Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Bell Jar-50 Years Onward-50 Years Backward

This topic has recently been discussed mainly in literary circles, but given its pertinent nature I wanted to briefly discuss it here.

Last month commemorated the 50th anniversary of the publication of Sylvia Plath's first and only novel, The Bell Jar.  Like Plath's greatest poetic works, in The Bell Jar she utilized through fiction the personal in order to explore the political. And through that exploration reflected back to us an ugly, sexist, rapist and patriarchal social commentary on the 1950's America that Plath came of age in. I wont delve into details of The Bell Jar, if you have read it you already know them and if you havent, it is a highly sophisticated work dressed unassumingly in Holden Caulfield garb, but unlike Catcher in the Rye everything isnt as it appears on the surface.

The issue at hand isnt The Bell Jar itself, but the retro dust jacket (seen above on the right) coiffed in the current hyper-feminine standard. The image panders to and exploits the narrow sexist female norms that is at the heart of The Bell Jar, in what seems an effort to minimize the novel's genius making it more attractive for today's chick-lit readers. Much in the same way the novel's heroine, Esther Greenwood, like her creator, disgustingly downplayed her intelligence so as not to intimidate male suitors. Did Faber & Faber fear an accurate image reflecting the suffocating Gender Straight Jacket smothering Esther, might make an old maid of the novel? In the same way women were conditioned then and still, that intelligence and depth will make old maids of them? And that by doing so will limit the sales Faber is counting on with the 50th anniversary publication?

Clearly Faber & Faber not only believes that their female readership is shallow, it is banking on it!


1 comment:

  1. You made a pertinent point. I've read this remarkable book many times. If I'd seen the new cover, however, I might've ignored it. It sends a misleading message. Sometimes, "you can't judge a book by its cover."