Author(s): Sylvia Plath
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 experience 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.
One of those books I’ve been trying to get around to for years - the 1963 book, Plath’s only novel, is embedded in American culture so deeply that it seems a prerequisite for understanding any cultural reference, like Star Wars(hadn’t seen any of those until recently either). I finally managed The Bell Jar when I snatched it up at a housesitting job recently. It was a quick, absorbing and devastating read and incredibly written, spare yet powerful. I was surprised at how fresh and relevant it was, having known plenty of directionless 20-somethings trying to figure out their life direction, what to “be”, how to separate others’ expectations from their own, and even struggling with expectations of female gender roles (yes, in this day and age, though I am relieved that our oppressive patriarchal society and mental health care have matured a little since the sixties). Esther Greenwood's descent into insanity is so richly drawn, so boundless and terrifying, that it fills you with compassion for Plath’s own tragic life and end. If you’ve ever dismissed depression and mental illness as something people should ‘snap out of’ (and shame on you if you have), you can’t look at it in the same way again. I was pleasantly surprised that a very old and classic book could still retain that simple power, despite all the chatter about mental health that has come since. - Naomi
Sylvia Plath's groundbreaking semi-autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar, offers an intimate, honest and often wrenching glimpse into mental illness in 1950s America.
Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and studied at Smith College. In 1955 she went to Cambridge University on a Fulbright scholarship, where she met and later married Ted Hughes. She published one collection of poems in her lifetime, The Colossus (1960), and a novel, The Bell Jar (1963); Ariel was published posthumously in 1965. Her Collected Poems, which contains her poetry written from 1956 until her death, was published in 1981 and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.