Saturday, 17 September 2016

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
First published in 1963 by William Heinemann Ltd.

This is my 1960s book for the Goodreads / Bookcrossing Decade Challenge.

How I got this book:
Borrowed from a friend

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

'I was supposed to be having the time of my life.
When Esther Greenwood wins an internship on a New York fashion magazine in 1953, she is elated, believing she will finally realise her dream to become a writer. But in between the cocktail parties and piles of manuscripts, Esther's life begins to slide out of control. She finds herself spiralling into depression and eventually a suicide attempt, as she grapples with difficult relationships and a society which refuses to take women's aspirations seriously.

The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath's only novel, was originally published in 1963 under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas. The novel is partially based on Plath's own life and descent into mental illness, and has become a modern classic. The Bell Jar has been celebrated for its darkly funny and razor sharp portrait of 1950s society and has sold millions of copies worldwide.'

I am lucky to have read The Bell Jar by choice, borrowing a copy from a friend who also loved the book, rather than having to read it for school and I think these different approaches significantly influence how people feel about Plath's semi-autobiographical novel. At the very beginning I was reminded of Rona Jaffe's The Best Of Everything which was written around the same time and also examines the lives of young women in New York. However it is Plath's rejection of society's restricted expectations for women which, for me, made The Bell Jar an interesting novel and The Best Of Everything seem somewhat vacuous.

I was surprised at Plath's matter-of-fact language, especially when describing some of the horrors of what passed for mental health care in 1950s America. I think it is this removal from herself which was the strongest symptom of her breakdown, but it made it difficult for me to get under the skin of her writing. I am used to more overt emotion. I found myself wondering how much of The Bell Jar was actually fiction and how much truth. Being always aware that Plath did commit suicide shortly after the book was first published coloured my reading of it, especially in scenes where Esther feels herself blocked from following her dreams due to her gender and where the opposite applies and she meets role model career women - writers, doctors, psychiatrists - but does not recognise the potential of their example, locked away as she in in her metaphorical bell jar.

Etsy Find!
by Libby Element in
Manchester, England

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Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Sylvia Plath / Contemporary fiction / Books from America

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