Paradise Lost; Poetry Book

jacobh's picture

This is my first go at some book typography; a small edition of Milton’s Paradise Lost, with illustrations by William Blake. If I manage to get it together, I think I’ll try to print and hand-bind a copy, and make the PDF available free.

As most editions of Paradise Lost are either ugly paper-backs or beautiful but impractically large deluxe editions, the aim of this project is to produce an attractively designed version of the poem which is small enough to be readable. It may need to be printed in two volumes, as I think the total length will be c.400 pages. I’m for a vaguely historically informed look to it, whilst adopting modern practices which aid readability. Therefore the typeface is Storm’s Jannon, with discretionary ligatures but with short Ss (except in titles and the like).

The poem is in 12 books which comprise a short prose introduction followed by long sections of blank verse (c.800 lines). There is a Blake illustration for each book which I have inserted between the introduction and the prose. The plan is to have each Book starting on a verso, with the illustration on the facing page, so that the poetry starts on the next page.

I’ve attached the title pages and the start of Book I to this post. Any thoughts about it would be gratefully received.

Things that I’m worried about
i) the half-title page;
ii) the vertical alignment of the introduction;
iii) whether the illustration appears too low compared to the header; and
iv) whether the left-margin is too large on the poetry pages;
v) whether the pages should be reversed (i.e. with sections starting on the recto...which perhaps should have odd numbers).

Any other thoughts or criticisms would be very welcome :-)


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Reed Reibstein's picture

My main typographic issue is the fluctuation of the long "s." It really seems odd to use it in some places and not others, particularly on the same page (as you do on the folios vs. the body text). I would pick one and use it consistently.

jacobh's picture

Many thanks. The idea was to use ſ only for the words Paradiſe Loſt (which appear only on the title page and in the running titles) but I’ll revert to sort Ss if it looks inconsistent.

Do you have any views about the page layout; that’s what particularly concerns me?

sch2525's picture

While I don't know all the "rules" for ligature use, and the s ligatures are some of my favorites, I don't think you should use them in the body text.

jacobh's picture

Hmm...The S and C ligatures will need some thought; I really like them and one of reasons for doing this edition is that there aren’t any that are available with them. That said, they do rather stand out. Particularly as, historically, most of the S ligatures would be less prominent due to the long-Ss (i.e. there would be lots of ſt and ſp rather than st and sp). One experiment might be to keep the sp ones and remove the st and C ones, they occur much more rarely. Or just keep them in the italic introductions.

Other changes: I’ve changed the titles to Paradise Lost from Paradiſe Loſt. That’s also necessitated changing the running title to small-caps to avoid an st ligature that looked very out-of-place. I’m not quite sure what to do with the main titles as I think the Long-Ss added interest which are now missing.

Could anyone help me with the following? I’ve been putting the names of the main characters (i.e. God and Satan) in small-caps. Is that too over-the-top?

Also, how should the abbreviation of "the" to "th’" be set? Most of the examples I can find set it with a space like this: th’ Empyreal Heav’n, but I can’t help thinking it would look better in many cases as th’Empyreal Heav’n.

The page below is the first one I can find which has Satan in small-caps and a “the” abbreviated to “th’”:

jacobh's picture

[double post; apologies]

oprion's picture

One possible solution, would be to set the title in italics, as the "ſ" there has a much more "s"-like apperance, and would blend better with the "modernized" body-copy.

I understand the desire to use ligatures here, but I fear they might distract from an already rather boring text. Could just be my personal aversion to Milton though :)

Maybe a goof compromise would be to use a few basic ones (fi,fj,ffi..) in the bodycopy, and some fancier ones for the front matter and introduction?
Personal Art and Design Portal of Ivan Gulkov

ncaleffi's picture

I like the overall look of your layout, it's a nice work. The poetry pages are very beautiful and readable. Here's what I don't like;

- I would set the title Paradise Lost with the regular lowercase "s", as other people already said; this is a book set in 2009, so I don't see why using such typographycal anacronysm. Equally, I would disable the discretionary ligatures in the text (ct, sp, etc...), they "disturb" the reading process, in my opinion. Storm's Jannon is a great choice, by the way.

- What is the exact function of the first page, anyway? You already have the title page on page 3.

- An observation on the page layout: the page numbers are too close to the bottom of the page, giving the impression that the text block is falling down. You should also increase the size of the bottom margins.

- I would delete the page number on the verso with the Blake illustration, it's not necessary.

- Perhaps, page numbers could be 1 point smaller?

Keep up the good work!

jacobh's picture

@ oprion:

You’re right about the ſ being less intrusive in the italics. There’s also quite a nice t swash which works quite well, although I would then loose the ſt ligature:

The Jannon Italic is quite flamboyant so even if I drop some of the ligatures from the main text, they could certainly be preserved in the introductions without any problems:

(Most of them are about half-a-page long so I’m not so worried about the text being distracting. Though it occurs to me that if I am to be consistent, Messiah should be in small-caps, too.)

I will put your dislike of Milton down to a lack of decent editions ;-) We all know, objectively, that it’s one of the greatest works in English!

ncaleffi's picture

Another thing I noticed:


You should space TWELVE BOOKS too, if you want to have that "old style" feeling for the title page.

Page numbers are still a little too close to the bottom of the page, perhaps. And in the Blake's page - a verso - what's the need of "Book I"?

jacobh's picture

@ ncaleffi:

Many thanks for your post and your suggestions which were really helpful. I've added a new PDF incorporating some of the changes you suggest; particularly the three suggestions about the page numbers. I’m going to think about the ligatures and play around with several ideas.

I've also messed around with the front-matter a bit more. I think the Title Page looks a bit better now, but I'm slightly worried that it looks too much like a pastiche of a 17th Century one, and perhaps ought to be a bit more modern.

The very first page is supposed to be a Half Title page (i.e. to be the recto which should have the end paper as its verso) but perhaps I’m misunderstanding the book binding process? That’s why I was slightly bothered about ending up with the pages reversed. At the moment each Book starts on the verso, with the illustration on the recto and the poem appearing overleaf.

Finally, on a different issue, I was wondering if there were any suggestions about how to deal with this:

It looks like in the first 6 books (over 5,000 lines) there’s only one line which actually clashes with the numbering and about 3 more which are just a bit too close. I wonder whether it be preferable to split the line or drop the line numbers. As so few lines have this problem, I’m unwilling to move the numbering further too the right.

Many thanks for all your suggestions, again.

jacobh's picture

Yes; that’s a fair point. I’ve spaced out the twelve books. Still worried that it looks too much like a pastiche, though.

I think I need to do a few printing tests to sort out the page numbers. And also to try the illustrations being in the conventional place on the verso.

ncaleffi's picture

"I wonder whether it be preferable to split the line or drop the line numbers. "

In this case, I would split the line, giving a little indent to the second paragraph, while keeping the verse number aligned to the first line.

oprion's picture

>I will put your dislike of Milton down to a lack of decent editions ;-) We all know, objectively, that it’s one of the greatest works in English!

The one edition I have, is a small mid-nineteenth century leather-bound compilation with marbled endpapers and obligatory engravings by Doré, lined with tissue paper. They don't come much fancier then that :) And I still find it to be an excruciatingly boring read :) Then again, I generally fail to appreciate poetry in written form.
Personal Art and Design Portal of Ivan Gulkov

Lex Kominek's picture

The trick to making Milton interesting is to imagine Sir Ian McKellen in wizard robes, standing on a rocky cliff face in the middle of a rainstorm, shouting the poem to an invading army of druids. That's how epic it is.

- Lex

jacobh's picture

Thanks for all the thoughts so far. I left this a few days for contemplation (one of the advantages of being an amateur, I suppose!) and have since been trying a few other changes. A new version of the front matter and the first few pages should be attached to the front page.

The main things that I have changed are:
The margins for the Introductions have had to be increased quite a bit so that the long introduction to Book 10 stays on one page. In compensation I’ve therefore dropped the running titles from those pages, which I think works quite well.
The location of the line-numbers has moved slightly to the right which should, with a bit of luck, avoid the need to break any lines of verse.
A contents page allows the first page of each section to be on the recto (and have an odd page number).
I’ve heeded the advice and removed the discretionary ligatures.

I think, with all the help here, I’m nearly there. The only thing I am now uncertain about is the first page of verse in each book. I can’t help wondering whether it needs something more distinctive; I’m slightly worried that the “Book x” running title (which appears there for the first time), looks more like a title than a running title and makes it seem a little weak.

Ivan: If it’s the written form of the book that’s the problem, I could relieve you of your hard-copy of the Milton in exchange for the Naxos audio-book version ;-)

Lex: I think you’ve got it in one ;-)

jacobh's picture

I ended up not having enough spare time to hand-bind a version, but I got a copy printed from one of the print-on-demand companies, which turned out not to be as bad as I was expecting.

It’s very interesting to see the final version in print. I’m mostly quite pleased with it, but there are lots of lessons to learn for the future, particularly with regards to margins and to the first few sections of each chapter.

I’ll see if I can sort out the pdf so that others can downloaded it, if anyone is interested.

Many thanks for all the help and advice!

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