Author(s): Sylvia Plath
Esther Greenwood is at college and is fighting two battles, one against her own desire for perfection in all things - grades, boyfriend, looks, career - and the other against remorseless mental illness. As her depression deepens she finds herself encased in it, bell-jarred away from the rest of the world. This is the story of her journey back into reality. Highly readable, witty and disturbing, The Bell Jar is Sylvia Plath's only novel and was originally published under a pseudonym in 1963. What it has to say about what women expect of themselves, and what society expects of women, is as sharply relevant today as it has always been.
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 Bell Jar is Sylvia Plath's groundbreaking semi-autobiographical portrait of a young woman struggling with depression as she follows her dreams to becoming a writer: the quintessential coming-of-age novel and a must-read for all teenage girls.
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.