writing · Classics · Covers · Austen

Covers: Pride and Prejudice

For my conversion of covers to avoid any rights issues, I did searches of those institutions that have Open Access policies, i.e., they allow the use of their images of works in the public domain for any purposes. I searched for portraits in various periods and from various places. This brought up a large number of images, from which I selected a bunch for possible cover use.

Ann Calvert Stuart Robinson (Mrs. William Robinson), c. 1804, by Gilbert Stuart

Elizabeth Bennet is one of literature’s iconic figures. As I went through my little collection, I wanted someone who could be Elizabeth Bennet. Though for some covers I’ve gone outside the time period, for P&P and my other Austens I needed to keep to it.

The painting I use is of a 19 or 20 year-old and it was done in 1804. So, she is Elizabeth’s age and the date is only a few years before the book’s story. The portrait is from The National Gallery in Washington.

We happen to know quite a lot about the woman in the painting. The National Gallery of Art has several pages about her in its American Paintings of the Eighteenth Century (246-249).

She is Ann Stuart, who was born in Fairfax County, Virginia in 1784. Her aunt described her mother about Ann Stuart and her sister in a manner that will sound familiar to P&P readers: “their mother paid scant heed to their education and brought them up as if they were to marry English lords, and I don’t believe they accept the offers made to them.”

That aunt would later write of her:

The eldest of the Stuart girls is a very nice girl, but she now lives quite far away in Virginia. Her father, whom I am sure you remember as an extremely austere and tedious man — completely respectable, but more knowledgeable about the customs of the Greeks and Romans than of today — forced her against her will to marry a man who does not have enough intelligence to make a woman such as she happy. Although she writes me that she is perfectly [content], I do not believe it.

Ann Stuart wrote to a friend in 1807:

You would be surprised to see what a change has taken place in my taste, instead of reading or writing all day and being out of humor when interrupted I am quite active about the Farm and garden and very solicitous to do something in that way to entitle me to become a member of the agricultural society.

She had two children, boys, and is thought to have died in 1823. She was thirty-nine.

Classics · writing

Covers: Sense and Sensibility

I’ll start with Miss Austen today and her first novel, Sense and Sensibility. It’s the only one of her novels in which I think that there are more than one lead, in this case Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. (I named an MC “Elinor” after the former, who is I think the only Austen MC who doesn’t end up marrying money.)

So this is a rare two-person portrait.

The Cleveland Museum tells us–and one wonders whether their personalities are as varied as are Elinor’s and Marianne’s; “Charlotte (left) and Sarah were 19 and 21, respectively, when this portrait was painted [in 1801] on the occasion of Sarah’s marriage to the topographer Daniel Lysons. The sisters wear fashionable gowns and jewelry, but their affectionate posture conveys a sisterly tenderness that transcends glamour.”


Lights and Shadows of New York City

In writing Róisín Campbell, I came upon—I don’t know how—a PDF version of the book The Lights and Shadows in New York City by James D. McCabe, Jr. It was published in 1872. I have taken a copy from Project Gutenberg and converted it into both paperback and hardcover versions on Amazon.

It proved invaluable in providing details of life in the City at the time. In particular, there is a chapter on women’s clothing that was the basis for a major theme of my novel. In the book, McCabe quotes an unidentified person: “It is almost impossible to estimate the number of dresses a very fashionable woman will have. Most women in society can afford to dress as it pleases them, since they have unlimited amounts of money at their disposal. Among females dress is the principal part of society. What would Madam Mountain be without her laces and diamonds, or Madam Blanche without her silks and satins? Simply commonplace old women, past their prime, destined to be wall-flowers. A fashionable woman has just as many new dresses as the different times she goes into society. The élite do not wear the same dresses twice. If you can tell us how many receptions she has in a year, how many weddings she attends, how many balls she participates in, how many dinners she gives, how many parties she goes to, how many operas and theatres she patronizes, we can approximate somewhat to the size and cost of her wardrobe.”

He proceeds to list over six pages the inventory of one woman’s wardrobe that was filed in court when an insurance company balked at paying a claim that that wardrobe was worth $21,000. He notes, further, that the needs of fashion often outran the family’s resources, resulting in “ruin”:

If they have not wealth they will affect to have it. They could not counterfeit good birth, or high breeding, but they can assume the appearance of being wealthy. They can conduct themselves, for a while at least, in a manner utterly disproportioned to their means, and so they go on, until their funds and credit being exhausted, they are forced to drop out of the circles in which they have moved, and the so-called friends who valued them only for their supposed wealth, instantly forget that they ever knew them. No more invitations are left for them, they are not even tolerated in “good society,” and are “cut” on the street as a matter of course.

Not a year passes but records the failure of some prominent business man in New York. His friends are sorry for him, and admit that he was prudent and industrious in his business. “His family did it,” they tell you, shaking their heads. “They lived too fast. Took too much money to run the house, to dress, and to keep up in society.” Only the All Seeing Eye can tell how many men who stand well in the mercantile community are tortured continually by the thought that their extravagance or that of their families is bringing them to sure and certain ruin; for not even in New York can a man live beyond his actual means. They have not the moral courage to live within their legitimate incomes. To do so would be to lose their positions in society, and they go on straining every nerve to meet the demands upon them, and then the crash comes, and they are ruined.

This was the Genesis of that portion of the novel that dealt with the financial reversals for one of the families:

“I was such a fool,” he said to his youngest daughter. “Thank God McNabb took Mary on. By then, it was too late. I couldn’t afford how we were living. Mary’s clothing alone began to eat into my capital. You were the sensible one.”

“But what of my year abroad?”

“That was costly, true. But I did not have to pay for all the gowns even you would need in New York. No. You were the sensible one. Mary was not. And I wasn’t. Or the boys. Only your mother. Bless her. I would not have gotten as far as I have, pitiful as that may be, without her support. I do not deserve her.”

He took another gulp. “She is ‘magnificent,’ as someone once called the house. I do not tell her often enough.”


Speaking of Covers

Thanks to Vania Margene Rheault, a prolific poster on Twitter, who offers a steady diet of useful advice for writers, I bought a cheap package of photos on DepositPhotos.com. There’s a cottage industry on creating book covers. More than anything, I think the cover is designed to signal a book’s genre.

My audience—my potential audience I should say—is unlikely to discover, pick up, and sample one of my books based on the cover. Perhaps they would if I wrote in a particular genre.

As with the Classics I posted about, my books fall into three categories. There are those set in Gilded Age New York. For these, I use portraits that I try to mimic something about the story. I had to redo a bunch after I learned about rights issues—I’d been using Singer Sargent portraits at first—and the world of Open Access created a plethora of possibilities. A Studio on Bleecker Street is about a woman who becomes an artist. For the new cover I went with an image a bit out of sync for the story—the image is from 1906 and the story is set in the 1870s—but the way the subject’s face is done and that her clothes are not entirely out-of-date led me to use it. The painting is entitled Study in Black and Green and is by the American John White Alexander. It’s at the Met.

With a new batch of photo options on DepositPhotos, I set out to find a potential new one for I Am Alex Locus. I considered four three possibilities, these three and the one I picked:

The story is about a 23 year-old woman whose mother died suddenly nine years earlier. She grew up in an affluent suburb just north of New York City and lives on the City’s upper west side. After stumbling on a secret/mystery about her mother’s death, she undertakes a quest to learn the truth.

I ran the covers by someone whose opinion I trust. While I liked the first one, with its very high-resolution image, I had to agree that it was too intense. So I went with the second.

One of the things about publishing on Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) as well as on other sites is the ease of correcting and changing things. I now do non-Amazon ebooks chiefly on Draft2Digital, and its pretty easy with it too. For wider circulation, I use IngramSpark for paperbacks and hardcovers. Because I’m a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors, I get to post five books a month for free–otherwise it’s $50 for each revision–so I go there after doing KDP.

One of the things about publishing on Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) as well as on other sites is the ease of correcting and changing things. I now do non-Amazon ebooks chiefly on Draft2Digital, and its pretty easy with it too. For wider circulation, I use IngramSpark for paperbacks and hardcovers. Because I’m a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors, I get to post five books a month for free–otherwise it’s $50 for each revision–so I go there after doing KDP.

So I changed the text of the novel to reflect the new source of the photo and, voilà, I have my new cover and it’s already up on KDP in all three formats and as an ebook on Draft2Dgital. (I also took advantage of making a change to make some slight but significant changes to the text itself.)

I have done some videos on making covers. Hit the Video Link above. Or here.


My Cover Story

Since I started writing historical fiction, I used contemporaneous paintings for my covers of those books. Initially, I found one by American artist John Singer Sargent. They were on the original covers for Roisin Campbell and A Studio on Bleecker Street.

When I began my Classics series, it made sense to search out paintings for the periods of the books, especially the Regency period for the batch of Austen’s. After they were up for a bit, I was warned that they might run afoul of the rights of some people, although they were in the public domain. I pulled the books until I could sort it out.A bit of research led me to a couple of things. This concerns the use of images made of artwork, generally by the institution that owns them.

First, although I’m not an intellectual property lawyer, my legal research makes it likely that if a museum takes a photo of a painting that is itself in the public domain and the photo is a “slavish copy,” i.e., it is an accurate image of the painting with nothing added (or subtracted), it lacks the originality required for a copyright in the U.S. I won’t get into my analysis but suffice it to say that while there’s only a single district court opinion on the subject–as it happens, in the Southern District of New York, which covers Manhattan, home of the Met–it wasn’t appealed and museums don’t seem to bringing claims, I think that they don’t sue about it because they’re afraid they’ll lose and then the lucrative business of getting people to pay fees for a license to use the image would die.

Second, it turns out that even if I am confident I can use images of paintings that are in the public domain, certain museums don’t force me to make that option. Under Open Access policies, a number of museums allow complete use, including for commercial purposes, of large parts of their collections. Generally they use the Creative Commons 0 license or, in the case of the Met, have an Open Access/Public Domain icon which leads to: “As part of the Met’s Open Access policy, you can freely copy, modify and distribute this image, even for commercial purposes.”

I thus spent time searching through collections of museums with Open Access policies for my covers. The institutions I use are the Met, the National Gallery, the Chicago Institute of Art, the Yale Museum, the Cleveland Museum, and the Smithsonian. (I’ve also redone the covers of my Gilded Age books.) (Though the Louvre is not a participant, Paris’s public museums are.)

I was clued into this by a blog post by Kathryn Goldman entitled Museums that Give Away Open Access Images of Public Domain Work.

An addition: On Facebook, Maria Yrsa Rönneus sent me a link to a 2014 article entitled The Public Domain vs. the Museum: The Limits of Copyright and Reproductions of Two-dimensional Works of Art, which provides a bit of an update with an emphasis on UK law. It notes that UK museums don’t seem to be in a rush to have the courts there decide the issue.


Dec. 16: Classics

Thanks to a recommendation from someone in the Jane Austen Fan Fiction group on Facebook, I read the biography Sister Novelists by Devoney Looser (who is an Austen scholar. It is a well-told story of two sisters–Jane Porter and Anna Maria Porter–who wrote in the late-18th and early-19th Century. They were very popular and were innovative with respect to the historical novel.

Sister Novelists

I decided to see if I could read one. Turns out, they are either not in print or the versions one can buy on, say, Amazon, are very inadequate. I found “The Scottish Chiefs,” by Jane Porter (it tells a somewhat fictionalized tale of William Wallace of Braveheart fame (and was apparently the source of some of the fictionalized parts of that movie)) at Project Gutenberg.

Thanks to figuring out how to use macros on Word, I discovered that I could convert the Gutenberg version into one I could save on Word as a PDF and publish on Amazon’s KDP and get a copy at cost that way. Which is what I did.

Discovering that trick, I thought about publishing a systematic group of classics to make it simple to get a nicely produced version of Austen, (some) Dickens, etc.

Hence Dermody House’s “Classics.” Each is in the public domain (no later than 1926–on January 1, 2023, books published in 1927 in the US enter the public domain) and I formatted them uniformly. For some large ones, I had to shrink the font to make them doable (hence not doing some Dickens, such as Bleak House).

So there we have it. Twenty-five volumes available in paperback (with some in hardcover too) priced close to the minimum KDP allows. (Insofar as there are proceeds, they’ll go to Project Gutenberg.)

That’s all six Austens, both of Anne Brontë’s, and moving to Wharton, Woolf, and Fitzgerald.

Next up: My journey to get the covers.


December 16, 2022

This will be a place where I’ll be writing now and then about, well, writing. As an introduction, I am a lifelong New Yorker and have been practicing law for over 40 years. In recent years, I’ve also been doing some writings, with books and stories set in the contemporary world and in the Gilded Age of New York, beginning in 1870 or so. I’ve also dabble in some erotica.
I write under the aegis of “Dermody House.” “Dermody” is my father’s mother’s maiden name, although it was changed to Campbell after her widowed mother remarried when my grandmother was two. It was my father’s middle name. (I wrote about that grandmother in Bridget & Joseph in 1918.)
I recently set about publishing on Amazon classic novels that are in the public domain and that will be a likely subject of my next entry.
I’m also enabling comments so feel free to say what you wish about what I write.