Penguin Classics

Penguin Classics is an imprint of Penguin Books under which classic works of literature are published in English, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, and Korean among other languages.[1] Literary critics see books in this series as important members of the Western canon, though many titles are translated or of non-Western origin; indeed, the series for decades from its creation included only translations, until it eventually incorporated the Penguin English Library imprint in 1986. The first Penguin Classic was E. V. Rieu's translation of The Odyssey, published in 1946, and Rieu went on to become general editor of the series. Rieu sought out literary novelists such as Robert Graves and Dorothy Sayers as translators, believing they would avoid "the archaic flavour and the foreign idiom that renders many existing translations repellent to modern taste."[2]

Penguin Little Black Classics
Celebrating their 80th anniversary in 2015, Penguin released 80 Little Black Classics

In 1964 Betty Radice and William Baldick succeeded Rieu as joint editors, with Radice becoming sole editor in 1974 and serving as an editor for 21 years.[3] [4] As editor, Radice argued for the place of scholarship in popular editions, and modified the earlier Penguin convention of the plain text, adding line references, bibliographies, maps, explanatory notes and indexes.[5] She broadened the canon of the 'Classics', and encouraged and diversified their readership while upholding academic standards. [5]

Penguin Classics
Penguin Classics
2002 design of Penguin Classics
Parent companyPenguin Books
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Headquarters locationLondon, England
Publication typesBooks


Penguin Books has paid particular attention to the design of its books since recruiting German typographer Jan Tschichold in 1947. The early minimalist designs were modernised by Italian art director Germano Facetti, who joined Penguin in 1961.[2] The new classics were known as "Black Classics" for their black covers, which also featured artwork appropriate to the topic and period of the work. This design was revised in 1985 to have pale yellow covers with a black spine, colour-coded with a small mark to indicate language and period (red for English, purple for ancient Latin and Greek, yellow for medieval and continental European languages, and green for other languages).

In 2002, Penguin redesigned its entire catalogue. The redesign restored the black cover, adding a white stripe and orange lettering. The text page design was also overhauled to follow a more closely prescribed template, allowing for faster copyediting and typesetting, but reducing the options for individual design variations suggested by a text's structure or historical context (for example, in the choice of text typeface). Prior to 2002, the text page typography of each book in the Classics series had been overseen by a team of in-house designers; this department was drastically reduced in 2003 as part of the production cost reductions. The in-house text design department still exists, albeit much smaller than formerly. Recent design work includes the Penguin Little Black Classic series.

Bill Amberg

Penguin Classics collaborated with Bill Amberg in 2008 in the design of six books (A Room with a View, Breakfast at Tiffany's, The Big Sleep, The Great Gatsby, Brideshead Revisited, and The Picture of Dorian Gray).[6]


Within the broader category of Classics, Penguin has issued specialised series with their own designs. These include:

  • Penguin Nature Classics, issued, with authors such as John James Audubon, Rachel Carson, and John Muir
  • Penguin Modern Classics, issued from 1961 onwards, with authors such as Truman Capote, James Joyce, George Orwell, Vladimir Nabokov, and Antoine de Saint Exupéry. Some titles come with critical apparatus. The series has gone through a number of redesigns, the most recent being in June 2017: see here here, and here.
    • The series was renamed Penguin 20th Century Classics in May 1989, but the series reverted to its old name in February 2000. 20th Century Classics feature full-page front cover art, with a light blue-green/eau de nil rear cover and spine.[7]
  • Penguin Enriched Classics, issued,[8] such as Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Pride and Prejudice, The Scarlet Letter, and A Tale of Two Cities
  • Penguin Popular Classics, issued in 1994, are paperback editions of texts under the Classics imprints. They were a response to Wordsworth Classics, a series of very cheap reprints which imitated Penguin in using black as its signature colour.[9]
  • Penguin Designer Classics, issued in 2007, is a set of five limited-edition books, with covers created by fashion designers to commemorate the series' 60th Anniversary
  • Penguin Mini Modern Classics, issued in 2011, is an assortment of fifty pocket-sized books from fifty different authors such as Franz Kafka, Italo Calvino, E. M. Forster, Virginia Woolf and Stefan Zweig. It has been released to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Penguin Modern Classics. It is currently out of print.
  • Penguin Little Black Classics, issued in 2015 a series of pocket-sized classics introduced to celebrate the 80th anniversary of Penguin Books.
  • Pocket Penguins, issued in 2016. The series echoes the style of the original Penguin Books, with smaller A-format size, and tri-band design. The first 20 books were released in May 2016, and described by publishing director Simon Winder as "a mix of the famous and the unjustly overlooked".[10][11][12]


No definitive bibliography of Penguin Classics has yet been published, although several partial bibliographies have been issued. The earliest come from the Penguin Catalogues, published annually covering in-print editions. The 1963 catalogue, for example, lists 97 titles, although by then the series overall had produced 118 volumes. In the 1980s Penguin (UK) began publishing discrete catalogues of its Classics and Twentieth Century Classics series, listing all the titles then available in the UK (with prices in sterling).

The Penguin Collectors' Society have published two bibliographies of the early, pre-ISBN (referred to as 'L') editions: firstly in 1994, with an update in 2008.

Also in 2008, Penguin Books USA published a complete annotated listing of all Penguin Classics titles in a single paperback volume in the style of its Penguin Classics books. The list organises the collection multiple times: alphabetically by author, subject categories, authors by region, and a complete alphabetic title index. This compiled listing indicates there are over 1,300 titles, and more to be published. The final print version of this listing was issued in 2012, however a copy of the 2010 listing remains available on the Penguin website.[13]

Complete Collection

In 2005, an incomplete collection of books in the series was sold on as "The Penguin Classics Library Complete Collection".[14] In 2005, the collection consisted of 1,082 different books (in multiple editions) and cost US$7,989.50. The collection weighed about 750 pounds (340 kg) and took about 77 linear feet (23.5 m) of shelf space; laid end-to-end the books would reach about 630 feet (192 m).

A feature of the World's Biggest Bookstore in Toronto, Canada, from its inception in the 1970s, and for years thereafter, was that it stocked all of the Penguin Classics titles. The upper section of the second floor of the store was dedicated to Penguin exclusively.

60th Anniversary

In 2007, Penguin Classics released a set of five books limited to 1,000 copies each, known as the Designer Classics.[15][16] Each book was specially designed to celebrate Penguin Classics' Diamond Anniversary:

  • The cover for Crime and Punishment was created by graphic designers Stephen Sorrell and Damon Murray of Fuel,[17] who used Cyrillic and English type. Stephen explains: "This visual device echoes the mind games in the head of Raskolnikov as he battles with his voice of conscience. We want the design to form the shape and feel of the book as a whole not just its cover." They have screen printed the cover on the same brown craft paper used for the text. The book has a Perspex slipcase.
  • The Idiot was designed by industrial designer Ron Arad and has no cover, so the reader will pick it up and read the author's first words. It is stripped back to show the glue and thread in the spine, which is visible through an acrylic slipcase (with a lid) with a fresnel lens, so the text appears to move as the lid is removed. Arad explains: "By not wanting to have a cover, it ended with the book becoming an amazing object that is alive, but which maintains its transparency. It became a glorious box with a book inside—almost like a monument."
  • The cover for Lady Chatterley's Lover was created by fashion designer Paul Smith.
  • The cover for Madame Bovary was designed by fashion designer Manolo Blahnik. The jacket features Blahnik's original painting of Emma with her lover, and the book is protected by a Perspex slipcase. He said: "I wanted to come up with something light, sensual... something frivolous, because this is a novel about the dangers of frivolity. And I wanted something sexy too, cheeky. I usually focus on one part of the foot—the shoe. For this project, I had to consider a whole scene, there had to be a context, which is new for me. But I managed to sneak in a pair of shoes anyway. She wore good shoes."
  • The cover for Tender Is the Night was designed by English filmmaker, photographer, and visual artist Sam Taylor-Wood, who used an ethereal black-and-white photograph printed onto tracing paper. An elegant, barefoot young man stands with his hands in his pocket, perfectly summing up the elegance and fragility of Nicole and Dick Diver's world. The book is wrapped in a cloth hardcover and has a Perspex slipcase.


In 2013, Penguin Classics published Morrissey's Autobiography. Concerns arose about the imprint's publishing a book too recently published to be an acknowledged classic, that such a book diluted the brand. Penguin argued that the autobiography was "a classic in the making".[18] The Independent's Boyd Tonkin said: "The droning narcissism of the [book] may harm [Morrissey's] name a little. It ruins that of his publisher... Morrissey will survive his unearned elevation. I doubt that the reputation of Penguin Classics will."[19]

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ "Overview". Retrieved 30 August 2009.
  2. ^ a b Cowley, Des; Williamson, Clare (2007). The World of the Book. Melbourne: Miegunyah Press. p. 81.
  3. ^ Radice, William; Reynolds, Barbara (1987). The Translator's Art. Essays in honour of Betty Radice. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin. p. 29. ISBN 0-14-009226-9.
  4. ^ Fowler, R (2016) 'Betty Radice and the survival of classics' in Wyles, R. and E. Hall (eds) Women Classical Scholars: Unsealing the Fountain from the Renaissance to Jacqueline de Romilly, Oxford. p.347-349
  5. ^ a b Fowler, R (2016) 'Betty Radice and the survival of classics' in Wyles, R. and E. Hall (eds) Women Classical Scholars: Unsealing the Fountain from the Renaissance to Jacqueline de Romilly, Oxford. p.347-349,358
  6. ^ Bumpus, Jessica (29 October 2008). "Designer Novels". Vogue. Retrieved 5 June 2014.
  7. ^ "Designing Penguin Modern Classics (Part 2)". Retrieved 10 January 2018.
  8. ^ "Penguin Enriched eBooks". Retrieved 30 August 2009.
  9. ^ "Classics on a budget". Times Education Supplement.
  10. ^ Cowdrey, Katherine (18 February 2016). "PRH launches new classics range, Pocket Penguins". The Bookseller. Retrieved 1 June 2016.
  11. ^ Cooke, Rachel (31 May 2016). "What Penguins, donkeys and moles have in common". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 June 2016.
  12. ^ Sinclair, Mark (19 February 2016). "Pocket Penguins – in search of the perfect Classic". Creative Review. Retrieved 1 June 2016.
  13. ^ [1]
  14. ^ Wyatt, Edward (14 November 2005). "One Well-Read Home Has Some New Pets: 1,082 Penguins". The New York Times. New York. Retrieved 30 August 2009.
  15. ^ "Five leading designers explain how they re-covered their favourite Penguins". The Guardian. London. 28 October 2006. Retrieved 12 December 2009.
  16. ^ Rawsthorn, Alice (28 October 2006). "How Penguin Classics books became design icons". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 12 December 2009.
  17. ^ "About". Fuel Design & Publishing.
  18. ^ "Penguin Classics: why are they publishing Morrissey's autobiography?". The Guardian. London. 13 October 2013. Retrieved 17 October 2013.
  19. ^ "Autobiography by Morrissey – Droning narcissism and the whine of self-pity". The Independent. London. 17 October 2013. Retrieved 17 October 2013.

External links

A. N. D. Haksar

Aditya Narayan Dhairyasheel Haksar (born 3 December 1933) is a well known translator of Sanskrit classics into English.[1] Born in Gwalior, central India, he is a graduate of The Doon School, Allahabad University and Oxford University. He was a career diplomat, serving as Indian High Commissioner to Kenya and the Seychelles, Minister in the United States, Ambassador to Portugal and Yugoslavia, and he also served as Dean of India's Foreign Service Institute and President of the U.N. Environment Programme's Governing Council.

A Short History of the World (H. G. Wells)

A Short History of the World is a period-piece non-fictional historic work by English author H. G. Wells first published by Cassell & Co, Ltd Publishing in 1922. It was first published in Penguin Books in 1936. It was republished under Penguin Classics in 2006. The book was largely inspired by Wells's earlier 1919 work The Outline of History.The book is 344 pages in total, summarising the scientific knowledge of the time regarding the history of Earth and life. It starts with its origins, goes on to explain the development of the Earth and life on Earth, reaching primitive thought and the development of humankind from the Cradle of Civilisation. The book ends with the outcome of the First World War, the Russian famine of 1921, and the League of Nations in 1922. In 1934 Albert Einstein recommended the book for the study of history as a means of interpreting progress in civilisation.


Aristophanes (; Greek: Ἀριστοφάνης, pronounced [aristopʰánɛːs]; c. 446 – c. 386 BC), son of Philippus, of the deme Kydathenaion (Latin: Cydathenaeum), was a comic playwright of ancient Athens. Eleven of his forty plays survive virtually complete. These provide the most valuable examples of a genre of comic drama known as Old Comedy and are used to define it, along with fragments from dozens of lost plays by Aristophanes and his contemporaries.Also known as "the Father of Comedy" and "the Prince of Ancient Comedy", Aristophanes has been said to recreate the life of ancient Athens more convincingly than any other author. His powers of ridicule were feared and acknowledged by influential contemporaries; Plato singled out Aristophanes' play The Clouds as slander that contributed to the trial and subsequent condemning to death of Socrates, although other satirical playwrights had also caricatured the philosopher.

Aristophanes' second play, The Babylonians (now lost), was denounced by Cleon as a slander against the Athenian polis. It is possible that the case was argued in court, but details of the trial are not recorded and Aristophanes caricatured Cleon mercilessly in his subsequent plays, especially The Knights, the first of many plays that he directed himself. "In my opinion," he says through that play's Chorus, "the author-director of comedies has the hardest job of all." (κωμῳδοδιδασκαλίαν εἶναι χαλεπώτατον ἔργον ἁπάντων)

Autobiography (Morrissey)

Autobiography is a book by the British singer-songwriter Morrissey, published in October 2013.

Controversially, it was published under the Penguin Classics imprint. It was a number one best-seller in the UK and received polarised reviews, with certain reviewers hailing it as brilliant writing and others decrying it as overwrought and self-indulgent.

Battle of Antioch (1098)

The Battle of Antioch (1098) was a military engagement fought between the forces of the Crusaders of Antioch and a Turkish coalition lead the Emir Kerbogha of Mosul as a part of the First Crusade. Kerbogha's goal was to reclaim Antioch from the Crusaders and affirm his position as a regional power.

Betty Radice

Betty Radice (3 January 1912 – 19 February 1985) was a literary editor and translator. She became joint editor of Penguin Classics, and vice-president of the Classical Association. Her English translations of classical and medieval Latin texts were published in the mid-twentieth century.

Cleombrotus II

Cleombrotus II (Greek: Κλεόμβροτος Β΄) was a Spartan king of the Agiad dynasty. He married into the royal family via the daughter of Leonidas II, Chilonis. Chilonis's mother was a Persian/Seleucid woman, and Cleombrotus II's wife was therefore not fully Spartan. This created friction between Cleombrotus II's father-in-law and then co-regent Agis IV when it came to succession. Cleombrotus II nevertheless succeeded Leonidas II when the latter fled to avoid trial after clashing with co-regent's reforms, and reigned from 242 BC to 241 BC before Leonidas II returned and once more took the throne. He then sent Cleombrotus II and Chilonis into exile. Cleomenes III, Leonidas II's son, eventually succeeded his father at his death.

E. V. Rieu

Emile Victor Rieu CBE (10 February 1887 – 11 May 1972) was a British classicist, publisher, poet, and initiator and editor of the Penguin Classics series of books.

Georges Simenon

Georges Joseph Christian Simenon (French: [ʒɔʁʒ simnɔ̃]; 13 February 1903 – 4 September 1989) was a Belgian writer. A prolific author who published nearly 500 novels and numerous short works, Simenon is best known as the creator of the fictional detective Jules Maigret.

In the Land of Time, and Other Fantasy Tales

In the Land of Time and Other Fantasy Tales is a posthumous collection of short stories by the writer Lord Dunsany, in the Penguin Classics series. Edited and with an introduction by S.T. Joshi, it assembles material from across Dunsany's long career. The cover illustration is a colourised version of a classic illustration for an early Dunsany story by his preferred artist, Sidney Sime.

La Rabouilleuse

La Rabouilleuse (The Black Sheep) is an 1842 novel by Honoré de Balzac, and is one of the Scènes de la vie province in the series La Comédie humaine. The Black Sheep is the title of the English translation by Donald Adamson published by Penguin Classics. It tells the story of the Bridau family, trying to regain their lost inheritance after a series of mishaps.

Though for years an overlooked work in Balzac's canon, it has gained popularity and respect in recent years. The Guardian listed The Black Sheep 12 on its list of the 100 Greatest Novels of All Time.

List of Penguin Classics

This is a list of books published as Penguin Classics.

In 1996, Penguin Books published as a paperback A Complete Annotated Listing of Penguin Classics and Twentieth-Century Classics (ISBN 0-14-771090-1).

This article covers editions in the series: black label (1970s), colour-coded spines (1980s), and the most recent editions (2000s).

Oxford World's Classics

Oxford World's Classics is an imprint of Oxford University Press. First established in 1901 by Grant Richards and purchased by the Oxford University Press in 1906, this imprint publishes primarily dramatic and classic literature for students and the general public. Its competitors include Penguin Classics, Everyman's Library, and the Modern Library. Most titles include critical apparatus – usually, an introduction, bibliography, chronology, and explanatory notes – as is the case with Penguin Classics.

Penguin Books

Penguin Books is a British publishing house. It was co-founded in 1935 by Sir Allen Lane, his brothers Richard and John, as a line of the publishers The Bodley Head, only becoming a separate company the following year. Penguin revolutionised publishing in the 1930s through its inexpensive paperbacks, sold through Woolworths and other high street stores for sixpence, bringing high-quality paperback fiction and non-fiction to the mass market. Penguin's success demonstrated that large audiences existed for serious books. Penguin also had a significant impact on public debate in Britain, through its books on British culture, politics, the arts, and science.Penguin Books is now an imprint of the worldwide Penguin Random House, an emerging conglomerate which was formed in 2013 by the merger with American publisher Random House. Formerly, Penguin Group was wholly owned by British Pearson PLC, the global media company which also owned the Financial Times, but in the new umbrella company it retains only a minority holding of 25% of the stock against Random House owner, German media company Bertelsmann, which controls the majority stake. It is one of the largest English-language publishers, formerly known as the "Big Six", now the "Big Five", along with Holtzbrinck/Macmillan, Hachette, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster.

The Clouds

The Clouds (Ancient Greek: Νεφέλαι Nephelai) is a Greek comedy play written by the playwright Aristophanes. A lampooning of intellectual fashions in classical Athens, it was originally produced at the City Dionysia in 423 BC and was not as well received as the author had hoped, coming last of the three plays competing at the festival that year. It was revised between 420 and 417 BC and was thereafter circulated in manuscript form.No copy of the original production survives, and scholarly analysis indicates that the revised version is an incomplete form of Old Comedy. This incompleteness, however, is not obvious in translations and modern performances.Retrospectively, The Clouds can be considered the world's first extant "comedy of ideas" and is considered by literary critics to be among the finest examples of the genre. The play also, however, remains notorious for its caricature of Socrates and is mentioned in Plato's Apology as a contributor to the philosopher's trial and execution.

The Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories

The Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories is Penguin Classics' third omnibus edition of works by 20th-century American author H. P. Lovecraft. It was released in September 2004 and is still in print.

This edition is the third in Penguin Classics' series of paperback collections. It collects the "definitive" editions of Lovecraft's popular stories as edited by S. T. Joshi.

Its companion volumes from Penguin Classics are The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories (2001), and The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories (2001).

The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories

The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories is Penguin Classics' second omnibus edition of works by 20th-century American author H. P. Lovecraft. It was released in October 2001 and is still in print.

This edition is the second in Penguin Classics' series of paperback collections. Again, it collects a number of Lovecraft's most popular stories in their latest "definitive" editions as edited by S. T. Joshi. Many of the texts are the same as those from the earlier Arkham House hardcover editions, with the exception of At the Mountains of Madness, which has recently been released in a definitive edition by the Modern Library, with an introduction by China Miéville and also including Lovecraft's essay on the history and evolution of weird fiction, Supernatural Horror in Literature.

Its companion volumes from Penguin Classics are The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories (2001), and The Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories (2004).

The Tragedy of Mister Morn

The Tragedy of Mister Morn is a verse drama by Russian novelist Vladimir Nabokov. The play is one of his first major works.The drama was written between 1923 and 1924, completed while Nabokov was living in Prague with his mother and sister as émigrés, having fled Russia because of the October Revolution in 1917. Nabokov had experienced a personal tragedy the previous year, when his father had been killed in Berlin while shielding fellow expatriate Pavel Milyukov from an assassination attempt. The play was posthumously published in the Russian literary magazine Zvezda, and was first published in English by Penguin Classics in 2012. The Zvezda version of the play, compared with the manuscript given to the Library of Congress by Nabokov in the 1950s, is known to be rife with errors.The story is set in the future, in an unnamed European country. The protagonist of the drama is Morn, a masked king, whose ascent to the throne has brought peace and stability to the country. He falls in love with Midia, the wife of the revolutionary Ganus. Ganus returns to the capital city after escaping from a labour camp. Learning of his wife's affair with Morn, he challenges Morn to a duel. Morn loses the duel, settled with playing cards, and is obliged to kill himself. He refuses, and runs off with Midia, while the revolutionaries overthrow the government in his absence, replacing the benign monarchy with a dictatorship.Brian Boyd, in his biography Vladimir Nabokov: The Russian Years, writes that, unlike Nabokov's prior four plays, which were influenced by Alexander Pushkin, the style and atmosphere of Morn "unmistakably aims at Shakespeare." In the tragedy, Siggy Frank, author of Nabokov's Theatrical Imagination, suggests that the king's role as ruler of a kingdom is a symbol of the poet's role as an artistic creator.

Thorstein the Red

Thorstein the Red or Thorstein Olafsson was a viking chieftain who flourished in late ninth-century Scotland.


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