Fall 2016 ENGL428: Digital Humanities

Camus ‘The Stranger’ Book Cover Design

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 1 Algerian Albert Camus’ famous novel L’etranger, or The Stranger/The Outsider, has undergone a variety of book cover designs since its initial publication in French in 1942 and subsequent English translation in 1946; its various cover designs seem to represent the varying design tendencies of the respective publishers, national taste, and the moment in time each cover graced bookshelves. For the most part, each cover remains striking in its own way–all successfully channel to one degree or another the vital charge of Camus’ novel.

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3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 1 The earliest edition bears the least graphically interesting cover: a plainly bordered white page with the novel’s title emblazoned across the middle. Compared to other Western European publishers of the mid-century, this kind of design was somewhat common. The first mass-market French edition is much more familiar to American readers as a paperback book cover, and features a design depicting an iconic scene from the novel–Meursault walking on the sun-parched beach. As with many of the other covers for this novel, the sole figure is the protagonist himself, looking off in the distance, apparently ruminating about something or other.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 1 This is actually a common trope of Stranger covers. With only one or two exceptions, the covers feature a man, seemingly intended to be Meursault, standing alone. These designs are attempting, I think, to tap into the minimalism of Camus’ prose style and relative bleakness of this particular novel, though I think the generally-alluded-to bleakness of The Stranger is its least interesting feature.

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6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 The first American edition of The Stranger is a bit more interesting, and it, too, is reminiscent of mid-century American cover design. Like other works of fiction of its time, the first US edition of Camus’ novel features what looks to be an oil painting.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 The image on the cover is one again a nondescript man–a kind of everyman–that is certainly meant to connote Meursault. The primary difference between the US and French edition, and it is an interesting difference, is that the US edition finds the man staring straight ahead, directly at the reader. The distance is also much different. In the US edition, the man is up close and the intensity of the image is much more personal. Also interesting is the fact that the man’s eyes are obscured by the title of the novel. We can’t actually see them. This surely works toward the sense of this as an everyman, but it also adds a general sense of mystique and brings to mind the question of perspective and subjectivity the novel is so famous for. Overall, this seems like a more visually interesting cover–at least in the way it inspires further thought.

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9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 The edition that most adults might be familiar within the US features what seem to be mimes or clowns–some manner of performer–looking at the reader. This comes from the 1960s US mass market edition of the novel. This was one of the copies of the novel I had, and I always found the cover to be strange and uninviting. Again, this cover is rather representative of its time: many mass-market paperbacks in the 1960s featured art-house photography or other forms of art as covers. It was not uncommon to see photos or photo-realistic art that seemed to have little to do with the content of the narrative at all, and this seems to fit that mold. The font for this cover also seems to stand out. It feels especially “retro” now, and certainly at home in the late 60s, perhaps early 70s. Of note is the fact that this cover’s image wrapped around to the back of the book. Similarly costumed figures appear on the back of the book, with one of them standing apart from the others, turned sideways.

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 Overall, this cover seems an attempt to echo or mirror the absurd nature of this novel–both in the fact that the cover and novel have virtually nothing to with each other, and that the image itself is quite strange removed from its context.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 There are a couple more french editions that feature a lone character, often hidden in the shadows, standing against a city landscape that are worth looking at, but I’ll end this brief discussion by looking at one of the covers that stands out from the rest.

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13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 1 The most recent US edition from vintage international is part of a similar redesign for many of their novels from this period, and all feature similar designs. The goal here is clearly not to echo a particular scene of the novel in any direct sense, but perhaps to intimate a sensation visually.

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 The black lines seem to be simultaneously shooting away from and toward the focal point, where the title is printed. At least to me, this creates a sense of dynamism that is interesting, and certainly mirrors the tense minimalism that runs throughout much of the text. More than anything, this cover seems to privilege a stark, clean design over anything more literally connected to the text.

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 This design feels in some ways to be timeless. In its simplicity, it avoids being caught up in any particular trend, though book cover minimalism has been popular for some time. This seems to be more cerebral in its approach and adds an interesting dimension to the experience of the novel as a material object.

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 1 Personally, I’m interested in covers that create some kind of tension with the text. This design achieves that through the impetus it places on the reader to make sense of it. I’d like to see a cover do a bit more work than this–to actually assert more of a personality–but this is moving in an interesting direction that is certainly worth exploring.