Tag Archives: prostitution

Jackie Collins: The Art of Fellatio?

8 Feb

Following my previous analysis of the “bad blowjob” motif in Jackie Collins’ Poor Little Bitch Girl, I want to round-off my excursion into the realms of fellatio with a brief discussion on the imagery associated with the text – namely its cover art. Now, through my dissertation research I’m aware that authors don’t always exercise as much control over creative decisions like cover-art as I’d assumed, and it is likely that an agency would have suggested and implemented the two designs I’m going to discuss. However, I don’t think this detracts from the point that someone made the aesthetic and commercial decision to re-design the cover.

According to this website, the cover-image I posted before [which was the cover I had seen on my copy of the book] is the UK version. This was released sometime after the US publication of the book. As you can see, the colour palette uses golden tones to pick up on the bronzed skin, hair and [presumably expensive] jewellery of the model. This reinforces the identification of the model with the “bitch girl” Annabelle Maestro, who is the “poor little” heiress of the story. Although the model is blonde and bronzed she wears little make up and has green eyes – this might be signalling a natural beauty, but also helps keep the colour scheme neutral to allow the red title to stand out. Although the model’s face is positioned to the left and is half-obscured, she is less anonymous than her American cousin through her visible eye and direct gaze.

The UK cover

On the original American cover, the model is paler in skin tone and hair-colour, and significantly lacks the identifying features of an eye – although her face is positioned centrally, and is not obscured by any text. These latter decisions draw a new focal point for the viewer’s gaze: the mouth.

The pink lipstick “O” of the lipstick, matched to the nail varnish and title font, reinforce the eye line along with the model’s pointing finger. Sitting on her pink nail is presumably a portion of caviar; this fulfils the functions of both indicating luxury and drawing attention, along with black font of Collins’ name, to the dark cavity of the open mouth.  The image of gold jewellery, central to the UK cover, is displaced to the left and is much smaller, in the form of a ring.

This image alone can be considered provocative, but when considered in conjunction with the text it sells, there seems to be an explicit reference to the frequent acts of fellatio. Perhaps this shouldn’t be too surprising – after all we are in the realms of the “bonkbuster” here. Yet the promise of sexual gratification that the image evokes – both for Collins’ male characters and female readers – seems at odds with the story. This woman is sexually empowered: yet all but two of the blow jobs in the book place women in threatening or involuntary positions of subservience.

The US cover

The first exception is Zeena. She is a fairly minor character whose presence is really only to delay the main love plot between Denver and Bobby, and as I have written before, I find Collins’ portrayal of her sexuality ambiguous and difficult. I can’t see that she is the heroine whose sexual adventures readers’ are either intended to, or do, identify with most.

However the heroine, Denver, whose “good” blow job experience marks the novel’s happy-ever-after, cannot be the woman represented on the cover either, as she is clearly not the “bitch girl” who dines on caviar or is fabulously wealthy.

Assuming reasonably, then, that the cover-girl must be Annabelle, it becomes evident that the image portrays not the heiress Mz Maestro but “Belle Svetlana,” the hooker. Especially in the American version of the cover, the link between sexual service and payment [wealth] is made clear through the position of the caviar. However, this would seem to problematically glamourize Annabelle’s disastrous career as a prostitute, during which she is forced into “servicing” an abusive customer. Considering the way the cover evokes this “service” as an act of empowerment, it seems completely at odds [once again] with the message of the text.

The audio book cover

Based on the evidence of the text, I cannot understand why the first American cover was appropriate for the story it contained, but I can understand why it sold. The anonymous promise of empowered female sexual performance is appealing both in both message and aesthetic. Perhaps it reflects the notion that Collins’ characters are identikit Barbie dolls, essentially being dressed up in different character “outfits” as “Denver,” “Zeena,” or “Annabelle” on the surface, but remaining essentially the same underneath – shallow, anonymous, vessels for the entertainment and titillation of the reader. Somehow, I don’t think this was what Collins’ publishers were thinking…

An even more puzzling question is why did the cover change for UK publication? In my opinion, the first cover works, even if it doesn’t particularly relate to the story it tells. Its colour scheme is bolder and more eye-catching, and I also think it looks the newer of the two. Indeed my initial assumption had been that the US cover was for a subsequent edition or re-release of the first. Was it considered too racy for an English audience, too explicit? And why on earth would they make the English model comparatively more tanned?

If it wasn’t confusing enough already, two other covers for the novel appear to have been used during its publication. One is for the audio book version, which departs from the blonde model to feature a brunette – again the mouth is the focal point, but here the lips are closed, emphasising something less subtle than the act of tasting or swallowing. The final version is the most understated – a pink cover where text predominates, the only image that of a crystallised dollar sign. Here the sexual motif or emphasis is completely absent, with the tagline reading “Money. Murder. Betrayal.”

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and in this case, I really wouldn’t recommend it. You’ll just get confused.

"Money. Murder. Betrayal."