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.
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.
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.
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!
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 ›