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50 Years Under the Bell Jar

2013 February 11

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Sylvia Plath’s suicide. Much will likely be made of this date, since Plath has all but been reduced as a love-sick lunatic who took her own life. She was a hugely gifted writer and left behind ground-breaking poetry and a novel that has inspired generations since its publication, also 50 years ago.

To celebrateThe Bell Jar‘s anniversary, the original publisher, Faber & Faber, issued a new edition, featuring a new cover:

Unfortunately, the debate surrounding this cover has overshadowed the accomplishments of the novel and the author themselves. Many critics strongly feel that the cover is an example of homogenizing womens’ literature into something resembling safe “chick lit,” with bright colors and pretty girls. While I agree that this is certainly an unfortunate trend (the new cover for Anne of Green Gables in particular fills me with rage), I don’t necessarily think that Faber had this intent when they created the special edition cover.

If you’ve read the novel, you’ll remember that it begins with Esther Greenwood interning for a women’s magazine in New York City. As part of the program, all of the women receive lipsticks and compacts to welcome them to the city. It is expected that they look their best and always act with decorum. This is a central theme of the novel–Esther’s struggle to meet the expectations for women while confronting her own demons. It’s my belief that the cover, rather than mocking the novel, encapsulates what the book is about, as much as a book cover really can. Kirsty Grocott articulates all of this better in her article for the Telegraph, if you’re interested.



What do you think of the new cover for The Bell Jar? It’s not the prettiest, but I don’t think it’s worth all the controversy. That Anne cover on the other hand…..come on, guys…she has RED HAIR. That’s basically what the entire first book is about. ANGER .



4 Responses Post a comment
  1. Ron permalink
    February 11, 2013

    While I have no idea of the intent, I think you could make an argument for the cover as a pretty artful statement. The artist has chosen to use the subject’s gaze (women in paintings [when paintings were a popular mode of depiction] tended not to be looking out of the frame right at the observer, while men frequently were) as a commentary. The subject is looking in a mirror (also traditional), but instead of tilting the mirror toward herself, she’s used the mirror to look both down her nose and out at the observer, using a tool meant potentially to objectify her into a way of objectifying the observer.

    It also appears to fit neatly into a generic chick-lit cover trope, but if that gets people who wouldn’t normally read The Bell Jar to read it, I’d count that as at least a partial victory.

  2. February 11, 2013

    I haven’t read The Bell Jar (I know, right?) so I’m not going to comment on that one.


    Anne. My poor, sweet Anne. A role model for those young redheads (or young freckled faces, even if their hair isn’t red). What have they done to you?

  3. Raquel permalink
    February 11, 2013

    I am not a fan of the new cover, mostly because it’s ugly and looks cheap, and there’s nothing cheap about The Bell Jar.

    Anne though… WTF were they thinking? Not only is this girl BLONDE, but she’s posing like some kind of sex kitten while wearing a plaid shirt.



  4. February 11, 2013

    I’m in shock about that Anne of Green Gables cover! Maybe the printer accidentally switched it with a Sweet Valley High cover? I know a lot of classics have been reissued lately with covers aimed at the teen/ Twilight fan market, but come on, at least pick a model with red hair!

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