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The Bell Jar: A Novel (Perennial Classics) [Paperback]

by Sylvia Plath
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (544 customer reviews)

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Book Description

February 2, 2000 0060930187 978-0060930189 First Perennial Clas

The Bell Jar chronicles the crack-up of Esther Greenwood: brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under--maybe for the last time. Sylvia Plath masterfully draws the reader into Esther's breakdown with such intensity that Esther's insanity becomes completely real and even rational, as probable and accessible an experiece as going to the movies. Such deep penetration into the dark and harrowing corners of the psyche is an extraordinary accomplishment and has made The Bell Jar a haunting American classic.

Editorial Reviews Review

Plath was an excellent poet but is known to many for this largely autobiographical novel. The Bell Jar tells the story of a gifted young woman's mental breakdown beginning during a summer internship as a junior editor at a magazine in New York City in the early 1950s. The real Plath committed suicide in 1963 and left behind this scathingly sad, honest and perfectly-written book, which remains one of the best-told tales of a woman's descent into insanity. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


"Esther Greenwood's account of her years in the bell jar is as clear and readable as it is witty and disturbing....[This] is not a potboiler, nor a series of ungrateful caricatures: it is literature." -- New York Times

"The first-person narrative fixes us there, in the doctor's office, in the asylum, in the madness, with no reassuring vacations when we can keep company with the sane and listen to their lectures." -- Book World

"The narrator simply describes herself as feeling very still and very empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel. The in-between moment is just what Miss Plath's poetry does catch brilliantly--the moment poised on the edge of chaos." -- Christian Science Monitor

Product Details

  • Series: Perennial Classics
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics; First Perennial Clas edition (February 2, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060930187
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060930189
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (544 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #325,571 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Sylvia Plath was born in 1932 in Massachusetts. Her books include the poetry collections The Colossus, Crossing the Water, Winter Trees, Ariel, and The Collected Poems, which won the Pulitzer Prize. Plath is credited with being a pioneer of the 20th-century style of writing called confessional poetry. Her poem "Daddy" is one of the best-known examples of this genre.

In 1963, Plath's semi-autobiographic novel The Bell Jar was published under the pseudonym "Victoria Lucas"; it was reissued in 1966 under her own name. A complete and uncut facsimile edition of Ariel was published in 2004 with her original selection and arrangement of poems. She was married to the poet Ted Hughes, with whom she had a daughter, Frieda, and a son, Nicholas. She died in London in 1963.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
186 of 194 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A true classic December 27, 2002
I personally find Sylvia Plath's journals her most interesting work, but this comes in at a close second. This book will challenge just about anyone who reads it, whether you're depressed or not. If you've never been depressed in the way Esther is, you're going to ask yourself why she torments herself for no reason and perhaps feel that the storyline is implausible. the deeper you go into the book, the less sympathy you'll feel for her. If you HAVE been as depressed as Esther gets, you'll feel challenged for another reason: the book will reach TOO far into your mind and make TOO deep a connection with you because, well, Sylvia Plath describes depression very well. Her writing tends to make you feel like you and no one else are experiencing what she's going through with her, and it's pretty disturbing. However, it's also a quite rewarding experience. A "bell jar" is just a very apt term for a distorted view of the world that presents everything as seemingly inherently bad. Esther lives under one all the time, and she's not truly aware of it. Eventually her life is turned into a constant waking nightmare because she can't even say what's wrong with her. It's painful to read but it makes for some damn good reading. Reading this book will give you a very graphic idea of what it's like to live under a bell jar and what happens to people who live in permanent ones. You probably won't be the same after you read it.
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246 of 274 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Bell Jar February 5, 2000
I read this book immediately following "Girl, Interrupted" by Susanna Kaysen. This was an interesting coincidence because both these novels are (nearly) autobiolgraphical accounts of mental traumas these women suffered in their early 20's. In fact, both women had resided in the same mental hospital during their recuperation. I finished "Girl, Interrupted" a bit confused on how I had ever rationalized spending my time reading such a book in the first place. The author's over-personification of the trite theme of "crazy may be sane" wasn't even accompanied by a plot. Sadly enough, the most interesting part of the novel was the excerpt taken from a psychology textbook describing Kaysen's diagnosis. Then, I picked up "The Bell Jar," not knowing what it was about, and read it. It was everything "Girl, Interrupted" had tried to be and wasn't. The main character's experiences were real and meaningful, and the book itself tried less to shock its readers by trying to include monumental meaning, but instead, simply told its tale in a beautiful and harrowing way that perfectly reverberated the all-too-familiar struggles of a young woman emerging into an unfamiliar world that in its simpleness, conveyed more than even Kaysen could ever fathom being bestowed upon a reader.
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193 of 225 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A GREAT Classic! October 29, 2003
I've been trying to broaden my reading range by throwing in a few classics here and there. One I had been interested in for quite some time is The Bell Jar. And with the Sylvia Plath movie coming out soon, I thought reading this book might be a nice complement to that. And what a real pleasure it turned out to be!
The Bell Jar does not read like a classic - "classic" being the term of very old books with very old language - the description I've always had for the classic genre. This book has a very contemporary writing style, and despite it being written in the 1960s, The Bell Jar's topic of mental illness certainly transcends the generations and can be related by many people no matter when they read the book. I absolutely loved it!
The Bell Jar tells the story of a young Esther Greenwood at the beginning of her mental decline. She first recognizes its oncoming during a summer of interning at a magazine company in New York City. Trying to fit in with the other interns, as well as dealing with boys and co-workers prove to be a struggle at times for Esther. And later, when the real depression and suicidal thoughts set in, readers are invited into a dark and scary world, one created realistically and with honesty by Ms. Plath.
This book ranks high on my list of all-time favorites. I'm so glad I read it. From now on, if people want to read a classic (or a darn good book for that matter), I won't hesitate to suggest The Bell Jar. It's fantastic!
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56 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I've always felt this book is misunderstood. May 27, 2000
Frequently, when I read about The Bell Jar, reviewers caomment on the parallels between Esther, and the author. Then they proceed to describe the book's harrowing descent into madness.

I almost hate to burst the bubble, but after reading the book, I find it to be widely misinterpreted. The book is not about Esther's problems, but the problems of the world about her.

When Plath wrote the book, she did so under a pseudonym. Not only, (as many suggest,) to avoid the ire of her friends, whose loosely drawn chariactures pepper this book, but also because of it's biting censure of her male oriented society. I have NO DOUBT in my mind that when Plath wrote the Bell Jar, she had no intentions of killing herself. I think the work should be viewed in that light, and when one does, it takes on a different, and far more profound meaning. Plath still needed to work in her time, so (In my opinion,) she wrote the Bell Jar to attack the restricted role of a woman in society, and she conveniently provided an out for any harsh critic, namely, that the main character is insane. To read it now, and interpret the main character as an insane, or unreliable narrator does a great disservice to what Plath intended for this work.

Plath, like Esther, was perhaps the smartest woman in America during her time. She won countless scholarships, and like Esther, a guest editing slot at Mademoiselle. Now a woman of her talents would be at Harvard on a full ride, but during her day, Esther, and Plath could only hope to someday become the editor of a glamor mag, forever telling women how to tell if their lover is cheating. Not much of an existance for a bright young woman.

Plath vents this frustration in the Bell Jar.
Read more ›
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great
This was a great novel full of twist and turns. It also gives you a little history of how women needed to behave at this time; what their dreams and goals had to be.
Published 9 days ago by Aileen Fernandez
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book, worth a second, and probably a third read
When I first read The Bell Jar in my late teens I began drinking Dubonnet and tried desperately to be cool. Decades later I read it again and loved it more if that is possible. Read more
Published 13 days ago by G Erdwhile
5.0 out of 5 stars it's completely honest
It's a very honest take on what it's like being a woman with these issues. Though the situations can be drastic, they aren't over dramatized. It's real.
Published 13 days ago by Amelia
3.0 out of 5 stars interesting
This book was interesting enough to hold my attention, but sometimes was hard to keep track of what the heck was going on with the main character. Read more
Published 13 days ago by Corbin Slate
5.0 out of 5 stars Sylvia's life, Sylvia's pain
“I felt very still and empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo. Read more
Published 16 days ago by Devona Renee
4.0 out of 5 stars The Bell Jar
I really liked the story and I could really identify with the main characters confusion about men and women and their roles. Read more
Published 17 days ago by Angela Roberts
5.0 out of 5 stars Now in my top 5 books ever.
Now one of my favorite books. I usually like Kafka, chick lit, and a variety of things; but mostly I like anything that makes me think. Read more
Published 22 days ago by Chelsie Reed
2.0 out of 5 stars very tragic
i read this book and watched the movie a few years back, since I am a recovering depressive that has lived in the world she was in, I found it very very depressing. Read more
Published 25 days ago by Blue Jacket
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic Novel
Classic. Sylvia Plath is dark and poetic. You can literally feel the depression of the main character throughout the book.
Published 25 days ago by Nay
5.0 out of 5 stars My favorite book
I first read this book when I was in middle school and loved it. It is beautifully written and rich. Read more
Published 26 days ago by Fernando
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Welcome to the The Bell Jar forum
I have only read a few of the reviews so far, but so far reviewers seem to have overlooked the fact that Plath clearly describes her (Esther's) "mental decline" as being intrinsically connected with the oppression of women in those pre-Women's Liberation days. People today think of... Read more
Nov 19, 2010 by Nonesuch Explorers |  See all 2 posts
bell jar availability on Kindle
I would like to know as well. What the hell?
Oct 10, 2010 by T. Gray |  See all 3 posts
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