Virago is celebrating the 40th anniversary of its Modern Classics series with the publication of 13 "deluxe" illustrated paperbacks, showcasing authors such as Muriel Spark, Angela Carter and Patricia Highsmith, accompanied by new introductions from contemporary writers including Man Booker Prize-winner George Saunders.
The series, designed by Hannah Wood and featuring cover artwork by illustrator Yehrin Tong, promises "something for everyone", from "Parisian high jinks" to "novels of magic, menace, humour, love and belonging".
It comprises writers Antonia White, Elizabeth Taylor, Zora Neale Hurston, Angela Carter, Patricia Highsmith, Nora Ephron, Grace Paley, Janet Frame, Rosamond Lehmann, Mary Renault, Rebecca West, Muriel Spark and Elaine Dundy.
Introductions have meanwhile been authored by prominant contemporary writers, including Sarah Waters, Hilary Mantel, George Saunders, Tessa Hadley, Zadie Smith, Gillian Flynn, Tom Holland, A. L. Kennedy, Elizabeth Day and Rachel Cooke.
Virago is marking 40 years with a "beautiful" hardback anthology as well, which celebrates champions of the list who have written introductions for it in the past: Writers as Readers: an anthology of forty introductions from the last four decades. It is also reintroducing its "iconic" green spines across the whole list.
Donna Coonan, editorial director of the Virago Modern Classics, paid tribute to the list's important role in providing "a counterbalance to the existing male-dominated perspective".
“Forty years ago, the Virago Modern Classics list was created by Carmen Callil, and it isn’t an overstatement to say that it changed literary history," she said. "Launching with Antonia White’s lyrical, devastating novel, Frost in May, the list’s aim was, and is, to celebrate women writers, to broaden the sometimes narrow definition of what a ‘classic’ is, and to demonstrate the existence of a female tradition in literature. Published with distinctive green spines, the list attracted an enthusiastic, dedicated following, which continues today.
"If women’s stories aren’t published in all their variety, their voices are silenced and only part of human experience – both in the historical and imaginative landscapes – is represented. The Virago Modern Classics redrew the map to expose what had been hidden from view. It provided a counterbalance to the existing male-dominated perspective. Creating a platform that values the female experience as equal to the male is crucial: storytelling is central to what it is to be human, and giving a voice to generations of important but neglected women writers benefits everyone. History is incomplete without them."
Coonan said Virago's ethos "hasn’t changed" in 2018 and it is "still growing, still rediscovering and publishing books to inspire, delight and challenge".
As well as reissuing its backlist with new covers and new introductions, in the last decade it has added nearly 170 titles to the list, including the complete fiction of Patricia Highsmith and Mary Renault, and books by writers including Muriel Spark, Beryl Bainbridge, Angela Thirkell and Rumer Godden. It also recently extended its range to include a series of children’s classics – "childhood favourites" by authors such as Nina Bawden, Joan Aiken, L. M. Montgomery, E. Nesbit, P. L. Travers and Noel Streatfeild.
Both the Virago Modern Classics 40th Anniversary editions and Writers as Readers hardback will publish on 3rd May 2018, priced £9.99 and £14.99 respectively.