Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Thoughts on: The New Bell Jar Cover

This year Sylvia Plath's novel The Bell Jar celebrates its 50th anniversary.  The book itself is incredibly haunting and poetic, and I would highly recommend it.  But I don't want to talk about the book.  I want to talk about the new cover that has just been released.*  It's incredibly controversial, and to be perfectly blunt, I hate it.

Firstly, it's not an accurate representation of the novel.  Yes, Ester Greenwood is an intern at a fashion magazine.  Yes, there are sections that discuss clothes and make-up and image. Nevertheless, completely ignores the book's darker side, and focuses completely on one small portion it.

This cover is clearly an attempt to re-market the book as chick lit.  There are two major problems with this.  Firstly, it's not actually chick lit.  Secondly, the fact that they are choosing to re-brand this book in this way clearly demonstrates another major issue for female writers and creators.  Their work is consistently branded as being "for women".  The fact that almost anything written by a woman is separated from other books and put into another, significantly pinker category creates this idea that women's writing is only relevant to women, which is ridiculous.

I understand that publishing companies exist to make money, but when you have the rights to an author's work, then you also have a certain level of responsibility to protect their legacy.  This warped representation of the novel completely ignores that responsibility.  With this cover, Faber have given up even pretending to care about anything other than profit margins.

Another problem I have with this image is that it glamorises the 50's inspired woman on the front. This  is not only historical revisionism, but again undermines one of the key ideas of the book.  The ideal of the 1950's housewife is not a sweet, simple notion. At that time it represented the only acceptable option for a woman.  Both Ester Greenwood and Plath struggled with the very limiting views on femininity, and the fact that this cover completely ignores that is insulting.

There are some people who have suggested that this new cover is good, because more people will buy it and be introduced to Plath's work.  While the sales of the book have gone up since the release of the new cover, but it's questionable as to whether this is due to the cover itself, or all of the hype surrounding the cover and the book's 50 anniversary.  Even if this new cover did increase book sales,  we seriously have to question the cost of these additional sales.  The new cover is a yet another example of "if we make it pink, women will buy it" syndrome.  These insidious stereotypes are harmful, because they normalise dichotomous notions of gender.   The marketing of this book might encourage some people to read it, but it is also clearly an attempt to appeal only to a very specific market, and this will alienate a lot of other readers.

This cover is horrible on so many different levels.

What are your thoughts?

*I haven't posted a picture to avoid any copyright issues.  If you google search something along the lines of "Bell Jar 50th Anniversary cover" it should come up.