A Little Jane Austen with Your Daily Hygiene? ~ Janine Barchas on “Sense, Sensibility, and Soap”

For those of you interested in the publishing history of Jane Austen, Professor Janine Barchas has recently published another of her fabulous bibliographical articles on Austen covers, this time in the journal Book History.  It discusses the little-known fact of a Lever Brothers soap marketing campaign that offered various giveaways, including hardbound editions of classic literature, Jane Austen among them.  I append here the beginning of the article, one of the many [and interesting!] illustrations, and a link to the rest of it … with thanks to Janine for alerting me to it!

Source: Janine Barchas. “Sense, Sensibility, and Soap: An Unexpected Case Study in Digital Resources for Book History.” Book History 16 (2013): 185-214.

Unrecorded in even David Gilson’s A Bibliography of Jane Austen is the little-known fact that soap manufacturer Lever Brothers published editions of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice during the 1890s as part of a unique marketing campaign for Sunlight soap. The first English company to combine massive product giveaways with large-scale advertising, Lever Brothers offered a range of prizes in “Sunlight Soap Monthly Competitions” to “young folks” (contestants could not be older than seventeen) who sent in the largest number of soap wrappers. The Sunlight advertising blitz, targeted to working- and lower-middle-class consumers, proved such a boon to sales that Lever Brothers ran the competition for a full seven years, annually escalating the giveaways. Prizes included cash, bicycles, silver key-chains, gold watches, and—for the largest number of winners—cloth-bound books. For this purpose, Lever Brothers published and distributed its own selection of fiction titles by “Popular Authors” and “Standard Authors,” including cloth-bound editions of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. By 1897, the year the competition closed, Lever Brothers had awarded well over a million volumes.

Continue Reading: Barchas-SSandSoap-BookHistory


Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility in red cloth (Port Sunlight: Lever Brothers, n.d.).

For those of you with Project Muse access, here is the direct link: http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/bh/summary/v016/16.barchas.html

c2013 Jane Austen in Vermont

3 thoughts on “A Little Jane Austen with Your Daily Hygiene? ~ Janine Barchas on “Sense, Sensibility, and Soap”

  1. It just shows you advertising techniques have remained the same.When I was a kid Kellogs Cornflake packets could be turned into masks, plastic toy cars could be found at the bottom of the packets, there were colouring and drawing competitions too.

    The most amusing example of product promotion through gifts my family ever encountered, was when my youngest brother Malcolm,was born. Michael my other brother and I were ,”forced,” to eat FORCE for breakfast every day for months. It was like a tasteless bland,porridge and we hated it. My mother wanted to collect the coupons on each packet so she could send off for a Mr Force doll for our baby brother. Mr Force was a cartoon character that looked a little like a thin Mr Mc Cawber. He wore a pill box hat, sported an 18th century pigtail and wore spats. He also had a long turned up nose. Michael and I thought he was hideous.. When the doll duly arrived and my mother handed it to our baby brother Malcolm he screamed the place down. He thought it horrific too. We have never eaten FORCE again!!!!! Mr FORCE ended up in the bin.

    A copy of Sense and Sensibility would have been wonderful!!!! Ha! ha!


    • Great story Tony! – funny how we just don’t forget certain things from our childhood – we think we are inundated with marketing today, but it was the same in the 50s+, especially on cereal boxes! I agree that S&S or P&P would have been a much better gift than Mr. Force!


  2. I actually have a copy of the Pride & Prejudice books by Lever Bros. I understand it is very rare. In vain I have searched for another copy, or one of the Sense & Sensibility books.


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