The Bell Jar (of anti-ageing cream)

Look what they’ve gone and done to Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar.

Going straight to the heart of the matter: women are angry because make-up has been used as a tool of oppression. You are not good enough – buy this eyeliner. You are looking sexually non-viable – purchase this cream. Your age is showing – use this gel or you will never find love again.

And yet here we are, with Plath’s beautiful, angry piece about adulthood, confusion and being fucked up and not able to help it – with this cover.


Am I angry?


I’m sort of glad.

Glad because, by marrying Plath’s message with an image people associate with airy vanity, we can highlight this struggle.  Plath’s novel is heavily infused with a bewilderment about how young women are meant to behave. A girl’s own worst enemy – because society is telling her she must look a certain way, and her bone structure and complexion was never designed that way in the first place – is her own reflection.

To me, that cover embodies so much of The Bell Jar’s sadness and rage. If anyone’s going to reduce it to “silly woman applying make up”, they’re backing out of the fight, and refusing to engage with Plath’s concerns. And if someone picks it up accidentally whilst seeking out lighter literature – well, they couldn’t read a better accident.

ETA: Simon Usborne’s article in The Independent includes a small round-up of quotes – this one in particular makes me furious:

Jack Noel, a designer at Walker Books, said the cover “looks like it belongs in the chick-lit section at an airport WH Smith,” adding: “They may as well have called it Bell de Jar,” a reference to Belle de Jour, author of the Diary of a Call Girl books.

Noel manages to reinforce the notion that “chick-lit” is an actual thing (as opposed to being made up of light reading, romances, family tragedies etcetera etcetera) AND slut-shames at the same time by implying that pornographic literature is automatically lower than ‘real’ books. Splendid. Only, not.


ETA 2: Faber respond on 7/2/13:

The image on the cover picks up on the beginning of the story, where the narrator is an intern at a women’s magazine in New York in the fifties and is encountering the conflict between new freedom and old assumptions about women’s aspirations.

Our intention for this cover was that the image of the expressionless woman ‘putting on her mask’ and the discordant colour palette would suggest ambivalence and unease. The copy on the back of this edition makes reference to the narrator’s depression and suicide attempt.

Read the full response: The Bell Jar 50th Anniversary Edition



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About fictavia

Fictavia (noun): writer, critiquer of the publishing world and witty reviewer.

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