The book is part of a collection of 80 works re-published on 26 February to mark the 80 years since Allen Lane launched the first Penguin paperbacks for sixpence each, the price of a packet of cigarettes. From Marx’s call to arms to Christina Rossetti’s disturbing poem Goblin Market, and from Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s feminist classic The Yellow Wallpaper to Samuel Pepys on the Great Fire of London, each “Little Black Classic” is 64 pages long and costs 80p.
In its first week, the new series has sold 70,545 copies, according to Nielsen BookScan, and Penguin is already reprinting another 100,000 copies, despite an initial print run of one million. The bestselling title to date is the Marx, said the publisher, followed by Jane Austen’s The Beautifull Cassandra, a collection of the novelist’s early writings, Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart, and Nietzsche’s Aphorisms on Love and Hate.
A new edition of selected poems by Emily Brontë is the series’ 10th-best seller. “I’m really pleased that Emily Brontë’s poems are doing so well – suddenly lots of people are reading these extraordinary poems, who wouldn’t have been likely to read her complete poems,” said publishing director Simon Winder.
“There are an awful lot of writers who are really wonderful but quite intimidating – who really wants to read the whole of Samuel Pepys’s diary? But choosing the bit about the Great Fire of London – who wouldn’t want to read that?” Winder said. Penguin had tried, he added, to evoke a “pick-and-mix atmosphere, like Woolworths, almost, but with Dante” – whose Circles of Hell is the series’ eighth-best selling title.
At Waterstones, which has sold more than 30,000 of the titles in the past week, Joseph Knobbs said the lineup was “hard for a book-lover to walk past” without seeing something that might catch their eye.
“I also think everyone loves the idea of a rediscovered classic – the idea of writing that endures so strongly that it still can’t be ignored 100 years later. It feels like a guarantee that your time won’t be wasted,” Knobbs said.