monochrome designs can be bold, elegant, desirable and collectable.”

The three editions of the Brontë’s novels are published by Vintage Classics (£7.99 each), see vintage-books.co.uk. More of the Vintage design team’s work can be found at their CMYK blog. Sarah Gillespie’s website is sarahgillespie.co.uk

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