I first came across Lady Meux when writing my first manuscript (now languishing on my hard drive). I think I was trying to gain a more accurate idea of what ladies wore in the 1880s when Harmony in Pink and Grey popped up in my Pinterest search results. I’d never seen it before and I fell in love once I learned a bit more about the subject. Valerie, Lady Meux, despite her aristocratic demeanor, was a woman with a past. She didn’t begin life as a lady and was never accepted in the highest social circles.
When she married Sir Henry Bruce Meux, 3rd Baronet, it was said she’d once been an actress, but, while she does seem to have spent a single season on the stage, it’s thought she was actually a barmaid, banjo-player, and prostitute when she met her future husband. For some reason, it’s the banjo playing that sticks with me:
Like I said, she was never fully accepted by society (or her husband’s family) but instead of sitting at home and sinking into a decline as sinful women mostly did in Victorian novels (see Thomas Hardy, Elizabeth Gaskell, and about a bajillion others,) she threw lavish parties attended by the future Edward VII among others, drove around London in a high phaeton (the old timey equivalent of a sports car) drawn by zebras, and was painted by Whistler three times.
Sadly Whistler burnt the third painting (Lady Meux in Furs) after Lady Meux said something that pissed him off during a sitting.
So there you go: Lady Meux, Victorian sex-worker made good, artist’s muse, socialite, and banjo-player.
One of the things we dream about when writing a book is what the cover will look like. I don’t know how it works at other publishers, but at Entangled, authors are sent a form they can fill in with their ideas. For a debutante like me, it’s a very cool and fun experience. Obviously it’s down to the cover designers and marketing department to decide which ideas might actually make for a salable cover. Anyway, I’ve seen the mock-up and I can’t wait to be able to share the finished product.
Meanwhile, all this has me thinking of book covers in general and what appeals to me as a reader. I thought it might be fun to do a post highlighting some of my favorite cover art. I’ll do romance next week and other stuff this week. Why that way round? Well, I got a few new followers after last week’s post, which made me feel like I need a thematic stepping stone between it and the probable fest of purple, fuchsia and heaving bosoms (both male and female) that will be next week’s romance covers post. Ease ’em in gently, I always say.
Wonderful historical novel about an English nurse who goes to a tiny Irish village “to observe what some are claiming as a medical anomaly or a miracle – a girl said to have survived without food for months.” I loved this way more than “Room”. As for the cover, I own this on kindle but I regret not buying the hardback just so I can physically hold this artwork. The colors, particularly the use of gold, are stunning and the cover as a whole is so evocative of what’s inside; a bleak yet haunting story of how people can transform each other’s lives.
How can you not be intrigued by this cover? I want this framed and displayed on my wall. For the two people in the world who haven’t read Angela Carter yet, she wrote magical realism often with a distinctly Gothic twist. The angel on the front cover is actually a circus performer named “Fevvers” and she’s one of my favorite protagonists in all of literature. She’s warm, earthy, and unstoppable. But is she really part swan? You’ll have to read to find out.
This cover has caused me so much trouble over the years. I bought the paperback shortly after it came out and I can’t tell you how many people raised their eyebrows. Shout out to the octogenarian who took one look at the cover, scanned the blurb, then announced in a loud voice to the room at large, “Sex, sex, sex. That’s all this generation ever thinks about.” Tipping the Velvet is an odyssey through the Victorian sexual underworld. If you don’t care for explicit sex scenes, maybe give it a miss, but for the rest of us, it’s a tour de force.
This is the fourth historical novel to appear on this list, so I guess we know what my wheelhouse is. I love the simplicity of this cover. The blues contrasted with the black and white. Somehow the blue is both land and sea. I never even noticed the polar bear until today. As for the book, it’s gritty, unrelenting, and almost entirely populated by men doing traditionally “manly” things (whaling, murdering each other etc). None of this would usually be my thing, yet somehow I was riveted and had this finished in a couple of sittings.”
Bit of a change of pace for this Young Adult satire of the beauty industry. My kindle copy is virtually all highlights because I snort-laughed my way through this tale of a group of beauty queens whose plane crashes on a desert island. Why does this cover work? I guess there’s a hot blonde to stare at if that’s your thing, but for me it was the ammo belt filled with lipstick. Whoever came up with this concept, they sold me the book, for which I thank them.
If you’re scared of dying or death, I highly recommend anything by Caitlin Doughty, including her Ask A Mortician YouTube videos. I devoured “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes”, her memoir about the funeral industry, but I might not have tried “From Here to Eternity”, which is about her search for cultures with healthier attitudes to death than the western one, had it not been for this cover with its dramatic color contrasts. Something about putting flowers on a skull immediately renders said skull 95% less scary. Which is basically what Caitlin Doughty does in a nutshell.
I hope you enjoyed this blatant excuse to post gorgeous cover art as much as I did. I hope you’ll come back for next week’s look at romance novels.