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Penguin Classics

The Oxford Companion to the Book

Penguin Classics 

Launched by A. *Lane in 1946 with E. V. *Rieu’s translation of The Odyssey. Rieu, who was also founding editor, initially preferred writers over academics to produce original translations, and thus introduced a mass audience to Dante (Dorothy L. Sayers), Apuleius (Robert Graves), and Xenophon (Rex Warner) in an easily readable, but never condescending, format. ‘Penguin Classics’ became university set texts, particularly in the US, and Rieu declared his series the greatest educative force of the 20th century. Betty Radice, editor from 1964, increased the emphasis on critical apparatus, successfully uniting specialized scholarship with general appeal, visually enhanced by Germano Facetti’s new (‘black Classics’) cover design. In later years, *Penguin’s definition of ‘classics’ confidently encompassed 20th-century literature—living authors, such as Robert Graves, and even *James Bond books—in a comprehensive list of some 1,300 titles covering most cultures, languages, and periods.

Steve Hare


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