It's bad enough that women writers today have to be good-looking, as well as talented, if they want to get anywhere in the market. This sad trend has been much debated and discussed over at Galleycat, and I shall not rehash that argument (at least not in terms of current authors) here.
But why should dead women writers have to be book hot, too? Surely once you are a. dead, and b. firmly entrenched in the English literary canon, it shouldn't matter what you look like, eh?
Sunday's New York Times has an article on the recent attempts to prettify Jane Austen. Apparently Austen's genius, and her place in literary history, would be much more firm if only we knew what she looked like--that is to say, if we knew she was hot. Unfortunately, there are no extant authenticated portraits of Austen, and the one sketch that does exist, and that does seem to have some actual connection with the living breathing writer herself, is not flattering. But nothing that a little bit of photoshop can't fix. Because, of course, Austen's genius can only truly be meaningful if she is beautiful, too.
I note that (as far as I know) no one agonizes over what Shakespeare looked like. They might agonize over who he was, but whether his viz resembled Orlando Bloom or a street mug seems to matter not. With men, it's the talent that counts. With women, genius without beauty is incomplete.
Next up on the Fabulous Make-overs of Dead Female Literary Geniuses: Emily Dickinson.