A cover for a particular Anne of Green Gables trilogy has been receiving a sorrowful buzz if only for its malapropistic inception, unwittingly shaming the red-headed character of its inner pages.
Supposed book geeks are railing against the image of a blonde representing non-other than Anne Shirley, yelling at publishers for not reading the book before choosing a cover. I argue publishers know exactly what they’re doing, and that Anne of Green Gables is well known enough to warrant knowing the character is a fiery redhead (a sexual trope all its own). I like to assume this is a crude attempt to trick readers into purchasing a book solely based on the cover, which is what a lot of books do. People are less apt to read the back of the sleeve, anyway. If they were, we’d have no need for the cover.
Someone expressed a pang that the problem with the cover is the sexualization of the young blonde, tussling her hair, arching her back in a popular pin up pose, and thereby encouraging young women to act the same way. This argument falls flat on its face if anyone reads the actual book and realizes, by today’s conventions, that Anne Shirley is exactly what a young woman doesn’t want to be like if she wants popular attention and success. Yes, times have changed since the intellectual woman could depend solely on her intellect alone- but let’s face it, branding the self is as important as shelling out whatever adventures Anne Shirley could drum up in her old age.
Really though, the performativity of the photograph, not the colour of the hair, is the problem; because there is no doubt that young readers associate a successful young women with a vivacious sexuality. More importantly, if rhetorical icons like these continually represent female protagonists we do risk the danger of normalizing what young girls- popular girls- successful girls- look like from a space of hetero-normativity. Does it pressure women in the real world? I suppose it can, but there’re a myriad of representations we see in print, film, wherever. Go to the mall. This book cover just seems a moot point, and if there is any dilemma its in regards to getting a character image wrong in looks and even history- I’m pretty sure Anne Shirley didn’t ride horses, nor did she wear plaid shirts, or have highlights. Heck, I know she didn’t. That said, whatever cynically pulls on the normative heart strings of girls who want to be attractive young protagonists. In hindsight, this may be a perfect example of sex actually selling to young girls, the iconic image being so perfect in its representation of, again, an attractive, successful young girl doing girling, and no doubt affecting young consumers with a performative response of girling themselves.
For more on ‘girling’ and ‘affect’, read: