Janet Badia points out in her excellent book, Sylvia Plath and the Mythology of Women Readers, Plath has been frequently characterised as , 'St. Sylvia - High Priestess of Suffering' with a collection of 'emo' followers who inevitably grow out of the poetry and fiction with maturity. I second Badia's frustration at this categorisation and also go on the defensive, asking: so what if Plath's main readership is sensitive young women? Does this lessen the value or quality of her writing or indeed, the validity of her readership? Throughout my PhD experience, when asked about my topic, people will usually respond how 'depressing' it must be to study Plath. Do the covers of her books and fiction contribute to this perception of Plath and her writing as dark and depressing? I really believe so!
In my opinion, the 50th Anniversary cover of The Bell Jar draws attention to aspects of the novel that have not been popularised in conjunction with the 'Plath myth'. And again - if the book is marketed to resemble chick-lit, part of me wants to say: so what? What's wrong with chick-lit! In fact, are we contributing to women's secondary position within the wider literary tradition by dismissing chick-lit as something trivial and embarrassing? Furthermore, by kicking up a fuss at how Plath is marketed, are we denying the multiplicities in her voice and creative imagination? Why can't The Bell Jar be seen to represent a young woman's coming of age, struggles with mental difficulties and also the frivolity of youth?
|Plath's calendar: illustrating how she planned|
and budgeted her life. (c) Smith College.
Frankly, whether The Bell Jar is marketed as chick-lit or a children's bedtime story, these book covers will not change the content of the book. The Bell Jar shocks, intrigues, entertains, is very moving and is a brave, brilliant novel. Indeed, marketing this book as chick-lit introduces it to a whole new catalogue of readers and may assist in the 'Plath myth' subsiding - allowing all of Plath's inspirations to shine through, appreciated. As Pauline Dunne concludes, we should 'applaud [chick-lit readers] choice of reading material for the funny, moving and intelligent piece of writing it is'.