Author(s): Sylvia Plath
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 has become a modern classic. "The Bell Jar" has been celebrated for its darkly funny and a razor sharp portrait of 1950s society and has sold millions of copies worldwide.
Esther Greenwood is young and brilliant and it appears she can have whatever she wants from her life. But can she really be a successful poet and a wife and mother too? As her dreams and plans fall to dust before her eyes, Esther's life spirals out of control. Plath's semi-autobiographical work fictionalises her own descent into depression, electro-shock treatment, and eventual stay in a psychiatric facility. Tackling several issues that were seldom talked about at the time (the book was first published in 1963, shortly before Plath's death), I found it to be a hugely emotional read. - Lucy
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
The 50th Anniversary edition of one of the defining novels of the 20th century
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). 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.