Beautiful books

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Oscar Wilde (and others)

Oscar Wilde's tale of a Faustian pact in Victorian England, The Picture of Dorian Gray is a both a slow-burning Gothic horror and a brilliant philosophical investigation of youth, beauty and desire. This Penguin Classics edition is edited with an introduction and notes by Robert Mighall.

Enthralled by his own exquisite portrait, Dorian Gray exchanges his soul for eternal youth and beauty. Influenced by his friend Lord Henry Wotton, he is drawn into a corrupt double life; indulging his desires in secret while remaining a gentleman in the eyes of polite society. Only his portrait bears the traces of his decadence. The Picture of Dorian Gray was a succès de scandale. Early readers were shocked by its hints at unspeakable sins, and the book was later used as evidence against Wilde at the Old Bailey in 1895. It has lost none of its power to fascinate and disturb.

This definitive edition includes a selection of contemporary reviews condemning the novels immorality, and the introduction to the first Penguin Classics edition by Peter Ackroyd.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), son of an eminent eye-surgeon and a nationalist poet, was educated in Dublin and Oxford and became the leading exponent of the new Aesthetic Movement. His work, including short fiction such The Happy Price (1888), his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), gradually won him a reputation, which was cemented by his phenomenally successful plays, including A Woman of No Importance (1893), An Ideal Husband (1895) and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895). Imprisoned for homosexual acts, he died after his release, in exile in Paris.

If you enjoyed The Picture of Dorian Gray, you might like Joris-Karl Huysmans' Against Nature (A Rebours) Wilde's real-life inspiration for the novel that slowly corrupts Dorian Gray, also available in Penguin Classics.

The Handmaid's Tale

Margaret Atwood

'It isn't running away they're afraid of. We wouldn't get far. It's those other escapes, the ones you can open in yourself, given a cutting edge'

Offred is a Handmaid. She has only one function: to breed. If she refuses to play her part she will, like all dissenters, be hanged at the wall or sent out to die slowly of radiation sickness. She may walk daily to the market and utter demure words to other Handmaid's, but her role is fixed, her freedom a forgotten concept.

Offred remembers her old life - love, family, a job, access to the news. It has all been taken away. But even a repressive state cannot obliterate desire.

Includes exclusive content: In The 'Backstory' you can read Margaret Atwood's account of how she came to write this landmark dystopian novel

'Compulsively readable' Daily Telegraph

Wide Sargasso Sea

Jean Rhys (and others)

A gorgeous clothbound edition of Jean Rhys's great masterpiece of desire and madness in the Caribbean, published for the novel's fiftieth anniversary.

Born into the oppressive, colonialist society of 1930s Jamaica, white Creole heiress Antoinette Cosway meets a young Englishman who is drawn to her innocent beauty and sensuality. After their marriage, however, disturbing rumours begin to circulate which poison her husband against her. Caught between his demands and her own precarious sense of belonging, Antoinette is inexorably driven towards madness, and her husband into the arms of another novel's heroine. This classic study of betrayal, a seminal work of postcolonial literature, is Jean Rhys's brief, beautiful masterpiece.

'She took one of the works of genius of the nineteenth century and turned it inside-out to create one of the works of genius of the twentieth century'
Michele Roberts, The Times

Highballs for Breakfast

P.G. Wodehouse

'A splendid anthology' The Times

No writer knew better than PG Wodehouse how a drink can lift the spirits – and he was a master at the high comic effects of having a few too many. Highballs for Breakfast is a handpicked selection of wit, wisdom and comic moments from Wodehouse’s work that involve getting pickled or plastered, or lathered or sozzled, and getting in and out of all manner of scrapes.

If some great writers dwelled on the darker side of drinking, Wodehouse was concerned with the pure pleasure to be had from ‘the magic bottle’ and getting outside of the contents of a tall glass. His imperishable writing displays a well-turned appreciation for all kinds of booze – cocktails, champagne, port, whiskey and brandy (with soda, of course); but also the humble pint, and even the infamous poteen.

This sparkling collection captures Wodehouse at his best on being terribly thirsty, or drowning one’s sorrows, or knocking one back for Dutch courage. It finds him celebrating the special atmospheres of the English country pub and the Manhattan barroom. And it shows him to be exceptionally good on hangovers, but equally so on hangover cures, such as the legendary pick-me-ups prepared for Bertie Wooster by the dependable Jeeves.

For all lovers of a laugh and a drink, Highballs for Breakfast is a tonic, a bracer, and a tissue-restorer.

The Waves (Vintage Classics Woolf Series)

Virginia Woolf

The Waves is an astonishingly beautiful and poetic novel. It begins with six children playing in a garden by the sea and follows their lives as they grow up and experience friendship, love and grief at the death of their beloved friend Percival. Regarded by many as her greatest work, The Waves is also seen as Virginia Woolf's response to the loss of her brother Thoby, who died when he was twenty-six.

Lust

Roald Dahl

From Roald Dahl, the master of the sting in the tail, a newly collected book of his darkest stories

We fall not in love but in lust . . .

Lust, in all its myriad forms, consumes us. What won't we do to achieve our heart's desire? In these ten tales of twisted love master storyteller Roald Dahl explores how our darkest impulses reveal who we really are.

Here you'll read a story concerning wife swapping with a sting in its tail, hear of the aphrodisiac that drives men into a frenzy, discover the last act in a tale of jilted first love and discover the naked truth of art, among others.

Dahl understood our deepest secrets, desires and fears and Lust is one of four books - the rest being Madness, Cruelty and Deception - that explore our hidden selves.

New and forthcoming

The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, The War of the Worlds

H G Wells (and others)

In The Time Machine an inventor travels to the remote future where he finds both love and terror. The protagonist of The Invisible Man struggles to come to terms with his condition in a narrative which is by turns comic and tragic. The War of the Worlds imagines planetary conflict from an individual point of view. If these themes reveal the originality of Wells as a thinker, each story displays his skill as a novelist by the ways in which he anchors astonishing events in vivid everyday details of character and place.All three have spawned countless adaptations and imitations but Wells remains the greatest poet of science we have, an inexhaustible source for speculation about the nature of the future and the meaning of the present.

Wedding Stories

Diana Secker Tesdell

The stories collected here--including such gems as Stephen Crane's "The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky," O. Henry's "The Marry Month of May," F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Bridal Party," Joy Williams's "The Wedding," and Lorrie Moore's "Thank You For Having Me", encompass comic wedding mishaps, engagements broken and mended, honeymoon adventures, and scenes both heartwarming and heartbreaking. There are glamorous weddings in Paris and New York, and more eccentric ones in the Wild West and on a remote island beach. There are nervous brides, forgetful grooms, meddling guests, interrupted nuptials, second thoughts, and second chances. Above all, there are all kinds of people - young and old, rich and poor, divorced and widowed, with or without children - joining together in the age-old quest for matrimonial happiness.

Narcissus and Goldmund

Herman Hesse

'One of his masterpieces . . . without doubt a great novel' Guardian

One of Hermann Hesse's greatest novels, Narcissus and Goldmund is an extraordinary recreation of the Middle Ages, contrasting the careers of two friends, one of whom shuns life in a monastery and goes on the road, tangled in the extremes of life in a world dominated by sin, plague and war, the other staying in the monastery and struggling, with equal difficulty, to lead a life of spiritual denial.

An superb feat of imagination, Narcissus and Goldmund can only be compared to such films set in medieval Europe as Bergman's The Seventh Seal and Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev. It is a gripping, profound reading experience - as startling, in its different way, as Hesse's Siddhartha and Steppenwolf.

The Forsytes Returns

John Galsworthy (and others)

Joseph Millson and Jessica Raine star in a brand new BBC Radio 4 full-cast dramatisation continuing John Galsworthy's saga of the Forsyte family in the early 20th Century.

War and Peace

Leo Tolstoy (and others)

Paterson Joseph, John Hurt, Lesley Manville and Harriet Walter are among the cast of BBC Radio 4's epic full-cast dramatisation. Adapted for radio by Timberlake Wertenbaker, Leo Tolstoy's epic story follows the fortunes of three Russian aristocratic families during the Napoleonic War. First broadcast on New Year's Day 2015, the drama also features Alun Armstrong, Natasha Little, David Calder, Phoebe Fox, Sam Reid and Joanna David. "Tolstoy’s imagined world is recreated on air brilliantly by the extraordinary cast" - The Spectator Duration: 10 hours approx.

Elizabeth and her German Garden

Elizabeth von Arnim

Meet Elizabeth and discover there is no greater happiness to be found than when lost in a wilderness of a garden, with bird cherries, lilacs, hollyhocks and lilies crowding the vision. This is her sanctuary from a host of unreasonable demands, whether from the Man of Wrath (husband), babies, servants and (worst of all horrors) house guests. Plunge into her charming diaries and be warned: you won't be able to remain indoors.

Vera

Elizabeth von Arnim

Lucy Entwhistle and Everard Wemyss are both reeling from recent unhappiness when they meet and swiftly fall in love. Lucy is Wemyss’s ‘sweet girl’, and to Lucy, Everard is the whole world. The only blot on Lucy’s happiness is the shadowy figure of Wemyss’s first wife, Vera, who died in mysterious circumstances. But it is not until the happy couple return home and begin their life of wedded bliss that Lucy really begins to wonder: what did happen to Vera?

Fraulein Schmidt and Mr Anstruther

Elizabeth von Arnim

What on earth could have induced Mr Anstruther to fall in love with Fraulein Schmidt? He is an eligible English bachelor from a good family with great expectations; she is the plain, poor, ‘spinster’ daughter of a German scholar. But Rose-Marie Schmidt is also funny, intelligent, brave and gifted with an irrepressible talent for happiness. The real question is, does Mr Anstruther know how lucky he is?