Cover Art Collage – Manhattan Transfer by John Dos Passos

John Dos Passos

Hi everyone, owing to multiple health issues, it has been much too long since I have been able to post anything new on this blog. I’m very happy to say that this ends today! And it begins with a new Cover Art Collage post – This time we are looking at the Lost Generation classic Manhattan Transfer by John Dos Passos.

First published in 1925, Manhattan Transfer traces the changes of urban development in New York City as it transitions from the Gilded Age to the Jazz Age. A very experimental novel for its time, MT has been referred to as “a novel without a plot,” when in fact there are numerous plots. There is, however, no one plot throughout, and no one plot that unites all the characters. A classic that has stood the test of time, let’s look at some of the great covers that have been used over the nearly hundred years since it first reached the public.

Collage of Manhattan Transfer covers

Unsurprisingly, most covers feature some sort of version of New York City. What is interesting is the lens that is used. We can look at these covers as a long shot that gradually zooms into the city, bringing the reader from the outside in. Let’s follow this thread three at a time:

With the first cover we start with Manhattan way off in the distance, as if we were flying in on a plane. We are flying over skyscrapers, and next we’re getting closer to street level, looking straight on at a skyscraper.

These three covers continue to bring us closer. Now we are on street level, looking through a bridge to a skyscraper in the distance, then we get our first glimpse of people, with an apartment building, and finally we are on their level, in a room with a crowd of people.

Finally, with this series of three we are with the people themselves. First we are sitting with a woman, but we can’t see her face, then we see the faces of a couple but they are clearly cut off from us, and lastly we are at a bar drinking and smoking with a man and looking him in the eye.

I think this series of nine covers is an excellent depiction of this novel. As we read it we get closer and closer to the people and to the city itself until we feel a part of it, living, loving, and losing with them. Each cover looks at the city from a different distance, but combined they give us the full story of New York City coming into its own in the 20th century.

What do you think? Any covers that you prefer?

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