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It’s always great news when books enter the public domain. They’re no longer under copyright constraints, so they become available for free on various e-libraries, like Serial Reader and Librivox, as well as in digital stores like Kindle. But these classic gems also become fair game for anyone to republish with a brand new cover and extra content. And those covers are…not always the best. In fact, they are often the worst. Here, we round up some of the worst covers of classic books that will haunt us for the rest of our days.
I see the goal in these reissues, of course: bringing classic texts to new generations of readers with fresh looks to blend in with the current marketplace. But that doesn’t mean it needs to fit in the young adult shelf of bright, illustrated covers with bubbly type.
The weird part is that, since these are the classics, you’d think the cover designers — or, at the very least, the people who decided to try to make a buck off distributing their version — would know what the book is actually about. That appears to not be the case, as you’ll find with many of these perplexing interpretations. A sultry Lolita! A naked Elizabeth Bennet! A shark named Moby-Dick! Why! Who let this happen?!
The worst covers of classic books
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Did we read the same book? Did I miss the part where Elizabeth rides a fancy horse through town while nude?
10 Days in a Mad-House by Nellie Bly
Someone thought this piece of investigative journalism was a young adult thriller. Someone was incorrect. They also got the title wrong.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Wuthering Heights, but make it Twilight. That seal does say “Bella & Edward’s favourite book,” after all.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Hey, kiddos, do you want nightmares for the rest of your life? Look no further!
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
This looks like the pamphlet you get from hospice when your grandmother dies.
Middlemarch by George Eliot
She isn’t even sitting on that fence! And I’m not sure how the perspectives work? I don’t know. The Photoshop here is incredible and hilarious.
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
Literary classic, but make it 2010s young adult. Because nothing says tragic family saga like pastels and sparkles.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Honestly, I’d read some Gatsby smut with a cover like this. Lay it on me, old sport.
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
It’s like a movie poster for a teen summer romcom where the protagonist works at a pastry shop. Definitely not a downward spiral into madness while your husband traps you alone in a room, nope!
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
“It’s about an old bearded guy drinking himself asleep? Okay, I know just which stock image to use.” —This cover designer, probably.
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
The result of thinking reading a book’s title is all the information you need for your stock art search.
Also, that ain’t even a screw.
The Shining by Stephen King
You know those huge old books at the hair salon full of various eras of hairstyles? This looks like it could be the cover of that.
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Big yikes. You know this is a book about an old man’s sexual obsession with a 12-year-old girl, right? Lolita should never be portrayed as sultry.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
I don’t mean to be dramatic, but I think this cover is a crime.
And I definitely would have purchased it in the mid-aughts, to fit in with the rest of my teeny bopper books.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Dracula by Bram Stoker
When your little brother puts on face paint for Halloween and thinks he looks cool and scary.
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
At first, I thought this looked like a Gossip Girl cover, and then realized that it’s actually brilliant. The Age of Innocence is Gossip Girl of the 1920s.
Night and Day by Virginia Woolf
The last thing a Virginia Woolf novel should have is a photo that looks ripped out of a fashion magazine, but here we are.
To cleanse your palate, be sure to peep this excellent collection of Pride and Prejudice covers, books with books on the covers, books with sexy fruits on the covers, and the rest of our book covers content.