On the first page of E.M Forster’s novel Howards End
, which turns 100 years old this year, is a description of the English country house at the center of the book: “Old and little, and altogether delightful—red brick … all gables and wiggles” and surrounded by trees, “a very big wych-elm … pear-trees, apple-trees, and a vine.” The house was modeled on Forster’s childhood home, informally known as the Rooks Nest house
The novel’s earliest printings—by Edward Arnold in London and Putnam in New York—were jacketless; the book is now out of copyright, and countless inexpensive editions have covers that attempt to imagine Howards End and its environs with photographs or woozy paintings of too-big manor houses and rural lanes. Along the way, though, a few designers have made the cover an occasion for charming pastoral reveries that capture the spirit of the English countryside before the transformations of the 20th century began.
In 1961, David Gentleman began illustrating a series of Forster covers for a new line of Penguin “Modern Classics.” At the time, the publisher was gravitating away from its standard all-type covers and incorporating drawings and photographs. Gentleman had read Forster’s novels as a schoolboy and was pleased to receive the commission. He had grown up in Hertford, the county town of Hertfordshire, a short distance from Stevenage, where Howards End is set. “As a boy I cycled about the bit of countryside that Howards End is written about,” he remembers. His cover for the book shows the characters cheerfully facing outward, as if greeting readers on their way into the novel. All six of Gentleman’s Forster illustrations were made with a ruling pen and Indian ink on blotting paper, which “gives you a good black line,” he says, “if you put enough ink in and draw slowly enough.” On some of these covers, the pictorial elements were drawn separately and then pasted together with “cow gum,” a rubber solution used at the time. “Unfortunately [it] later stained the drawings brown, as my Forster originals now are.”
Nearly a decade earlier, Vintage had released the book in paperback in the United States. Its cover was one of the final projects of Edward McKnight Kauffer, an American graphic designer who spent much of his adult life living in England and famously created posters for the London Underground. Megan Wilson, associate art director at Vintage, recently explained that Kauffer’s elemental cover—two white trees and one black—mirrors the relationship in the book between the middle-class, educated Schlegel sisters and the working-class Leonard Bast, who becomes Margaret’s lover. Wilson first read Howards End in Kauffer’s edition, and her cover for Vintage’s repackaging of Forster titles pays homage to Kauffer’s original concept with a pattern by an 18th century Spitalfields silk maker—two apple trees and one pear tree.