The Letters of Sylvia Plath will be published this month. However, the book has different covers in the USA and the UK, with the UK version sporting an image of a blonde, bikini-clad Plath, sparking controversy.
The US and UK Covers. / Image Via Entertainment Weekly
As Plath scholar Cathleen Allyn Conway notes that this is a long-standing and ongoing issue for many female writers and the use of sexualized images undermines the seriousness of these authors’ work. While the disparaging of so-called “women’s fiction” and its marketing is a discussion for another day, Conway includes in her argument an infamous edition of The Bell Jar, Plath’s novel about suicide and mental illness, which bore a ‘proto-chick-lit design’ of a woman fixing her make-up on the cover.
Conway asks, “Why is [Plath’s] work, so heavy with symbolism and myth, which documents the frustrating consequences of transgressive womanhood, marketed with so little thought and respect?”
She suggests that perhaps attempts at more light-hearted packaging of Plath’s work could be an attempt to ‘counterbalance the darkness in her work.’ However, the same thing never ever happens to male authors, regardless of how deep and dark their writing is. Conway points to Robert Lowell, who was manic depressive and spent time in the same facility as Plath, but whose books always feature images of him writing and looking serious.
While the fact that Plath is blonde on the cover may seem neither here nor there, Plath was only blonde for approximately three months of her life, and expressed in a letter to her mother that she far preferred having brown hair, and she felt her ‘brown-haired personality is more studious, charming and earnest.’ Surely then, in order to remain true to Plath, the cover of these letters should portray her as she felt comfortable, not as some may prefer to see her.
Featured Image Via Literary Hub