June 5, 2015

“The lady’s bottom isn’t pert enough” Jilly Cooper gets toned down


The original 'Riders' cover. Image via Wikipedia

The original Riders cover. Image via Wikipedia

The history of the world is usually told as one of scientific and technological progress, matched by the decline of social propriety and the weakening of morals. We have the Higgs boson, but we also have Kim Kardashian.

A surprise then that romance novelist Jilly Cooper’s book Riders is causing controversy for having been toned down, and for becoming more respectable rather than less. Riders was first published in 1985. Its original cover shows the back of a woman wearing white riding jodhpurs, with a man’s hand placed very firmly on her bottom.

To celebrate the book’s 30th edition of the book, Cooper’s publisher Transworld is reissuing the book. But the new cover has caused a stir. The very same male hand that was practically clenching a butt cheek before, has now been moved up, as though it had been resting on a hip and had slipped. Respectability has been imposed on one of the original ‘bonkbusters’.

Commentators are up in arms. The author Victoria Hislop told The Times:

I always thought the old cover ‘said something’ — it was funny, layered, open to some interpretation and started a conversation. The new one is bland, a bit ‘so what’ and frankly totally unsexy.

While the novelist Marian Keynes suggested the cover had changed with the times:

I think we’ve become more enlightened and more respectful and more responsible about women’s bodies — they’re not people’s property.

But in a lengthy comment piece for the Daily Mail, Libby Purves called out the ‘liberal hypocrisy on sex’, concluding, “as far as I’m concerned, the chap on the book cover can keep his hand where it was in 1985, doing no great harm.” Even veteran feminist Germaine Greer weighed in, commenting:

It does sound like a sort of correctness, doesn’t it? [The new cover] seems rather boring. I suppose I’d rather see men’s bottoms being felt by women’s hands.

As the Bookseller reports, booksellers, too, are divided. Tim Morris of Booka Bookshop in Oswestry said he “was not sure people will notice the difference.” Clearly, he hasn’t looked closely enough at the cover. Sheryl Shurville of Chorleywood Bookshop wins the prize for most observant bookseller as well as quote of the week, with this statement:

We in Chorleywood do not like the new cover, preferring the old cover which we feel is more sexy and appealing. The lady’s bottom isn’t pert enough, the hand looks superimposed.

Finally, on Twitter, Philip Jones, editor of The Bookseller, had an idea for what gender parity might look like:

Readers, the gentleman’s bottom definitely isn’t pert enough.



Zeljka Marosevic is the managing director of Melville House UK.