A used copy of Edith’s Diary arrived in my mailbox during one of the few times you could ever tell Southern California was in the midst of a seemingly overhyped El Niño. The dark storm clouds that so rarely loom overhead were justification to February’s book selection—proving there was still time to read Winter novels in a city that’s known for its consistently good weather. I opened the package immediately and brought it inside where the cover matched the wooden floors and the black socks to which I swept them with, pretending I never ordered the book in the first place—that it was just mailed directly to me by a force of nature.
Set in the mid 1950’s in suburban Pennsylvania, Edith’s Diary follows the dynamics of the Howland family during a time of injustice and war—both inside and outside of the home, and the alternate realities we create for ourselves in order to live.
The diary Edith keeps once held positive events happening in her life, but as the relationships begin to spiral downward and change, she begins to write a different story—one she would prefer to remember.
Even though I’d like to pretend Patricia Highsmith’s, Edith’s Diary, was delivered to me directly from the El Niño gods, who could somehow sense my moods as though I was the root cause of the broken branch outside my house—it seemed to be the perfect follow up to Simone De Beauvoir’s, A Woman Destroyed. Both texts being an emotionally draining battle of the self against submission to the atrophy of existing social norms and structures—under the guise of the quiet suburban home.*
But with the twenty-two novels written by Highsmith, it’s easy to get lost in the sea of book covers that have hit the shelves with a different cover design, published by the highest bidding publisher (eventually). Such in depth discussions of literary and visual breadth would require a completely different post in itself—and a great one at that. For when you throw in the complexities of Highsmith originally publishing under a pseudonym, to not, then changing a title of the book multiple times, such as, The Price of Salt, to, The Price of Salt: Or Carol, and Just Carol, you get numerous stylized versions of the same thing—some which say more than others. Then, of course, there are all the other numerous film adaptions of her popular novels, the most recent being, Carol, directed by Todd Haynes. It can all be as equally exhausting as it is confusing when looking at the collection all at once. Fortunately, Edith’s Diary is less complicated than such—with only five different published versions, a consistent title, and one timeless cover…okay, maybe two.
First Edition: Edith’s Diary was originally published in the UK in 1977 by William Heinemann, with a cover comparable to what could be the start of a cover to an exploitation magazine filed under crime. I can imagine readers of this first edition dreaming of dramatic subject lines while they read the novel, something akin to: “EX-WIFE KILLS UNCLE, CHILD NEXT??”, “SHE WON’T LEAVE HER HOUSE! ONLY HAS LOVE FOR HER CAT! SICK! SICK! SICK!”, or maybe even, “MADWOMAN SCULPTS THE HEAD OF HER LATEST VICTIM, YOU!” It wouldn’t be too far of a stretch either, since the rise of exploitation magazines in the mid 1950’s thrived on selling exaggerated truths of the time, replacing mundane stories with stories filled with excitement of any sort—blatant misogyny included, and in Edith’s case, truths reversed. This is an entertaining approach to the cover, considering Edith was the driving force behind her local newspaper, The Bugle, which she started with her husband Brett after moving from the city to the suburbs. Though this first edition cover may strike some connection between histories, it also works on selling you a novel that’s filled with something so depressing and mundane that it manages to creep under your skin and stay there.
Third Publishing: The first publishing of Edith’s Diary in the United States was by Simon & Schuster in both hardback in 1977, and pocket paperback in 1978. The version I purchased was published by Atlantic Monthly press back in 1989, and is a clear departure from the first edition cover—which gave dramatic visual hints for an intensity that never fully manifested itself until the last few pages. This specific version brings a soft layer of eeriness into the diptych with the use of rich colors and dreamy photographic illustrations, by Marc Tauss, incorporating all of the internalized and contained angst with a use of bold typography in it’s defined space — because PATRIARCHY. The composition of the cropped photographic illustrations add a level of discomfort as well, the kind you feel between every other sentence and interaction while still in the mind of Edith. This is the cover that seems to most accurately bolster the text and set the tone without relying on the text to title relationship so underwhelmingly displayed by those abroad, for it helps display part of the world Edith has worked so hard to create in her diary and in her studio—apprehensively inviting you in rather than demand you to listen so intensely.
The book cover illustration for my copy published by Atlantic Monthly Press was created by Marc Tauss, and the book was designed by Andrew Ellis /Icon. Unfortunately, the work of the artist/designer is difficult to find for this book, but a series of them was created in a similar style for a few more of Highsmith’s novels, including: Eleven, The Cry of The Owl, The Tremor of Forgery, The Two Faces of January, Those Who Walk Away, Found in the Street, and Tales of Natural and Unnatural Catastrophes. I love seeing even just a few of these versions together, because from a visual perspective they remind me of reading R.L Stein’s Fear Street series as a kid, with the consistent layout, typography, and campy illustrations on the covers. I definitely can’t say that about the other published versions (displayed above), with the illustrative copies published by Bloomsbury and Virago Press missing the mark, but maybe they sold well.
Display: Information Extra Bold Wide
Body: Monotype Calisto
At first glance I assumed the cover type was a very classic go to, Impact, or a similar Compacta. Though I honestly couldn’t remember if there was a wide version within the full Impact for each, because the type used for the cover of Edith’s Diary, is so clearly wide, compared the more condensed Impact and Compacta. But the internet is beautiful and amazing, and I later learned the type used on the cover was Information Extra Bold Wide, which has yet to be digitized. GUYS, I can’t believe this typeface isn’t digitized yet, it’s BEAUTIFUL! The image to the left of the title sequence from Bullitt is a perfect example of it in use (courtesy of fontsinuse). Also, you can see it would so beautifully spell out BUTT, just like BUTT (Heyyyy Compacta). I only have Impact on on my computer, so I’ll just quickly show you how off it is from Information Extra Bold Wide. I don’t even need to mark up the areas because there are too many, the main issue is the fact that Impact is so condensed (as I mentioned) and the cap height is significantly higher in comparison. *Here’s where I restraining myself from talking about Letraset type transfers*
As for the book typeface itself, it’s all set in Monotype Calisto, which was designed by Ron Carpenter in 1986—just a few years prior to the release of this version of Edith’s Diary. The typeface is pretty minimal in terms of stroke weight, meaning there’s little to no contrast from one serif to the next. With this lack of contrast, there’s the same general typographic color of a paragraph or a page throughout, ultimately making the page a bit heavier. If you throw print and paper quality into the mix, you get type that’s less distinctive this time around. What was most interesting about the book design, to which there was very little, was the lack of running heads and closing content, a bit surprising from someone who has written so many previous books, but it makes the end all the more bleak.
Author: Patricia Highsmith
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press, Series
Book Design: Andrew Ellis/Icon
Cover Photo: Marc Tauss
Text/display typeface: Monotype Calisto
Main text size: 10/12pt Monotype Calisto, left justified
Section/chapter titles: 12pt Monotype Calisto
Drop caps: None
Running heads: None
Lines per page: 37
Average characters per line: 62
Pages: Trimmed size: 5.5 x 8.25 inches
Margins: Gutter (inner margin): 9/16", Outside: 5/8", Top (trim to baseline): 1", Bottom (trim to baseline): 1"
Order: Opening Contents: half title (recto), title page (recto), copyright (verso), dedication (recto), second half title (recto), section opener (recto). Closing Contents: none. Gone. DEAD.
My (quick) Cover Redesign
*It’s okay, just read this afterwards.