It was October 2003, and I was fresh into my second class of college (we did our classes in blocks, one at a time). This was my intro to English class, the most entry-level of entry-level lit classes in college. It was a required class for all students, English majors or not.
One of the best parts of my college’s unique structure was the flexibility in choosing among so many options for your required courses. English 101 had feminist analysis of fairy tales as an option, book-to-film adaptation exploration, and a variety of studies focused within a high-interest theme or cultural topic.
Being the English major in the making, I wanted to take my required course ASAP so I could continue on into the higher level courses sooner.
Little did I know that signing up for the English 101 taught by a visiting professor whose specialty was in writing and reading poetry would change my life.
Little did I know that spending an entire course doing nothing but reading Franz Kafka would slowly mold my brain into the weird place that it is.
Little did I know that, even a decade and some change later, I find Kafka to be utterly fascinating, that the journals I wrote in that class would lead to worlds of opening myself to experiencing literature and reading in new ways, nor did I ever expect that the writing-intensive course I took junior year of college would allow me to re-explore The Metamorphosis through Freudian analysis of the notion of “the uncanny” (nerd. alert).
June 3, fellow Kafka heads know, is the anniversary of his death. What better time to talk about The Metamorphosis and more specifically, it’s worth looking through some of the incredible covers this book inspired through the years.
When The Metamorphosis was first published, Kafka told his published he did not want any representation of the insect Gregor becomes to be on the cover. The letter Kafka wrote read, “”The insect itself is not to be drawn. It is not even to be seen from a distance.”
This was the original cover from 1915, and Kafka got his wish:
After that, though, we got to see The Bug in its many creepy, crawly manifestations.
I’ve pulled together a big collection of covers for The Metamorphosis, both in English editions, as well as foreign editions. Since finding the provenance of all these covers proved challenging — and it was really challenging to find covers that were prior to the 1950s — consider this gallery more about the ways that The Bug has been interpreted through time and cultures than about design aesthetics. This is not comprehensive, as I’ve purposefully chosen covers that I could track a year on and that were not made available through digital devices only (as in covers made through Createspace or for Kindle-only). It’s also quite likely some of the editions might be mislabeled or misdated. I’m including them because I am a completionist, but really, I’m 100% here for the cover designs alone.
From left to right, top to bottom:
1955 by Éditions Gallimard
1961 by Penguin Books
1961 by Penguin Books
1965 by BUP
1968 by Schocken Books
1972 by Bantam
1974 by Εγνατία (bonus for this being one of Kafka’s own creepy/weird drawings)
1976 by Clube do Livro
1978 by Premia Editora S.A.
1979 by Losada
1982 by Európa
1985 by Oveja Negra
1987 by Europa América
1989 by Gallimard
1989 by Livre de Poche
1992 by Minerva
1992 by Zephyr
1993 by A. Vallardi (This rendition of The Bug is the closest to what my mind has depicted)
1995 by Diogenes (This is another cover with Kafka’s own art)
1997 by SysPrint
2004 by Edimat Libros
2006 by Losada
2007 by Editora Livros do Brasil
2009 by Arcturus Publishing
2009 by Simon & Schuster
2009 by 麥田出版
2009 by Schocken Books
2010 by Abril
2010 by Penguin books
2008 by Homerian Pustaka
2010 by Punto de Lectura
2010 by The Folio Society
2012 by BUR
2012 by Willem van Toorn/Athenaeum-Polak & Van Gennep
2013 by Leya
2013 by Modern Library
2013 by Editores mexicanos unidos
2014 by Fingerprint! Classics
2014 by Nhã Nam
2016 by Akılçelen Kitaplar
Of course, in addition to professionally designed editions of The Metamorphosis, other artists have put their spin on the cover. Here are three knockouts, each linked to their creators.
Created by Indian artist Kawal Oberoi.
This dreamy nightmare was created by Dane Cozens.
This take was created by Nicholas Grinere.
I’d love to know if you know of other editions and their provenance or if you have a favorite interpretation of the story in any of the above. I’m not going to lie: I think my favorites are the final three, designed by artists for fun. I’m also pretty sweet on the Folio Society edition.