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article imageRemaking classic book covers is causing controversy

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By Chanah Rubenstein     Feb 7, 2013 in Arts
Do you judge a book by its cover? Should you? Recently there has been some controversy over the remaking of classic book covers and their portrayal of women.
To mark the 50th anniversary of Sylvia Plath’s successful novel, ‘The Bell Jar,’ publisher Faber re-released the book with a new cover image. The image attempts to bring back a 1960’s feel with a classic red tone background and the face of a woman adjusting her make-up in a compact mirror.
In a time when mental illnesses and depression were taboo, hidden and even denied, especially in women, Sylvia Plath published her novel, ‘The Bell Jar.’ Plath's only novel tells the story of a young woman battling depression and surviving suicide attempts in the 1950’s. 'The Bell Jar' has appealed to many, especially young women, for five decades. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of its release, Faber publishing has re-released the novel with a new, but classically designed cover.
The new cover has sparked outrage among many fans. Many have viewed the new cover as a travesty; adhering to current market trends, while undermining the content of Plath’s dark tale.
The women’s advocate website, Jezebel, scathingly tore apart the cover, calling it “stupid” and saying it’s “ugly and the colors suck.” The piece opened with the controversial remark, “If Sylvia Plath hadn't already killed herself, she probably would've if she saw the new cover of her only novel The Bell Jar.” (Sylvia Plath committed suicide just months after ‘The Bell Jar’ was published under a pen-name in 1963.)
Huffington Post’s Zoe Triska went further, saying, “It's insulting to women and girls everywhere to essentially trivialize the topics of these books by creating these book covers showcasing female stereotypes.”
She goes on to point out, “The irony in all of this is that these female authors were trying to overcome these feminine stereotypes in writing these books.”
Children’s writer, Louis Stowell, tweeted, “I think, after that bell jar cover, my next pitch for a kids book will be The Big Pink Book of Low Expectations For Girls. Commercial gold.”
Not everyone is being critical of the cover. The Guardian is reporting that Hannah Griffiths, Faber’s publisher of paperbacks, is supporting the artistic move, believing it’s a way they can hold onto the fans of Plath’s written content and those who haven’t yet experienced the book, but find appeal in ‘chick lit.’
Griffiths said that the cover is meant to portray "the beginning of the story, where the narrator is an intern at a women's magazine in New York in the 1950s and is encountering the conflict between new freedom and old assumptions about women's aspirations".
Supporting the move to appeal to ‘chick lit’ readers who wouldn’t otherwise read Plath’s work, Naomi Wolf is quoted in The Guardian as saying, "I see nothing wrong with this – except perhaps that some young women seeking a lightweight beach read might get unexpectedly very depressed."
Many have pointed out that there is a current trend of using these kinds of ‘woman appealing’ themes on book covers in an attempt to salvage a book market that is currently seeing difficulties. With last year’s impressive publishing success in E L James’ ‘Fifty Shades’ series, which was torn from store shelves in vast numbers (mainly by women), publishers have seen what kind of numbers print books can turn out with the right marketing.
Emily Bronte’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ was released with a book cover mirroring Stephenie Meyer’s popular ‘Twilight’ series in an attempt to seem appetizing to 'Twilight' fans. For those who haven’t read the series, the character couple Bella and Edward are devoted fans of Bronte’s 166 year old classic.
In her Huffington Post blog, Zoe Triska provides examples of other books re-released with covers that are seen by many to be anti-women. Some of the books include Jane Austen classics, such as ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and ‘Sense and Sensibility’ and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s ‘Herland.’
Even more recently has been the spark of outrage from fans of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Canadian classic story, ‘Anne of Green Gables.’ The internationally popular story of Anne, a red-headed orphan from Canada’s Prince Edward Island, has been re-released with a cover showing a young woman leaning back on a bale of hay, tousling her hair.
The Globe and Mail reports that the ‘sultry’ eyed Anne Shirley edition was published back in November. However, due to the controversy over Plath’s new cover, this Anne of Green Gables cover is now seeing public backlash. Many reviewers on Amazon.com have written about the book, praising the story but crying out against the cover. One such reviewer advises readers to buy the books, but to buy a set that doesn’t include such a ‘terrible’ cover, writes The Globe and Mail.
What is your take on this supposed market trend? Does it matter what's on the cover when the story remains the same? Will it alter your purchases in any way?
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