Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Book Cover Hall of Fame

Perhaps you once dreamed of writing the Great American Novel. As the years rolled by you began to settle on just a novel, any novel. As more years rolled by you decided that writing the annual PTA newsletter was good enough.

Well, don't give up those dreams just yet. Take heart from the example of Sophie Feodorovna Rostopchine, aka La Comtesse de Ségur. She published her first novel in 1857 at the age of 58 and over the next 15 years published 13 more. The last one came out on 1872, two years before she died.

From a family of Mongolian origin, her father was a Russian general and later a foreign affairs minister. Some claim it was he who set Moscow ablaze in 1812, forcing the retreat of Napoleon. No hard feelings lingered against the French, it would seem, for the family ended up in France in 1817 under the Bourbon Restoration.

Sophie married into the aristocracy and an unhappy marriage with infrequent conjugal visits. Each one apparently resulting in another child. She had eight in all.

If you could judge a book by its cover Un bon petit Diable (1865) would qualify as a doozy. Presenting this cover, purchased for 30 cents at an ubiquitous vide-grenier, a yard sale, is the whole reason for this post.

And what is the book about? It takes place in Scotland beginning in 1842. A Dickensian tale, young Charles is raised by a greedy and tyrannical woman called Mac'Miche. To avenge his mistreatment he and a servant, Betty, begin to play devilish tricks on the woman. During the course of the novel he meets a young blind girl named Juliette, who becomes the good little angel to his good little devil.

The theme of child abuse and rehabilitation via kindness and Christain virtue was apparently a theme common to many of the Countess's books.

This cover from the 1930 edition is probably the best of all the book's many editions.

We can't vouch for the book itself, though you may have a go at it if you read French....


  1. My first impression of the cover was that this was one remarkable fart.

    But what's with the keys, flapping in the wind?

  2. Reminds me of an article by Gladwell that I read years ago, concerning: Galenson's “Old Masters and Young Geniuses: The Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creativity.”


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