The Bibliothèque de la Pléiade is a French series of books which was created in the 1930s by Jacques Schiffrin, an independent young editor. Schiffrin wanted to provide the public with reference editions of the complete works of classic authors in a pocket format. André Gide took an interest in Schiffrin's project and brought it into Gallimard, under which it is still published. After moving to New York to escape from Nazism, Schiffrin became a founder of Pantheon Books.
The Pléiade has a strong emphasis on works that were originally written in French, though the collection also includes classics of world literature, such as bilingual editions of the works of William Shakespeare, or French editions of Jane Austen's work. To date, more than 500 books have been published in the series, with 11 books generally published every year.
All the books offer a similar high quality appearance-- leather bound, with gold lettering on the spine and bible paper, and they have a practical small format which makes them look like small Bibles. The use of bible paper allows the books to contain a high number of pages; it is common for a Pléiade book to contain at least 1500. The longest volume in the Pléiade is Les Mille et Une Nuits I, II et III, at 3504 pages. The books' leather covers are also colour-coded according to period: 20th century literature comes in tobacco leather, 19th century in emerald green, 18th century in blue, 17th century in venetian red, 16th in corinthian brown, the Middle Ages purple, Antiquity green, spiritual texts gray, and anthologies red. The books are sold in a transparent rhodoïd dust jacket, and inserted in a white printed cardboard slipcase, although multiple volumes are often sold in a single slipcase.
The books are critical editions, with annotations, comments, manuscript and editorial variants and accompanying documents. The preparation of these critical editions can take many years for a team of specialists, which accounts partly for the books' generally steep cost. For foreign authors, new reference French translations are systematically created.
The "entry into the Pléiade" is considered a major sign of recognition for an author in France, and it is extremely rare that a living author is published in the Pléiade (some exceptional examples include Jean-Paul Sartre, Nathalie Sarraute, Julien Green, Julien Gracq, Milan Kundera...) In 2008, shortly before his death, the works of Claude Lévi-Strauss were published in the collection.
The Bibliothèque de la Pléiade also publishes an Album de la Pléiade every Summer, which is an illustrated book in the same format as the rest of the series, usually dedicated to one of the writers but sometimes also dedicated to writers from a specific time period (1989 album) or to an important topic (1970 and 2009 albums) from the collection. The Albums are offered for free with the purchase of three books in the series. They are often collected.
In the 1960s and '70s, an Encyclopédie de la Pléiade in the same format was also created, under the direction of Raymond Queneau.
In 1992, Gallimard and Einaudi began a similar series of literature in Italian, the Biblioteca della Pleiade.
The Library of America series, launched in 1979, is a similar project in the United States inspired by the Bibliothèque de la Pléiade.