Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

That Bell Jar cover.

We are a bit late on this. But mention should be made of the furore surrounding Faber and Faber’s 50th anniversary edition of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. As you darn well ought to know, Ms Plath’s novel is a …

Mon, Feb 4, 2013, 22:14

   

We are a bit late on this. But mention should be made of the furore surrounding Faber and Faber’s 50th anniversary edition of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. As you darn well ought to know, Ms Plath’s novel is a searing description of breakdown triggered — in part, at least —  by the patriarchal attitudes of contemporaneous western society. It has, quite correctly, gained the status of a novel you have to read. How have the publishers celebrated this key text? By issuing it with a cover that depicts a “glamorous lady” looking vainly at her own reflection in a compact. Rather than (ahem) reflecting the novel’s angry core, the cover looks to combine Mad Men glamour with chick-lit triviality. Have a gawp…

Many readers feel understandably protective of Plath’s memory. Just recall the complicated reactions to the publication of Ted Hughes’s Birthday Letters in 1998. The collection looked like Hughes’s effort to make peace with his late partner — the two poets formed a volatile partnership in the early 1960s — but more than a few Plath enthusiasts were unwilling to embrace the belated meditation. The Bell Jar remained, for them, the truth told as fiction. With all that in mind, it is hardly surprising that voices have been raised in objection to an apparent scheme to market the text as a throw-forward to Sex and the City.

In the aftermath, however, some voices have sprung to Faber’s defence. One correspondent to the Guardian (well, it was hardly the Mail) noted that the image referenced a scene from the book. “She takes out her mirror and repairs her makeup ‘with a small heart’”. Sarah Cope explained. “This is the scene recreated on the cover. There’s nothing ‘silly’ or ‘hideous’ about it.” This is actually quite a powerful argument.  But the tone of the cover does still feel a little bit off.

Anyway, the mini-scandal has scared up some rather delicious parodies. Among the best we find one from our own Cethan Leahy. The writer of the sly Irish short Flipping Channels writes ironically: “‘Based on what little I know about the novel, I have made a book cover of The Bell Jar.” Here it is:

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