Wednesday 9 January 2008

Zamyatin & Moravia

Yevgeny Ivanovich Zamyatin (1884-1937) was a Russian writer who has come to be known for a single work: the dystopian science-fiction classic We. This book, which George Orwell acknowledged as a major influence on 1984, is a beautifully written warning about individuals abdicating themselves to a collectivist society which attempts to make everybody uniform. Understandable, it was not published in the Soviet Union in Zamyatin's lifetime (the first Russian edition appeared in 1988). If you want to know about it, there's a surprisingly coherent Wikipedia entry here.

We is in print in a number of different English-language editions at the moment, which means we have the opportunity to look at how different cover designers approach the same book. Here are two different versions from Penguin Classics. The first is the UK edition, the second the US edition.

The photograph used on that first cover is Caricature of Aleksander Rodchenko by Georgii Petrusov, about which more below. It's a a dark, disturbing image which fits the atmosphere of the book. The second, which unfortunately I can't identify, is also very appropriate, showing a Stalinist-looking retro-future bathed in red light.

Here are three other versions of the book.

The first is the new Vintage Classics version, making elegant use of pictorial typography that also suits the architecural style of We's future world. The second is Hesperus's new translation, a straightforward hint at (again) a Stalinist statue. Finally, the Modern Library edition replicates the look of a Soviet-era publication.

Georgii Petrusov's photograph of Rodchenko, who was a founder of Constructivism and a talented and wide-ranging artist (some of whose work is to be found here and here, with Russian text), is also used effectively on the cover of the NYRB Classics edition of Alberto Moravia's brilliant Contempt.

This book is one of Moravia's best: the story of an aspiring screenwriter who effectively prostitutes his wife to an overbearing movie director in order to advance his career, and who loses her respect as a natural consequence. It was memorably filmed as Le Mepris, starring Brigitte Bardot (as well as the great Fritz Lang playing himself). A detail from the one of the movie's iconic posters was used as the cover for the late, lamented Prion Books' edition of Contempt.

So there you go. If that's not a wide-ranging post, then I don't know what is.


Anonymous said...

Have ordered Contempt in the NYRB edition on the basis of this. On your head be it!

JRSM said...

Oh, you won't regret it!

Anonymous said...

Do you have the Hesperus edition? Can you tell who did the translation?

JRSM said...

Hi Anon: the Hesperus edition is translated by Hugh Aplin. Hope that helps.