- Paperback: 732 pages
- Publisher: Anchor; Unabridged edition (October 17, 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0385720254
- ISBN-13: 978-0385720250
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.5 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 1,574 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #29,902 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath Paperback – October 17, 2000
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In the decades that have followed Sylvia Plath's suicide in February 1963, much has been written and speculated about her life, most particularly about her marriage to fellow poet Ted Hughes and her last months spent writing the stark, confessional poems that were to become Ariel. And the myths surrounding Plath have only been intensified by the strong grip her estate--managed by Hughes and his sister, Olwyn--had over the release of her work. Yet Plath kept journals from the age of 11 until her death at 30. Previously only available in a severely bowdlerized edition, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath have now been scrupulously transcribed (with every spelling mistake and grammatical error left intact) and annotated by Karen V. Kukil, supervisor of the Plath collection at Smith College.
The journals show the breathless adolescent obsessed with her burgeoning sexuality, the serious university student competing for the highest grades while engaging in the human merry-go-round of 1950s dating, the graduate year spent at Cambridge University where Plath encountered Ted Hughes. Her version of their relationship (dating is definitely not the appropriate term) is a necessary, and deeply painful, complement to Birthday Letters. On March 10, 1956, Plath writes:
Please let him come, and give me the resilience & guts to make him respect me, be interested, and not to throw myself at him with loudness or hysterical yelling; calmly, gently, easy baby easy. He is probably strutting the backs among crocuses now with seven Scandinavian mistresses. And I sit, spiderlike, waiting, here, home; Penelope weaving webs of Webster, turning spindles of Tourneur. Oh, he is here; my black marauder; oh hungry hungry. I am so hungry for a big smashing creative burgeoning burdened love: I am here; I wait; and he plays on the banks of the river Cam like a casual faun.Plath's documentation of the two years the couple spent in the U.S. teaching and writing explicitly highlights the dilemma of the late-1950s woman--still swaddled in expectations of domesticity, yet attempting to forge her own independent professional and personal life. This period also reveals in detail the therapy sessions in which Plath lets loose her antipathy for her mother and her grief at her father's death when she was 8--a contrast to the bright, all-American persona she presented to her mother in the correspondence that was published as Letters Home. The journals also feature some notable omissions. Plath understandably skirted over her breakdown and attempted suicide during the summer of 1953, though she was to anatomize the events minutely in her novel The Bell Jar.
Fragments of diaries exist after 1959, which saw the couple's return to England and rural retreat in Devon, the birth of their two children, and their separation in late 1962. An extended piece on the illness and death of an elderly neighbor during this period is particularly affecting and was later turned into the poem "Berck-Plage." Much has been made of the "lost diaries" that Plath kept until her suicide--one simply appears to have vanished, the other Hughes burned after her death. It would seem rapacious to wish for more details of her despair in her final days, however. It is crystallized in the poems that became Ariel, and this is what the voice of her journals ultimately send the reader back to. Sylvia Plath's life has for too long been obfuscated by anecdote, distorting her major contribution to 20th-century literature. As she wrote in "Kindness": "The blood jet is poetry. There is no stopping it." --Catherine Taylor
From Publishers Weekly
This book constitutes a literary event. Over 400 pages of never-before-published personal writings make this first comprehensive volume of Plath's journals and notes from 1950 to 1962 indispensable reading for both scholars and general readers interested in the poet. Plath's journals were previously published in 1982 and heavily censored by her husband, poet Ted Hughes. But even the diary entries that have been available to the public demand re-reading in the context of fresh materials. In the newly revealed writings, we see an even more complex, despairing psyche struggling to create in the face of powerful demons. Plath's intense bitterness towards her mother emerges in full force, particularly in her notes on her psychoanalysis by Ruth Beuscher in Boston from 1957 to 1959. Plath's writing is by turns raw, obsessive, brilliant and ironic. Her sensitivity about rejections from magazines, her struggle to establish a daily routine of reading and learning, and her ongoing attempts to ward off depression provide reminders of her drive and ambition, despite her feelings of inferiority with respect to her husband. This work constitutes an invaluable primary source as well as a thoroughly engrossing narrative whose omissions are sometimes as important as its inclusions. (There is, for example, surprisingly little on Plath's sudden marriage to Hughes.) Strong print media attention focusing on new revelations will drive early sales of this important work, and it should become a staple backlist title. Editor Kukil is assistant curator of rare books at Smith College, where Plath was an undergraduate and later a lecturer.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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The autobiographical novel by Sylvia Plath, describing her painful ordeal when she becomes mentally ill is such a book.
This could have been a thoroughly depressing and self centred story in the hands of another and many may assume this when reading the blurb.
However do not be put off, because The Bell Jar is anything BUT depressing.
Plath writes with great humour and I laughed out loud more than once.
She also writes with the intelligence and skill of someone twice her age.
Her battle with mental illness (Bipolar Disorder) and her eventual recovery is written so honestly, so brilliantly I was more than impressed.
Of course there is sadness in the aftermath of the book because we know she actually took her own life at aged thirty, the same year The Bell Jar was published.
The world is a little worse off with the loss of this wonderful talent.
Anyone who has any inkling of how The Black Dog can grab you by the scruff of the neck from out of the blue will appreciate this book and anyone who simply enjoys outstanding literature will be equally impressed.
A great talent.
The story opens with Esther in New York, during the summer of her collegiate years, working and modeling for a prestigious NY magazine. Through many obscure and complex observations, we slowly get a picture of her; Boston suburbanite, Smith college-type on scholarship, the world literally at her feet. But it is, still at these beginning stages, the random comment or action that begins to creep in to her personality that makes the reader aware that something is not quite right. Sure enough, as we move on, Esther becomes more and more un-hinged, doing things far outside of her personality.
Soon we reach a point where she attempts suicide and discusses suicide as the answer to get her out from “under the Bell Jar.” The literary ease with which we go from NY magazine model to suicide victim is stark…I found myself having to put the book down occasionally to internalize what I’d just read. This is really an amazing ability that Plath had…flowing from one emotion to the other without noticing until the full force of Esther’s actions take hold. Where the first third of the novel is fairly light, the last two thirds are riveting, very difficult to put down. It’s very hard to understand how Plath had difficulty getting this work published…only under a pseudonym in 1963 London and not until 1971 in the U.S. after it had been turned down, harshly, by publisher Harper & Row. Today it is printed and re-printed in many languages and enjoys its well-deserved place among the literary classics.
To summarize, if one decides to delve into the classics, you can’t go wrong with this work. Dark, even frightful at times but always flowing and well written, The Bell Jar is both a stark referendum on mental illness and an amazing reading experience.
The elephant-in-the-room when reading this is A) it is known to be semi-autobiographical, and B) Sylvia Plath ended up committing suicide. That might for account how richly Plath captures depression -- how you rationalize the little things, the abrasive way nice, shiny, perfect things in the world exist around you, and the fear you can never feel the way you used to again. And I think the authenticity combined with Plath's stellar language (you can't take the poetry out of the poet) makes this probably among the best novels ever written about depression. The way Esther mulls over her virginity, her mother, her ex-boyfriend, and how to kill herself are enrapturing from beginning to end.
To me this is more 4.5 stars (or even 4.49), but rounded up because even the dullest parts of the novel are carried by witty narration and rhythmic prose. I don't think there'll be much to the story that will surprise a modern reader -- many stories have since followed the same structure of a young woman struggling with depression -- but none of them have the grace, humor, and merciless touch of Plath's words.