My Brother Michael is the fifth book published by Mary Stewart and is therefore the fifth of my book art posts, where I display the editions I own (pictured above) so that we can admire/fondly mock/look on in bemusement at the ways in which Mary Stewart titles were illustrated over time. Since I live in the UK, my book covers are almost all UK ones, and generally I favour vintage and new copies. Let’s take a look!

Argosy (monthly magazine, part of Fleetway Publications Ltd), November 1959 to March 1960.

Argosy (monthly magazine by Fleetway Publications), November 1959 – March 1960. Features serialisation of My Brother Michael by Mary Stewart

My Brother Michael was first published in book form in the UK in 1960 but prior to this it was serialised in Argosy: I think this paperback-sized short story magazine must have looked really fresh and appealing, and all for two shillings and sixpence a month. I have no idea whether Argosy was innovative or whether there were many similar offerings at the time. These five editions contain My Brother Michael and the story is illustrated by William Stubbs.

  • The first meeting of Camilla and Simon
  • Greek village drawing for My Brother Michael

My favourite illustrations here are the village houses bordering the book title, and the scene where Camilla and Simon meet for the first time in Arachova, with its heavily-laden lorry filling the narrow street. (Camilla looks a little like a short person working at the counter of an ice-cream van, and I am perplexed about the narrowness of the front of the car, but to be honest that only adds to my enjoyment of the image!)

1960, Hodder & Stoughton, UK first edition. Illustrated by BIRO.

Book cover

This is the first of the Mary Stewart books illustrated by Val Biro (1921-2014): you can read more about him in this obituary in the Guardian newspaper. Less florid than the Eleanor Poore illustrations on previous Mary Stewart titles, this cover uses simpler lines and a limited palette to good effect. The ‘young woman in a dress’ theme is present but restrained in comparison to some of the paperback imagery, while the Greek-style font and image of mountainside ruin fragments accurately hint at the story. I believe Mary Stewart would have been quite pleased with this cover: she didn’t want to be pigeon-holed as writing solely for women and disliked some of the more Gothic cover art used on her novels. I like how the spine of the book looks with its single column (see the featured image at the top of this post).

1962, Hodder paperback. Illustrator not known

Here our young-woman-in-a-dress has sneaked forward and her dress colour is bolder, albeit still blending with the tones of the cover. The Greek ruins are in less, um, ruinous condition. The font has reverted to a more standard one and there is a great deal more enticing front-cover-blurb: exciting, unexpected, nightmare, suspense, danger, intrigue! I like the warm colours and impression of a sun-baked landscape.

1964 Hodder paperback. Illustrator not known.

Two years after the previous edition, here the author name is much more prominent in size and by colour contrast. No longer is there information that she is ‘author of…’ – I think these facts point to Mary Stewart being much more widely known by 1964 (perhaps due in part to the success of The Moon-Spinners film that some of you remember going to see at the cinema). The basic illustration is identical to the 1962 edition – but where has our young-woman-in-a-dress gone? Less wordy, this is a cooler, cleaner look – but why does the yellow writing look so cheap?

1965, Hodder paperback. Illustrator not known.

This edition is just a year after our previous example but it has a very different feel. Block caps, no blurb, mostly muddy colours, and the Greek ruins have been relegated to the background. Most markedly, this Camilla is no longer a blurred figure, she is a detailed representation of a woman, someone you would recognise if you saw her in the street. This illustration, with its 60s pointy bosom and hand casually pointing to crotch, seems to me to have been drawn by a man. This illustration might have aged better if it had ended at Camilla’s shoulders..

1969 and 1971, Hodder paperback. Illustrator not known.

Mary Stewart's My Brother Michael

I have two copies with this book cover (I have no idea how this is so). This creased cover is a Hodder paperback dated 1971 (9th impression). My uncreased but otherwise identical cover is a Hodder paperback from 1969 (7th impression). Illustrator not known.

Would you agree that Camilla from 50 years ago does not look out of place in 2021? – her hair and dress have not dated at all (or fashion has come full circle). I am not keen on this cover for the Barbie pinkness surrounding the illustration, and because again the male gaze seems so obviously at work here. But I do like the depiction of sky and sea.

1972, Coronet paperback. Illustrator not known.

Coronet’s 1970s Mary Stewart book cover series is iconic. The signature creamy background colour is used really effectively by the unknown illustrator to highlight selected details such as the heroine’s gorgeous hair and one or two plot elements – here, the flower drawn by Nigel plus a Greek gravestone with Michael’s name. And each heroine is exquisitely, glamorously dressed. Camilla’s body language suggests the timidity of her fledgling independence rather well too.

1978, Book Club Associates hardback. Illustrator not known.

Book cover image for Mary Stewart's Triple Jeopardy omnibus

Triple Jeopardy is a good name for a three-novel omnibus of suspense and danger, but it does rather suggest courtroom drama to me. This very regal purple and gold cover is a heavy hardback that does not offer any interior illustrations aside from a repeat of this cover one, so I have never used this copy to read any of the stories. I am puzzled by the logic behind some of the other novel collections (eg Peerage Books offers an omnibus of two Merlin novels plus Wildfire at Midnight…) so I am happy that this selection makes sense in that it contains Mary Stewart’s Greek thrillers.

1980, Hutchinson Bulls-Eye paperback. Adapted by Dorothy Welchman. Illustrator: Paul Bryant

I’m not too sure about this cover – those shoes (gasps in horror) but then again: pockets! And is the Giant Forearm of Camilla to be celebrated or denigrated? Inside this simplified version of My Brother Michael there are helpful maps of mainland Greece and Delphi. Instead of the fate-challenging words ‘Nothing ever happens to me’, this version of the novel opens with: ‘The cafe was full of people.’ Hmm.

2011, Hodder & Stoughton paperback. Cover illustration Robyn Neild, Gerd Hartung/akg-images

As I always write about the 2011 covers set, I prefer the Gerd Hartung fashion illustrations with background and context – look here to see what I mean. Is anyone a fan of this custard-yellow background? One thing I adore about these covers? Right at the top, in block caps: A MARY STEWART MODERN CLASSIC. Oh yes.

2017, Hodder & Stoughton paperback. Illustration: Everett Collection/Mary Evans

This cover design set is an instant classic, imo. It boasts a great strapline: ‘the beloved modern classic’, and has a simple clear font – and for me an attractive, easily readable font has become something to be prized; I don’t want to squint at a curlicue title or author name! The illustrations in this set offer a strong hint of glamorous old travel posters, and they are well chosen: in this image, I can certainly imagine Camilla clutching the steering wheel of the car, with a few chicken feathers clinging to the car bonnet…

That is everything in my collection but there are also the US covers that Jerri kindly shared with us here. Here again is the stunning Charles Geer cover for My Brother Michael:

Which is your favourite cover for My Brother Michael? Let me know what you think.

See also: